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Some Problems of Nhân Tông’s Thought

by Lê Mạnh Thát

The Emperor Nhân Tông made extremely magnificent achievements that were totally dedicated to our country and Buddhism. It is, therefore, quite natural for us to raise the question as to how his life and activities were directed and what thought his personality was actually influenced by.

Nowadays, all of his works mentioned in the Thánh Đăng Ngữ Lục such as the Thiền Lâm Thiết Chủy Ngữ Lục, the Thiền Lâm Thiết Chủy Hậu Lục, the Đại Hương Hải Ấn Thi Tập, the Tăng Già Toái Sự and the Thạch Thất Mỵ Ngữ are lost. What has been preserved so far consists of only some discourses and writings in verse and prose written down somewhere in the Thánh Đăng Ngữ Lục, the Việt Âm Thi Tập, the Thiền Tông Bản Hạnh, the Tam Tổ Thực Lục, etc., and in some Chinese works like the Tien-nan hsin-chi, the Ch’en Kang-chung shih-chi, etc. For that reason, it is truly not easy to make a thorough study of his thought today.

From what has just been referred to, however, we may determine some problems that the Emperor is believed to have concerned himself with. Undoubtedly, Buddhism is in the first place all that the Emperor became highly interested in so early in his life. Yet, when he was officially entrusted with the responsibility for governing the country, particularly in a period full of turmoil and hardship as has been said in the preceding chapters, what was given the highest priority in all of his activities is naturally not only Buddhism but further the protection of the country’s territory, the independence of the Fatherland, and the security of the people. Consequently, it is not too difficult for us to come to an immediate conclusion that the Emperor must have occupied himself with various issues concerning social, political, diplomatic and military circumstances of the country at the time. His major task was inevitably to set forth by all means some general strategy that might help first gain a decisive victory in the struggle against the enemy and then bring about a peaceful and prosperous Đại Việt in the postwar period. This is obviously evidenced through the wars of defense in 1285 and 1288 and the subsequent development and improvement of the people’s living. What then is the general strategy implemented by him to direct these two wars of resistance in the first place? The answer is natural that it was his great attempts at mobilizing the potential strength of the nation that made possible such a glorious victory for the people. Yet, what is the nation’s potential strength and how is it mobilized?

As a matter of fact, the nation’s potential strength is unquestionably inherent within all the people’s patriotism, irrespective of ages, religions, social classes, national races whatsoever they pertain to. It is through such a general guiding principle that we can today recognize that in the armed forces commanded by the Emperor Nhân Tông to fight against Mongol-Yüan invaders there could always exist various types of people: some being born of imperial family such as Trần Quang Khải, Trần Hưng Đạo, Trần Quốc Tung, etc.; some coming from the masses such as Phạm Ngũ Lão, Nguyễn Khoái, etc.; some ever working as servants such as Yết Kiêu, Dã Tượng; some of very young age such as Trần Quốc Toản beside some of very old age such as the elders in the Assembly of Diên Hồng with their unanimous shout “fight”; some belonging to minority groups such as Hà Đặc, Hà Chương; some being foreign ascetics such as Hứa Tông Đạo; even some ever serving as generals in the enemy’s army such as Trương Hiển, etc. For such various social classes to have been gathered, any policy could hardly be effectively carried out without some great solidarity as the primary basis for it.

Such great solidarity, however, may be achieved only when the common people of the country and their leaders have the same privilege to protect and the same objective to struggle for. This may be obviously revealed through a Proclamation sent by Trần Hưng Đạo to all officers and soldiers of the army, where he spoke in the name of the Emperor Nhân Tông:

Under my command, you have all had golden opportunity to partake in military activities for a long time. Those having no uniforms have been provided with; those having no food have been given. Those of low ranks have been promoted, of little emolument given bonuses. Those serving on water have been supplied with ships, on land supplied with horses. In fighting, we have all faced the same dangers; and in retreat, we have all enjoyed pleasures together. We are not inferior at all to Kung-chien’s treatment of his generals and servants or Wu-Lang’s treatment of his assistants, are we?

Yet, at present, though seeing our Lord be insulted, you do not show any anxiety at all; though suffering national humiliation, you do not feel a trace of shame. As being generals of the Imperial Court, you cannot arouse a bit of anger when serving the barbarians, nor can you get angry at hearing the music from the banquets for the enemy’s messengers.

On the other hand, some of you have been crazy on cock-fighting, and some on gambling. Some have been interested in tending their fields and gardens to serve their homes. Some have been attached to their wives and children for their selfish satisfaction. Some have been occupied with their own material possessions without any reflection on national and military affairs. Some have been fond of hunting without any practice of military arts. Some have sought pleasure in drinking good wine, and some in singing nonsense. Provided the Tatars penetrate [into our country], is it then possible for the spurs of your cocks to pierce the enemy’s armors, for your tricks in gambling to be used as military tactics, for your fields and gardens to ransom your beloved bodies, for your wives and children to undertake national affairs, for your wealth to be in exchange for the enemy’s heads, for your hounds to drive the invaders away, for your good wine to make the enemy deadly drunk, for your good singing to make them deaf?

How miserable it then would be that our King and the subjects were all captured. Not only is my own hamlet lost but your emoluments also belong to the others. Not only is my family driven away but your wives and children are also taken. Not only is our ancestors’ land trampled, but your parents’ graves are also dug out. Not only do I suffer humiliation that would exist in this very life and perhaps remain tainted for hundreds of years later, but also you cannot avoid being looked down as defeated generals. Would it then be possible for you to enjoy yourselves at will?

From the above proclamation Trần Hưng Đạo pointed out the common privilege between the leaders and the common people of the country, which may be viewed as the indispensable basis of national solidarity. All the people are aware that they have the same privilege to share and thus have to work together to protect it. The protection of one’s privilege is the condition and premise for the existence of the others’. It is in this dialectical relation of privilege that the sense that the same country and the same community need to be loved and protected comes into existence. And, in reality, to love one’s country is nothing other than to love one’s family, one’s ancestral graves, one’s space and place where one is living. It may be said that Trần Hưng Đạo has, for the first time, elucidated the factors of patriotism, which are expressed in such objective and intelligible terms of his literature.

Indeed, it is from such a view that the Emperor Nhân Tông, in his preparation for the two wars as well as his making of peace in the postwar period, attempted to take a series of political, economic and cultural measures for the sake of the people’s great solidarity, which may be proved through his administrative policy as well as his personal life. As has been said before, to ensure a peaceful life for the people, the Emperor had various measures taken for developing agriculture, commerce, industry and handicraft simultaneously. And for social relations to be improved, he attempted to solve the issues concerning criminals and conflicts among the people. To help them understand the policies that were inseparably related to their daily living, he had all imperial decrees announced not only in Chinese but further in Vietnamese, the everyday speech of the Đại Việt people at the time.

