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

Part Two. Buddhism from the Ngo to the Tran Dynasties (10th-14th Century A.D.)





The famous Bach Dang victory in 938 put an end to one thousand years of Chinese feudal domination and opened a new independent era in the history of Vietnam. In the tenth century, the newly-built independent state consolidated its position and readied itself to resist enemies from abroad and stifle domestic dissent and division from within. Against this background, violence and military might became the state’s primary method of social and political control. It was paradoxical also during this period however, that major steps in the expansion of Vietnamese Buddhism took place. The same Kings who "put cauldrons of boiling oil in the middle of their courtyards and raised caged tigers and jaguars" to intimidate their opposition, were also great supporters of Buddhism. To understand this seemingly contradictory situation, we must first grasp the nature of Vietnamese Buddhism in the tenth century.

Since the end of the period of Chinese feudal domination, Buddhism expanded throughout all regions of Vietnam. A stratum of influential Vietnamese monks appeared, many of whom had studied in China, Indonesia, and India. Due to their profound knowledge (including mastery of both Chinese and Sanskrit), these monks came to be perceived as an intelligentsia. Moreover, Buddhist monks and their disciples participated together with the people in the movement for national liberation and independence.

During the period immediately following independence, in addition to the reasons suggested above, two other factors contributed to the increased prestige and social import of Buddhism. First, the newly independent state needed an ideological basis from which to build and manage the country. And second, the development of Confucianism was not complete. Thus the door was left open for the encroachment of Buddhist orthodoxy.


From the end of the period of Chinese feudal domination, Buddhism expanded not only throughout the Red River delta, but as far as Ai Chau and Hoan Chau (i.e., former Thanh Hoa and Nghe An territory). Ancient historical texts have recorded the names of well-known monks of that region from as early as the Tang dynasty.

In the tenth century, most areas under Buddhist influence had developed in the northern regions of the Red River delta. Apart from ancient Buddhist centers such as Luy Lau (Thuan Thanh, Ha Bac), and Kien So (Phu Dong, Gia Lam), there were also many pagodas at Bac Giang (i.e., Ha Bac today). In the Co Phap prefect (named the Thien Duc district under the Ly dynasty), there were many well-known pagodas including the Kien Duong Pagoda in Hoa Lam village, the Thien Chung and Luc To pagodas in Dich Bang village, the Song Lam Pagoda in Phu Ninh village, and the Cam Ung Pagoda in Ba Son Mount (Tien Son), etc.

The tenth century also witnessed the creation of completely new Buddhist centers. We must first make mention of the Dai La center which became Thang Long under the Ly dynasty. It was there in the sixth century that King Ly Nam De built the Khai Quoc pagoda (known today as the Tran Quoc Pagoda in Hanoi). Until the middle of the tenth century, the Khai Quoc pagoda was home to the bonze Van Phong of the third generation of the branch of the Wu Yantong sect. Van Phong’s disciple, the leading monk Ngo Chan Luu, bore the title Khuong Viet. Under the Dinh, he enlarged the Khai Quoc Pagoda, turning it into a center for the spread of Buddhism. In Thien Uyen Tap Anh it is said that the great monk Khuong Viet led the expansion of Buddhist studies in the Khai Quoc pagoda and that the Buddhist monk Da Bao attended courses there. There were also then in Dai La, other pagodas such as the Cat Tuong home of the monk Vien Chieu during the Ly dynasty.

Another center was Hoa Lu. Hoa Lu served as the capital under the Dinh and early Le dynasties. The Kings of those dynasties held Buddhism in high regard and patronized many pagodas, the remains of which can still be found today. For example, from the Thap pagoda, there exists today the original foundation, which can be seen along the banks of the Hoang river. The square stones anchoring the columns measure up to 0.68 meters, thus suggesting the great size of this ancient pagoda. From another Hoa Lu pagoda, the Nhat Tru, very few traces of ancient architecture still exist. The three-meter high eight-sided columns erected in 995 and on which were carved the ancestral tablets of Lang Nghiem are the only vestiges which remain today. It is probable that the entire ancient pagoda was erected towards the end of the tenth century.

