The History of Buddhism in Vietnam
15/06/2012 05:28 (GMT+7)
Kích cỡ chữ:  Giảm Tăng




Buddhism was most likely brought to Vietnam first by well-known monks who were respected by their contemporaries. True too, many of their names were not written down and have thus been lost to history. The few mentioned in this chapter are those fortunate to have had their names passed down from generation to generation. They certainly were not the very first ones; however, below they are regarded as such because they are the first to receive mention in historical records.


Mahajivaka and Kalacarya, both monks, arrived together in Luy Lau, Governor Shishee’s headquarters, at the end of Emperor Lingdi’s reign in the Han dynasty (168-189 AD). According to Co Chau Phap Van Phat Ban Hanh Ngu Luc, upon their arrival in Giao Chau, Kalacarya decided to stay while Mahajivaka continued on to China. Mahajivaka’s story is mentioned in a number of Chinese and Vietnamese documents, each bringing out a unique aspect. Put together, they give a full picture of his way of preaching.

Hue Hao’s Cao Tang Truyen tells the story of Mahajivaka as follows:

Mahajivaka was born in India and traveled to many places, both civilized and uncivilized, without ever stopping for long anywhere. To his disciples and attendants, his actions were unpredictable. He traveled from India to Funan, then along the coast to Giao Chau and Guangzhou by the end of Jin Emperor Huidi’s dynasty (290-306). He came to Luoyang, then returned to India after unrest started there.

The Chinese historical text, Fozu Li Dai Tong Zai, contains mention of him: "In the fourth year of the Yongping era (Huidi, 294 AD), an Indian monk named Mahajivaka arrived in Luoyang".

Thien Uyen Tap Anh, a Vietnamese historical document, tells of Dam Thien’s reference to the Vietnamese Bonze Thong Bien, citing Buddhism’s introduction into China: "Kalacarya, Mahajivaka, Kang Zenghui, Zhi Gangliang, and Mouzi had been already in Giao Chau." Among the five Buddhist monks referred to in the book, only one was Chinese, while the others were South and Central Asians.

Mahajivaka’s preaching activity in Giao Chau, however, appears in no Vietnamese nor Chinese records. Historians can only find reference to his work in China on which to base his activities in Vietnam. In the Cao Tang Truyen Hue Hao writes:

Mahajivaka was an Indian who traveled throughout China and uncivilized regions but without any permanent residence. What he did was wonderful, unusual and unpredicted by his contemporaries. From India he came to Funan, then along various coasts to Giao Chau and Guangzhou, doing many sacred and unusual things.

Arriving in Tuong Duong, one pleasant day in Nghe An province, he was refused entry onto a ferry to cross the river because he looked so shabby. Strangely enough, when the ferry reached the northern bank, Mahajivaka had already crossed. Seeing two tigers waving their tails and ears, Mahaiivaka petted them and they suddenly moved away. Witnessing this, people on the two riverbanks followed him.

By the end of the Huidi reign, when Mahajivaka came to Luoyang, local monks held a ritual to greet him. Mahajivaka quietly kneeled down, maintaining his composure. Hue Hao continues by recounting that Mahajivaka used his supernatural powers to cure a number of sick people, including Dang Dinh Van, chief of the Hoanh Duong region.

Living then in Luoyang was a monk named Truc Phap Hanh who was loved and respected by the local people. In one conversation between him and Mahajivaka, he said, "You are a senior monk who reaches the peak in your path to enlightenment. It is very kind of you to give us some good advice."

Mahajivaka responded, "You should rally the people," preaching that one "should watch his words, never commit any crime and do good things".

Truc Phap Hanh insisted, "You were kindly requested to preach things we have never heard of, but what you said has already been learned by heart [memorized] by an eight-year old! Such being the case, there is no need to make such a request to you."

Mahajivaka smiled and said, "Though memorized by the time one reaches 100 years of age, even, what is the use of memorizing it? Everyone knows how to respect people who reach the peak of the Way in their religion but fail to know how themselves to reach it. What a pity! I have said a few things which, if put into practice, will be very useful."

When Mahajivaka left the crowd, hundreds of people invited him to lunch at their houses. Mahajivaka accepted all of them and on the next day he was seen at 500 different houses. Initially, all the hosts claimed he had come to their house only. Later they realized that he had used his supernatural powers to multiply himself and appear at every house simultaneously.This unbelievable story is surely fictitious. Hue Hao, a great admirer of Mahajivaka who shared the same views, likely did not check these stories and eagerly wrote them down for people to read.

It is mentioned in Theravada and Mahayana sutras that monks were given supernatural powers (called "Abhidjnas" in Buddhist texts and "magic" by Chinese books) which cannot be obtained by ordinary people. But Buddha often recommended that monks not use those powers because it would mislead people and make them haughty. The strange things done by Mahajivaka possibly originated from these meditation practices.