Nevertheless, with all the policies carried out above, the Emperor could perform only part of his role as an ideal political leader that the Buddhist teaching under the reign of Lý helped produce earlier, which may be justified through a writing by the Great Master Giác Tính Hải Chiếu about the renowned Buddhist General Lý Thường Kiệt:

Internally, his mind is mild and brilliant; externally, his appearance is plain and humane. He never gives up his efforts to reform old customs. Because of his work always performed economically and his instructions for the people always given temperately, he has been able to become a solid support for them. So generously does he always try his best to help the people that they all hold him in the greatest respect. He makes use of his vigorous strength to eliminate the enemy. He bases himself on his own brilliant mind to judge cases so that prisons are never overcrowded. Knowing that food is the Heaven of all the people and agriculture is the root of the State, he never neglects any cultivation of land. He is talented but not proud. Even the old in the countryside can receive his care and nurture so frequently that their lives are always at ease. His principles as such may be said to have been the basis of ruling the people, the art of allaying the people, from which may accrue all good things.

On the part of the Emperor Nhân Tông, not being satisfied merely with the carrying-out of national policies he went so far as to apply such principles of great solidarity even to his everyday life. The Complete History of Đại Việt has told us that “the King often went out. On the way, seeing servants of the nobles he, calling them by name, asked ‘Where are your masters?’ and, simultaneously, forbade his escorts to drive them away. On his return to the palace, he called in his subjects, saying, ‘In ordinary days, my courtiers are always found around me; but only those people, [that is, the nobles’ servants,] present themselves when the country falls into misfortune.’ Thus spoke the king since he had been deeply moved by their loyalty and assistance through his terrible times.”

The fact above proves that the Emperor appreciated not only gifted leaders pertaining to the upper class but also the common people of the lowest class such as the servants just mentioned. Though they might have possessed neither good education nor enough wealth to serve for the country in time of misfortune, they could devote a great deal and, sometimes, even their own lives to the common cause of defending the Fatherland.

Such an appreciation by the Emperor seems to have been laid on the same basis as Trần Hưng Đạo’s remark on Yết Kiêu, a servant of his, in the battle of Nội Bàng in the 1285 war: “It is due to its six strong bones supporting wings that the Great Bird can fly high. Without them, it remains merely an ordinary bird.” In the history of our country the reign of the Emperor Nhân Tông may be the only period when the consistency of a leader’s political and sensational concern about his people in war as well as in peace has been so coherently and evidently manifested. A proof among others is that those servants who had devoted themselves to the two wars of defense continued to receive special care from him even in the postwar period. It may be due to his concern, which should be considered to have taken root deep within his nature, that he was frequently occupied with the issues in relation to the two regions Ô Mã and Việt Lý of Champa, not only in the aspect of security but also in that of economy.

Though being composed nearly a hundred years following the reign of the Emperor Nhân Tông, the An-nan chih-yüan deals with the situation that “the population of Giao Chỉ increased so rapidly that land was not enough for them to cultivate.” And earlier, that is, in the year 1266, the Emperor Trần Thánh Tông allowed the nobles to gather the needy throughout the country who would be employed as servants to cultivate and establish plantations in the waste areas along the coast, as is recorded in the Complete History of Đại Việt: “In the winter, the 10th month, (of Bính Dần, 1260), the King (Trần Thánh Tông) issued the decree that nobles, princesses and their husbands, and concubines might employ those servants who were poor and homeless to cultivate waste land for plantations. It was since then that the nobles actually possessed their own plantations.”

Such a large-scaled cultivation of waste land around the year 1266 shows some pressure caused by the increase of population of Đại Việt in her course of development. It may be said that the increase of population did occur in the reign of Lý Thánh Tông when three districts Địa Lý, Ma Linh and Bố Chính were officially annexed to the map of Đại Việt at the same time of the foundation of the Thảo Đường Dhyāna school. Indeed, the birth of this school was aimed at assisting and meeting the needs of the afore-said annexation. After fifty years at peace under the reigns of Lý Thái Tổ (r.1010-1028) and Lý Thái Tông (r.1028-1054), the population of our country increased to such a point that the land already cultivated had reached its limits. For that reason, it then was inevitable that a fighting expedition had to be initiated, the culminating point of which was the annexation of the three above-mentioned districts.

Nevertheless, when the annexation of these districts was accomplished, there naturally accrued an issue that the population should be somehow increased to meet some fruitful cultivation of the land just annexed. In reality, just around the year 1266 the Emperor Trần Thánh Tông had been aware of some pressure of such an increase of population. Therefore, it is not surprising for us at all that only forty years later the Emperor Nhân Tông had two districts Ô Mã and Việt Lý annexed to our country. The latter annexation could once more slow down the increase of population of Đại Việt at the time. Yet, on behalf of the need of cultivation in the new land and that of maintaining security therein to some extent, the problem of population arose again. Since then, just like the Thảo Đường school, the Trúc Lâm school came into being as a support for the task of increasing the population of the time.

We will see how mightily this Dhyāna school, parallel with the common cause of southward advance, has exercised its strong influence upon the Vietnamese people. In the history of examination in Vietnam, Trúc Lâm is the only Dhyāna school whose doctrine was employed as a topic in the examination called đình under the reign of Early Lê. For instance, in the topic of the so-called examination organized in the year of Cảnh Thống, Nhâm Tuất (1502) which consists of forty-seven questions in total, the one numbered 15 reads as follows: “What teaching have Điều Ngự and Huyền Quang preached so that they can eventually become the Buddha and the Patriarch?”. And the answer of a candidate named Lê Ích Mộc (1459- ?) is as follows: “If based upon the previous time, it may be said that under the Trần dynasty the Venerables Tiêu Diêu, Tuệ Trung, Điều Ngự, Huyền Quang realized the supreme teaching so that they were capable of penetrating into the Realm of Amitābha and exposing the essentials of Dhyāna teaching, which is all that they have handed down. It is, therefore, quite natural that those of subsequent generations who can comprehend the principle of non-arising are all able to attain to Nirvāṇa and become Buddhas, Patriarchs.” As a consequence, it is due to his answering the topic in such a manner that Lê Ích Mộc was selected to be the honors graduate of that examination.

