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Famed Buddhist Monk Returns to Vietnam After Long Exile

Buddhists in Vietnam are welcoming one of the country's most famous monks, Thich Nhat Hanh, back to his native land for the first time since he was exiled nearly 40 years ago. The Buddhist scholar and teacher, who now lives in France, touched down to a rapturous reception after Vietnam's communist government agreed to grant him a visa.

The serene chants of Buddhist faithful took on a special significance in Vietnam's capital thanks to the arrival of one of the country's most famous monks. Thich Nhat Hanh, who has been living in exile since 1966, was greeted at monastery in Hanoi by more than one thousand Buddhist monks, nuns, and lay practitioners.

For Buddhist faithful in Vietnam, Mr. Nhat Hanh's return is a milestone in a country that is run by the Communist Party, but also is experiencing a spiritual revival. One 75-year-old woman, Bui Phuong Vien, said she came to the airport to meet the spiritual leader out of devotion to Buddhism.

Ms. Bui says she is a Communist Party member, but also realizes that there is a Buddhist way and the Party comes after that. So she follows this path.

Mr. Nhat Hanh was an outspoken peace activist during the Vietnam War and was banned by the governments of both the U.S.-backed South Vietnam and communist North Vietnam.

After the war, Mr. Nhat Hanh gained international renown as a Buddhist teacher second only to the Dalai Lama. He taught hundreds of thousands at monasteries he founded in France and the United States, and published nearly 100 books. But his writings were long banned in his native land.

Last year, Hanoi invited Mr. Nhat Hanh back home. The invitation is seen as a response to the United States' listing of Vietnam as a country of particular concern for freedom of religion after the arrests of several dissident Buddhist and Christian leaders.

He says he hopes his return for four months of teaching and group meditation will help ease suspicion between the government and Buddhism.

"I think if I practice well the practice of deep listening, I might help the government, I might help the Buddhists who are having some problems with the government. I want to help both of them and not just one party, because they all belong to the same country, same family, same people. Brotherhood is the word," Mr. Nhat Hanh says.

As a condition of his return, the monk insisted that Hanoi allow his work to be published and let him teach to large groups. Hanoi agreed to both requirements.