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CHAPTER I

"We suffer the fate of orphan children
Our nation is being trampled on by
other nations passing through ."

                        Huynh Phu So

Throughout history governments and nation-states have been influenced by the actions of the relatively small, religious, political, or military groups that have emerged as a consequence of the failure of the central government to meet their physical requirements and associated societal problems . Whether these problems were real or imaginary is immaterial since they were perceived as such by the people in these groups. In many societies such groups have, in fact become semi-autonomous sub-states combining the characteristics of religious sects and political organizations and in some instance have raised military units to defend their territory . Such groupings are not peculiar to any one part of the world and each country can produce several that have played an important part in their history, as for example the Mormans in the United States .

Indo-China proved admirably well suited to the spawining of a wide variety of these sub-states . It's history is resplendent with accounts of the interaction of these groups between each other and with whatever was acting as a central government at the time .

Twentieth-century Indo-China proved no different than previous periods and saw the consolidation of the Roman Catholics Bishoprics and a widening of their influence, the emergence of a truly unique religious sect, the Cao Dai ; the formalization of a group or river pirates into sub-state status, the Binh Xuyen ; the emergence of the best known of all Indo-Chinese factions, the National Liberation Front (NLF) ; and the founding of a most unique and important sub-state, the Hoa-Hao Buddhist . This case study will explore the development of the Hoa Hao as they become a semi-autonomous sub-state within South Viet Nam, developed their own polotical and military organizations to support the propagation of their faith, conducted a war against both the central government and the NLF and eventually entered a self-serving coalition with the central government that have become stronger with the passage of time .

Major concentrations of Hoa Hao believers are found in the area of south and west of Saigon in the fertile Mekong Delta . (figure 1) . This area, described as the granary of Viet Nam, has 60% of all the land in South Viet Nam that is presently under cultivation and produces annualy in excess of three million tons of rice which is distributed throughout the country . The land is characterized by broad expanses of flat alluvial deposits broken only in a few locations by terrain features that rise more than ten meters above the plain . The Mekond Delta consists of some sixteen Provinces, all but one of which has Hoa Hao believers, with a population of just over five million people .

MEKONG DELTA
Figure 1


Terrain features that are out of character within the Delta consist of a few limestone and granite tips that protruce through the surrounding earth deposits . The most prominent of these are the That Son Mountain in Chau Doc Province on the Cambodian border . (figure 1) These are locally referred to as the Seven Mountains because they consists of seven identifiable peaks, the highest of which is about 600 meters . These mountains are considered sacred by many Vietnamese and the peasants in the past have not entered them out of fear . These mountains have played an important role in the evolution of Hoa Hao Buddhism since it was in these mountain that the forerunners of Hoa Hao Buddhism received their enlightenment and the inspiration to create and develope the sect .

The Genesis of Hoa Hao Buddhism can found in the teachings of a buddhist monk name Doan Minh Nguyen who was born in 1807 in the Province of Sa Dec on the Mekong River . At age 42 Nguyen started preaching to the peasants along the Mekong River and healing them of a variety of illnesses . According to reports of the time he cured "thousands" of people and received them as believers . This quickly brought him to the attention of local authorities who arrested him and accused him of gathering people for political purposes . Nguyen was transferred to Chau Doc Province where authorities could keep a closer watch on him and was freed and authorized to preach under strict control of local mandarins . Nguyen selected a small pagoda called Tay An Tu on Sam Mountain (one of the Seven Mountains) for teaching his philosophy of Buddhism which he named Buu Son Ky Huong .

The name foretold a new Buddhist era especially designed to meet the needs and aspirations of the peasants . It was to be a personal religion that encouraged agriculture, social development, and individual worship as opposed to worship in large elaborate pagodas .

After becoming establish in the Tay An Tu Pagoda, Nguyen assured the title of Duc Phat-Thay Tay-An, Master Buddha of Tay An, and was considered a living Buddha by the natives in Chou Doc and the Seven Mountains area . After his death in 1856 Nguyen was followed by a succession of disciples all teaching his form of personal Buddhism and spreading the faith but only in the limited area of the Seven Mountains region . Many of these holy men also preached a message of active rebellion against the French Colonist which led to abortive native revolts in 1875 and 1913 . According to church documents, several small pagodas were established in the sacred Seven Mountains from which these disciples taught over the suceeding ninety years until a young man named Huynh Phu So was enlightened in 1939 and founded Phat Giao Hoa Hao - Hoa Hao Buddhism .

 

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