The History of Buddhism in Vietnam
15/06/2012 05:28 (GMT+7)
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What happened in the palace on January 1226, bringing Tran Canh to the throne, did not only end the Ly dynasty but also ended an epoch troubled and confused by the fighting between central and local authorities. Centralized and unified powers were restored. Production increased. Agriculture developed owing to land clearing, dike building and transgression on the sea. Industry and trade scored new progress. Many handicraft villages appeared; trading economy prospered. Foreign trading ships came more and more into Van Don and other ports. The administrative apparatus was perfected from the center to the villages. A collection of books called "Thong Che" was elaborated confirming statutes, laws, rites of the State.

National spirit, already developed, was heightened after the victories over the Mongol invaders and had a strong impact on the whole literature and arts. Literature in Nom characters came into being. Myths and folk tales as well as stories about the nation’s founders and defenders began to be collected and the elaboration of national history began.

At the same time, examinations for the choosing of public functionaries became regular affairs. Confucianist ideology attained step by step its important position in the spiritual life as well as in the social organizations. Under the Tran’s reign, Buddhism maintained onto its prosperity until the middle of the 14th century. The Kings of the Tran dynasty clearly understood the role of Confucianism and Buddhism in the society.

In his litany "Thien Tong Chi Nam," King Tran Thai Tong wrote: "The means to overcome obscurity, the shortened way to understand life and death problems, was the great teaching of Buddha. To be the model for posterity, to be the example for the future, those are heavy responsibilities of the predecessors... Now why cannot I make mine the predecessor’s responsibility, make mine the Buddha’s teaching?"

Thus under the Tran reign, Buddhism developed in combination with Confucianism.

From continuance to unification

We can’t speak of Buddhism under the Tran reign without paying attention to the Truc Lam Chan sect and the ending of the preceding Chan sects. The promoter of the Truc Lam sect was King Tran Nhan Tong. After having definitively left his family in 1299, that King became "the first founder of Truc Lam sect," i.e., its first ‘ancestor’. The second ancestor was the monk Phap Loa and the third was the monk Huyen Quang.

But saying "to begin" doesn’t mean continuation. Did the Truc Lam sect inherit anything from the preceding Buddhist sects? Before Tran Nhan Tong left his family, in 70 years of existence of the Tran dynasty, how had Buddhism developed itself? Existing historic documents are not sufficient to allow us to answer all these questions. Nevertheless we can today find something about the origin of the Truc Lam sect despite the lack of clarity in all its developing steps. According to the scheme in the article "Luoc Dan Thien Phai Do" printed in front page of the book Truc Lam Tue Trung Thuong Sy Ngu Luc,1 we have a religion transmitting order from the generations under the Ly reign up to the Three Ancestors of the Truc Lam sect as follows:

- Thong Thien

- Tuc Lu

- Ung Thuan

- Tieu Dao

- Tue Trung

- Truc Lam

- Phap Loa

- Huyen Quang

That document is a credible one.2 The Buddhist generations of Tuc Lu, Ung Thuan, Tieu Dao were related in the Thien Uyen Tap Anh.

Thong Thien was a lay Buddhist belonging to the thirteenth generation of the Wu Yantong sect and also called Thong Su (died in 1228). He was the monk Thuong Chieu (died in 1203).

Tuc Lu was the monk belonging to the fourteenth generation and the monk Thong Thien’s disciple. Thien Uyen Tap Anh didn’t mention Tuc Lu’s death-day, but at least, that monk lived in the Tran Thai Tong’s lifetime for the reason that Ung Thuan, after having been a dignitary under that king’s reign, came to have lessons with him.

Ung Thuan was a lay Buddhist. Thien Uyen Tap Anh related his history under the name Ung Vuong (but in the story of ‘Tuc Lu’ he was called (Ung Thuan) belonging to the fifteenth generation of the Wu Yantong sect. His name was Do Van Tinh, born in the Hoa Thi quarter, (Ve market?), Thang Long. He served King Tran Thai Tong with the title of second degree royal official and was afterwards the monk Tuc Lu’s disciple in the Thong Thanh pagoda, Chu Minh hamlet, Thien Duc district (Ha Bac). Ung Thuan was the master of many well-known monks under the Tran’s reign. According to Thien Uyen Tap Anh, his disciples were Tieu Dao, state advisor Nhat Tong, Gioi Minh and Gioi Vien. And according to "Luoc Dan Thien Phai Do", besides Tieu Dao, his two other disciples were Dao Si and Quoc Nhat.

The monk Tieu Dao was not mentioned by Thien Uyen Tap Anh in a particular paragraph but was only recalled among the monk Ung Thuan followers. Nevertheless, it’s obvious that Tieu Dao played an important role in the moulding of the ideology of the Truc Lam sect. He was Tue Trung’s and Tran Tung’s teacher; the latter was a brilliant Buddhist scholar under the Tran reign to whom we will come back in the following part. In the article "Thuong Sy Hanh Trang," King Tran Nhan Tong wrote: "At the age of nearly twenty, for having loved Buddhism, Tue Trung attended the lessons given by the monk Tieu Dao in Phuc Duong, and thus understood the meaning". Tue Trung always showed respect and admiration for Tieu Dao. In the book Tue Trung Thuong Sy Ngu Luc, we find a certain number of Tue Trung’s poems relative to the monk Tieu Dao. These were the poems "Inquiring about the great monk Phuc Duongs health",3 "Dedication to the monk Tieu Dao in Phuc Duong,4 and "Nature in Phuc Duong".5 "Funeral oration to the master,"6 also written by Tue Trung, might be for Tieu Dao’s funeral oration. According to "Luoc Dan Thien Phai Do", the monk Tieu Dao had many disciples: besides Tue Trung, there were Ngu Ong, Thu Nhan, Dao Tiem, Vi Hai, Thach Dau ( who immolated himself after having reached enlightenment), Than Tan, Lan Toan, Thach Lau, and Thon Tang.

We can say that Tue Trung was the most brilliant disciple of Tieu Dao. But Tue Trung was a lay Buddhist studying at home while Tieu Dao cloistered in Phuc Duong in a wild forest. But where was Phuc Duong? In the same time, another document related that the monk Tieu Dao’s belonged to the generation which propagated religion in the Yen Tu mountain. As we can see, the Truc Lam sect’s origin might be linked to Ung Thuan, Tuc Lu, and Thong Thien, who belonged to the last generation of the Wu Yantong sect. Thus we can say that the Truc Lam sect was the continuation of the Wu Yantong sect.

But although Tue Trung was Nhan Tong’s master, he was but a lay Buddhist studying at home while Nhan Tong, after having definitively left his family, came to cloister in the Yen Tu mountain (Dong Trieu district, Quang Ninh province). That’s why the Truc Lam sect was also called the Truc Lam Yen Tu sect. But before Nhan Tong’s arrival at that mountain, many monks had successively cloistered there. It’s clear that those monks had played an important role in the development of Buddhism under the Tran reign before the Truc Lam sect was founded, but it’s very difficult to accurately identify them. We have now only one list of the various generations which cloistered in the Van Tieu Hoa Yen pagoda situated in the Yen Tu mountain. That list was rewritten by the chief monk Phuc Dien in Dai Nam Thien Uyen Ke Dang Luoc Luc also called Thien Uyen Ke Dang Luc, printed in about 1858.

According to this list, the successive generations of the monks having cloistered in Yen Tu are as follows:

1. Hien Quang

2. Vien Chuong

3. Dai Dang

4. Tieu Dao

5. Hue Tue

6 . Dieu Ngu, i.e., Tran Nhan Tong

7. Phap Loa

8. Huyen Quang

9. An Tam

10. Tinh Lu Phu Van

11 Vo Truoc

12. Quoc Nhat

13. Vien Minh

14. Dao Hue

15. Vien Ngo

16. Tong Tri

17. Tam Tang Khue Tham

18. Son Dang

19. Huong Son

20. Tri Dung

21. Tue Quang

22. Chan Tru

23. Vo Phien

The accuracy of this whole list is doubtful and the generations’ sequence seems to be unreliable.7 Nevertheless the list of the generations before Nhan Tong, as related above, might have some consultative value. For example, to consider the monk Hien Quang as the founder of the Yen Tu mountain group proves itself perfectly accurate. This confirmation is supplied in Thien Uyen Tap Anh. The monk Hien Quang - properly named Le Thuan - was born in Thang Long. He was Thuong Chieu’s disciple and belonged to the twelfth generation of the Wu Yantong sect. But according to Thien Uyen Tap Anh Hien Quang didn’t belong to the thirteenth but to the fourteenth generation of that sect. Although he was brought up by Thuong Chieu from the age of eleven and educated for ten years, he hadn’t yet achieved his education in Buddhism when the monk master Thuong Chieu died in 1203. He had to pursue his education with the monk Tri Thong. Afterward, he had to come to Nghe An and receive education from the monk Phap Gioi in the Uyen Trung mountain. In the end, he returned and cloistered in Yen Tu mountain where he died in 1220.

Thien Uyen Tap Anh informs us that Hien Quang had a disciple named Dao Vien who buried him in a cavern that probably was in the Yen Tu mountain. According to Phuc Dien’s list, it was Vien Chuong who came after Hien Quang. Thus, it was very probable that Dao Vien and Vien Chung were one and the same man. According to the preface for the book Thien Tong Chi Nam, in 1236 King Tran Thai Tong escaped from the capital for the Yen Tu mountain where he met the state monk Truc Lam.8 Truc Lam, the state monk, might only be in this context Dao Vien or Vien Chuong. The book published afterwards as Thanh Dang Luc, Yen Tu Son Truc Lam Tran Trieu Thien Tong Ban Hanh, Thien Uyen Ke Dang Luc, related that Thai Tong met the state monk, Vien Chuong, when he came to Yen Tu.

More than ten years after that meeting, the state monk, Truc Lam, came to the capital, resided in the Thang Nghiem pagoda and organized the prayers’ printing. When Tran Thai Tong showed his newly written book Thien Tong Chi Nam, he proposed to get it carved and printed.

In the list established by Phuc Dien, Vien Chuong’s successor in the Yen Tu mountain was the monk Dai Dang. About the latter, "Luoc Dan Thien Phai Do" informs us a little more. According to this book, about the same period with Ung Thuan, i.e., under Tran Thai Tong’s reign, the lay Buddhist Thien Phong belonging to the Lam Te sect on Chuong Tuyen (Fujian, China) came to Vietnam and propagated Buddhism to the state monk, Dai Dang, and the chief monk, Nan Tu. Thus, we can conclude that the state monk, Dai Dang, was at the same time the disciple of two people, the state monk, Vien Chuong in Yen Tu, and the lay Buddhist, Thien Phong . According to Thanh Dang Luc, when the latter came to Vietnam, King Tran Thai Tong invited him to lecture on Buddhism in Thang Long. Perhaps, Dai Dang followed those teaching courses in that period. If that is true, the state monk Dai Dang concentrated in himself two traditions, that of Wu Yantong in the country and that of Lam Te from China. As we will see, the influence of the ideology of the Lam Te sect on Buddhism during the Tran reign was manifest.

