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Reports have emerged of violent confrontations since June 28 between two groups of Buddhist monks and local police at a monastery near the resort town of Dalat, in southern Vietnam.
A group of monks at the Nha Bat monastery who follow the teachings of the internationally renowned Zen monk Thich Nhat Hanh were reportedly confronted by a mob of monks and laypeople who follow the mainstream, government-approved Vietnam Buddhist Sangha, along with plainclothes police.
"About 200 people from outside came into the monastery," said Brother Phap Hoi, a senior monk from the group that follows Thich Nhat Hanh, by telephone.
Hoi said the mob did some damage to the monastery's kitchen and to the monks' possessions, and demanded that they leave the monastery within a week. Subsequently, the monastery's electricity was cut off, though it had been restored by July 6.
The conflict appears to stem from a clash between the group of monks following Thich Nhat Hanh's teachings and the main abbott of the mainstream government-sanctioned monastery, Thich Duc Nghi.
The monks associated with Thich Nhat Hanh had established a subsection of the Nha Bat monastery in 2005, with Thich Duc Nghi's approval. But Phap Hoi said Thich Duc Nghi had rescinded that approval last year because of doctrinal disputes with Thich Nhat Hanh, and now demanded that Hanh's followers leave the monastery.
Hanh's followers say they have built several buildings at the monastery at a cost of thousands of dollars in donations from international followers, and have so far refused to leave. Vietnamese Zen sage Thich Nhat Hanh is perhaps the best-known international Buddhist figure apart from the Dalai Lama. He has lived in France and the U.S. since leaving South Vietnam in 1965, when he was involved in the anti-war Buddhist Movement.
He has tens of thousands of followers at monasteries in Europe and the U.S. Hanh's writings began to circulate in Vietnam in the early 2000s, and in 2005 he reached an agreement with the Vietnamese regime that allowed him to return and lecture in the country. He has since returned twice on well-attended lecture tours throughout the country, gathering huge crowds in Hanoi, Hue, and Ho Chi Minh City, and has built up a modest following inside Vietnam, where his New Age brand of Buddhism appeals to many young people and professionals alienated by the stagnant mainstream Vietnam Buddhist Sangha.
The group of monks at Bat Nha was the first group in Vietnam to establish a monastery specifically affiliated with Hanh, but that group's survival appears to be in question. Some reports had linked the clashes at Bat Nha to recent environmentalist opposition to Chinese-run bauxite mines in Vietnam's Central Highlands, but Brother Phap Hoi said he knew nothing of any such connection.