Tuệ Sỹ




The movements that will be dealt with in the following imply both literal and figurative senses. Literally, they are real mass movements, even if taken in political meanings. They were started by Định Không (?-686), to say the least, as recorded in the Thien uyen tap anh 禪苑集英文 (The Collection of the Eminents from the Dhyana Garden – abbr. TUTA). Figuratively they are stages of developing the distinctive character of Vietnamese Buddhism. When compared to Chinese Buddhism’s activities, they would show us much more of a factor to come to a conclusion. For, especially from the aspects of practice and realization, Zen Masters are recognized to have eventually created a peculiar way obviously different from the Chinese.

Those movements could have been carried out only thanks to two factors. In the first place, communication was opened wide among Asian countries under the Tang. Secondly, measures taken by the Tang Emperors as to watch over activities of Buddhist clerical community had had some direct or indirect influence on activities of Buddhism in Vietnam. Owing to these measures, since the Ly dynasties onwards, in Vietnam there existed a regulation of monastic activities of which the most part has been taken after the above-mentioned measures.


Let us now mention the first, that is, the communication opened wide among Asian countries.

Up to the Tang epoch there existed at least three roads for the relation between China and India, according to biographies of pilgrim monks. The first was by land, passing through the Western Regions of China, i.e., the Central Asia. Monks from India to China or in the opposite direction mostly followed this road. The goal is either China or India. There existed, however, the longer itineraries. Jue-xian 覺賢 (Buddhabhadra), translator of an Avatamsaka- sūtra (398-421), the essential of Hua-yanSchool, is an instance. On the West, he from India passed over the Pamir, but then went back and took the sea-route. He moored in Giao-chi, and then, seemed to make use of the sea-route to land on China. Another instance is Fa-xian法顯, a pilgrim before Yuan-Zhang玄奘, and very renowned. He had taken off since 399AD, following the Dun-huang route, crossing the desert, and finally dropped in Afganistan. It took him six years to reach the Central India. He later again took the sea route, passing by the Lion Island (Simha-dvipa, Sri Lanka today), finally reached Qingdao (Shandong today) by the year of Fire Dragon, the second year of Yixi Era (416 AC), under the Andi Dynasty of the Jin House晉安帝. Such journeys brought about a considerably large knowledge of geography forming what we can give the name as “The Asian Buddhist World.”

The second itinerary was running from Yunnan to India by the way through Burma. About this route, Yijing ’ s Tang Biographies of the Pilgrims to the West 大唐西域求法高僧傳, in the biography of Huilun, [1] records a Chinese temple about 40 yi distant from Nalanda along the lower reaches of the Ganga River built, according to tradition, by King Sri-Gupta in dedication to Tang monks the number of which by then was about 20. They had set off from Shuquan蜀川, following the Yanghua route. A note in the book writes: “From Shuquan to this temple (i.e., the Chinese) is about over 500 yi or post stations.”[2]

About the activities in the Yunnan Region, Zi zhi tong jian 資治通鑑 {The Universal Mirror for Rulership) records, under the Dynasty of Tang Dezong, in the seventh year of the Zhenyuan Era (791 AD), the King of Yunnan was appointed to be the King of Nan-zhao.The same work records that, in the second year of the same era (795 AD), Nan-zhao invaded Turfan, Tibet today. Later activities show Nan-zhao was getting stronger and stronger in the course of time. On the south, they many times launched attacks against An-nam, and the Tang had repeatedly to send relief troupes to raise the siege, but the intention would fail. Until under the Dynasty of Tang Xi-zong, the first year of the Qian-fu Era (874 AD), Gao-pian came to decapitate the King of Nanzhao. Originally, Nanzhao belonged to the White Thai clan who had settled down in the Yunnan Region.

The third route was by water, operating mostly between the seventh and eighth centuries. Yi-jing’s Pilgrimages to the West records the biographies of fifty-six monks of which the great part followed the water route. We have seen from the number Tran Van Giap quoted twelve persons who had ever dropped in Giao-chi. The route consists of three starting points: 1) from Guang-zhou; 2) from Annam; 3) from Qingdao. They regularly pulled in to He-ling (Java), LionIsland, and then landed on India.

As the communication was opened wider, foreigners who came to reside in the China of Tang Dynasties, compared to other dynasties, are to be counted the most abundant. Nevertheless, the invasion of these ethnic clans caused much apprehension that Zi zhi tong jian ascribes to the barbarization of the Tang. That means traditional customs were rather imbued with the colours of barbarous tribes.

There are three factors that made the Tang Emperors show less racial discrimination than other dynasties. In the first place, Empror Tai-zong太宗’s mother is of Dou竇 family whose ancestors are considered belonging to the Hu clan. In the second place is the“Hu soldiers” policy. Hu barbarians were to the most part the bellicose ethnic. In the first years of his pioneering work, Emperor Gao-zu of the Tang 唐高祖 owed much to their assistance. Accordingly, as early as in the second year of the Wude Era (619 AD) of Tang Gao zu, twos years after the foundation of the Tang, a certain Hu was made General. Since then onwards up to the third year of the Qianlong Era of the Song Dynasty (962 AD), during nearly over three hundred years of the Tang, there had been seventy-two Hu barbarians promoted to the rank of Genaral. On the other hand, from the year Tian-bao (747 AD) up to Tang Zhao-zong 唐昭宗 (867 AD), passing by eleven Emperors, the Tang had had 85 Hus appointed as Governors. In addition from the first year of Wude (618) until the third year of Tianfu (903), there had been twenty-three Hus to be appointed as Prime Minister.

The third factor is perhaps of the most humanism. For the Tang dynasty is the period when the relationship between China and India on the field of thought came up to a high level. Had Buddhism succeeded not in developing a humanist attitude, it had not for sure have room to operate in China. As a result, even before the Tang, monks had motivated the humanist standpoint to justify the presence of Buddhism. The Chronological Record of the Buddha and Patriarchs 佛祖統紀, book 54, [3]  recorded, in the second year of Jian-de (572), Emperor Wudi of the Zhou周武帝cracked down the policy of suppressing Buddhism. At that time, Dharma Master Hui-yuan慧遠 led the monks’ resistance. The Emperor justified his policy with three arguments, among which the second states that Buddhist scriptures are from the foreign, deserved to be get rid of. Hui-yuan retorted that Kong-zi 孔子being of Lu魯 origin was, with regard to Qin and Jin, a foreigner too; accordingly his teachings should have not been admitted. The Emperor replied, the countries of Lu, Qin, and Jin, although being geographically different from each other, were influenced with a single imperial civilisation, so the admission is justifiable. Hui-yuan opposed, if being so, both China and India share with each other the same Jambudvipa; that means both are on the same earth. Naturally they would have got through the same civilisation. It is impartial to second either of them. The justification is obviously humanistic, differs not from Kong-zi ‘s point of view in saying that why it is not to say a man has lost his bow and another man has fetched a bow, instead of saying a Chu citizen lost a bow and a another Chu citizen fetched a one. Later, Tang Wu-zong唐武宗, in the fifth year of the Huichang Era (854) issued the order of eliminating Buddhism, sending monks and nuns back to the worldly life. Next year he passed away. Xuanzong 宣宗 succeeded the throne, revoked the banning Buddhism order. The event is recorded by The Universal Mirror of the Sakya leneage 釋氏通鑑[4]  together with the eulogy of the Ancient History 古史, to say in brief: “The idea of destroying religion has not taken Qin Shuihuang’s as an example; only because of listening to the heresy’ s instigation to reject foreign religion. Besides, the religion introduced from India for more than thousand years has so far become part of the traditional customs deeply rooted in the people’s mind. For all that, it is merely to make oneself laughing stock of average people by destroying holy images, throwing scriptures into fire, starting a feud with worshipers. Tang Wuzong ‘s policy cannot be considered wise.” As such, the humanistic argument has become the sociological argument. The development of Buddhism so far is to be said to have passed a very long distance. It is thanks to the Buddhist viewpoint as a humanistic doctrine that Chinese Buddhism has favorably exerted some influence on Vietnamese Buddhism, even to some extend on the latter’ s establishment of activity. As a result, the humanistic spirit of Buddhism has been spreading by means of the extended communication. This spirit would be the impetus behind the development of the self-determination consciousness.

Now let us deal with the second factor, that is, the measures the Tang dynasties were cracking down on Buddhism.

Since having been introduced into China till the Sui House, Buddhism had got for his own a rich literature. New schools, fit for Chinese traditional spirit, started taking shape.

Gaozu of the Sui隋高祖 was a pious emperor. Just following the summarizing up of The Universal Mirror of the Sakya Leneage釋氏通鑑 [5]  and the General Commentaries on Longxing Chronology佛教編年通論(book 9)[6] , it is made known that under Sui Gaozu ‘s reign three ten thousand monks and nuns had been given the full ordination; five thousand temples and monasteries had been erected. By that time, there were twenty-four translators of Buddhist Scriptures. Among these translators Tì-ni-da-luu-chi毗尼多流支 (Vinitaruci) is recorded in by Universal Mirror.[7]  It is recorded that, by the second year of Kai-huang, under the reign of Sui Gaozu, in the first lunar month, the Emperor summoned Vinitaruci (translated in Chinese as Mie-xi滅喜, Extinguishing Joy), together with Dharmaprajña達摩般若, to do translation. Next month, the second of lunar month, Vinitaruci finished his translation of Sūtra in The Elephant Head Monastery 象頭精舍經,[8]  and Dharmaprajña his of Sūtra on The Variety of Karma rewards 業報差別經.[9]

