Buddhism in Vietnam
Thao - Duong Zen School: The Zen-Pure Land Union and Modern Vietnamese Buddhism
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Thao - Duong Zen School:
The Zen-Pure Land Union and Modern

Vietnamese Buddhism

Ven. Thich Thien An

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(Note: The Vietnamese names in this essay are written with the VIQR-VietNet convention)

Before considering the Zen-Pure Land union as introduced to Vietnam through the Thảo Đường school, let us survey the Vietnamese Buddhist scene from the Ddinh (969-981) to Trần (1225-1400) dynasties when Buddhism developed from a national religion to a nationalist religion before merging with aspects of Taoist and Confucian beliefs characteristic of the unification of the three religions following the decline of Buddhist influence in the Late Trn dynasty. The beginning of Buddhism as the national religion of the Vietnamese can be placed as early as the Đinh Bộ Lĩnh established a Vietnamese Sangha and initiated the practice of appointing eminent monks to serve as royal advisors on political, religious, and domestic matters. The Early Lê dynasty (981-1009) continued this policy in addition to providing Vietnam's Buddhist heritage with a firm basis for development by obtaining from China the complete Chinese Tripitaka, the collection of Buddhist sacred texts. During this period of growth and assimilation, Buddhism adjusted itself to local practices, absorbing diverse areas of belief in the comprehensive goal of enlightenment for all sentient beings. The teachings of the Buddha flourished in the land, and, with the coming of the Ly' dynasty (1010-1225), the Vô-Ngôn-Thông sect was particularly prosperous; the first two kings, Ly'-Thái-Tổ (ruled 1010-1028), a former disciple of Ty`-Ni-Đa-Lưu-Chi master Ven. Vạn-Hạnh, and Ly'-Tha'i-Tôn (ruled 1028-1045), a student of Ven. Thiền Lão, a famous master of the Vô-Ngôn-Thông Zen sect, continued the practice begun by Đinh-Bộ Lĩnh of appointing learned monks to advisory positions in the government, thus providing a basis for the merging of religious and national interests characteristic of the Early Trần dynasty.

The first real propagation of a Buddhist sect occurred under the third king of Ly', Ly'-Tha'nh-Tôn (ruled 1054-1072), Dharma-successor to Ven. Thảo-Đường. As first patriarch of the  Thảo-Đường sect, Ly'-Tha'nh-Tôn was instrumental in establishing the teachings of his master in Vietnam and in providing a suitable ecology for the growth of Thảo-ĐườngZen. The four successive monarchs of the Ly' were likewise earnest Buddhist patrons; among them Ly'-Anh-To^n (ruled 1138-1175) and Ly'-Cao-Tôn (ruled 1176-1210) received the seal-of-mind (V. Tâm-ấn, J. Shin-in) in the  Thảo-Đường tradition. With emphasis on the merging of loving-kindness (S. karuna) and insight (S. prajna), the Tha?o-Ddu+o+`ng sect provided the background material from which the first monarch of the Tra^`n dynasty, Tra^`n-Tha'i-To^n, constructed his all-encompassing philosophy of humanism, which was to weave an important pattern in the Zen of the Tru'c-La^m sect founded by Tra^`n-Nha^n-To^n in the thirteenth century.

The interval separating King Ly'-Cao-To^n's abdication to accept the seal-of-mind within the patriarchial tradition of the Tha?o-Ddu+o+`ng school from King Tra^`n-Nha^n-To^n's resignation to become a monk and founder of the Tru'c-La^m school was marked by three significant events acting as a catalyst phasing the religion of the Ly' dynasty into the national religion, the comingling of nationalism and religion of the Tra^`n dynasty. These events--the Mongol invasions of 1257, 1285 and 1287--led to a reassessment of national character, inner conviction, and ethnic aim culminating in the founding of the Tru'c-La^m Zen sect. Thus we may say of the Tra^`n dynasty, in contradistinction to the Ly' dynasty, that Buddhism adapted itself to the nationalist tendencies of the Vietnamese which were then finding their full expression under the stimulus to reevaluation provided by the Mongolian threat of foreign domination; during the Ly' dynasty, however, with which we are concerned in this chapter, Buddhism captivated the Vietnamese to such extent as to make the teaching of Sakyamuni the one belief of the entire country. The Tha?o-Ddu+o+`ng school, with its practical methods suitable for all to follow in everyday life, opened the way by which Buddhism penetrated the heart of the nation and over the years transformed and directed the energies of the Vietnamese towards the Pure Land.

Speaking of the circumstances leading to the introduction of Tha?o-Ddu+o+`ng Zen during King Ly'-Tha'nh-To^n's reign (1054-1072), Mai-Tho.-Truye^`n writes in his 'Buddhism in Vietnam' (p.42): "In 1069, to be precise, a significant event occurred. At that time the country was at war with the kingdom of Champa, a turbulent neighbor, whose frequent incursions into Vietnamese territory caused great alarm. The Emperor returned from an expedition against Champa with a number of prisoners of war," among them the Chinese monk Tha?-Ddu+o+`ng (C. Ts'ao-tang), who had been temporarily in Champa teaching the unified Zen-Pure Land practice with fellow Chinese Buddhists. On Ly'-Tha'nh-To^n's return to the palace he assigned Tha?o-Ddu+o+`ng to assist Vietnam's Royal Head Monk (V. Ta(ng-lu.c); one day when this nmonk was out on a visit, according to historical sources, Tha?o-Ddu+o+`ng took his Ngu+~-Lu.c, a record of the teachings of great Buddhist bonzes, and made corrections in the text. After Ly'-Tha'nh-To^n heard of this he sent for the prisoner to test his understanding of Buddhism. Tha?o-Ddu+o+`ng explained the teachings of numerous Buddhist tests and answered questions with penetrating insight, thoroughly convincing the king of his extraordinary abilities. Then, learning of Tha?o-Ddu+o+`ng's background of study with the Chinese master Tuye^'t-Dda^.u Minh-Gia'c (C. Hsueh-t'ou Ming-chueh, 980-1052) and of his teaching activities in Champa at the time of his capture, King Ly'-Tha'nh-To^n admitted him to the Vietnamese Sangha with the title Quo^'c-Su+ (C. Kuo-shih, J. Kokushi), or National Teacher, and placed him in charge of teaching Zen practice and Buddhist philosophy in the royal palace; thereafter Tha?o-Ddu+o+`ng stayed at Khai-Quo^'c temple in the capital city of Tha(ng-Long (now Hanoi). With Ly'-Tha'nh-To^n as his earnest supporter, the master's fame spread quickly to the surrounding countryside; hearing of his residence at Khai-Quo^'c, Dharma-seekers journeyed from both China and Vietnam to benefit from his teachings.