According to "Luoc Dan Thien Phai Do," the state monk Dai Dang propagated Buddhism to King Tran Thanh Tong. This fact was confirmed by other books such as Thanh Dang Luc, Ke Dang Luc. "Luoc Dan Thien Phai Do" also cited, besides Tran Thanh Tong, a certain number of Dai Dang’s followers such as the state monks, Lieu Minh, Thuong Cung and Huyen Sach. This book didn’t list Tieu Dao among the number of Dai Dang’s disciples but only mentioned him as Ung Thuan’s disciple, the same as Thien Uyen Tap Anh did. Only Phuc Dien mentioned Tieu Dao as Dai Dang’s successor in propagating the Buddhist work in Yen Tu. If this be the case, Tieu Dao would be the converging point of the two branches Ung Thuan (Thang Long) and Hien Quang (Yen Tu) in the Wu Yantong sect.

These two branches originated in the monk Thuong Chieu under the Ly’s reign - a monk belonging to the Wu Yantong sect but cloistering in the Luc To pagoda (Dinh Bang, Gia Lam) which was an ancient center of the Vinitaruci sect. After the scheme in "Luoc Dan Thien Phai Do" as well as in Thien Uyen Tap Anh, the Ung Thuan branch was the layman Thong Thien’s successor and Thong Thien and Hien Quang were both the monk Thuong Chieu’s disciples.

As said above, the monk Tieu Dao was surely Tue Trung’s master and the latter was Nhan Tong’s master. But in the list made by the chief monk Phuc Dien as mentioned above, another of Tieu Dao’s successors in propagating Buddhist work in Yen Tu was Hue Tue. We don’t know anything about this monk and we also have no other documents for accurately checking on him

But we know that when Nhan Tong came to cloister in Yen Tu he realized a second converging point of the two branches Yen Tu and Thang Long (if we can call them so) of the Wu Yantong sect between the end of the Ly’s reign and the beginning of the Tran’s, that sect being split since Thuong Chieu, if it be the case that Tieu Dao had realized the first converging point before Nhan Tong. With the foundation of the Truc Lam sect, Nhan Tong achieved the unification of the Buddhist clergy under the Tran’s reign. But that task began only in 1299. Thus during the 13th century, Buddhism had developed with many sects.

Except for the above mentioned Buddhist sects, in "Luoc Dan Thien Phai Do" and at the beginning of Tue Trung Thuong Sy Ngu Luc were related some more sects having existed at the beginning of Tran’s reign. For example, one of them was led by the monk Vuong Chi Nhan who transmitted to the chief monk Nham Tang who in his turn transmitted to the lay Nham Tuc. Another sect led by the chief monk Nhat Thien was transmitted to the Lord Chan Dao, a high ranking official of the Tran’s dynasty. The lay Thien Phong’s sect coming from the Song was transmitted to Huyen Sach through Dai Dang and the former transmitted to Pha Trac.

Among the sects having existed under the Ly’s reign, as we have seen, there remained only the branches from the Wu Yantong sect. The Thao Duong sect that had developed among the royal and dignitary’s circles under the Ly’s reign had perished after the collapse of that dynasty. The Vinitaruci sect was also dispersed. As it was seen in the preceding chapter, since the Ly’s reign, many pagodas of that sect became cloistering places for the monks of the Thao Duong or Wu Yantong sect. After the monk Y Son’s death (1213), no further disciples of his were commemorated.

Buddhism’s development in the 13th century differed from that at the end of Ly’s reign. About the end of the 12th century, Buddhism clearly showed a declining character. In 1198, the vice governor Dam Di Mong reported to the King Ly Cao Tong as follows: "At present the number of apprentice monks equals that of service people. By themselves they gather, name indiscriminately their chiefs for gangs, and do many filthy actions. They publicly eat and drink in religious places or indulge in lewdness in the nuns’ rooms. They hide themselves in the daytime, and go out in the night as fox and mice. They corrupt customs and deprave religion, all of this is becoming habitual. If their behavior isn’t declared ‘forbidden’, it will grow worse."9 Having listened to Dam Di Mong’s advice, Ly Cao Tong ordered many apprentice monks to return to worldly life.

In the 13th century, with the foundation of the Tran’s dynastic Kingdom, Buddhism underwent new changes. The Tran Kings together with the royal circles went on supporting Buddhism. But this century was marked by difficult resistance against the Mongol empire. All the national forces were mobilized for the defence and the strengthening of the country. Even the royal family members and aristocrats had to lead the poor people and the servants in doing the land-clearing in peace time and to lead soldiers into battle in wartime. The erudite Buddhist scholars, such as Thai Tong, Tue Trung, Thanh Tong, and Nhan Tong, when the country was in peril, became heroic defenders and performed brilliant exploits. This is why in the 13th century Buddhism became purer and entered more into life. We can say that under the Tran’s reign, the national spirit gave a new vital force to Buddhism. Thoughts such as ‘being cordial with the people’, considering the people as the ‘root’, we find materialized in Nhan Tong’s or Tran Hung Dao’s speeches and had been already expressed in the state monk Truc Lam’s advice given to Tran Thai Tong in 1236: "When one is King he must make his the people’s will and must make his the people’s heart".10

Although it was the continuation of the branches of the Wu Yantong sect, the Truc Lam sect was begun and built as a unified clergy, bearing a fully Vietnamese character, getting rid of ancient Buddhist traditions imported from abroad. It thus becomes a manifestation of the development of a ‘national consciousness’.


Thai Tong Tran Canh (1218-1277) was enthroned at the age of eight. When he was eighteen, his uncle Tran Thu Do who concentrated all powers in his own hands at the time, compelled the nephew to divorce his wife Chieu Thanh (i.e., Ly Chieu Hoang) and to marry Thuan Thien, the wife of Tran Lien (Tran Lien was Tran Canh’s brother). Very afflicted, he escaped from the citadel for the Yen Tu mountain where he wanted to cloister. But Tran Thu Do once more compelled him to come back to the throne. This was in 1236.

From that time on, he devoted himself to the study of Buddhism. More than ten years after, he finished writing the book Thien Tong Chi Nam. Afterwards, he wrote other books on Buddhism. The extant Khoa Hu Luc contains only a very few of his works. As we know, Tran Thai Tong was the author of the following books on Buddhism:

1. Thien Tong Chi Nam.

2. Luc Thoi Sam Hoi Khoa Nghi

3. Kim Cuong Tam Muoi Kinh Chu Giai

4. Binh Dang Le Sam Van

5. Khoa Hu Luc

Thien Tong Chi Nam was Thai Tong’s earliest work on Buddhism. It was lost and there remains of it only the preface written for Khoa Hu Luc. Luc Thoi Sam Hoi Khoa Nghi was a book presenting the repentance rites according to six moments of the day. The whole book, including the preface, remains complete in the Khoa Hu Luc collection. Kim Cuong Tam Muoi Kinh Chu Giai (annotations for the sutra Kim Cuong Tam Muoi) was lost except the preface. Through that preface, we know that Thai Tong was delighted with this collection of sutra-prayers so that he "devoted spirit and soul to writing the annotations."

Binh Dang Le Sam Van was also a book on the repentance rites. It was lost and there remains only the preface, published in Khoa Hu Luc. Khoa Hu Luc might be a separate book written by Tran Thai Tong, but the extant Khoa Hu Luc is nothing but a collection of articles written by that King in different periods. The different copies of Khoa Hu Luc which are extant comprise three books (upper-middle-lower) or two books (upper and lower). In the most complete copies, the upper book comprises the following articles: 1- Tu Son, 2- Pho Thuyet Sac Than, 3- Pho Khuyen Phat Bo De Tam, 4- Gioi Sat Sinh Van, 5- Gioi Thau Dao Van, 6- Gioi Sac Van, 7- Gioi Vong Ngu Van, 8- Gioi Tuu Van, 9- Gioi Dinh Tue Luan, 10- Thu Gioi Luan, 11- Niem Phat Luan, 12- Toa Thien Luan, 13- Tue Giao Giam Luan, 14- Thien Tong Chi Nam Tu, 15- Kim Cuong Tam Muoi Kinh Tu, 16- Luc Thoi Sam Hoi Khoa Nghi Tu, 17- Binh Dang Le Sam Van Tu, 18- Pho Thuyet Huong Thuong Nhat Lo, 19- Ngu Luc Van Dap Mon Ha, 20- Niem Tung Ke.

The lower book (the middle and the lower book in the three book collection) consists of the litanies and texts on prayer-reciting for the incense and flowers festivities, and other rites in accordance with the six moments of the day: morning, midday, afternoon, sunset, midnight, daybreak. It is thus clear that all parts of the Luc Thoi Sam Hoi Khoa Nghi comprise the lower book, and particularly its preface was written in the upper book.

With the help of the books in Khoa Hu Luc still extant, we know something about Tran Thai Tong’s Buddhist ideology. Through his works, that king showed himself a realistic educator who tried to lead people to Buddhist practice, as well as a theoretician having deep knowledge of Buddhism.

Tran Thai Tong’s point of view expressed in his dissertation on the Self was also the sunyata point of view that denied every thing [i.e., ‘thingliness’]. In the preface of Khoa Hu Luc he wrote: "The four Greats are originally Nothing. From Nothing, Falsity arises, and from Falsity, the Phenomena appear; the Phenomena appear from Nothing. Thus Falsity follows Nothing, Nothing makes Falsity to appear. And from Falsity, the Phenomena appear". ‘Nothing’ means no possession, no existence; opposing possession, that means presence, existence. ‘Nothing’ means emptiness, nullity, opposing phenomena, the phenomena that appear before us. Falsity means trouble, error. Thai Tong and other Buddhist scholars under the Tran’s reign cherished the concept of Falsity. That concept was a concomitant of untrueness which is the nature of the phenomenal universe while Falsity was regarded as the cause originating it. Because of Falsity, Nothing becomes Phenomena or to say accurately, Nothing is erroneously perceived as Phenomena.

Tran Thai Tong often used the concept of "thinking". He sometimes spoke about that concept with various meanings,— as reflection, thinking, and separated into good thinking, evil thinking, honest thinking, dishonest thinking...11 Buddhist "thinking" was also used to show the causes leading to the constitution of the human body. In the article "Pho Thuyet Sac Than" he wrote: "When a man’s body has not yet fused into a foetus, whence does it take form? From the affinities that concentrate the five ‘blindnesses’". Conception arises and thus converge the affinities, i.e.. the causes and affinities conciliate themselves, causing the beginning of the cause-effect relation. Expressing the same idea, in the article "Tu Son", when speaking about "Life" he wrote: "An error of and on thinking leads to many causes, the embryos confided to the parents’ love become a body in mixing the male and female blood". Thai Tong stressed once again that idea in the following litany:

Nature is moulded in a thousand forms,

Originally, it has no external signs, it also has no internal germ.

It’s only wrong when there arises "thinking," and "no thinking" is completely forgotten.

So it goes against no life and suffers "life".

"Nature" in this context also involves the notion of "character"12 which Thai Tong often called by several different names: character (‘tinh’), nature (‘ban tinh’), consciousness (‘giac tinh’), Buddhist character (‘phap tinh’), true heart (‘chan tam’), own heart (‘ban tam’), true origin (‘chan nguyen’).