Thus the doctrine of the Trúc Lâm school became a major subject of the contemporary curriculum and actually received much concern from the kings of the Early Lê dynasty. Viewed from the aspect of the task of extending the southern boundary of the country, this is easily comprehensible. As has been said above, the Trúc Lâm school came into being mainly for the purpose of assisting and satisfying the requirements of the Emperor Nhân Tông’s policy of marching southward. Yet, as the increase of population was more and more necessarily demanded in the reign of Early Lê when the consecutive fighting expeditions, the culminating point of which was the boundary posts erected by the Emperor Lê Thánh Tông’s order on Mount Đá Bia in Phú Yên Province in the south of the Fatherland in 1470, were being launched, the thought of the Trúc Lâm school was again applied to the new policy of the nation, that is, an increase in population for the cultivation of the land just annexed to the country.

Accordingly, subsequent to the policy of the people’s great solidarity for the defense of the country, the thought of the Trúc Lâm school as a basis of the people’s common cause of marching southward was another contribution of the Emperor Nhân Tông to the history of thought in Vietnam. As has been said, the thought of this school originates from the Thảo Đường school founded by the Emperor Lý Thánh Tông. Hence, it may be said that the former is the succeeding, or rather, higher development of the latter, if not its embodiment. The single regret is that all the documents concerning the Thảo Đường school, with the exception of a single text listing the lineage of this school which is recorded at the end of the Thiền Uyển Tập Anh (Collected Prominent Figures of Dhyāna Garden), are lost. As a consequence, any discussions as to this school are for the most part speculations which are apt to produce some groundless and, sometimes, false comments.

In spite of this, with a glimpse at the list of Dhyāna masters pertaining to this school, from the first patriarch, namely, the Emperor Lý Thánh Tông to the last one called Imperial Assistant Phạm Đẳng, we can see that in each of its five consecutive generations there always exist some lay Dhyāna masters who are mostly the State’s officials, that is, kings and ministers. In some generations, lay masters are in the vast majority. For instance, the fifth generation consists of four masters, among whom three masters are the Emperor Lý Cao Tông, Nguyễn Thức and Phạm Đẳng. Thus, the most remarkable point of this list is that most of Dhyāna masters are laymen; that is to say, the Thảo Đường school is a secular one chiefly serving those who are living among the common people of the country.

Another point concerning this secular school is that its masters are mostly kings and imperial officials. Besides the emperors Lý Thánh Tông, Lý Anh Tông and Lý Cao Tông, the rest are recorded in full of their names and ranks, the highest of which is thái phó and the lowest is xướng nhi quản giáp, a position founded by Lý Thái Tổ’s order in 1025. Thus, suffice it to say that it is due to its own characteristic as that of a social class that the Thảo Đường school had to be transformed into the Trúc Lâm school because a Dhyāna school cannot survive unless it comes into the world not for the sake of any individual class of society. This may be all that has limited the attraction of the Thảo Đường school toward the masses. Once separated from the masses, it could by no means exist. Therefore, it is natural that in order to preserve its continuity it has to transform itself into a new school, that is, Trúc Lâm Yên Tử.

Generally considered, the Trúc Lâm school thus originates from the Thảo Đường school. Nevertheless, for its development to be achieved to the full, not only did the former adopt all the good of the past but it also had to muster all the strength of its present age. In the afore-said discourse dated the 9th of the 1st month of Bính Ngọ (1306), the Emperor Nhân Tông expressed his thanks to Vô Nhị Thượng Nhân and Tuệ Trung Thượng Sỹ that “the water of dharma-rains delivered by them has permeated through the subsequent generations.” Vô Nhị Thượng Nhân is none other than the Emperor Thánh Tông as revealed by the Thánh Đăng Ngữ Lục. And Tuệ Trung Thượng Sỹ is Tuệ Trung Trần Quốc Tung, who confirmed the Emperor Nhân Tông’s realization of Dhyāna teaching as in the latter’s statement recorded in the Thượng Sỹ Hành Trạng.

As being Nhân Tông’s father, the Emperor Trần Thánh Tông must have exercised some decisive influence upon the birth and growth of thought of the former. Thus, what is the Emperor Trần Thánh Tông’s thought? Again, the works of the Emperor Trần Thánh Tông such as the Văn Tập, the Thiền Tông Liễu Ngộ Ca, the Chí Giá Minh, the Phóng Ngư andthe Cừu Tập are lost. From the Thánh Đăng Ngữ Lục, the Việt Âm Thi Tập, the Toàn Việt Thi Lục, and so on, however, we can extract some remarks on his thought as follows:

First, in Trần Thánh Tông’s works is Li-kao’s thought of Dhyāna often found. The first verse of the former written down in the Thánh Đăng Ngữ Lục, for instance, reads:

For more than forty years my mind has escaped
Out of numerous gates of prisons.
In moving I am now like an empty cave full of violent wind;
In resting I am like a quiet lake in the bright moonlight.
This phrase with its five marvelous meanings has been mastered;
And that way with the ten words I have penetrated in.
Someone has asked me what new thing I could obtain:
The clouds in the blue sky and the water in the vessel.

Of it the last line in Chinese original is “雲 在 青 天 水 在 瓶”, which is originally one line of a quatrain written and dedicated by Li-kao (772-841) to Master Yao-shan Wei-yen (751-834):

練 得 身 形 似 鶴 形
千 株 松 下 兩 含 經
我 來 問 道 無 餘 説
雲 在 青 天 水 在 瓶

This proves that Trần Thánh Tông was deeply inspired by what Li-kao expressed in his verse. Concerning the latter, though he was a Buddhist layman, he wrote several accounts condemning the ordination of Buddhist monks, the building of great temples and the casting of big statues of Buddha for the reason that such affairs could not bring about any merits at all but the exhaustion of national resources. As to the ordination of Buddhist monks, he says: “Buddhist followers do not raise silk-worms but obtain abundant clothes; nor do they plow fields but gain a great deal of food and drinks; they live idly but are served by hundreds of thousands of people. Based upon these facts alone, it may be known that numerous people are cold and starving…” As to the building of temples and casting of statues, arguing that such works were more expensive than the building of the A-fang Palace, he put up the question: “Is it not dependent on the people’s resources that these affairs are being carried out?”

Such words by Li-kao as cited above may be found again in some comments by Lê Văn Hưu (1230-?) on the Emperor Lý Thái Tổ’s task of ordaining Buddhist monks and building temples, which is recorded by Ngô Sỹ Liên in the Complete History of Đại Việt:

For only two years since Lý Thái Tổ’s enthronement, though temples for both ancestors and spirits of land and grain were not yet built, he ordered [Buddhist] temples in the Routes to be rebuilt and more than a thousand people in the capital ordained as Buddhist monks. These cost the nation too much wealth and labor. Wealth does not rain from the Heaven; nor is labor granted by gods. So, is it not that all was taken from the people’s ‘blood and fat’? In thus doing, may it be called collecting merits? As a lord who is initiating an imperial career, one must lead an economical life for fear that the subsequent generations would follow a lazy and luxurious lifestyle. Yet, Thái Tổ left such a way of living that the succeeding generations could not be blamed at all for their own affairs of building excessively high stūpas, erecting carved marble pillars, casting statues of Buddha and building much more splendid temples than the King’s palace. Is it not for that reason that many of the common people hurt their own bodies, changed their clothing, abandoned their careers, renounced their relatives to become monks? As a consequence, more than half of the population were monks and temples were built everywhere across the country.

