Lời giới thiệu: Phật Giáo Tại Việt Nam là bài trình bày của BS Trần Xuân Ninh tại Hội Nghị SOUTH AND SOUTHEAST ASIAN ASSOCIATION FOR THE STUDY OF CULTURE AND RELIGION (SSEASR) kỳ 2 tổ chức tại Bangkok, Thailand.
It is not known exactly when Buddhism came to Vietnam. In his book Le Bouddhisme en annam des origines jusqu’au XIIIè siècle, believed to be from the 3rd century, Trần Văn Giáp asserts that Mâu Tử from China was the first person to preach Buddhism in Vietnam. Recent researchers maintain it is actually earlier (3 centuries BC), relying on stories of prehistoric heroines and personalities. As examples of Buddhism before the 3rd century, they cited Chử Đồng Tử the first Vietnamese Buddhist (under the 18th Hùng King), and assumed that Vietnam had a well-developed sangha by the time of Princess Bát Nàn and general Thiếu Hoa, heroines fighting under the Trung sisters against the Han armed forces in 39 BC. After the feat, Bát Nàn became a nun at Tien La pagoda; Thiếu Hoa was a nun before joining the Trung sisters. They also pointed to some pagodas like Lien Trì, which was built in the Hung Vuong era before 258 BC, and Truc Vien in Saison, Son Tay (100 BC). According to these researchers, Buddhism came to Vietnam directly from India and Mâu Tử (160-230) and Khương Tăng Hội (200-280), believed to be the first Buddhist preachers in Vietnam, actually studied Buddhism from Vietnam and went back to preach in China. They also based their theory on the word “bụt” Vietnamese used to call Buddha, while Phật is the Chinese word used by Huyen Trang in the 7th century translating Buddhist sutras.
All major schools of Buddhism are practiced in Vietnam today: Mahayana, Theravada, Vajrayana, Pure-Land, and Zen, among other derivative sects. At first glance, there would seem to be no form of Buddhism specific to Vietnam, with the Vietnamese following the same teachings specific to each dharmaparyàya. This is not the case, however. There is a Vietnamese Buddhism, original to Vietnam as we will see, looking into both the history of Vietnam and the development of Buddhism in the country.
Buddhism in Vietnam continued to thrive during the Ly dynasty (1010-1225) and Tran dynasty (1225-1400) but not exclusively. Confucianism was also developing and Taoism also well considered at this time.
The first king of the Ly dynasty, Ly Công Uẩn is the disciple of a famous monk, the Venerable Vạn Hạnh. Văn Miếu or Temple of the Literature was founded in 1070 as a Confucian temple. Only parts of the Văn Miếu complex date back to the earliest period, although much of the architecture dates to the Lý (1010 – 1225) and Trần (1225 – 1400) Dynasties. In 1076 Vietnam's first university, the Quốc Tử Giám or National University, was established within the temple to educate Vietnam's mandarin class. The university functioned for more than 700 years, from 1076 to 1779. During that time 2,313 doctors graduated.
During the Tran dynasty (1225-1400), the first 3 Kings Trần Thái Tôn, Trần Thánh Tông, Trần Nhân Tông and many high-ranking mandarins and royal members were Zen Buddhists. Among them King Trần Nhân Tông was the most prominent, being the founder of Trúc Lâm Yên Tử Zen School after his retirement from the throne in 1299.
It can be said retrospectively that his life was the life of a practicing special Zen Buddhist, that he summed up in a verse entitled Cư Trần lạc đạo (“Enjoying Tao while in worldly life”).
With the rule of Trần Nhân Tông in the early 13th century came the first incidence of Buddhism transforming into something distinctly Vietnamese. As king, Trần Nhân Tông twice routed the Mongol invaders, in 1285 and 1288. Facing the powerful and cruel Mongols, he summoned the seniors from throughout the country to a meeting at the Dien Hong palace, asking them to make the choice between a devastating war waged against the seemingly invincible invaders or an oppressed and humiliated surrender. This is hailed nowadays as a democratic gesture. Some declared him as a weak king who could not make an assertive decision in a critical situation. However in light of his other acts, he behaved in the real bodhisattva spirit of compassion, understanding the difficult choice of risking one’s own life and family in critical circumstances. Trần Nhân Tông’s reactions towards the Mongol invasion are evidence of his application of Buddhism to the governance of Vietnam. After the victory over the Mongols, he had the lists of the Vietnamese people who collaborated with the invaders burnt. He ordered to free those people who had to sell themselves as slaves during the famine period of 1290-93. He distributed free food to the poor, among other things. In 1294 he left the life of a monk to come back as father-king to fight the Laotian invaders. Once the raiders were pushed back, he returned again to monastic life, living ascetically in Yen Tu mountain. From 1301 on, he preached his own brand of Zen Buddhism, named later Truc Lam Yen Tu, until his death in 1308, in a modest meditation site, with only one disciple by his side. No doubt Truc Lam Yen Tu Zen School was inspired from the Hue Nang Zen of Immediate Enlightenment through its branches Vô Ngôn Thông, and Thảo Đường; and from Tì-Ni-Đa-Lưu-Chi’s Phap-Van Zen, wedded to bodhisattvayana. The essence of Truc Lam Yen Tu Zen school is to “live the dharma” and Trần Nhân Tông’s life is the illustrated example. Trần Nhân Tông’s Truc Lam Yen Tu Zen School marked the beginning and foundation of Vietnamese Buddhism, which is exemplified by the tenet, “Dharma applied to worldly life,” all of the characteristics of which are outlined in the verse Cư Trần Lạc Đạo. In this interpretation of Buddhism, practicing Buddhism is not limited to ritual activities, worship, and meditation, but right within daily activities. There is no need to search for enlightenment and peace anywhere outside of self and of the environment one lives in.