In the preface tor Kim Cuong Tam Muoi Kinh, Tran Thai Tong described that "nature" or "true heart" as follows: "When nature ends, the true heart dies; there is no more concept of plentifulness or lack; if one is not an enlightened man, one cannot find out its genesis. There is no concentration, no dispersion, no lost, no remaining. The eyes and the ears have neither image, nor sound. Because there is no ‘To be’ or ‘Not to be’, there is neither ‘religious’, nor ‘profane’; it exists singly, there is no other thing except it, so that it is called Kim Cuong nature". In the preface of Binh Dang Le Sam Van, Thai Tong also wrote: "Buddhist nature, the absolute truth, is not involved in the least with anxiety. The true heart remains quiet because it has gotten rid of defiled things for a long time already. Because the true heart is hidden, falsity originates, and illusory things appear".

Such a "nature" or a "true heart" is also the "marvelous nature", "the absolute truth" that the monks under the Ly’s reign had described. Thai Tong also often recalled the familiar principle of Buddhism,"to see into true nature means to become Buddha". "Anyone who studies the Buddhist religion must only see its true nature".13 "For having come back from light, one can see the Buddha-nature and become Buddha".14 What deserves to be noted is that Tran Thai Tong, just as many of the scholars of Buddhism under the Tran’s reign, was very active in calling the believers to discover true nature through devotion to the heart. Despite the fact this approach was endorsed by a certain number of monks under the Ly’s reign, it wasn’t strongly stressed by the Buddhist scholars of that reign, whereas it was by the Buddhist scholars under the Tran’s reign.

To see the Buddhist nature, Thai Tong asked believers "to turn inside oneself".15 And particularly, he always regarded seeking of one’s ‘own nature’ as a "return." He insistently called everybody to realize that return. He deeply grieved that everybody stepped forwards unconsciously without thinking of returning.16 Being passionate for beauty, venturing on the way of life and death, man would go farther and farther from his own nature. Thai Tong compared men’s wandering to wandering on the wind or flying mindlessly like dust, in their exile:

Always wandering in life like a man full of vicissitude

He strays miles and miles further from his native village.17

But if he is determined to return, he is able to get to his native land, even:

No need to go a long way!

One can come home.18

Most of Tran Thai Tong’s works aimed at achieving consciousness of one’s ‘own nature’. Perhaps the work of Tran Thai Tong which explained the Buddhist position the most clearly, indicating the most deeply the way of getting enlightenment, was the article "Pho Thuyet Huong Thuong Nhat Lo". The title of this article means "speaking expansively about the way leading to the upper world". That was the way leading to the enlightenment. It began with a sentence from the monk Ban Son’s sermon:19 "A thousand saints don’t transmit the way that leads upwards. The scholar has to toil hard as a gibbon trying to catch its shadow." The problem is quite different: Why can neither a Saint nor an ancestor transmit the way for going upwards, for attaining enlightenment?

With strongly impressive images, audacious and original ideas, this Royal monk expressed his profound thoughts on this problem. He thought unfeasible the transmitting of the ‘sealed heart’ from generation to generation, about which men often spoke, saying "What is recommended in Linh Son,20 it is nothing but a troublesome place; what is especially transmitted in Thieu That,21 it is nothing but a troubled cavern". Through those sentences, he intended to indicate that if someone can’t find by himself his own nature but asks for the others’ help, no one can help him. No one can transmit to him the sealed heart. Tran Thanh Tong wrote "Laozi with a yellow face22 had a glance and turned away. The monk Ho with blue eyes23knitted his brows and turned aside. Ma To hung up his feather duster; Thu Son built a container with bamboo; Trieu Chau tore his cotton habit; Van Mon abandoned his rice cake; Duc Son threw his walking stick away, Lam Te swallowed his own voice. All Buddhas, all Ancestors have hidden their traces; all men without exception were stricken with a terrible fear."24

The ‘own nature’ in the invariable truth exists in everyone, everywhere: and each person has to find it himself!

Held in the hand, the pearl is blue with its blue colour, and bright with its yellow colour. In the old looking-glass on the toilette-table, Ho appears as Ho, Han appears as Han. Illusory things don’t mind because everything is from the Buddha-body.... In the nostrils, the Buddhist wheel moves; under the eyebrows, valuable things appear. On the waves, the stone girl dances elegant tunes. Playing the flute, the wooden man sings joyful songs.25 Yellow flowers bloom everywhere is the prajna heart. The bamboos are blue. Everything bears the signs of the invariable truth. Let’s separate the grass to let the ‘own life’ appear. Let’s dig up the soil to cut off life and death....

Thai Tong ended his article with the following verse:

Strap your horse everywhere you find blue poplar.

Every family has its way to Chang An.

The way back under the moon is frequented by few people;

A ray of moonlight brightens the cold earth.

There is everywhere a blue poplar to strap the horse, there is everywhere a way to the capital: this means one can find everywhere the Buddha-nature enabling enlightenment. The way to go upwards is no different from the way to go back. Few people accept to go back because of being infatuated by the obscurity, by the beauty. But the light always illuminates the way.26 Once more, we hear Thai Tong calling for a ‘return’.

Tran Thai Tong’s Buddhist ideology was also expressed in old prayer-recitation articles in the "Niem Tung Ke" contained in the Khoa Hu Luc. In this article Thai Tong cited various stories or events, i. e., problems which arose in Buddhist history in general, and the Chan sect in particular, in which he presented his point of view. Every article was begun with a paragraph called ‘Cu’ (= theme), i.e., the paragraph in which the problem is set forth. Usually that problem started from a story, a sentence. Then a remark followed and was called ‘Niem’ (= rhyme) and the article ended with a reciting text composed by four seven-word sentences (‘Tung’). Up to now, these remain Thai Tong’s forty three texts. We are going to introduce two of them:

Text No 8:

Cu (theme): The second ancestor (Tue Kha) asked Dharma to be quiet in mind and heart. Dharma said: Give me your heart and I will make it quiet. "Tue Kha said: "I have been searching for the heart but I haven’t found it": Dharma said: " I have made you quiet in mind and in heart".

Niem (rhyme): "The three year old boy holds old flowers, an octogenarian catches embroidered balls.

Tung (reciting text):

When your heart is no more your heart, whom are you going to speak to?

The mute awakened from his dream and screwed up his eyes,

The old monk is lying about his quietness,

He rocks with laughter, shows himself disinterested without knowing himself.

Bodhidharma said to Tue Kha: "Give me your heart and I will make it quiet". Thai Tong said frankly that was a lie. Because the heart is something one must search for himself, he must search himself in quietness, nobody can transmit it to him. Nevertheless the outsiders believe in stories about ‘transmitting’ the heart in order to attain quiet, what a laughable belief! As we have seen, the thoughts of the recitation-text are expressed in the above-mentioned text, "Pho Thuyet Huong Thuong Nhat Lo".

Text No 17:

- Cu (theme): The monk Nam Tuyen27 said: "The normal heart is Tao (religion).

- Niem (rhyme): Feeling cold one must say ‘cold’; feeling hot one must say ‘hot’.

- Tung (reciting text):

The white pearl doesn’t bear any trace from the hammer or the chopper.

There’s no need of polishing to renew it.

To come back to the native land, one need not go a long way.

It doesn’t matter if someone climbs the high mountain.

According to Thai Tong, the "normal heart" is the natural heart, not abnormal: "if it’s cold, say it’s cold, if it’s hot, say it’s hot". It resembles the white pearl that has never borne the traces of hammer or axe. One mustn’t hack at the pearl, that is, he mustn’t make his heart become abnormal. Keeping one’s heart normal, he masters his own nature; just as to go far, he need not go but is straightaway in his native land. Once again, Thai Tong recalled the way to ‘come back’.

Like the people belonging to the Chan sect, Tran Thai Tong believed if one has enlightenment in his nature, he will succeed; he will have good heart, everybody can be self-sufficient.28 "He has only to reflect returning light, and he will become Buddha". But Thai Tong thought there were many ways allowing realization of the way back to one’s own nature,— in different degrees, different manners. He said: "The own-nature differs, the intelligence is different. If we teach only one way, it will be difficult to enter enlightenment. Thus Buddha largely opens the intelligence, voluntarily offers measures and shows the way back, and gives medicine according to the disease."29

This was why Thai Tong devoted himself to leading everybody step by step on the way to the Buddhist religion. He paid particularly great attention to repentance, writing the Luc Thoi Sam Hoi Khoa Nghi, which means formalities for repentance during six moments of the day; each in one moment, one repents of sins committed against the eyes, the ears, the nose, the tongue, the body, the mind. He also wrote the Binh Dang Le Sam Van. Thai Tong was interested in repentance, as well as in observing the negative commandments. Even in the text Thu Gioi Luan, at the same time as he appreciated observing the negative commandments, he stressed repentance. He wrote five texts on the five negative commandments (forbidding animal killing, stealing, illicit sexuality, lying and alcohol drinking). He analyzed the relations between commandment, decision, and intelligence in the poem "Gioi Dinh Tue Luan". He promoted in that poem that one must follow the commandment to make a decision; and there must be decisivness to gain intelligence. "To resort to commandment is the preliminary good thing; to resort to decision is the medium good thing; to resort to intelligence is the ‘most’ good or ‘best’ thing."30 This means decision, comes first and intelligence after, whereas as we know, the Chinese Chan sect of Hui Neng asserted that decision and intelligence come at the same time. Decision is in intelligence, and intelligence is in decision like the lamp and its light. Perfecting decision first and intelligence after would be like washing and tidying up the mirror to make the light bright. The first way of doing things was called prompt enlightenment and the second progressive enlightenment.

Obviously, Tran Thai Tong wanted to conciliate the two modes, ‘prompt’ and ‘progressive’ enlightenment because the "own-nature distinguishes, the intelligence differs". The conciliation between these two was clearly expressed in the text "Luan Tue Giao Giam" (‘Dissertation on the example of intelligence-enlightenment’). Beginning this treatise, Thai Tong wrote: "Originally intelligence originates from decision. If the heart is troubled, there will be no intelligence: like the copper mirror, it must be washed first and win its brightness; if one doesn’t washed the mirror, it will be covered with moss and lose its lustre. And once being covered over, how can it give off light?". This position was near that of progressive enlightenment, close to Than Tu’s point of view. But in the following part, Thai Tong wrote: "Remaining quiet and awake is right. Remaining quiet but without meditation is wrong. Remaining awake and quiet is right, but remaining awake in troubled thinking is wrong. Being awake and quiet, being quiet and awake constitutes a remedy, while being without meditation or in troubled thinking constitutes a wrong doing."31 This paragraph was based on the monk Huyen Giac’s thought; Huyen Giac was Hui Neng’s32 disciple. And according to Huyen Giac, quietness means decision, awakening means intelligence, and quietness plus awakening means decision plus intelligence simultaneously: thus it was like Hui Neng’s point of view.

As was said in the previous chapter, the conciliating tendency between promptness and progressiveness had existed under the Ly’s reign. With Tran Thai Tong, that tendency developed clearly. Was this conciliation a characteristic of the Vietnamese Chan sect?

This was, indeed, why Tran Nhan Tong attached a particular importance to prayer- recitation, Buddha-praying, meditative sitting. He didn’t underestimate praying: "To follow Buddha’s way, there is only one thing, i.e., prayer-recitation."33 He also wrote the "Toa Thien Luan" to heighten the significance of meditative sitting. He wrote: "Although one admits all interdictions but doesn’t practice meditative sitting, the power of his decision doesn’t appear, and without the latter’s appearance, falsity is not destroyed; in such a circumstance, to see the own nature is a difficult doing".