Reading Lê Văn Hưu’s comment, one often has the impression that this is a criticism of Buddhism, particularly Buddhism in the Lý dynasty, from the Confucianist standpoint. And, in reality, this is also a typical comment found in most of the books written about Lê Văn Hưu. Nevertheless, it is an utterly false comment which has proceeded from some premature research in the Buddhist ideology of the Trần period. Those who have read Li-kao’s works can see on the spot that both Lê Văn Hưu’s thought and his wording are extracted from the works of the former. Accordingly, in the Trần’s time there were at least two authors of our country who were deeply influenced by Li-kao’s ideology of Buddhism, that is, the Emperor Thánh Tông and Lê Văn Hưu, let alone his impact on a verse of Master Không Lộ (?-1119), which is usually known as the “Ngôn Hoài.”

It should be borne in mind that Lê Văn Hưu composed the Đại Việt Sử Ký (History of Đại Việt) by the order and direction of the Emperor Thánh Tông, as in the words of the Complete History of Đại Việt: “In the spring, the 1st month, of Nhâm Thìn (1272) Academic Scholar and Editor of National History Lê Văn Hưu, by the imperial order, finished compiling the History of Đại Việt, consisting of 30 volumes dealing with the time of the Emperor Triệu Vũ up to that of Lý Chiêu Hoàng. When the work was submitted to the King, he issued a decree of rewarding.” Thus, the History of Đại Việt is a formal history of the State of Đại Việt, or rather, the state ruled by the Emperor Trần Thánh Tông; that is to say, it has naturally to reflect the views and positions of the contemporary state. Therefore, we are not surprised at all at the fact that Li-kao’s thought and wording flourish within the works of Trần Thánh Tông and Lê Văn Hưu.

Naturally, it was not in the time of Trần Thánh Tông that the matter concerning so many temples built and so many monks ordained began to be dealt with as a serious problem that needed to be unraveled. Just by the end of the Lý period, that is, in the early years of the thirteenth century, Đàm Dĩ Mông set forth, in an extremely crude parlance, a proposal that Buddhist monks should be dismissed, which is recorded in the Đại Việt Sử Lược (An Abridged History of Đại Việt) as follows: “Today, the Buddhist clergy and their servants have covered more than half of the population. They gather in groups and associations, considering themselves to be so-called ‘masters’ and ‘disciples,’ living together and doing a lot of unwholesome things, such as openly eating meat and drinking wine just in the sacred places, committing sexual intercourse just in the Halls of Meditation and the pure institutes. [To belie their evils] they hide themselves by day and appear by night just like a pack of foxes or rats. It has become such a bad habit for them that their actions have spoiled not only the monastic living but also the secular one. This will become worse and worse unless it must be immediately prohibited.”

Just in his works, the Emperor Trần Thái Tông, too, mentions the situation that “though when going to the temple they have opportunity to approach the Buddha and sūtras, they never have a glance at them for a moment. In the shrine as well as in the Saṃgha’s dwelling-place they, girls and boys, gather only to flirt with each other, desiring sensuous pleasures without any concern about the sacred Dharma-Guardians or Dragon-Spirits, in the presence of whom they never bow themselves but only concentrate their mind on pleasures,” and “the sacred texts and commentaries are competitively obtained not only by lay people but also by monks. They attack each other, criticize the Elders, and scold even their parents. The ‘grass’ of patience has withered within them; the ‘fire’ of poison has flared up within them. Their words hurt things and animals; their utterances harm human beings, without any perception of loving-kindness and compassion, any observation of precepts and monastic rules. Though living behind the Gate of Śūnyatā, they fail to get an insight into the principle of selflessness.”

Such was the circumstance of Buddhist monks and their temples and monasteries under the reign of Trần Thái Tông. For that reason, in his Phổ Khuyến Phát Bồ Đề Tâm (An Open Exhortation of Arousing the Bodhi-Mind), he set forth the principle that “without asking about great or small capability [of realizing Buddhist teaching], dividing lay from monastic practitioners, or being concerned about monks or laymen, the point is in that one must get an insight into one’s mind. One should not attach oneself to forms of male and female because there is originally none such called ‘male’ or ‘female.’ Those who have no knowledge [of Buddhist teachings] divide the teachings into the three ones; yet, those who have been awakened can master only one and the same term ‘mind’.” It was from such a principle that Trần Thánh Tông and Lê Văn Hưu considered the task of building temples and stūpas to be “exploiting the ‘blood’ and ‘fat’ of the masses” and Buddhist monks only to be those “who hurt their bodies, changed their clothes, abandoned their careers, renounced their relatives.”

Grown up and trained in such a cultural tradition of his family, it was natural for the Emperor Nhân Tông that he had necessarily and urgently to set forth some solution for the benefit of both the people and Buddhism. And it was at this point that the role of Tuệ Trung Trần Quốc Tung became extremely crucial. In a passage written down about his experience of enlightenment through a dialogue between him and the former, his master, in 1287, the Emperor Nhân Tông posed a very normal and practical question that “How is it possible for those who have had the habit of eating meat and drinking wine not to be exerted by the effect of such unwholesome actions?” This is an actuality that we can meet not only in Đại Việt in the Emperor Nhân Tông’s time but further at any place and at any time on earth, as to which the solution from Tuệ Trung’s standpoint is very simple; that is, not to consider it a serious matter. For the actions of eating meat and drinking wine convey within themselves nothing so called ‘fault’ or ‘merit’, as in Tuệ Trung’s words:

Eating grass and eating meat,
That depends on beings’ consciousness.
All kinds of grass grow when spring comes.
What may be called faults and merits?

When composing the “Worldly Life with Joy in the Way” later, the Emperor Nhân Tông expressed again the same view in a much easier-to-understand manner:

How joyful it is,
A worldly life in accord with the Way!
Sleeping when tired, eating when hungry;
Stop seeking for treasure originally inherent.
As no mind arises in the presence of things,
Not any question on Dhyāna is required then.