Tha?o-Ddu+o+`ng, one of seventeen Dharma-successors to Tuye^'t-Dda^.u Minh-Gia'c, advocated the unified practice of Zen and Pure Land methods for attaining enlightenment. The combined teachings, known as the doctrine of Ch'an-ching I-chih (Thie^`n Ti.nh Nha^'t Tri'), were accepted and widely cultivated during the development of Sung (To^'ng)dynasty syncretism, a movement grounded in the late T'ang (Ddu+o+`ng) dynasty when leaders of different Buddhist schools found it profitable to join together with their fellow Buddhists in soliciting the favor of the imperial court. Emphasis shifted to the harmonious elements under-lying all Buddhist teachings, and, through the interchange of doctrine and practice, the traditional boundaries once separating various sects merged with one another as Chinese Buddhism found a new mode of expression in the philosophy of syncretism. The union of Zen meditation and Pure Land avocation, a lasting result of Sung syncretism, may, at first glance, as Heinrich Dumoulin writes in 'A History of Zen Buddhism' (p.125), "seem especially surprising in view of the basic difference in structure between the two movements. But here too the embedding of Zen in Buddhist piety--a piety shich Zen may surpass in mystical enlightenment but can never fully deny--becomes evident. Moreover, there is a remarkable psychological similarity between the rhythmic repetition of the Buddha name in the so-called nien-fo (Jap. Nembutsu) and the intensive practice of the koan."

The similar goal of meditation and of Buddha's-name-recitation, or mantra as devotional invocation designed to produce a certain state of mind, and their connection in the history of Buddhist propagation in China, goes back to the early days of the introduction of the Dharma. As Buddhism developed in China, by the time of the sixth patriarch Hui-ne^ng (J. Eno, 638-713), looking into one's own nature to perceive the Buddha was tantamount to perfecting the mind to reach the Pure Land. Due to the growth in popularity of Pure Land teachings, questioners seeking to understand the nature of faith in Amitabha and the essence of his Western Heaven frequently approached the patriarch solicting his opinion. His remarks, as recorded in the Altar Sutra (trans. Lu K'uan Yu, pp. 40-41), present an outlook supported by most enlightened monks within the Ch'an tradition. According to Hui-ne^ng:

"The deluded man repeats the Buddhas's name to seek rebirth in the (Western) Paradise but the enlightened man purifies his own mind (instead). This is why the Buddha said that purification of mind is simultaneous with purification of the Buddha land. The ignorant man who does not know clearly about his own nature and ignores the Pure Land which is within himself, looks to the east and the west. For the enlightened man, the position in which he may find himself makes no difference. This is why the Buddha said that happiness existed anywhere one might happen to be. If your mind is entirely right, the West(ern) Paradise is near at hand. If your mind is wrong, it will be very difficult to reach it by (merely) repeating the Buddha's name....If thought after thought and without interruption you perceive your own nature, and if you are constantly impartial and straightforward, you will arrive there in a snap of the fingers and will behold Amitabha Buddha. If you practice the ten good virtues, there will be no need for you to be reborn there. If you do not get rid of the ten evils, which Buddha will come and receive you? If you are awakened to the instantaneous doctrine of the uncreate, you will perceive the Western Paradise in an instant (ksana). If you are not awakened to it and if you (only) repeat the Buddha's name to be reborn there, the distance being so great how can you go there?"

Hui-ne^ng's teachings provided a basis for the subsequent union of Zen and Pure Land traditions--a union producing a cooperant methodology drawn from the source of knowledge and inspiration cultivated by each school. One of Hui-ne^ng's chief disciples, Nan-yueh Huai-jang (Nam Nha.c Hoa`i Nhu+o+.ng, J. Nangaku Ejo, d.744), did in fact suggest the recitation of Buddha's name to augment Zen meditation. The important compiler of the basic rules for monastic living, Pai-chang Huai-hai (Ba' Tru+o+.ng Hoa`i Ha?i, J. Hyakujo Ekai, 720-814), a student of Ma-tsu Tao-i (Ma~ To^? Dda.o Nha^'t, J. Baso Doitsu, D. 788), the famed disciple of Nan-yueh Huai-jang, included in his twenty monastic principles the method of Buddha's-name-recitation. Contemporaneous with Pai-chang, a school of practice developed by Hsuan-shih in Szechwan, claiming descendance from the fifth patriarch Hung-je^n (J. Gunin, 601-675), advocated meditation on the recitation of Buddha's name. So we see that between Zen and Pure Land Buddhism, as Heinrich Dumoulin writes in 'The Development of Chinese Zen' (pp. 36-37), "connecting links had existed for a long time. The Nembutsu, the devout invocation of Amida Buddha's name, was practiced by many important adherents of Zen, as for instance Hoji, the Fourth Patriarch of the branch line of Gozu Zen, by Eno's disciple Nangaku Ejo, and others....Yomyo Enju of the Hogen Sect, one of the greatest syncretists of Chinese Buddhism, declared himself emphatically in favor of combining the Nembutsu and Zen (zenjo icchi). While one who limited himself to Zen practice alone reached the goal only with difficulty, he who combined Zen with the Nembutsu was certain to attain enlightenment."