And particularly, he called for Buddha-praying [chanted prayer]. In the text "Niem Phat Luan" (‘Dissertation on Buddha-praying’), he distinguished three kinds of people: those of upper intelligence, those of middle intelligence and those of lower intelligence: For the men of upper intelligence, Buddha is in their heart, they don’t need any more training. The men of middle intelligence, surely with the help of praying Buddha, and paying attention to clever working, and incessantly praying, achieve a heart pure and honest. The men of lower intelligence, always reciting Buddha’s words, with a heart willing to see Buddha’s face, can indeed promise to themselves they shall be born in a Buddha Land. Those three levels, differing in depth or superficiality, still can have the same will for success. Thus, for the men of upper intelligence, it’s easy to say but difficult to do. As for praying Buddha, one must get the lower intelligence men doing this first. As for building a three-storey tower, one always sees the ground floor being built first. In this context, once again, we see Tran Nhan Tong’s conception of different forms of religious training because of "distinction in [individual] nature."

In his "Niem Phat Luan", Thai Tong affirmed the Buddha-praying for the people who wish to be born in the ‘Buddha country’, which means the people of the ‘Pure Land’; at the same time he insists on the necessity of Buddha-praying among the people who believe that "the Heart is Buddha", i.e., the people of the Chan sect. Obviously Tran Thai Tong wanted to conciliate Chan and Amidism, or more clearly, he wanted to Chan-ize the Amidism. He wrote in the "Text on daybreak" at the end of the night: "Regard the Pure Land in front of you and accept Amitabha in your heart".

Tran Thai Tong’s conciliating tendency between Chan and Amidism had also its root in his point of view combining ‘own-force’ and ‘other-force’. In the preface of Luc Thoi Sam Hoi Khoa Nghi, he wrote: "One must lean on two sides, Buddha and oneself". Combining Chan and Amidism was, as we have seen, a tendency that had existed in a certain number of monks under the Ly’s reign such as monk, Tinh Luc (1112 - 1175), who prayed to Buddha with both the mouth and the heart.

It might be that through his relations with the state monk Truc Lam, Tran Thai Tong acquired the tradition of the Wu Yantong sect and through the lay Buddhist Thien Phong acquired the influence of the Lam Te sect. Lam Te’s influence on Tran Nhan Tong was very obvious: In his writings, Thai Tong recalled the theories that Lam Te Nghia Huyen had promoted as the "three important things",34 the "three mysteries".35 Thai Tong wrote two litanies dealing with the topic "inactive true man", which was Lam Te’s well-known story.36 He also wrote a poem on the ‘shout’ of Lam Te:

When reaching the front door, and hearing a shout,

Children and grandchildren all exhausted their passions.

A spring thunderbolt had just roared,

Seeds germinate and vegetation sprouts.37

But Lam Te’s influence wasn’t boundless. As we have seen, Tran Thai Tong’s Chan theory had its particularities. He understood profound Buddhist theories but was patiently interested in the ordinary men and was able to lead most of them. He affirmed of himself "not to speak about the ‘three mysteries’ nor ‘to look upwards’yet."38

One more characteristic in Tran Thai Tong’s Buddhist thought deserving attention was his combination of Buddhism with Confucianism and Taoism. We have seen Thai Tong’s brilliant intellect in using various functions of Buddhism and Confucianism in social life. Moreover, he tried to demonstrate the propinquity of those three religions. For example, when discussing meditative sitting, after having related Sakyamuni’s ‘sitting six years’ long under the Himalayas’, Thai Tong also related Tu Ky’s story, who "sat on his stool until his body resembled dried wood, his heart cooled down like ashes", as is reported in Zhuangzi’s work;39 and the story about Yan Hui, Confucius’s disciple, who "sat until he forgot himself, his legs and arms utterly exhausted and all his intelligence lost"40 in order to reach this conclusion: "Those are the sages and saints of the three religions in the old time who got success with the help of meditative sitting".41

Let’s read another paragraph: "Despite the importance of life, life is not important as Tao. This was why Confucians said: ‘I am willing to die in the evening if I could listen to Tao in the morning".42 Laozi said: ‘If I have a great anxiety, it’s because I have a body’.43 The Buddha devoted himself to saving a tiger for seeking religion. Didn’t those three live despite their body and in order to venerate religion? Alas! Life is very important and yet one had to sacrifice it in order to reach enlightenment; worth so much less are gold and pearl and wealth which are very scornful things. Why miss them? Oh! If even in a ten-family hamlet, there is a loyal man,44 why cannot there be intelligent people in the world! After listening to these words, one must be studious and must not be suspicious. The prayers45 said: "Once life is lost one doesn’t get it back even in ten thousand rebirths". What a sorrowful thing! This was why Confucians said:46 If you don’t make your own effort, I don’t know how to help you!"47

That is enough to let us know Tran Thai Tong’s tendency to combine the three doctrines. He even wrote: "When one doesn’t understand yet, be must separate into three doctrines. After having understood, the three are in the heart".48

In the Wu Yantong Buddhist sect under the Ly’s reign, we have seen the tendency that conciliated the Buddhist thought with the Taoist one. In Tran Thai Tong, the combination with Confucianist thoughts was strongly stressed. Even among the sins enumerated in his repentance texts, we recognize those which damaged Confucian morality, or relations between father and his sons, the King and his citizens. Perhaps under the Tran’s reign, Confucianism was more strongly developed and enjoyed a greater influence. This feature didn’t surprise Tran Thai Tong because he was at the same time a Buddhist and a ruling King.


The monk Tue Trung (original name Tran Tung) (1230-1291) was eldest son of An Sinh Vuong Tran Lieu, and eldest brother of Hung Dao Vuong Tran Quoc Tuan and Nguyen Thanh Thien Cam (King Tran Thanh Tong’s wife and King Tran Nhan Tong’s mother).49 Tue Trung had the royal title Hung Ninh Vuong and scored victories in the two resistances against the Yuans in 1285 and in 1288.50

Tue Trung didn’t leave his family and was a lay Buddhist but had a high degree of knowledge of Buddhism. As is recounted above, he was the monk Tieu Dao’s disciple, and Tran Nhan Tong’s master. According to "Luoc Dan Thien Phai Do" published before the Tue Trung Thuong Si Ngu Luc, besides Nhan Tong, Tue Trung still had other disciples such as An Nhien, Thien Nhien,51 Thach Kinh52 and Thoai Ba.53 Tue Trung’s Buddhist thoughts manifested themselves in his works that remain by chance in Tue Trung Thuong Si Ngu Luc collection.

The extant copy of Tue Trung Thuong Si Ngu Luc 54 comprises four parts:

a/ In the first part, the Buddhist thoughts were presented under the conversational form between Tue Trung and his disciples. In this part, we find four litanies and fourteen prayer- recitation texts from Tue Trung.

b/ The second part contained forty nine poems by Tue Trung.

c/ The third part contained seven texts written by his disciples, Nhan Tong and Phap Loa included, for Tue Trung’s memorial service.

d/ In the fourth part we read the text "Thuong Si Hanh Trang" without the mentioning of the author’s name, but we surely know that it was written by Nhan Tong, and an Epilogue written by Do Khac Chung. To the text "Thuong Si Hanh Trang" we added six other litanies written by Tue Trung.

We can say that Tue Trung Thuong Si Ngu Luc is a very precious document helping us to do research into Buddhism’s thought under the Tran’s reign in general but also into the thought of Tue Trung in particular. First of all, we see that Tue Trung’s conception of one’s own body was based on the sunyata point of view. The latter manifested itself in the following litany:

Everyday, we face nature, i.e., the phenomenal universe.

Nature is the reflection of the heart.

But both nature and heart are originally nothing.

Everywhere is paramita.

Such a point of view is very close to Nagarjuna’s Madhyamika. So we can think the paramita of which Tue Trung spoke here is the prajna-paramita. According to Nagarjuna, when the prajna, i.e., [true] intelligence appears, it can return to sunyata. Tue Trung also recalled the sunyata point of view on many occasions: "The Four Greatnesses were originally nothing. Where did they emerge from?" (see text "Sinh Tu Nhan Nhi Di"). "The heart and the religion were originally nothing and silence, where can one search for them? (text: "Doi Co"). "The afflictions are irregular, all are nothing" (text "Phat Tam Ca"). "Truth and Error are nothing" (text "Van Su Quy Nhu"), etc.

On the basis of such an ontological point of view of sunyata, Tue Trung set a particular view that was "not to see things separately in two". Tue Trung asserted that "the nature of phenomena being nothing, every opposition between phenomena is artificial, having no basis. It is only due to the view separating things in two." He said:

The body is formed from nothing, so it was originally nothing.

When discriminated, it is separated into two, that means to be separated into two aspects opposing each other.

The self and the other, we are separated in two but are linked like the dew and the frost.

The simple living being and the Saint have no difference and are like the thunder and the lightning.55

Tue Trung categorically denied the "view in two". He declared:

One only needs to abandon the "view in two" [dualistic view]

He can embrace everything in the Buddhist universe.56

With that comprehension of that "view in two", Tue Trung asserted the non-existence of opposition between various concepts, various categories which the people had opposed to each other.

He dealt once and again with this problem in many poems, many litanies. For example, in the text "Me Ngo Bat Di" ("no difference between unconsciousness and awakedness"), he rejected the opposition between non-being and being, between unconsciousness and awakedness:

Being and non-being, unconsciousness and awakedness,

Always they have had the same meaning.

In the text "Pham Thanh Bat Di" ("no difference between the layman and the Saint"), he rejected the opposition between those two creatures, between the "right" and the "wrong", between the "good" and the "evil", between Buddha and the simple being, between the other and the self.

In the poem "Van Su Quy Nhu", he rejected the opposition between "to be" and "not to be", between the sorrows and the bliss, between truth and falsity:

From non-being appears being.

Being and non-being will be equal in the end.

The sorrows and the blisses have no difference.

Truth and falsity both are nothing.

The body is illusory, life is as a shadow,

The heart resembles the light wind.

Don’t speak of life and death, of demons and Buddhas.

All the stars turn to the North, all rivers flow to the East.57

Tue Trung went on rejecting the opposition between truth and falsity in the text "Thi Chung". He made his point of view clearer in the poem "Phat Tam Ca":

To abandon falsity in the heart in order to guard the true nature,

That is like going to fetch the image while losing the mirror.

Not to see the image appearing in the mirror is like falsity appearing in truth.

Falsity comes, it is neither true nor false.

Like the mirror, it is neither good nor evil.

From the point of view of the "view in two", Tue Trung criticized adherence to concepts. Let us read a paragraph in the "Doi Co":

A monk stepped forward and asked: "What is the clean Buddhist body?"

Tue Trung said:

That body goes in and out stepping on the urine of buffalos.

And its feet trample on horse excrement.

The monk asked again: "How to attain enlightenment?"

Tue Trung answered: "The abandonment of the concept of dirtiness makes the Buddhist body clean. Please listen to my litany:

At the origin, there is no dirtiness, no cleanliness;

Dirtiness, cleanliness, both are nothing.

The Buddhist body doesn’t care

What is dirt and what is clean.