The Ba Ngo pagoda, also in Hoa Lu, was supposedly also built during the Dinh dynasty. Its stele from the Yuan period bears the following inscription: "The Ba Ngo in our hamlet was a well-known site from the old capital of Dai Co Viet." The Ba Ngo agricultural goddesses are worshipped in this pagoda, suggesting that Buddhism may have merged at this site (as at Luy Lau) with a popular indigenous cult.


As Buddhism expanded and penetrated into Vietnamese society, the royal court formally recognized it as an official religion. After taking the throne in 971, King Dinh Tien Hoang standardized the different grades for the Buddhist monkhood, as well as for cultural and military dignitaries. Ngo Chan Luu was named "Tang Thong," the highest rank in the monkshood, and awarded the further appellation of "Khuong Viet." Truong Ma Ni was named "Tang Luc", one grade below that awarded to Ngo Chan Luu. The grades "Tang Thong" and "Tang Luc" continued to be used by succeeding royal courts.

That the standardization of different grades within the Buddhist clergy occurred simultaneously with the consolidation of the State apparatus suggests that the Dinh kings held Buddhism in high regard. The succeeding Le dynasty pursued similar policies. Many monks became advisors to the Dinh and Le Kings on matters of domestic and foreign policy. The title "Khuong Viet" awarded by Dinh Tien Hoang to Ngo Chan Luu meant, "to help the Viet country". According to Thien Uyen Tap Anh, Dinh Tien Hoang frequently consulted Khuong Viet and paid him great respect. The King Le Dai Hanh held Khuong Viet in such high esteem that he was "permitted to participate in the great military affairs of the nation".1 Do Phap Thuan (died in 990), a monk of the Vinitaruci Chan sect was also an advisor to Le Dai Hanh. According to Thien Uyen Tap Anh, "From the foundation of the early Le dynasty, Do Phap Thuan worked very hard for the national interest, but when peace was reestablished, he refused every title and award. This attitude increased the respect which King Le Dai Hanh accorded him and the King dared not call the bonze by his name. Instead, King Le Dai Hanh called him the Great monk Do and instructed him to indulge in literary pursuits". Other bonzes such as Ma Ha, Sung Pham,2 and Van Hanh were also often consulted by King Le Dai Hanh about the resistance against the Song in 980. Van Hanh was to gain a reputation for his work contributing to the enthronement of Ly Cong Uan.

Other bonzes under the Dinh and Le dynasties were entrusted with diplomatic missions, such as welcoming Chinese ambassadors. In 987, King Le Dai Hanh ordered the bonze Phap Thuan to disguise himself as a river commander and welcome the Chinese ambassador Ly Giac. After Ly Giac returned to China, the King ordered Khuong Viet to write a farewell poem entitled "Ngoc Lang Quy":

Sunshine and farewell wind swell the sails.

His Excellency returns to his imperial country.

He crosses blue waves of very large ocean to be back to his vast sky.

Our feelings are deeply heartfelt.

Have some cups of wine before leaving.

I touch the ambassador’s State coach and my heart is full of affection. Please, forward to the Emperor our will to work for the Southern country.3

This elegantly worded diplomatic poem dearly expresses our will to be independent and the masters of our own country. It also represents the earliest known work of Vietnamese literature. While monks contributed little to the functioning of the administrative apparatus, their influence on politics was nevertheless significant.

The influence of Buddhism on society also increased. in the heavily populated delta region, hundreds of pagodas sprang up. As mentioned above, the formation of new Buddhist centers indicates the growing social influence of Buddhism. Since its inception, Buddhism has always fused closely with traditional popular beliefs. Even after its influence spread far from its original centers, Buddhism still retained a strong syncretistic character, routinely adapting to accommodate older indigenous popular beliefs. The following eleventh century story about the monk Ma Ha taken from Thien Uyen Tap Anh is instructive:

Ma Ha went to Ai Chau, and continued on till the outskirts of Sa Dang. The people there worshipped evil spirits and took great joy in slaughtering animals. The monk advised them to fast but the people replied, ‘Our spirits have the power to bless us or harshly punish us; we dare not provoke them.’ The monk responded, ‘You must abandon evil and do good. If anything bad happens, I will bear full responsibility.’ A villager answered, ‘In this village, a man has been stricken with leprosy for years. Physicians and sorcerers can do nothing. If you could cure him, we will behave as you have said.’ The monk poured holy water on the leper and he was immediately cured.

