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



(16th-18th CENTURY)


The last king of the Posterior Le dynasty was Chan Ton Cung Hoanh (1516-1527) whose throne was usurped by his highest-ranking mandarin of the Court named Mac Dang Dung. Though the Le dynasty no longer existed, the population still turned their thoughts toward Le Thai To and Le Thanh Ton — the early kings of the Le dynasty-who particularly had won the minds and the hearts of their subjects by meritorious services rendered to society. For that reason, many persons supported and followed the descendants of the restored Le dynasty set up then in the Southern part of the country, notably in the regions of Thanh Hoa and Nghe An, in order to oppose the rule by the Mac Kings: thus the country was divided into two parts reigned over by two different Kings who fought against each other for 50-60 years on end. Afterwards, relying upon the mandarins of the Trinh and Nguyen families, the Le Kings could annihilate the Mac Kings but when the Trinh mandarins were proclaimed Lords by the Le Kings, a great dissension and an acute conflict arose between the Trinh and Nguyen families. Hence, struggles frequently occurred between different feudal groups which lasted for about two centuries.


The prolonged war between the Trinh and Nguyen families, with its social disorders and endless sufferings caused to the population, constituted a good factor conducive to the people’s sympathy for the ideas and sentiments of Buddhism, - which considers life something ephemeral, and full of hardships and misery. This is why the Buddhist ideas about the insecure and precarious life, the compassion for the sufferings of the living creatures, the relation between cause and effect, and last but not least, the Karma, had flourished and incessantly changed according to the popular imagination and conception of social morals. For this reason, so many works issuing from the popular masses bore those ideas and sentiments, which were spreading far and wide in society.

Popular creative works were not only literature based on oral tradition produced by the uneducated common people but also that created by Confucian scholars or Buddhist monks. These people did not participate in the political apparatus, they lived near to the population, took sides with the latter and reflected their ideas and sentiments in their works. Thanks to this allegiance, their writings responded to the spiritual needs of the majority of the people, who enjoyed reading them and propagated those works in such a way that they became quite popular among them.

In this period, the story "Quan Am Thi Kinh" (Goddess of Mercy Thi Kinh) and the story "Quan Am Nam Hai" (Goddess of Southern Sea) were two books bearing a deep ideological and doctrinal content of Buddhism. Both works reflected the period of disorders and upheavals and propagandized Buddhism as a method of action to provide a remedy for the actual state of society at the time. From this might be seen the surging influence of Buddhism in popular works. "Quan Am Thi Kinh" is a story written in verse, recounting the life of lady, Thi Kinh, who was accused falsely of having intended to kill her husband, and when she disguised herself as a man to lead a religious life in a Buddhist temple, she was again falsely blamed for having committed sexual intercourse with a girl and having made her pregnant, which was strictly forbidden by Buddhist law (anyway, how could a woman have sexual intercourse with another woman and make her pregnant?), but thanks to her endurance of all indignities and her spirit of self-sacrifice, she could enter into Nirvana and became Goddess of Mercy.

The story was written by an anonymous author in the six-eight word distich metre (rhythmic prose), comprising 186 lines and divided into five chapters as follows:

1. First chapter: Lady Thi Kinh falsely accused of intending to kill her husband (1- 224th lines). Lady Thi Kinh was a native of Korea, she had been a man in the preceding life. When entering into monkhood, the man had reached the peak of the way in the Buddhist religion and had been about to be proclaimed a Buddha, but the great Gautama Buddha wanted to put him once more to the test by reincarnating him as a daughter of the Mang family and making the girl suffer many tribulations and injustices in life. When growing up, Thi kinh was beautiful, talented, and very well-mannered which won her sympathy and admiration from relatives and neighbours. She was married to a young student named Thien Si, who came from the Sung family. The married couple were getting on well with each other and living a happy life. One night, her husband was reading a book, and she was sitting near by sewing clothes. The husband, tired by reading, began to sleep. She saw on his chin a hair growing against the grain. With a small knife in her hand, she was going to cut it off, but the husband started up from his sleep. When seeing such a move from his wife, he thought she was attempting to kill him, and cried for help. The husband’s parents came in. After listening to what was recounted by their son, they charged their daughter-in-law with an attempt to kill her husband. Then they right away sent for her own parents, and after severe reproaches, handed her back to her family.

2. Second chapter: Thi Kinh leading a religious life (125th-370th lines). Lady Thi Kinh returned to live with her parents. She could not make known her feeling and reveal the false accusation to anyone else. At first she attempted to commit suicide, but thinking that she was the only child of the family, she refrained from doing so and decided to enter religion as a way to requite her parents’ love and concern for her. She then disguised herself as a man, took the new name Kinh Tam, and ran away from the family to lead a religious life at a far distant pagoda named Van Tu.

3. Third chapter: Thi Kinh falsely accused of adultery (371st-584th lines). Kinh Tam (Thi Kinh’s new name when she disguised herself as a man) lived at the Van Tu pagoda, assuaging her sorrow by reading prayers and worshipping Buddha. Suddenly an unfortunate event happened. The root cause was that near to the pagoda lived a young girl named Thi Mau, who intended to choose a husband for herself. She very often came worshipping at the pagoda in which lived Kinh Tam. When seeing Kinh Tam, and finding him smart and handsome, Thi Mau became enamored of Kinh Tam - who showed indifference at her approach - , but Thi Mau could not contain her passion and had sexual intercourse with a male servant in her family, hence she became pregnant. The council of notables in the village, when considering this case of pregnancy without being married, summoned Thi Mau for interrogation. She put all blame on Kinh Tam, who was then subjected to beating and a fine. So Thi Kinh was victim for the second time of a glaring injustice.

4. Fourth chapter: Thi Kinh, nurturing Thi Mau’s child (585th- 692nd lines). Some time later, Thi Mau gave birth to a boy; she brought her baby to the pagoda with the clear intention of handing it over to Kinh Tam, whom she said to be the real father. Kinh Tam, with her pity on the baby, accepted to nurture it, knowing by herself that she was never the author of such a birth. Hardly three years had elapsed when Kinh Tam caught a serious illness and passed away. Before her death, she wrote a letter explaining the case to her parents.

5. Fifth chapter: Thi Kinh, cleansed of injustices, becomes Goddess of Mercy (693rd-786th lines). When wrapping the corpse of Thi Kinh in a shroud, the monks and nuns at the pagoda became aware of the fact that Kinh Tam was a woman. The inhabitants of the village then learned with much regret that she had been victim of an injustice. Then the parents and relatives of her family, after reading the letter she had written to them before her last hour, came to know that she did not have any idea of murdering her husband. Her husband, since her leaving the family for an unknown place, felt much regret for his inconsiderate behavior toward her, and when knowing that his wife was victim of an utter injustice which had been hard for her to prove, he joined his parents in making arrangements for the funeral of his deceased wife and took the vow to lead a religious life until the last day of his life at the same pagoda. Afterwards, the Buddha, considering that lady Thi Kinh had reached the peak of the way in her Buddhist religion, proclaimed her Goddess of Mercy. The themes of the "Goddess of Mercy Thi Kinh" story are steadfastness in the face of injustice, endurance of indignities, compassion for living creatures, and uprightness in life: by so doing all injustices can be eventually obliterated.

The injustices suffered by Thi Kinh were quite common among many women shackled by stern social conventions. But any injustice could not be easily brought to light, although the victim were to even swear by almighty God that he or she had never done it, because nobody would believe in such an oath. The pertaining verses run as follows:

I would never betray my husband,

So I strongly request him to reconsider my first love with him;

Should the dead be brought back to life again,

I would have opened my chest and abdomen to show him my lungs and liver.

In the face of such circumstances, Buddhism offered a suitable way for liberation from prejudice, viz., endurance and renunciation, which happened to be in conformity with that historical juncture and mentality. Here, though showing an attitude of enduring indignities, the character in the story is no less an object of much praise and admiration by those who know about her situation: hence their strong condemnation of the wrong-doers. It should be recalled here that Thi Kinh was victim of two injustices. The first one was the false accusation that she attempted to kill her husband, but she was unable in any way to exculpate herself from the charge because she was unable to interpret the matter to others. The pertaining verses run as follows:

Glancing at his chin when he was sleep,

I saw a hair growing against the grain;

Heedlessly I took up a small knife;

Hardly had I begun to cut that hair off

When he started up from his sleep.

Her second injustice could be not only explained and brought to light but also used for denouncing the shameful slander, but Thi Kinh did not utter any word for self-defense and resigned herself to her fate because the endurance of indignities constitutes one of the six virtues of Buddhism:

Endurance of indignities is a virtue indeed;

But a truly devout person knows how to endure the hardest one.