Now it is evident from the Emperor’s view that Buddhism is Life, without any distinctions between them. For what does Buddhism mean if not merely a process in quest of the truth? And as being the truth, it surely does not lie within Buddhist teachings but right in the heart of living. In other words, just as what is graphically indicated in the Vajracchedikā-sūtra, which is regarded as the central text of Buddhism in the Trần dynasty, so the Buddhist teaching is essentially likened to a finger pointing to the moon or a raft carrying its practitioners to the other side of the river. In this connection, even the Buddhist teaching must be abandoned for any possible realization of its essential significance. Further, the text also emphasizes the thought of “all dharmas are buddha-dharmas.” Consequently, we should not be surprised at all at the Emperor Nhân Tông’s view as exposed in the “Worldly Life with Joy in the Way.”

The long verse composed by him about the idea that some pleasure in the Way of Dhyāna may be attained to just in worldly life is formally titled the “Worldly Life with Joy in the Way” and consists of ten short sections. In the bibliography written by An Thiền in the beginning of the 19th century and recorded in the Đạo Giáo Nguyên Lục, therefore, the verse is called “Trần Triều Thập Hội Lục” (Record of the “Ten Sections” in the Trần Dynasty). Just in the opening lines of the first section, the Emperor determines what the categories of life and way therein imply:

Though settling in the city,
The way of living I take is of forest and mountain.

Life is “city” and the Way is “forest and mountain.” Though living as a man amidst the busy city with numerous secular affairs undertaken, his way of treating everything remains as pure as that of forest and mountain. This point directly reflects the view of “without asking about great or small capability [of realizing Buddhist teaching], dividing lay from monastic practitioners” advanced by Trần Thái Tông. It has so far been rather popular for everyone to understand that by “great capability” it means that though settling in the midst of a city, a practitioner is still capable of keeping his mind pure; and by “small capability” it means that the practitioner has to settle in the mountains to discipline himself effectively. Thus, Buddhist followers in the Trần dynasty, depending upon their own social stations and their own capacity, demonstrate accordingly their way of living right in the midst of the world. As a consequence, for enlightenment to be attained to, they simply make their attempts at

Abandoning ideas of I-ness and Other-ness,
There appears  the true character of “diamond”;
Eliminating all greed and anger,
Then comes the marvelous nature of Perfect Enlightenment.

(Section 2)

Hence, it is quite obvious that there is no place for one’s efforts to get awakened other than where one is living. If the Emperor Thái Tông, while being on the throne, was once told by the National Teacher Phù Vân that “There is no Buddha in the mountains; Buddha is just within one’s mind; the mind that is pure and understanding is true Buddha,” then the Emperor Nhân Tông, when composing the “Worldly Life with Joy in the Way,” agreed that

The illuminating nature is not moved by wealth and desire,
Not because of settling on MountCánh Diều in Yên Tử;
The still mindfulness is not stirred by sound and sight,
Not due to sitting in the SạnTemple on MountĐông.

(Section 3)

Actually, it is not because one has practiced Buddhist teachings on Mount Cánh Diều in Yên Tử or in the Sạn Temple on Mount Đông that one may eventually get awakened. These places are at most where one may enjoy the beauty of nature to nurture spirit as what Huyền Quang expresses in his “A Depiction of the Vân Yên Temple”:

Sitting on the Vân Tiêu peak,
‘Riding’ on MountCánh Diều,
MountĐông looks like a mound of green gold,
And the EastSea like the mouth of an oyster.

Enlightenment is thus to be attained right in the world. It should not be sought for in the mountains. Nevertheless, the Emperor Nhân Tông did not go so far as to deny the benefit of a life there. For many times he himself spent his days in the wilderness such as Yên Tử, Vũ Lâm. In the “Song of the Realization of the Way” he describes that way of living as follows:

Content with life in poverty,
I have sought a place to train myself.
Secluded in the high mountains,
Hiding in the wilderness,
Where joyfully the gibbons
Make friends with me.
In deserted forests and mountains
I let go of mind and body.

Thus the most important thing is not where to live, in the mountains or in the city, but how to get awakened to the truth. We have seen that enlightenment may be attained at any place, particularly just in a life fraught with worldly affairs. It is in secular life that the merit of enlightenment is to be doubly prized. For a country in essence is a community where always exist various social duties and mutual responsibilities. No one can exist outside society. For that reason, the Emperor praises and appreciates efforts to attain enlightenment made just in such a life full of defilements and mutual relations, of which his personality is an typical example:

Achieved in the midst of the world,
That merit is increasingly admired;
An unsuccessful cultivation in the mountains
Is nothing but a vain attempt.

(Section 3)

In reality, the Emperor attained enlightenment in the busiest days of his life when he was urgently preparing for the war waged by Kublai Khan upon our country in the summer of 1287. Further, his enlightenment came right after his mother passed away. Among unfortunate changes and grim realities of life, however, the Emperor could be aware of the value of what is usually termed tranquility and insight in Buddhism, just as in his own words:

The ten thousand actions calmed and my being at ease;
Already for half a day I have let go of mind and body.

(Section 1)

Accordingly, as one reaches the state of “the ten thousand actions calmed,” one’s being then can be at all times found in calmness. Enlightenment is not separated from human beings and the Buddha exists just within everyone of us. Still in the Emperor’s words, if one leads a life of virtue, uprightness, and humaneness based upon disciplinary rules and generosity, one is a Buddha Śākyamuni, a Buddha Maitreya:

Cultivating humaneness and uprightness, accumulating virtues,
That is undoubtedly Śākya’s conducts;
Observing precepts, uprooting greed,
That is surely Maitreya’s personality.

(Section 4)

Thus it should not be thought that there are only the historical Buddha Śākyamuni and the future Buddha Maitreya. A Buddhist follower in the time of Nhân Tông is aware that he can live as these Buddhas if, besides humaneness, uprightness, and virtue, he is leading a simple life:

Whether robes and blankets are patched or tattered,
They help me survive the cold of winter.
Whether rice and gruel are plain or somewhat rotten,
They help me overcome everyday hunger.

(Section 5)

Reading these lines, we are reminded of the Emperor’s journey to Hải Đông for an urgent conference with Trần Hưng Đạo after the base of Nội Bàng was completely broken down by the enemy. He left the capital and traveled all day without any food until he was served a meal with rice of bad quality by a soldier named Trần Lai. The Vietnamese Buddhists, even though a king, have lived such simple lives. But they are always depicted as

Keeping nature-precepts pure, making form-precepts perfect,
To be, internally and externally, an Adorning Bodhisattva;
Righteously serving one’s lord, respectfully obeying one’s father,
That is a Great Man of loyalty and filial piety.