The aim of this story was to praise Ma Ha’s religious skill. It also reflected the reality that people tended to abandon their religious beliefs for Buddhism, only if Buddhism could prove itself better able to serve and protect them.

The disorder plaguing the period of the twelve warring lords also tended to bring people closer to Buddhism. The ruling class, while ordering mass slaughters, simultaneously prayed to the Buddha to forgive them their crimes. A good example is the South Viet Prince, Dinh Lien, the son of Dinh Tien Hoang, who after killing his younger brother, ordered the erection of one hundred stone columns at Hoa Lu. The King made this gesture both to seek the emancipation of his brother’s soul and to ensure the future maintenance of his own wealth and prestige.

As it penetrated deeper into popular spiritual life, Buddhism carved out a durable niche in society. While its full flowering obviously did not occur until the Ly and Tran Dynasties, historical and archaeological evidence available to us today from Hoa Lu suggests that the development of Vietnamese Buddhism in the tenth century was also quite significant.


The Vinitaruci and Wu Yantong sects, founded initially during the period of Chinese domination, continued their development under the Ngo, Dinh, and Le reigns. Thien Uyen Tap Anh lists the names of prominent members of the Vintaruci sect including famous tenth generation monks such as Phap Thuan and Ma Ha, eleventh generation monks like Thien Ong and Sung Pham and those of the twelfth generation including Van Hanh. In the Wu Yantong sect, third generation monks such as Khuong Viet and the fifth generation monk Da Bao were also acclaimed.

Bonze Superior Phap Thuan (915-990) (family name Do) entered the monkhood and lived at Thanh Hoa’s Co Son pagoda. He was the follower of Bonze Phu Tri from the Long Thu pagoda. Thien Uyen Tap Anh noted that he was "an erudite scholar, well-versed in poetry, with a special talent for helping kings and profoundly understanding the basic problems of life. The advice he gave to King Le Dai Hanh has already been mentioned. When the King asked him about the country’s destiny, he answered with the following poem:

The country’s destiny is like the entwining clouds,

The country Nam enjoying peace.

Nothing hovers over the imperial palaces.

Fighting has ended everywhere.

Phap Thuan was also the author of the book Bo Tat Hieu Sam Hoi Van. Bonze Superior Ma Ha’s full name in Sanskrit, "Mahamaya," means "great illusion." Original1y of Cham descent, he eventually assumed the family name Duong. His father, Boi Da, knew Sanskrit well and rose to the official rank of Boi Da (or Da Phan, which perhaps stood for the functionary who took care of Sanskrit books under the Le reign). He not only knew Sanskrit but Chinese, as well. He was a disciple of Do Phap Thuan and later served in Ai and Hoan upland district.

The Bonze Superior Ong (family name, Lu) studied under the patriarch La Quy An. He lived at the Song Lam Pagoda in Phu Ninh village (part of Gia Lam, Hanoi) and died in 979. The well-known monk Van Hanh (died l018) was a disciple of Ong and lived towards the end of the Le and the beginning of the Ly dynasties.

Sung Pham (family name Man), a follower of Bonze Superior Vo Ngai, studied in India for nine years. Upon returning, he lived in the Phap Van Pagoda, known today as the Dau pagoda in Ha Bac.

In the Wu Yantong sect, during the Ngo reign, there lived a Bonze Superior named Van Phong, who was the professor of Khuong Viet Ngo Chan Luu. Van Phong lived in the Khai Quoc pagoda (known today as the Tran Quoc pagoda). He was a follower of Bonze Superior Thien Hoi who lived in the Dinh Thien pagoda, located in Sieu Loai Village (today Thuan Thanh, Ha Bac). Thien Uyen Tap Anh notes an interesting exchange that occurred between the two monks Thien Hoi and Van Phong concerning Buddhist conceptions of "Life and Death":

- Thien Hoi: Life and death are great problems, we must rid ourselves of them.