Buddhist Mahayana is characterized by its compassion, its idea of saving living creatures from suffering and unhappiness. Through the work "Goddess of Mercy Thi Kinh," it spreads as a moral principle necessary for the epoch, an epoch which was beset with so many sufferings caused by a strait-laced society.

In the work "Goddess of Mercy Thi Kinh," the real situation of society was shown to some extent, but not all-sidedly, and did not bring to the fore the most acute contradictions. The theme is injustice and endurance of indignities, thereby leaving no room for a duly combative spirit in dealing with and excluding the wrong-doings of others.

"Goddess of Mercy Thi Kinh" shows an unlimited peaceful path and does not make use of the Buddhist ideology as a weapon for attacking the vicious customs and bad habits of society. "Goddess of Mercy Nam Hai" is another story, this one in Nom (Vietnamese demotic script), recounting another tale of Avalokitesvara in Buddhism. The story was written in rhythmic prose of six-word verse followed by an eight-word line metre. It has been handed down from one generation to another among the population under different appellations and in different copies. This demonstrates the strong popularity of the story.

In former times, literary researchers did not confirm the name of any author of the "Nam Hai Quan Am" (Goddess of Mercy of Southern Sea) and considered this work to be written by an anonymous or unknown author. In a recent study, there was discovered a copy of the story entitled "Nam Hai Quan Am" with clear indication of the date of the reigning dynasty, and the name of the author as fellows: "Written by Bonze Chinh Giac Chan Nguyen of the Truc Lam sect at Phap Quang pagoda, in Kim Co hamlet, Thuan My canton, Tho Xuong sub district, Hoai Duc district, Ha Noi province in the first month of the year Canh Tuat, third year of the reign of King Tu Duc and carved by Vu Tao alias Phap Khoan and his wife Vu Thi Nam alias Dieu Van. (See Le Manh That, Chan Nguyen Thien Su Toan Tap (Complete works of Bronze Chan Nguyen), bk2, Ho Chi Minh City, 1979). The author of this research affirmed that the story "Nam Hai Quan Am" was compiled by Bonze superior Ch’an Nguyen. This very recent discovery has not yet been brought widely to the attention of scholarly circles. If what it uncovers is truly so, people cannot help thinking with much surprise that a bonze superior in the Buddhist Ch’an sect could have written a work in which it is mentioned that the King of Heaven conferred the title of Avalokitesvara on Dieu Thien.

It would be preferable to deal with the copy of "Nam Hai Quan Am" which has had wide currency among the broad masses of the people and is usually known under the title "Truyen Phat Ba Quan Am" (The story of the Goddess of Mercy) or "Phat Ba Chua Huong" (The Goddess of the Perfume Pagoda). This story in verse comprises 1426 lines and divides into the following chapters:

An introductory chapter: Making known the story of princess Dieu Thien with the theme of filial piety and humaneness, and pointing out that the supernatural power of Buddhism is characterized by its one thousand eyes and one thousand hands (1st-10th lines).

The main story chapter: Depicting the life of Princess Dieu Thien, her determination to carry out both filial piety and humaneness and the completion of her wishes (11th-1394th lines). The summary account may be divided into the following parts:

(1) King Trang beseeching Buddha for a male heir at the Tay Nhac Buddhist temple (11th-62nd lines).

(2) The King of Heaven ordering the souls of the three sons of the Thi family to be reincarnated (63rd-120th lines).

(3) The Queen giving birth to three princesses (121st-174th ).

(4) Differing from her two elder sisters, the third princess Dieu Thien showed a high devotion to Buddhism (175th-204th lines).

(5) When grown up, the two elder princesses were married to ill-natured Prince Consorts. So, Princess Dieu Thien made up her mind to lead a religious life, but the King did not agree with her wish and banished her from the royal palace to live in a garden. There she persisted in her intention to enter nunhood and refused to return to the royal palace, though earnestly entreated and even threatened (205th -420th lines).

(6) Princeess Dieu Thien transferred to lead a religious life at the Bach Tuoc pagoda, thanks to her maids’ stratagem. There also, she flatly turned down the offer to return to the palace; her obstinacy made the king feel much annoyed. Getting angry, he ordered the killing of bonzes and nuns and the burning down of the pagoda (421st -542nd lines).

(7) The troops sent in to do the job ordered by the king could not fulfill their mission, — as if they had been hindered by a magic power. This strange thing was reported to the king who ordered the troops to bring Dieu Thien back to the Court for execution. She was saved by a tiger, who carried her on his back into the jungle and made her pass out (543rd -598th lines). After Dieu Thien’s soul visited the punishment section, i.e., hell, she came to her senses (599th -759th lines).

(8) Dieu Thien met Buddha Sakyamuni, who, after putting her to a test, authorized her to enter nunhood at the Huong Tich pagoda. There she reached the peak of the way in her religion and adopted Thien Tai and Long Nu as her disciples (760th -876th lines).

(9) King Trang caught a serious illness. Dieu Thien consented to sacrifice her arm and eye to cure her father’s disease. The King recovered from his illness and knew that he had been saved by a fairy’s magic power (877th-1094th lines).

(10) The King and the Queen went to the Buddhist temple to celebrate there a thanksgiving ceremony, but on their way to the place they met ghosts and demons. While at the court there happened a usurpation of power. Dieu Thien came to the rescue of her father, reestablishing order at the court and ensuring security for her family, not to mention her showing mercy to betrayers and wicked people (1095th-1358th lines).

(11) The King of Heaven conferred on Dieu Thien the title of Avalokitesvara, and her two elder sisters were awarded the title of Bodhisattva (1359th-1394th lines).

The concluding chapter: Reverting to the main theme praising Buddhism and advising people to lead a religious life. The content of "Nam Hai Quan Am" lays stress on the relation between man and man through the theme of filial piety and humaneness. But the filial piety and humaneness must be understood within the Buddhist context. It finds expression in the following content: "Only when becoming Buddha, could people have means to save their country and protect their home. So there is no need to pay heed to one’s particular filial piety. But dedication to the country is the best way to requite a favour"; or, "First gratitude must be shown to one’s parents. Then all living creatures no matter they be good or bad should be freed from suffering and unhappiness."

Prompted by filial piety and humaneness, Dieu Thien was determined to free herself from the degenerate Confucian morality which was not only binding her but also causing suffering to many people. In Buddhism, the moral principle which can free people from false beliefs or ignorance and help them to distinguish right from wrong and to take proper and effective action when the need arises, is the true value and legitimacy of their actions, as the "Nam Hai Quan Am" so beautifully says. Such is the guiding principle for intellectual cognition and merciful action. This finds expression in the following content: "Deities’ supernatural powers, like having one thousand eyes and one thousand hands, come from their spiritual and intellectual cognition." Therefore, although Dieu Thien lived an utterly peaceful life, she could be aware of the bad things happening in society and make up her mind to remove that falsely quiet life in order to replace it by a genuinely peaceful one for herself and for the population at large.

The chapter dealing with the main story describes Dieu Thien’s life and her determination to realize her dream and this at the cost of many tests and trials which she finally could overcome, thereby attaining her will. This chapter is a brilliant condensation of the images and the mentality of the epoch, for example the scene of war and its destructions which took a heavy toll of human life, expressed in the following content: "In the course of military operations the lives of the common people were not even spared, no matter they proved to be either innocent or victims of injustice"; or the scene of greediness and cruelty expressed in the following rhythmic sentences:

Killing people for plundering property,

People whose decomposing corpses sent forth bad odour to the sky

or the act of holding in esteem males and slighting females:

Discontented with the birth of a daughter

the king furiously declared that she was completely worthless.

or the expression of contempt for the Buddhist clergy:

No child of mine would be permitted

To follow those ill- famed bonzes.

The part relating Dieu Thien’s soul going through the 18 punishment sections of the hell is reserved for denouncing bad action and crime of the epoch, of which the heaviest ones involve disloyalty:

Disloyal to heaven and earth, to deities,

to one’s country and one’s associates is the highest of crimes.

or "the destruction of human life":

Both are accused of committing adultery and

worse still they kill the foetus by means of abortion.

or practice of deceit of the population to extort money and property from them:

Inciting and deceiving the innocent people,

So as to extort from them personal belongings and real estate.

and many other things.

In the face of the dramatic situation in society, why should people fold their arms and take no action? Because they lack the will to act and are deprived of the sense of humaneness. Therefore the dream of mankind is to see no more crimes committed, and thus the scenes of punishment in the 18 sections of the hell ended forever.

The concluding chapters revert to the subject of advising people to strive for self-improvement, to follow the virtues of the Goddess of Mercy so as to bring welfare and happiness to society.

Nam Hai Quan Am is a story with a rather clear topic, and objective requirements. It contains many episodes with a series of events reflecting the particular traits of the epoch, and skillfully and logically incorporates the Buddhist morality into what was the contemporary man’s way of thinking. In this work, the relation between man and man constitutes an idea on which reasoning is based, in order to give rise to good will. "Nam Hai Quan Am" bears a high combative spirit and hands over to the population a good method of action for achieving one’s aim.

