INTRODUCTION OF BUDDHISM
The date of the introduction of Buddhism to Vietnam has been much argued and as
yet there is no generally accepted opinion. However according to the most
believable opinion, the date would be about the year 189 (A.D.).
The task was probably carried out by Master Meou-Po, from You-Teheou (China), an
ex-Taoist converted to Buddhism. Before him, other missionaries such as
Marijivaka, Kalya-Naruci and Kang-send-Houei, by the way of China or from sea, had come to Giao-Chau, the
cradle of the present Vietnam.
It is more than probable that they had preached the good word, thus preparing
the way to Meoupo’s ulterior apostolate.
was then under the direct administration of the Great Chinese Empire which was
only interested in the propagation of Confucianism. Hardly tolerated, Buddhism
was known only by its ritual form. Few efforts were made to disseminate the
Doctrine whose wonderfully rich literature was represented by a few
"sutras" translated into Chinese.
From 544 to 602, Vietnam
enjoyed a short period of national independence which, nevertheless, promoted
an expansion of Buddhism. But the progress was superficial, for it was just
before and during the third Chinese domination (603-939) that began a period of
real progress with the coming of two missions in 580 and 820. The first was
conducted by the Superior Vinitaruci, Indian by birth, recognised later on as
the first patriarch of the "Zen" Sect in Vietnam, the second by the
Venerable Vo-ngon-Thong who formed another Zen apart. The country had 20
"stupas" to house the precious relics offered as a diplomatic present
by the Chinese Emperor, many temples and 500 monks, many of them were famous by
their vast knowledge and their rigorous discipline.
In 939, Ngo-quyen, after having chased out the last Chinese governor
and defeated the imperial army, proclaimed himself king, putting an end for
ever to a domination which lasted for a total of more than 1,000 years.
But the Ngo dynasty, undermined by internal conflicts was short-lived.
It ended in the fire and blood of the "rebellion of the twelve
Lords". One of them, Dinh-Bo-Linh, came out of the struggle as a victor
and gave himself the title of Emperor.
During this time, Buddhism was forced to remain motionless, while in China it
underwent the most dreadful persecution.
With the accession to power of Dinh-bo-Linh who gave his protection to
Buddhism, started an era of prosperity for the "Doctrine" which
became then a popular belief. This period of prosperity lasted until 1009.
A monk named Ngo-Chan-Luu, lived in the monastery of Phat-Da. His
reputation as a distinguished scholar, a talented post, well versed in the
practice of contemplation (Zen), was soon called to the attention of the
Emperor who invited him to come to the court to explain Dharma. Very satisfied
with Ngo-Chan-Luu’s teaching, Dinh-Bo-Linh appointed him Head of the Buddhist
Clergy he had just created. It was in 946. A year later, to thank him for his
intelligent advice on the conduct of public affairs, the Emperor elevated him
to the dignity of Imperial Councillor with the lauditory surname of Khuong-Viet
(Servant of Vietnam).
The Dinh dynasty was succeeded by the first Le’s (980-1009). During
the latter’s reign, the Buddhist Clergy continued to profit by royal favours as
the king, by the monks’ advice on political and religious matters (Ngo-chan-Luu
was one of them). It was then that a diplomatic mission was sent to China for the
first time to bring back a complete series of sacred books on Dharma.
The last representative of the Le dynasty was so cruel and despotic
that, at his death, a court revolution broke out and a high mandarin named
Ly-cong-Uan was brought to power. Godson of the Superior Co-Phap and former
disciple of the Venerable Van-Hanh - one of the greatest spiritual symbols of
Vietnam Buddhism - Ly-cong-Uan, known later on under the name of Ly-thai-To,
ascended the throne in 1010.
The fortune of Buddhism was made since then. Many Zen Masters,
Van-Hany, Da-Bao, Sung-Pham with their incontestable prestige, contributed to
make teaching and practice of Dharma particularly brilliant and successful.
