Buddhism in Vietnam
Prominent Figures of Vietnamese Buddhism
05/02/2010 10:57 (GMT+7)
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TRAN THAI TONG, 1218-1277

Born of a fishermen family from Tuc Mac (Nam Ha, Vietnam) Tran Thai Tong is the first king of the Tran dynasty. He mounted the throne at eight, with as tutor Tran Thu Do.

In 1237, he took refuge at the Yen Tu with the aim to consecrate himself entirely to Buddhism. He met there Master Truc Lam and told him his projects.

Soon later, he returned to the capital. Beside his Court activities, and his efforts for the maintenance and defense of the kingdom, he continued to improve and learn Buddhism under the clear-sighted direction of the best masters: Truc Lam, Tuc Lu, and with the help of his co-religious like Dai Dang, Ung Thuan, Thien Phong. He equally and regularly maintained relations with other famous masters like Duc Thanh who came from China.

As a king and as a Buddhist practitioner, Tran Thai Tong was much interested in the study of Chinese civilization to draw from it necessary lessons for the exercise of his political duty. He was devoted to Buddhism both for his personal awakening and that of his people. He founded in 1253 in the capital a national institute, erected statutes in honor of Chu Cong, Confucius, Mencius. He ordered the painting of portraits of 72 Wisemen for their celebration. A few years after his return from Mount Yen Tu, Tran Thai Tong proceeded to the installation of Ta Nhai institute so that he could come there to meditate, to perfect himself in Buddhism and to help those princes and dignitaries of the Court who wished to learn and practice Buddhism. Tran Thai Tong had strong knowledge of the three religions practiced in Vietnam in that time, namely: Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism, but he naturally attached himself more to writing on Buddhism.

Tran Thai Tong reigned for thirty two years. Then he abdicated in favour of his son who seceded him under the name of Tran Thanh Tong. However he remained as supreme counselor for another twenty years, benefiting of this long respite to learn more and write. He died in 1277.

The whole work of Tran Thai Tong aimed at awakening among followers a knowledge conforming to the reality of life sufferings of birth, old age, illness, death, impurity of the body, impermanence and insubstantiality of all phenomena. It aims at dissuading people from plunging blindly into harassment’s of the world so that not to terminate their life in sufferings and regret. For Tran Thai Tong, life is neither a beautiful flower garden, nor a blessing offered us by the Providence. Rather, it is a bad dream. They are only mirages and illusions which fade away quickly. All that this low world considers as precious and eternal like honour and wealth, Tran Thai Tong considered it as artificial, ephemeral. According to Tran Thai Tong, the Spirit of awakening must always be observed at all times by followers so that they are not away from the native land of beatitude and not to wander into alien lands of sufferings. Besides, it is thanks to this awakening that Tran Thai Tong does not shut himself in the yoke of a lavish life that his royal position could have provided him. He, on the contrary, has known to fully accomplish his task vis-a-vis his people, for the good of his country, and succeeded at the same time in reaching his own awakening and liberation.

To return to the native land, that is the aim of Buddhists, notably followers of Thien, according to Tran Thai Tong. In several works, he considers the attainment of awakening the return to native land: "The day has ended, but one is ten thousand miles from the native land.", (Tu Son) or, "On the long way, one does not walk but one arrives at home" (Niem Tung Ke). The native land is nothing else but the proper nature which is also called real Spirit, which dwells in and exists in each living being. Consequently, on the plane of the absolute, Buddha and living beings are the same thing, since all is in Nature where Spirit is always there, unshakable, transcendental and durable like a diamond: "proper Nature is marvelous and quiet, where real Spirit is calm and silent." Nature abandons all ideas on perfection and imperfection, except in the wisdom of Saints; one cannot find its essence; it is not composed nor decomposed, it is not existent nor non-existent, human eyes cannot see its face, ears cannot hear its echo, since it is not the existence nor the non-existence it is neither supramundane nor mundane. It exits independent and transcendental. Beyond itself, nothing exists, this is why it is called Nature of Diamond (Kim Cuong Tam Muoi Kinh Chu Giai).Thus is Nature. Yet, it is covered by the evil of ignorance and illusion. This is why, if one aspires to get it back and return to the native land, one must develop wisdom by purification of Spirit according to the Dharma.

