Following 39 years in exile, the widely known Zen Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh returned to Vietnam in 2005. The visit made the front pages of state-owned newspapers. Initially, the group had government approval, and his return raised expectations that religious restrictions would be relaxed in Vietnam. During this visit, Nhat Hanh’s followers were invited by Abbot Duc Nghi, a member of the official Buddhist Church of Vietnam, to occupy Bat Nha monastery and continue their sectarian practice there. Nhat Hanh’s followers claim that during a sacred ceremony at Plum Village Monastery in 2006 Nghi received a transmission from Nhat Hanh and agreed to let them occupy Bat Nha. Nhat Hanh’s followers spent $1 million developing the monastery, building a meditation hall for 1,800 people. The official support initially given to Nhat Hanh’s supporters is now believed to have been a ploy[dubious –discuss] to get Vietnam off of the US State Department‘s Religious Freedomblacklist, improve chances of entry into the World Trade Organization, and increase foreign investment.
During a later visit to Vietnam in 2007, Nhat Hanh suggested ending government control of religion to President Nguyen Minh Triet. A provincial police officer later spoke to a reporter about this incident, accusing Nhat Hanh of breaking Vietnamese law. The officer said, “[Nhat Hanh] should focus on Buddhism and keep out of politics.”
In 2008, during an interview in Italian television, Nhat Hanh made some statements regarding the Dalai Lama that his followers claim upset Chinese officials, who in turn put pressure on the Vietnamese government. The chairman of Vietnam’s national Committee on Religious Affairs sent a letter which accused Nhat Hanh’s organization of publishing false information about Vietnam on its Web site. It was written that the posted information misrepresented Vietnam’s policies on religion and could undermine national unity. The chairman requested that Nhat Hanh’s followers leave Bat Nha. The letter also stated that Abbot Duc Nghi wished them to leave. “Duc Nghi is breaking a vow that he made to us… We have videotapes of him inviting us to turn the monastery into a place for worship in the Plum Village tradition, even after he dies — life after life. Nobody can go against that wish,” said Brother Phap Kham