(Section 6)

Consequently, a Vietnamese Buddhist in the Trần dynasty represents the ideal of both an Adorning Bodhisattva and a Great Man of loyalty and filial piety. The former, of course, refers to a great category of Buddhism and the latter a great one of Confucianism. Nevertheless, reading up on Great Man as described in Confucianist texts, we may recognize the Emperor Nhân Tông’s contribution in this doctrinal aspect. In the second section of Chapter “T’êng Wen-kung,” for instance, Mencius formulates a Great Man to be the one who “cannot be blinded by wealth, changed by poverty, and overcome by authority.”

This ideal when compared with Nhân Tông’s definition of personality of a Vietnamese Buddhist, however, seems rather narrow and verbose. For, as being a man who has made a decision of “righteously serving his lord and respectfully obeying his father,” he is certainly no longer affected by wealth, poverty or authority. The content of the category of Great Man in the Emperor Nhân Tông’s thought, therefore, proves to be much more intrinsic, extensive and comprehensive. This may be considered to be a typical case where some Chinese terms that denote originally some conceptions of Confucianism convey quite a different meaning at our ancestors’ disposal. Formerly, we have attempted to analyze Nguyễn Trãi’s thought of humaneness and uprightness, which is often attributed by some Vietnamese researchers to Confucianism, and have come to quite different conclusions.

The ideal type of Vietnamese Buddhists, therefore, has been for the first time conceived within a highly practical content. Not only are they expected to be “keeping nature-precepts pure and making form-precepts perfect” to become Adorning Bodhisattvas, but also they have to make attempts at “righteously serving lord and respectfully obeying father” to become “Great Men of loyalty and filial piety.” This may be said to be an ideal personality not only of Vietnamese Buddhists but also of the Vietnamese people as a whole. In effect, it should not be forgotten that those who brought about the most glorious achievements for the nation in the Emperor Nhân Tông’s time were for the most part Buddhist adherents, from the supreme leaders in the central government such as Trần Hưng Đạo, Trần Quang Khải down to the villagers such as Lê Công Mạnh and his relatives. As being Adorning Bodhisattvas, they led an ideal way of living in which they incessantly made efforts of purifying their personality within the framework of disciplinary rules. On the other hand, as being great men of loyalty and piety, they did not fail to fulfill their duties to their Fatherland, their ancestors and their own families:

Remembering Saints’ gratitude, loving parents,
Respecting Masters, studying the Teaching,
Admiring the Gautama, refraining from ‘the sweet,’
Observing precepts, becoming vegetarians.

(Section 7)

In accord with such a guiding principle of living, they were always willing to act for the welfare of society:

Making bridges and ferries, building temples and stūpas,
That is the cultivation of the teaching on external ornamentation;
Aspiring after sympathy-equanimity, versed in pity-compassion,
That is the mastering of the sūtra on internal tranquility.

(Section 8)

After the two wars imposed by the enemy upon our people in 1285 and 1288, a great number of infrastructures in our country, especially the system of bridges and ferries, were mostly destroyed due to strategic requirements of our Army as well as merciless destruction by the enemy. In his mission to our country in the year Nhâm Thìn (1292), however, the Assistant-Messenger Ch’en-fu, watching the bridges across the splendid river in the capital Thăng Long, could not help expressing his surprise: “sixty miles far from the House of Messengers is the An Hóa Bridge, a mile from which is the Thanh Hóa Bridge. On this bridge is a house of nineteen apartments,” as has been said before. The entire country of Đại Việt was thus an immense construction site after war, where the people labored earnestly to reconstruct their country after many miserable years of war and losses.

It was the image of such enthusiastically laboring people that touched the eyes of the country’s leader and made strong impressions on his mind. For that reason, when composing the“Worldly Life with Joy in the Way” he did not forget to mention the building of bridges and ferries, the restoration of temples and stūpas for the purpose of making the country more and more beautiful, which has since then been regarded as an indispensable duty of Vietnamese Buddhists to their Fatherland. It was thanks to such valuable tradition that the Vietnamese Fatherland, after the terrible aftermath of war, did become a Buddha-land, which the honors graduate Huyền Quang Lý Tải Đạo expressed in the verse “A Depiction of the Vân Yên Temple”:

How magnificent it is,
Not less splendid than the Buddha-land in the West;
And no part in the South can be compared with it.
The VulturePeakMountain, who has brought it here?
The scenery of Fei-lai, why does it appear, too?
How free it is to enter the realm of Saints,
How pleasant it is to get rid of secular mind.

Such was the sight of the Vietnamese country at the time. Consequently, the people were ready to sacrifice their lives to protect it and reconstruct it to be a Buddha-land for themselves as well as for their subsequent generations. Even though the Vietnamese Buddhists might consider the construction of temples to be “exploiting the ‘blood and fat’ of the people,” they were not so partial to deny or oppose such a spiritual achievement. In all probability the Vietnamese Buddhists’ leaders of the time could recognize Buddhist temples as a spiritual foundation for maintaining and consolidating the existence of the country. For instance, Phạm Sư Mạnh, an excellent student of Chu Văn An (1292-1371), wrote about the Báo Thiên Stūpa in the following lines:

To protect the imperial capital from the East and West
Is the soaring top of the magnificent stūpa.
Like a column supporting the sky, it keeps the country safe
Like a club erected on the ground, it survives the wear of time.

And nearly two hundred years later, the Emperor Lê Thánh Tông depicted the Trấn Quốc Temple in the same line of thought:

Standing between Heaven and Earth,
It helps consolidate the Imperial Capital.
With the reputation widely known throughout the country
The TrấnQuốcTemple in Tây Hồ is.

Accordingly, the Emperor Nhân Tông still called for everyone not only to “make bridges and ferries” but further to “build temples and stūpas,” and appreciated the role of Buddhist temples in cultural and social life of the people, as in his own words:

Deserted mountains and wild forests
Are where hermits lead their free living;
Secluded pagodas and tranquil temples
Are where ascetics spend their days of non-action.

Indeed, whatever happened, a temple in a certain autumn evening may have evoked within them some inexpressible sensations, which the Emperor Nhân Tông himself ever experienced:

The old temple looks gloomy in the autumn mist.
A fishing boat is floating slowly in the first sounds of the evening bell.
Over the clear water and quiet mountains the white sea-gulls are flying.
The wind subsides, the clouds are moving leisurely over a few trees of red leaves.

Nevertheless, though making bridges and ferries, building temples and stūpas, the Vietnamese Buddhists in the reign of the Emperor Nhân Tông did not forget their major task of seeking after enlightenment just in their secular lives:

To attain Buddhahood,
It would take much effort to discipline mind;
To seek for gold,
It would take much time to filter sand.