- Van Phong: How can life and death be avoided?

- Thien Hoi: To avoid them, one must go to a place where life and death are not.

- Van Phong: And where is the place where life and death are not?

- Thien Hoi: Find them in the place they are.

- Van Phong: And how does one find them?

- Thien Hoi: Go away! Come back here in the afternoon.

Van Phong died in 956 during the reign of King Ngo Xuong Van.

The great monk Khuong Viet Ngo Chan Luu lived in the Phat Da Pagoda in Cat Li, the village of his birth. He was a disciple of Bonze Superior Van Phong who served at the Khai Quoc Pagoda, and afterwards, in that pagoda, he opened a school for Buddhist studies. From the age of forty, his reputation grew and he became advisor successively to King Dinh Tien Hoang and Le Dai Hanh. His old age was spent at a pagoda on Du Hy mountain. He died in 1011, leaving behind a small poem:

In the tree, there originally is fire.

Fire disappears and appears successively.

If one asserts that trees have no fire,

How to generate fire if one perforates them [cuts them up]?

One of Khuong Viet follower was Bonze Superior Da Bao of the Kien So Pagoda in Phu Dong village (today situated in Hanoi suburb). Like Bonze Superior Van Hanh, he also prophesied that Ly Cong Uan would become King. And afterwards, he became the advisor to King Ly Thai To.

Besides the monks belonging to the two above-mentioned sects, Vinitaruci and Wu Yantong, there were also monks whose sect adhesion was unknown, the monk Truong Ma Vi for example. While the Viet state encouraged the expansion of Buddhism during this period, there is no evidence of the existence of a stratum of hermits or other Buddhist practitioners independent of monastic institutions.

It is very difficult to note the distinction between the ideology of the two religious sects, Vinitaruci and Wu Yantong, in the tenth century. It seems that monks of the Wu Yantong sect concerned themselves with a series of fundamental subjects such as the problem of mortality and immortality, questions about the soul and the existence of absolute truth. These issues found expression in a number of litanies and formal dialogues, such as the dialogue between Da Bao and Khuong Viet on fidelity.

In the biographies of monks from the Vinitaruci sect, we find none of these thoughts, but instead we find emphasis on problems relating to Hindu mysticism or Tantrism. Tantric features can also be found in the Wu Yantong sect. The existence of tantric elements in the texts of Buddhist sects from this period suggests that Buddhism was attempting to incorporate popular tantric concerns in order to increase its relevance for the populace.

Tantric Factors on the Hoa Lu Prayer Columns

Tenth century monks, particularly those of the Vinitaruci sect, frequently concerned themselves with questions of Tantric philosophy. According to Thien Uyen Tap Anh, the monk Ma Ha "recited the Buddhist scriptures Dai Bi Tam continuously over a three year period." Afterwards he could understand the Dhuranisamadhi and other magic. The monk, Van Hanh, also studied the Dhuranisamadhi.

The Dhuranisamadhi was a popular form of spiritual self-improvement which originated with Tantrism. It consisted of using a method of meditation called "samadhi" in order to realize the "dharni" a state of goodness without wickedness. Tantrism maintained the existence of certain secrets of the body, secrets of the mind and secrets of language. In order to preserve the secrets of the body one had to perfect the "mudra" (a Hindu dance [and gesture] technique). In order to preserve the secrets of the mind, one must perfect one’s "samadhi" (meditation). To protect the secrets of language one must recite "dharani" (incantations), considered secret words with prophetic power. Different "dharani" existed for different objectives. These incantations were originally in Sanskrit but when propagated in China and Vietnam, were transcribed into Chinese characters. While the original meaning was lost in this process, it was believed that the sound of the phonetic incantation was both mystical and sacred.