Generally speaking, the two works, as mentioned above, bear each of them a nuance of its own but both meet the popular mentality and ideology of the epoch thanks to the fact that they reflect the kind and virtuous character of Thi Kinh in "Quan Am Thi Kinh" and the undaunted spirit of fighting for what is right of Dieu Thien (in "Nam Hai Quan Am"); and both of these traits are inherent in the Vietnamese nation. Both "Quan Am Thi Kinh" and "Nam Hai Quan Am" make surely definite contributions to the national treasure of folk literature and ideological history.


The Reason for the Restoration

From the early 15th century to the middle of the 16th century under the Le dynasty Vietnam’s Buddhism went through a period of serious decadence owing to the effect of various policies of the Le Kings in addition to the troubles inside Buddhist circles. The endless sufferings and hardships caused by the civil war between the Le and the Mac, and afterwards by the conflict between the Trinh and Nguyen had brought the people nearer to Buddhism which taught them that life was precarious, temporary and full of trials and tribulations and that the mind of peace was to be found only in the Buddhists’ doctrine.

Buddhism regained its former prosperity both in the North and in the South where both the Trinh and the Nguyen lords showed much support and admiration for this religion. By so doing, they could draw the Buddhist believers onto their side. The activities of the Trinh Lords in the North centered around the construction and repair of pagodas and temples. In the fifteenth year of the Vinh Thinh era (1719) Lord Trinh Cuong ordered the restoration of the Phuc Long pagoda in Lang Ngam village, Gia Dinh district, which was built by the instructions of Lord Trinh Trang in the eighth year of the Phuc Thai era (1648). In the eighth year of Bao Thai era (1727) Lord Trinh Cuong gave orders for the building of the Thien Tay pagoda in Son Dinh village, Tam Duong district belonging to the region of Tam Dao mountain, and of the Doc Ton pagoda in Cat Ne village, Pho An district, Thai Nguyen province. In the second year of the Vinh Khanh era (1730), by order of Lord Trinh Giang, the work of restoring the Quynh Lam and the Sung Nghiem pagodas was started and completed in the same year. In the second year of the Vinh Huu era (1736), Lord Trinh Giang ordered the Ho Thien pagoda to be built on top of the mountain in Bao Loc district, Kinh Bac administrative division and the Huong Hai pagoda to be erected in Phu Ve village, Chi Linh district. It should be said that the pagodas ordered to be built and repaired usually lay in famous beauty spots destined for rest and recreation of the Lords themselves. In the third year of the Vinh Huu era (1737), Lord Trinh Giang for the first time ordered a big statue of Buddha to be built in Quynh Lam pagoda, and when the work was completed he gave instructions to the mandarins to hold ceremonies and religious services there in dedication to Buddha.

In the same Vinh Huu era (1735-1739), Bonze Tram Cong, obeying a royal ordinance, went on a mission to the Qing court. When arriving at the Dinh Ho mount, he visited Bonze superior Kim Quang, and from the latter he got many texts of the Buddhist scriptures to bring back to the Can An pagoda for safe deposit. It was known that after usurping the throne of the Tran, Ho Quy Li sought by every means and way to annihilate the descendants of the Tran. Then the Ming court, taking advantage of the critical situation in this country, sent its troops to invade Dai Viet under the banner of "wiping out the Ho in order to restore the Tran," but in reality it attempted to occupy the land of Vietnam, destroy its culture and assimilate the nation. For that reason, so many classical works and historical books of the Vietnamese were seized and brought back to China for destruction. When Le Loi became King after driving away the Ming troops, he could search out Tran Cao, a descendant of the Tran, but instead of detaining him he had him put to death with a toxic substance and the King then sent his envoy to the Ming Court to demand investiture from the latter under the pretext that the descendants of the Tran no longer existed.

The Truc Lam sect instituted by the Tran Kings was also annihilated along with the Tran dynasty. The pillage of the people’s property and destruction of the country’s cultural values were really conducive to the removal of the vestiges left by the former dynasty. Therefore the Truc Lam sect rapidly disintegrated. In order to escape from danger, many bonzes of the Truc Lam sect fled their pagodas to take refuge in the mountain regions south of Quang Tri and Thuan Hoa provinces or in Quang Nam and Quang Ngai. They secluded themselves from the world and led an unknown religious life in their hiding places. They kept secret their names and whereabouts until the reign of the Mac Kings (1527-1595) and the restored Le dynasty (1533-1588): among them should be cited several bonze-superiors of the Truc Lam sect such as Chan Nghiem under the Mac dynasty, and Vien Canh and Vien Khoan whose origins remain so far unknown.

The restoration of the Truc Lam Chan sect reached its peak with the arrival of the great master Vien Van Chuyet Chuyet and his disciple Minh Hanh Tai Toai in the North and particularly with the presence of bonze- superiors Minh Chau Huong Hai and Chinh Giac Chan Nguyen.

What is interesting in Vietnam’s Buddhist history is that the Lam Te Ch’an sect was introduced into Vietnam from China by the Buddhist master Chuyet Chuyet and his disciple Minh Hanh, and afterwards that sect returned to the Vietnam Truc Lam tradition and completely lost its Chinese Lam Te tradition. Bonze superior Chan Nguyen was the very author of this change.

Typical Personalities

The Buddhist dignitaries typical of the period of restoration of Buddhism in the North include Chuyet Chuyet, Minh Hanh, Huong Hai and Chan Nguyen.

The Buddhist dignitary Chuyet Chuyet

Bonze Chuyet Chuyet belonged to the Ly family line under the personal name Thien To and the religious name Hai Trung alias Vien Van. He is usually called Bonze Chuyet Cong. He was born in 1590 in Qing Zhang administrative division, Fu Jian province in China. Since the time of childhood, he engaged in Confucian studies and when grown up, he left his home and became a Buddhist priest under the tutelage of Reverend Tiem Son. Afterwards he got an improved religious education with the assistance of the Buddhist monk Da Da in Nam Son. Da Da was a famous monk who was often invited by the Ming Emperor Shizong to come to the Imperial Palace to give advice on matters relating to the court and to impart information about the Buddhist doctrine. For that reason, the emperor conferred on him the honorary title of Great Master Khuong Quoc.

After completing his Buddhist studies with the assistance of monk Da Da, Chuyet Chuyet traveled in every quarter of China for the purpose of educating the people in Buddhist doctrine. In 1630, after the Qing had defeated the Ming and taken power in China, Chuyet Chuyet and some of his disciples left China for Vietnam by boat. Among Chuyet Chuyet’s disciples, the monk Minh Hanh was the most outstanding. Chuyet Chuyet and his disciples landed at Chan Lap, a territory lying in the Dong Nai river delta, i.e. the actual Bien Hoa area. Then all of them left Chan Lap for Champa and resided in the Southern part of Vietnam.

The time of their residence in the southern part of the country is not now known, nor all the places where they stayed to preach religion. It is only known that when they came to the north, they stopped to preach religion at the Thien Tuong pagoda in Nghe An and at the Trach Lam pagoda in Thanh Hoa. In 1633, monk Chuyet Chuyet and his close disciples arrived in Thang Long capital city and resided at the Khan Son pagoda. They brought with them a number of prayer books and Buddhist sutras. Chuyet Chuyet and his disciples began their preaching of Buddhism at Khan Son pagoda. Many people, including the Vietnamese and the Chinese, attended lectures given by those eminent bonzes. After a period of time, they moved to the Phat Tich pagoda, in Tieu Du district, Bac Ninh province. During their stay at that pagoda to accomplish their religious activities, lord Trinh Trang, who held at that time the supreme power in the north, greatly admired Chuyet Chuyet and raised him to the position of Master. Monk Chuyet Chuyet won high admiration and great esteem from the King Le Huyen Ton and the lord Trinh Trang, to say nothing about the deep respect from the mandarins. Indeed, a number of those mandarins expressed their belief in Chuyet Chuyet’s preaching of Buddhism and undertook to practice it at home.

It should be mentioned here that Chuyet Chuyet had two eminent disciples, namely Minh Hanh Tai Toai, a Chinese national and Minh Luong, a Vietnamese. Monk Minh Luong then handed down his Buddhist ideology to Chan Nguyen, who in turn transmitted it to Nhu Trung Lan Giac. The latter became the founder of the Lien Ton Chan sect in the north, which was said to be the posterior personification of the resuscitated Ch’an sect of Truc Lam in the north.