There are, however, many ways for Buddhist followers to attain enlightenment. They may follow Master Nan-ch’üan P’u-yüan’s way of cutting down the cat, Tzu-hu Li-tsung’s warning of his dog, and so on.

Old Wang’s cutting down the cat,

Master Hu’s warning of the dog,
Instructing …

(Section 9)

And there are many other ways of getting enlightened that the Emperor Nhân Tông presents in the ninth section of the “Worldly Life with Joy in the Way,” from Bodhidharma’s time when he met the Emperor Wu of the Liang dynasty to Dhyāna Master Ling-yün Chih-ch’in who attained enlightenment at the sight of blossoming cherries, and Great Master Hsiang-yen who understood his “original face” at the sound of a pebble striking the bamboo while he was sweeping the ground. However manifold ways or methods of attaining enlightenment might be, they are not so greatly different from each other. For the truth realized in the enlightenment is in essence identical:

It is thus widely known
That, though the patriarchs’ teachings
Are different in many other ways,
They are indeed relatively similar.

(Section 9)

According to the Emperor Nhân Tông, such a worldly life with joy in the Way is a life of Dhyāna in which various ways may be applied to the attainment of enlightenment without being restricted to any fixed practice. Various alternatives thus open up for a practitioner of Dhyāna which may be optionally employed according to his own capacity and circumstance. Yet, what would be attained to at the end of the way is surely the same, that is, the enlightenment realized just in his everyday living whether he experiences it in the mountains or in a city full of secular defilements:

Śūnyatā is once realized;
Life then is in accord with original nature.
Otherwise, that is not because of the Patriarchs’ instructions
But because of our clinging mind.
For those adherents of smaller vehicle who fail to realize the ultinate truth,
The Buddha invented a temporary city in place of the Precious Abode.
But those with high capacity of realizing the truth
Can attain enlightenment whether in the city or in the mountains.

(Section 10)

The reason why there have existed so many different ways of Dhyāna is that each practitioner possesses his own capacities though the truth is always the same. If one cannot yet get awakened, that is because one has not exhausted one’s total mental and physical efforts of cultivating the way, not because the way the Buddhas and the Patriarchs have instructed is not practicable. Just like his preceding Dhyāna masters, the Emperor Nhân Tông was deeply aware of the fact that it is not easy to get awakened to the essentials of Dhyāna. Accordingly, in the “Song of the Realization of the Way” he mentioned the state in which

Regarding the students of the Way,
Though there are a great number of them,
It is factually rare for a bamboo
To be turned into a dragon.

This fact is not surprising at all. A Chinese Ch’an master, Yung-ming Yen-shou (904-975), ever said that in cultivating the way of Dhyāna “of ten thousand practitioners only one is successful.” So did the Emperor Nhân Tông himself see that though there were always a great number of practitioners of Dhyāna, only one or two of them could get enlightened. The reason for such a state is pointed out in the “Song of the Realization of the Way”:

Owing to their beclouded mind,
North is mistaken for South.

In such an illustration as by the Emperor Nhân Tông, it sounds just like an answer given by Pháp Minh to the Emperor Lý Miễu’s question nearly a thousand years earlier than Nhân Tông’s time: “occupying oneself with wrong-doing that is expected to be righteous, attaching oneself to the false in the hope of its being the true; in such a state of confusion and hesitation, even though the Buddha would project light that can shake the earth, who can see it?” Obviously, the phrase “owing to their beclouded mind” in the Emperor Nhân Tông’s presentation is the very “state of confusion and hesitation” of those who would like to see the Buddha in the time of Lý Miễu. Once, one is trapped in such a state, it certainly follows that one will be “occupying oneself with wrong-doing that is expected to be righteous, attaching oneself to the false in the hope of its being the true,” or will go northward in stead of southward as having been instructed. In such confused states, to get awakened for a practitioner of Dhyāna remains merely an illusion.

Nevertheless, after enlightenment has been attained to, there would not be any distinction between mountain and city, the Way and the world, a quiet life in the mountains and a busy one in the city. Such is the thought of “Worldly Life with Joy in the Way.” It was created for the purpose of meeting the requirement of reasoning in a new phase of Buddhism when the Vietnamese Buddhists had to accomplish their duties to the country and simultaneously had to supply Buddhism with new energy by making use of its teaching in their fulfillment of national tasks, which was successfully proved and gloriously typified by the personality of the Emperor Nhân Tông.

As we have seen above, having been ordained a Buddhist monk, who was spontaneously content with “wearing kṣaya, sitting behind the paper curtain” and “a pot of egg-fruit, a jar of soy” on Mount Yên Tử, the Emperor never detached himself from national affairs, particularly those concerning Champa. As a consequence, the two districts Ô and Lý became a part of Đại Việt’s territory in this period. It must be said that this is a remarkable achievement in the Emperor Nhân Tông’s life as a Buddhist monk. Never before in the history of our country as well as of other countries has a Buddhist monk been capable of extending his country’s boundary, which was particularly carried out extremely peacefully. According to the disciplinary rules for an ordinary Buddhist living in a monastery, it is generally regulated that he who has led a monastic life must not act as a counselor of marriage. Yet, it was the Great Ascetic Hương Vân who did so and fulfilled it with great success. As a matter of fact, Buddhism in Vietnam, particularly Dhyāna Buddhism, has its own disciplinary rules that are called “Regulations of the Meditation Hall,” as in the title of a work by Master Minh Giác Kỳ Phương (1682-1744), and, for the most part, not related to the ordinary set of rules of other traditions of Buddhism.

Another particular point concerning the Emperor’s act just mentioned is that after his return to Đại Việt from Champa, he encountered a lot of opposition from most of imperial officials, especially from the intellectual circles. Many compositions in verse and prose were made by them to laugh over the Great Ascetic Hương Vân’s action of having his noble and pretty daughter married to a king of Champa who, in their opinion, was merely a barbarian man of inferiority. And such a discriminatory view went on to be held to more than a hundred years later by another intellectual, namely, Ngô Sỹ Liên in his comment on the event in question:

In the old days, to solve the barbarians’ repeated havocs on the borderland the Emperor Kao of the Han dynasty adopted a girl of a common family and married her to Ch’an-wu. Though the marriage to people of another race had ever been laughed over by the preceding Confucians, [the Emperor Kao’s action] might be sympathized with because it was aimed at concluding war and bringing about peace for the people. It was for the same reason that when Hu-han, going for audience at the court of the Han House, had the desire to be a son-in-law of the Emperor Yuan, the latter was content to marry his daughter Wang-hsiang to him. As to Nhân Tông, what did he mean when having his daughter married to the Lord of Champa? If saying that because he did not want to be blamed for breaking his promise that had been made by chance in a journey [to Champa], why did he not have the matter changed? The fact that he handed over the Heavenly Throne to the King [Anh Tông] after entering the monastery could make it possible for the latter to withdraw the promise easily. But why did the Emperor Nhân Tông still keep the promise, instead? If he first had his daughter married to a man of another race and then managed to bring her back again, is it possible for him to be regarded as keeping his promise?