This basic attitude stressing the ease and sureness with which enlightenment may be won by the practice of both meditation and Buddha's-name-recitation comes through clearly in the teachings of Tha?o-Ddu+o+`ng as presented to his disciples in his famous 'Warning Statement', a summary of his essential views containing the most central doctrines of Zen-Pure Land union. In the poem below introducing his Warning Statement, Tha?o-Ddu+o+`ng emphasizes giving rise to a psychological disposition of mind such that the teachings of Buddhism may bring about their effect. Thus in order to enter the unchanging realm of nirvana, we prepare for this attainment by realizing the world of samsara as though-construction, knowing the body as the production of our mind working through karmic causes, and experiencing the ceaseless change and unsatisfactoriness of life conditioned by birth and death. Unless consciousness be set free from these bindings, the force of illusion continues to control the content of our mind and shape the aspects of our being. Knowing the power of the samsaric current holding us within its confines, keeping us from purifying our mind of illusion-creating thought-construction veiling the nature of reality, Buddha in his compassion comes to teach the doctrine of liberation from suffering and the means whereby this may be attained.

--Warning Statement--

Regard the world has an air-flower,

Unreal.

See the body as though a vision,

Without basis.

All things change and are not dependable.

Unless you seek the path of purification

You live in illusion for many lives.

Knowing this, Buddha came to the world in compassion,

Using the Way to teach us how to vanquish suffering,

How to cut off desire, release birth and death,

And enter nirvana's unchanging abode.

Before continuing with Tha?o-Ddu+o+`ng's 'Warning Statement', we may note briefly that his understanding of Buddha's appearance in the world is upheld by most followers of the Mahayana, and as detailed in the Lotus Sutra (S. Saddharmapundarika Sutra), its applicability extends to influence a large area of basic Mahayana belief. Essentially the Lotus Sutra regards Buddha's appearance in this sahaloka, our world of birth and death, as the natural outcome of compassion working through wisdom resulting in fitness of action, or skillful means (phu+o+ng tie^.n, S. upaya, C. fang-pien, J. hoben), the inherent way of all Tathagatas who neither come nor go but abide in thusness (S. tathatva). As stated in the Lotus Sutra (pp. 76-77): "He, the Tathagata... who has reached the highest perfection in the knowledge of skillful means, who is most merciful, long-suffering, benevolent, compassionate... appears in this triple world... in order to deliver from affection, hatred, and delusion the beings subject to birth, old age, disease, death...."

Thus with the appearance of a Buddha, practice of the Dharma becomes possible. Acknowledging the variety of available methods, Tha?o-Ddu+o+`ng condenses them as follows:

"Though you may practice Buddhism in many ways, in summary there are three main methods: meditation, contemplation, and Buddha's-name-recitation. The method of meditation has no definite way to follow and is therefore a difficult practice. If you do not have an enlightened master or a capable mind, you may stop midway in your progress or remain mistaken for your entire life. Contemplation is a very subtle method; without a good teacher or prajna wisdom, complete enlightenment is hard to attain. Buddha's-name-recitation [V. Nie^.m-Pha^.t] is a quick and easy method. In all the ages past both intelligent and dull, both men adn women have been able to practice Nie^.m-Pha^.t. Nobody makes a mistake with this method because of the applicability of the four types of outlook [V. Tu+' Lie^.u-gia?n]. Putting worries aside, you may therefore proceed with a decisive heart."

According to Pure Land tradition as formulated by the Chinese patriarch T'an- luan (J. Donran, 476-542), Nagarjuna first distinguished between difficult and easy practice in his Dasabhumivibhasa Sastra (Tha^.p tru. Ti` Ba` Sa Lua^.n, C. Shih-chu P'i-p'o-sha Lun, J. Fujubibasharon), section five "On Easy Practice," in which he writes that a practitioner wishing to quickly reach the stage of no-turning-back should keep the Buddha's name ever before his mind. In Tha?o-Ddu+o+`ng's threefold classification, meditation and contemplation, the ways of the Holy Path schools in contradistinction to the Pure Land path, come under the heading of difficult practices, while the Nie^.m-Pha^.t, or way of recitation, is considered the easy way to Buddhahood.

Before discussing Tu+' Lie^.u-gia?n, the four types of outlook formulated by the founder of the Lin-chi (J. Rinzai) sect in China, and their relation to Buddha's-name-recitation (V. Nie^.m-Pha^.t), we may note here that as regards the practice of Buddhism, Tha?o-Ddu+o+`ng's philosophy is one of Ddo^`ng-quy nhi thu`-ddo^`, a Vietnamese expression meaning "one purpose through different methods" or "same destination but different directions." Thu`-ddo^` refers to the Buddhist practices of meditation, contemplation, and Nie^.m-Pha^.t. Ddo^`ng-quy is to go in one direction with one aim and for one purpose--that is, to keep the mind at all times on its goal, inner-realization of the Pure Land. According to Tha?o-Ddu+o+`ng's philosophy, meditation, contemplation, and Nie^.m-Pha^.t are all ways within the one practice of Buddhism for stripping mind of attachment to desire, thus eliminating self-clinging which obscures the Dharma-eye, preventing attainment of nirvana and arrival at the other shore, the Pure Land. For achieving this aim Tha?o-Ddu+o+`ng clearly indicates that Buddha's-name-recitation (V. Nie^.m-Pha^.t) supplemented with the four types of outlook (V. Tu+' Lie^.u-gia?n) is both an easy and an efficacious practice.