The Buddhist dignitary Minh Hanh Tai Toai

He was a native of Jianchang district, Jiangxi province in China. He was known to be the best disciple of Chuyet Chuyet and was selected by the latter for the mission to Vietnam. He stayed during a certain time to preach the Buddhist religion in Binh Dinh and Thuan Hoa in the south, and then proceeded to the north. He resided at the Nhan Thap pagoda and left the following lines of prayers to the Ch’an sect of Lam Te in the north:

The Truth illuminates all over horizons

Like a vast ocean,

To the enlightenment for those who wish

To attain the meaning of Nothingness.

These lines of prayers were the genealogical records handed down by the Ch’an sect of the Buddhist dignitary Chuyet Chuyet to his disciples and not a composition by Minh Hanh himself. After that, Minh Luong and Minh Chau also handed down those lines of prayers to their followers. That would bring to light the relationship between the Lam Te sect and its Truc Lam counterpart, and from that connection, one might think that the Lam Te sect was the very Truc Lam sect which had concealed its name for the purpose of avoiding pohtlcal complications. This was revealed only in the time of monk Huong Hai and monk Chan Nguyen.

According to the poem, we can compare the transmission of Truc Lam and Lam Te as follows:

Truc Lam sect: - Vien Canh to Minh Chau, and then to Chan Ly.

Lam Te sect: - Vien Van to Minh Hanh, then to Chan Tru.

- Vien Van to Minh Luong, then to Chan Nguyen.

The Buddhist dignitary Huong Hai

The Buddhist priest Huong Hai came from a highly influential family whose ancestors had been permanently living in Ang Do village, Chan Phuc district. His ancestor five generations before him had been the general manager of craft builders for the Le court. He had had only two sons. The elder one appointed by the King as manager of a state workshop with 300 workers got the title of Duke. The younger one, a deputy-manager of that state workshop, got the title of Marquis. This one had been the ancestor by four generations before Huong Hai. During Chinh Tri era (1558-1571) of the reign of King Le AnhTon, the Marquuis followed the Duke Nguyen Hoang on a mission to defend and guard the territory of Quang Nam. He won the confidence of the latter, who promoted him to the rank of Chanh cai (general manager) whose task was to look after and supervise the work of craft builders. This is the brief account of the ancestors of monk Huong Hai. As for himself, he lived in Binh An village, Thang Hoa administrative division. He was renowned for his cleverness and intelligence since the time of childhood. At the age of 18, he graduated as bachelor of letters and was appointed official in charge of literary works at the palace of the lord Nguyen Phuc Lan (1635-1648). At the age of 25 (in the year 1652), he was nominated to the post of district chief of Trieu Phong administrative division. It should be said that Huong Hai greatly admired Buddhism. He engaged in Buddhist studies under the guidance of Bonze Vien Canh in Luc Ho and was given the religious name Huong Hai Minh Chau. Afterwards he continued his Buddhist studies with the assistance of Bonze Vien Khoan in Quang Tri province.

After working as a mandarin for three years, Huong Hai resigned his office in order to lead a religious life. Together with some disciples, he went by boat to the Southern Sea and landed at a small off-shore island where all of them joined forces in building a small pagoda on top of the Tiem But La mount, in order to enter the monkhood. But only eight months later, they moved to the Dai Lanh island in the Ngoc Long sea area to practice their religion. Many talks and stories about ghosts and demons and the monks’ magic power were recounted by the population during the time of his residence on this island. He enjoyed a good name and won much confidence and admiration from the people in the country.

The duke Thuan in charge of the defense of the Quang Nam citadel had a wife seriously taken ill for a rather long time. Hearing the good name of the monk, the duke sent his men to the island to earnestly invite him to come to his building to cure his wife’s disease. Monk Huong Hai set up an altar where he said prayers, praying and meditating for seven days and nights on end, and finally the duke’s wife completely recovered from her illness. Then the whole family put their faith in his supernatural power and were finally initiated into Buddhism.

More than half a year later the Marquis Hoa Le, who served at the Nguyen Lord’s palace in Quang Nam was infected with tuberculosis which then continued on for three years. Hearing the reputation of the monk, he sent his men to go by boat to the island on which resided the famous monk to invite the latter to come to his home to cure the disease. Huong Hai set up the altar named Great Repentance where he carried out religious services for seven days and nights on end. The Marquis Hoa Le was completely cured of’ his tubercular infection. Then, he came to Thuan Hoa to do his job-assignment. There he recounted his misfortune and experience to Lord Nguyen Phuc Tan (1648-1687), who showed much admiration for the monk and sent an envoy to the island to request him to return to the mainland and reside somewhere around the Lord’s palace in Phu Xuan. Lord Nguyen Phuc Tan ordered the mandarins to build right away Thien Tinh Vien (the Institute for Dhyana study) on the Quy Kinh mount and requested the Buddhist priest Huong Hai to reside there. The first lady of the principality (the wife of Lord Nguyen Phuc Tan) and her three princes named Phuc My, Hiep Duc and Phuc To together with many mandarins and generals at the lord’s palace came to the Institute to be initiated into Buddhism, where the number of those initiated reached as many as 1300 persons.

The Buddhist priest Huong Hai led his religious activities at the Dhyana Institute for a certain period of time when an incident occurred. At that time, there was the Duke Gia, a mandarin in charge of eunuchs, who was native of Thuy Bai village, Gia Dinh district in the North. He followed the army of the Trinh Lord in military operations against the troops of the Nguyen Lord in the South. He was captured by Lord Nguyen Phuc Tan and was pardoned by him. Afterwards, he was entrusted with the teaching work at the palace of the Nguyen Lord. This man came very often to the Dhyana institute to attend lectures given by monk Huong Hai. Some people reported to the Nguyen Lord that the monk and the Northern mandarin had been scheming to flee the South for the North. The lord ordered the case to be investigated but no evidence was made available to convict the men of attempting to escape from the South, so the Lord instructed the monk to return to Quang Nam to continue his religious activities.

In the face of such a situation Huong Hai made up his mind to preach his religion in the North. In the third month of the year Nham Tuat (1682), Huong Hai and his 50 disciples used a boat to go by sea to the North. Landing at the coast of Nghe An, he requested an audience with the governor Trinh Na of the Nghe An administrative division. The latter immediately reported the case back to the royal court in the North. Lord Trinh Tac sent the duke Duong to come to Nghe An to invite the monk and his disciples to Dong Do (the then capital of the Kingdom in the North). The Lord ordered the Duke Nhuong and the magistrate Le Hi to institute inquiries into the life story of the monk, with an identification by the inhabitants of the monk’s native village. After having full knowledge of him, Lord Trinh Tac summoned the monk to the royal court. After some formal inquiries about his state of health and his actual situation, the lord conferred on the monk the title of "Vu su" and gave him a reward of the order of 300 strings of coins. He also gave instructions to the court treasurer to annually allocate to the monk 24 baskets of paddy, 36 strings of coins and a roll of white cloth. His disciples also received allocations. Lord Trinh Tac did not fail to ask the monk to draw the maps of the two regions of Thuan and Quang which the latter made with a rather good skin and in great details. The monk received as reward for this service 20 more strings of coins. In the eighth lunar month of that year, the Trinh lord gave order to temporarily accommodate the monk and his disciples in the public building of the Son Tay administrative division. After an 8-month stay there, all of them were transferred, by ordinance of Lord Trinh Can in 1686, to permanently reside in Son Nam administrative division. There, they got a pagoda for doing religious services built by the governor Le Dinh Kien according to the Lord’s directions and still received 3 acres of public land for cultivation to cover religious expenses. At that time, the monk was aged 56. He was renowned for his strict adherence to the Buddhist commandments and for his high religious qualifications. He undertook to translate as many as 30 volumes of sutras into Nom (Vietnamese demotic script), to say nothing of the printing of these works for distribution and circulation among the Buddhists.

In the year Canh Thin (1700), the monk Huong Hai came to reside at the Nguyet Duong pagoda with more than 70 disciples following his course of Buddhist study. All of them were finally proficient in Buddhist doctrine. Nguyet Duong later on underwent proper repairs to become a big and well decorated pagoda. Here, the monk educated his believers in how to further promote the Buddhist religion and thus restored the Truc Lam Ch’an sect.

In the reign of King Le Du Ton (1705-1729), the monk was summoned to the imperial palace to beseech Buddha to give to the King a male heir. At that time the monk reached the age of 78. One day, King Le Du Ton asked the monk: "I’ve heard that your reverend is a man of great learning, I would like you to help me to understand the law of Buddha and his doctrine." The monk said: "I’ve only four sentences, please listen with an earnest will to the following:

Everyday you must carefully examine your conscience

and not gain knowledge vaguely as if you were dreaming.

By so doing, the future of yours

will be the manifestation of your actual doings.

The King put him another question: "What is the Buddha’s thought like?" The monk answered: "Like the shadow of a swallow flying across the sky whose image is mirrored in the still water. No vestige of that swallow is left behind and the still water does not retain the bird’s image either".