We can say that Tue Trung presented in a definite and strict manner his point of view on the "view in two". The thing deserving attention is that although bearing a character of relativism, his point of view did not lead Tue Trung to nihilist negation. On the contrary, owing to that point of view, he god rid of all constraints on his thinking and living.

Like other Buddhist followers, Tue Trung adopted the "Heart is Buddha" point of view, closely linking the Heart to Buddha. In the first part of his poem "Phat Tam Ca", he presented clearly this point of view:

Buddha, Buddha, Buddha, no one can see you

Heart, Heart, Heart, no one can speak of you!

Buddha appears when the Heart appears;

when Buddha passes away, the Heart also disappears.

Nowhere does the Heart disappear to, while Buddha exists;

never does Buddha pass away while the Heart still appears.

Loyal to his points of view on "non-being" and "the view in two" [dualism], Tue Trung clearly stated:

In the past, there was no heart, and now there is no Buddha. That assertion may be understood as "in the past, there was no Buddha, and now there is no Heart," because- as we have seen above, according to Tue Trung, Buddha is nowhere and the Heart is nowhere too and vice versa. And if this be so, how will consciousness be awakened? Do the goal and the object of consciousness-awaking exist any more?

We can find Tue Trung’s explanation in the following sentences in the poem, "Phat Tam Ca":

The heart of all Buddhists is Buddha’s heart.

Buddha’s heart is in concordance with mine.

That law has existed as such forever!

From this thought of Tue Trung, we can elaborate the following formula: All living beings’ heart = Buddha’s heart = self-heart. All beings are nature, the phenomenal universe surrounding us. According to Tue Trung’s presentation, the heart of all living beings is the evident evolution of that nature. This is what he spoke about in his poem "Phat Tam Ca":

When spring comes, the spring flowers will naturally blossom.

And when autumn returns, clear-to-the-eye autumnal water flows.

He also recalled the natural law in other poems. For example in the poem "An dinh thoi tiet":

Every year, the flowers blossom in the third month.

Every morning, the cocks crow in the middle watch.

In everyday language, that is a natural law. In this context, Tue Trung wanted to put forward the principle. Set our heart in accordance with all living beings’ hearts, thus we reach Buddha’s heart. And understanding this problem, we live in accordance with the natural law that means consciousness-awakening. Live in line with natural life, don’t act against the law of the nature. That was Tue Trung’s living principle. Tran Nhan Tong once wrote about him as follows: "He lived in the earthy life, mixed light with dust, didn’t commit any offence against anything".58 That remark from a disciple towards his master was very accurate. It’s easy to understand that, from his principle of living conformable to the natural law, Tue Trung rejected an austere dietary regime and the strict observance of the Buddhist precepts. His litanies express clearly that point of view. The meaning of the litanies were so obvious: Eating vegetables or eating meat are attributes of different species of living beings. That is as natural as the vegetation blossoming in spring. Thus, why do we call sin the meat-eating and happiness the vegetable-eating? Observing the commandments and resigning oneself to this only lead to sin and not to happiness. One must know that sin and happiness don’t reside in the observance of the precepts and resigning oneself to them. To preserve oneself, to resign oneself in such a manner is like a man who climbs a tree. Being in safety on the soil, he wants to go and seek danger: if he doesn’t climb the tree, he will run no danger even if the wind blows!

Observance of the precepts and resignation are two important points in the six cardinal virtues of Buddhism. But Tue Trung rejected them in a rash manner.

Living in accordance with the [natural] laws, one isn’t afraid of them and achieves freedom. On the problem of death and life, Tue Trung wrote the poem "Sinh Tu Nhan Nhi Di" (living or dying is only leisure). The title shows the author’s attitude. Let’s read the two last sentences:

Only the ignorant and confused man is afraid of life and death.

A lettered and knowledgeable man considers them as leisure.

In the text "An Dinh Thoi Tiet", he also said:

Don’t ask anymore about the origin of life and death.

They are natural results of the function of the cause and factors.

The text "Phong Cuong Ngam" manifested fully the spirit of a free and desporting man:

Let’s look at the universe, how immense it is!

With a plumb-rod in the hand, [we know]

Where we are wandering the water is very deep and then spreads out.

The mountain is very high, the mountain is towering.

Being hungry we eat,—how sweet rice is !

Being tired, we sleep; a village, "where is one?59

The two last sentences showed his attitude towards life and death:

Whether I can realize my aspiration is what I wish to do.

If life and death pursue me, they don’t matter to me.

Tue Trung’s spirit of courage before the natural law approximated Van Hanh’s "fearless" spirit, a monk under the Ly’s reign. The latter wrote:

The body is like lightning which appears, then disappears.

It is as nature blossoming in spring and fading in autumn.

So it is the change of destinies, don’t be afraid.

Prosperity and recession are comparable to a dew-drop on a blade of grass.

In the poem "Truu Nguyen Ngam." Tue Trung expressed the same opinion:

In the life of a man, there happen prosperity and poverty.

Flowers are fresh and beautiful for a time but then dry and fade.

A country is sometimes prosperous, sometimes decadent.

Destiny knows sometimes prosperity, sometimes misfortunes,

The day has its evening and its morning.

The year ends when another begins.

Both Van Hanh and Tue Trung searched for natural law and began to perceive the dialectics of the movement of things. In the poem " The Thai Hu Ao", Tue Trung wrote:

The moon sets in the West, its shadow doesn’t come back.

Water flows to the East sea, its waves can’t flow back.

Men not only have to live conformably with the laws of nature, but also in accordance with the law of the society. Thus Tue Trung wrote:

It would be happy to be nude, if one lives in a nude-custom country.

It isn’t his fault not to observe etiquette, that is to submit to [the local custom.60

Obeying destiny in accordance with the law of nature, submitting to the customs in accordance with the laws of life,— here was the characteristic of Tue Trung’s Chan thoughts. To live a full life, in accordance with nature, with men, with the heart, not to beg anywhere of anybody, that’s Chan Buddhism. No need for meditative sitting. He said: "The monks sit in meditative position, while I do not."61 Then he expressed his conception of Chan Buddhism in two wonderful verses in the poem "Phat Tam Ca":

In walking meditation, in sitting meditation.

In the fire of the burning furnace, a lotus blossoms.

Even in a sitting position, in contemplating the beauty of nature, one feels quietness in the heart: then where is the need for ritual Chan Buddhist meditative sitting!

In the middle of the house, one sits in silence

and leisurely contemplates Con Lon with a trail of smoke.

When one is tired, his heart will automatically rest.

He needs neither recitation-prayers nor meditation.62

It seems all Tue Trung’s points of view on Buddhist meditation, on religion, on life were concisely expressed in the poem "Thi Chung":

I don’t look any more for Thieu That and Tao Khe.

The nature of the body is so radiant that nothing can hide it.

I never mind that the moon sheds its light everywhere.

I also don’t mind that the wind blows high or low in the air.

The colour of that autumn changes from white to black.

The dirty mud can’t sully that perfume lotus.

The wonderful song is sung forever and ever.

Don’t go to seek it in the East, the West, the North, the South!

That wonderful song is religion, and was resounding in the path of life on which Tue Trung has been eagerly walking with a stick in hand: I can’t find the three meters of the Song Lam, I look in vain for the six circles of Dia Tang; how thorny is the earthly road; Despite my old age, I don’t hesitate to walk on it, not as I did before.63


The history of the cloistering of the Truc Lam sect’s three founders was related in the book Tam To Thuc Luc. Despite its late publication about at the middle of the 18th century,64 that book had copies of a certain number of ancient texts. The first part, speaking about Tran Nhan Tong, was an excerpt from the book Thanh Dang Luc (the earliest still extant was published by 1750) and we believe it contained many documents on the Tran’s reign. The second part written on the monk Phap Loa, was a copy from an inscription on an ancient stele erected under that reign. At present, we have found that stele, i.e., the stele of the Vien Thong tower in Thanh Mai65 erected in 1362 and confirming the value of what was related about the monk Phap Loa in the book Tam To Thu Luc. The third part, written about the monk Huyen Quang, was named "To Gia Thuc Luc." Despite many corrections undertaken under the Le’s reign, it was surely constituted from an earlier document.

On the basis of those documents, we know something about the Buddhist activities of the Truc Lam sect’s founders. The King Nhan Tong named Tran Kham (1258-1308), Thanh Tong Tran Hoang’s son, was enthroned in 1278. He was the King hero who won the two wars against the Yuan in 1285 and 1288. In 1293, he abdicated in favour of Anh Tong and played the role of the King Father. When he still was an heir prince and a King, Nhan Tong adored Buddha and did research on Buddhism under the direction of his maternal uncle, Tue Trung. After his abdication, in 1295, he had the intention to leave definitively his family to Vu Lam.66 But he came back home without giving any reason. Only in 1299 did he cut off from his family and come to cloister in the Yen Tu mountain.

After that he took the Buddhist name Truc Lam the great anchorite, being called Huong Van Dai Dau Da. He was also called Truc Lam Dieu Ngu. In this section, instead of calling him by his Buddhist title, we call him Nhan Tong for convenience’s sake. Nhan Tong had the prudence to build and consolidate a unified Buddhist clergy. Despite his cloistering in Yen Tu, he often went to many other pagodas in the country, such as the Pho Minh pagoda in Thien Truong, Sung Nghiem pagoda in Chi Linh, Bao An pagoda in Sieu Loai, Vinh Nghiem pagoda in Lang Giang., where he organized courses and lectures on Buddhism for the monks coming from elsewhere; came up to the camp Bo Chinh67 where he built the small temple Tri Kien; and in 1301, he came to Champa to meet the King of that country. In this meeting, Nhan Tong promised to marry princess Huyen Tran to Che Man, Champa’s King. It was probable that through such a marriage, Nhan Tong hoped to build peaceful relations between the Dai Viet and the Champa.

According to Tam To Thuc Luc, in 1304 Nhan Tong "went to everywhere in the countryside, forbade lewd language, instructed the people to do the ten good things".68 Nhan Tong obviously wanted to make of the "ten good things" a morality of Buddhism serving as a basis for social morality. During his trip in 1304, Nhan Tong met Phap Loa in Nam Sach. Since then, he coached and educated that man to become his own Buddhist follower. In 1308, Phap Loa was officially entrusted with the role of the second founder of the Truc Lam sect. Phap Loa’s succession was organized in a solemn ceremony. The inscription on the stele of Vien Thong tower in Thanh Mai as the Tam To Thuc Luc recounts the event as follows:

"On the first day of the first month of the 16th year of Hung Long era, Mau Than (1308), the monk (i.e., Phap Loa) obeyed the destiny to be a voluntary Buddhist residing in the Cam Lo, Sieu Loai pagoda.69The inaugurating ceremony and the parade started before the founders’ tablets, solemn music sounded, santal and incense were burnt. The King-Father (i.e., Nhan Tong) led the monk to kowtow before the founders’ altar. After the song, Nhan Tong ordered playing music, beating the big drums, grouping everybody in the altar. Then King Anh Tong came in his imperial carriage. Each participant was at his place. In his quality as the Great Donator to Buddhism, he stood al his guest place in the temple. The Prince Prime Minister70 stood with other dignitaries in the courtyard. Nhan Tong went up to the Sermon tribune to preach Buddhism. After having finished preaching, he got down, led the monk to the tribune, stood opposite to him, clasped his hands in regards. The monk rendered the kowtow. Nhan Tong handed him the Buddhist habit: Then Nhan Tong sat in the rattan chair,71 put sidelong so he could better listen to the monk’s Buddhist lecture. In the end, Dieu Ngu named Phap Loa resident monk of the Sieu Loai pagoda in charge of the monastery Yen Tu and second successor of the Truc Lam sect".