The Tantric incantation Mahakarunahrdayadharani was highly respected by Vietnamese monks in the tenth and eleventh centuries. Along with Ma Ha, many other monks studied and recited this "dharani." For example, according to Thien Uyen Tap Anh, the monk Tu Dao Hanh of the Ly reign "recited this "dharani" everyday, one million eight thousand times." Monks recited these different incantations in order to cure diseases, ward off evil spirits, beg for rain and ensure good weather.

Moreover, in the tenth century, monks often used forms of litany and prophesy to influence public opinion regarding political movements. Thien Uyen Tap Anh claims that "the monk Phap Thuan’s speeches were prophetic" and that monk Van Hanh’s sentences were "considered oracular by the people." Van Hanh was renowned for prophesying that Ly Cong Uan would become King. Besides conventional prophesies often made during religious activities, monks accepted and relied on phenomena such as omens and dreams.

Describing the extraordinary acts attributed to the monk Khuong Viet from the Wu Yantong sect, Thien Uyen Tap Anh related the following:

Khuong Viet often visited Ve Linh mountain in Binh Lo district. Finding the site melancholic, he decided to build a pagoda there. One night he dreamed that an angel wearing yellow armor, holding a yellow spear in his left hand, a Buddhist stupa in his right, and followed by ten hideous monsters appeared and said to him: ‘I am the Heavenly King, Ty Sa Mon, my followers are all evil demons. The Celestial Emperor has ordered me to guard the boundaries of this country to encourage a flowering of Buddhism. Because both you and I serve an ancient cause, I am coming to ask you for help’. Paralyzed with fear, Khuong Viet woke up and heard strange and shrill cries coming from the mountain. The next morning, Khuong Viet went to the mountain and saw a 100 foot tree with fresh leaves and branches, surrounded by serene looking clouds. The monk chopped the tree down and carved images of demons from the wood which resembled those he had seen in his dream. In the first year of the Thien Phuc era (980), the Song armies invaded our country. Hearing of this divine man, King Le Dai Hanh sent a messenger to ask for help. Afraid, the Song armies retreated to defend Huu Ninh River. Seeing waves and winds and water dragons dancing and jumping, the invader’s armies disbanded and ran away.

This story is reminiscent of one found in a variety of Buddhist texts that tell of Heavenly King Ty Sa Mon who, with the monk Bat Khong (Amoghavajra), founded Tantrism in China during the seventh century. Ty Sa Mon (Vaistramana or Vaitsravana in Sanskrit), originally the God of good fortune in Indian mythology, eventually became known as a god who defends Buddhist doctrine in Buddhist mythology. Perhaps belief in Ty Sa Mon (together with other Heavenly kings) was propagated in our country at the same time that Chinese Tantric influence became significant.

Interestingly enough, evidence of Tantric influence on Vietnamese Buddhism can be found on the tenth century prayer columns at Hoa Lu. Up to now, nearly twenty prayer columns have been discovered in Hoa Lu, near the Hoang Long river about two kilometers from King Dinh’s temple. The columns were eight-sided stone pillars, each side running from 50 to 70 centimeters. On the first column, found in 1965, one can read that the Tinh navy commander-in-chief, the South Viet King Dinh (Khuong) Lieu, erected one hundred "bao trang" in the year Quy Dau (i.e., 973)."10  "Bao Trang" (ratnadhavaja) often called "Kinh Trang," were columns of Buddhist prayers. Dinh Lieu whose name was carved Dinh Khuong Lien on the prayer columns, was the oldest son of King Dinh Tien Hoang. On a number of prayer columns, discovered in 1987, the reason for the erection of the columns was inscribed. King Khuong Lieu11  erected one hundred ratnadhvaja to beg for the emancipation of the soul of his younger brother - the Most Venerable Noa Tang Noa - whom he himself had killed. Dinh Noa Tang Noa was called the Most Venerable but was neither a monk nor a retired scholar. According to what was carved on the prayer columns, Dinh Noa Tang Noa was killed for "lack of filial piety towards his father (i.e., Dinh Tien Hoang) and ungratefulness towards his eldest brother (i.e., Lieu), as well as for having an evil heart".