In the sixth month of the year Giap Ngo under the Vinh Thinh era (1714), the monk already reached the age of 87. Lord Trinh Cuong (1709-1729), on an inspection tour in various localities, dropped by to see him and donated 1,000 strings of coins to the pagoda at which the monk resided. At that time, the monk boasted a lot of disciples. He had to keep a register containing an official record of their religious names and could select among them more than 70 of the best followers.

In the morning of the thirteenth day of the fifth lunar month of the year At Mui (1715) in the reign of King Le Du Ton under the 11th year of Vinh Thinh era, the monk, after taking a bath, died at the age of 88 while chanting his prayers. In his lifetime he wrote the following works:

Giai Phap Hoa Kinh, 1 collection

Giai Kim Cang Kinh Ly Nghia, 2 books

Giai Sa Di Gioi Luat.

Giai Phat To Tam Kinh, 3 books

Giai Di Da Kinh, 1 book

Giai Vo Luong Tho Kinh, 1 book

Giai Dia Tang Kinh, 3 books

Giai Tam Kinh Dai Dien, 1 book

Giai Tam Kinh Ngu Chi

Giai Tam Chau Nhat Quan, 1 book

Giai Chan Tam Truc Thuyet,

Giai Phap Bao Dan Kinh, 6 books

Giai Pho Khuyen Tu Hanh

Giai Bang Dieu Nhat Thien

Soan Co Duyen Van Dap Giai

Soan Ly Su Dung Thong

Soan Quan Vo Luong Tho Kinh Quoc Ngu

Soan Cung Phat Tam Khoa Cat

Soan Cung Duoc Su Nhat Khoa

Soan Cung Cuu Pham Nhat Khoa1

The Ch’an thinking of monk Huong Hai might be clearly recognized through the following analyses. First of all, monk Huong Hai had been a disciple of the Buddhist dignitaries Vien Canh and Vien Khoan whose identity and whereabouts could not be clearly known. They might be Buddhist dignitaries of the Truc Lam Chan sect secluding themselves from the world. And if that was the case, the sect to which monk Huong Hai belonged ought to be the Truc Lam sect, that is to say the sect which summed up the three elements of Chan, Amidism and Trantrism. This found a clearer expression in the time of Huong Hai’s sojourn on Tiem But La island. As recounted by the population there, monk Huong Hai used his magic power to exorcise demons and ghosts, he cured Duke Thuan’s wife from disease and erected an altar of repentance to cure the Marquis Hoa Le of his illness, etc....The place where Huong Hai led his religious life was on the Quy Kinh mount in a monastery called the Dhyana institute and Huong Hai moved afterward to the Son Nam administrative division where he erected the Chuan De altar to make offerings to Buddha. His method of worshipping as such could never be found in the Ch’an sects in China or in Japan. This was a characteristic of the Truc Lam sect, no doubt a product of Vietnam’s religious thought and behaviors.

Besides the elements of Amidism and Tantrism, the Ch’an thinking of monk Huong Hai originated from the thinking of Bonze superior Hui Neng which was derived from the thought contained in the Sutra of Kim Cang Bat Nha and that of Phap Bao Dan. Besides, monk Huong Hai still bore in his mind the thought that Confucianism and Buddhism had the same origin. In his leisure time, Huong Hai very often recited the two following lines of poetry:

The three religions have been considered as of the same origin,

So there should be no partiality towards either of them.


We see the vineyard vast and extensive when entering into it,

But it would yield in immensity to the Buddhist ocean in our heart.

Through these two poems, Huong Hai did not forget that he had been a Confucian-turned-Buddhist, or, in other words, there still existed in him the personality of a Confucian. "Three religions having the same origin," as uttered by the Buddhist dignitary Huong Hai, would make people question whether he had some misunderstanding about the ideological content of each religion or he really meant it because Buddhism at its stage of restoration was rather weak and intended to seek alliance with Confucianism, and at the same time, the latter wanted to have a prop to rely on when it was then exposed to critical circumstances.

However, in the final analysis Huong Hai remained a Buddhist dignitary, and to be more precise, together with the Buddhist dignitary Chan Nguyen he was a co-founder of the Ch’an sect of Truc Lam, a product of Vietnam’s Buddhology, which was dying out and he was undertaking to restore it to its former prosperity.

The Buddhist dignitary Chan Nguyen

The Buddhist dignitary Chan Nguyen was of the Nguyen family line. His name is Nghiem, alias Binh Lam. Born in 1647 he was a native of Tien Liet village, Thanh Ha district, Hai Duong province. Since childhood, he had wholeheartedly engaged in studying for a degree in literature. At the age of 19, when reading the life story of bonze superior Huyen Quang, he found the following words: "The ancient scholars, though having resounding fame, finally became weary with their life as high dignitaries and tendered their resignation; why do poor learners still strive their best to go in that direction [toward fame]," and then he made up his mind to leave home to enter the monkhood.

First of all, he came to the Hoa Yen pagoda at which he resided to lead his religious life under the tutelage of the bonze superior named Chan Tru Tue Nguyet who gave him the religious name of Tue Thong. As the bonze superior died rather early, Chan Nguyen was obliged to come to the Con Cuong mount located at Phu Lang village to follow the bonze superior Minh Luong at the Vinh Phuc pagoda to train for the monkhood. When reaching the peak of the way of Buddhism, he was renamed Chan Nguyen by his master. In the subsequent year, he erected a tower named Dieu Phap Lien Hoa and placed in it the statues of Sakyamuni, Amitabha and Maitreya for religious worship. On this occasion, he burned off two of his fingers as a token of embracing Bodhisattvic life. In 1648, he erected another tower named Cuu Pham Lien Hoa at the Quynh Lam pagoda. In 1692 King Le Hi Ton bestowed on him the honorary title of the Duke Vo Thuong. In 1722, King Le Du Ton promoted him to the rank of leader of the Buddhist clergy and conferred on him the honorary title of Bonze Superior Chinh Giac. He died in 1726 at the age of 80.

Chan Nguyen was born and grew up between 1647 and 1726 at the time when the motherland was the scene of fierce struggles between feudalist forces. He, who was then an intelligent and fervent youth, could not be without being deeply impressed by the sufferings of the population. When the Buddhist dignitary Huong Hai had been successful in getting both position and fame in life and afterwards made up his mind to resign in order to enter the monkhood, Chan Nguyen was only a young student of the Confucianism school and perplexed by the choice of the ideal he would pursue for all his life. That is why, people found in Huong Hai something stable in his mind, and in Chan Nguyen a state of constant worry and perplexity which remained his lot for the whole of his life. Chan Nguyen’s state of mind was expressed in some verses with the main meaning: it was with tears in the eyes that I questioned myself whether to lead a religious life or to work for the interests of the people.

Starting from the same objective juncture, the case of Huong Hai was that of a Confucian scholar who having been successful in both position and fame, found himself not satisfied with his wishes when facing the real situation of his position and that of the country as a whole, so he was determined to devote his time and energy to the study of the Buddhist doctrine, so as to find out the truth, the reason for his existence and for that of his fellow-creatures. The works compiled by Huong Hai touched upon the most essential sutras of the Dhyana sect such as the Phap Bao Dan, the Tam kinh and the most classical books of Buddhist education such as the Phap Hoa (Lotus) sutra, Quan Vo Luong Tho, etc.

As for Chan Nguyen, the decision to enter monkhood still remained a matter of perplexity and seemed to be not in full agreement with the mentality of this intelligent and fervent man. He was compelled to face the alternative of either entering monkhood or remaining in the worldly life, both of which options were both highly esteemed by himself. It was for this reason that Chan Nguyen’s spiritual life seemed to be more agitated and lively than the routine religious life. The works written by Chan Nguyen (either confirmed or not) are the following:

- Ton Su Phat Sach Dang Dan Thu Gioi

- Nghenh Su Duyet Dinh Khoa

- Long Thu Tinh Vo Van Tu

- Long Thu Tinh Do Luan Bat Hau Tu

- Tinh Do Yeu Nghia

- Ngo Dao Nhan Duyen

- Thien Tich Phu(?)

- Thien Ton Ban Hanh

- Nam Hai Quan Am Ban Hanh(?)

- Dat Na Thai Tu Hanh

- Hong Mong Hanh2

Chan Nguyen’s works took on an offensive and epochal character instead of a universal one, a social character instead of a religious one. In the story of "Nam Hai Quan Am" (The Goddess of Southern Sea) written by Chan Nguyen, one would hardly imagine a founder of the Ch’an sect such as himself saying that the God of Heaven had honoured Dieu Thien with the Buddhist title of Goddess of mercy! Should the above said work have been really written by Chan Nguyen himself it would have been regarded as written by a Confucian scholar under the cloak of Buddhism and not by a founder of a religious sect for the reason that a man could not be at the same time a scientist and a magician. In order to know better about Chan Nguyen’s personality, more insight should be gained into this man. Apart from the literary works bearing a contemporary character there can be found in Chan Nguyen’s work entitled Hong mong hanh a lot of erroneous concepts said to be derived from Buddhism which not only have no profound value in terms of thinking but also have caused much damage to the purity of the Buddhist philosophy!