Through wax and wane, this Truc-Lam-Yen- Tu-yana permeated the mind of many a Vietnamese. In the late 18th century, the famous Ngo thi Nham, advisor to the invincible King Quang Trung, was greatly influenced by this school of thought. (Ngo thi Nham is the person who helped setting the conditions for King Quang Trung’s victory over the Ching expeditionary corps of 200,000 in a 10-day assault on Thang Long (Ha Noi). During the chaotic French invasion and its consequent effects of the mid-19th century, this tradition led to the formation of Phật Giáo Tứ Ân (Four-grace Buddhism), inspired by Đoàn Minh Huyên, dubbed as đức Phật Thầy (“the Buddha teacher”). This Four-grace described 4 graces that each Vietnamese Buddhist should know, be grateful for, and revere: the ancestors’ grace, the country’s grace, the three-gem grace and the grace of mankind.
Contemporarily the “Dharma applied to daily life” tradition has brought up respectable Buddhist monks such as Thích Huyền Quang, Thích Quảng Độ and others of the Mahayana school in Vietnam; and Thích Hộ Giác of the Theravada school and others of the Vietnamese Unified Church abroad. These reverends live the dharma following the bodhisattvayana and have become the target of the government’s harassments and attacks.
Aware of the current resurgence of Trúc-Lâm-Yên-Tử-yana the leaders of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam decided to intervene. Recently it allowed the reconstruction of the Truc Lam Yen Tu historic sites in the North, which were destroyed like many other spiritual and religious monuments during the proletariat dictatorship, and to build up many Truc Lam Yen Tu meditation pagodas along the highway Saigon-Vung Tau. However, the teaching is different, emphasizing ritual meditations and escape from daily hardships. In other words, it exploits the soothing effect of religion to the utmost – interestingly, this is the reason that made Marx say “religion is the opiate for the people.” This is basically contrary to the Truc Lam Yen Tu spirit of “living the dharma.” Politics is further inserted into Buddhism by installing Ho Chi Minh’s bust on the altar, next to Buddha statues, in at least one grandiose pagoda recently built in Binh Duong (South Vietnam).
To sum up, historical and cultural peculiarities of Viet Nam had generated a special brand of Vietnamese Buddhism that calls for the practical application of the Dharma covering all conventional Buddhist vehicles.
Ninh Xuan Tran, M.D
(Quang Minh Pagoda
Chicago Illinois 60625
1/Trần Văn Giáp: Le Bouddhisme en Annam dès origines jusqu’au XIIIè siècle. BEFEO XXXII. 1932.
2/D. T. Suzuki: Thiền Luận bản dịch Trúc Thiên. Đại Nam Co. PO Box 4279 Glendale, CA 91202
2/Trần Tri Khách: Niên biểu Phật giáo Việt Nam. www.quangduc.com/lichsu
3/Nguyễn Duy Hinh: Trần Nhân Tôn, vua Bụt và hành động. www.daosuduytue.com/regulation/hoi-thao
4/Trúc Lâm Yên Tử: www.vi.wikipedia.org/wiki/
5/Thích thanh Từ: Lời nguyện xây dựng Trúc Lâm Yên tử. www.buddhismtoday.com/thongbao/xayTrucLamYentu
6/Lê Mạnh Thát: Tổng Tập Văn Học Phật giáo Viêt Nam. Tập 1. Nhà Xuất bản thành phố HCM 2001
7/Lê Mạnh Thát: Lịch sử Phật Giáo Việt Nam. Tập 2. Nhà Xuất bản thành phố HCM 2001