Unlike Mahajivaka, Kalacarya did not continue his trip on to China, but stayed in Vietnam. His name and deeds were closely related to the legend of Man Nuong mentioned in many historical books and legends of Vietnam, and to the annals of Phap Van (or Dau) Pagoda, one of the most ancient in Vietnam, in what is now Ha Bac, Vietnam.

The story of Kalacarya and Man Nuong was highly legendary and written differently in various books. We have read the historical legends of Kalacarya and Man Nuong in the hope of inquiring into the historical values hidden behind the legends.

According to a passage in Bao Cuc Truyen, when arriving in Luy Lau, Kalacarya and Mahajivaka met a monk called Tu Dinh who invited them to stay. Mahajivaka refused, continuing his eastward journey. Kalacarya remained in Tu Dinh’s, entering Buddhist ascetic monkhood. With great veneration, Tu Dinh asked his daughter A Man to serve Kalacarya. After one month, Kalacarya told of his intention to leave. In response, Tu Dinh requested Kalacarya to give him Buddhist instruction and predict his future. Kalacarya answered:

Being too busy with sifting rice, one fails to realize that it is already dark; then one loses his way and gets confused. When confused, one becomes indifferent to all, sages and ordinary people as well. Now that you have entered my religion, you have a predestined attachment. Your daughter, A Man, will be bestowed a big religious favor. When she meets with a ‘savior’, she will become an important vessel of the Law [the Dharma]. Do you understand what I mean?

Kalacarya agreed to stay longer. Sometimes he stood on one foot saying prayers for seven days and nights. One day he read prayers and then disappeared. His voice was heard from the peak of a mountain in the West. People tried in vain to find him. What they could find was only some verses written on a big tree and on the mountain peak. Some thought that the monk had died while others said he had left for other places.

This story in Bao Cuc Truyen is significantly different from the same story in Linh Nam Trich Quai by Tran The Phap, though the personalities are the same. In the latter, the character was named Man Nuong. The Kalacarya in Bao Cuc Truyen foresaw what would happen to Man Nuong when he said: Your daughter, A Man will be bestowed a big religious favor. When she meets with a ‘savior’, she will become an important vessel of the Law."

The phrase "vessel of the Law" ("Phap khi") here can be understood as a tool or a means to practice Buddhism. Kalacarya was ‘possibly referring to the four vessels: "Phap Van (Dharmmegha, Buddhism as a fertilizing cloud), "Phap Vu" (The rain of Buddha-truth which fertilizes all beings), "Phap Loi" (The thunder of dharma, awakening man from stupor and stimulating the growth of virtue, the awful voice of Buddha-truth) and "Phap Dien" (The lightning of the truth). Based on concrete details about Man Nuong and the four vessels in Linh Nam Trich Quai, Tran Van Giap in Vietnamese Buddhism from its beginning to the 13th century agrees with this interpretation.

In the story of Kalacarya and Man Nuong in Linh Nam Trich Quai, the name Kalacarya was transliterated into Vietnamese as "Gia La Do Le" which was possibly another transcription of the Sanskrit Kalacarya, meaning the black sage. This strange name suggests that Kalacarya was not an Aryan but a Dravidian, the aboriginal population of Southern India before it was conquered by Aryan tribes from the North. The Dravidians were pushed further to the South, so Kalacarya was possibly from the south. Man Nuong was not the true daughter of Tu Dinh, but an orphan with a miserable life who spoke in a non-standard accent. Nevertheless, she had a firm belief in religion, taking care of the cooking for monks, including Kalacarya. The following paragraph is similar to one in Kien Van Tieu Luc by Le Quy Don:

Sometimes in the fifth lunar month when the night was short, Man Nuong hurriedly finished her cooking. When everything was ready, the monks had not finished their prayers, everyone returning to his room. Kalacarya found no other way than to step over her body. Suddenly Man Nuong felt her heart throbbing and she got pregnant. Three or four months later, Man Nuong felt ashamed, leaving the place. Kalacarya also left for a pagoda by the riverbank and stayed there.

When the time came, Man Nuong gave birth to a baby girl. She came to see the monk and handed the baby over to him. Kalacarya carried the baby to the place under a banyan tree at the crossroads by the river head, putting her into the tree stem and saying: "I entrust this Buddhist adherent to you, take care of her and you will become a Buddhist disciple." Before their separation, the monk gave her a stick, and said: "You carry this stick home. Whenever there is a drought you will just wave the stick, — the water will come out to save the people"

When Man Nuong was 80 years old, the banyan tree suddenly collapsed, drifting on the river to the ferry front of the pagoda. People came to cut at the tree, but all their axes and knives broke in the process: Some 300 villagers tried to pull it out of the water, but the tree did not move. Yet, when Man Nuong, who went down to the ferry to wash her hands, slightly pulled at it, the tree suddenly drifted ashore. Everybody was stupefied, asking her to pull the tree up so that carpenters could make four statues of Buddha. But when they worked to the core of the tree where the monk had hidden the baby, their tools broke and that part of the tree turned into a slab of stone. The workmen took the stone out and threw it into the water. Suddenly, all those who threw the stone into the water were killed. Everyone implored Man Nuong for mercy, and then asked a fisherman to dive into the river and bring the stone up. People staged a procession for the stone into the Buddha temple for their worship.

