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





Carrying forward Mouzi’s and KhuongTang Hoi’s cause, many other noted monks from the mid-third century to the fifth century continued their predecessors’ mission. Among them, some were foreigners and others were Vietnamese, but all of them did meritorious service in propagating and building the religion in the country.

1. Kalaruci and Dao Thanh, Dharmadeva and Hue Thang

By the mid-third century, a monk native to Dai Nhuc Chi, called Kalaruci which was transcribed in Chinese as Zhi Gang Liang Lou and translated as Zhen Xi, had translated a number of Mahayana Buddhist sutras in Giao Chau and Guangzhou. The book Lich Dai Tam Bao Ky recounted that "under Jin Emperor Wudi’s rule (265-290) lived a foreign monk called Gang Liang Lou Zhi (Kalaruci) who translated Thap Nhi Du Kinh in Guangzhou in the sixth year of the Thai Thuy era (266).

The Nanjo Buddhist bibliography added the following detail: "Monk Zhi Gang Liang Jie (another name of Kalaruci) translated many sutras in northern Vietnam during the 255-256 period". Of those books, the famous Mahayana Buddhist sutra, Phap Hoa Tam Muoi, was translated with the help of the Vietnamese monk, Dao Thanh.

It is known that the Phap Hoa Tam Muoi was an extremely important scripture which had seven different translations from the Wu to Sui dynasties. Of them, the translation by Kumarajiva was most well known while the translation by Kalaruci and Dao Thanh was the oldest one. With the translation and widespread propagation of the sutra, the worship of Avalokitesvara was very common in China and Vietnam. Avalokitesvara was a symbol of the great benevolence and boundless compassion.

The word "Tam Muoi" in the title of the sutra means a meditation position. The book explained a position of meditation called meditation in lotus position, as well as some important theories on Buddha’s real body, which held that only the embodied Buddha lived, got old, entered Nirvana, that was only the historical Buddha, the embodiment of Buddha, not the real body of Buddha. Besides, the book also said that all religious phenomena seemed to be tricky, like foam on the water’s surface. It can be easily understood that Kalaruci and Dao Thanh had thought that the Mahayana religion was inclined towards meditation, the truth of which could only be tested through meditation, but not through languages or logical thinking.

Kalaruci and Dao Thanh lived during the third century. No historical documents mention any Buddhist meditation practiced in Giao Chau during the fourth century. But in the fifth century, according to the book, Monk’s Stories, there were in Giao Chau two noted Buddhist meditation practitioners, that was Dharmadeva of Indian origin and Thich Hue Thang of Vietnamese stock. The book wrote about them as follows: "Thich Hue Thang, a Giao Chau inhabitant, liked to live a secluded life at Chau Son pagoda, reading his prayers from the Lotus sutra once a day and continuing on, faithful to his monkhood, for many years. The monk learnt good virtues from the foreign monk Dharmadeva, and each time he sat for meditation he sat all day. Liu Hui, who came from Pengcheng to Nanhai, invited the monk to China, who then moved to U The pagoda where he feigned to be dull though in fact he was talented and intelligent. Those who stayed with him for a long time respected him. He begged for food every day and refused to live on the food at the pagoda. In the fifth year of the Vinh Minh era, he moved to live in Yuan Xian secluded temple, near Zhong mountain, and died at the age of 70".

As mentioned above, the book Phap Hoa Tam Muoi, translated in Giao Chau by Kalaruci and Dao Thanh in the third century, taught a meditation method called lotus meditation. By reading this book once a day, certainly Hue Thang practiced this meditation method which had attached importance to the meditation position, which was different from the method of dynamic meditation advocated by the Linji Chan Buddhist sect, which was aided by supportive movements such as shouts and screams, stick swinging, etc.

Historical documents fail to mention which country Dharmadeva belonged to. It was revealed through the book Dai Duong Hoi Dien Luc that the monk Dharmadeva had translated the Nirvana theory by Bodhissattva The Than, and the translation is still kept in the, where it is numbered 1527.