Sui Gaozu’s activities were not limited in China. They were extended to the countries under Chinese Dominion such as Gaoli (Korea today) and Vietnam. The fact is confirmed by TUTA through Thong Bien’s quotation. According to Thong bien通辯 (_1134), Sui Gaozu once talked to Dharma Master Tantien曇天: “I am thinking of the compassionate teachings of Lord Buddha yet I don’t know what to do to repay. I think myself unworthy of reigning over the people, so I have done my best to spread and support the Three Gems, having all the holy relics collected to worship in the forty-nine pagodas build up in the whole country, so that the world may have a place to take refuge in. Besides 150 pagodas I want in addition to have more built in Giao-chi交趾 (Jiaozhi) countries too… wishing sentient beings all to attain the Enlightenment.” These words are not found in the biography of Tantien as recorded in The Sequel to the Stories of Eminent Monks 續高僧傳by Daoxuan稻宣.[10]  Yet they are not at all unreliable. First of all, the chronological histories of Buddhism in China such as The Universal Mirror to the Sakya Lineage釋氏通鑑[11] , The General Record of the Buddha and Patriarchs through Generations佛祖曆代通載,[12] … all have this fact in their record. According to it, in the first year of the Renshu Era (601), on the sixth lunar month, Emperor Sui Gaozu issued an imperial edict stating that: “I pay homage to the Enlightened One, the Infinitely Compassionate and Merciful Saviour of sentient beings, the One who makes himself bridge and shore for humble people. I have taken refuge in the Three Gems, promoting further the Holy Teachings. By means of which I have, together with people from four oceans, accumulated meritorious deeds as forever-good cause for acquiring the wonderful fruit. It is recommendable to invite thirty sramanas who are well versed in interpreting the essence of things, capable of preaching the Law. Each would bring with two attendants and an ex- office mandarin, a hundred and twenty jins of frankincense. They would take various directions to carry relics to thirty prefectures to build pagodas…” Compared to the quotation of Thong Bien in TUTA as mentioned above, though some differences are found in term of phraseology, yet both are the same in general. According to this, the Emperor had pagodas for worshipping Buddha’ s relics built in thirty prefectures. Each prefecture chose a sramana who was well versed in Buddhist doctrine, capable of undertaking preachment. A sramana was allowed to bring with two attendants and an ex office mandarin. The whole text of the imperial edict is collected into Daoxuan道宣’ s A Large Collection of the Expansion of Light 廣弘明集[13]  Included in this original text is found a list of thirty prefectures in which Jiaozhou (Giao chau) is ranked as the 28th. Other prefectures are to the most part recorded with the place where pagoda was to be erected. Some others, Giao chau included, are not found registered with it. But in a memory of Wangchao王邵 of the Sui Dynasty on The Marvels of Relics 記, also collected by Daoxuan, one can find the registration of the place where the pagoda was built in Giao chau (Jiaozhou) is Thien chung禪眾寺. [14]  TUTA, however, has it located at Phap van Temple法雲寺 (Fayun ji). Phap van temple was situated at Long bien (Bac ninh province) where Vinitaruci was dwelling during his staying in Vietnam to spread the teaching of Thien (Zen). Thien chung temple, on the other hand, is the one of Dich bang village, Thien duc prefecture, Bac ninh Province, which is the native locality of Vạn Hạnh萬行 and Ly Cong Uan李公蘊.

Sui Gaozu was reigning for 24 years (586-617). It took him ten early years to settle the remainder of the territory still under the control of the Chen. Moreover, he had in the South to conquer Giao chi (Jiaozhi), Chiem thanh (Champa). He nevertheless devoted the great part of his activities to Buddhism without a cease. Even Luu Phuong劉方 (Luifang),[15]  appointed as Generalissimo of  the expedient forces to conquer the Champ between 603-605, was at the same time charged with conveying trunks of relics for Giao chau to erect stupas to worship as mentioned above. Viet nam though being too remote, separated by boundaries, was counted among thirty prefectures of the Sui , submitted to the direct control under the Sui ‘s policy in all aspects. Being so, the measures that the Tang later set to the ecclesiastical institution cannot be considered as having no influence on Buddhism in Vietnam. However, the fact is that no trace of such influence on the Vietnamese ecclesiology of this period can be found in any available documents. It is until the dynasties of Ly and Tran that the Vietnamese ecclesiastical institution began to take shape after the Tang ‘s, not to say thoroughly. Though it is known to us already that under Lê Đại Hành黎大行 ‘s reign, the ecclesiastic hierarchy was established, but it does not seem so strict as later.

Generally speaking, during 38 years of the Sui, though the span of time was too short, there were left to the Tang several aftermaths. The first to be mentioned is that Sui Gaozu ‘s policy of supporting Buddhism now turned out to be a menace for the Tang. A case shown below is enough to evidence for. The case is recorded in The Sangha History僧史略[16] and The Universal Mirror of the Sakya Lineage釋氏通鑑[17]  takes down again after it. The account has it that in the fourth year of Kaihuang (548), Sui Gaozu treated Vinaya Master Lingzang so respectfully that he allowed the latter to get in the imperial palace at will, to be highly regarded the same as the Emperor, to share with him a seat, to go with him on the same imperial carriage. At the first sight, this shows no particularity. However, had it been carried on, monks would have become an element of defying the imperial orders, looking light the imperial law. They do not, of course, look light the imperial law in the same way brigands do, but it is because of their philosophy of life that underrates social positions and fame. Different in significance but likely in activity, therefore, charging it with activities of disobeying the Royal Court, as justified by Fuyi, head of historiographers of Tang Gaozu, is not totally unreasonable. The advocacy “Sramanas are unbound to show respect to the nobility” is a historical phenomenon of Chinese Buddhism. Let us note down some instances recorded in the General Record of the Buddha and Patriarchs佛祖統紀[18] under the item “Excuse for not bowing down before Monarch and Parents.”[19]

Jin Chengdi晉成帝, the sixth year of Xiankang (340), Premier Yubing庾氷  moved to compel sramanas to prostrate themselves before the noble. Nevertheless, Minister Hechong opposed it. The General Survey of Longxing’ s Chronology編年通論 (Book 2)[20]  gives an account of the matter in full details of both parts’ controversy. Particularly the part that advocated sramanas are bound to prostrate themselves before the noble justified its standpoint in that It is yet unknown if the Buddha exists, but sure enough Buddhism is a foreign custom, for all that now people in the country follow it, to the extend that they change their form, alter their appearance, overlook the traditional code. Their talent is not better than an ordinary man but they dress up pretentiously with arrogance, consider themselves as equal to the monarch. That cannot be admitted.

Under the reign of Jin Andi, in the first year of theYuanxing Era, Premier Wanxuan桓玄(General Commentary on Long xing Chronology編年通論has it as Wanyuan桓元)[21]  moved to order sramanas to bow down before the noble. According to Longxing, this Wanyuan resumed from Yubing, and he had it that even Laozi老子 was ranked no higher than a duke or a marquis. That the sramans were granted favor of the Emperor yet they did not pay respect to himis unacceptable. On account of this, Huiyuan慧遠 wrote the Essay on Sramanas’ being unbound to bow down before the Noble 沙門不敬王者論[22] , composed of five chapters, for he saw this is the cause to corrupt the quality of Buddhism.

Song Xiaowu宋孝武 (the year yet unknown, 454-464), stated sramanas were obliged to pay homage to the Monarch, but his successor, the First Dethroned Emperor宋廢帝 (645), abolished it .

Sui Yangdi隋煬帝, the fifth year of the Daye Era (609), wanted that when Toist or Buddhist monks had anything to report to the Emperor, they should prostrate themselves. However, this order did not carried out. The Emperor questioned, and then monk Mingshan明贍 gave answer that Buddhist clergymen observed Lord Buddha’s precepts so it is inconvenient to them to prostrate themselves before laymen.[23]

Tang Taizong, the fifth year of the Jingguan Era, issued the edict to order monks and nuns to bow down before their parents. Some years later, this order was revoked.[24]  

Tang Gaozong, the second year of the Xianqing Era (657), issued the order to prohibit Buddhist monks and Taoist priests to receive their parents and elders’ bowing down.

Tặng Xuanzong issued Buddhist monks and Taoist priests to pay homage to their parents. Later he revoked this.

The Universal Record of Lord Buddha (book 52) gives in addition another matter: “Not to address himself as subject-monk,” that means to say monks do not address themselves as subject to the monarch. The account runs as following:

Qi Wudi, the second year of the Yingming Era (484), monk Senggong had an audience with the Emperor. The former addressed himself “poor monk.” The Emperor asked Wangjian王儉. The latter replied, since the Qin and the Song onwards, most of monks addressed themselves “poor monk.”[25]   Longxing Chronology gives more in details. That year, an imperial made sramanas Faxian法獻 and Xuanshang玄暢 Heads of Buddhist clergymen. The other day, they had an audience with the Emperor, addressing themslves “poor monk,” and having a talk with the latter while just sitting, not getting up from their seat. After having consulted Wangjian, the Emperor accepted the behavior. His permission became a usual practice.[26]

As it is seen, the attitude that holds monks would not pay homage to the noble was not a mere incident but a sensational affair in the history of Buddhism in China. In Vietnam, at the latest until the Nguyen Dynasty, the above-mentioned case did not take place. That means the clergy was by no means a community that went against the Royal Court as a menace to the monarchy. Ly Cao-tong’ s attitude to order people to call him Buddha is but  the pretentiousness of a moment. On account of  such a fit of pretentiousness he did not hesitate to give monks and nuns en mass the sack. Being so, as the Chinese monarchs considered the claim of sramanas’ being unbound to pay homage to the noble as a manifestation of defying the Royal Court’ s power, the act of sending monks and nuns back to  the worldly life was justified legal. It is reasonable to say that this is one of the main causes that made Tang Gaozu, in the nine year of the Wude Era, took provisional measures to disqualify monks and nuns.

The Universal Mirror [27] records Tang Gaozu高祖, on the fifth lunar month, in summer of the ninth year of the Wude Era, histographer Fuyi submitted a memorial to the Emperor moving an imperial ban against Buddhism. His justification can be summarized as follows: 1. Buddhism has its origin from the Western Regions. Its saying is vague, deceitful. 2. It urges people razing head, changing the clothing style to become unfilial elements. 3. They are the gangs that shirk work, do harm to the traditional morals and manners. Among three reasons, the main one implies that Buddhism approves of the approach to defying the Royal Court. As the argument runs, the birth and death or longevity is determined by the Heaven; the punishment or bestowing favor is decided by the monarch; richness or poverty is the outcome of one’s own effort. For all that, Buddhism assigns all these to Buddha, is it not usurping the Creator’ s might? In fact, the Large Collection of  Expansion of Light 廣弘明集 (book 7)[28]  records Fuyi warned of eleven dangerous factors from Buddhism. Among which three factors are of the most importance: 1.Buddhist monks by nature held the attitude of defying the imperial power as it seen above; 2. Monks and nuns under the Tang at that time were numbered as much as twenty hundred thousands. They were in cahoots with “barbarous mind,” that is, disloyalty. Is it not unworthy of taking precautions? 3. Building temples and monasteries was but squandering people’s resources, bringing forth damage to society. These three warnings were enough to arouse the Emperor’ s suspicion about the community of Sangha; even though Chinese Buddhist Sangha hardly had had any relation to political activities. Charging them for all that with infidelity and seed of troubling seems overcritical.

Fuyi so far had seven times submitted memorials to the Emperor to move a ban against Buddhism. However, until then the Emperor was still uncertain. The only person who agreed with Fuyi’s standpoint was General Squire Zhangdaoyuan太僕卿張道源.[29]  Xiaowu蕭瑀 denounced Daoyuan: Buddha is a Saint. Those who criticize a Saint deserve to be punished. Yuan retorted that in the way of humanity nobody could be looked up higher than one’s monarch and father, nevertheless Buddha had disobeyed, run away from home and country. The average person as he was was bold enough to defy the Emperor’ s power. At this point Xiaowu dared not to oppose. On the other hand, as noted by The Universal Mirror, the Emperor had in deed harbored  hatred against Buddhist monks and Taoist priests, on account of their shirking military work. In addition they did not observe well the religious discipline; and Buddhist temples as well as Taoist shrines were seen everywhere… On the fifth lunar month, an imperial edict was issued to give the great part of monks and nuns the sack, having in the capital only three temples reserved, and one for each prefecture.