Another work of his entitled Ton Su Phat Sach Dang Dan Thu Gioi speaks of the significance and the method of accepting Buddhist discipline. At that time, many other bonze-superiors such as Nguyen Thieu, Lieu Quan, and Thach Liem had vigorously campaigned for abstinence from holding platforms for rituals in order to put right the state of degeneration among the Buddhist clergy and to restore and develop Buddhism. Therefore, in his work Ton Su Phat Sach Dang Dan Thu Gioi Chan Nguyen did not mean to ensure the purity of the Buddhist discipline of abstinence. He did not mention the rules for Buddhist clergy which were then an important discipline for those who left their home to enter monkhood. He could not in any way confuse the abstinence from sexual relations by those who lead their religious life at home and the abstinence from lust to be observed by the monks themselves. If this were not a confusion made by Chan Nguyen, he would be considered to be a monk unclear in his Buddhist behaviors and rather loose in his compliance with the Buddhist discipline of abstinence. What about the truth then? This is a point which demands that we escavate facts from books and other sources in order to gain knowledge of the real state of mind of this bonze superior.

It could perhaps be interpreted that Chan Nguyen and his contemporary monks sought to apply the Buddhist discipline in a way most suitable to the real social situation of Vietnam at the time. Anyhow, in reality Chan Nguyen remained as he was, a Buddhist dignitary: he was the founder who undertook the restoration of the Truc Lam sect and succeeded in training such fervent disciples as Nhu Hien, Nhu Son, and NhuTrung who continued the Ch’an tradition, perpetuating it in time and space. Nhu Trung, one of Chan Nguyen’s outstanding disciples, left to posterity a number of works such as Ngu Gioi Quoc Am, Thap Gioi Quoc Am, Phat Tam Luan, Kien Dan Giai Ue Nghi and Man Tan Ta Qua Nghi. He was also the originator of the Lien Ton Chan sect in the North.



The Lam Te Chan Sect

Great master Bodhidharma was the 13th son of the King of the so- called in Vietnamese Huong Chi country located in the southern part of India. Pessimistic about the decadence of the Kingdom in both politics and legislation, this prince left his homeland, crossed the sea and landed at the southern region of the province of Guangdong in China, thus bringing his form of Buddhism into that country in the year 470 A.D. Great master Bodhidharma preached religion to the second ancestor named Hui Ke, then to the third one named Zeng Can, who together with his only disciple went throughout the country to preach the Buddhist doctrine among the population. Both did not stay in any definite area and never slept twice in one place. For that reason the three first ancestors of Bodhidharma’s Buddhism could not create a major influence upon the mind of the population. Then came the fourth ancestor named Huang Ren, the latter moving his headquarters to the Zhifeng mountain, Huang Mei district, Shaozhou province, now Hubei province. In the course of sixty years of dissemination of the Buddhist doctrine, he gathered around him more than 500 disciples. From that time, Buddhism in China took on a new face. When there were a large number of persons leading their religious life for a rather long lime at a fixed place, it would be quite natural that they could not only enter into meditation but also had to make arrangements for the cooking of meals, the cleaning of the Buddhist temple and other premises and the growing of vegetables and food crops for their living. In order to make those jobs having the same value as sitting for meditation, all the things should be made with the mind and heart totally devoted to Buddha: thereby meditation could be gradually oriented toward the spiritual field and give strength to the daily work.

Thus, the Buddhist doctrine was not only centered in the pagoda, among the Buddhist clergy but it spread outside and played the role as an agitator in society. The Buddhist doctrine taught the believers that they should not be influenced by sacred books and that they must turn them into their persistent energy and vigor. They should not understand the sacred books by obeying to the letter of the writings but they had to apply in a lively manner their general meaning to the life’s activities.

The fifth ancestor Huang Ren had about 700 disciples; among them the most outstanding ones were Shenxiu and Hui Neng. The latter reached the peak of the way and became the sixth ancestor of Buddhism. He advocated the line that all the people without exception had the natural quality of comprehension of Buddha’s spirit and that intellectual awareness and religious meditation were a unified aspect inherent in them.

Hui Neng had 50 disciples; among them Nanyue Huairang and Qingyuan Xingsi were two outstanding ones. The former in his turn had Ma Daoyi as his eminent disciple and the latter was proud of having Shitou Xishuan as his principal follower. From the Buddhist system headed by Ma Daoyi derived two lines of descent, namely Lam Te (Lin Ji) and Quy Nguong (Guiyang). From the Buddhist system headed by Shitou Xishuan derived three lines of descent, namely Tao Dong (Cao Dong), Yun Men and Fa Yan. Among those five Buddhist lines of descent, there are only the Lam Te and Tao Dong lines which have strongly developed and exist up to the present.

The originator of the Lam Te Chan sect was Lam Te Nghia Huyen (who died in 867). He came of the Jing family line and lived in Dong Ming district, Zhili province in China. Since the time of childhood, he was known to behave in a serious and dignified manner. When grown up, he was famous for his filial piety toward his parents. Later on, he left his family’s house to enter monkhood. He specialized in the study of the Buddhist discipline of abstinence and became a man of great learning about the Buddhist sutras and other prayer-books. First of all, Lam Te began his Buddhist study under the guidance of bonze superior Huang Bai for three years, which helped him get into the good graces of the Buddhist leader Chen Muzhou who praised him for his great assiduity in his studies and his excellent behaviors. Then he came to receive Buddhist instructions from the bonze superior Gao An Da Yu who transmitted to him the doctrine "Hoat co luan" and advised him to return to the bonze superior Huang Bai for furthering his knowledge of the Buddhist law and doctrine. Through many years of meditation under the guidance of his master, he found that he was mature enough in the religion. Lam Te then moved his headquarters to the south-eastern side of Zhoucheng administrative division where he established a small society called the Lam Te institute which was later on expanded and became a new religious sect in Hebei province. Because of successive revolts by the peasants and subsequent military operations for their suppression, Lam Te was obliged to move again to Henan province where, at the invitation of the Lord Wang Changshi, he came to reside at the Xinghua pagoda. Without any illness, Lam Te died in a sitting position at his pagoda. That was in the eighth year of the Han Tong era (867 A.D.). Emperor Yizong conferred on him the posthumous title of bonze superior Suizhao. His disciples numbered 22 in all and among them Sancheng Suiran, Baoshou Yanzhao, Weifu Dajue, and Xinghua Cunxiang were the most outstanding.

The basic idea of Lam Te was similar to that of Huang Bai, that is to say both of them advocated the viewpoint, "all living creatures and Buddhas are actually one". All living creatures and Buddhas are not two separate things. What is important in them is the unintentional [uncalculated] and unoccupied character. The methods which the learners received from Lam Te have been still handed down to the present day. His disciple Suiran collected the teachings of Lam Te and arranged them in a list called "Lam Te Luc". The Lam Te Chan sect has been very thriving ideologically and embraced many of the Buddhist clergy in China.

Iinfluence of the Lam Te Chan sect in the South of Vietnam

In the latter half of the seventeenth century when the Manchu Qing dynasty reigned over China in replacement of the Ming dynasty, many Chinese who showed no allegiance to the Qing Emperor fled the country and came to live in Vietnam as Chinese nationals. Among those Chinese emigrants, there were also Buddhist priests. The Lord Nguyen in the South did not miss this opportunity to win the support of the masses for his power. By this intention of: the Lord Nguyen, the Lam Te Chan sect was smoothly introduced into the southern part of the country of which the originator was the Buddhist priest Nguyen Thieu.

This Buddhist dignitary came of the Ta family line. His real name was Hoan Bich. He was native of Zhengxiang district, Chaozhou region, Guang Dong province in China. He was born in the lunar year of Mau Ti (1648): At the age of 19, he left his house to enter monkhood, residing then at the Bao Tu pagoda under the guidance of bonze superior Bon Khao Khoang Vien. He proved to be very diligent in his learning of the Buddhist doctrine and very serious in his way of thought and behaviour.

He was said to have crossed the sea onboard a Chinese merchant boat to reach the Quy Ninh district in Binh Dinh province where he raised funds to build the Thap Thap Di Da pagoda; then he proceeded to Thuan Hoa province where he established the Ha Trumg pagoda in Phu Loc district; and finally he moved up to Xuan Kinh in Hue imperial city, where he constructed the Quoc An pagoda and erected the Pho Dong tower. According to the inscriptions sculpted into the stele of the tower, the Buddhist priest was said to have lived in Vietnam for 51 years and died in the Mau Than lunar year (1728). So, he would have arrived in Vietnam in 1677 and not in the At Ti lunar year (1665) as indicated in some historical documents.