The four statues were named Phap Van, Phap Vu, Phap Loi and Phap Dien and put into the Dau pagoda for worship. Every year, on the eighth day of the fourth lunar month, people from different parts of the country, young and old, male and female, would gather at this pagoda for entertainment and singing. This ritual was named the Buddha Bathing Festival.

More details were revealed in the book Co Chau Phap Van Phat Ban Hanh, a book of historical legends written in verse around the year 1752:

During Shishee’s time, there lived in the Linh Quang Pagoda of Phat Tich village, on the northern bank of the Duong river, a monk called Kalacarya who set up a secluded hut to preach his religion:

In Tien Son hamlet, Tien Du district

Stands the pagoda of Linh Quang on the Phoenix mountain

The green forest is called the hill of Ma Mang

Next to Thach That exists a village called Tien Mountain,

Where stays a monk from the far away country of India

Who, called Kalacarya, entered the reclusive Monkhood.

Setting up a secluded hut under a banyan tree

Where he lived and read prayers daily.

It is revealed through the above verses that the monk’s name was Kalacarya who had come from India. He did not stay in the Linh Quang Pagoda which was nearby, but in a secluded hut under a banyan tree to enter his monastic seclusion. The place was the Tien Son hamlet, of Tien Du district. The book also recounted there lived in Man Xa hamlet (Ha Man village) on this bank of Duong river the family of Tu Dinh who had a beautiful daughter called Man Nuong. One day, she slept at the door of Kalacarya’s room. The monk, who had just returned from a religious mission, unconsciously stepped over her body and Man Nuong became pregnant. After 14 months, on the eight of the fourth moon, she gave birth to a daughter:

The woman’s longing for day and night,

The baby to be born though it is fourteen months or more.

Then on the eighth of the fourth moon in summer [came one]

Who looks beautiful, with five-color halos around her body.

The above verses described Man Nuong’s daughter as the reincarnation of Buddha: her 14-month pregnancy term, the birthday on the eighth day of the fourth moon - also the Buddha’s birthday recognized by northern Buddhist countries - and the last verse’s reference to the baby’s body being covered with five-color halos.

The book went on:

Man Nuong, as instructed by her father, handed over the baby to a monk who carried the baby to the old banyan tree, knocking at it and saying some prayers. Suddenly the tree cracked into two for the monk to put the baby inside. The tree then shut again and blossomed. The monk and Man Nuong returned home. The monk then gave her his stick saying that whenever drought appears, if she just plants the stick on the ground, there would be water.

Once when a great drought occurred, Man Nuong did as told by her master, realizing that it was effective. "Suddenly water is following in streams, people everywhere, in the North, the South, the East, or the West who were longing for water, did not know why [there suddenly came water]." Then in the year of the Mouse, a storm pulled down the banyan tree which had drifted to the Dau River. All the strong men in the village came to pull the tree ashore but it did not move. When Man Nuong went to the river to wash her hands, the tree was bobbing on the river, seemingly to show its gladness. Man Nuong threw out the strap of her bodice, and the tree drifted ashore at once. That night Shishee, who was asleep in his office, was told in a dream by a deity to carve the banyan into four statues.

The workmen cut the tree into four pieces, each of which was carved into a statue. When this was done, rituals were held to give names to the statues. When the name-giving ritual was organized for the first statue, a five-colored cloud appeared in the sky, hence its name was "Phap Van" which was brought to Thien Dinh (or Dau) Pagoda for worship. Then a similar ceremony was held for the second statue, when it was showering, its name was "Phap Vu" which was brought to Thanh Dao pagoda (namely Dau pagoda) for worship. Similarly, the third statue was given the name of "Phap Loi" and the fourth "Phap Dien": when the rituals were held, thunder and lightning appeared in the sky, and the statues were brought to Phi Tuong pagoda (namely, Tuong pagoda) and Phuong Quan Pagoda (namely Dan pagoda) respectively for worship.

A solemn ceremony was held for the ‘anointing’ of the four statues:

People gathered along streets like in a fairy tale,

To attend the inauguration of the four statues,

How cheerful it was!

With the beat of gongs and drums,

And the seemingly endless explosion of firecrackers.