Comparing the time when Bodidharma arrived in China and that of Dharmadeva’s arrival in Giao Chau, we realize that the former came to China in 520, namely in the early sixth century while the latter arrived in Giao Chau and met Hue Thang in the early fifth century, then Hue Thang was invited to China by Liuhui, having stayed at U The pagoda whence he left in 487. So, Dai Han Tang Dharmadeva explained the method of meditation in Vietnam more than a half century before Bodidharma arrived in China. The book Monks’ Stories records: "Bodidharma first came to Nanyue of Song, then finally crossed the river to Wei". However, this has not been confirmed by any historical documents.

Hue Thang at U The Pagoda:

U The pagoda was built in 457, namely some 20 years before Hue Thang’s stay. It is situated on Niu Tou mountain, Shang Yuan district of present day Jiangsu province. Later, the mountain was widely known because monk Phap Dung had initiated and founded the Niu Tou Chan sect there. So, Hue Thang was the predecessor of Phap Dung, and his ideology on meditation surely exerted a certain influence on Phap Dung’s meditation ideology.

At U The pagoda, Hue Thang often pretended to be dull, as remarked by Dao Tuyen in Monks’ Stories which added: "Thang never used food in the pagoda but lived on begging for food. It is, therefore, obvious that Hue Thang’s way of living and practicing religion were different from those of the Chinese monks at that time. To live on begging for food is the Indian monk’s way of life right from the time when the monk’s Sangha was founded and when Buddha was still alive. It’s hard to confirm whether living on begging for food was Hue Thang’s own way of life or the way of living of all Giao Chau monks due to the lack of concrete historical documents. But it is certain that by the fifth century though there were contacts between Vietnamese Buddhism and Chinese Buddhism, the influence of Indian Buddhism through the contingent of Indian and Caucasian monks in Giao Chau was still strong and profound.

Some writers thought that Hue Thang’s attitude of pretending to be dull while in U The pagoda was because he had been forced to China by Liu Hui. However, this was only a hypothesis, for generally speaking all Buddhist monks are people of few words, who rarely show off their talents. Yuan Xian pagoda near Zhong mountain was the place where Hue Thang came to live in 487. Situated about 10 miles from Nanjing, it was built in 406-409 and became a rallying place of many Chinese monks.

2. The Hue Lam incident and the book Bach Hac Luan (Discussion between Black and White)

Though the Hue Lam incident in the book Bach Hac Luan3  largely occurred in China, it must be analyzed and introduced here so as to understand a series of Buddhist incidents occurring simultaneously in Vietnam, for instance the incident after the exchange of letters between Chinese Ambassador Li Miao and two Vietnamese monks Dao Cao and Phap Minh, the incident in which monk Dam Hoang set himself on fire at Tien Chau Son pagoda (in the former province of Bac Ninh, now Ha Bac). Moreover, at near the end of his life Hue Lam came to Giao Chau and passed away there. Though at the near end of his life such a high ranking official as Hue Lam, who once held the position as the King’s first minister and was such an erudite and straightforward person, could not help but exert deep influence on the Buddhist situation in Giao Chau; then the Hue Lam incident demonstrated the reaction to the Buddhism situation during the Liu Song times, which can be seen through District Chief Xiao Buzhi’s report to Song Emperor Wendi in 425:

"Buddhism in China has developed through four dynasties with thousands of tower pagodas and Buddha statues now... But over the past few years, the people’s belief has been at a low ebb: the people have refused to practice sincere belief but make luxurious competition their aim. Nobody has cared for the repair of ruined pagodas but each of them has wished to build a pagoda of his own to show off his wealth. Timber, bamboo, gold, copper, brocade, fabric were wasted in great quantities. This is contrary to the laws which should control these matters. If not, things will be worse. So, I would like to request that from now on, if anyone wishes to cast bronze statues, he must go to the capital for the permit, anyone wishing to set up tower pagodas must go to the district administration, explaining the reason and waiting for the permission before the construction. If not, the bronze, gold, timber, tiles, bricks... will be confiscated for the public funds".

