Thich Phuoc Hue (1912-2012): Leader advocated social harmony

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Thich Phuoc Hue (1912-2012): Leader advocated social harmony    


Tuong Quang Luu

February 18, 2012

When Tran Van Canh was accepted into a monastery as a teenage novice, he could not have anticipated that one day he would become one of the most influential Buddhist leaders in both his country of birth and his country of resettlement.

He became the Most Venerable Thich Phuoc Hue (Thich is an honorary family name used by Vietnamese monks and nuns) and completed a full life-cycle accentuated by both challenges and achievements in wartime Vietnam and peace-time multicultural Australia.

Tran was born in 1921, although his birth wasn’t registered until the following year so often appears as 1922, in the farming village of My Thuy, near Saigon. He learnt about Buddhism at the local temple and, at 13, renounced life. At 16, he became a novice priest and by 20 was ordained. He enjoyed teaching novices and lay people but his talents were spotted and, in the early 1960s, he was taken to Saigon to join the leadership group of the national Buddhist clergy.

He became a commissioner on the executive committee of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV), which was threatened, and later banned, by the new communist authorities after the fall of Saigon. In 1979, he decided to leave his home for religious freedom and ended up as a refugee in a Hong Kong camp.

Thich Phuoc Hue, 1921-2012


Peace and understanding … the Most Venerable Thich Phuoc Hue at Wetherill Park.

In Australia, tens of thousands of Vietnamese asylum seekers were being resettled from camps in south-east Asia. In 1976, there were only 2427 Vietnamese residents in Australia but by 1981, there were more than 41,000 – the majority buddhists in Thich’s Mahayana tradition.

Thich’s migration was sponsored by a group of Vietnamese-Australian Buddhists and in 1980 he became the first resident monk of Vietnamese background in Australia. On November 1, 1980, he opened a Vietnamese Buddhist hall of prayer in Fairfield.

With the support of the Vietnamese-Australian community and the state government, the hall of prayer grew into the Phuoc Hue Temple, now in Wetherill Park.

The temple was the original seat of the United Vietnamese Buddhist Congregation in Australia-New Zealand (UVBC). Thich, with the Most Venerable Thich Huyen Ton and the Most Venerable Thich Bao Lac, set up the first national structure, the Vietnamese Buddhist Federation (Tong Hoi), in 1981. It was renamed the Congregation (Giao Hoi) in 1987. Thich was the UVBC’s longest-serving president and in recognition of his contributions, was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia in 1995.

Thich was a strong advocate for community harmony and social cohesiveness. Prince Charles went to the temple during his 1994 visit to meet Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu and Buddhist leaders.

On a broader basis, and in his capacity as a senior executive of the World Buddhist Sangha Council, in 2001 Thich and the UVBC organised, in Sydney, the first executive conference of the Seventh World Buddhist Sangha Council Congress and the third world general conference of the World Buddhist Sangha Council Youth Committee, for people of all backgrounds to learn about buddhism.

Thich also advocated harmony among nations, which he expressed as president of the Buddhist Federation of Australia at the first International Dialogue on Interfaith Co-operation, in Yogyakarta in 2004.

A few years ago, ill health forced Thich to step down from his presidency of the UVBC and BFA. He was succeeded, respectively, by Senior Venerable Thich Phuoc Tan, who came to Australia as a Vietnamese refugee minor in the early 1980s and is abbot of the Quang Minh temple in Melbourne, and by the Most Venerable Sudhammo, who came from Thailand and is president of the Dhammakaya International Society of Australia Inc.

Thich achieved a lot in his efforts to rebuild Vietnamese buddhism as part of the fabric of, and a contributor to, multicultural Australia. There remained, however, one piece of unfinished business. His aspiration to set up a Vietnamese Buddhist Studies Institute in Australia was unfulfilled at the time of his death.

Tuong Quang Luu

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