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Tuesday, 19 December 2017 10:00
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Contribution of Buddhism to the implementation of social security policy

(LLCT) - Buddhism entered Vietnam long time ago and became an important part of the cultural life of the Vietnamese people. For over 2000 years of history, it has widely and deeply affected the social life, contributing to the formation of the identity and the construction and protection of the nation. In the modern time, with the motto “Dharma - Nation - Socialism”, Buddhism continues to contribute to the renovation process of the country with Buddhist and social activities for people, among which activities concerning social security clearly reflect the spirit of “engagement in, and help for life” of Vietnamese Buddhism.   

The nature of all genuine religions contains humane, philanthropic values and inclination to the good. Right at its formation, Buddhism appreciated kindness and compassion for happiness and contentment of people. According to Buddhist philosophy, the goals of leading a religious life are to be enlightened and liberated but to this end, religions must be linked to life. As “religion is inseparable from the world”, kindness, compassion, joyfulness and renunciation as well as selflessness and altruism must be used to save people and help worldly life. Especially, Buddhism always appreciates the practical charity by sharing miseries and losses with people and helping those in need. In the dogma of Six Paramitas of Buddhism (charity, commandment, endurance, progress, meditation and wisdom), charity is the first conduct on the way to enlightenment. In the Ten Virtues, “no stealing but alms-giving” is one of the three good behaviours that every Buddhist must conduct. Therefore, in Buddhism, helping oneself and others becomes a natural action on the way to enlightenment.       

In the course of development, strongly attached to the nation, many Buddhist dogmas have blended perfectly with the philosophy of life, values and moral standards of the Vietnamese people. For example, the Buddhist law of cause-and-effect blends with the thinking of the Vietnamese people to form a simple but humane philosophy “a good turn deserves another”, “who sow the wind will reap the whirlwind”. The charity principle of Buddhism blends with Vietnamese compassion to form the philosophy which treasures charitable practices. 

Promoting the close relationship with the nation and the principle of “engagement in, and help for life”, the Vietnamese Buddhist Sangha (VBS) always participates actively in social charitable activities. The participation of VBS in social security activities is flexible, diverse and effective.

The VBS takes part in all aspects of social welfare at different levels including ensuring minimum income and reducing poverty sustainably, supporting people in especially difficult circumstances, developing social insurance (including healthcare insurance) and assessing social minimal services (education, healthcare, accommodation, clean water and information). Previously, the VBS mainly took part in charitable activities by raising funds to help people suffering from natural disasters. The regular support was mainly for charitable institutions (supporting centres, Tue Tinh medical centres). Nowadays, the VBS takes part in many other activities such as creating jobs and reducing poverty sustainably, and supporting people to get access to minimal education, healthcare and accommodation services.

The scope and the extent of mobilizing the resources to take part in charitable activities have been incessantly increasing. In 1980s, despite the difficult livelihood of people and Buddhists, the VBS was still active in charitable activities by visiting and supporting people suffering from natural disasters. In spite of the little economic values of the support, VBS social activities at that time practically contributed to social welfare. The results of mobilizing resources for social charitable activities of the Vietnamese Buddhist Sangha between its tenure III and tenure VI are: Tenure III (1992-1997): 111.733 billion VND, Tenure IV (1997-2002): 296.972 billion VND, Tenure V (2002-2007): over 400 billion VND, Tenure VI (2007-2012): 2,827.432 billion VND, nearly 10 times of the previous tenure(1). During Tenure VII, VBS social activities made big progress. For the past 4 years (2013-2016), the total funds for social charitable activities of VBS have been over 4,000 billion VND, greater than the total funds of all the previous tenures.  

Along with the increase in the fund, the charitable activities of the VBS have become more and more diverse. In the field of ensuring the minimum income and reducing poverty sustainably, VBS takes part in building bridges, making wells, building roads, supporting meritorious families, border guards and Vietnamese heroic mothers, contributing to the gratitude fund, the fund of war veterans, the fund for victims of dioxin, the fund of poverty alleviation, the fund for islands and fishermen. Many pagodas and Buddhists give free healthcare insurance and help the poor, the lonely elderly people and orphans to pay for social security.

