There is passionate chatter as you enter Puku bar in downtown Hanoi on Wednesday night, as people on comfy couches discuss the intricate role Buddhism plays in Asia. One man reflects, “I have always known Buddhism to be a part of my life, my culture, but I’ve never tried to fully understand its doctrines.” This week it was Buddhism but in weeks prior it was masculinity, white privilege, polyamory, veganism and artificial intelligence have all found their place at this round table for Hanoi’s philosophy lovers.
The Hanoi Philosophy Forum has created a space where individuals from any country, belief or educational background can join discussions on pressing topics. “It seems that worldwide there’s not a space where people in a community can speak openly about important, divisive contemporary issues. I want to help create that space,” says Jon Dallas, the founder of the Hanoi Philosophy Forum.
The forum started in March 2017 and has since grown fast. What started as a free get together of about 20 people, now brings in large crowds who pay the small entrance fee of 70,000 VND. There are two English nights: Wednesdays at 7:30 p.m. in Puku and, Thursdays at 9:30 p.m. in Rumors.
The format allows people to learn about and discuss divisive ideas, such as monogamy versus polyamory, while sharing personal opinions and anecdotes. As with the woman who solemnly remarked, “I use to be polyamorous until the two people I was in a relationship with left me for each other.”
There is also a growing Vietnamese philosophy forum, which Dallas felt was necessary as the philosophical language can be complex, he want make it as accessible as possible, and there were different ways of communicating.
“Westerners are use to talking over each other in a bit more of an aggressive way to get their opinion across. I don’t want to make a big generalization, but it seems to me that Vietnamese people are much more polite, courteous and more reserved,” Dallas says. “The feedback I got from several Vietnamese people was that they just couldn’t get their voice out there.”
The goal of the Philosophy Forum is to make philosophical discussion easy and accessible to as many people as possible. It is this lofty goal that saw the forum evolve from focusing on narrower academic topics such as Friedrich Nietzsche and Immanuel Kant to broader contemporary contentious issues like polyamory and white privilege.
“I wanted people to talk about the ideas of philosophers, but there needed to an accessibility point,” Dallas says. Each topic is explored through a series of lectures given by Dallas or other guest speakers. After, people break off into small group discussions before a wider group discussion is held. The format allows people to learn about and discuss divisive ideas, such as monogamy versus polyamory, while sharing personal opinions and anecdotes. As with the woman who solemnly remarked, “I use to be polyamorous until the two people I was in a relationship with left me for each other.”
Humans are always going to have that sense of intrigue. We will all always wonder why we are here and what it all means. So, having a space to openly discuss varying views on the nature of reality is important our individual and collective well-being.
It is the mixed use of anecdotal, evidential and explorative methods that makes people feel included in something that has conventionally felt daunting and irrelevant. “When you go to school for philosophy you need to learn all the arguments, definitions and history – the fun is sucked out of it,” Dallas says. “I’m trying to put the fun back into questioning the fundamental nature of reality.”
Humans are always going to have that sense of intrigue. We will all always wonder why we are here and what it all means. So, having a space to openly discuss varying views on the nature of reality is important to our individual and collective well-being. “By having a space where people who disagree with us are able to engage in dialogue we’re all of sudden able to recognize that these people that disagree with us are humans too,” Dallas says. “Hopefully, the amount of hatred and suffering in the world will ultimately be reduced.”
Dallas hopes to expand the forum to Chiang Mai in Thailand and Seoul in South Korea within the next couple of years. Eventually, he wants the project expanded to 40 or 50 major cities around the world. His ultimate dream is to have researchers, artists, ideas and opinions from all the different cultures and viewpoints so that on any given night people from all over the world will discuss a big issue or idea such as, say, Buddhism. Dallas believes this will help alleviate many of the issues facing our world, as there is nothing more important than communication and finding common ground with those we disagree with.
Puku: 16-18 Tống Duy Tân, Hàng Bông, Hoàn Kiếm
Rumors: Quảng An, Tây Hồ