According to Dai Viet Su Ky Toan Thu, in the spring of the year Ky Mao (979), Viet King Dinh Lieu killed his younger brother Hang Lang because the latter was named heir prince by their father, Dinh Tien Hoang.12  We cannot be sure that Hang Lang and Dinh Noa Tang Noa were the same person. However, if we assume that they were,13  the newly discovered prayer columns would have been erected after the year Ky Mao Spring (979) and before the assassination of Dinh Lien and Dinh Tien Hoang which occurred in October of that year. Thus it is possible that the prayer columns were erected on different dates.

One remarkable aspect of the Hoa Lu prayer columns is that they all have the Usnisavijayadharani incantation carved on them, phonetically transcribed into Chinese characters.14  Usnivisajayadharani was a popular Tantric incantation. According to this sutra: "A King, Thien Tru (Supra-Tisthita in Sanskrit) led a decadent and wasteful life. One night, he heard a voice from the sky announcing that he would die in seven days. Afterwards he would be reincarnated seven times as different animals, pig, dog, fox, donkey, venomous snake, vulture, and raven. Thereafter, he would be forced to bear all of the tortures of hell. When he finally returned to his human form it would be as a blind man. Thien Tru was filled with terror and begged the God Indra for help. Indra agreed and implored benevolence from Buddha. Buddha read an incantation entitled Usnisavijayadharani. Indra recited this incantation to Thien Tru and spread it among all living creatures." According to Buddha, this incantation could sweep away all misfortunes arising from life, death and hell. Anyone who recited the incantation would prolong his life and be blessed by Bodhisattavas and angels.15 

When he ordered the erection of the prayer columns carved with the Usnisavijayadharani, Dinh Lien surely wanted to rid himself of the aforementioned animal Karmas and to repent for his crimes, such as the assassination of his younger brother. Upon erecting the prayer columns, Dinh Lien also made a wish that the great Emperor, winner of the King Dinh Tien Hoang title,16  was to remain eternally the King of the southern country. He also wished that Khuong Lien would forever after maintain his wealth and position. Both wishes are clearly carved on a prayer column discovered in 1987.

Like the other incantation, the Unisavijayadhaani was not translated but was transcribed phonetically directly into Chinese. In China, this incantation had different transcriptions at different times. A detailed comparison shows a resemblance between the incantation carved in Hoa Lu and the transcription made by the Chinese Tantric monks, the founders of the eighth century Tantric sect. In particular, the Hoa Lu incantation bears a deep similarity to that of the Chinese monk’s Bat Khong Sect.17  It is probable that the transcription of the incantation came to Vietnam during the period of Chinese feudal domination.

Other than the Usnisavijayadharani incantation, only one other incantation (discovered in 1964) can be found on the Hoa Lu prayer columns. While some sentences and characters have faded beyond recognition, the meaning of this sutra is relatively clear. It can be translated as follows:

In his lotus palace, the supreme Victorious Buddha is sitting on his diamond throne. His sayings echo throughout three thousand worlds. His merit is as bountiful as the Ganges sands. Wondrous phrases and chapters emanate from the top of the Buddha’s head18  and are transmitted by 99 Nhu Lai Buddhas. Indra19  then passes them on to Thien Chu Thien20  and because of this, his Karma, which had destined him to be reincarnated seven times as seven different animals, is destroyed. If one maintains the Dhuranisamadhi (religious rites) of the Tantric sect, he will be bequeathed a benevolent heart and enjoy clear sight throughout his life. I am only a simple creature, who only knows how to praise intellectuals of the Dhuranisamadhi.21  All profits and wealth must be given to simple creatures. Nhu Lai from ten directions, bodhisattvas from many different worlds...(unreadable), the general Tam Chi and his evil demons, Diem Vuong the lord of Hell together with his two assistants entrusted with examining good and evil actions... (Unreadable) After hearing this report, everybody asks to descend to earth to work for the everlasting existence of Buddhism and encourage all people to follow the teachings of the supreme being, Buddha Hearing, the voice of the Phat Dinh Ton Thang Vuong,22  all the living creatures are moved and become Buddha.23 

Obviously this text bears close relation to the Usnisavijayadharana as it includes the story about King Thien Tru and the spread of the incantation. It is worth noting that in this version, the "dharani" is repeated twice and the Tantric "dharani" once. The presence of Tantric elements is undeniable.