As we turn to the topic of Tu+' Lie^.u-gia?n (C. ssu-liao-chien, J. shi ryoken), we begin to see the results of combined Zen-Pure Land methods; that is, the operation of Lin-chi (J. Rinzai) techniques in the form of the four types of outlook within a practice traditionally ascribed to the Pure Land school, the Nie^.m-Pha^.t (C. Nien-fo, J. Nembutsu), or recitation of the name of Buddha Amitabha, a form of mantra practice leading to singlehearted concentration through which the other-ower finds a channel of expression. Within the workings of Nie^.m-Pha^.t the four distinctions are self-acting or self-perpetuating in the sense that an outside agent, such as a Zen master, does not apply them. They arise of their own through the "power of the other," which may actually result from concentrated belief and complete faith in the efficacy of the practice. The four distinctions, listed below are as formulated by Lin-chi, are central to his methodology of self-realization:

eliminating subject, leaving object

eliminating object, leaving subject

eliminating both, leaving neither

eliminating neither, leaving both

Regarding the applicability of the four distinctions from a more general viewpoint, "eliminate" can be looked upon as a form of emptying; the four distinctions themselves can then quite readily be seen as relating to the first four types of emptiness, or negation, comprising the twenty, sometimes eighteen, styles of emptiness outlined in the Great Perfection of Wisdom Sutra (S. Mahaprajnaparamita Sutra, C. Ta-pan-jo Po-lo-mi-to Ching, J. Daihannyaharamittakyo): emptiness of subject, emptiness of object, emptiness of both subject and object, and emptiness of emptiness. In Zen methodology, depending on the astuteness of the master, the particular level or experience of attainment of the student, and the aptness of circumstance, one sometimes empties the subject of itself, sometimes the object. Sometimes one empties both subject and object, sometimes neither, thereby leaving emptiness void of that emptiness. The third patriarch of Zen Se^ng-ts'an (J. Sosan), writing on this subject in his "On Having No Doubt in Mind" (Ti'n Ta^m Minh, trans. Suzuki, Manual, p. 78), declares:

"The two exist because of the One,

But hold not even to this One;

When a mind is not disturbed,

The ten thousand things offer no offense.

No offense offered, and no ten thousand things;

No disturbance going, and no mind set up to work:

The subject is quieted when the object ceases,

The object ceases when the subject is quieted.

The object is an object for the subject,

The subject is a subject for the object:

Know that the relativity of the two

Rests ultimately on one Emptiness."

Within this one emptiness, according to Tha?o-Ddu+o+`ng,

"Nie^.m-Pha^.t is to keep your mind on the six syllables Nam-mo^ A-Di-Dda` Pha^.t and not let it move and jump freely about. While practicing Nie^.m-Pha^.t the eyes look at the image of Buddha, the mouth recites the Buddha's name, and the ears hear the chanting sounds. When you feel heavy and frustrated, try harder and keep on without losing a single second. A quiet mind naturally returns."

With these instructions on Buddha's-name-recitation, Tha?o-Ddu+o+`ng introduces Pure Land meditation as cultivated in China where it drew increasingly for doctrinal support from the teachings of the Dharma-ending-age, when, because of accumulated evil karma, men would be able to attain enlightenment only through reliance on Amitabha Buddha's compassionate vow to save all suffering beings. Holmes Welch remarks of this attitude in The Practice of Chinese Buddhism (pp. 89-90):

"Since we are living in the age of the decay of the dharma, it is difficult... to reach nirvana here through our own efforts. Therefore most Buddhists in China prefer to get the help of Amitabha by reciting his name (nien-fo). That is, they repeat the words 'homage to the buddha Amitabha' (na-mo O-mi-t'o-fo) in the belief that if they do so wholeheartedly they will be reborn in the Western Paradise. 'Wholeheartedly' means making their minds 'whole and still' (i-hsin pu-luan, nha^'t ta^m ba^'t loa.n), so that nothing is there but Amitabha. He is in their mouths (as they recite his name), in their ears (as they listen to the recitation), and in their minds (as they visualize him). This is called 'perfect concentration in reciting buddha's name' (nien-fo san-mei, nie^.m Pha^.t tam muo^.i). It corresponds to a degree of enlightenment achieved in the meditation hall."

In Zen-Pure Land practice in Vietnam, as in China, both hua-t'ou (thoa.i dda^`u, J. wato), which are similar in function to the koan exercise, and Nie^.m-Pha^.t may be pursued. Describing the actual Chinese practice, identical in many aspects with Vietnamese ways, Holmes Welch notes, again from his 'Practice of Chinese Buddhism' (pp. 398-399):

"Many monastries carried on the joint practice of Ch'an and Pure Land (ch'an-ching shuang-hsin, thie^`n ti.nh song ha`nh). This usually meant that they had both a meditation hall and a hall for reciting the buddha's name. But there was also a special form of joint practice in one hall.... There seem to have been eight periods of work a day... and each period was divided into circumambulation and sitting. While the inmates circumambulated, they recited Buddha's name aloud. While they sat, they either worked on a Ch'an hua-t'ou or employed 'buddha's name meditation' (nien-fo kuan, nie^.m Pha^.t qua'n). The latter included different techniques for people at different stages of proficiency. Beginners used the technique termed 'reciting buddha's name while meditating on the buddha image' (kuan-hsiang nien-fo). That is, they would fix their eyes on the image in the hall. Those further advanced would attempt to visualize the form of Amitabha with their mind's eye. This was termed 'reciting buddha's name while meditating on the mental image of the buddha' (kuan-hsing nien-fo). Those furthest advanced strove to avoid having any buddha to visualize or any ego to do the visualizing. This was termed 'reciting buddha's name while meditating on the quintessence of the buddha' (shih-hsiang nien-fo). Explanations were given of both Ch'an and Pure Land methods.