To return to the native land and discover nature, one must train oneself in these three points of study advocated by Buddha: morality (Sila), meditation (Samadhi) and wisdom (Prajna). Tran Thai Tong described: "morality, it is just behaviour, meditation, it is non-agitation; and wisdom, it is knowledge."Tran Thai Tong underlined the correlation between meditation and wisdom, one being engendered by the other: there could not be wisdom as long as Spirit remained agitated; therefore there is interference between these two psychic states.

Wisdom is engendered by meditation, if Spirit is concentrated, Wisdom appears. If Spirit is agitated, Wisdom disappears. Therefore there is interdependence between Wisdom and Meditation and that Spirit does not arrive at concentration, Wisdom can be born: that is not correct. All living beings originally possess potential Wisdom, but they don’t practice sitting meditation, they cannot tell, of course, that they possess wisdom if it is not necessary to practice sitting meditation to have Wisdom just the same, so what for the sitting meditation? (Tue Giac Giam Luan).TRAN NHAN TONG, 1258-1308

Son of Vietnamese king Tran Thanh Tong, his real name was Tran Kham. Tran Nhan Tong was born in 1258. Acceded to the throne at 20. He was the third king of the Tran dynasty. He had the merit of twice winning over the Mongolian armies. After a reign of 14 years, he abdicated and handed over power to his son (who acceded to the throne under the name of Tran Anh Tong. He remained at his post of Thai Thuong Hoang (King father) during 5 years. At the age of 41, Tran Nhan Tong left the royal life and made himself a friar at the monastery. He was the reorganizer of the Truc Lam school, a Vietnamese school of unified Thien. Even in his childhood, Tran Nhan Tong had on many occasions made clear that he wished to stay away from power, and wanted to step aside in favor of his young brother. In 1299, he left the capital and went to Yen Tu mount to be able to consecrate entirely Buddhism. But at the order of his father, he was compelled to regain the imperial palace. In spite of the splendor of life in the palace, Tran Nhan Tong continued to live like a hermit, practiced a monastic life in Vo Lam pagoda (Ninh Binh province), totally adopted a vegetarian regime and considered himself as the spiritual son of Tue Trung. He definitely left the imperial palace in 1301, and placed himself under the orders of Venerable Hue Tue, the fifth patriarch of Truc Lam school.

With a group of co-religious, Tran Nhan Tong took a trip to Champa (Chiem Thanh) which has long been an enemy of Vietnam to study the Buddhism situation there, and eventually to seek peace conditions between that kingdom and Vietnam. It is in that purpose that he promised king Che Man the hand of his daughter, princess Huyen Tran whose marriage was celebrated in 1306. The king of Champa donated to Vietnam two provinces O and Ly (now Thua Thien, Hue).

Tran Nhan Tong was at the same time Tang Thong (Patriarch) and Thai Thuong Hoang (King father). Though being at the head of the Buddhist church, he never missed his mission given himself: reorganize Buddhist institution and reform national culture in the spirit of Buddhism. Beside three months of annual abstinence, Tran Nhan Tong made several travels throughout the country to preach Buddhism, educate people, transform outdated customs and habits and particularly banned all superstitions anchored since millennium in the mind of people, one of the main causes of stagnation in the evolution of the country towards progress.

Thanks to his personal prestige and influence on his son, king Tran Anh Tong, Tran Nhan Tong had been able to create a unified Buddhist institution put on solid bases and capable of transforming the Vietnamese society. Political, administrative and above all social transformations have been proclaimed under his aegis. He thus prepared his succession in the person of Phap Loa who would relay after his death in 1308. Among his successors, we can cite notably Phap Loa, Huyen Quang, who had contributed to the great development of the Truc Lam School.