From then on, every year on the eighth day of the fourth lunar month, rituals have been held at the four pagodas where the four statues are venerated. Noted monks from various localities also return to Luy Lau for religious devotion. The names of the four statues were known even in China, so the Emperor Mingdi of the Eastern Jin dynasty (323-325 AD) sent his general Tao Kan and an army to Vietnam to take the statues, but:

Though 1000 troops were sent,

They could not carry the statue,

Which became as heavy as Altai Mountain.

The next day 3000 troops came,

Hoping to carry the statue to the North,

But these Chinese soldiers fell dead.

That stupefied Tao Kan,

Who then prayed to Buddha for mercy,

And was willing to bring the statue back to the pagoda,

Being aware that it was impossible to carry it to the North.

Through these excerpts, the allegorical nature of Co Chau Phap Van Phat Ban Hanh is obvious. The allegories here make it easier to understand and remember that Vietnam’s Phap Van Buddha was determined to stay in Vietnam and not be taken to China. He stayed and protected historical records and wrote war songs for the anti-Chinese resistance under the Ly dynasty. Phap Van was also carried to Thai Nguyen, joining victorious Vietnamese troops. Phap Van Buddha not only took part in the resistance war against foreign aggressors but also helped Vietnamese peasants by creating favorable weather and good crops.

During his rule (1072-1128), King Ly Nhan Tong twice asked his men to stage a procession for Phap Van Buddha from Bao Thien and Khau Son pagodas to the capital city so that he himself could pray for good weather. In 1136 when the country was struck with a great drought, Phap Van was also carried in procession to Thang Long (present-day Hanoi) for the King’s mother to pray herself. Later, it rained for three consecutive days.

The stories above - although the reality of what they assert is questionable and deserves further examination - at least demonstrate popular belief about the four statues, which are strongly connected to the Vietnamese national spirit.


Mouzi, whose real name was Mou Bo, was a Han Chinese born circa 167 AD in Shangwu of present day Guangxi and Guangdong provinces. He was originally a Taoist, but after migrating to Vietnam, he became a Buddhist. Later at an advanced age, he returned to China.

Mou Bo’s Li Huo Lun (Ly Hoac Luan in Vietnamese) was the first Chinese attempt at an explanatory work on Buddhism. It was written in question-answer form and was frequently used by Indian theorists on Buddhism to disseminate the religion about 200 years after Gautama Buddha entered Nirvana. The title, Li Huo Lun, means a book to correct people’s misinformation about Buddhism. "Li" means to treat or settle. "Huo" denotes things that mislead people, puzzles, or errors. Finally, "Lun" is used to describe an opinion, view, or statement. Li Huo Lun was collected and published by Zeng You in the sixth century.

The fact that Li Huo Lun was mentioned in both the Sui and Tang dynasty’s imperial records shows that it was widely known among the scholarly circles of China. In Sui’s records, Mouzi is wrongly labeled as Mou Yong, a high-ranking officer, although Mouzi said himself that he had never been a mandarin. This was surely a mistake, for Mou Yong’s real name was Zi You and he lived during Emperor Zhangdi’s reign, while Mouzi lived during Lingdi’s term in power. While still young, Mouzi was known as a smart student who read a lot as he attested in the foreword of his book: "I, Mouzi, love all books, big or small. Though I do not like the art of warfare, I also read books on it. Though I read books about immortal deities and fairies, I do not believe in their immortality." We can assume that Mouzi was a rather learned man with an independent mind and skeptical of what was written.

Li Huo Lun’s foreword also tells of the aftermath of Emperor Lingdi’s death. China’s later fall into turmoil compelled people, including Mouzi and his mother, to seek asylum in Giao Chau where peace prevailed and Shishee had his headquarters. As Mouzi told the reader, when he was young he had been widely known for his scholarship, earning him an invitation to a high-ranking post:

The governor Shishee, who knew that I had some schooling, invited me to assume a post. I was young then, eager for more study, disheartened by the troubled times and with no desire to become a mandarin. I refused.... With his admiration for my educational records and knowing that I had not yet held any post, the governor expressed his wish to give me a high-ranking position. But I used my illness as the pretext to refuse his offer.

The book’s foreword also reveals that among the Northern refugees in Giao Chau at the time, many believed in and practiced the doctrine of abstaining from eating in order to reach immortality, as advocated by Taoism: Mouzi used the Five Confucian Classics to argue with those people, — who were unable to answer his questions. This shows that though a Confucian and a Taoist believer (more of the former than the latter), Mouzi rejected the ‘eternal life’ theory advocated by a Taoist sect. It is also known that there was then another Taoist sect called Sheng Tan which advocated a free lifestyle. Known among this group was Liu Ling who was drunk all day. Having fully realized the sublimity of the Taoist philosophy, Mouzi separated himself from this sect, neither adopting a free lifestyle nor taking on austere practices in order to achieve eternal life.