Abiding of mind in the Pure Land results from continued practice of these three gradations of method. According to Tha?o-Ddu+o+`ng:

"If you continue to practice Nie^.m-Pha^.t, your mind will stay in the Pure Land; your heart will join with Amitabha Buddha. Without walking a step the Pure Land appears in front of you; without waiting for a future life the blessings of the Western Heaven are yours. Why do you tarry in this short, impermanent life of birth, old age, sickness, and death, rather than reaching for an unlimited life of permanency, joyfulness, substantiality, and purity? Is this not happier?"

In this section of his 'Warning Statement' Tha?o-Ddu+o+`ng presents the form which Pure Land doctrine assumed under practical interpretation of the Chinese mind. Originally based on the Larger Sukhavativyuha Sutra and related at least in aim with the cult of Maitreya, Pure Land tradition as developed in China evolved from the idea of a Pure Land in the West where one seeks entrance by various practices as noted in the Larger Sukhavativyuha Sutra (C. Ta-wu Liang-shou Ching, J. Daimuyrojukyo), the Smaller Sukhavativyuha Sutra (C. O-mi-t'o Ching, J. Amidakyo), and the Amitayurdhyana Sutra (C. Kuan-wu Liang-shou Ching, J. Kammuryojukyo), to the identification of the Chinese character for "land" or "realm" with the meaning of "mind"; hence in the process of Zen-Pure Land union, the Pure Land came to mean the realm of Pure Mind. Speaking of this transformation of Pure Land doctrine, Hajime Nakamura notes in 'Ways of Thinking of Eastern Peoples' (pp. 253-254) that the authority of the Vimalakirtinirdesa Sutra which teaches "the pure mind is identical with the Pure Land" provided support for the growth of "a mind-only doctrine" resulting in the dictum that "the Pure Land of the pure mind exists in all parts of the world." As a development of Sung dynasty syncretism, "the Chinese Buddhists exclusively followed this pure-mind view, and after the Ming dynasty, no contradiction was felt in practicing simultaneously sitting and the Pure Land practice."

The Chinese, with their emphasis on the practical value of belief, its demonstrable validity in the everyday world, gradually shifted the distant or non-too-distant Pure Land of the Sukhavativyuha Sutra to the immediate presence-of-mind, a shift creating a rich field of cultivation for Chinese Buddhists by providing a basis from which the practices of both common man and monk could grow. Thus when pressed for an explanation of the combination of seemingly contradictory methodologies in the Zen-Pure Land union, "many enlightened Chinese Buddhists," as Reginald Johnston writes in his 'Buddhist China' (p.93), "will declare that the Ch'an and Ching-t'u teachings are not really inconsistent with one another, but that the Ch'an doctrines are to the educated Buddhist what the Amidist doctrines are to the ignorant." Shifting the Pure Land from the beyond to the here-and-now, the beyond within, resulted in recognition of the potentially of all beings to attain an enlightened state of mind in this very life. The Chinese, like the Vietnamese, were not overly interested in preparing for something in the distant future might or might not come about. With a practical bent of mind already steeped in the this-wordly traditions of Confucianism, they sought the substantiation of belief through its efficacy in daily life.

In closing his 'Warning Statement' with the gatha below, Tha?o-Ddu+o+`ng emphasizes awakening to the original mind of Ch'an, one's own true abode, which is none other than the Pure Realm, the real native land.

"Three worlds like the burning house,

Eight merit-giving-waters refresh and purify;

To leave this suffering world,

Direct your mind toward Pure Land.

Six syllables Nam-mo^ A-Di-Dda`-Pha^.t form the links

Returning mind's natural, unmoving condition;

Amitabha Buddha dwells not in seclusion;

The wise man wakes to this realization.

84,000 wonderous Buddha-shapes

Derive no form outside of mind;

Don't hesitate or wait!

The Pure Land's truly your native land."

Tha?o-Ddu+o+`ng's verse contains principles and teachings recognized by almost all Buddhist sects, and here we might do well to dwell momentarily on the background tradition from which he draws his gatha. The three worlds or realms (tam gio+'i, S. traidhatuka or trailokya) with which he opens his gatha refer in Buddhism's cosmology of mind to the world of sensuous desire (du.c gio+'i, S. kamadhatu) including the six heavens of desire, the human world, and the hells where existence is characterized by desires deriving from six and appetite; the world of form (sa('c gio+'i, S. rupadhatu) inclusive of the four dhyana heavens and located above kamadhatu; and the formless world (vo^ sa('c gio+'i, S. arupadhatu) of pure spirit comprising the four attainments beyond form (S. arupyasamapatti). All such realms are generally considered indications of various states of consciousness; according to the Lankavatara Sutra (pp. 145,75), for example, "The triple world is no more than thought- construction (prajnapti), there is no reality in its self-nature." And, "The being and nonbeing of things subject to causation has no reality; the triple world owes its existence to the Mind put into confusion by reason of habit-energy."