Both random and regular social supports are promoted. In terms of random support, VBS focuses on assisting poor people in remote areas and ethnic minority people, visiting and giving presents to patients in leper’s hospitals, lunatic asylums, nursing homes, disabled people, victims of dioxin, giving bicycles to students of poor families, providing charitable meals to poor patients in hospitals. Along with the social activities in Vietnam, in 2005, VBS also mobilized up to 552,700 USD and 4700 rupees to help victims of earthquakes in Nepal. Besides, VBS pays more attention to regular and sustainable support activities such as establishing a system of schools for poor children and nursing homes for lonely and poor elderly people. For example, in Hanoi, there is the Centre for orphans, disabled children, children with HIV at Bo De pagoda, free classes at Dong Cuu pagoda. In Ho Chi Minh City, there are 5 schools for orphans and disabled children, 4 centres for poor and lonely elderly people and 13 free classes. In Thua Thien-Hue, there is a free vocational school named Tay Linh, a private kindergarten named Dieu De and a charitable kindergarten named Phu Loc. In general, these social support centres of the Buddhist Sangha are spacious and convenient. The regular social support activities are running smoothly and effectively.    

One of the much appreciated community activities of VBS is to support people in need with basic healthcare and accommodation. With accommodation, pagodas usually welcome people in straitened circumstances. Buddhists all over the country also take part in the movements like “Paying the debt of gratitude”, or “Remembering the source while drinking water”, support heroic Vietnamese mothers and contribute to building charity houses for heroic Vietnamese mothers, war invalids, poor lonely people and social support centres for poor lonely elderly people and disabled children... In terms of healthcare support, Buddhists all over the country donate blood, raise funds to help patients of cataract in free surgery and give free meals to poor patients in hospitals. In many localities, the Buddhist management committees have established the counselling centres to support people with HIV/AIDS. Especially, the system of Tue Tinh medical centres and Oriental medicine clinics are operating effectively and bringing about many benefits to people. At the present, VBS has 150 Tue Tinh medical centres, 655 traditional medical consulting rooms, 1 polyclinic and hundreds of Vietnamese traditional medicine pharmacies and acupuncture centres in many provinces all over the country such as Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Da Nang, Can Tho, Thua Thien - Hue, Quang Tri, Kien Giang, Soc Trang, Ca Mau. These healthcare centres carry out medical examinations, give medicine and acupressure and point acupuncture for ten thousands of patients.     

It can be said that the charity and social welfare activities of the Vietnam Buddhist Sangha are increasing in scope, and in terms of beneficiaries, and becoming more diverse in forms and flexible and creative in the performance. During the activities, the VBS also coordinates with the government, Fatherland Fronts and other socio-political organizations. Moreover, these activities attract the participation of not only buddhists but also people and businesses in general, which help share the burden with the State in solving the problems concerning social welfare and security and making a better society for everyone. 

However, there still exist some problems in the participation of VBS in the social welfare activities. Although the social activities that VBS takes part in are diverse, most of them focus on charitable aspects without paying enough attention to implementing social welfare policies and ensuring social security. The systematic coordination among the social activities of VBS is not very good and the organizational skills of the social workers are limited. The professional knowledge and skills of the teachers and other staff at some medical, educational and vocational centres of VBS are limited. The vocational centres are of small scales and disperse, with poor facilities and equipment, and can only train simple jobs. The social potentials and resources are not fully mobilized and some centres are confused when coming to support activities with foreign elements. In addition, due to the lack of understanding and close cooperation with the local governments and organizations, some centres supporting orphans and disabled children are taken advantage of, and take part in some illegal activities, which erode the prestige of the VBS. Therefore, in order to promote the role of VBS in social activities, on the one hand, it needs to renovate its operation to improve the quality and effectiveness of these activities; on the other, the government, Fatherland Front at different levels, organizations and the whole community need to cooperate for help.     

At the moment, VBS is enjoying more opportunities to take part in other social welfare activities and contribute more to the happy and peaceful life of the people.