After his mother’s death, Mouzi refused to go to Lingling and Guiyang as requested by the governor of Giao Chau. Then he was "determined to follow Buddhism and study Taoism to savor Taoist mysticism as good wine, to enjoy the Five Classics. Most of the ordinary people thought that Mouzi had betrayed the Classics and had adopted a heterodox creed. He thought it of no use to dispute this, and did not directly argue. Nevertheless, using his pen, he summarized statements by sages to explain his own thought.

Li Huo Lun contains 37 questions and answers, chiefly challenges to Buddhism by Confucianists, the last nine by Taoists.

Questions l and 2 concern Gautama Buddha. Here Mouzi describes the Buddha as a superman with supernatural powers, and not just only as a historical figure. This view of the Buddha is more in concert with Mahayana Buddhism than with the Theravada sect. In Pali prayer books more stress is placed on the Buddha’s mysterious and supernatural powers, which are indescribable and as profound as the deep sea and less stress is put on Buddha as a superman.

In Mouzi’s answers, he gives his view on why the Buddha was born where he was. "Buddha was born in India just because it lies in the center of the world and it is a neutral place."

Questions 3 and 4 deal with Buddhist doctrine. With an argument similar to the preceding, Mouzi praised the profundity and wondrousness of worldly thought and language. With a religious belief obviously influenced by Taoism, Mouzi wrote, "One should be led by nobody, lead nobody, rise to nowhere and press nowhere from underneath."

Question 5 considers the anxiety caused by too many Buddhist prayer books to learn thoroughly. Meanwhile, Confucianism is completely contained in the Five Classics, containing no more than 80,000 words. The question and answer book shows that during Mouzi’s time in Giao Chau, namely in the early second century, there had been thousands of Buddhist prayer books.

Questions 7, 8, 9, and 10 and their answers reveal that the questioner was a Confucian to the bone, who took Confucian teachings as the standard to evaluate everything. The questioner asks, "Why should one who has read the Five Classics read Buddhist books? Why have Buddhist monks shaved their beards and heads, abandoned their wives and children, as well as their property which was passed down to them by their parents?"

Rejecting this narrow-minded literal Confucian interpretation, Mouzi answers, "When doing a big good thing, one should not be petty with details. For instance, when the father falls into a pond, the big good thing is saving him from drowning while other acts such as pulling his legs and arms or putting him upside down to drain the water from his lungs are only minor details."

Questions 11 and 12 queried the then Giao Chau Buddhist monk’s way of dressing and behavior, which were a world apart from normal customs. Again, this showed Confucian narrow-mindedness, coming from those who are dogmatically stuck to Confucius’s words and practices. These people fail to realize that Buddhism is world-denying in character without indulging in honors and privileges as well as worldly beauty. The Buddhist monks’ way of dressing and behavior must symbolize that Buddhist idea. Question 11 contains the complaint that monks in Giao Chau wore red frocks and failed to observe the Confucian rule of conduct with others: for instance, they failed to kneel down or welcome others. Through this question one can see that Buddhism in Vietnam during Mouzi’s time was directly influenced by Indian Buddhism, hence the local monks also dressed in red frocks and like Indian monks observed rules of conduct.

Questions 13 and 14 queried Buddhism’s theory of rebirth, as well as of life and death, and of demons and deities in Buddhism. In his answers, Mouzi merely quoted Zhou Gong, a renowned Confucian who had also spoken of demons, saying: "I have many talents, and I know how to worship demons". Gong also practiced necromancy, a custom of ordinary Chinese proving that even the Chinese believe that in the dead person there is something that does not die, that is a sort of ‘soul’.

Questions 15 exposes the ‘Great Han’ ideology or Chinese vanity. The questioner recalls Confucius’s statement: "The regions of Yi and Di with Kings are not better than the kingless land of Xia," along with Mencius’s statement: "I often hear that the Han people are used to assimilate the Yi and Di, but not that the Yi and Di assimilate the Xia."

Mouzi once again in his answer was strongly critical of the ‘Great Han’ ideology, saying that, without going anywhere and without seeing the world, the Han thought at once that they were the best in the world, and without studying the philosophies of other countries, they thought at once that Confucianism was an absolute truth and superior to all other doctrines. It was just like a person who only saw the river and stream but not the sea, who only saw the light of a torch but not the light of the sun.

Question 16 points out that among the Buddhist monks in Vietnam "Some are alcoholics, some get married, some are traders, and some are liars." Mouzi replied that whether a religion is good or bad was not due to [the behavior of] its followers, but due to the religion itself. In every religion, including Confucianism, there are good and bad adherents.

Questions 17, 18, 19 and 20 are all about Confucianists’ trifling queries over alms-giving, and about the use of examples and images in preaching religion, as in Buddhist prayerbooks.