Through that ceremony, we can see Nhan Tong’s organizing talent. It was obvious that he wanted the Buddhist followers, as well as the King and the dignitaries, to assist at the ceremony of the Buddhist habit-transmitting to Phap Loa. Such a ceremony would consolidate the prestige of the Buddlist clergy leader into the future. The Buddhist propagation ceremony was opened on the first day of the lunar year Mau Than; on the eleventh month of that year, Nhan Tong died on the summit Ngoa Van.

Besides Phap Loa, the disciples of the Truc Lam sect were Bao Sat, Bao Phac, Phap Khong, Phap Co, Hue Nghiem, Phap Trang, Huong Trang, Huong Son, Mat Tang.

According to Tam to thuc luc, Nhan Tong wrote the following books:

1. Thien Lam Thiet Chu Y Ngu Luc

2. Truc Lam Hau Luc

3. Thach That Mi Ngu

4. Dai Huong Hai An Thi Tap

5. Tang Gia Toai Su.

We deeply regret that those books were lost. Only a certain number of his poems remain and are published in the Viet Am Thi Tap and Toan Viet Thi Luc. Particularly Nhan Tong wrote in Nom, and at present we fortunately find two poems, the "Cu Tran Lac Dao Phu" and the "Dac Thu Lam Tuyen Thanh Dao Ca". Nhan Tong also wrote the article "Thuong Si Hanh Trang" that was Tue Trung’s biography, at the end of the book Tue Trung Thuong Si Ngu Luc.

Thus, we don’t have many documents allowing us to penetrate Tran Nhan Tong ‘s thoughts on Buddhism. At present, there are two documents that express the main lines of those thoughts. Those documents related two consultations between Nhan Tong and his disciples, one in Sung Nghiem pagoda, in Chi Linh mountain and the other in the Ky Lan monastery, also situated in Chi Linh. The first part was related in Thanh Dang Luc and also in Tam To Thuc Luc, in the chapter on Nhan Tong. The second part was related in Thien Dao Yeu Hoc, after the chapter on Phap Loa in Tam To Thuc Luc . That part might be recorded by Phap Loa.

In the long enough consultation in the Sung Nghiem pagoda, Nhan Tong presented his point of view through short litany sentences on a series of problems as the Trinity (Buddha, Dharma, Sangha), three bodies (three reincarnations of Buddha), the pure Buddhist body, and the way that leads upwards. The fundamental point of view in that context was the "non-engagement" of the Vajra-prajna that was developed as close to Tue Trung Thuong Si thoughts, and the rejection of any fastening to concepts.72

At the end of that consultation, Nhan Tong read the litany "Huu Cu Vo Cu" dealing with ‘to be and not to be’. The thoughts in the litany were very profound and rejected the engagement attitude of ‘to be and not to be’. From that very long litany, we quote only some excerpts:

To be, to be! not to be, not to be!

When the creepers dried, the tree fell down.

The monks hit their heads and their skulls broke!

To be, to be! not to be, not to be!

The autumnal wind blows

Many and twice-many sharp swords hit each other

To be, to be! not to be, not to be!

Defining principles, founding sects

Drilling turtle shell, breaking tiles,

Escalating mountains, slashing through the water.

To be, to be! not to be, not to be!

There is nothing

Carving a junk to find a sword,

To buy a horse after the image.

To be, to be, not to be, not to be.

Misfortune, sadness, compassion.

Cut off every kind of creeper [entanglement],

Delight will come everywhere.73

When presenting the problems raised by Buddhism, Nhan Tong also used cries and sticks, which proves he was influenced by the "raise the stick" method of the Lam Te’ sect. He often used images which manifested his spirit of the ‘poet’, similar to Tue Trung, but about the contents he wasn’t as original and he didn’t create as strong an impact as the latter.

In the consultation in the Ky Lan monastery in the nineth day of the first month of the year Binh Ngo (1306), Nhan Tong expressed in a paragraph, very clearly, his ontologic and cognitive view; it was at the same time the point of view of the Truc Lam sect that we had recognized in Tran Thai Tong and "Tue Trung Thuong Si":

The great religion is all, it isn’t attached to anything. Its nature is quiet, pure, not good, not evil. Because of distinction and choice, one is led to many ways. Thus one must know that sin and happiness are one thing, cause and effect are not real things. Everybody has his own nature, everybody enjoys success. The Buddhist nature and the Buddhist body are like the body and its shadow, sometimes disappearing sometimes appearing, they are neither close nor separated. They are under the nose, at the same line as the eyebrows, but it’s difficult for the eyes to see them. One can’t find Buddhism if he has the intention to go and search for it. Three thousand Buddhist methods are very near to you, innumerable wonderful uses exist already in my our heart. If you have got all the commandments, you have to look into yourself, your own heart. Your voice, your laugh, your face, a wink of your eyes, the holding of your hands, the walking with your feet: what is that Nature?

What Heart does that Nature belong to? The Heart and the Nature both are dear, which is true, which is untrue? Buddhist doctrine is Nature, Buddha is Heart, thus what Nature is not Buddhist doctrine and what Heart is not Buddha?

The Heart is Buddha and the Heart is Buddhist religion too. But because "Buddhist doctrine is originally no-doctrine, it is the Heart that says "the Heart is no heart" and "the Heart is Buddha’ (also means Buddha is not Buddha)!

This Buddhist ideology might be received by Nhan Tong from the Tue Trung Thuong Si.

On the ode written in Nom, "Cu Tran Lac Dao,"74 Nhan Tong’s points of view were presented in a more comprehensive manner:

"Provided one gets confidence

There are no other magics.

Keeping silence, the nature will be assured.

The aspiration restrained, it doesn’t want to die.

The ego destroyed, the truth comes out.

All ambitions wiped out,

Pure Land is the pureness of the Heart,

… Don’t be suspicious and don’t ask about the West Land;

Amitabha is the quietly illumines, no need to find the way to the Land of Bliss.

… Knowing the absolute truth, believing the prajna, don’t find Buddha in the West or East:

Getting the Buddhahood, the way of "avoidness" not worthy for seeking Buddhist prayers from the South or North.

Buddha is in one’s house.

No need to find him farther.

Because I have forgotten my own nature, I have to find Buddha.

When my consciousness is awakened, Buddha is myself.

I do not mind that I have no heart.

And naturally I am suitable to the religion.

Stopping the three karmas, I get my heart quiet.

When I get a heart, I understand very well the founder’s doctrine.

Vietnamese word "long" used in the ode in Nom characters means the "heart." Returning to the Heart, I find "Buddha in the house", no need to search anywhere. It’s clear that this ode was written for the masses. It ended with the poem:

In this world enjoying religion depends on one’s destiny.

Being hungry, I eat. Being tired, I sleep instantly.

The Precious is in my house, what do I look for?

In front of every phenomenon, if I have no heart, it will be no use to ask about religion.75

Nhan Tong learnt Buddhism and Chan ideology from Tue Trung. But in personal character, he differed from his master in many points. He was not only a poet; he also was a king. And when he cut off with his family, he was not only a monk, he was the leader of the clergy. He couldn’t wander as he wanted like Tue Trung. He always had to be very busy with the works we call today organization, the education and training of cadres.

We can think that after having cut off from his family, Nhan Tong had a quiet look at Springtime passing:

When young, without understanding the issue of ‘being and not being’

The flowers blossoming in Spring troubled my heart.

Now I have got familiar with the Spring Queen.

On the meditation mat, I look at the pink petals falling.

But in fact, Nhan Tong always summoned everybody not to let springs pass but to do something for Buddhism as well as for life. He started the great visit to the Sung Nghiem pagoda in Chi Linh mountain with the following poem:

The body is as the air in and out of the nose when we breathe.

Life is as clouds flying with the winds on the far mountain.

The cuckoo sings incessantly for days and months.

Don’t let Spring pass by in a banal manner.

In his great visit to the Ky Lan monastery, Nhan Tong called once again: "Oh, men! Time passes quickly, life passes away with no stop! How can you eat soup or rice without seeking knowledge about the bowl, the spoon?" It seems that Nhan Tong showed himself very eager when he found he had not much time. Thus, we can understand why in the last moments of his life, he recommended to his two servants Tu Doanh and Hoan Trung, the men who helped him climbing up the Ngoa Van summit: "Come down and take care of your religious life. Don’t think that the ‘life and death’ problem is an easy thing".

Did he differ from Tue Trung? Perhaps not. Life and death are easy things but don’t waste your life! And understood with that meaning, life is not an easy thing. The integration into life in Tran Nhan Tong’s thoughts on Buddhism was clearly manifested on this point.


Phap Loa (1284-1330), originally named Dong Kien Cuong, was born in Dong Hoa hamlet, Cuu La village, Nam Sach district.

In 1304, he cut off from his family, followed Nhan Tong, and was named Thien Lai. At the beginning, he was sent to learn with the chief monk Tinh Giac in Quynh Quan. Afterwards, he accompanied Nhan Tong to attend the latter’s lectures. In 1305, Nhan Tong gave him the Buddhist titles of monk and Bodhisattva and the Buddhist name Phap Loa. In 1306, he was appointed chief lecturer in the Bao An pagoda in Sieu Loai. In 1307, Nhan Tong explained the book collection Dai Tue Ngu Luc to Phap Loa and a certain number of disciples. In the same year in the Ngoa Van summit, he was entrusted by Nhan Tong with preaching and chanting of litanies. On the first day of the year Mau Than (1308), he was officially given the Buddhist habit and named second founder of the Truc Lam sect, in the solemn ceremony mentioned in the previous part. So, after only four years from a person who had just cut off from his family, Phap Loa became the leader of the Buddhist clergy. He was then only twenty-four years old.

Surely Nhan Tong had so highly appreciated Phap Loa’s capability that he promoted him so quickly while, as we have seen, among Nhan Tong’s disciples, there were several men who had come earlier and had been very near to him, Bao Sat for example. In the epoch when Phap Loa assumed the leadership of the clergy, Buddhism began to develop intensively. It was the epoch that counted a great number of people who had cut off from their families. According to a stele of the Vien Thong tower as well as the book Tam To thuc luc, in the ninth month of the 21st year of Hung Long (1313), Phap Loa came to Vinh Nghiem Pagoda in Lang Giang76 to define the functions of the monks in the whole country. Since then, all the latter were registered and were subjected to Phap Loa’s authority. Doing so, he made progress in organizing a unified clergy. We can say that Vinh Nghiem pagoda became the central office of the Truc Lam clergy. At that time, he consecrated more than one thousand monks. After that, every three years, he did the same for not less than a thousand. Up to the first year of the Khai Huu era (1392), Phap Loa consecrated 15,000 monks and nuns.