As patriarch of the Truc Lam school, Tran Nhan Tong had bequeathed to posterity a considerable number of works, all impregnated with Buddhist spirituality. The thought of Tran Nhan Tong reflects the influence of Tue Trung, however it is not expressed as intense as the latter. On the contrary, the style of Tran Nhan Tong is more alert, richer, more concise, full of imagery and more doctrinal. He has a character of real conversation between master and disciples. 

According to Tran Nhan Tong, the potentiality of Awakening always exists in each person. And Reality is there eternally. Consequently, to explore that faculty, one should not consider it as an external thing that one must pursue to obtain. As Reality is there, one should not seek it as a lost object. So it is necessary to develop that faculty by the method of not seeking it. In other words, if one has the intention of becoming an Awakened (Buddha) in practicing meditation, that is like "polishing a tile to make it a mirror and if one wants to seek Reality as an object, one would never find it because one cannot penetrate reality like one finds a desired thing. The following piece expresses the idea of Tran Nhan Tong on the method of not seeking: "Immense reality is never constrained by ideas. Its nature is calm and quite, it is neither good nor evil. When one makes discriminations there, it becomes an inextricable complexity; as soon as a conception appears, it disappears immediately. The profane and the Saint belong to the same origin. Truth and falseness are nit two opposed poles. This is why one must know that in their proper nature sin and merit are empty, cause and effect are unreal. The whole world possesses completely that essence. Each person possess (potentially) already perfection. The nature of Buddha and the body of Dharma are like the body and its shadow despite their appearance and disappearance, they are neither one nor two; they dwell under our nose, in front of our face. However, they are not easy to see even one looks attentively. For if one has the intention of seeking it, one can never find reality. (Thien dao yeu hoc).The practice of Thien, according to Tran Nhan Tong does not absolutely urge the exercise of sitting meditation. It is the awakened and liberated life that counts. So one cannot live with the Thien even in daily life by fulfilling social tasks. What matters is the awareness here and now that accomplishes according to just comprehension and just thought whereas all that concerns religious formalities is secondary. Consequently, Tran Nhan Tong advocated that Thien addresses to all those who aspire to adeep spiritual life and seek beatitude without any discrimination between religious and simple believers between man and woman, between literate’s and illiterates etc. After having received initiation and transmission, the followers teach themselves by leading a simple and just fife, conforming to Reality with which they try to identify. In other words, all activities and thought of believers must be oriented with intelligence and creativity in the direction of awakening and liberation. When the method is well assimilated, somewhat passed into their life, the believers can then split themselves, liberated from all constraint. At that moment, they can forget Thien and even Buddha. Tran Nhan Tong can illustrate these ideas in a long and important stanza entitled: Cu Tran Dac Dao or Live in the world while tasting the joys of the way.VAN HANH, ? - 1018

Descended from the Nguyen, a very old family of Vietnam Buddhists (Ha Bac). Van Hanh is known since his childhood for his great intelligence. At twenty one, he knew thoroughly under the clear-sighted direction of Thien Great Master Thien Ong in Luc To pagoda. Later, he practiced the method of Tong Tri Tam Dia (Dharani-Samadhi), this one ensued from developed canonical books such as Mahayana-Vaipulyadharani-Sutra.

Van Hanh had not only been a fervent Buddhist practicing religion with great seriousness, but also a great prophet. His monastic life has not prevented him from making politics, lavishing the king with clear-sighted counsels on the direction of the country’s affairs, inspiring a large scale administrative reform. Though this attitude does not correspond to that which all Buddhists must observe, he has always been considered by his contemporaries as a great master of Thien, as the 12th patriarch of Vinitaruci school, the first and most important Thien school in Vietnam founded by Vinitaruci, an Indian master coming to Vietnam in 580 (passing by China). This school survived until the death of Y Son in 1216 and counted 19 patriarchs.Van Hanh recommended that the authentic source of Buddhism does not lie in speeches (Sutra) nor great commentaries, but the discovery of the potentiality of Awakening in each person. This teaching is summed up in the following stanza:

Never take wringing and words

As a transmission exists outside the doctrine

Only when showing directly Spirit and when

discovering its proper nature that one vacuum Buddha:

Believer of Thien, Van Hanh has not written much. But he has acted by his wisdom and knew to make his disciples understand his personal experience, forged in the light of Buddha teachings which do not emerge from the domain of ametaphysics but rather the knowledge of oneself, of the art of living. He is not a philosopher as conceived by the West. He did not seek to exert personal influence on philosophy, he is a wiseman. 