Question 21 is about the day when Buddhism was introduced into China. Mouzi wrote in his answer:

When King Han Mingdi saw in his dream a golden person flying in front of his palace, he asked his officials, who told him it was Buddha. The King immediately sent his envoy to the country called Dai Nhuc Chi to copy the 42-chapter prayer books and bring the copy home. Then he ordered the construction of a pagoda and the carving of a Buddha statue for veneration. From then on the number of people who followed Buddhism has increased.

Here Mouzi confirms that Buddhism has been in China since the first century (67 AD) when King Han Mingdi ruled the country.

Questions 22-28 center on Mouzi’s evaluation of Buddhism and his way of quoting Confucius’s teachings, not the Buddha’s, to defend Buddhism. Once again, Mouzi uses examples to compare Buddhism either to Confucianism or Taoism: "Buddhism is like Heaven’s well, while Confucianism and Taoism, the cave and hill. Buddhism is like the sun, while Confucianism and Taoism, the torch. Buddhism is the fruit, while Confucianism and Taoism, the flower and leaves."

In Questions from 29 to the end, Taoism representatives ask: Does eternal life exist in Buddhism? Mouzi says that Taoist books say nothing about abstaining from eating. This was invented by the Taoist hermits. Moreover, Mouzi added, though not eating rice, the Taoist hermits ate a lot of meat and drank a lot of alcohol. Therefore, illogical for they all died young. Mouzi recalled that the three Taoist hermits who had taught him all died before reaching 80.

In short, the Taoist hermits bragged about what they had really invented and not found in Taoist books. Mouzi quoted Laozi as saying, "Even the sky and earth cannot exist forever, so how could man?" Here, Mouzi rejects the Taoist hermits’ theory of eternal life.

At the end of Li Huo Lan, the questioners give nothing short of compliments to Mouzi for his complete explanation of what they had never heard of. They, too, converted to Buddhism.

How did the above phenomenon of Mouzi and his book Li Huo Lun shed light on the Buddhist situation in Vietnam during the early common [Christian] era? Based on an analysis of this text, the following points can be made regarding Mouzi’s role in propagating Buddhism in Giao Chau and on nascent Vietnamese Buddhism during the beginning of Chinese control:

1. Contrary to some previous writers, Mouzi was not among the first Buddhist missionaries in Vietnam. He firmly grasped Confucianism and Taoism, and was already a noted scholar even while young. From Shangwu (southern China) he and his mother fled his disturbed country during the last years of the post Han dynasty to the peaceful Giao Chau. They arrived in Luy Lau, the capital city of Giao Chau, a thriving Buddhist center.

2. With whom did Mouzi study Buddhism? Certainly with Indian as well as Caucasian monks, and possibly with Vietnamese monks. Nothing was mentioned about whether Mouzi knew Sanskrit or Pali. So in Luy Lau there had to have been many Chinese translations of the Buddhist canon and books. Many Buddhist convents and pagodas were likely places where Buddhism was taught, attracting many students including Mouzi..

3. It is safe to conclude that there were then in Giao Chau, Indian, Caucasian and Vietnamese but not Chinese monks, because Zhou Shixi, who was mentioned in the Chinese history of Buddhism as the first Chinese Buddhist monk, lived by the end of the 3rd century, the century after Mouzi. By that time, the number of Vietnamese Buddhist monks had been fairly large and as Question 16 indicates, many social evils were found among them. This is only natural. When Buddhism is thriving as it did then, the number of its followers increases, as does the number of Buddhist monks and opportunists who renounce the world to seek honor and privilege, and naturally the number of monks who break the religious rules becomes numerous. It was thus Buddhism’s great development in Vietnam that resulted in a large number of degenerate monks.

4. Li Huo Lun was part and parcel of the defense of Buddhism. Through the study of Indian Buddhism one can realize that Buddhism had to go through a long period of development before the appearance of sutras and treatises which systematized the fundamentals of the religious tenets, righted and criticized wrong perceptions by Buddhist followers and monks, and rejected the attacks and distortions by representatives of other religions and religious doctrines. Li Huo Lun functioned as the answer to attacks against and distortions of Buddhism by Confucianists and Taoists.

5. Vietnamese Buddhist monks then possibly dressed in the same way, observed the same ceremonies and adopted the same life-style as did Indian monks. Therefore the reason for Question 11. It should be noted that only with the arrival of Bonze Superior Wu Yantong in Vietnam in the 9th century, setting up the second Chan school in Vietnam, could the regulations of China’s Buddhist Institute be practiced in Vietnam. This is easy to understand because Superior Bonze Bai Zhang who directly taught Wu Yantong was the first to set up the new Buddhist regulations called "Bai Zhang’s Regulations." And before Bai Zhang’s and Wu Yantong’s time, Vietnamese monks could only follow rules practiced by Indian monks. That is what we can now conclude without doubt. And the way of life adopted by the Indian monks had to be very strange to the Confucianists who lived under the Confucian rule.