The Emperor agreed with the report. The incident took place in the year 435 under Song Emperor Wendi’s reign. Attention should be drawn to the following sentence in the above paragraph: "Buddhism in China has developed through four dynasties with thousands of tower pagodas and Buddha statues now". This evaluation showed that during the fist years of its import into China, Buddhism was confronted with a strong opposition from Confucianists and Taoists. Later, it gradually developed in scope and scale in both Northern and Southern China, occupying a firm position in the Chinese society as a perfect religious constitution with all components such as canon, ceremonies, organizations, Buddhist schools, and a large number of followers of all social strata: kings and queens, mandarins, generals to Confucianists, intellectuals, traders, handicraft workers, peasants. That is to say the social foundation of Buddhism in China was so firm that the religious organization on the one hand still took advantage of the politicians’ support and on the other sought to defend itself and affirm its independence. In 404, monk Hui Yuan in Lu Shan (southern China) made public his book saying the monks do not have to respect kings and queens, while monk Fa Guo in Northern China (died in 410) tended, on the other hand, to identify the emperors with Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.

These attitudes of the religious organization and a number of negative phenomena were unavoidable when Buddhism thrived (with big pagodas, big statues and a too large contingent of monks, while a small number of people joined the army and production...), which led to reaction and opposition from many responsible people in the then administration, including some kings and queens.

The report mentioned above is one example of that common reaction. Xiao Buzhi also criticized, that "over the past few years, people’s belief has been at a low ebb". Of course, he wanted to speak of genuine belief, which is called "true belief" in Buddhist books. According to him, by then very few people had genuine belief while many ran after luxurious waste.

When Xiao Buzhi submitted the report, Hue Lam also published his book Bach Hac Luan (also called Quan Thien Luan) which was most resolutely critical of Buddhism by Confucianist representatives, though the author was a Buddhist monk himself, even not an ordinary monk but the one called by the people the "Black-dressed first minister of the king," because from 426, monk Hue Lam was invited to work as the advisor to Song Emperor Wendi. That a monk worked as the advisor to the king and strongly criticized Buddhism was really a rare thing and an extraordinary phenomenon, which can be understood only through the analysis of the background of Chinese Buddhism at the time, as well as an analysis of Hue Lam himself.

From the third century on, the Chinese received Buddhism in a passive way (mainly through the translation of classical Sanskrit books), then more critically, beginning with the hot debate among Chinese monks on the conception "Nihilism" or "Voidness" in the Prajna Sutra. This debate has left in the history of Chinese Buddhism the names of six theorists, including Yu Daoshui who wrote the book Duyen Hoi Nhi De Luan, explaining that everything and every phenomenon was created by conditions which didn’t really exist, so, it was called "Nihilism". Yu Daoshui, a native of Dun Huang died in Vietnam on his way to India for the Buddhist sutras in 320, when he was only 31 years old.

In addition to the Chinese monks’ debates on the question of "existence" and "voidness", there was a series of incidents such as monk Giac Hien who quited Kumarajiva’s Sutra Translation Board in Chang An; monk Thich Dao Sanh (a contemporary of Hue Lam) was expelled from Thach Vien pagoda because he had explained that "even Ichantika can become Buddha"; and finally Hue Lam was expelled to Giao Chau by the religious organization in Southern China for he had written the book Bach Hac Luan in 433. However, under Song Emperor Wendi’s protection, the expulsion was delayed till 456 when the latter was killed by his son.

The above situation showed that by Liu Song’s time in Southern China, Chinese Buddhism had developed so strongly that the religious organization dared to order the expulsion of a monk, an advisor to the Emperor. However, once Buddhism widely and deeply infiltrated the society, it could not help but be affected by vices already found in the society, which Buddhism should have strongly criticized and gotten rid of, for instance, formalism: people competed with one another in building pagodas, casting statues, organizing big rituals. In his book Bach Hac Luan Hue Lam was strongly critical of this. He also criticized a number of Buddhist theories which, though accepted by almost every adherent, monks as well as followers, had not been confirmed, such as the theory on metempsychoses, and the theory that Buddha and Bodhisattvas were supermen with many supernatural powers, with boundless halos, with eternal life, etc.

So what kind of person was Hue Lam? With what influence and talents could he dare to run counter to the accepted belief of the whole religious organization? In the book Quang Hoang Minh, Dao Tuyen wrote about Hue Lam as follows:

Hue Lam native to Qin district, entered his monkhood at Zhi Cheng pagoda in Yang Du. He was a learned man and an acquaintance of king Lu Long of the Song dynasty. He wrote the book Bach Hac Luan, of which the gist was that while practicing Buddhism and Confucianism simultaneously, people should not praise one while disparaging thc other just only because of their different origins; rather, though two different ways, they both lead to one destination.