Le Thai To died in 1028, leaving to his successors the most beautiful
traditions of piety and devotion. The first of them was Ly-Thai-Ton
(1028-1054), a practising layman of exceptional favour who has probably
obtained the "satori" under the tutoring of his "guru", the
Venerable Thuyen-Lao of the Vo-ngon-Thong sect. In respect of Buddhist
expansion, the noticeable events, during his reign, were the erection - by
order of the King - of 95 pagodas whose completion was pompously celebrated and
marked by a general exemption of taxes in favour of the people; the restoration
of all Buddha statues in the existing temples followed by another fiscal
amnesty (1036); and finally, in 1049, the construction of the Dien-Huru pagoda
decided in consequence of a dream. The king saw himself led to the Lotus Palace
by Bodhisattva Avalokitsevara; and therefore he gave to the temple its original
shape; a lotus flower sustained by a single column planted in the middle of an
artificial lake. Built up in Hanoi and called by
the public "Chua Mot cot" (one columned Pagoda), this historical
monument was sabotaged by anonymous hands at the end of 1954, just before the
withdrawal of French troops from the capital of Northern
Vietnam. It is rumored now that the pagoda has been restored.
The third king of the Ly dynasty was Ly-Thanh-Ton (1054-1072), a
living image of Buddhist compassion. Very often did he happen to recall -
specially in Winter time - the miserable life of his poor people and the
prisoners’ sufferings. That is why distributions of food and clothes to
unfortunate people and reduction of prison terms in favour of prisoners were so
frequent during his reign.
Three years before the death of this good monarch, in 1059, a sensational
event occurred. The country was at war with Champa, a small neighbouring
kingdom. On the return from a raid against the enemy who used to make frequent
and sudden attacks against Vietnam,
Ly-Thanh-Ton brought with him a group of prisoners of war which he gave as
slaves to his mandarins. One of these happened to be a member of the Buddhist
clergy. One day coming back from town, he discovered - to his surprise - that
some parts of his selection of Buddhist thoughts bore written corrections. The author
was soon found out. It was one of his slaves. The mandarin reported it to the
Emperor who had him brought to the Court and there "questioned" him
on the Dharma. The prisoner evinced an outstanding knowledge. Nothing was
astonishing about it any way: the man was a Chinese Zen Master called
Thao-Duong. He was captured while he was preaching in a foreign land.
Then, he was admitted into the national clergy by order of the king
who allowed him at the same time to start as a preacher in the Kahi Quoc Pagoda.
Many students soon clustered round the new Master, Thao-Duong founded a third
Zen sect that took his name. The king joined in and like his forefather,
probably attained Enlightenment.
Under Ly-nhan-Ton (1072-1127), the successor of Ly-thanh-Ton, the Confucian
culture, having appeared in the previous reign, made its entry in the
intellectual life of the country, on the occasion of the first competitive exam
instituted by imperial edict for mandarin recruitment. But it was far from
endangering Buddhism which continued to flourish under the King’s protection.
Many manuscripts still existing in the present days, attest the profundity of
thought in the Buddhism of that epoch, represented by group of scholars, namely
the Venerable Vien-Chieu, Ngo-an and Kho-dau; the latter had assumed the high
functions of Imperial Councillor for a certain time, just like Khuong-Viet
under the Dinh and the first Le.
From 1128 to 225, at the end of the Ly dynasty, there were still three
kings who went in for the Zen practice. The last of them weary with social
life, became a monk, after having abdicated in favour of his daughter who, in
turn, handed the power to her husband Tran Canh, the founder of the Tran
INFLUDENCES OF BUDDHISM UPON LIFE AND THOUGHT OF THE VIETNAMESE PEOPLE
There were therefore fundamentally three main religions in Vietnam; Taoism;
Confucianism and Buddhism. But in fact there was only one which is the product
of their mutual interpretation and each one of which may be considered as one
of the different aspects. That continuing situation which renders difficult
even impossible, to divide the Vietnamese into three separate and independent
communities. If a majority - monks or laics devotes itself exclusively either
to Buddhism or Taoism, the bulk of the people is open-minded and has no
discrimination. It may belong to Buddhism whilst approaching Taoist temples or
performing the rites required by cult of ancestors.