A great number of pagodas and towers were built in Phap Loa’s lifetime. Personally he built, up to 1329, two ensembles of big pagodas, i.e., Bao An and Quynh Lam, five towers and 200 monasteries. Particularly in the Bao An pagoda (Sieu Loai) in 1314, he ordered the construction of 33 installations comprising Buddha temples, prayer-keeping garrets, and monasteries. He also built the small pagodas, Ho Thien, Chan Lac, An Ma, Vinh Khe, Hac Lai and enlarged the pagoda ensembles, Thanh Mai and Con Son. His disciples also constructed pagodas and towers in many regions. For example, one of his disciples, named monk Tri Nhu, constructed the tower Linh Te in Duc Thuy mountain, i.e., the Non Nuoc mountain, in Ninh Binh77 province, and the tower Hien Dieu in Tien Long mountain, Hoa Lu district, Ha Nam Ninh province.78

Phap Loa enjoyed strong support from the royal and noble circles. It was at a time when the nobles vied one with another to renounce their families or at least to practice Buddhism full-time at home. On the list of Phap Loa’s disciples in the scheme drawn at the end of the stele of the Vien Thong tower, we read the name of Kings Anh Tong and Minh Tong, Queen Mother Tuyen Tu,79 dignitary Van Hue Vuong80, Chuong Van, Eldest princess Thien Trinh.

Thanks to the help of noble circles, economic possibilities of the Truc Lam clergy’s installations were very abundant. The pagodas had many rice fields. According to that stele, Phap Loa was given by King Anh Tong 100 acres of rice fields in Doi Gia hamlet, as well as ploughsmen slaves to which were added 25 other acres in Dai Tu hamlet, originally imperial concubine Tu Chieu’s properties. Afterwards Anh Tong gave him 80 more acres in An Dinh hamlet and ploughsmen slaves. In 1312, the same king supplied the monk with 500 acres taken from the farm Niem Nhu to serve as "permanent property used for Buddha worship". The queen Mother Tuyen Tu gave to that monk 300 acres as permanent property of the Sieu Loai pagoda. In 1315, Anh Tong gave 30 more acres taken from imperial servant Pham as the monk’s permanent property. In 1316, Phap Loa founded Quynh Lam monastery. In 1318, the layman Vu Hoa Luu offered 20 acres taken from his farm as permanent property of Quynh Lam Pagoda. In 1324, the layman Di Loan, princess Nhat Tran’s son, offered 300 acres of ricefield in Thanh Hoa district. Queen Mother Bao Tu81 offered 22 more acres in An Hoa district. The dignitary Van Hue Vuong also offered 300 acres in Gia Lam with the farm Dong Gia, the farm An Luu, which made altogether more than one thousand acres, plus more than one thousand ploughsmen slaves; all these became Quynh Lam pagoda’s permanent properties.

For every construction of pagodas, making up of statues, the King and the nobles offered a great deal of properties. For examples in the moulding of one thousand Buddha statues in 1322, Phap Loa enjoyed the help of many people as the Queen Mother Bao Tu, the State Mother Bao Hue, princess Bao Van, Van Hue Vuong, Uy Hue Vuong, Dai Quan Vuong, Chuong Nhan Hau, Hung Uy Hau, Hoai Ninh Hau, Trinh Trung Tu, Doan Nhu Hai, Dang Thanh. In his lifetime. Phap Loa moulded more than 1,300 big and small bronze statues, more than 100 earth statues and made two sets of Buddha images in painted material.

Beside the construction of pagodas, the making up of statues, an important activity undertaken by Phap Loa was to organize the prayer lecturing associations and the printing of documents on Buddhism. That monk lectured on Tue Trung’s prayer books such as the Truyen Dang Luc, Tuyet Dau Ngu Luc, Dai Tue Ngu Luc, Nhan Tong’s Thien Lam Thiet Chuy Ngu Luc and other prayers as Kim Cuong, Vien Giac, Thu Lang Nghiem, Duy Ma especially the "Hoa Nghiem" prayers that constituted at that time an object for the public interest. Phap Loa himself lectured at nine "Hoa Nghiem" prayer associations and did the same afterward in various pagodas. More than one thousand people attended at each of his lectures, or at least 5 or 6 hundred.

In 1131, Phap Loa received the order to continue publishing the Tripitaka. This work had begun when Nhan Tong was still alive, about 1295, after Tran Khac Dung and Pham Thao brought back those prayers from the Yuan (China). Phap Loa entrusted the monk Bao Sat, one of Nhan Tong’s disciples, with the printing of the Tripitaka prayers. And perhaps that work was ended in 1319. In the same year, Phap Loa called the Buddhist people and the laymen to offer their blood to serve as the print for those prayers. And more than 5,000 prayer books printed in that manner were kept in Quynh Lam monastery.

In 1322, Phap Loa ordered the carving of wood blocks for printing of the book Tu Phan Luat (commandment-law for the bonzes). He got more than 5,000 books printed in such a manner. Afterwards he invited the State monks, Tong Kinh living in Tien Du mountain and Bao Phac living in Vu Ninh mountain to come and lecture on that book in Sieu Loai pagoda. That monk got a certain number of documents written by himself done in that manner, as the Kim Cuong Trang Da La Ni Kinh Khoa Chu.

He wrote the following documents:

1. Tham Thien Chi Yeu .

2. Kim Cuong Trang Da La Ni Kinh Khoa Chu

3. Niet Ban Dai Kinh Khoa So

4. Phap Hoa Kinh Khoa So

5. Lang Gia Tu Quyen Khoa So

6. Bat Nha Tam Kinh Khoa So

7. Phap Su Khoa Van

8. Do Mon Tro Thanh Lap

9. Nhan Vuong Ho Quoc Nghi Quy

Besides these books, Phap Loa edited the Tue Trung Thuong Si Ngu Luc, and wrote the epilogue for the Tripitaka. Phap Loa’s works were all lost. Thus we have trouble nowadays ascertaining this monk’s thoughts on Buddhism.

Many people assumed that the text Thien Dao Yeu Hoc, produced after the story of Phap Loa published in Tam To Thuc Luc, was, indeed, that of Phap Loa. That opinion is highly probable. Perhaps the book Tham thien chi yeu belonged to it. The book Thien Dao Yeu Hoc records Nhan Tong’s lecture in his solemn visit to Ky Lan monastery in the year Binh Ngo (1306). That book quoted Tue Trung’s litany sentences. In that work we can see the obvious influence of the Lam Te sect.

When speaking about Buddhism in Phap Loa’s epoch we can’t omit the influence of Tantrism. Compared with Buddhism under the Ly’s reign, Buddhism at the beginning of the Tran’s reign bore less influence of Tantrism. We can see clearly that view through Thai Tong’s and Tue Trung thuong si’s works. But in the Phap Loa epoch, the influence of that religion obviously was strengthened. One of the Tantrism rites, the abhiseka ceremony, i.e., the holy-water sprinkling, was undertaken in a generalized manner. In 1318, carrying the King’s decree, Phap Loa went to search for the Indian monk named Panditausasri to translate the Tantrist prayers "Mahasitatapatradharani." Phap Loa himself wrote and published Kim Cuong Trang Da La Ni Kinh Khoa Chu, the explicatory text for the Tantrist prayer, "Vajramanda dharani." Even the book Thien Dao Yeu Hoc mentioned Buddha Vairocana, who was the highest-ranking Buddha in Tantrism.

The increase of Tantrist influence in that epoch was a natural development of Vietnamese Buddhism; the factors of that development were spread throughout all strata of the people and the probable impact of other elements. The first was the arrival in Vietnam of many Indian or Central Asian monks who had the Tantrist tendency: the monk Du Chi Ba Lam came for the first time under Nhan Tong’s reign, and the second time under Anh Tong’s reign; the monk Bodhisri came under Minh Tong’s reign and the monk Ban De Da O Tra That Loi (Panditausasri) came, as related above. The second element was that in China, Buddhism under the Yuan’s reign bore deeply the Tantrist character. It was probable that the Tripilaka printed under the Yuan’s reign and brought back under the Tran’s reign contained many Tantrist prayers. A certain number of monks living under the Yuan’s reign also came to Vietnam. For example, in 1318, Phap Loa received the monk Wu Fang coming from Hunan.

Phap Loa died in 1330. The stele of the Vien Thong tower in Thanh Mai mountain where he was buried says that he had more than 30 disciples.82 Beside Huyen Quang, Phap Loa had several closest disciples as Canh Ngung, Canh Huy, Hue Nhien, Hue Chuc, Hai An.

Huyen Quang (1254-1334) was the third patriarch of the Truc Lam sect. Originally named Ly Tai Dao, he was born in the Van Tai hamlet, belonging to the lower Bac Giang district (renamed Van Tu commune under the Le’s reign, Gia Dinh district, belonging now to the Gia Luong district, Ha Bac province). He was graduated and became a mandarin. In 1305, at the age of 51, he cut off from his family. At the beginning, he followed the monk Bao Phac’s courses in Le Vinh pagoda. Afterwards, he followed Nhan Tong in some years and helped him to edit books such as: the Chu Pham Kinh, Cong Van Tap, Thich Khoa Giao. After Nhan Tong’s death, he followed Phap Loa and became the nearest disciple of a master 30 years younger than he was. Afterwards, he came to reside in Van Yen pagoda on the Yen Tu mountain. But only a short time after, he came to cloister in Thanh Mai pagoda and then came to Con Son pagoda. When Phap Loa was ill and stayed in An Lac monastry, he came to look after him. When Phap Loa died in 1330, he was 77. Although he accepted to be the third patriarch of the Truc Lam Sect, he returned all the same to Con Son to live as a secluded monk. Hereafter is his intimate confidence after having become a self-cloistering (recluse) monk:

My virtues are frail and I am humbled to have succeeded to the founders.

Doing so, do I let Han and Thap83 endure undeserved misfortune

The best thing for me is to follow my friends to the mountains.

The surrounding green mountains are high thousands and thousands of steps.

Despite his succession to the founder’s role, Huyen Quang seemed to be not so eager to lead the clergy. And after only four years, he died in Con Son in 1334.

Huyen Quang was a great poet. Among the small number of poems written under the Tran’s reign and remaining until today, we have the opportunity to read more than 20 of his. But we know little about his thoughts on Buddhism. Most of Huyen Quang’s remaining poems glorified nature, the flowers... Perhaps Huyen Quang regarded nature, the universe, the vegetation with his Buddhist heart and spirit: thus we are in difficulty to know his views on Buddhism. We have found one poem about ‘sentient beings’, the "Ai Phu Lo" ("To pity the prisoner of war") that expressed the monk’s compassion:

I would want to send you a letter written with my blood;

The lonely flying swallow rushes into dense clouds.

How many families will be waiting for the moon tonight?

Separated into two places, we both have the same pain.

Huyen Quang’s thoughts on Buddhism were shown a bit in the two last sentences of his poem "The Dien Huu pagoda":

Thousands and thousands of causes don’t trouble me any more

Because of a wall separating me from earthly sorrows and griefs.

When one has nothing to worry about, his eyesight will be broadened. When we penetrate into the equality of "right" and "wrong", then there is no difference between the Devil and Buddha, everywhere is Buddha’s country and the Devil palace will also become Buddha’s country. This "equal" view or "double view" was Thai Tong’s and Tue Trung’s Buddhist attitude that we met above. We can say that Huyen Quang was an artist as well as an erudite Buddhist scholar. But he wasn’t the man suitable for the organization and the administration of the Truc Lam clergy. In any case, he was too old and the time he assumed the leadership of that clergy was too short.