It should be noted that in the book Quang Hoang Minh, Dao Tuyen refused to call Hue Lam by the name Thich Hue Lam, but by the name Luu Hue Lam. It is true that Dao Tuyen, a Buddhist historian, as well as many of his contemporaries, refused to recognize Hue Lam as a genuine Buddhist monk, though as a learned man with many talents.

One thing we should inquire into is how Hue Lam intended his book Bach Hac Luan to be understood. Did he mean for it to reform Chinese Buddhism? Obviously, Hue Lam wished to build a Buddhism that conciliates Buddhism and Confucianism, not philosophically but in social virtues. For Buddhism, the six Paramitas of the Mahayana Buddhism must be practiced: alms-giving, observance of precepts, patient resignation, skillful means of study, meditation in the highest possible equanimity, and wisdom; while for Confucianism five rules of conduct must also be practiced: benevolence, righteousness, politeness, wisdom, belief. Hue Lam didn’t agree with Buddhism of the "charity" type as seen in the making of statues and the construction of pagodas, which exhausted the property and strength of the people and the State. He also refused to accept the metaphysical self-argument of "Non-existence and Existence" theory, because, according to him, if one said everything did not exist and was untrue, why did one encourage the construction of big pagodas, the making of big statues, and why did one run after empty fame, after formalism? Hue Lam also refused to accept some Buddhist theories which could not be confirmed, such as the theory of metempsychoses, the theory on boundless halos around Buddha’s body, and the theory on eternal life. His argument ran counter to a Buddhist trend which was then very common and universal, namely "The Pure Land School" or "The Lotus Sect". The followers believed that to the west of our world full of misery and misfortune, existed a world full of happiness, called "Sukhavati" (The world of Supreme happiness) where lived Buddha Amitabha and two Bodhisattavas, Avalokitesvara and Samantabhadra. Any living being who daily said in pray the Buddha’s name would be reborn into the "Sukhavati" world after his death, not only living happily but also being won over to the religious ideal directly by the Buddha. What the followers needed to do to achieve this was to have a sincere belief in Buddha and say his name daily. Obviously, that was a fairly easy way to attain the enlightenment, which being largely based on Buddha’s strengthen, required very little effort from the adherents. It was, therefore, very popular then in both Northern and Southern China.

One of the evidences for this was that all Buddhist sutras belonging to this sect were translated and published many times. For instance, the book Dai Vo Luong Tho (Eternal Life) had ten different translations, not to mention other forms of publication. The book was about the endless illumination attained by Buddha and his eternal life.Yet, Hue Lam dared to say in his book, Bach Hac Luan, that "he [Buddha] illuminates endlessly, but nobody sees any light, saying that he has an eternal life, while no one sees a 100-year old man". Clearly, as a Buddhist monk, Hue Lam did not oppose and criticize Buddhism in general, but he attacked strongly and directly the Buddhist situation during the Liu-Song period, which, according to him, the then religious organization was largely responsible for.


Thich Dao Thien’s theory of Buddhism

The second Vietnamese monk, as mentioned in Monks’ Stories after Hue Thang, was Thich Dao Thien:

Thich Dao Thien, a native of Giao Chi (former name of Vietnam), renounced the world while still young and entered the monkhood. He was respected and loved by villagers and fellow monks for his good virtues. Previously Tien Chau Son pagoda had been frequented by tigers, but they were no longer seen once Dao Thien came to the place. By then, Qi Emperor Jing Ling deployed the study of Dhyana, setting up many lecture halls. Therefore, people from various localities flocked into Jing Ling. They were all talented persons and outstanding disciples. Dao Thien lectured to them on interesting books through which truth was presented. During the first years of Rong Ming’s reign, he came to the capital city, staying at Van Cu Ha pagoda, near Zhong mountain. He was so proficient in well-known sutras that Buddhist monks and nuns set a firm confidence in him. He explained in a serene way, from which they learnt the majestic gesture. The number of people, urban and rural, who came to him for religious practice reached over one thousand and the frequent students numbered several hundreds. He usually got away from noisy places, took ordinary food and wore shabby clothes. If anyone offered him good foods, he gave them to the poor and the sick. Near the end of his life, he stayed in the pagoda on a mountain, refraining from any contact with the worldly life, leading a life of poverty and preserving good virtues. Dao Thien felt happy with such a life, though people thought it gloomy. He died in his temple at the age of 70.