Needless to say, the expulsion as such was not a good measure. Therefore, lots of regulations for the admission to the monastic life were set up, though the Tang originally showed tolerance towards religions. These regulations can be classed into two: conditions for becoming a monk, and hierarchy in the monastic order.

Conditions for becoming a monk. Here are four classes of monks as recorded in The General Record of the Buddha and Patriarchs 佛祖統紀 (book 52). Not to mention the class of monks who were admitted by way of an examination that had been the newly established regulation of the Tang, the other class of monks had been regulated by precedent dynasties.

a) Monk by examination in the Scriptures. Tang Zhongzong唐中宗, in the Jinglong Era (707), issuing the imperial edict for carrying out the admission to become monk by way of examination. About the Era, works like The Universal Mirror of the Sakya lineage  佛祖統紀,[30]  A Historical survey in brief of the Sakya lineage 釋鑑稽古略,[31]  etc., all record the first year of Shenlong Era (706), on the eighth lunar month. These works give report that the Emperor issued an Edict to order novices have to get through an examination of reading well the Scriptures before they would be admitted as monks. The regulation to make a novice get through an examination for becoming a monk began since then.

Tang Suzong唐肅宗, in the first year of the Qianyuan (758), conferred on laymen who had recited over five hundred sheets of Scripture the title of ming jing chu shen 明經出身, that is, the monk who is admitted through an examination on his understanding of the Holy Scriptures. The A Historical survey in brief of the Sakya lineage釋鑑稽古略[32]  records more in details: That year, the Emperor had a forum of preaching Dharma held in the Forbidden Citadel, convening highly virtuous monks from all over the country to form a jury to hear laymen reciting the Holy Scriptures and qualify the monkhood. Also on this occasion those who contributed a sum of money could be admitted to monkhood under the title of being admitted through reciting the Holy Scriptures.

Tang Daizong唐代宗 (793-780), ordered an examination in Sūtras, Vinaya and Abhidharma to be held for the admission to monkhood.

b) Monkhood by the special favor. The class of monks who are granted by the Emperor’s special favor. This has its precedent from the Sui.

c) Monkhood by Promotion. This has its precedent from Tang Suzong. In the first year of the Qianyuan Era (758), the Emperor had a forum held in the Forbidden Citadel by way of permitting those who contribute a sum of money to become monk as mentioned already above under the title of monkhood by reciting.

Therefore, there were three conditions for monkhood. Either by knowledge, by money or by favor granted by Emperor. It is seen right way the ulterior motive of the Tang’s Emperors is to limit the status and ration of monkhood.

2. The Clerical Hierarchy, classified into two categories: dignitary rank and clerical position.

a) Conferring title. Tang Taizong conferred the title of senior courtier朝散大夫 on four monks.[33]

Tăng Gaozong did the same.

Empress Wuhou武后 conferred the title of Duke the Prefecture縣公 on nine monks.

Tang Zhongzong conferred the tile on monk Wanhui as the Duke of Dharma Cloud萬回法雲公.

Tang Yuizong睿宗 posthumously conferred the title of the Duke of Yu虢國公 on the late Wanhui.

After his death, Dharma Master Fazang法藏法師, third Patriarch of Huayan School, was posthumously conferred the title of Protocol Minister 鴻臚卿.

Tang Xuanzong玄宗, Bodhiruci菩提流志 was posthumously conferred the title of Protocol Minister鴻臚卿.

Tang Suzong肅宗 conferred on sramana Daoping道平 the title of Jinyu General 金吾大將軍 charged with operating an expedition against Anlushan安祿山.

Tang Dezong德宗 appointed sramana Yuanzhao圓照 as Protocol Minister for the Imperial Palace充內供奉鴻臚卿.

Tang Xizong僖宗 conferred the title on Sramana Miaoximg沙門妙行 for his merit of reciting the Scriptures誦經見佛大士.

b) Clerical Hierarchy. Ranks of clerical hierarchy had been stipulated since the Dynasty of Jin Andi晉安帝 (397-418). At that time Sengqi僧[契-大+石] was mad Sangha Administrator 國僧正and Faqin法欽 Sangha Recorder僧錄. Chen Wendi 陳文帝 (560-566) promoted  Monk Baoxiong寶瓊 to be the Sangha Leader 大僧統. Since the Tang there began the precedent of conferring the title of National Master on Zen Masters and offering them the posthumous name.

Besides, since Tang Xuanzong onwards, by the fifth year of the Tianbao Era (746), there began the precedent of charging the Minister of Protocol and Ceremony祠部 which undertook  the matters of ceremony and religion with responsibility of taking the census of clerical population.[34]  On this matter, a  note from the Chronology of the Patriarchal Unity 宗統編年[35] criticizes: ”Since then there began the regulation of issuing the monkhood identification card by the Ministry of Ceremonies. But limiting the number of Sangha is not to understand the Buddha’s Teaching.” According to this notation, the Imperial Court ‘s issuing monkhood ID is but aiming at setting a limit to the population and activities of  the clerical community.

General speaking, we see by and by the Tang cracked down lots of measures on activities of Buddhism.

Because of the communication was further open, Buddhism gradually exerted its influence on social behavior, altering by and by Chinese morals and manners, the measures as such were in need. They were bought forth not because of some discrimination of race and religion, but carried out because the sovereigns smelt something of menacing. As a result, the history of Buddhism in China witnessed four suppressions of which one took place under the Tang by Wuzong, by the year of 848. The main cause for it remains in that Buddhism had squandered a majority of national resources and man forces. About hundred years later, Emperor of the Post-Zhou re-operated another dread elimination with the same purpose of satisfying the conditions the then war required.

Comparing those mentioned above to the measures cracked down by  the Vietnamese sovereigns through the dynasties of Ly and Tran, one could figure out the development of Buddhism in Vietnam. Under these two dynasties Buddhism was honored to the level of the so-called national religion, nonetheless its undergoing the Tang’s measures is by no means without ulterior motives.

Now then, the measures that had been carried out under Ly and Tran are preferable to be summed up in the following, based on The General Mirror of the History of Vietnam by the Imperial Order 欽定越史通鑑綱目.

  1. Conditions for admitting the Monkhood.

In the fifth year of the Thuần-thiện Era (1020), the Emperor had a ceremony of admitting the monkhood held at thể Vạn-tuế temple萬歲寺.

In the eighth year of the Đại-khánh Era (1321), a nation-wide examination for monkhood was organized. Contents of exam were questions from the <êm>Diamond sūtras.

In the ninth year of the Quang-thai Era (1395) an examination was held for telling the authentic monks from the disguised ones . Those who were under fifty had had to get through this exam before his monkhood was admitted.

In the second year of the Thuan thien Era (1429), an examination for monkhood was organized. The Royal Court ordered every monk all over the country had to attend the exam at the locality he belonged. If being qualified, he would be offered with a certification identifying his monkhood.

2. The Grades of Monkhood.

In the second year of the Thai-binh Era (971), Emperor Dinh-tien granted Sangha Leader Ngo Chan Luu僧統吳真流 the title of Khuông Việt Thai Su 匡越太師, that means the Great Master who helps Vietnam. At the same time Truong Ma Ni張摩尼 was appointed as the Sangha Administrator僧正.(This title had been established since Tang Wenzong唐文宗 (827-840) of China, consisting of the Administrator of the Left Rank and of the Right Rank; undertaking the role of advisor to the Emperor about the matters that concern to Buddhism and other religions). The History of Sangha in Brief  僧史略[36]   has it that the title of the Sangha Administrator has as its origin the dispute on  the grades at the Court between Buddhism and Taoism. If being so, under the reign of Dinh丁 in our country, Buddhism and Taoism had had some equal influence on the Court.

In the fourth year of the Quang huu Era (1088), Kho Dau was bestowed with the title of the National Master.

In the fourth year of the Thien chuong bao tu (1136), monk Minh Khong明空 was bestowed with the title of the National Master.

Just seen, until the Dinh Buddhism in Vietnam started its system of organization. The fact shows that  it is until then onwards that Buddhism began really exerting influence on the Court. Formally, during the times of the Chinese procrastinating dependence, every institution of activity of people from all walks of life had been certainly taking after the Chinese regulation. If, however, the record of TUTA is taken into notice, through Thong Bien’ s quotation about the story of Tantien and Sui Gaozu as mentioned above, Buddhism in Vietnam yet far had been developed towards a direction of its own bearing no immediate influence from China. Moreover, according to it, the Chinese sovereigns, if of them some were pious, had but the role of assistants to the conditions of development that had already existed. Anyhow, one cannot deny to some extent the increasing influence of China. If in the earlier days Khang Tang Hoi康僧會  set foot on China only after his having finished the Buddhist studies from Vietnam and was the first sramana who amazed people by his presence as recorded in the Stories of Eminent Monks 高僧傳 [37] . However, it is seen in the later, under the Tang mostly Vietnamese had taken their Buddhist studies in China before they set off for their pilgrimage to India, taking Dai Thua Dang大乘燈 for instance. On the contrary, also under the Tang, Vietnamese monks had aptly got the admirations from the Chinese. Yijing, in his Tang Biographies of Pilgrim Monks to the West for studying the Dharma  大唐西域求法高僧傳 [38] , shows his high esteem for the Vietnamese monks  who were studying in India. Take for another instance poet, Jiadao賈島, a contemporary of Hanyu翰愈. The former who had once been monk composed an inspiring poem dedicated to a Vietnamese monk with the words showing his high esteem, describing the unconventional behavior of a Buddhist from Vietnam.

As it is seen, the development of Buddhism in Vietnam has been going along with the progress of thought and learning in this country. They are the definitely indispensable elements to the consciousness of self-sovereign of a nation. The stages of development of Vietnamese Thien (Zen) school prove this. In the following we will deal with two branches of it in Vietnam existing before the Ly Dynasty, and their influence on the growing of Buddhism in Vietnam in the later dynasties.