Thus in the authoritative text of early Zen Buddhism the triple world appears as none other than mind disturbed by the permeating and dwelling nature of vasana, or "habit-energy" (C. hsi-chi) according to Chinese translation; as put concisely in the Avatamsaka Sutra (C. Hua-yen Ching, J. Kegonkyo): "The three worlds are only Mind." (S. Svacittamatram traidhatukam). That mind is the foundation of both samsara and nirvana, and that samsara is but the obscured function of mind confused by habit-energy (S. vasana) and solidified by wrong views (S. vikalpa, C. fe^n-pieh, J. fumbetsu), while nirvana is mind's original nature undisturbed by the structural elements of samsara, the nature of which is like a house eternally devoured by flames, is a basic outlook of Mahayana Buddhists symbolized in part through the parable of the burning house contained in the Lotus Sutra. Tha?o-Ddu+o+`ng's gatha contrasts the burning house of samsara with nirvana's Pure Land where eight waters of good qualities extinguish the flames of the passions. To pass beyond the misery of the triple world Tha?o-Ddu+o+`ng teaches in accordance with the Larger Sukhavativyuha Sutra, and as provided for in the sixteen meditations comprising the Amitayurdhyana Sutra, to form a firm thought of the Pure Land in order to lead mind to its realization.

The desire to see the Pure Land, made possible by the grace or power of Buddha's vows (S. pranidhana, adhis-thana), but initiated in action by the stirring of self-nature in search of its own fulfillment, is one of the deepest perceptions of human consciousness, and one in which the other-power of Buddha's compassion to save us and the self-power of our own determination to attain enlightenment merge in the One Mind of neither self nor other, the fourth outlook of Lin-chi's distinctions (V. Tu+' Lie^.u-gia?n). As presented in the Amitayurdhyana Sutra (p.169), by the power of Buddha and his vows we may see the Pure Land, but only if we direct our mind to that realm and make it "our only aim, with concentrated thought, to get a perception of the western quarter." And so in Tha?o-Ddu+o+`ng's gatha he points out "to leave samsara behind, send your thought to Pure Land."

The concentration of mind necessary to achieve this aim in Tha?o-Ddu+o+`ng's school is accomplished through the efficacy of mantra meditation, or concentration on the name of Amitabha Buddha, which, as taught in the Amitayurdhyana Sutra, is the way to sever the bonds of samsara and, as Tha?o-Ddu+o+`ng says, "return mind to its original, unmoving condition." In the Smaller Sukhavativyuha Sutra (p.99), meditation on the name of Amitabha is held up as the way even to the exclusion of the performance of good deeds. No stock of merit amassed in this life leads to birth in the Pure Land, in contradistinction to the teaching of the Larger Sukhavativyuha Sutra (p.15), but rather,

"whatever son or daughter of a family shall hear the name of the blessed Amitayus, the Tathagata, and having heard it, shall keep it in mind...then that Amitayus, the Tathagata, surrounded by an assembly of disciples and followed by a host of Bodhisattvas, will stand before them at the hour of death, and they will depart this life with tranquil minds. After their death they will be born in the world Sukhavati, in the Buddha country of the same Amitayus, the Tathagata."

That Amitabha Buddha does not dwell in seclusion as Tha?o-Ddu+o+`ng teaches in his gatha is indicated in the Amitayurdhyana Sutra which provides for this realization through various visualization exercises leading to the clear perception that 84,000 shapes of Buddha have no substance outside of mind; the three Pure Land practices of visualizing the form of Amitabha Buddha while meditating on the essence of the name likewise lead to an undeniable experience of the emptiness of all form as perceived by mind--that is, its emptiness apart from the content or substrate of mind. As stated in the Amitayurdhyana Sutra (pp.177-178):

"When you have perceived this, you should next perceive Buddha himself. Do you ask how? Every Buddha Tathagata is one whose (spiritual) body is the principle of nature (Dharma-dhatu-kaya), so that he may enter into the mind of any beings. Consequently, when you have perceived Buddha, it is indeed that mind of yours that possesses those thirty-two signs of perfection and eighty minor marks of excellence (which you see in Buddha). In fine, it is your mind that becomes Buddha, nay, it is your mind that is indeed Buddha. The ocean of true and universal knowledge of all the Buddhas derives its source from one's own mind and thought. Therefore you should apply your thought with an undivided attention to a careful meditation on that Buddha Tathagata, Arhat, the Holy and Fully Enlightened One."

And, as put concisely in Lu K'uan Yu's translation of this same sutra (p.93): "When the mind is set on thinking of (that) Buddha, it is identical...because Mind realizes Buddhahood; Mind is Buddha...." "Therefore," says Tha?o-Ddu+o+`ng, "what are you waiting for? This Pure Land--you've been there before."

We find in Tha?o-Ddu+o+`ng's 'Warning Statement' a unification of the practices of the Zen and Pure Land schools of Buddhism and a fusing of the concepts of self-power and other-power which, up to the time of the Sung dynasty, had served to distinguish meditation as the way of self-power and Buddha's-name-recitation as the way of other-power, an outlook preserved today in Japanese Buddhism in contrast to Chinese and Vietnamese Buddhism. Approaching the subject of self-power and other-power in terms of prajna and karuna, the foundations supporting Mahayana Buddhist practices, D.T. Suzuki writes in 'The Essence of Buddhism' (pp.46,76):

"There are two pillars supporting the great edifice of Buddhism: the Daichi (tai-chi), Mahaprajna, the Great Wisdom, and the Daihi (tai-pei), Mahakaruna, the Great Compassion. The wisdom flows from the Compassion and the Compassion from the Wisdom, for the two are in fact one, though from the human point of view we have to speak of them as two....In Japanese Buddhism, Zen represents the Prajna phase of the Mahayana, and the Pure Land school claims the Karuna."