From the works of Van Hanh, only a certain number of stanzas and words lavished on his disciples have become so-called maxims. 

What is important for Van Hanh, it is not the philosophical knowledge of the impermanence but the way of living conforming to this reality. For him, it is the very texture of wisdom which sounds a positive value and significance to life.

Buddha has said before his death "All that is composed is submitted to decomposition. Work assiduously to your perfection" (Digha Nikaya - II, 156); these words have been considered as the last message. Since Buddha has taught it, insubstantiality, impermanence of life force us to realize at all cost our deliverance. The stanza of Van Hanh is full of this meaning, by recommending detachments towards the daily, equanimity before tribulations of the world. He considered these are morning dew which disappears as soon as the sun rises.This stand constitutes the fundamental principle of Van Hanh’s thought illustrated by the following remarks: "I don’t rest on what I could eventually rest, nor on what I could do it."Thus founding his philosophical thought, Van Hanh has succeeded in edifying his work in the spiritual and social field thanks to this clear-sighted conception of events which allowed it to come into help with compassion to the deprived. As we said it, Van Hanh was at the same time a Buddhist believer, a master of Thien and a political counselor of the king. He has accomplished his latter task with great competence, tact and dexterity. A Confucian among his contemporaries said of him: "Van Hanh has transcendent knowledge, a foreseeing spirit. He is equally a personality out of the common of Buddhist circle."Van Hanh was a patriot inclobed in the policy of defense of national sovereignty. Before him, there was a considerable number of Masters of the Kingdom who have brought their personal contributions to the national cause. But it was Van Hanh who has been the first to play a really important role: with one of his believers and close disciples Ly Cong Uan, he plotted the overthrow of king Le Long Dinh, a bloodthirsty dictator, and founded the Ly dynasty (1010-1225) on political and cultural basis corresponding to teachings of Buddha.

TUE TRUNG, 1229-1299

Of his real name, Tran Quoc Trung, Tue Trung is the elder son of Grand Prince Kham Minh Tu Then. He governed first the region of Hong Lo (now Hai Hung province). It is at this period that twice he fought and won against invading troops coming from China. Thanks to these feats of arms, he won his generalissimo stick. He then was affected to the defense of Thai Binh maritime region. Once retired, Tue Trung withdrew to Duong Chan Trang, Tinh Bang hamlet, Vinh Lai district. Of calm and deep nature, Tue Trung was interested since his young age in Buddhism. He practiced Thien under the direction of master Tieu Dieu. King Tran Thanh Tong, his brother-in-law, venerated him as Thuong Si, a title equivalent to Bodhisattva, entrusted to him the education of his son who later became king Tran Nhan Tong.

Tue Trung was a Buddhist follower, not a friar, (bhiksu). But his contemporaries considered him as a master of Thien. Capable of adapting easily to various aspects of life, and according to all circumstances while knowing how to maintain principles of wisdom, Tue Trung never lingered to deceptive appearances but gave much importance to the spiritual.

Break the abstract concept - In all his talks and conversations, Tue Trung made use of just and right words to create a psychological shock among the disciples and leading them to come out from the constraint of teachings contained in canonical books. This teaching method had the advantage of sowing doubt among disciples and therefrom create occasions for them to liberate themselves from abstract concepts and leading them to Awakening. 

Destruction of duality - In general, when dealing with the problem of Awakening and Liberation, one always has the tendency of drawing frontiers: Awakening ? Ignorance, Liberation ? Constraint, Good ? Bad, Sanctity ? Profane etc. Pushed by this dualistic view, one considers oneself as an independent subject which rejects this object and seeks the other. Even the Nirvana, the Unconditioned, also becomes an object for those who aspire to deliverance from the circle of births and deaths (Samsara).