This version also tells of the holy place of Mahayana full of Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, good angels, evil demons, the emperor of Hell with his Demon army24  and the General Tan Chi. In Buddhist mythology Tan Chi (Pancika or Sanjaya) was one of the eight generals commanding the demon army under Ty Sa Mon’s authority. Today in front of the Nhat Tru Pagoda at Hoa Lu, there still remains a three-meter high stone column which had been erected in 995 during Le Dai Hanh’s reign. On the eight sides of the column are carved the words of the incantation from the Surangama sutra as follows:

The angels often heard sounds in Sanskrit,

Heard the chant "Phat Dinh Dhalany"

And thus were abstinent...

It is very possible that the "Phat Dinh Dhalany" recalled in the previous version is the same as the incantation "Phat Dinh Ton Thang Dhalany." In any case, it appears that under the Le reign, reciting the Dhalany incantation was a popular activity. The prayer columns erected under the Dinh and Le reigns show the influence of Tantrism on Vietnamese Buddhism. However, independent Tantric sects never existed in Vietnam as they did in China. Sects from the Le period can be more accurately described as Chan sects.



1. Thien Uyen Tap Anh Ngu Luc: Volume 1 (hereafter TUTANL).

2. According to TUTANL, King Le Dai Hanh often invited Sung Pham to come to the palace for consultations on religious matters and treated him very kindly. It also claimed that Sung Pham died in 1087, at the age of 84, the third year of Quang Huu during Ly Nhan Tong’s reign. Sung Pham was born in 1004 (or 1003) and Le Dai Hanh in l005, so that it would have been impossible for him to have consulted with the King on religious matters. Perhaps the information on Sung Pham’s life and death is incorrect.

3. Two copies of this poem are recorded, one in Dai Viet Su Ky Toan Thu and one in TUTANL. Here is quoted the copy restored by Hoang Van Lau, based on a number of lines from the farewell poem "Nguyen Lang Quy." See Hoang Van Lau. "On the Farewell Poem in the Tenth Century" in "Problems in the Study of Han Nom Documents." (Hanoi, 1983 p. 119- 211).

4. TUTANL: Volume II.

5. Based on Hoa Lu prayer columns discovered in 1987. See the following section.

6. TUTANL mentioned the order of those generations excluding the founders of the sect as the Vinitaruci and the Wu Yantong. The founders’ followers were called the first generation. If the Vinitaruci is included, Phap Thuan’s generation will be called the eleventh generation. Here as elsewhere, we follow the original way of listing generations as that of the TUTANL.

7. As previously mentioned, we are skeptical about the birth date of Sung Pham.

8. At present, many documents note that Van Hanh’s family name is Nguyen. This is originally based on the TUTANL. But the TUTANL is text from the Tran dynasty which substituted the family name Nguyen for Ly. For example Ly Giac was known in this document as Nguyen Giac, Ly Thuong Kiet became Nguyen Thuong Kiet, etc. Thus we believe that the family name of Van Hanh is actually Ly, but changed in the TUTANL. Van Hanh was born in Co Phap which was also King Ly’s birth place. TUTANL mentioned that Van Hanh died in the ninth year of Thuan Thien (1018) while Dai Viet Su Ky Toan Thu claimed that Van Hanh died in the sixteenth year of King Thuan Thien (1025).

9. According to the TUTANL, Khuong Viet was born in Cat Li village, Thuong Lac district; the location of this village is unknown. Dai Viet Su Ky Toan Thu (Original edition, book l, page 76) wrote that Pham Hap fought against Le Hoan, was defeated and came with his soldiers to Cat Loi village in Bac Giang. Cat Loi village as well as the Pho Da pagoda are where the monk Khuong Viet had cloistered, and in Bac Giang (belonging to Ha Bac today).