After the Sui Buddhism in China was distinctively divided into two tendencies. The first is the doctrinal tendency absorbed in studying and  thinking. The second is of contemplating devoted to practice and realization. The division was repeated by Thanh Bien as to outline the development of Buddhism in Vietnam. Thanh Bien’s idea should be taken as exact. In the field of study and thinking Buddhism retained the less changed pattern of Indian tradition of philosophy. If there existed some variety, it was due to the natural endowments of the way of thinking. In the field of practicing and realizing, however, alterations are to be found in the concept of liberation among traditions. The ultimate end of Buddhism is liberation. However, each tradition aims at liberation from various directions. On account of these directions the end of liberation is recognized likely different among traditions. This idea is as well mentioned in Thanh Bien’s quotation. Accordingly, Empress Mother Phu Thanh Cam Linh Nhan符聖感靈仁 asked the difference of the Buddha from the Patriarchs. Buddha is a personification of liberation in the tradition of Indian Buddhism. In China, Buddha is a personification of liberation too, but in here He is an ideal personification. It is the Patriarch who personifies actually the liberation.

To say so means to say Buddhism has undergone some alteration in practice in each tradition. The essential condition for this alteration is the particularity in the way of living of the people in that tradition.

The study of Vietnamese Buddhism cannot merely rely on the way of learning to display its characteristics. The particularity of Indian Buddhism is dhyana or meditation. The one of Chinese Buddhism is also dhyana or chan.  It is as well dhyana or Thien in Vietnam. Studying and thinking are simply the explanation and description of the experience realized by means of dhyana. Therefore as it is seen when the tendency of the phenomenology (Dharmalaksana- school) is developed in China, here exists at the same time a method of realization particular to this tendency, although it has not been expanded as an actual practice.

Being considered as such, then methodology of Thien or Zen should be taken in a broader sense that implies not only particularly the ZenSchool but the other schools as well. The most suitable word for it according to the Buddhist study in China is the School of Contemplation, as exactly as addressed by Thong Bien. The doctrinal school did not develop at large in Vietnam. On the contrary, just since the Sui Dynasty the contemplative school had established a distinctive system of transmission. It began with Ty-ni-da-luu-chi (Vinitaruci). Towards the end of the Tang, Vô Ngôn Thông set up another branch of Thien or Zen school. Each of both has its own tendency. They formed two movements of Vietnamese Buddhism before the Ly.

  1. The Branch of Ty-ni-da-luu-chi [39]

TUTA has it :

“Thiền Master Tì-ni-đa-lưu-chi毘尼多流支, the Southern Indian, is of the Brahmin class. In his childhood, he, cherishing the will of being freed from the ordinary life, had been travelling all over the West India in hope of finding out the Buddha’s Seal of Mind. However, because of the favorable  conditions for the True Dharma having been unripe yet, he was carrying the staff towards the Southeast. Under the reign of Chen Xuandi陳宣帝, the sixth year of the Taijian Era (574), he came to set foot on Zhangan長安 of China. In the meantime, Zhou Wudi周武帝 was promulgating the policy of eliminating Buddhism, he put up his mind to get to Jianye建鄴. Now then Sengcan僧粲, the third Patriarch of Chinese Zen school on account of seeking asylum carried with the mantle and alms bowl and hid himself in the Sikong司空 mountains. The Master went up there, met the Patriarch, finding in whom the uncommon behavior which aroused in him the admiration. He straightway folded his hands towards the Patriarch, standing on the very spot. As he did the same thrice, the Patriarch just sat closing his eyes without a word. After one or two second of reflecting, the Master suddenly found himself enlightened, as if he had just acquired something, then immediately he prostrated himself before Patriarch three times. The latter did nothing but just nodding thrice. The Master proceeded forward three steps and then backward three steps, saying: “Previously, I have had something unsettled in my mind. Now that thanks to your kindness, may I be allowed to attend on you.” The Patriarch said: “You should as soon as possible go and do your association with people in the South. Don’t stay here longer.” He took leave and set foot on the way. Planting his Zen staff at the Chế chỉ (Zhizhi) temple制旨寺 of Guang zhou, over a span of six year, he finished translating lots of sūtras, of The Elephant Head sūtra[40] , and The Sūtra on the Variety of the Retributions of Karma報業差別經.[41] .Until the second year of the Dai tuong Era (580) of the Zhou Dynasty, he came to Vietnam, and resided at this temple.  There again he finished another translation, Dharani-sūtra.[42]  One day, he called Pháp Hiền法賢, his advanced disciple, and told the latter: “Nobody can counterfeit the Buddhas’ Seal of Mind. It is as round as the immensely large space, neither redundant nor deficient, neither going nor coming, neither obtained nor lost, neither identical nor different, neither eternal nor breaking-off, originally appearing from nowhere and disappearing to nowhere, neither detached nor non-detached. Only in relation to delusive conditions it is endowed with a false name. Therefore, Buddhas in the three periods of time had realized the same. Patriarchs through generations had realized the same. Moreover, I myself have realized the same. The same you do and the same all beings, sentient or non-sentient, do. Moreover, my Patriarch, Sengcan, has sealed on me that very mind, and told me to without delay go and do association in the South, being unfavorable to remain there by him longer. For years until the day I came to meet you, the prediction has been indeed justified. Take up yourself rather well. The time I have to take leave is coming.” Having finished his admonishing, he passed away with hands folded. After having performed the cremation, Pháp Hiền collected his multicolored relics to store in a stupa. It is in the fourteen year of Sui Khaihuang (594). Emperor Thái tông of the Ly李太宗 composed a eulogy in reminiscence of him. The poem goes as follows:

                           Since having come to the South,

                           You have been known as to have

so far long practiced the dhyana.

                           You must have awakened the faith in the Buddha

                           And that must have to the far remote

agreed with the origin of the Mind-only.

    Brightly bright is the moon of Lanka;

Fragrantly fragrant is the lotus of Wisdom.

When do I come to meet you

So that we may have a talk about the mystery of mystery.

The biography extracted above as recorded in the TUTA is the most detailed of those that are available to us at present. In this biography, however, are left some problems concerning the date, when compared to what is recorded in historical documents of Chinese Buddhism.

Probably the first  account of Vinitaruci is to be found in FeiChangfang費長房’ s Record of the Three Gems through Dynasties歷代三寶記,[43]  book 15, compiled under the Sui by the seventeenth year of Kaihuang (597), i.e., four years after Vinitarucuci’s death.

Record of the Three Gems is a bibliography of Buddhist Scriptures translated into Chinese since beginning until the reign Sui Gaozu.Three years earlier before the Changfang’s Record , i.e., by the fourteenth year of Kaihuang, there appeared already  another biography named Fajing’s Biography法經錄 the original name of which is Biography of all the sūtras眾經目錄.[44]  In the latter no mention about Vinitaruci is made.

Concerning the biography of Vinitaruci, Changfang’s Biography[45]  gives the report as follows: “Tripitaka Master Vinitaruci, from Wuzhang烏場 (Udhyana), North Inadia, having learned that our Emperor had reflourished the Three Gems, so he taking not care about the long distance carried along with the staff to come to the country. Having arrived, he was supported by the Emperor to carry out his translations of the Sūtras. Right away at the Daxingshan temple大興善寺 he started his work. Imperial Attendant Lydaobao給事李道寶, and Tanpi曇皮 who is Prajnaruci般若流支’s son, both took on interpretation. Faxuan法纂 of Daxingchan temple took the role of noting down, and correcting syntax, verifying the meanings as well. Mean-while, sramana Anzong wrote the Preface.”

The Sūtras translated by Vinitaruci are recorded as:

1) The Elephant Head Monastery Sūtra,[46]  one scroll, finished by the second year of Kaihuang (590). This is the second translation of the same original sūtra as The Gaya Peak Sūtra.[47]  Both are of the same contents; different from each other only in name.

2) The Mahāyānavaipulyadhāraṇisūtra, one scroll, finished by the second year of Kaihuang.

The old biographies of Chinese Buddhism of later date seems merely copying the original text from Changfang’s Record nearly without any alteration worth mentioning. To say in brief, take Daoxuan’ s Great Tang’s Buddhist Biography大唐內典錄[48]  for instance, which written in the first year of Linde (664) under the Tang, likely copies the whole original text without making any skip. Up to the eighteenth year of Kaiyuan Era (730), Sramana Zhisheng智昇 wrote the Kaiyuan’s Record of Buddhism開元釋教錄yet no more detail is informed. Only in its notation there is mentioned the place of translation that will be dealt with later.

For the moment, let us look for Vinitaruci native home. Our TUTA reports that Vinitaruci is originally from South India., whereas Changfang;s Record has it from Udhyana, North India. Udhyana was a small kingdom Xuanchuang had dropped in, and his Pilgrimage for the West transliterated it as Wu-zhang-na烏仗那. The note at the end of book 2 of the Pilgrimage for the West makes it known that there are many other transliterations of the word, such as Wu-chang烏場, Wu-cha烏茶, of the North India. The same book gives report on its people that they were very timid, yet deceitful, anxious to learn but without taking pain, magic was their specialty… They worshipped the Buddha, the Dharma, having faith in Mahāyāna… moral was transparent yet well versed in incantation of magic. Of Vinayas, there existed five Schools: a) Vianaya of Dharmagupta, 2) of Mahisasaka, 3) Kaśyapa, 4) Sarvāstivada, 5) Mahāsaṅgika.

The date of translation, the TUTA as we have seen has it uncertain that it is six years before the second year of Zhou’s Daxiang Era, i.e., in the interval of 574 and 580, whereas Changfang’ s Record gives out not only the year but even the month, that is, in the second year of Kaihuang (590), in the second and seventh lunar months.

Concerning the translations, the TUTA shows lots of mistakes. The Variety of the karma retributions according to Changfang’s Record is a translation of Dharmaprajña. As we are told, in the same year, the second of Kaihuang, Dharmaprajña was summoned by Sui Gaozu to do translations at the Daxingshan temple, altogether with Vinitaruci. Dharmaprajña finished his translation of The Variety of The Karma Retributions in the third lunar month. On the other hand, according to Changfang’s Record, Dharmaprajña was well-versed not only in Sanskrit but as well in Chinese, accordingly when doing his translations he did not need the mediation of an interpreter and transcriptor as in the case of Vinitaruci. The fact shows that probably no sooner than his having just arrived in China he was rightway called up to do translations, and therefore he was granted no good chance to brush up his Chinese, that means not to travel as much over China as the Collection states.

About the place of translation, Changfang’s Record  has it at the Daxingshan temple. According to The Ancient Record in Brief釋氏稽古略 (book 2),[49]   by the year 582 AD (the fourteenthe year of Taijian of the Chen陳大建, the twenty-first year of Tianbao of the Liang後梁天保, the second year of Kaihuang of the Sui), the sixth lunar month, Sui Gaozu had at the Capitol Changan the Daxing Citadel built up, had the Daxing Hall and Daxingshan temple erected. Accordingly, Kaiyuan’s Record of Buddhism shows its disbelief of the place where Vinitaruci and Dharmaprajña performed their translations and which Changfang’ s Record situates at the Daxingshan temple. For both did translations about the earlier spring of the second year of Kaihuang, whereas the temple until the sixth lunar month came to get the imperial edict for construction. If the translation was not been carried out at the Daxingshan temple, sure enough it was at some other temple situated at Chang an, the Capitol of the Sui, because the work of translation was organized by the Emperor himself. For all that, had the translation workshop been held at the Chế chỉ temple in Guangzhou as reported by The Collection of Eminent Monks, much would be left in uncertainty.