Tue Trung seeks to conduct persons of superior faculty towards direct accession to Reality and rejection of dualistic view or dual knowledge of Reality.

Tue Trung not only destroys dualistic view but he equally rejects falser problems often created when speaking of religion, notably the problems of sin and merit, of saint and profane, of mundanity and supra-nundanity, etc. These are problems that engender other false problems: the choice between good and evil, high and low, noble and ordinary etc. However, on the plane of the Absolute, from the point of view of "original Nature", the choice is not necessary, let alone "significant". Consequently, problems like observance of Morality (Sila), practice of (Ksanti), Meditation (Samadhi), development of wisdom (Prajna) are all futile. The necessity is to transcend all practices of the Way to accede directly to Reality.The whole work by Tue Trung is put together in Thuong Si Ngu Luc or Collection of words by Thuong Si (Tue Trung). It has been revised by Tran Nhan Tong, edited by Phap Loa and post-faced by great marshal Tran Khac Chung. This work comprises three chapter. Chapter I: 42 conversations between Tue Trung and his disciples. Chapter II: 13 Cong an (subject: Thien) each consisting of 3 exposes - subject in question, observations and commentaries, and the stanza. Chapter III: 49 poems dealing with big problems of Reality.

HUONG HAI, 1627-1715

Huong Hai was born in Thua Thien, Vietnam. His grandfather Trung Loc Hau followed Lord Nguyen Hoang in the south, by the middle of XVIth century. Since childhood, he distinguished himself by his intelligence. At 18, he obtained his Bachelor of Arts. For this reason, he was chosen to work at the court of Lord Nguyen. Sometime later, he was promoted to the grade of deputy head of Trieu Phong, Quang Tri. In 1655, he left his function and made himself frair under the direction of master Vien Canh coming from China and got the Buddhist name of Huyen Co Thien Giac alias Minh Chau. He had his Buddhist studies, guided by master Dai Tham Vien Khoan.

Having had solid studies in Chinese as basis, Huong Hai rapidly and easily penetrated into Chinese canonical books. Besides, during the years of living in the north and in favourable conditions, had had written about 30 books, either in Sino-Vietnamese or in Nom letter.

The works by Huong Hai still available reveal that he scarcely liked speculations on doctrine or philosophy. He preferred expressing his practical experiences, his realizations in the way based on a non-dualistic comprehension of the relation between the good and the evil, matter and spirit, ignorance and awakening, Buddha and living being.

According to Huong Hai, the good and the evil are conditioned notions which are insubstantial and impermanent. Besides, they have no proper nature. Their appearance and disappearance take their origin from spirit, according to Buddhism lately developed, is always pure and unshakable. The distinction of good and evil is really necessary to perfect morality (sila) not to return to the origin, ie spirit. On the plane of the Absolute, to consider notions of good and evil as eternal values and to want to appropriate the good and reject the evil constitute a hindrance to achievement of Reality. In other words, it is beneficial to transcend dualistic discrimination: opposition between the good and the evil in order to accede directly to Reality. Given that the origin of good and evil is Spirit, to reject the good and the evil is also to reject Spirit.

Consequently, one transcended, dual ideas of good and evil have also surpassed the classical tradition: which consists in observing the rules.

This tradition, according to Huong Hai, is no longer necessary for he who has already realized the proper nature of Spirit, which is pure and unshakable and has come to the level of total detachment, having a liberated wisdom from all hindrance.

Huong Hai again explains: "When one is ignorant, the subject follows the objects, and while objects are multiplied, the subject is not unified; when one is awakened, the objects follow the subject while the subject being unified wit itself, it diffuses the objects."Different from idealists and materialists, Huong Hai considers that the existence of conscience and that of the matter depend on each other. These two elements exist parallely. The reason of putting the stress on the conscience comes from what it is in ourselves and can be directed and mastered by ourselves, but not because it is in the origin of the matter. "if the matter appears, the conscience appears. Without the matter, conscience disappears."In the other respects, all conscience depending on external objects are impermanent. This is why the most beneficial is to return to the origin - Spirit, it is not the passionate pursuit of subject after objects of pleasure; to return to the origin, it is to live in the plenitude of Being without alienation of space and time.

