It has long been a matter of debate whether Hòa Hảo Buddhism was a religion, a party, a revolutionary organization, an armed sect, a political party cum religious group, or a religion with political aspirations.
These questions have been typically asked by members of the general public, though answers and interpretations were given in consonance with the respective viewpoints of any given individual and/or group, and generally speaking, in many aspects, unfortunately, both the Vietnamese public and international public still have misconceptions about Hòa Hảo Buddhism. How it was emerged, what it is about and what it stands for.
The aim of this book is to provide available facts relating to the history and doctrine of Hòa Hảo Buddhism. To achieve this, the author summarized his personal perspectives, published sources and face-to-face interviews with eyewitnesses, as well as viewpoints of those who did not belong to the Hòa Hảo Buddhist community. Hopefully, this book could contribute to correcting diverse misinterpretations, which are still present in the public domain.
In the course of writing this work, the author faced a number of complex problems. First is the demographic issue. Readerships of this book would include at least two groups of people: a general audience and followers of Hòa Hảo Buddhism. Hence, a number of complex issues arise related to style, wording and analysis of this work. The author had made every effort to be fair and accurate. However, many imperfections may remain in this work, but the author hopes that the book could expect understanding from its readers.
Second is the issue of sources. The research, which had involved books, periodicals and other sources available in libraries and archives, led the author to one important conclusion: there are far too many errors and inaccuracies in these sources. Worse, erroneous sources became “background data” for subsequent research works. In the process of snowballing, the inaccuracies data somewhat acquired a semblance of accuracy and academic respectability. Fortunately, the author had been an insider and an eyewitness of many important events relating to Vietnam’s history in general and Hoøa Haûo Buddhism in particular. Naturally, it’s impossible for the author to accept what he deemed grave factual errors and inaccuracie.
that completely contradict his first-hand knowledge of events; and therefore, it would be irresponsible for the author to ignore the perpetual faulty information, and to leave it uncorrected.
Since the French colonial conquest until the present time, the developments of Vietnam’s national history must have been painted in predominantly dark tones. In the course of the colonial and Communist oppression, the state apparatus has been consistently used so as to smear Vietnam’s national cause: the police were employed to oppress while the official propaganda was used to malign. Not surprisingly, the patriots were seen as rebels by the colonialists and as reactionaries by the Communists. This is how many sources and books relating to Hòa Hảo Buddhism and patriotic and revolutionary organizations in Vietnam emerged.
Consequently, the author had to use the sources mentioned above carefully, supplementing the historical research below by interviews with witnesses of the events described hereinafter.
Hòa Hảo Buddhism was in no way a product of contemporary social developments. A comprehensive analysis requires that Hòa Hảo Buddhism be viewed as an indispensable element of Vietnam’s national history and traditions, a historical and cultural phenomenon, which emerged in the frontier milieu of South Vietnam. This book has been built around the nexus of this concept.
In the course of preparing this work many people were really helpful, notably those friends and followers of Hòa Hảo Buddhism who opted to write and share their experiences with the author.
An old friend, Trần Đức Thanh Phong, took part in preparing this work, and the author is grateful for his help. I wish to thank veteran revolutionary, Mr. Trần Văn Ân, for his great help and important contributions relating to South Vietnam’s history of the past six decades: he proved to be an invaluable source of expertise and experience.
In the course of finding appropriate sources for this work, Mr. Nguyễn Văn Trần, an author of the doctoral thesis Etudes Sociologiques des Sectes Politico-Religieuses au Sud Vietnam, opted to share with the author the data he had discovered and used in his thesis.
Appreciation is due to Professor Nguyễn Ngọc Chí Linh and Professor Nguyễn Thành Long. Their suggestions were also instructive.
Gratitude is felt for all those who wrote and shared their perspectives with the author, or helped the author to prepare this book: Nguyễn Hòa An, Trần Văn Ân, Trần Nguyên Bình, Cao Thế Dung, Phạm Cao Dương, Nguyễn Tiến Đại, Nguyễn Chánh Đáng, Kim Định, Lê Định, Nguyễn Hữu Đôn, Minh Đức, Hà Văn Giáo, Trần Sơn Hà, Trần Thị Hoa, Lê Thái Hòa, Hồng Văn Hoạnh, Nguyễn Sỹ Hưng, Lưu Trung Khảo, Trần Kim Khôi, Nguyễn Ngọc Kính, Nhị Lang, Nguyễn Thái Lân, Lê Tấn Lợi, Nguyễn Huỳnh Mai, Lê Thành Mân, Trần Ngọc Ninh, Trần Kim Quan, Nguyễn Trung Quân, Hà Thế Ruyệt, Phạm Nam Sách, Lê Phước Sang, Nguyễn Giang Sơn, Trần Văn Tài, Nguyễn Văn Tại, Võ Minh Tấn, Nguyễn Văn Tạo, Lâm Ngọc Thạch, Phạm Sĩ Thanh, Trịnh Đình Thắng, Trần Kim Thiện, Phạm Công Thiện, Nguyễn Bảo Trị, Lâm Lễ Trinh, Nguyễn Văn Trần, Lê Quang Trường, Nguyễn Văn Tuội, Lý Khôi Việt, Trần Đình Vỵ.
I would like to thank all of them.
Finally, the author hopes that readers may magnanimously treat any imperfections that may remain in this work, and looks forward to receiving further advice and suggestions in order improve this book in its future editions.
Nguyễn Long Thành Nam.
California, September 6, 1988.