There remains another fact. TUTA  has it that Vinitaruci translated the Sūtras on Dharani at the Pháp vân, of Longbien city (Bacninh Province), under the Chu (Zhou Dynasty), by the second year of Daxiang (581), that is, before Sui Gaozu would be made emperor and one year before the Kaihung Era. The place as well as the time, therefore, were far remote from what stated in Changfang’s Record.

Out of these facts that contradict each other, we are likely bound to believe Changfang’s record the better if we choose to resolute Changfang’s record’s Vinitaruci and TUTA’s are identical. Both are of the same person. That does not matter. For few are different in the date and place of the translation, otherwise the most part of the work is identical. It may happen that the author of TUTAgleaned information about Vinitaruci from hearsay that of course has its own value but in another sense is too groundless to verify. In this aspect of hearsay it is very difficult for us to make a search into the historicity of the problematic meeting of Sengcan and Vinitaruci.

Although we are encountering the problems of historicity that presently seem unresolved, but the Thien (Zen) branch of Vinitaruci has been transmitted, believed and practiced, accordingly this actuality has made him a personage so actual that goes beyond any dispute in term of the so-called historical facts. The only mistake the TUTA is supposed to commit is that it does not  strictly follow the method of history taken in ordinary sense, but to the Thien (Zen) school ‘s point of view, the work has got a very precise conception of the pedigree of transmission of the Thien school .  Take for example the Vinitaruci’s transmission in which the second generation is Pháp Hiền, only a person; in the third generation, there are three, one of which is unrecorded and left vacant by TUTA. Only one figure from  the fourth generation is mentioned in succession: Master Thanh Biện清辨. Then in procession the fifth, sixth and seventh generations are left vacant. In the eighth generation, of the three persons two are left vacant. Three of the nine generations are all left vacant… 



II.Pháp Hiền




IV.Thanh Biện








             VIII. 1. Định Không.  2…   3…. 

It is seen, when compared to the Chinese Transmission of the Lamp, from the fourth Patriarch Daoxin backward the transmission was carried on by only a person. But since then onward there began appearing the sub-stream getting along with the main stream of the transmission. And it is since then onward that the vacancies in a generation are paid attention, although the transmission was kept continuous. Because of such bifurcation, the orthodoxy of the Thien (Zen) school is often urged to be ascertain as regards the Masters after the fourth Patriarch but not before.

The conception of continuous transmission, just as a lamp is shining only as long as its flame does not discontinue, is the crucial point of ChineseZenSchool. This conception, on one hand, coincides with Chinese mentality of preservation of the ancient. On the other hand, for the fact that the significance of transmitting the seal of mind cannot be transmitted by means of letters, the guidance of a clear-sighted teacher is extremely important. On both sides, the conception of transmission or transmitting the lamp of Zen school is a combination of the Chinese tradition and the Indian signification of liberation. Vietnamese Thien School inherited this conception of transmission, the trace of which is conspicuous in the presentation of TUTA. In addition to it is the particularity in the way of living of its people, Thien school of Vietnam has initiated its own special practice. The combination of these two factors will be seen later.

Because the objectivity of history is not held high esteem to Thien or Zen school, the ambiguity divulged in TUTA does not matter. What written in the latter, however, as regards the continuous transmission of Vinitaruci’s branch of Thien (Zen), proves its unique way of persistence. At first, we should search for Vinitaruci’s thought. Some conjecture is but categorical to the search. But depending on a few of given factors in his biography, then comparing to the development of Vinitaruci’s Thien sect, in a way of conjecturing, we are in hope of obtaining a reliable ground to look into the persistence of this Thien sect.

To begin with, we deal at first with Vinitaruci native home. If we believe much more what is given out in Changfang’s Record than TUTA, it would be better to recognize him as a native of North India, in Wuzhang or Wuzhangna (Skt. Udhyana). The mentality of its people and the customs of the country, as recorded by Xuanzhang’ s The Tang’s Pilgrimage to the West, in term of way of thinking, was to the most part inclining towards Mahāyāna. The institution of Sangha’s living was founded on the five traditions of monastic code. Xuangzhang and Vinitaruci were separated from each other around a half century, changes if any, therefore, were not too much different from what is written in The Pilgrimage to the West. Accordingly, Vinitaruci has somehow early in his native home been acquainted with Mahāyāna. And if he has been ordained, his monastic life sort of observed the discipline of Early Buddhism.

The tendency of Mahāyāna is conspicuous in his two translations. Nonetheless should both these translations be considered as representatives of his thought? Because it is unknown to us whether they were brought with him from India. Or someone else brought them to the Sui Court, and his work was but translating. In the chronological table of Changfang’s Record is a fact to be noticeable. It was in the winter of the first year of Kaihung Era (581), the delegation of Zhizhou came back home from the Western Regions, carrying along with Brahmanist Scriptures consisting of 260 volume. The Emperor had the whole carried to the Capital and translated into Chinese. Perhaps out of which the original texts of Vinitaruci’s translations could be found.

Although the exact origin of these two translations is left unsettled, at present it is better to review in here their contents for the purpose of completing what till now remains conjectural to us, and drawing out a conclusion on how far Vinitaruci’s thought of Thien would have been influenced to some extend by them.

a)      Sūtras in the Elephant-head Monastery. The sūtras were first translated by Kumarajiva, somehow in the Era of Huangshui, 401-409, having as its title The Sūtra on Manjusri’s Questions about Bodhi. [50]  The various names according to Changfang’s Record are: Sūtras on Bodhi, Sūtras on the practice of Bodhi, Sūtras on the Peak Gaya. [51]  In the interval of 508-535, Bodhiruci菩提流支 gave another translation under the title as The Sūtras on the Peak Gaya. [52]  Vinitaruci’s is the third. The fourth, around 639-724, under the reign of Tang, is another translation of Bodhiruci菩提流志 titled as Mahāyāna Sūtras on the Peak Gaya. [53]  All these translations are edited in the Taisho Shinshu Daizokyo (Taisho in brief), vol.XIV, numbers 464-467. Looking into the numbers of re-translations, we would see the Sūtra holds an important position in the Mahāyāna Buddhism. It is classified into the group of Vaipulya-literature, which means the extension of the deepest doctrine Buddha had ever taught. Sūtras belonging to this category are lying between Mahāyāna and Hīnayāna. The Gaya (i.e., Elephant) mountains is the place where Buddha realized the ultimate goal of enlightenment. In its introduction the Sūtra makes it known that the time of its delivering was no longer after Sakya-Muni ‘s Enlightenment. The number of bhikṣu who were attending the audience was a round thousand. Now then Buddha stated the meanings of Bodhi, i.e., enlightenment, saying that “The bodhi is found in nowhere. It is neither of the past, nor the present, nor the future. All the Dharmas are śūnya (empty, void). Though there is a language for it, but it is merely nominal, unreal. It is the non-created dharma, which is empty, signless, desireless. It is neither being nor non-being. It is unmanifestable, unspeakable, unhearable…” By the way, Mañjuśri asked the Buddha: “If Bodhi is signless, where to dwell as to accomplish it?” Buddha taught: “The Bodhisattva who dwells in the non-dwell is dwelling in Bodhi. Dwelling in non-attachment is dwelling in Bodhi. Dwelling in the Voidness is dwelling in Bodhi. Dwelling in the Dharma of non-being is dwelling in Bodhi.” In going on, the son of god Pure Flame by name asked about the dharmas the Bodhisattva would realize, and Bodhisattva Mañjuśri exposed the development of the spiritual realization, from the beginning with practicing good deeds up to awakening the great mind of loving-kindness and compassion, following the twofold path that composes of Skillful means and Wisdom.

b)      The Mahāyāna sūtras on dhāranani. It is the second translation of the kind. The first by Dharmarakṣa竺法護 was carried out in the interval 266-315, under the title The Sūtra on Helping the extended studies. [54]  Both are edited in the Taisho, vol., IX. No 274-275, classified in the group of Sadharmapuṇḍarīka. The contents are of the same category with the Sūtras on Immeasurable Meanings that introduces into the doctrine of Sadharmapuṇḍarīka in which Buddha decided to deliver the teaching of the Only-way (Ekayāna). The place of preaching: Rajagṛha, the Capital of Magadha Kingdom, on the Vaulture mountains, the same place as Shadharma’s. The time of preaching: the years before Buddha’s passing away. That is, before the time of preaching Mahāparinirvāṇasūtra. It is the period of Saddharma. In this period, Buddha makes a synthesis to assign all his previous various teachings into the only one. This ultimate teaching surpasses that of Sravaka, Pratyekabuddha, and Bodhisattva, going beyond both Hīnayāna and Mahāyāna. It is named as Dhārani, not because of any mystic meanings, but because it embraces all the teachings of Buddha without impartial to any one particularly. Not only recognizing Mahāyāna and other yānas as orthodox, it criticizes even those who esteems high this one and disregards others. Buddha said, once upon a very remote time when he was a bhikṣu Dharma by name, he then practiced the dharma altogether with another bhikṣu namely Suddhajīva. The latter developed the practice of dhāraṇi, without disregarding any other practice. At that time, bhikṣu Dharma practiced and preached the śūnyatā, impartial to śūnyatā. As a result, he criticized bhikṣu Suddhajīva, blaming the latter as carrying out the frivolous heretic teaching. Consequently, as he reached the Buddhahood he should emerge in this ugly world. Meanwhile bhikṣu Suddhajīva accomplished his Buddhahood in the Pure Land. After having praised the practice of Dhāraṇi, Buddha preached four aspects of this method of practicing. They are four aspects of equality: equality of Boddhisattva towards every sentient beings; equality among dharmas; equality towards Bodhi; equality in preaching. So the Sūtra contains in it an embracing synthesis, recognizing the variety of views of various tendencies as equal to each other; recognizing the variety of practice that of Pure Land included. It implies the true meanings of the term dhāraṇi.

As designated in the title, the present sūtra belongs to the Vaipulya literature. This literature is a link between the genuine Mahāyāna and the developed Hīnayāna.

The contents of two translations issued by Vinitaruci do, if not straightforwardly, make it known to us indirectly about his Mahāyāna tendency, and accordingly the particularity of his Thien or Zen spirit.