The above excerpt from the book Monks’ Stories helps us draw some conclusions about the monk Dao Thien personally and about his historical background:

a) Dao Thien was a monk well-versed in theories on Buddhism. He strictly observed the religious life. His name was known so widely, even in China, that he was invited to Jing Ling to teach Samadhi at various lecturing halls set up by Emperor Jing Ling, a son of the Qi Emperor Gaozu (479-482). According to Nan Qi Shu, Jing Ling organized two Buddhism congresses during the Qi Wudi reign (483-493). Regarding the first congress, the Nan Qi Shu wrote that "noted monks were invited to preach Buddhism and rewrite the sutra, in a new language: therefore, Buddhism finally prospered in Jiangzuo region". Among the noted monks invited by Jing Ling to preach Buddhism was Thich Dao Thien, a Vietnamese.

b) While in Jing Ling to lecture on Buddhism, Dao Thien’s prestige was so high that the number of people who came to him for religious practice reached one thousand, and the frequent students numbered several hundreds. Though held in such high prestige, Dao Thien preferred to live a secluded life with spare meals and simple dress. If anyone gave him good clothes or good food, he gave them to the poor and the sick.

Monk Dam Hoang and the suicide by fire at Tien Chau Son pagoda.

Monk Dam Hoang’s life story was written in the Monks’ Stories as follows:

Thich Dam Hoang, a native of Hoang Long, renounced the world while still young and was very good at Buddhist theory. During the 420-422 period, he moved to the South, staying at Dai pagoda then Tien Son pagodas in Giao Chi, reading prayers in the Eternal life sutra and Guan Jing and with determination to be reborn in the world of Supreme Happiness (Sukhavati). In 445, he set himself on fire on the mountain. However, he was saved by his students, but with half of his body burned. After one month’s treatment he recovered. Later, one day when people in the pagoda went to attend a festival in a nearby hamlet, he again set himself on fire. Villagers came to rescue him but this time he was dead. So they put more firewood on the fire to cremate him. The fire lasted till the next day, then died out. On that day, people saw Hoang dressed in yellow and riding a yellow deer to the West without stopping to ask after anyone. Having seen this, the people and monks collected his bones and ash for veneration.

The book, Monks’ Stories, was compiled by Hue Hao in 530, that is 80 years after the voluntary self-burning. The writer might have relied on details already written or noted down, or told by Giao Chau people about Dam Hoang’s self-burning, and, of course, with things added or cut to make the story more mythological and sacred. Another book entitled Vang Sinh Tinh Do Truyen, also about Dam Hoang’s story, was compiled later, in the l066-l077 period by Gioi Chau. Its content was similar to that in the Monks’ Stories, and only different in the following paragraph: "His disciples gathered his remains which, when struck against stone, did not break but gave out light. The next day, people saw Hoang dressed in yellow, riding a yellow deer and moving hurriedly to the West: he didn’t answer when called to by anyone. If called a second time, he only pointed one hand to the West. Some people tried in vain to run after him..."

According to Hue Hao, Dam Hoang was Chinese, not Vietnamese. His native place was Hoang Long, namely Hebei province, near Peking. But according to Gioi Chau, he entered his monkhood in Guang Ling of the present day Jiangsu province. Having followed the Sukhavati Sect or Chingtu Sect, he daily read prayers in two books: The Eternal Life and the Guanjing. These books taught the Pure Land Sect, hoping for rebirth in Buddha Amitabha’s Western Paradise (Sukhavati) or the World of Supreme Happiness, which was very popular then in China. After Khuong Tang Khai, a Caucasian monk translated the Eternal Life sutra. Dam Hoang always used it. By Dam Hoang’s time, namely within two centuries, the book had had ten different translations, including the very well known one by Kumarajiva. It is realized through this that the Chinese belief that the Buddha had endless halos was deep-rooted. In the chapter "Monk Hue Lam and the book Bach Hac Luan", we clearly see that Hue Lam had attacked directly that [deeply-rooted] belief.