Buddha, that is awakened spirit state; on the contrary, living-Being, that is ignorance. According to Huong Hai, awakening and ignorance are of common origin, this implies that Buddha and living-Being are not different on the plane of Absolute. The realization of the proper nature of Spirit eliminates all useless discriminations between Awakening, Ignorance, Buddha, living-Being, as Huong Hai put it.

Basing on the postulate: Buddha and living-Being have a common origin, the Spirit is pure and unshakable, the method recommended by Huong Hai is to return to Spirit by "Non-spirit". "Non-spirit" is not indifference towards the world but an awakened visions, guided by non-dual intuitive wisdom and transcendental knowledge without discrimination, of existence and non-existence, of subject and object, of awakening and ignorance, without contrary by passions and egoistic attachment.With wisdom, one lives in the world correctly, peacefully, being in the way with awakened spirit, one is Buddha here and now.

LIEU QUAN, 1670-1743

Native of Bach Ma, under prefecture of Dong Xuan, Phu Yen province (now Phu Khanh, Vietnam) Lieu Quan was born into a poor family. He lost his mother at six. At twelve, his accompanied his father during a visit to Hoi Tong pagoda, where he made acquaintance with master Te Vien. This later made a strong impression on him. During the session he asked for authorization from his father to stay with the Master and devote himself to religion. He left the pagoda in 1690 to settle down in Thuan Hoa, in Thien Tho pagoda built on Ham Long mountain and led by master Giac Phong who took him as disciple. One year after, he left the master to come home as his father was very ill. After the death of his father, four years after his return to Thuan Hoa, he returned to the pagoda to continue his studies and Buddhist research. 

He received ordination of novice in 1695. Two years later, at 27, complete ordination under the direction of master Tu Liem. He worked hard and past most of his time in having relations with contemporary Great Masters and discussed with them on doctrinal subjects.

In 1702, he met with the Chinese master Tu Duong in An Tong pagoda of Long Son. This later belonged to the school of Lin-Tchi. He counseled him of making research and meditate on the following subject:

"All things return to unique unity,

And unity, to what destination it goes?Back in Phu Yen, Lien Quan put five years to studying and meditating on the significance of that Cong An (Kung An in Chinese or Koan in Japanese: subject Thien). He suffered greatly of not able to seize the import.

One day, when reading Truyen Dan Dai Luc or Anthology of the lamp transmission, he stopped at the flowing sentence: "One does not comprehend transmission of Spirit by indication of things."Lieu Quan soon discovered the significance of Cong An that his master proposed him to meditate 5 years before. He then returned to Thuan Hoa 1708 to report to master Tu Dung of the result of his work, and most of all his personal comprehension of the significance of Cong An. Tu Dung answered him in these terms:

"On the brink of a deep abyss, one slackens one’s arms

One is all alone to endure sufferings

One dies, then one is born again

And no one can despise us."Lieu Quan applauded, but Tu Dung made him understand that he has not yet seized the meaning of Cong An, then severely told him:

"Not yet arrived!"Lieu Quan replied: "The weight is originally in steel". But the master did not accept that explication. The next morning, Lieu Quan passed before the refuge of Tu Dung who called him and said: "What we have tackled together yesterday is not achieved yet. You should further deepen your knowledge." Lieu Quan replied: "From early time, one knows that the lamp is a flame! The rice is cooked long time ago".Then Tu Dung never ceased to congratulate him.