To some extend, as the way of thinking is concern, Vinitaruci’s Thien sect reveals two major points: the one is the sunyata and undwelling from Prajnaparamita’s system of thought; the other is the synthetical tendency of Saddharmapuṇḍarīka. Both in him, however, do not partially incline to either Mahāyāna or Hīnayāna. Due to this characteristic, the way of practicing in Vinitaruci’s Thien sect is eager to open wide its gate to the introduction of the popular faith intermingled with mysticism. This mixed popular faith tends to accept  rather than reject, though not in a way of somewhat synthesis. As a result, Vinitaruci’s Thien on account of its popularity was easily making its way to the mass movements. Thiền Master Vạn Hạnh is a successful figure emerging from this religious social movements.

2. The branch of Vô Ngôn Thông [55]

As regards the story of Vô Ngôn Thông, TUTA records:

“Of the Tien du僊遊 prefecture (Bac ninh Province), Phu dong扶董 village, Kiến sơ temple建初寺, family Trịnh鄭, Vô Ngôn Thông無言通 was in his youth firstly fond of studying Confucianism and negligent in his domestic affairs, later absorbed in studying Buddhism in Song lam (Chuanglin) temple雙林寺 at Quảng châu (Guangzhou). His personality is profoundly calm, talking less but remembering much, easily getting through whatsoever matter. For that reason he was called Vô Ngôn Thông by the contemporary. That means “understanding without a word.” This name is recorded in the Transmission of the Lamp with a slight alteration: Bất Ngữ Thông不語通, with the same meaning.

“One day, as he was just going out after a religious service, some Thien monk came to pay a visit and asked:

“-What did you bow down before?

“ - I bowed down before the Buddha. He replied.

“The guest pointed to the Buddha image and asked:

“ - What’s that?

“He was unable to offer an answer. That night, neatly dressed, he approached the guest monk. And having paid homage to the latter, he asked:

“ - I haven’t grasped as yet the meanings of what you had uttered.

“ - Since you have left home till now, how many rainy seasons did pass? Asked the guest.

“ - For ten rainy seasons. He replied.

“ - Does that mean you have really left home?

“Instantly he fell into bewilderment.

 “ - If you don’t understand it, what’s the use of it? The guest monk gave out a remark. He then made the Master going in company with him to present themselves to Mazu馬祖. As he reached Jianxi江西, Mazu had already passed away. So they went to Baizhang Huaihai百丈懷海. At the moment they arrived, a monk were asking Baizhang:

“- What is the method of abrupt enlightenment?

“- Had the ground of mind become empty, the sun of wisdom would naturally shine. Replied Baizhang.

“The Master was awakened at these words. He later went back Guangzhou, resided Hean temple和安寺.

“- Are you a Thiền Master?” He was asked by someone.

“- I have never learned anything like Thien.”

“For a moment, he called the man again. The monk responded ‘Yes!’ The Master pointed to the bolt. The man did not reply.

“Zen Master Yangshan仰山 when being still a mere novice was once asked by him:

“- Lo, Ji (i.e., Huiji慧寂, religious nickname of Yangshan)! Bring the bed to here for me.

“Huiji brought it to him. The Master then ordered:

“- Put it back where it was as before.

“Huiji carried out the injunction. He then asked again:

“- What is there in the opposite side?

“ - Nothing. Was the reply.

“ - What is there in this side?

“ - Nothing.

“- Lo, Ji! So called he again.

“- Yes! was his reply.

“- Go away! Thus he instructed.

“By the fifteenth year of Yuanhe Era (810) of the Tang, he arrived at this temple (Kiến sơ temple), settled down his Thien (zen) staff there. Besides taking meals, he enjoyed nothing but the taste of meditation. Whenever he sat down, he always faced the wall, without a word. Nobody knew a thing about him for years. Only a monk in the temple whose religious name was Cảm Thành感誠 witnessed the scene and showed him the most respect, waiting on him. Gradually the latter in the silence came to knock open the door into the wonderful secret, getting through the essentials. One day, without being ill, after taking a bath and changing clothes, he sent for Cảm Thành and told the latter:

“- Once upon that time when my Patriarch Nam Nhac Hoai Nhuong南嶽懷讓 (Nanyue Huairang) was passing away, he left the saying that all the dharmas are brought forth from the mind. If the mind is brought forth nowhere, dharmas will get no dwelling. If the ground of mind is gained, the dwelling is unobstructed. If you don’t meet the noble man, don’t be rash to divulge it.

“After having finished saying thus, he folded hands and passed away. Carm Thafnh held cremation, gathered relics, and erected a stupa to worship on the Tien du mountains.”

The story cited above contains lots of fact that are supposed to be extracted from The Transmission of the Lamp, (book 9), in the anecdote of Zen Master Tong (Thông thiền sư) [56] , successor of Baizhang Huaihai. In this record no mention is made to the conditions under which Vô Ngôn Thông was enlightened. The condition related by Thien uyen tap anh is found in another anecdote from the story of Baizhang Huaihai in The Transmission of the Lamp (boo 6). [57]  A certain monk asked Baizhang what is the method of abrupt enlightenment of Hināyāna.

To this Baizhang replied:

“You must at first exhaust all conditions, stop everything. Don’t keep in mind, think of all dharmas, the good and the bad, the worldly and the outworldly. Set free, give up your mind and body so that they would get along at ease. Your mind should be similar to wood and stone. There is nothing in it to discriminate. Had the ground of mind have been vacant, the sun of wisdom would shine in a natural way. Just as clouds are dispersed and the sun appears.”

Finally, the original of Nanyue Huairang’s saying Vô Ngôn Thông quoted to Cảm Thành is found in the story of Huairang as recorded by The Transmission of the Lamp, book 5. [58]

No anecdote of the history of Zen in China is found to record much more details than the Transmission of the Lamp concerning the story of Vô Ngôn Thông. Due to this missing, nothing is learned towards the end of his life. Therefore, the date he came to Vietnam as reported by TUTA cannot be ascertained. Only the Collection of Finger and the Moon gives out in addition a statement to the end of the story. Nonetheless not only no new detail is added, it contains even lots of skipping and errors in transcription. In a way of reading one may be lead to the idea that Vô Ngôn Thông eventually died of being poisoned. The information is of course groundless, and meaningless. The Collection of Finger and the Moon指月錄 [59]  means simply, and exactly, to say that in the pedigree of Vô Ngôn Thông no orthodox transmission is recognized, but there is only an unorthodox transmission to Yangshan. Probably Yangshan was ordained as novice under Vô Ngôn Thông but later he was enlightened under Weishan Lingyou溈山靈祐 and then he founded the Zen branch known as Weiyang sect溈仰宗. His sect is not found having successor in Vietnam.

Another history of Zen titled as The Store of the Universal Light大光明藏 written by Baotan寶曇under the Tong Dynasty.[60]  Besides the story of Vô Ngôn Thông, the work pronounces an a eulogy on Vô Ngôn Thông to the end of the latter’s story. The eulogy runs: “The ancients, from men of sharp intelligence and high wisdom to the simpleton, all are alike in general. Their ways of searching for the Truth do not seem to match each other, but their practical use is the same. Take for instance Buyutong (Bất Ngữ Thông不語通) onwards, up to The Masters like Daan, they themselves went out from Baizhang’s furnace, being forged into unalloyed gold without a bit of ore. But that merely aims at meeting with conditions in an instant. One should inspect their energy as they are set antagonistic towards each other, as the sharp and the blunt touch each other. Who other than brothers dare to have a touch in a rash?”

In this way, in China Zen Master Thong or Tong was not identified as Vô Ngôn Thông. But only Buyutong or Bất Ngữ Thông was recognized. Then, since when did the name Vô Ngôn Thông appear? In our present conditions no searching for it could easily be carried out.

The fact he from Guangzhou came to Vietnam can be inferred from another instance. It is the case of Jizang吉藏, founder of Sanron school三論宗. According to Biographies of Eminent Monks, in his youth Jizang very often frequented the regions of Jiao and Guang, i.e., Jiaozhou (Giao chau) and Guangzhou. A conclusion can be drawn from this account is that under the reign of Tang Jiaozhou or Guangzhou to some extent were the ground of intellectual activities. Therefore, that Vô Ngôn Thông in the first place resided at the Hean temple of Guang zhou and later then arrived at Vietnam is believable.

When comparing the story of Vô Ngôn Thông to Vinitaruci’s we find out a similarity. Both came to Vietnam before Chinese Zen school  started branching off. Chinese Zen after Sengcan, since the fourth Patriarch Daoxin道信 onwards, was divided into two lines. The main line was flowing down to Huangren弘忍 then to Huineng慧能. The second was down to Farung法融 in the name of Niutou Zen牛頭禪. Niutou is the name of a mountain where Farung resided. This second line, according to Transmission of the Lamp, was handed down to six generations. Bodhidharma also has by-successors, of which three are mentioned.[61]  The second Patriarch, Huike慧可, besides Sengcan considered as principal successor, have also seventeen others. Concerning Sengcan’s, The Transmission of the Lamp dealt with Daoxin as the only principal successor. Little is known about in what occasion the transmission to Vinitaruci was carried out.

From Nanyue Huairang onwards, the transmission was going on down to Mazu, and then to Baizhang; from Baizhng downwards to Weishan Lingyou; from Lingyou down to Yangshan Huiji and by the latter the Weiyang Zen sect was founded. Another line from Baizhang was carried down to Linji Yixuan臨濟義玄, and since then the Linji (Rinzai) sect was founded.

That Vô Ngôn Thông as we were told is Baizhang’s successor in the pedigree of Chinese Zen is credible. But that Vinitaruci himself belongs to this lineage as well remains uncertain. For much is left to farther research, and what recorded in TUTA seems to be gleaned from hearsay though not so necessarily groundless that we would like to take it for pseudograph. Anyway, if we believe TUTA has its own justified intention when it puts both two founders of Thien or Zen school in Vietnam into a position somewhat loose against the China soil that is very often considered to be its origin. The intention is clear enough as to represent a lineage in this country independent of China. But the transmission of the seal of mind is similar to the continuation of a lamp, therefore the tradition of Zen does not allow to place them outside the continuous transmission from Lord Buddha and the first Patriarch Kaśypa downwards. If Thien or Zen is to be taken in a broader sense that refers it to the tendency of meditation, apart the other tendency devoted in studying the doctrine, then, TUTA’s effort of legitimizing the Vietnamese lineage of Zen transmission is willingly accepted.

In our historical research into Vinitaruci, we know though incompletly some outline on his natural endowments, altogether with other details in his living, his native home as well as what he had realized in the field of thought. As regards his counterpart, Vô Ngôn Thông, in the pedigree of Chinese Zen, is counted among the disciples of Huairang. This lineage later brought forth the Linji sect, well known in the history of Chinese Zen for its literature works. Scions of Vô Ngôn Thông were carrying with them something of the like. The most part of them hold a high esteemed position in the history of Vietnamese literature. The figures very often mentioned among them are Viên Chiếu, Thông Biện, Cứu Chỉ, Ngộ Ấn, Mãn Giác, and many others. In contrast to this, in the lineage of Vinitaruci emerged the monks of mysticist tendency blended with magical belief that to some extent held a significance in the movements of populace.