It is doubtless that such a confusion often brings about superstitious
practices and hence it furthers and maintains ignorance. However it is not
without any beneficial effect on morality, way of thinking, in short on life of
Many scholars, without denying so far the principles of Confucianism,
are in effect Buddhist products, and if there has been no direct borrowing of
ideas the main Buddhist theories such as: Impermanence, Karma, Causality,
Reincarnation, Earthly Sufferings etc…are much reflected in many literary works
to enable one to find out the source. But it is especially in the field of
morals that such an influence will play its effective role. The most
illiterate, the very non-Buddhists are afraid of the Karma reactions which they
conceive through the symbol of "Ten Hells". Often this knowledge
prevents them from doing any harm to others and prompts them towards acts of
kindness. Strengthened by the "five commandments", it provides the
faithful with a softness of morals which the liberating Zen first of all and
the Amidism full of promise for an incomparable felicity afterwards contribute
to make more vivacious and lively. The vegetarian regime is particular,
observed on specific date by laics and in a continuing manner by monks, has at
least the merit smoothing the sanguinary instinct common to the whole humanity.
In the field of Fine Arts, the same influence is noticed. The
architecture, sculpture and painting are inspired mostly by these two main
ideas of Buddhism: Purity and Compassion. The flower of lotus is a very
valuable figure and Avalokiteswara under its manifold representations is
another design which is highly appreciated by women.
PRESENT POSITION OF BUDDHISM
We have pointed out the effort undertaken by the reformist movement since
1920. It has indeed made a long way but does not yet reach its aim. The results
obtained are not less encouraging.
The promoters have succeeded to some extent in making clear the
essence of Buddhism, by depriving it from foreign contributions, but they are
willing to remain faithful to the Mahayanist traditions, the prevailing matter
of which it is known, is the compassion represented by the theory of
Bodhisattava which is based on this exhortation of Buddha; ‘Delivered, deliver;
advised, advise’. The reason why the followers of the movement are complied,
whether they are monks or laics, to improve gradually their spiritual formation
and to behave accordingly through actions the truths they have learned from the
sutras. They realize now the real meaning of rites and shila which are mediums
to attain internal peace, wisdom…and not for personal purposes. They will be no
longer deluded by the symbolism often in use in the Mahayana and they know how
to extract from it the substantial nectar. If they subscribe without
restriction to the orthodoxy extolled by the Theravadins, they abandon neither
the theories established later on that base by Nagarjuna, Asvaghose, Vasabandhu
and others nor the school of "Pure Land" or the Amidism which is
known as a practical form of the difficult Dhyana since it is accessible to the
In Vietnam, Buddhism remains the religion which gathers the most of
adapts, the approximate figure has been given at the beginning of this brief
study. It is especially prosperous in Central Vietnam as it was also in North
Vietnam by the end of 1954. Because of lack of contract with this latter
region, it is not possible for us to supply accurate information on its present
situation. In South Vietnam, its numerical size is far less, because of the
coexistence of other creeds from Western or local origin. However the faith in
the Dhamma is maintained ardently within the strictly Buddhist circles as well
as within the faithful of other religious systems more or less connected with
the Shakyamuni teaching; this justified the expression "fervent or
indifferent Buddhists" previously mentioned.
If we should make now the division between traditional and deformed
Buddhism on the one hand and modern or reformist Buddhism on the other hand the
same proportions remain available as for the repartition of faithful in three
parts of Vietnam. In effect Central Vietnam has about two million reformists,
while South Vietnam has not exceeded twenty thousand. But the idea took shape
in this latter area and we may hope with the return of peace, modern Buddhism
will make prompt and tremendous progress.PEFECTION
As, in a field of perfected, when the seed
That’s sown is perfect and the deva rains
Perfecting it, grain to perfection comes;
No plagues are there; perfect the growth becomes;
And crop and fruit reach to perfection then.
So, perfect alms in perfect precept given
Leads to perfection - for one’s deed is perfect.
In this a person longing for perfection
Should e’er be perfect and should follow men
In wisdom perfect - thus perfection comes.
In guise and knowledge perfect, he, the heart’s
Perfection winning, heaps up perfect kamma
And gains the perfect good. Knowing the world
In verity, he grasps the perfect view.
And coming to the perfect Way, he goes
On perfect-minded. Casting by all dirt
He gains perfection’s state, the cool, from ill
Completely freed, and that is all-perfection.
The Buddha in Anguttara-Nikaya---------
[*] This article was written in the 1950s, and thus, those population
statistics are no longer appropriate.