But the decline of Buddhism since the middle of the 14th century wasn’t Huyen Quang’s fault. At that time, the circles that had strongly supported Buddhism, i.e., the nobles of the Tran dynasty, progressively lost their political and economic power. The regime of big property vested in rice fields, farms, fiefdoms, began to be broken up. The officials having gotten Confucianist studies, and representing the class of lower landlords, began to assume important positions in the Stale apparatus. With its examination system, Confucianism progressively gained strength. Many Confucianist scholars such as Truong Han Sieu and Le Quat raised their voices to criticize Buddhism. But in fact, those criticisms84 reflected a reality that there was a great number of people renouncing their families to become monks in pagodas. Only at the end of the 14th century, in 1396, with Ho Quy Ly’s order to discharge apprentice monks, and compelling the monks under 40 years of age to give up their tonsure, was Buddhism inflicted a decisive blow. From that moment in time, Buddhism’s brilliant period in Vietnam was finished.


1. Published in 1683. p.6a.

2. Certain people alleged that Luoc Dan Thien Phai Do was written by Tue Nguyen the editor of Tue Trung Thuong Si Ngu Luc’s edition of 1683. Therefore it does not deserve credit. This is not true for the following reason: In Luoc Dan Thien Phai Do, King Ly Thai Tong was called Nguyen Thai Tong (to observe the rule of tabooed names under the Tran dynasty) and King Tran Thanh Tong was called "our Emperor Thanh Tong" and written in bold strokes. Hence that must be surely a true reproduction of a document written since the Tran dynasty.

3. Tue Trung Thuong Si Ngu Luc edition 1683. p.28a.

4. Id. p. 28a – 29ab

5. Id. p. 29a.

6. Id. pp. 29h-30a.

7. That list was summarily established without mention of the period in which the monk lived. That is why we can think that Phuc Dien had related here the successive generations in Yen Tu, even after the Tran dynasty. But it is not the case on a page (p.7b) prior to the page where this list appears. Phuc Dien also listed a number of high ranked monks under the Tran dynasty covering several monks included in the above list together with some other monks. That fact proves that the monks listed in the Yen Tu successive generation - according to Phuc Dien - were those living under the Tran dynasty. If that is true, we would hardly believe that after Huyen Quang,. i.e., from 1334 until the end of the Tran dynasty, there were so many generations in Yen Tu. We are of the opinion that Phuc Dien had arranged the names of the monks under the Tran dynasy in an arbitrary manner. For instance, according to Luoc Dan Thien Phai Do which we think is reliable, Quoc Nhat is a disciple of Ung Thuan, the same generation with Tieu Dao, while in Phuc Dien’s list, he was put in the 12th generation. In our opinion: Khue Tham must be Que Tham (maybe there was a confusion between the two similar characters "Khue" and "Que"), according to Luoc Dan Thien Phai Do, this one was Quoc Nhat’s disciple, and yet Phuc Dien put him in the 17th generation. Always according to Luoc Dan Thien Phai Do, Huong Son is Truc Lam (Nhan Tong)’s disciple, same generation with Phap Loa. He was put in 19th generation by Phuc Dien, while Phap Loa was in the 7th .

8. Dai Viet Su Ky Toan Thu (ban Ky. vol.5.. p.9b) related this event one year later, that means in 1237, and the name of the state monk was Phu Van. But according to Phu Dien’s list of monks, Phu Van was of the 10th generation of Yen Tu.

9. Viet Su Luoc, Bk.3. p.13a-13b.

10. See The Preface of Thien Tong Chi Nam" in Khoa Hu Luc.

11. See Niem Phat Luan.

12. See Pho Khuyen Phat Bo De Tam

13. Toa Thien Luan.

14. Pho Khuyen Phat Bo De Tam

15. Pho Thuyet Sac Than

16. Id.

17. Tu Son, the litany "First Mountain".

18. Niem Tung Ke, text No. 40.

19. Ban Son is the alias of the monk Bao Tich (Bao Xi) under the Chinese Tang dynasty disciple of the patriarch Ma Daoyi. He was so called because he lived in a temple on Ban Son mountain (Ji district. Hebei province, China).

20. The place where Buddha preached religion.

21. The cloistering place of Bodhidharma.

22. I.e. Buddha. According to legends, when Laozi came into Ho territory, he became Buddha.

23. I.e. Bodhidharma.

24. The monks of Chan Sect often used cry, stick, feather duster... as instruments leading their followers to enlightenment. Here, Thai Tong wanted to say that all those instruments would be useless if one does not search for enlightenment by himself.

25. These two sentences recall the monk Truong Nguyen’s (1110 – 1165) litany under the Ly dynasty, mentioned in the previous chapter: "The iron girl dances, the wooden man beats the drum".

26. In text No.15 of Niem Tung Ke, Tran Thai Tong also wrote a rhyme: "Let’s breathe all the sublime mysteries; and on the way back we walk under the moonlight." Some people interpreted the way under "moonlight" as a sad and cold one. We think it is not true to Tran Thai Tong’s thought, which may be that the way under the moonlight is an illuminated one.

27. Nam Tuyen is an alias of the Pho Nguven (Pu Yuan in Chinese) under the Tang dynasty: he cloistered at Nam Tuyen mountain in Chizhou (China), as a disciple of Ma Daoyi.

28. Pho Khuyen Phat Bo De Tam

29. Luc Thoi Sam Hoi Khoa Nghi Tu.

30. Gioi Dinh Tue Luan.

31. In Khoa Hu Luc, this sentence was written with some wrong characters, which made it nonsense. We can base ourselves on the explanation made by Huyen Giac to reproduce the original made by Tran Thai Tong.

32. 1 Huyen Giac was a native of Vinh Gia, On Chau, so he was also called monk Vinh Gia.

33. Gioi Dinh Tue Luan.

34. The doctrine "three important things" of the monk Nghia Huyen, founder of Lam Te sect, consists of: starting from "reason", one gets to "intellect" and at last to "means".

35. According to the Lam Te sect, there are three mystiques: that in the body, that in language and that in itself.

36. One in Pho Thuyet Sac Than and the other in Niem Trung Ke.

37. Niem Trung Ke, text No.16.

38. Pho Khuyet Phat Bo De Tam.

39. The story of Tu Ky was related in chapter "Qiwu lun" of Zhuangzi.

40. Chapter "Da zongshi" of Zhuangzi.

41. Toa Thien Luan.

42. In Lun yu.

43. In Daode jing.

44. In Lun yu.

45. I.e. the Nhan Qua prayer-book.

46. Confucius’s words in chapter "Zi Han", Lun yu.

47. In Pho Khuyen Phat Bo De Tam. Some versions are put in Khuyet phat tam van.

48. Pho Khuyen Phat Bo De Tam.

49. Someone thought Tue Tung thuong si was Tran Quoc Tang, the son of Tran Quoc Tuan. That was a mistake made by Bui Huy Bich, author of Hoang Viet Van Tuyen.

50. These events had been related in Annan zhilue and Yuanshi. See Ha Van Tan and Phan Thi Tam, Cuoc Khang Chien Chong Xam Luoc Nguyen Mong the ky XIII, Social Sciences Publishing House, Hanoi 1975, pp 228 and 277.

51. Thien Nhien was a layman. One of his texts appeared in Tue Trung Thuong Si Ngu.

52. In Tue Trung Thuong Si Ngu Luc also appeared a text by Tong Kinh. We wonder whether Tong Kinh is Thach Kinh or not.

53. Probably a female disciple.

54. The earliest extant copy, called Truc Lam Tue Trung Thuong Si Ngu was reproduced by the monk Tue Nguyen in the winter of the 4th year of Chinh Hoa era (1683).

55. In the text "Pham Thanh Bat Di" ("There is no difference between ordinary people and the Saints").

56. Excerpt from the text "Me Ngo Bat Di" ("There is no difference between unconsciousness and awakening").

57. Translated by Dao Duy Anh, in Khoa Hu Luc, Social Sciences Publishing House, Hanoi 1974, pp. 192 - 193.

58. In Thuong Si Hanh Trang.

59. Translated by Dao Duy Anh. op. cit, p.197.

60. In the text "Vat Bat Nang Dung".

61. In the text "Sinh Tu Nhan Nhi Di".

62. In the text "Ngau Tac".

63. In the text "Tru Truong Tu", translated by Hue Chi.

64. The earliest extant copy was printed in the 16th year of the Canh Hung era (1765).

65. The stele was carved in the fifth year of Dai Tri era (1362), being extant at Thanh Mai pagoda, on Tam Ban mountain, Hoang Hoa Tham commune, Chi Linh district, Hai Hung province.

66. Vu Lam belonged to former Yen Khanh district, present day Hoa Lu district, Ha Nam Ninh province.

67. Present day Bo Trach, Quang Trach district, Binh Tri Thien province.

68. I.e.: 1. not to kill living beings, 2. not to steal, 3. not to commit adultery, 4. no to lie. 5. not to sow discord, 6. not to say wicked words, 7. not to say obscene words. 8. not to be greedy. 9. not to get angry, 10. not to have evil thoughts.

69. I.e. Bao An pagoda at Sieu Loai.

70. I.e. Hue Vu Vuong Tran Quoc Chan.

71. "Khuc luc sang" or "khuc luc thang sang" (rattan chair or bed) in the original, often used by Buddhist circles.

72. For instance, when being asked what is a pure Buddhist body, Truc Lam answered: In the golden bottle of wine, there are the lion’s feces. On the iron cup of wine there is the smell of francolin. This thought could be associated with that of Tue Trung on the same topic, as mentioned above.

73. This litany started from the following story— Quy Son (i.e., the monk Linh Huu under the Tang dynasty in China) said: "Sometimes say yes, sometimes say no, like the bindweed climbing on the tree." So Son asked: "When the tree falls, and the bindweed withers up, what would we say?" Note that Tran Thai Tong had also written a text on this problem.

74. Meaning "living in a dusty world, one still enjoys practicing religion."

75. Translated by Dao Duy Anh, in Chu Nom, Social Sciences Publishing House, Hanoi, 1975, p.174.

76. Vinh Nghiem pagoda also called Duc La. is located in present day Tri Yen commune, Yen Dung district, Ha Bac province.

77. According to Linh Te Thap Ky by Truong Han Sieu, written in 1343.

78. According to the stele in Thap mountain, Ninh Hoa commune, Hoa Lu district, Ha Nam Ninh province. The text of the inscription on the stele was written by Tran Nguyen Trac in 1367.

79. Nhan Tong’s wife.

80. Alias of Tran Quang Trieu, Tran Quoc Tang’s son, Tran Quoc Tuan’s grandson.

81. King Anh Tong’s wife, King Minh Tong’s mother.

82. On that stele was clearly carved, "more than thirty disciples". In Tam To Thuc Luc, the character (+) meaning "ten" was wrongly written as (… ) meaning "thousand". The names of the disciples are listed on the stele in two groups. Among the names still legible, we find out 38 people.

83. Han is Han Son (Han Shan in Chinese) and Thap is Thap Bac (Shi Bei in Chinese) were two secluded monks under the Chinese Tang dynasty.

84. See inscription on the stele at Khai Nghiem pagoda and Linh Te Thap Ky by Truong Han Sieu in Duc Thuy mountain, and the stele inscription written by Le Quat at Thieu Phuc pagoda, Bai hamlet, Bac Giang province.

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