A foreigner called Khuong Tang Hoi, who was born in Sogdiane, lived and studied Buddhism in Vietnam, and then went on to propagate Buddhism in China, can be considered the founder of the Vietnamese Chan sect. Tang Hoi’s parents migrated from their native place, Sogdiane (now Uzbekistan) to India, and then finally settled down in Giao Chau. Tang Hoi was born in Giao Chau. At the age of 10 when his parents died, he left the family for the study of Buddhism. He made big progress in his study, being good not only at Sanskrit but also at Chinese. After a period of religious practice in Giao Chau, he left for the Jiang Dong region of China, where, as he was told, Buddhism had not yet appeared. He arrived in Jianye (present-day Nanjing), the capital of the Wu Kingdom, in the 10th year of Wu Emperor Sun Quan, 255 AD. He died in the year 280 AD under the Jin dynasty. So he lived in China for 25 years (See Tam Tang Chronicle).

It has been said that before Tang Hoi’s arrival, Buddhism had not yet appeared in Jiang Dong. This idea is not quite correct. Possibly there had been no pagodas and monks, but Buddhism had been already known to Jiang Dong thanks to a recluse of Northern Indian and Caucasian stock, named Chi Khiem and known under the pen name of Cung Minh. He was once the student of Veteran Bonze Lokasema in Luoyang. When Luoyang was struck with disturbances, he migrated to the South (in 222 AD) and was put in an important position by Kim Sun Quan, being invited to teach the crown prince and given the doctorate title. He was proficient in six languages, including Sanskrit and Chinese. During his 30 years in Jiang Dong, he translated many classical books such as Dai A Di Da Kinh, The Prajna Sutra, and The Amitayur Dhyana Sutra.

About the year 247 A.D., Khuong Tang Hoi arrived in Jianye. During his religious practice in Giao Chau and China, he translated 14 sets of sutras, but only five of these survive to this day. Two books which attracted great attention from Western scholars were Satparamita Sannipata Sutra (Nanjo 143) and Samuykta Avadana Sutra (Nanjo 1359). The contents of these two books were translated into French in Cinq cents Contes (Five hundred stories). In these two books, Khuong Tang Hoi cited many stories such as "avadana" and "jatakas" to illustrate six good virtues (Paramitas) of Bodhisattva: aimsgiving, observance of precepts, patient resignation, skilful means of study, meditation in the highest possible equanimity, and wisdom. These are called the Paramitas which in Sanskrit means reaching the other bank, namely ‘perfection’. These six virtues were to be accumulated until perfection was obtained. And Khuong Tang Hoi used many heart-rending stories to illustrate these virtues. For instance, the following story titled "Kalmasapads" was recalled by Khuong Tang Hoi in Samuykta Avadana:

Once upon a time, a Buddhist asked the King for alms. Because he was leaving to go hunting, the King promised to give them after he returned. Having been engrossed in pursuing a beast, he strayed from his entourage, running into a deep valley where he was captured by a demon which wanted to eat the King alive. The king said: "This morning I met a Brahmin who asked me for alms. I promised to give him the alms when I return in the afternoon. Therefore, I have to return to do it first, then I will return here for your feast". The demon responded: "I want to eat you right now. If I let you go how could I know for sure that you will return?" The King said in reply, "If I tell a lie, I will break my promise to the Brahmin". The demon agreed to let him go. Returning to his palace, the King gave the alms to the Brahmin and held a ceremony to pass his throne to the crown prince. He then returned to the demon, who was deeply touched by the King’s truthfulness. He hailed the King and gave up his intention to eat him.

Another story titled "Saddanta Jataka" ("The Six-Tusked Elephant") was also written down by Khuong Tang Hoi in Sannipata sutra, which roused great interest and good impressions among the Indian artistic and literary circles. The story reads as follows:

The six-tusk elephant is one of Buddha’s predecessors. It lived happily among its herd in a far away val1ey near the Tuyet Son (Himalaya) mountain range. Unfortunately, a female elephant committed suicide because of jealousy. Before dying, it swore to take revenge on the male elephant for her unhappiness. The female elephant was later reborn as a Queen in Benares, and thanks to her supernatural powers she could remember her previous life as well as her wish for revenge. So, she ordered a good hunter to kill the deistic elephant and bring to her the six tusks. The hunter fired poisonous arrows at the elephant who, thanks to his supernatural powers, was not hurt. Moreover, he was not angry, forgave the hunter and handed him his six tusks. When returning to the capital city, the hunter presented the six tusks to the Queen who suddenly felt heart-broken because of her deep love for her former husband.