10. TUTANL mentioned that Khuong Viet died in Thuan Thien’s second year of Ly’s reign (1011) at the age of 52. It also added that according to some people, he died at the age of 72. It was wrong to say that this monk would have had to be born in 960 and couldn’t become a leading monk in 971, at the age of 11. So it’s correct to say that Khuong Viet died at the age of 72: his birth year would be 933, and he would become a leading monk at the age of 39. This is consistent with the TUTANL which claims "he enjoyed a great reputation throughout the whole country at the age of 40".

11. TUTANL wrote: ‘One day, Da Bao , a talented disciple, asked Khuong Viet: "What is ‘the beginning’ and ‘the end’ in Buddhist doctrine?" The monk answered: "There is no beginning and no end".’

12. According to Phat To Lich Dai Thong Tai (book 13, chapter 36), in the year Quy Ti dynastlc title Thien Bac (753), when the Tay Phien (i.e., Tho Phon) soldiers encircled Luong Chau, the monk Bat Khong read secret words calling the ghost soldiers and an angel wearing armor arrived. King Duong Tran Huyen Tong asked his identity and Bat Khong answered that he was the Heavenly King Sa Mon’s eldest son coming from the North. Some days later, there was news about military victory in Luong Chau obtained with the ghost soldiers’ help. Huyen Tong ordered the soldiers to build a temple for the cult of the Heavenly King Sa Mon. A similar version is given in Than Tang Truyen book 8 (stories about the angel monks, book 8).

13. Ty Sa Mon was a heavenly King guarding the North together with three others guarding three other parts making Four Heavenly Kings or Four Great Heavenly Kings. In 1011, the Four Great Heavenly Kings Pagoda was built in the Thang Long suburbs.

14. On this column of prayer the character "Khuong", written between two other characters "Dinh" and "Lien" was lost.

15. The designation of the King’s position is completely inscribed on the column.

16. Dai Viet Su Ky Toan Thu, part I, page 5a.

17. One must pay attention to the fact that the character "Dinh" and the character "Hang" resemble each other and are easy to confuse.

18. Ha Van Tan, "From a [year-] 973 Buddhist Prayer Column Newly Discovered at Hoa Lu", Historical Research, #76, 1965, p. 39-50.

19. These prayers can be read in Dai Chinh Tan Tu Dai Tang Kinh, Volume 19.

20. Dinh Tien Hoang’s title.

21. 25 Ha Van Tan: As quoted above, pages 45-46.

22. Ha Van Tan: The Buddhist prayer columns dated from the second Kinh Dinh in Hoa Lu: Archaeological Studies Review"’, no.5-6, 1970, pages 24-31.

23. The original words were "quang truong thiet tuong" and meant "the general who had a large and long tongue". That expression suggested one of 32 strange and marvelous qualities of Buddha. It showed the Buddha’s eloquence.

24. The Usnisavijayadharani incantation.

25. Originally it was ‘Kieu Thi Ca’ transcribed into Sanskrit ‘Kaustika’ or ‘Kutsica’, Indra’s family name.

26. Thien Tru Thien (‘Supratisthitadeva’) was also King Thien Tru.

27. The original word was "tat ba nha" transcribed "sarvajna" in Sanskrit and meant "all the knowledge". This suggested that the Buddha’s intelligence was perfect after he had completely mastered the Buddhist doctrine.

28. Phat Dinh Ton Thang Vuong was the name of one of the Buddhas called Phat Dinh. But here the words "Phat Dinh Ton Thang Vuong" signified the incantation words Phat Dinh Ton Thang.

29. This litany showed the conception "Dai Thua" (Mahayana) on the emancipation of souls according to which all people could become Buddha. Phap hoa Kinh phuong tien pham wrote: "Anyone who has the opportunity to hear Buddha. preaching will inevitably become a Buddha".

30. This litany was called "duoc xoa," "yaksa" when transcribed into Sanskrit. It was also called "da xoa".

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