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History Of Viet Nam

The Emperor Nhân Tông and the Trúc Lâm School

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8

by Lê Mạnh Thát


From the list above, subsequent to Đại Đăng is Patriarch Tiêu Dao, who is certainly not a disciple of the former. For, in the Chart of Dhyāna Lineage of the Recorded Sayings of Thượng Sỹ Tiêu Dao is recorded to have been a pupil of Layman Ứng Thuận. And Tiêu Dao must have died prior to the year 1291 when Tuệ Trung died. For, among the remaining forty-nine poems of Tuệ Trung there are four poems related to Tiêu Dao, that is, "Vấn Phúc Đường Đại Sư Tật," "Thượng Phúc Đường Tiêu Dao Thiền Sư," "Phúc Đường Cảnh Vật," and "Điếu Tiên Sư" ("A Funeral Lament to the Old Master"). Accordingly, the last poem points out evidently that Tiêu Dao had to die before the year 1291 so that Tuệ Trung could write the verse in memory of his master on his death.

Succeeding Tiêu Dao of the Yên tử Monastery is Patriarch Huệ Tuệ. But, who is Huệ Tuệ? Among the disciples of Tiêu Dao recorded in the Chart of Dhyāna Lineage, no one was named as such. However, based upon the way of identification of Đạo Viên with Viên Chứng, it is possible to identify Huệ Tuệ with Tuệ Trung though the latter was himself the celebrated General Hưng Ninh Vương Trần Quốc Tung. In addition, according to the list above the successor of Huệ Tuệ is none other than Điều Ngự Trần Nhân Tông himself. So, is it possible that Tuệ Trung ever took charge of the Yên tử Monastery? The life story of Tuệ Trung written by Emperor Nhân Tông in the Recorded Sayings of Thượng Sỹ tells us that the Emperor Trần Thánh Tông honored Tuệ Trung to be his monastic brother. If so, it is obviously possible that Tuệ Trung undertook the abbot’s office of the Yên tử Monastery. And that the Emperor Nhân Tông succeeded Tuệ Trung to undertake the same office is not surprising at all although the latter died four years earlier than the ordination of the former. For the Emperor Nhân Tông was actually confirmed by Tuệ Trung to have attained enlightenment ever since 1278 as in his own words in the account just mentioned. Subsequent to Nhân Tông were Pháp Loa and Huyền Quang.

Such is what about the first eight patriarchs as enumerated in the list above, including Pháp Loa and Huyền Quang, whose dates and biographies are quite definitely known. As far as the remaining fifteen ones are concerned, the fact that some of them bore the same monastic names has given rise to some doubt as to the authenticity of the whole list. National Teacher Quốc Nhất, the Patriarch of the twelfth generation, for instance, has the same name as a disciple of Master Ứng Thuận; and Great Master Hương Sơn, the Nineteenth Patriarch, has the same name as a disciple of Nhân Tông. Naturally, Hương Sơn as being a disciple of Nhân Tông’s could by no means be regarded as the nineteenth successor of the Yên Tử tradition.

In reality, the fact that some masters bear the same names should not be so surprising as to raise any doubts at all since it is quite ordinary in the history of Buddhism of a country as well as between some countries. In the history of Chinese Buddhism, for instance, a Buddhist master in the Chin dynasty and another in the Wei dynasty, which came into being more than one hundred years later than the former, are both named Hui-yuan. In our country there are also many cases as such. For instance, Dhyāna Master Mãn Giác (1052-1096) in the Lý dynasty and a master of the same name in the reign of Lê Trung Hưng, who transmitted monastic rules to Chân Nguyên Tuệ Đăng (1647-1726); and Minh Châu Hương Hải of the seventeenth century and another master no less well-known than him, who are even of the same native locality, Nghệ An. For that reason, it is not necessary to have doubts as to such cases, especially when those who have the same names do not belong to the same period.