Among the prayer-books translated by Khuong Tang Hoi, the following are noteworthy for they had subsequently great impact on Vietnamese Buddhism:

First is the Bat Thien Tung Bat Nha (Astasahasrika). The early translation of this book in Vietnam showed that the Mahayanist and Prajna ideology were passed directly to Vietnam from southern India because Southern India was the place where the first Prajna sutra appeared before the Christian era, and it was primarily on those Prajna scriptures that the theorist Nagarjuna based his well-known theory called Madhyamika. It should be recalled that in China, the first person to translate the Prajna sutra was Lokasema, an assistant to An The Cao, a prince of An Tuc (present-day Iran). Lokasema was of Caucasian origin. The prayer-book translated by him was Dasaschasrika also called Asiadasasahasrika (comprised of 18,000 sentences). The translation was completed in 172 AD (Jaidev Singh, An Introduction to Madhyamika Phiilosophy, p. 9, Delhi, 1978).

Khuong Tang Hoi translated the Astasohasrika, the first Prajna prayer-book to appear from the Mahasanghikas time. The theme of Khuong Tang Hoi’s translation was "sunyata" (vacuum or ‘emptiness’), which was also the theme of the entire Madhyamaka Philosophy initiated by Nagarjana and which would greatly influence the Vietnamese Chan sect in particular and Vietnamese Buddhism in general, particularly under the Ly and Tran dynasties.

It should be noted that Lokasema’s translation of the Prajna Sutra in the second half of the second century had little echo among the then Buddhist circles of China, and only in the early 5th century when the Venerable Bonze Kumarajiva went to China and translated a series of Prajna prayer-books such as The Maha (27 volumes), Prajna Pramita Sutra (10 volumes), and especially the well-known Kim Cuong Prajna Paramita, could the profound influence of Prajna ideology be promoted in China.

While in Luy Lau, Khuong Tang Hoi not only translated the Astasahasrika Sutra but also made footnotes to the book Anapana Sati translated in Luoyang by An The Cao, which taught counting the exhalations during meditation. Therefore the name "Anapana meditation" appeared, that is meditation through counting breaths. The Anapana Sati canon was found in Pali prayer-books. That was why some people put the Anapana meditation in the methods of Small Vehicle meditation, and even said that Khuong Tang Hoi had "Mahayanaized" An The Cao’s meditation. (see Nguyen Lang, Vietnam Phat Giao Su Luan [A Historical Interpretation of Vietnamese Buddhism, Vol.I, page 77].

In fact, meditation through counting breaths was introduced time and again by Buddha, not only in the Anapana Sati prayer-book, for instance, but also in the prayer-book No. 61 titled "Faithful Rahula in Ambala Forest." Here Buddha advises his son Rahula, who had just renounced the world to enter his monkshood: Rahula, just practice breathing in and out. This will greatly benefit you..."

In his foreword for the translation of the Anapanasati by An The Cao, Tang Hoi wrote: "There is a Bodhisattva named An Thanh, and nicknamed The Cao, son of the king of the country of An Tuc. After passing his throne to his uncle, he came to this land, then to the Capital" (namely Luoyang, the capital of the Han dynasty). Tang Hoi raised An The Cao to the position of Bodhisattva, a typical conception of the Mahayana sect. He also pointed out in his foreword: "It is not because he does the teachings that we dare not speak freely."

In short, before Venerable Bonze Vinitaruci’s arrival at Phap Van pagoda, Khuong Tang Hoi had already propagated Buddhist religious practice in Vietnam, that is Anapana meditation which is practiced through breathing in and out as had already taught to his followers by Buddha when he was alive.

Though having studied Buddhism and entered his monkhood in Giao Chau, Khuong Tang Hoi’s prestige was great when he propagated Buddhism in Jianye. He was respected by King Sun Quan who ordered the construction of the "Kien So" pagoda and monks’ meeting hall called Phat Da ly (Buddha’s place). The word "Kien So" suggests that before that time there had been no pagoda and no monks’ meeting hall in Jianye in particular and in general, though King Sun Quan had before received and lavishly entertained Chi Khiem, a Buddhist recluse in Central India, who had fled from Luoyang.

As a legend goes, when arriving in Jianye, Khuong Tang Hoi used all his talents and supernatural powers to make King Sun Quan see Buddha’s Sarias with five brilliant colors, thus gaining the King’s veneration and respect. He also said his prayers in Sanskrit with a beautiful voice, attracting interest and respect from his audience. Khuong Tang Hoi was highly praised in the book Luong Cao Tang Truyen ("Monks’ stories") by Hue Hao: "He was a wonderful, talented, learned, open-hearted and sincere man who was fond of study. He preached Buddhist prayer-books clearly, read many books on astronomy as well as other books... He was a literary genius".

We know that when Khuong Tang Hoi first came to Jianye, things were not easy for him. He had to set up a thatched shrine by himself and he made many statues of Buddha. Not until later when the Wu Emperor Sun Quan and his court were convinced and won over by him, could he have had favorable conditions to spread Buddhism in Jiang Dong.

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