In Vietnamese Buddhism, with its emphasis on syncretism, these two pillars are one in practice; the prajna phase of Zen and the karuna aspect of the Pure Land, joined in the Zen-Pure Land union originally introduced to the country by Tha?o-Ddu+o+`ng, support the framework of modern Vietnamese Buddhism. Though appearing somewhat antithetical, Zen and Pure Land Dharma-doors ultimately open on the same goal; approached from this standpoint, various fluctuations in methodology are of small concern, for as Holmes Welch notes in 'The Practice of Chinese Buddhism' (pp.399-400):

"Regardless of contradictory details, the main principles of the joint practice of Ch'an and Pure Land seem clear enough. In both sevts the goal was to reduce attachment to ego. The Pure Land method of "no stirrings in the whole mind" (i-hsin pu luan) did not differ essentially from the Ch'an method of "meditating to the point of perfect concentration" (ch'an-ting). Pure Land speaks of getting the help of another, that is, Amitabha, to reach the Western Paradise, while Ch'an asserts that one must depend on oneself to reach enlightenment. But, as the abbot of Chin Shan remarked, "Who is going to help you stop your whole mind from stirring? You have to do it yourself." A lay informant said he had been told by Hsu-yun that "all the buddhas in every universe, past, present, and future, preach the same dharma. There is no real difference between the methods advocated by Sakyamuni and Amitabha...." The methods of the two sects are connected in many ways. For example, the hua-t'ou most often used in orthodox Ch'an meditation halls directly involved Pure Land practice, for how could one ask "Who is this reciting buddha's name?" unless one had been reciting it?...Many monks told me that they regarded Ch'an and Pure Land as complements essential to one another. "Pure Land without Ch'an cannot be depended upon (k'ao-pu-chu). Ch'an without Pure Land has no 'principle' (mei-yu chu)."

Even the distinctions "Ch'an" and "Pure Land" vanish in Vietnamese Buddhism where all ways are Buddha-ways and are one in the communal quest of enlightenment through Thie^`n-Ti.nh Nha^'t-tri' (C. Ch'an-ching I-chih, J. Zenjo itchi), the unification of meditation and recitation. In the Vietnamese view, if we practice Nie^.m-Pha^.t with mouth calling Buddha's name, eyes seeing Buddha's form, ears hearing Nam-mo^ A-Di-Dda`-Pha^.t until the Pure Land appears in front of us and we realize 84,000 wondrous Buddha-shapes are not outside of mind, then what real difference is there with the Zen aim of meditating until Mind, Buddha, and sentient beings are not three separate things or until realizing one is all, all things are one, samsara is nirvana, and passions are Bodhi? The fusion of Zen and Pure Land systems, of no-mind and one-mind in the Tha?o-Ddu+o+`ng school, is the significant junction of the loving-kindness (S. karuna) and wisdom (S. prajna) of Buddha and his teachings. According to Vietnamese Buddhists, when karuna (V. Tu+`-bi) and prajna (V. Tri'-hue^.) are united there is no difference between Zen and Pure Land, between self-power and other-power; instead there is oneness and togetherness within the Karuna-Prajna MInd which is indeed the meeting place of all sects in Buddhism. This unified philosophy of Tha?o-Ddu+o+`ng was keenly attuned to the character and aspirations of the Vietnamese people; having inherited the various teachings of Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism with their accompanying cultural traditions, the Vietnamese ever sought to consolidate these traditions into a spiritual rationale or ethical mean consonant with their own cultural background and indegenous beliefs. Since Tha?o-Ddu+o+`ng's philosophy of syncretism was so suited to this purpose, dignitaries of high position, kings, and officials of the imperial court, as well as the Vietnamese people, accepted it with their earnest heart. King Ly'-Tha'nh-To^n, as mentioned previously, when once aware of Tha?o-Ddu+o+`ng's position as a distinguished Chinese Zen master, gave him his full support, openly praising his philosophy and concept of practice. As Tha?o-Ddu+o+`ng's first disciple the king was instrumental in creating and spreading the doctrine of this third Zen school in Vietnam; Ly'-Tha'nh-To^n was not just a Buddhist patron in word, but in deed as well. Many instances of his kindness and benevolence are recorded in Vietnamese history, and stories such as the ones below are familiar to Vietnamese Buddhists.

According to historical sources King Ly'-Tha'nh-To^n was a most sincere Buddhist, incomparable in devotion and compassion. During the winter months his thoughts often dwelt on the suffering of the prisoners and poor people. Calling his attendant one bitter-cold day the king lamented, "Here I am in the palace--warm clothes and shelter--yet still I feel cold. What of those in our prison cells who don't have enough to eat or enough to wear? How they must suffer from cold and hunger! And what of those suspects who have yet to be questioned--are we to assume them guilty and treat them like criminals? They could suffer unjustly merely waiting for interrogation which would be most pitiful. Surely we must do something about all this." The king then ordered sufficient clothing, bedding, and food for all prisoners and suspects being detained by the state.

A sceond frequently related incident concerns the time Ly'-Tha'nh-To^n's daughter Princess Ddo^.ng-Thie^n attended a Thie^n-Kha'nh court session over which the king presided. After issuing his judgment on a particular case before the court he turned to his board of jurors and said, "Today my daughter is here, Princess Ddo^.ng-Thie^n. Though I love my peoples as I love my daughter, when they break laws they must be punished. Nonetheless I feel deeply for them; from now on we must mitigate every penalty."