Firstly, the renovation policy of the Party and the State on religions and religious work has opened up new way for religious activities, especially Buddhist activities. From Resolution 24 of the Politburo on religious work in the new period (1990), through Party congresses, the attitude and the renovation policy of the Party towards religion have been becoming complete. The Party has shown a consistent attitude of respecting and ensuring religious freedom, of building a unity between people of different religions, of promoting good cultural and moral values in each religion, of encouraging religious activities benefitting the nation, the people and the religions themselves. The policy of the Party towards religions has been institutionalized into the Constitution, laws, especially the Ordinance on Beliefs and Religion (2004) and the Law on Belief and Religion (effective from January 2018), which have created conditions for religious organizations to develop and to be secularized. With the spirit of “suitability”, the Buddhist circle is prompt in catching the new opportunity to propagate the Buddhist teachings and is active in social and charitable activities.   

Secondly, social security has become an urgent issue in sustainable development. During the renovation process, the country has gained some great historic achievements but there are still some difficulties and challenges and some drawbacks that need to be overcome. For example, the gap between the rich and the poor is becoming bigger; the livelihood of people, especially those in remote areas is still hard. Besides, the negative effects of the market economy, climate change and natural disasters are causing a series of social problems such as unemployment, loss of farmland, low living standard and lack of medical care. Meanwhile, the State’s resources for social welfare are limited and the system of social security is disperse, overlapping and ineffective. In this situation, the participation of the whole society in social welfare activities is necessary. In Vietnam, Buddhism is popular with the greatest number of followers and exerts wide and deep influence on society so it is favourable for the VBS to actively participate in the social welfare work and share the burden with the State.

Thirdly, the policies for social security are more and more complete which create conditions for religions in general and Buddhism in particular to take part in social welfare work. In the renovation period, the Party and the State are becoming aware of the importance of the social security system. The documents of the 11th Party Congress clearly stated “Ensuring social security... flexible and diverse social support and the capability to protect and help every member of society, especially the unprivileged and vulnerable”(2). The Resolution 15 of the Party on “Some issues of social policies between 2012 and 2020” proposed the requirement: “Social policies must be viewed as equal with economic policies and implemented synchronously with economic development and be suitable with the capacities and resources available at each period of time”. To specify this point of view, the Government has designed an Action Plan with the goal of forming a system of social welfare for everyone in order to ensure employment and minimum income for each person, increase the number of beneficiaries in the social insurance programmes, support people in especially difficult circumstances, and make sure that people get access to basic social services. The documents of the 12th Party Congress emphasized “Continue completing social policies in conformity with socio-economic development”(3) and proposed several new policies in the social security sector such as improving the effectiveness of the system of social security to every member of society, moving from charitable support to ensuring social security of citizens, renovating the poverty-alleviation policy to make it more focused and effective and using the standard of evaluating poverty in multiple aspects to ensure social security and minimum basic social services for poor people, developing various forms of charity and promoting the movement of the whole society in helping unprivileged people. The social security policies of the Party should match the compassionate and good-inclined attitudes of Buddhism and the policy of socializing social security should create favourable conditions for the Buddhist circle to take part in social work.  

In the future, it is necessary to promote social welfare work, improve its systematic and connecting features in social work, increase the coordination with the Government, people’s organizations and supervise and closely check the social activities of organizations. The Government and the Fatherland Front at different levels and socio-political organizations need to promote the orientation and cooperation with the VBS to ensure its operation conforming to the principle and goals mentioned in its Charter and with the policies of the Party and laws and regulations of the State.

l Endnotes:


(1) Nguyen Thanh Xuan: Religions and religious policies in Vietnam, Religion Publishing House, Hanoi, 2015, p.384-385.

(2) CPV: Documents of the 11th National Party Congress, National Political Publishing House, Hanoi, 2011, p.228. 

(3) CPV: Documents of the 12th National Party Congress, Office of the Party Central Committee of the Vietnamese Communist Party, Hanoi, 2016, p.137.

Assoc. Prof., Le Van Loi

Science Management Department

Ho Chi Minh National Academy of Politics

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