In fact, without such a profound comprehension of Buddhist thought as the Emperor Nhân Tông’s, one may hardly have a view of equanimity as to human beings. Since Mâu Tử’s time, the concept that Buddha-nature is inherent in every sentient being has been grasped by the Vietnamese Buddhists to reject the idea of discrimination maintained by the Great Han and thus the subsequent view falsely held by the circle of Confucians that our Vietnamese people are of barbarian race and their Han people are of Hua-hsia race. Right in the comment by Ngô Sỹ Liên just cited sounds more or less something of such a view of discrimination from the Chinese intellectuals. It is, however, very fortunate for our country that some leaders of our people at that time, who were deeply interested in the thought of indiscrimination in Buddhist teachings such as Văn Túc Vương Trần Đạo Tải and Trần Khắc Chung, were wise enough to side with the Emperor Nhân Tông in his decision of such a political marriage. Eventually, Princess Huyền Trân went to her husband’s home and thereupon the people of Đại Việt possessed further a strip of land of more than two hundred kilometers without costing an arrow or a soldier’s life.

The ideology of the Trúc Lâm school founded by the Emperor Nhân Tông thus helped solve a series of issues posed for Buddhism in Vietnam of the time and thereby could meet some requirements that had not been able to be satisfied before by our people. We have seen that it is not by chance that the thought of “Worldly Life with Joy in the Way” has been set forth and its content established. Once more, it is obviously evidenced that such an ideology factually proceeds from the actualities of Đại Việt and aims at solving the problems caused by such actualities.

Above, we have mentioned only a number of fundamental problems within the range of current historical materials. We have not dealt with some specific points of Dhyāna teaching such as the principle of rūpa-śūnyatā that was elucidated through a long verse by the Emperor Nhân Tông in his discourse at the Sùng Nghiêm Temple in the late winter of Giáp Thìn (1304). Naturally, this principle was after all spoken of by the Emperor Nhân Tông as something “such-and-such”; that is to say, every practitioner has to get some insight into it by himself through the instructions of his master. Such an experience, as what the Emperor Nhân Tông exposed in the “Worldly Life with Joy in the Way,” may be attained to by the “adherents of superior capacity in realization” only. However, the most noteworthy point that needs to be emphasized here is that in the lineage of the Trúc Lâm school a practitioner of such capacity as mentioned above does not necessarily pertain to the circle of the state’s officials but he may be in any of various stations of society of the time.

Thus, after Nhân Tông’s time Buddhism in Vietnam has developed in the course of what is presented in the “Worldly Life with Joy in the Way.” The Buddhist teaching was no longer exclusively left for any single part of society no matter how excellent and superior it may be conventionally considered to be. Buddhism has spread widely among various classes of the masses, just as what was written by Lê Quát in a tablet inscription at the Thiệu Phúc Temple of the Bái Village in Route Bắc Giang in 1270, which was later recorded by Ngô Sỹ Liên in the Complete History of Đại Việt:

The Buddhist followers set forth the doctrine of misfortune-and-fortune to transform the people’s minds, which is firmly hold to by the subsequent generations. From the nobles down to the common people, they never show any shadow of regret about devoting their wealth to Buddhist affairs. If they have an opportunity at present to make offerings to temples and stūpas, they all feel greatly pleased. For they know that from such good deeds they can enjoy their fruits in the future. For that reason, from the Capital to districts and provinces, even in remote hamlets and villages, the people follow [Buddhism] without any need of being persuaded in advance and arouse their belief [in Buddhism] without any need of taking an oath. Wherever the people inhabit, they build a temple that is always restored when ruined, rebuilt when destroyed. The pavilions and towers of bells and drums number as many as a half of the population. Buddhism flourishes so favorably and is held in the highest esteem by the people. As a boy, I ever read the [Confucian] Saints’ sayings, understood them and thereby had much opportunity to apply them to the cultivation of the common people but I have never been able to encourage an entire village to follow the Saints’ teaching. Though I have ever wandered in the mountains and across the rivers and my footsteps have been pressed on almost half of the country’s land, I have never found anything called “the Temple of [Confucianist] Literature” built by local inhabitants. Whereby I myself feel so shameful that the present writing comes as a genuine presentation of my heart.

No doubt, the flourishing state of Buddhism until the end of the fourteenth century when the Trần House began to decline took its root in the ideology of the “Worldly Life with Joy in the Way.” Buddhism was not attributed exclusively to its monastic adherents or any of the noble classes and the state’s officials. Buddhism is for every human being. Wherever the people are, there is a Buddhist temple built. And this prosperity has received no less influential contributions from the Emperor Nhân Tông and the doctrine of the Dhyāna school founded by himself. Such is the truth that has been proved through so many stone inscriptions. Nevertheless, some people keep on maintaining that Buddhism could have declined by the end of the Trần dynasty, particularly that after Master Huyền Quang’s death (1254-1334) the “flourishing period [of Buddhism] came to an end.”

In effect, not only did Dhyāna Buddhism of Trúc Lâm refuse to come to its end but it also developed so well as to prepare itself for the undertaking of new tasks related to the country and Buddhism that the history entrusted to it. That is to say, taking advantage of some turmoil in our country of the time the Ming of China carried out again their plot of invading our country. In face of such brutal and barbarian invaders, our people as a whole, from the Buddhist monks like Phạm Ngọc, etc., to the Buddhist laymen like Trần Trùng Quang, Lê Lợi, Nguyễn Trãi, etc., rose up to drive away the enemy with their glorious achievements in the battles of Chi Lăng, Xương Giang, which brought about the independence for the Fatherland and the birth of the Lê dynasty. Undoubtedly, Buddhism of the Trúc Lâm Yên Tử school went on with its mission of serving the Buddha’s teaching and the people of the reigns that followed through the outstanding characters of history such as Master Đạo Khiêm(?-1445), Master Viên Thái (1400-1460), the Highest Graduate Lê Ích Mộc (1459-?), Master Pháp Tính (1470-1550?), Master Thọ Tiên Diễn Khánh (1550-1620?), Master Chân An Tuệ Tĩnh (?-1711), Master Chân Nguyên Tuệ Đăng (1648-1726) and particularly Master Hải Lượng Ngô Thời Nhiệm (1746-1803). And this will be the subject of another study.


Quân Sử Việt Nam (TOP)