Hue Lam’s criticism and the book Bach Hac Luan made public in 435 under Song Wendi’s rule occurred simultaneously with Xiao Buzhi’s report demanding that the king issue a decree restricting the construction of pagodas and the casting of statues because they were causing a big waste of material and heavy losses to the public fund.

Can it be true that Dam Hoang’s self-immolation at Tien Chau Son pagoda, especially the detail that "people saw Hoang dressed in yellow, riding a yellow deer and going in great hurry to the West..." was an answer to Hue Lam’s book Bach Hac Luan?


The full texts of these six letters were found in Hoang Minh Tap by Tang Hoi and rewritten in Chinese in Dai Tang Kinh. Because of the importance of the six letters, we would like to present, in the first part, the main characters, namely two Buddhist monks, Dao Cao and Phap Minh, then Li Miao. Then, we will summarize the content of each letter with explanation and comments.

a) Persons mentioned in the six letters:

The two monks, Dao Cao and Phap Minh, lived during the Liu Song dynasty, namely in the middle of the fifth century, 420-478. This can be confirmed through a still extant text in print titled "Reply Letter to Li in Giao Chau, from Thich Dao Cao" during the Song dynasty.

On Thich Dao Cao:

One of the two authors of the six letters: One thing we know for sure is that Thich Dao Cao had to be a person from Giao Chau, namely a Vietnamese, because he was mentioned in Chinese historical documents with the same footnote "Dao Cao, a monk from Giao Chau" (Quan Song Wen, book 63).

Secondly, Dao Cao was not only one of the authors of the six letters but also the author of the book titled Ta Am ("Borrowed sounds") and another book called Dao Cao Phap Su Tap (See Nhat Ban Quoc Kien Tai Thu Muc Luc, quoted by L.M. The., Van Hanh Compilation Board). So in addition to his works on Buddhism, Dao Cao wrote the book on the [linguistic] principles to borrow sounds in speaking to describe Vietnamese things not available in China or without Chinese words to describe them. It is also known that in the above Japanese bibliographical book, an anonymous book called Ta Am Tu, a dictionary of borrowed words, was also compiled. Could Dao Cao also be the author of that dictionary?

Meanwhile, the book Dao Cao Phap Su Tap, as mentioned in the Japanese bibliographical book, might be a complete work or a collection of Dao Cao’s works. Regrettably, these two books, Ta Am and Dao Cao Phap Su Tap, are no longer available. However, all the letters have been kept till today in Hoang Minh Tap (Hoang Minh’s collection) by Tang Huu and preserved in Han Tang.

On Thich Phap Minh:

So far, Phap Minh has not been mentioned in any historical document except for one sentence in Quan Song Wen by Yan Kejun referring to "Phap Minh, a monk from Giao Chau". This indicates that Phap Minh was a native of Giao Chau, and not Chinese.

On Li Miao:

Phap Minh and Dao Cao called Li Miao "su quan" in Vietnamese which might be the special envoy of the Chinese Emperor, who was sent to a certain locality for a certain mission, or the chief of a district. Though his biography was not clearly mentioned in historical books, he was a man of the Northern Court, who had a broad knowledge of Confucianism and great concern for the role of Buddhism in the society.

b) The summary and explanation of the contents of the six letters:

The common title for the original letters in Hoang Minh Tap is: "Cao Minh Nhi Phap Su Dap Giao Chau Ly Mieu Nan Phat Bat Kien Hinh Su", which means "Two monks Dao Cao and Phap Minh answering the question of Li Miao in Giao Chau on the non-appearance of Buddha’s image".

The content of the first letter:

Ly Miao asked— If Buddhism is considered miraculous, why didn’t Buddha appear in this world now? Now, it’s time for Buddha to appear. If not, the doctrine would be only empty words. (Why did he say "now"? Is it true that by this time Hue Lam had already written the book Quan Thien Luan or Bach Hac Luan, which stirred the Buddhist circles in China and Giao Chau because Hue Lam had denied the story of Buddha with endless halos and eternal life?)