In the inscriptions on the stelae, he wrote the following sentences to eulogize the Buddhist thought and behaviour and its morality:

The light of His innermost feelings has been radiating far and wide. His teachings have contained complete notes and related quotations. In the dissertation on the Buddhist doctrine He touched upon the most delicate matters. He carefully recorded all that He had heard from his Master’s instructions. He prevented erroneous interpretations of religious tenets and advocated only the truth. He was the originator who set a bright example for the posterity to follow. He trained a complete contingent of disciples whole-heartedly devoted to the cause of human beings.

On the 19th of the tenth lunar month of the year Mau Than, that is the 20th November, 1728, the bonze fell seriously ill. He summoned all his disciples together in the pagoda and wrote a versified text before dying. The gist of the text is: The virtuous life of the Buddhist is like the transparency of the mirror. It does not leave behind any impurity like a brilliant pearl without any flaw. Although all things have their errors and defects, they are not real and non-existent. As to the solitary religious life, it is so but not as empty as one would think.

After finishing his versified text, the bonze died in a sitting position with his hand open before his breast as if he prayed under his breath to Buddha. He was the ancestor of the thirty-third generation of the Chinese Lam Te Ch’an sect and the first originator of the Lam Te Ch’an sect introduced into the South of Vietnam.

The bonze superior Nguyen Thieu still had a religious name of Sieu Bach. The bonze Van Phong (21st generation of Lam Te sect) at Thien Dong pagoda wrote a litany:

The dissemination of this doctrine

Is aimed to help everyone live empty-mindedness

In which realities truly exist

And one is aware of the untrue.

and the bonze Dao Man (31st generation) at Thien Khai pagoda, another litany:

The essence of this Truth began with Buddha

Like the sun shining through the skies

So does the sacred continue to nurture compassion

That is the notion of space and time.

Among the successors of Nguyen Thieu at Thap Thap and Quoc An pagodas, all bore religious titles containing the words Minh or Thanh. Hence we can guess that Nguyen Thieu was the disciple of both bonze Van Phong (and was given the name Sieu Bach, as we have seen this word "sieu" in the third line of Van Phong’s litany) and bonze Dao Man (and was given the name Nguyen Thieu as we have seen this word "nguyen" in the first line of Dao Man’s litany). And to keep the continuity of the litanies, Nguyen Thieu gave his disciples in Quoc An pagoda (Hue) the word Thanh (from Dao Man’s litany) and the word Minh (from Van Phong’s litany) for those in Thap Thap pagoda (Binh Dinh).

Bonze Lieu Quan, who was a famous Buddhist priest of the Lam Te sect, was considered to be a personality ranking second after the bonze superior Nguyen Thieu. He came of the Le family line; Thiet Dieu was his tabooed name. He was a native of Bach Ma village, Dong Xuan district, Phu Yen region, and born on the 18th of the eleventh lunar month of Dinh Mui year (1667). His mother died early when he was only six years old. Acting upon his son’s personal wishes, his father sent him to the Hoi Ton pagoda where he received religious instructions from the Buddhist monk Te Vien (a Chinese national in Vietnam). Seven years later, this monk passed away. Then Lieu Quan moved to Hue imperial city and entered monkhood at the Bao Quoc pagoda under the direction of the Great Master Giac Phong (a Chinese national in Vietnam).

In the year Tan Mui (1691), after acting as a novice in a Buddhist temple for one year, he had to return to his native village to care for his old and decrepit parents. His family being in straightened circumstances, he had to go about the woodlands to gather dry twigs as firewood to sell at the market in order to make a living and to buy medicine when his father or mother fell sick. The latter passed away four years later. It was in the year At Hoi (1695) that he returned to the Buddhist temple to continue his religious life and receive instructions in Buddhist doctrine from the bonze superior Thach Liem (a Chinese national in Vietnam) and successfully passed the Buddhist monk examination that year. In the year Dinh Suu (1697), he took the vows of Buddhism and became a disciple of the bonze superior Tu Lam (a Chinese national in Vietnam). In the year Ky Mao (1699) he went to visit pagodas and temples in many villages, and after that he made up his mind to completely devote himself to the religious cause. He secluded himself from the outside by sitting in deep meditation at his pagoda with the aim of becoming perfect. In the year Nham Ngo (1702) he came to Long Son mount to receive more instructions in Buddhist law and doctrine from the bonze superior Tu Dung (a Chinese national) who was a renowned Buddhist scholar at that time.

Before accepting this man’s request, Tu Dung put him to many tests of knowledge and asked him to explain the following sentence: "All the ‘dharma’ converge on one, and on what would this one converge?" The monk felt much disappointed and could not find an answer to this question even after 8, 9 years of strenuous efforts. One day, when reading a book entitled Truyen Dang Luc, his attention was caught by the sentence "man never knows about what is transmitted from heart to heart", but because of the distance separating him from his master, he could not present his thought to him. In the year Mau Ti (1708) he came to Long Son to present to his master what he discovered from the above sentence, the bonze superior Tu Dung still made him explain another sentence: "Letting oneself fall down from a height by letting loose one’s hand is a matter for which one is held responsible, so one should recover one’s senses and come to life again if he does not want to be scoffed at by other people". He clapped his hands as an expression of his understanding of what his master had said. Both master and disciple exchanged many other parallel sentences with the one putting forward the first sentence and the other compiling the second one. The bonze superior came to know all the better the high level of knowledge of his disciple and found a great admiration for him.

In the year Nham Dan (1722), bonze Lieu Quan retuned to Hue city where he attended four great Buddhist ceremonies organized by the mandarin establishment and the Buddhist believers respectively in the years Quy Suu (1733), Giap Dan (1734) and At Mao (1735). In the year Canh Than (1710), he attended the "Long hoa phong gioi" religious ceremony and then afterwards retuned to reside at his former pagoda. The Lord Hieu Minh Vuong, when gaining knowledge of his virtues and high religious faith, summoned him to his palace and asked him to stay there to preach religion but he declined the lord’s offer because he would like to enjoy complete freedom to do as he wished. In the spring of the year Nham Tuat (1742) Lieu Quan came back again to Hue city to attend the great Buddhist ceremony held at the Vien Thong pagoda. In the fall of that lunar year (1742), he fell seriously ill and summoned his disciples to gather in the pagoda saying that he was about to depart from this life and advising them to keep up their religious tradition and faith. In the eleventh lunar month of the year, before leaving this world to enter into Nirvana, he sat up and wrote a farewell versified text as follows:

Living to the age beyond 70

I’ve been troubled by nothing in life;

today I’m departing from this world with full satisfaction.

So there is no question of asking ancestors for the reason why.

On the twenty second day of the eleventh month of the year Nham Tuat, i.e. in December 1742, the bonze superior breathed his last after drinking his morning tea. The Nguyen Lord conferred on him the posthumous title of Chinh Giac Vien Ngo.

Lieu Quan was the Buddhist priest of the 35th generation of the Lam Te Chan sect. He opened the Thien Ton pagoda in Hue. Nowadays, the Buddhist clergy and believers from Hue city down to the southern provinces mostly belong to the Lam Te sect whose originator was Lieu Quan, and this has given rise to a big religious branch called the Lieu Quan school.


The Tao Dong Chan Sect

In China this Ch’an sect had been handed down by the Great Master Shitou to his disciple named Yaoshan Weiyan. The latter transmitted it to his follower named Yunyan Tancheng whose only disciple named Dongshan Liangjie inherited this Ch’an sect. In his times, Dongshan Liangjie went into the Sunfeng mountains where he preached religion with a view to bringing it to the knowledge of the inhabitants there; then he came to the Dongshan area in Junzhou administrative division to give lectures on the Ch’an doctrine in order to instill further knowledge into the Buddhist believers. Usually several hundred people attended each lecture given by him. His devoted disciple named Caoshan Benji continued to preach Buddhism at the Jishui mount in Fuzhou administrative division, then he renamed it Caoshan mount. The Ch’an sect won much sympathy and approval from believers. The people at that time generally called this school of thought of Buddhist priesta Dongshan and Caoshan the Tao Dong (Cao Dong in Chinese) sect. Nevertheless, within the Tao Dong sect, the school of thought professed by Yunju Daoyong, a disciple of the Buddhist priest Dongshan, was most popular among the Buddhists. At first this sect was called Dong Tao, but later for euphony it was changed into Tao Dong. Some people attributed the name Tao Dong to the names of two bonzes Tao Khe Hue Nang (Hui Neng in Chinese) and Dong Son Luong Gioi (Dongshan in Chinese). This is the point of view of people belonging to the Tao Dong sect. It is more based on their belief than on historical proof.