Due to Ly'-Tha'nh-To^n's dedication in realizing the Bodhisattva ideal and his insight acquired through continual practice of both meditation and recitation, Tha?o-Ddu+o+`ng transmitted the seal-of-mind (V. Ta^m-a^'n, J. Shin-in) to him, thus establishing the king as the first patriarch of the Tha?o-Ddu+o+`ng Zen school. Ly'-Nha^n-To^n (ruled 1072-1127), Ly'-Tha^`n-To^n (ruled 1128-1138), Ly'-Anh-To^n (ruled 1138-1175), and Ly'-Cao-To^n (ruled 1176-1210), the four successive monarchs who brought the prosperous Ly' dynasty to a close, all emulated Ly'-Tha'nh-To^n in their patronage and study of Buddhism. They frequently arranged for esteemed masters to teach meditation and Buddhist doctrine in the imperial palace, honored them with the positions of national teachers, and sought their advice concerning administration of internal and foreign affairs. Among these later Buddhist kings, Ly'-Anh-To^n and Ly'-Cao-To^n were most successful in their religious life, receiving the seal-of-mind and transfer of patriarchal authority in the tradition of Tha?o-Ddu+o+`ng Zen.

Following Ly'-Tha^`n-To^n's death, Ly'-Anh-To^n (Prince Thie^n-To^., ruled 1138-1175) succeeded to the throne, where he studied meditation and recitation with Ven. Kho^ng-Lo^., sixth patriarch in the second generation of the Tha?o- Ddu+o+`ng school, from whom he received the seal-of-mind. Ly'-Anh-To^n supported other Buddhist sects as well as his own; during his reign Buddhism prospered in the country under many enlightened monks such as Venerables Tri'-Thuye^`n, Am-Tri', Ba?o-Gia'm, and Vie^n-Tho^ng. In 1144, though his own disposition of mind lay with the Tha?o-Ddu+o+`ng teachings, Ly'-Anh-To^n chose to name Ven. Vie^n-Tho^ng, a famed master of the Ty`-Ni-Dda-Lu+u-Chi Zen sect, as national teacher. The king ever urged people to expand their educational horizons by becoming aware of their diverse cultural background and the significance of the teachings of the three religions; in 1169 in order to stimulate study he opened an examination based on the doctrines of Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism as a means of selecting government officials. Speaking of these educational reforms and noting commercial advancements made during Ly'-Anh-To^n's reign, Professor Howard Sosis writes in his "Introductory Notes on the Meditation Sects of Buddhism in Ancient Vietnam" (p.19, n.188): "Under the rule of this Emperor commercial relations were made with China, Java, and Thailand in precious metal and jewels, elephants for warfare, rhinoceros horns, silk and brocades.... This ruler was also to open schools in religious instruction in the three major religions in the land: Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism."

The last monarch of the Ly' dynasty, Ly'-Anh-To^n's son Prince Long-Ca'n (ruled as King Ly'-Cao-To^n 1176-1210), inherited the throne at the age of three, but national affairs ran well due to the guidance of mandarin supervisor To^-Hie^'n-Tha`nh. As Prince Long-Ca'n grew older he evinced the same earnestness in pursuing Buddhist studies as did preceding kings of Ly'; he practiced meditation and recitation with Ven. Tru+o+ng-Tam-Ta.ng of the fourth generation of the Tha?o-Ddu+o+`ng sect and upon receiving his master's seal-of-mind became the sixteenth patriarch in Tha?o-Ddu+o+`ng tradition. After coming of age and assuming actual control of the government, he received the name of King Ly'-Cao-To^n; in this position he continued his father's work, propagating Buddhism in the country and sincerely practicing both Zen and Nie^.m-Pha^.t. Ly'-Cao-To^n belonged to the fifth and last generation of the Tha?o-Ddu+o+`ng school. Subsequent history does not mention the names and biographies of any other successors.

Generally speaking, Buddhism, especially the Ty`-Ni-Dda-Lu+u-Chi, Vo^-Ngo^n- Tho^ng, and Tha?o-Ddu+o+`ng Zen sects, flourished during the Ly' dynasty due to the generous support and sincere interest of the Ly' monarchs and their officials whose practice of the Buddhist way influenced the people to join their hearts and minds with the teaching of Buddha. The Tha?o-Ddu+o+`ng sect, having a number of kings among its patriarchs, was most prosperous during this period of Vietnamese history and, as we see from the following lineage of the school, various eminent monks and outstanding laymen as well as these monarchs contributed to the extension of Tha?o-Ddu+o+`ng tradition through five generations and eighteen patriarchs, spanning the years from Ly'-Tha'nh-To^n (1054) to Ly'-Cao-To^n (1210).

Lineage of the Tha?o-Ddu+o+`ng Zen School

Founding Patriarch: Ven. Tha?o-Ddu+o+`ng (d. eleventh century)

First Generation:

1. King Ly'-Tha'nh-To^n (ruled 1054-1072)

2. Ven. Ba't-Nha~

3. Layman Ngo^-Xa'

Second Generation:

4. Prince Ngo^-I'ch

5. Ven. Thie^.u-Minh or Hoa`ng-Minh

6. Ven. Kho^ng-Lo^.

7. Ven. Ddi.nh-Gia'c or Gia'c-Ha?i

Third Generation:

8. Layman Ddo^~-Vu~

9. Ven. Pha.m-Am

10. King Ly'-Anh-To^n (ruled 1138-1175)

11. Ven. Ddo^~-Ddo^

Fourth Generation:

12. Ven. Tru+o+ng-Tam-Ta.ng

13. Ven. Cha^n-Huye^`n

14. Layman Ddo^~-Thu+o+`ng

Fifth Generation:

15. Ven. Ha?i-Ti.nh

16. King Ly'-Cao-To^n (ruled 1176-1210)

17. Layman Nguye^~n-Thu+'c

18. Layman Pha.m-Phu.ng-Ngu+.

oOo

Source: Thich Thien An, 1975. "Buddhism & Zen in Vietnam, in relation to the Development of Buddhism in Asia", Chapter 4, published by Charles E. Tuttle, ISBN 0-8048 1144-X, edited by Carol Smith.

 

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