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Philanthropy or boastfulness?

Philanthropy or boastfulness?

Sunday, April 14, 2013, 12:59 GMT+7

Tram Be, a wealthy local businessman, donated whopping sums to renovate seven age-old pagodas in southern Tra Vinh province,  but his good deeds are marred by the omnipresence of his family’s names, pictures, statues and words showing off his donations in the pagodas, even at the most solemn positions. 

Tram Be, a big shareholder in several local banks, has been widely recognized by the clergy and locals for his substantial donations to help revamp seven ancient pagodas throughout the province. 

However, in many people’s opinions, the excessive recognition he now enjoys verges on blasphemy and boastfulness.

After making huge donations to refurbish seven century-old pagodas to a new, different state and give them a more modern, dazzling look, Be instantly displayed a big sign reading “built by Tram Be and his family” right at the pagodas’ main gates.

In Tra Cu district, where Be’s luxury mansion is located, at least three pagodas, namely Vam Ray, Ba Sat and Phno-dung, are dubbed ‘Mr. Tram Be’s pagodas’ by locals as they all are inundated with Be’s and his relatives’ imprints.

Earlier this month, as the renovation of Phno-dung pagoda completed, locals were dazed to see the new over-300-year-old pagoda, which is now plated with glittery gold. Its main gate, monks’ chambers and some other areas all bear the words “built by Tram Be and his family in 2007”, though in reality Be made donations to upgrade it only.

A large-sized photo of Be’s five-member family is prominently displayed at the façade of the pagoda’s solemn main hall, where the Buddha statues sit and where worshipping is conducted. On the right wall is a quite large relief featuring the names of Be’s three children in both Khmer (Tra Vinh is home to a large Khmer ethnic minority population) and Vietnamese.

On the left wall, three bronze statues of Be’s parents stand conspicuously next to the Apsara goddess statue, one of the most revered deities in Khmer culture. In the rear of the hall hangs a large relief extolling Tram Be’s and his family’s contributions in the two languages.

Not far from Phro-dung pagoda, the now modern-looking Vam Ray pagoda, located near Be’s lavish mansion, is also overwhelmed with names and photos of Be’s family clan.

The philanthropist maintained that the pagodas’ head monks had agreed to display his family’s names and photos in recognition of his contributions.

Complaints voiced

According to Venerable Phap Tan, head of Phno-dung pagoda, as Be had donated a staggering VND 10 billion (US$ 483,584) to revamp the pagoda, he couldn’t request Be to remove his families’ names and pictures, though a lot of Buddhists and visitors have voiced complaints.

Meanwhile, leaders of the communes home to the ‘Tram Be’s pagodas’ said handling this is beyond their authority.

A local official revealed that the monks and Buddhists of another time-honored pagoda in the area had turned down Be’s offer to refurbish it.

Venerable Danh Lung, head of the Ho Chi Minh City-based Chantarăngsây pagoda, said though inscribing the contributors’ names in recognition of their donations is not unusual in Khmer Buddhism branch, the inscription is restricted to small and appropriately-placed signs only.

“Such display [large signs, at prominent areas] is alien to Buddhism, which strongly advises its followers against boastfulness,” the monk stressed.  

Tram Be’s immodest self-recognition also draws negative feedback from around 200 Tuoi Tre readers.

According to Venerable Thich Nhat Tu, this is an unprecedented case in Buddhist history so far.

Buddhist contributors can make requests regarding how their donations are recognized, but the pagoda leaders are supposed to reject inappropriate ones.

Meanwhile, history Ph.D holder Nguyen Nha noted that Buddhist contributions and donations are significant only when the doers remain sincere and humble. Many from Tra Vinh province also expressed their frustration. 

Tuoi Tre


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