In China, the Tao Dong sect was small in size from the outset; not until the middle of the Song dynasty did it attain its full development. The specific tenets of the Tao Dong sect are the following:

- All human creatures are at heart born with a good nature like Buddhas and quite able to be conscious of the way of Buddha;

- Thanks to the efforts of sitting in deep meditation, men can be enlightened about Buddha’s good nature;

- Reciprocal relations: practical work and understanding mind are one;

- Buddhist law must be strictly observed, and it finds its expression in daily life’s deeds.

Influence of the Tao Dong Chan sect in the North

In the reign of King Le The Ton (1575-1599), the Buddhist priest Thuy Nguyet, a disciple of the Great Master Tri Giao Nhat Cu, engaged in the propagation of the Tao Dong Chan sect in the North. A native of Thanh Trieu village, Tien Hung district, Thai Binh province, Thuy Nguyet left his home and led a religious life at the Nham Duong pagoda situated in Dong Trieu district, Quang Ninh province. The story goes that bonze Thuy Nguyet went to China to carry out his Buddhist studies at the Phuong Hoang mountain and reached the peak of the Way in Buddhism under the instruction of the Great Master Tri Giao Nhat Cu who was the ancestor of the 35th generation of the Tao Dong Ch’an sect, counting from the generation of the ancestor Dongshan. After Thuy Nguyet reached the peak of the Way, the Great Master Tri Giao Nhat Cu transmitted to him a versified text for the purpose of propagation to the posterity, in which the first sentence (in Chinese) is:

The peaceful mind sees ocean of love and compassion

It practices humanity (benevolence) and fosters the intellect.

Thus, by its light the teachings transforms endlessly.

Thus, there was a change in the first name between the religious title of the Great Master and his disciples. Tri Giao Nhat Cu in the 35th generation bore the first name Tri while Thong Giao Thuy Nguyet in the 36th generation of the Tao Dong sect bore the first name Thong which ushered in the period of activity of this religious sect in the North of Vietnam. The Buddhist priest Thuy Nguyet Thong Giao was the originator of the Tao Dong Chan sect in the North, residing at the then Hong Phuc pagoda, now the Hoe Nhai pagoda located in Ba Dinh district, Hanoi capital city. He imparted his knowledge of the religious sect to his disciple named Ton Dien and to other followers at the Hong Phuc pagoda, who in turn propagated this religious doctrine to their contemporaries.

Influence of the Tao Dong Chan Sect in the South

In the South prevailed the Lam Te Ch’an sect propagated by the Buddhist priest Nguyen Thieu. In the meantime the Tao Dong Ch’an sect was also introduced into the southern provinces by the Buddhist priest . The latter had the religious name Dai San, alias Han Ong and Thach Liem was generally called under the name of Thach Dau Da. His real name, his native land as well as his pursuit of Buddhist studies with what teacher remain unknown. Some people said that he was a native of Jiangyou, others affirmed that his native land was in Lingnan or Jiangnan or Zhejiang. But through a series or inquiries and reexaminations, Zhexi seems to be a more correct birthplace of this Buddhist priest. The story goes that he was a deeply learned scholar, knowing perfectly both classics and history, to say nothing of astronomy, geomancy and even fortune-telling. He had a very fine calligraphy, and was rather good at painting, not to mention his deep knowledge of literature and poetry.

Succeeding to the Ming dynasty then in decadence, the Manchu Qing Emperor reigned over China. The bonze did not want to become a mandarin under the Qing dynasty, so he took leave of his old mother, and left his home to lead the religious life in a Buddhist monastery. He liked to go about the country for sightseeing and visiting the famed beauty spots. In the meantime, in the South of Vietnam, the Nguyen Lords usually invited Chinese bonzes to come to their principality to gain more information about the Buddhist religion and the state of political affairs as well. According to Hai Ngoai Ky Su (a chronicle of the events when living abroad), written by himself on his visit to Vietnam, he recounted that he had been many a time invited by Lord Nguyen Phuc Tran and the last time besides a letter of invitation by Lord Nguyen Phuc Chu there was also a letter of recommendation by the imperial teacher named Hung Lien: thus, he made up his mind to come over to the principality under the administration of the Nguyen Lord. In the first lunar month of the year At Hoi, that is February 1695, he brought with him some fifty odd people to cross the sea by a sailing boat and finally landed in Hoang Pho on the 27th day of the first lunar month, that was then called the Tien Bich La island, now the Cham island lying off shore of Hoi An estuary; then he and his men moved onto a boat sent there by the Nguyen Lord to take them inland. From the 28th day of the first lunar month of that year, all of them settled down and resided at the Thien Lam pagoda in An Cuu village.

He began his religious activity by first and foremost opening a course of study on the Buddhist law in order to reorganize the Buddhist clergy and bring them back to a life of devoted studies of the Buddhist doctrine and discipline of abstinence. In the meantime, he did not fail to play a role as advisor to the Lord Minh Vuong in the domains of politics, diplomacy and military strategy and tactics. He advised and recommended the Nguyen Lord to owe allegiance to the Qing Emperor in China and to send a formal application to the latter to ask for investiture. He also recommended the Nguyen Lord to build up fortifications, consolidate the defense of the borderline, establish the formal register of troops recruited, organize a military reserve force; and to use the Confucian classical books for the training of talented men and for enhancing the ethics among the population. After more than one year of residence in the South, the Buddhist priest left South Vietnam at the Hoi An estuary on the 24th of the sixth lunar month, that is in July 1696, en route to Guangdong, China. He made known that he was the main disciple in the 29th generation of the Tao Dong Ch’an sect and transmitted the seal to Lord Nguyen Phuc Chu with the religious title as Thien Tung Dao Nhan of the 30th generation. Due to this, he was criticized as falsely classifying his generation.

Thach Liem alias Dai San was a famous personality under the Qing dynasty in China. He was a Buddhist priest of great learning and unparalleled talent but he indulged in immoral behaviour because he was always wealthy and high-placed in society. That was a thing forbidden among the Buddhist clergy. Moreover, his life-story was unclear, and there were no few contradictions between his words and his deeds, which made him the object of heavy criticism by the Buddhists who called him a swindler, a tricky fellow, a heterodox person, a man who painted only beautiful girls and advocated secret sexual intercourse, and last but not least an international trafficker, etc. In his old age, he was ordered to be detained in prison by the feudal provincial mandarin in charge of criminal cases named Hua Trung Thua Tu Hung. The latter judged his evil acts and passed a verdict on his case. He was punished by beating with a cane and deported to Cong Chau. There he could still gather a lot of his disciples and followers for reviving the religion and making them involved in the propagation of his sect. Later on he was expelled from his last place of worship by the local mandarin, who ordered his men to escort him to his birth-place but he died in Thuong Son on the way back to his homeland. His works such as Luc Ly Duong Tap, Hai Ngoai Ky Su and Kim Cang Truc So are still extant.

It would be very difficult to define the ideology of the Buddhist priest Thach Liem because nobody knew about his life-story and even his personality. His thought could be confirmed solely through the statements made in his own works. Moreover, with such a man of great learning and wide culture as Thach Liem, he would be quite able to deceive the people if he really wished to do it and he always enjoyed admiration and approbation from the people at large. If he was as such, how could the people believe what he had spoken or written would faithfully reflect his thinking?

The criticism of and negative comments on the personality of Thach Liem are still doubted as to their historical correctness. Likewise, even Thach Liem’s own comments and criticism in his work entitled Hai ngoai ky su (a chronicle of events when living abroad) are suspect. But if ’s remarks and criticisms do reflect to some extent the real social situation in the South of Vietnam at that time, the criticism and comments of the contemporary writers condemning Thach Liem’s immoral behaviour cannot be entirely without foundation. At present, data are not sufficiently available to define clearly Thach Liem’s real attitude. So it would be preferable for the time being to read Hai Ngoai Ky Su, a work written by that man himself, so as to know about his true worth. This book has been valued as a masterpiece, with many aspects deserving utmost attention; nonetheless, the book by itself certainly cannot reveal the true nature of this extraordinary person.

In Vietnamese Buddhist circles, especially among the Buddhists in the South, Thach Liem has been regarded as the first founder of the Tao Dong Ch’an sect in the South and also the very man who contributed to the renascence of Southern Buddhism in that historical period.




1. Huong Hai Thien Su Ngu Luc, hand writing version VHv. 2379, at the Social Science Library, Hanoi, Vietnam

2. Le Manh That, Chan Nguyen Thien Su Toan Tap, Bk l and 2, Ho Chi Minh City, 1980).

» Ảnh đẹp
» Liên kết website
» Từ điển Online
Từ cần tra:
Tra theo từ điển:
» Âm lịch