The second letter, Dao Cao’s reply:

Buddha appeared in three ways: First, he appeared physically as a human being, as did Sakyamuni Buddha; second, he appeared by leaving his religious practice behind for others to follow; and third, he appeared by leaving behind the Buddhist regulations for people to obey. Which way he appeared depended on the desires of living beings during each period. Whatever their aspiration and need, Buddha would appear in that way.

Moreover, these things are unseen because they were in the past,— hence we have to believe what had been written down in books.

The third letter, Li Miao’s letter:

At present, Li Miao said, Confucianists and disciples of Mozi have feverishly attacked Buddhism and Buddhist practice. We cannot only use reasoning and books to argue with them. Buddha is a holy person with unlimited wisdom and boundless love: why does he not appear to get rid of all doubts?

Moreover, there are things which can be relied on in books,— for example, the worldly things mentioned by Confucius. Yet Buddha spoke not only of things in this world but also about things of the future. When speaking of future things, the vestiges of Buddha should prevail for at least three generations, that is, they must exist now. But where are those vestiges?

The fourth letter, Dao Cao’s letter:

The vestige you seek is found in the fact that some people sit for meditation in the jungles, some enter the monkhood, some observe Buddhist rituals, some sing in praise of Buddha. All these things can be heard and seen. Moreover, whether the vestige and light of the holy being are seen or not depends on one’s sincerity. With sincerity, one would have inspiration, and when inspired one would see them. Without sincerity one would not have inspiration and would not see. People who have seen tell those who did not see. What could we do if the latter do not believe? You asked where were the things done by Buddha, if with sincerity and with ability to see, they are just in front of you, before your very eyes.

The fifth letter, Li Miao’s letter:

Li Miao recalled his initial doubt, and intended to say that Confucianism also discussed future things, not only things of the present life. Li Miao quoted the following sentence, "Doing good things one will be happy, doing bad things one will be miserable," to prove his viewpoint.

The sixth letter, Phap Minh’s:

On behalf of Dao Cao, Phap Minh answered the above letter from Li Miao. He held that Confucius was incomparable to Buddha who taught things of three generations, while Confucius’s teachings only stopped at the present life, as Li Miao said previously in his letter.

Buddha spoke of living beings, sunk in metempsychosis [rebirth] from generation to generation without end. People are so dull-witted and indulged in superstition, so how could they see Buddha? Meanwhile, the Buddhist sutras circulated in this world are just like trapping baskets waiting for those who have predestined affinity to Buddhism: they will be able to understand and practice, to be inspired and see. Phap Minh stressed the theory of inspiration initiated by Dao Cao, citing this time a series of examples mentioned in historical books. For instance, the stories that Emperor Han Mingdi dreamed of Buddha, then sent his envoys to India for the Buddhist sutras; that Song Wudi was told in his dream that because he had given a bowl of rice as alms to Buddha Amitabha, he had been put on the throne; that Wu Zongquan was allowed by monk Khuong Tang Hoi to see Buddha’s splendidly illuminating sarira pearl (still kept today at Jianchu (Jianye) pagoda); that a stone statue of Buddha drifted in the sea offshore from Wu district, which hundreds of monks and followers tried in vain to pull up while later a group of five or six monks, together with a group of four persons led by Zhou Zhang, pulled it up, easily; that Guo Wenju touched a tiger’s mouth, or Lan Gong flicked off snow on a tiger; that with Hu Gong’s prayer, the dried up streams suddenly became flooded with water... Phap Minh cited those examples to prove that the theory of inspiration advocated by Dao Cao and himself was correct.

The above six letters show that by the sixth century Buddhism in Giao Chau had strongly developed, and that Giao Chau monks had a broad knowledge and had thoroughly grasped the Buddhist theories, and their reputation had spread so widely that even officials from the Chinese Royal Court came to learn from them.


4 Kumarajiva, a Kuchean and a well-known translator in the fifth century.

2 Mahayana Buddhism considered Sakyamuni as only a reincarnation of Buddha; therefore he was born and died, while the true existence of Buddha, or the Sacred Body, is eternal, hence called the "eternal sacred body".

3 Confucians were considered ‘white’ scholars and Buddhist monks ‘black’ scholars, so the book title means discussions between Confucians and Buddhists.

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