Consequently, though being in short and vulnerable to dubiousness, the givens we have got from the founders before the Ly have offered us a rather embracing sight into both branches of Thien (Zen). Their truthfulness is reliable.    


Based on what was recorded by TUTA, from beginning downwards to Vạn Hạnh generation, we can have a list of the successors of two sects as follows:

Vinitaruci branch. This branch diffused since the Sui up to the end of the Tang. Because of the long course of four centuries, successors in this branch was rather large. Among them, however, only nine are related in TUTA.

Tì-ni-đa-lưu-chi (Vinitaruci, ? 594)

Pháp Hiền               ( - 626)

Thanh Biện             ( - 686)

La Quý                   (- 936)

Pháp Thuận           (915 – 991)

Ma Ha                   ( - 1029)

Thiền Ông             ( - 979)

Vạn Hạnh              (- 1025)

Vô Ngôn Thông branch. Because of its being found only until the 11th century, the list of successors in this branch is comparatively short.

                        - Cảm Thành           ( - 860)

                        - Thiện Hội            ( - 900)

                        - Vân Phong           ( - 956)

                        - Khuông Việt         (- 1011)

Of the successors belonging either sect listed above, as regards their activities, three from the Vinitaruci’s and one from the Vô Ngôn Thông’s are deserved to be studied. As regards Vạn Hạnh, a special study should be carried out.

Now, to begin with, let’s read into TUTA to have a look at the monks we are interested in.

The Story of Thiền/ Zen Master Định Không 定空(730-808)[62]

Thiền Master Định Không, of Chúng thiện temple眾善寺, Dịch bảng village驛牓鄉, Thien duc天德 prefecture, was born in Cổ chau古洲, into a family of Nguyễn阮, a rich powerful descendant. He was good at telling the destiny of the world. His deeds were all in conformity with regulations. Villagers respected him and addressed him as Elder. In his old age, he studied Buddhism in the Long tuyền龍泉congregation at Nam dương南陽g. On hearing the preaching, he grasped the essentials. Henceforth, he inclined toward the teaching of Sakya.

In the Era of Jingyuan (784-805) of the Tang, he had Qùynh lâm temple瓊林寺 built in the native village. As starting to lay the foundation, the workers unexpectedly exhumed an incense burner and ten inverted bells. He had them brought to water to wash. One of them sank to the bottom. He deciphered: “Ten items (十 口) refers to the character cổ 古 (ancient). Sinking down to the water (水 去) refers to the character pháp法. Earth is the ground on which we live. Everything are brought forth from the earth.” On account of this event, he proposed to change the name of the village as Cổ pháp. Its former name was Diên uẩn延蘊. He then composed a stanza:

地 呈 法 器                        

一 品 精 銅

致 佛 法 以 興 隆              

立 鄉 名 古 法

Earth presents the Dharma instruments.

An artifact is made of refined copper.

In order to develop the Teaching of Buddha,

The village is given the name Cổ pháp.

He then uttered some divinations:

To the door of Buddha appear ten copper bells;

King Lý Hưng has got success in three artifacts.

An item was sinking down to the ground;

Henceforth the village has been renamed as Cổ pháp.

Cock was singing to the crescent moon. It is later the omen for the development of Buddhism.

On the deathbed, he gave the last instruction to his disciple Thông Thiện通善, saying:

“I was anxious to have enlarged the village, only I have had a fear that in the interval of time a disaster will take place. (Later, in fact, Cao Biền高駢 of the Tang came and incanted some suppression against the country). After my passing away, you must protect well this Dharma. If you meet a person of the Đinh丁 family, then hand it over to him. In doing so, you are supposed to successfully carry out my will.”

On these words he took leave forever, at the age of 79. It is in the third year of Yuanhe Era (808) of the Tang. Thông Thiện built up a stupa to the west of Lục tổ temple六祖寺 wherein he inscribed Định Không’s last will.

The Story of Thiền Master La Quy 羅貴 (852-936)[63]

Elder La Quy, of the Song lâm temple雙林寺, Phù ninh扶寧 village, Thiên đức天德 prefecture, had been, in his youth, setting foot to the outworld, paying visit lots of Thiền Masters all over the country. Years passed, yet he remained unenlightened. So he was likely frustrated at his approaching the Dharma. Later, on hearing a saying in the congregation of Thông Thiện, suddenly the ground of mind opened, hence he did his best to serve the master.

At the moment Thông Thiện was laying on his deathbed, he told La Quý:

“In former days, my teacher once told me: ‘You have to protect well my Dharma. Hand it over to nobody but the man of Dinh丁 family.’ The word now comes true in deed; for you are the man. Now I’m going to pass away.”

Having attained the Path, he propagated it according to favorable conditions, chose the ground to build temples, and whatsoever he had ever said later turned out to be augury. At the Lục tổ temple, he had the statue of the Sixth Patriarch Huineng cast of gold. Later for fear of its being stolen away, he hid it underground before the front gate of the temple, and left word with his disciples, saying: “Exhume it up if you live under brilliant monarch. Hide it away if it is the reign of a fatuous and self-indulgent ruler.”

As he was about to pass away, he told his disciple Thiền Ông:

“Formerly, Cao Biền had the citadel built up by the Tô lịch蘇歷 River. Seeing our Cổ pháp conceal the royal atmosphere, he tried to suppress it by discontinuing the sweet stream, to exorcise it by digging ponds and lakes in about 19 places. Now that I have examined and restored the places that had been not in good order. I then planted at the Châu minh temple珠明寺 a cotton tree to keep the spot that had been cut off. For I know a king of prosperity will appear to support our True Law. After my passing away, you should by skilful means build up a large stupa to conceal the True Law in it, letting nobody see.”

On finishing these words he passed away. He was 85 then.

In addition, in the third year of Qiangtai Era (936) of the Tang, while planting the cotton tree, he composed a stanza:

大 山 龍 頭 起    

虯 尾 隱 珠 明

十 八 子 定 成    

棉 樹 現 龍 形

兔 雞 臘 月 內    

定 見 日 出 清

The dragonhead rises on the grand mountain;

The dragon tail keeps hidden at the Châu minh temple.

The eighteen seeds are destined to fully grow,

When the cotton tree takes form of a dragon.

On the month of rabbit and cock,

The sun will rise sure.

The Story of Thiền Master Pháp Thuận 法順 (592-990)[64]

Thiền Master Pháp Thuận, of the Cổ sơn temple鼓山寺, Thừ蜍 village, Ải隘 prefecture. His native home is unknown. His family name is Đỗ杜. Learned, well versed in composing poems, endowed with the talent to assist the monarch, he had got a thorough understanding of the contemporary problems. Being ordained in his childhood, he was a pupil of, and waiting upon, Long Thọ Phù Trì as his master. After his acquiring the knowledge of the Dharma, what he uttered out turned out to be oracles.

When the Lý Dynasty got the start of its foundation, in drawing up plans, devising stratagem, he showed to be a capable assistant. When the country was at peace, he refused honors and rewards. Therefore, Lê Đai Hành doubled his respect toward him.

He took responsibility for royal documents and correspondence for the king.

In the seventh year of Thiên phúc Era (942), the Song’s subject Nguyễn Giác 阮覺 was delegated to Vietnam on a mission of friendly relations between two nations, the king made Pháp Thuận changing clothes in disguise of a steersman with purpose of watching Giác’s moves.

Now that at the sight of a couple of swans swimming over the river, Giác recited for fun two lines he himself composed through improvisation:



Swan and swan, a couple of swans

Are raising their head upward to the corner of heaven.

Pháp Thuận was, while one hand punting the boat, immediately joined reciting two lines he also composed through improvisation:



Their white feather are displaying on the green water,

Their talons are rowing against the blue waves.

Giác appreciated him highly.

Once being asked by the king about the national stability, he replied in a poem:





The throne of the kingdom is like the twine of wisteria;

Peace will reign on the South Heaven.

Royal noninterference will reside the palace.

War will not be found all over the country.

In the second year of Hưng thống (991), he took leave forever, at the age of 76. He had written a liturgical book namely Bồ tát hiệu sám hối văn, names of Bodhisattve for repentance.

Thiền Master Khuông Việt 匡越 (930-1011)[65]

Thiền Master Khuông Việt, belonging to the fourth generation in the line of Vô Ngôn Thông, of the Phật đà temple佛陀寺, Cát lợi吉利 village, prefecture Thường lạc, was born into the Ngô吳 family of the Cát lợi village, descendant of Emperor Ngô Thuận吳順帝. He was a man of stalwart build, free in behavior. In his childhood he made his study in Confucianism. As growing up, he inclined to Buddhism. Together with his fellow students he received the full ordination under Master Vân Phong雲風, at the Khai quốc temple開國寺. Since then, he devoted himself to studying Buddhism, reading Buddhist Scriptures, searching into the essentials of Thiền (Zen Buddhism). At the age of forty, his name had been well known to the Royal Court. Emperor Đinh Tiên丁先皇帝 summoned him to the Court to have an audience, and appointed him as the Sangha President.

In the second year of Thái bình Era (791), the king offered him the title of Khuông Việt Thái sư匡越太師, “The Grand Master who assists Vietnam.”

Emperor Lê Đại Hành paid respect to him ever more. To whatsoever matter of the Court, military as well as political, he was asked for giving his advice.

At a time when he was making a tour for sightseeing, attracted by the stillness and beauty of the landscape, he took it in mind to build up in here a cottage. At night he dreamed a deity in golden armor, with a golden spear in right hand, a small pagoda in left hand, approached him and told him:

“I am God King Vaiśravana. My retinue is yakṣas as a whole. His Majesty of gods sends me to this country as its guardian, protecting its boundaries with purpose of flourishing Buddhism. Because of our predestined relations, I come to make your acquaintance.”

The Master then woke up with a start, hearing the shout echoing from the mountains. He took it weird. At daybreak, he went into the mountain, and found out a huge tree, about thirty five meters high, luxuriant with branches and wigs, shaded with auspicious clouds above. He henceforth had workers felled it down, and according to what he had seen in dream he had a statue sculpted to worship.

In the first year of Thiên phúc Era (980), the Tống (Song) invaded the country. Having heard the account in details of what had taken place, the king ordered to hold a service to pray for a victory. Invaders all of a sudden got started, withdrew and laid camp at Chi giang支江. Here again they had to meet with so violent wind as if dragons and snakes were up-heaving, so they fled in panic.

In the seventh year, Nguyễn Giác of the Tống (Sóng) came ơn a mission of peaceful relations. At that time Dharma Master Dỗ Thuận had got equal great reputation. Đỗ Thuận and he were ordered by the King to disguise as a river watcher to welcome the Chinese envoy.