In summer 1712, Lieu Quan not only was a grand master of Thien who attained a very high level of culture by also a preacher having all required qualities to dispense religious teaching to disciples. He built and directed a considerable number of big pagodas throughout South Vietnam which was at that time under the reign of Lords Nguyen, such as Thien Tong, Vien Thong pagodas (Thuan Hoa) Hoi Tong, Co Lam, Bao tich pagodas (Phu Yen). He also was the Grand Computer of ordination ceremonies of religious and laymen which numbered almost 4000.

In autumn 1742 he passed away in Vien Thong pagoda at 72, in sitting position called blossomed lotus.

Lord Nguyen Phuc Khoan ordered the erection in his honour and memory a stele and a tomb (stupa), giving him a posthumous title of "Very Venerable of Excellent conduct, of propitious and just Awakening and of perfect Comprehension."Lieu Quan was the 35th patriarch of the Lin Tchi school, and founder of Lieu Quan school. Beside the stanza composed just before his death here above mentioned, he left a second one to his disciples, which preached the essential of Buddhist doctrine and fixed the order of transmission from generation to generation.

"Reality is the large Way, its nature is like a limpid and calm sea

The source of Spirit impregnates everywhere; the good of virtue is a wind of benevolence

The essence and function of Morality, Meditation, Merit and Wisdom are interpenetrated

To surpass eternally the facts of knowledge and result and discreetly harmonize achievements of practice

To concord conduct and comprehension

It is just that one attains and understands real Vacuity."This stanza which preached fundamental principles of practice and wisdom of his school, equally served as driving belt to one of the largest Thien schools of Vietnam: each word of the poem serves to designate a generation of followers and form their religious name. For instance:

a) The word THAT of the first line indicates the first generation of Lieu Quan school; it formed with DIEU the religious name of the founder: THAT DIEU;

b) The names of followers of the second generation begin with TANH, and so on. Today, the successors of Lieu Quan belong mostly to generations of TAM (like TAM MINH) or that of the NGUYEN (like NGUYEN DAO) etc. The author of these lines has as religious name TAM THAT. Now the followers of Lieu Quan school are of great number both in Vietnam and abroad.

One can say without exaggeration that the Thien school of Lam Te (Lin Tchi) has been Vietnamized and developed notably in Southern provinces, thanks to its doctrine and to its works of propagation.

Like all Thien masters, Lieu Quan did not leave to posterity great writings. However, through his spiritual realizations, his stanzas and particularly his conversations with Tu Dung, one can conclude without error that his teaching is impregnated of the Thien spirit (Chan) by Tu Dung in Cong An on which Lieu Quan meditated during five years:

"Everything returns to unique Unity

And Unity, to what destination it goes?According to the tradition of Lam Te school or Lin Tchi, the Cong An are contradictory statements or thoughts used by the Thien masters to create a psychological shock among their disciples. They are formulated either under the form of thesis or questions that cannot be solved by an intuitive and transcendental knowledge. They contribute to creating a great state of spiritual tension provoking a personal experience that the final purpose is Awakening. It is also a question of experience which exceeds familiar dualities able to be notice between spectator and spectacle, between experimenter and experience. Living Reality noticed by Awakening, which is discovery of Reality or comprehension of Reality which always precedes an unshakable total liberation, full of beatitude and which finally conducts the human being to master its end, like Lieu Quan had experienced it.

The two stanzas of Lieu Quan above cited get on an important doctrinal problem: Vacuity is perpetual interpretation between the form and the empty. It should not be understood as Nothingness. By Vacuity (Sunyata in Sanskrit, Khong in sino-vietnamese), one should understand the absence of all current values, opposite properties or attributes that man gives it to beings or to things. It is besides employed by Lieu Quan to express complete negation of this world of phenomena with its procession of illusions and ignorance that human being takes it for Reality. It is rather a pragmatic notion which leads to the Absolute. It is uniquely used to help human being to surpass oneself constantly. Apparently, it has no positive significance, but it, on the contrary, constitutes a source where liberation comes to get drenched by Wisdom. The beatitude of most perfect one will appear when one finds oneself in Vacuity or the Absolute.

Source: Vietnamese Studies, No 2 - 1993, Hanoi, Vietnam.

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