In addition, when the first eight patriarchs in the list above have been proved to be reliable, we may attempt to study the last one. This is the case of Dhyāna Master Vô Phiền, whose date has not been definitely determined so far. Based upon the twenty-second patriarch who is known as Chân Trụ, however, it may be assured that he was Master Minh Nguyệt Chân Trụ, the first master of Master Chân Nguyên Tuệ Đăng. Though Chân Nguyên did not record the date of Chân Tru’s death, we know that the former entered the monastery at the age of 19, that is, in 1665. Thus Chân Trụ must have lived until around the year 1665 at least. Further, according to Chân Nguyên, soon after transmitting dharma to him, Chân Trụ passed away; and the former then had to undertake Bhikṣu precepts under Minh Lương Mãn Giác’s transmission. In this connection, Chân Trụ must have lived between 1600-1670.

As a consequence, the presence of Chân Trụ may prove the authenticity of the list above. And the Yên Tử tradition did flourish on from the time of Hiện Quang up to Vô Phiền, that is, from 1200 to 1700. A question may be raised here as to why An Thiền did not record any more Dhyāna masters prior to himself, that is, the period between 1700 and 1850. The reason is simple that he recorded their names in another place. To the  Ngự Chế Thiền Điển Thống Yếu Kế Đăng Lục by Như Sơn, An Thiền added the list of the generations succeeding Chân Nguyên, including the Dhyāna Masters Như Trừng, Tính Huyền, Hải Quýnh, Tịch Truyền, Chiếu Khoan and Phổ Tịnh though they did not directly take charge of the Yên tử Monastery.

Accordingly, the Trúc Lâm lineage beginning with the Emperor Nhân Tông has exercised great influence upon the history of country and of Buddhism and it has been continuously succeeded just so far. This is a Dhyāna school that is not only founded by a Vietnamese but also has many remarkable achievements in doctrine and practice so that it has been capable of fulfilling various requirements of development in the history of our country. For that reason, in order to unravel many historical and ideological problems in relation to this school, a certain study on it should be made on a far larger scale. What we have taken up so far is only an outline of it drawn up by chance in our discussion about the Emperor Nhân Tông’s contributions to the history of country and Buddhism. It is unequivocally necessary to make a more intensive study in the future since without it there will surely be no hope of correcting a great deal of false views currently made as to the history and doctrine of this school.

Translation by Đạo Sinh

[1] Trần Lê Sáng, Tìm hiểu văn phú thời kỳ Trần-Hồ in Tuyển Tập 40 năm tạp chí Văn Học, 1960-1999, Tập 2, Tp. Hồ Chí Minh: Nxb. Tp. Hồ Chí Minh, 1999, pp.231-232. [LMT]
[2] Skt., damya-sārathi, a guide of those who have to be restrained.
[3] Lit., “the Sun”
[4] Lê Mạnh Thát, Nghiên cứu về Thiền Uyển Tập Anh, Nxb. Tp. Hồ Chí Minh, 1999, pp.239, 481-482. [LMT]
[5] By "Mr Nguyễn of the Cổ Đô village," the author refers to Nguyễn Bá Lân (1701-1785), a native of the Cổ Đô village, Tiên Phong district, former Sơn Tây province. He received the highest degree (tiến sỹ) in the 1731 examination and worked as Thượng Thư with the title Lễ Trạch Hầu. Well-versed in verses in the Nôm language, he was the author of Ngã Ba Hạc Phú, Giai Cảnh Hứng Tình Phú, and Vịnh Sử Thi Quyển. His writing on Huyền Quang has not yet been found. [LMT]
[6] Lit., "Conveying the Teaching."
[7] Đặng Thái Mai, Mấy điều tâm đắc về một thời đại văn học in Thơ Văn Lý Trần I, Hà Nội: Nxb. KHXH, 1977, p.42. [LMT]
[8] Lê Mạnh Thát, Viên Thái Thiền Sư Toàn Tập, Sài gòn: Tu Thư Vạn ạnh 77
[9] Nguyễn Lang, Việt Nam Phật Giáo Sử Luận, Sài gòn: Lá Bối, 1974, pp.397-398. [LMT]
[10] Viện Triết Học, Lịch Sử Phật Giáo Việt Nam, Hà nội: Nxb. KHXH, 1991, p.224. [LMT]

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8

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