On March 3 a Vietnamese Buddhist monk was stabbed to death by a homeless man whom he had taken into his temple in Philadelphia. Thich Hanh Man, 43, had served only three months as resident monk at Philadelphia’s first Vietnamese Buddhist temple when the attack occurred. Though other members of the temple had warned him about Lan-Ngoc Nguyen, a Vietnamese homeless man whose past, they said, included arrests and a history of mental illness, Man felt that it was his duty as a monk to offer help.

Police said they saw evidence of a struggle in the temple kitchen. Members of the temple who knew Man, however, said that the turned-over tables and chairs were evidence not of a fight, but of a chase. Man, they said, who outweighed his attacker by twenty pounds, would have been trying to escape when he was stabbed nine times.

Thich Hanh Man (1954-1995), Courtesy Bob Taylor
Thich Hanh Man (1954-1995), Courtesy Bob Taylor


A memorial service was led by Thich Dong Chan, a Buddhist monk who had been Man’s friend and mentor for thirty years in Vietnam. “He was so sweet and easy,” Chan said, adding, “In Buddhism, [even] if somebody harms you, you cannot harm them.” Man’s longtime friend Thich Hanh Tuan, a Buddhist monk studying at Harvard Divinity School, said, “I don’t feel sad. I’m proud of him because he carried on the legacy of compassion and wisdom and love for his fellow man.”

In his eulogy, Tuan remembered the man who had been imprisoned and tortured in Vietnam for his activities promoting religious freedom, before escaping by boat in 1988. Addressing his departed friend, Tuan said, “The lesson I have learned from you is not in any sutra or text. I am sure you remember that we once learned that a bodhisattva vows not to become a buddha until after all sentient beings have attained buddhahood. This notion confused me for years. However, now I do not need to spend years reading the Tripitaka to find the meaning of this notion. I see it now in your lovely face . . . in your simple room and even on the faces of all people gathered here today. You are a living sutra.”

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