Giác appreciated the Master as being well-versed in literature. So the former composed a poem dedicating to him, in which a line is read as follows:


It should shine farther to the other sky beyond the (Chinese) sky.

The king showed this line to the Master. He explained:

“That means the envoy honors Your Majesty the same as his Lord.”

When Giác was on the point of being back home, the Master composed a poem after the tune of “Seeing off Wanglang” to see him off. The poem runs as follows:









The sail is going to spread against propitious winds, under the auspicious light.      

The noble one is returning his homeland.

He will cross the deep blue, some ten thousand miles away.

The way back home is as far as the highest heavens.

Human feelings are deadly heartbreaking as they are facing over the cup of bidding farewell.

I feel attached to him, the envoy, reluctant to be away.

Hope he would bring the profound meaning,

For the sake of the southern boundary,

Give a brilliant report to His Majesty.

As he grew older, he took leave to return to his native home, on the Du hí遊戲 mountains. There he built a temple and settled down. Students of Buddhism came in crowds.

One day, Đa Bảo多寶, disciple of his confidence, asked:

“From beginning to end, how does the search for truth proceed?”

“There is nothing from beginning to end. It is as marvelous as empty space.” If the Suchness were understood, the essence would be seen identical.” He replied.

“What is the responsibility to uphold it?”

“No room to show your hand.” was the reply.

“Do you finish talking?”

“What do you understand?”

Đa Bảo shouted.

On the fifteenth, second year of Thuận thiên Era (1011), the Lý Dynasty, on his deathbed, he instructed the disciples:





Fire is inherent in wood.

There fire exists, so fire takes place.

If you say there is no fire inherent in wood;

How does fire appear as you rub wood?

After finishing the stanza, he passed away in position of crossed-legs; at the age of 52. Some say 79.


Before drawing out from the biographies as cited above a possible conclusion, it is recommendable to review their reliability in term of history.

1. Master Định Không died in 808, at the age of 79, accordingly his birth can be in 730. At that time Vô Ngôn Thông had not arrived yet. The former belongs to the eighth generation of Tì-ni-đa-lưu-chi line. Its fourth generation according to TUTA is Thanh Biện who died in 686. From then up to Định Không, as is seen, only three generations are mentioned, yet the time was lasting over a century and a haft. As a result, each generation owned its existence at least fifty years. The figure is likely, but not reliably, to be accurate. The chronology of TUTA remains incomprehensible to us, and it is not easy to justify its truthfulness.

2. Định Không studied THiền/Zen under Long Tuyền Nam Dương龍泉南陽. The latter can be the locality where Zen Master Nam Dưong Tuệ Trung南陽慧中 (Nanyang Huichung). Tuệ Trung (Huichung) is the sixth generation in the transmission of Ngưu Đầu (Niutou), a subsect branching out of the fourth patriarch Đạo Tín道信 (Daoxin). Tuệ Trung was flourishing around 683-769. Its biographies as recorded by The Transmission of the Lamp (book 3) and The General Record of Buddha and Patriarchs (book 13). Nowhere in these records were found as an assembly of dharma-talk of Tuệ Trung. Nevertheless, both Nam dương (Nanyang) and Long tuyền (Longxuan) are the names of place in China. Among the Chinese contemporaries of Định Không, no one was found residing at Long tuyền but Tuệ Trung at Nam dương.

3. Cổ pháp originally was a prefecture. The name has been known since the pre-Lê. Under the Đinh, it was named as Cổ lãm. Nevertheless, TUTA ascertained that the name was assigned by Định Không. The possible suggestion is that previously it was a nickname of the village Diên uẩn acknowledged only among villagers, until under the Lê it came to be used as an official name of the prefecture. Diên uẩn ỏ Cổ pháp is the native home of Lý Công Uẩn, founder of the Lý Dynasty. The official history records Diên uẩn located in the prefecture Cổ pháp, having no hint of Cổ pháp as a name of the village.

4. It is not clear whom the three terms lý hưng vương李興王 (the flourishing king of the Ly) in the biography of Dịnh Không refer to. In the story of La Qúy, hưng vương is also related, but there it could be taken not as a person name, rather denoting a flourishing noble. Accordingly, it could be a reference to Lý Công Uẩn who would be flourishing in the time to come.

5. As regards the oracles disclosed on the bark of the cotton tree at the Châu minh temple previously planted by La Quy, something of the kind can be read in the Đại Việt sử ký toàn thư大越史記全書 (The Complete History of Dai Viet). The latter is said spreading in the year of Thái bình the fifth (974), under the reign of Emperor Đinh Tiên. Its prediction relates the fall of the Đinh House, sucessfully the pre-Lê House, and then the rise of Lý.

6. The story of Khuông Việt records the fact that his prayers were successful in repelling the invasion of the Song army commanded by Hầu Nhân Bảo侯仁保 in the first year of Thiên phuc. Something of the kind relating to the two gods of Long nhãn is also found in the legend of Lĩnh Nam trích quái嶺南摭怪. The same legend is related also in Việt điện u linh tập 越甸幽靈集,  in which, however, the background of events was in the time of Nam Tấn cương, of the Ngô House. Probably it was a very popular legend spreading orally among people to the extent it turned out to be inconsistent.

Generally speaking, the data given by TUTA can only be considered as unofficial ones, the legends narrated among the people. Nevertheless, they harbour a great value in term of history, giving us factual traditions among them, the relations of Thiền Masters with people of the time and their role as well.

The first to be noticed is the then public opinion about Cao Biền’s making the canal Thien uy and constructing the citadel Dai la. In the Đại Việt sử ký toàn thư, the work of Cao Bien was officially admired as heavenly, supernatural, done with the assistance of gods. Ngô Sĩ Liên, a royal historian, gave his comments without hesitation: “How strange was Cao Biền’s construction of the canal! It is on account of its conformity to reason that it was aided by the Heaven. The Heaven is but the reason…” The work, which the official historian valued as godly, was not given in the least any admiration by TUTA, rather being considered as the undermining one, and Cao Biền was but a brigand. Accordingly, Bao Biền had not left any good impression to the people, if not the horrible one, which TUTA wanted not to tell in details. In the eyes of the people, what Cao Biền had been doing were aimed at a sole purpose, the long lasting dominance of the North. Therefore, TUTA disclosed the evil performance of Cao Biền in the constructions of canal and citadel as the way of exorcism intending to destroy the auspices of independence prosperity of Vietnam. To this point, to some extent, TUTA has related the social and political movements that generated the consciousness of self-sovereignty of Vietnam heralding a new phase in the history of Vietnam.


[1] T 2066, p. 5a ff.

[2]  ibd.

[3]  T 2035, p. 471a13.

[4]  T 1516, p. , 58c ff, 116a1, 119b.

[5]  T 1516, p. 64c ff.

[6]  T 1512, vol. 75.

[7]  T 1516, p. 64c16.

[8]  T 466, vol. 14.

[9]  T 80, vol. 1, 佛為首迦長者說, 隋洋川郡守瞿曇法智譯.

[10]  T 2060, p. 571b ff.

[11] T 1516, p. 69c11 ff.

[12]  T 2036, p. 560c4 ff.

[13]  T 2103, p. 213b3 ff.

[14]  廣弘明集. T 2103, p. 216b10.

[15]  資治通鑑卷180.

[16]  T 2126, p. 243b ff.

[17]  T 1516, p. 65b16.

[18]  T 2035, p. 454b15; see also, 廣弘明集卷第二十五T 2103, p. 291a14;

[19]  T 2036, p. 580b22 ff:

[19] T 2035, p. 454b15; see also, 廣弘明集卷第二十五T

[20]  T 1512, p. 119a19.

[21]  ibid., p. 125c23.

[22]  弘明集卷5T 2102, p. 29c20 ff; see also 集沙門不應拜俗等事卷2 T 2103, p. 449a2.

[23]  T 2103, p. 280c20 ff.; see also T 2180, p. 452b18 ff.

[24]  T 2108, p. 462a29 ff.

[25]  T 2035, p. 454b26 ff.

[26]  T 1512, p. 136b12.

[27]  T 1516, p. 75b8 ff.

[28]  T 2130, p. 134a4 ff; 160a21 ff; 168b23 ff.

[29]  T 2036, p. 564b5 ff.

[30]  T 2035, p. 414b,; 452c5: 唐中宗景龍初。詔天下.

[31]  T 2037, p. 822c24.

[32]  T 2037, p. 827c17 ff.

[33]  T 2035, p. 453c7 ff.

[34]  T 2037, p. 827b13; T 1516, p. 99a19.

[35]  T 1600, p. 1497c17.

[36]  T 2126, p. 242c14 ff.

[37]  T 2059, p.325a13 ff.

[38]  T 2066, p. 4b18 ff.

[39]  Cf. Lê Mạnh Thát, Tổng tập văn học Phật giáo Việt nam, tập 3: Thiền uyển tập anh, 2002, p. 274 ff.

[40]  It should be identified as象頭精舍經, T 464; Cf. Le Manh That, ibid., p. 544, notes.

[41]  Another translation was done by Dharmaprajna, T 80; cf. Lê Mạnh Thát. ibid., p. 545, notes.

[42]  大方廣總持經, T 275; cf. Lê Mạnh Thát, ibid.

[43]  T 2034, vol. 49.

[44]  T 2147, vol. 55.

[45]  T 2034, p. 102c3.

[46]  大方廣總持經, T 275, vol. 9.

[47]  伽耶山頂經T 465, vol. 41.

[48]  T 2149, p. 275a14

[49]  T 2037, p. 807c5

[50]  文殊師利菩薩問菩提經, T 464, vol. 14.

[51]  T 2034, p. 78b1: 一卷(一名文殊師利所問。一名菩提無行經。一名伽耶頂經).

[52]  T 2034, p. 86a7: 伽耶頂經一卷(第二譯。與秦世羅什同本別出異名。僧朗筆受).

[53]  大乘伽耶山頂經, T 467, vol.14.

[54]  佛說濟諸方等學經, T 274, vol. 14. Cf. T 2034, p.63a06: 一卷(或無學字。見竺道祖晉世雜錄)

[55]  Cf. Lê Mạnh Thát, op.cit. p.191.

[56]  T 2076, p. 268a28 ff: 廣州和安寺.

[57]  ibid., p. 249b26 ff.

[58]  ibid., p. 240c7 ff.

[59]  T 1578, p. 520b18 ff.

[60]  T 695a9.

[61]  卷第三: 菩提達磨旁出三人.

[62]  Cf. Lê Mạnh Thát, op.cit. p. 281.

[63]  op.cit. p. 283.

[64]  op.cit. p. 284.

[65]  op.cit., p. 200.


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