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History Of Viet Nam

The Emperor Nhân Tông’s Monastic Life

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9

by Lê Mạnh Thát


Though his ordination in Vũ Lâm has been so definitely recorded, the Recorded Sayings as the Lamps of the Saints says that Nhân Tông could have been ordained “in the 10th month of Kỷ Hợi, i.e., Hưng Long the Seventh, when [the Emperor-Father] moved to Mount Yên Tử, diligently cultivating the Twelve Ascetic Practices,[19] calling himself Great Ascetic Hương Vân, having the Chi Đề Temple built where so many students as ‘clouds’ gathered to study the Buddhist teaching expounded by him.” It seems most likely that from the 6th month of Ất Mùi (1295) to the 8th month of Kỷ Hợi (1299) the Emperor might settle in Vũ Lâm since nothing in relation to his activities, monastic and secular, in this period is mentioned in the extant historical documents. This, too, may be the period when the Emperor is said in the Recorded Sayings as the Lamps of the Saints to have been training himself through the Twelve Ascetic Practices. In the poem “The Vân Yên Temple” by Lý Tải Đạo, who then was Dhyāna Master Huyền Quang and living with the Emperor on Mount Yên Tử, described the daily living of the Great Ascetic Hương Vân as follows,

Wearing kṣāya,[20] sitting behind the paper-curtain,
Not concerned with stores full of pearls and cases full of jades;
Forgetting delicious food, giving up sweet wine,
Only a pot of egg-fruit and a jar of soy left.

This is truly an unimaginably simple lifestyle of a hero, a talented emperor who just gained a glorious victory over the invaders. According to the Complete History of Đại Việt,[21] not until the 5th month of Kỷ Hợi did Nhân Tông return from Thiên Trường to Thăng Long where, seeing the Emperor Anh Tông to be drunk, he gave orders for all the Court to move to Thiên Trường. After getting sober again, the Emperor Anh Tông told Đoàn Nhữ Hài to write a memorial of apology, with which the former personally came and saw the Emperor-Father Nhân Tông in Thiên Trường to ask his pardon. Still in the words of the Complete History of Đại Việt, by his order a temple named Ngự Dược was built on Mount Yên Tử; and “in the 8th month, the Emperor-Father left Thiên Trường Prefecture again for Mount Yên Tử where he went on with his ascetic practice.”[22] Thus, it was by the 8th but not the 10th month as recorded in the Recorded Sayings as the Lamps of the Saints that Nhân Tông returned to his monastic life.

What then were Nhân Tông’s activities after his ordination? The Recorded Sayings as the Lamps of the Saints says: “At the Phổ Minh Temple in Thiên Trường Prefecture the Emperor-Father had eminent monks invited and large halls built for preaching Buddhist teachings for many years. Thereafter, having wandered everywhere, he arrived at Camp Bố Chính, staying at the Tri Kiến Temple.” In reality, according to the Complete History of Đại Việt,[23] it was in the period of Nhân Tông’s practice of asceticism on Mount Yên Tử that the Emperor Anh Tông together with Trần Quốc Tuấn once paid a visit to him. Later, in the 3rd month of Tân Sửu (1301) Nhân Tông went preaching as far as Champa and did not come back until the 11th month of the same year. Then, still in the words of the Complete History of Đại Việt, on the 15th of the 1st month of Quý Mão (1303), “while staying in Thiên Trường Prefecture, the Emperor-Father had a dharma-assembly held at the Phổ Minh Temple, preaching Buddhist teachings, transmitting precepts, donating gold, silver, money and silk to the poor in the country.”[24]

All these accounts indicate that after his return to Mount Yên Tử, Nhân Tông could have settled there for some time. By the 3rd month of Tân Sửu (1301), he went to the south and stayed at the Tri Kiến Temple in Camp Bố Chính. According to the Latest Record of Ô District, Tri Kiến is the administrative office of Camp Bố Chính: “Tri Kiến is the site of the old district.”[25] Therefore, the Tri Kiến Temple is probably the temple of the Tri Kiến District of Camp Bố Chính. It may be said that this is the first temple to have been known so far in the areas named Địa Lý, Ma Linh and Bố Chính, which were annexed to Đại Việt by the Emperor Lý Thánh Tông in 1069. Today they pertain to Quảng Bình Province and the two districts Vĩnh Linh and Gio Linh of Quảng Trị Province, where many other temples unknown today must have been built.

Nhân Tông’s Journey to Champa

It was from Camp Bố Chính that the Emperor set out to Champa. In Ch’ên Kuang-chih’s prefactory characters to the painting Chu-lin ta-shih chu-shan-t’u, it seems that his journey could be that of a missionary and he had been welcomed as such by the Cham king: “Sometimes, to teach Buddhism to the neighboring states he wandered as far as Champa where he often went on begging rounds in the Inner City. Learning of this, the king respectfully offered him vegetarian food, had ships and other ritual objects prepared for his return home. On his departure, the king personally saw him off. Further, the king conceded him the two districts, which are Thuận District and Hóa District today.”

Through the diplomatic relation between Đại Việt and Champa in the period when Nhân Tông was ruling the country, we may be assured that the king Chế Mân of Champa must have learned of and had some good feeling for him. For, as has been said before, when the Yuan-Cham war took place in 1283, the Emperor Nhân Tông sent 20,000 men and 500 warships to Champa as reinforcements. Though it is natural that his reinforcement then was aimed at ensuring a long peace for the people of Đại Việt, our troops actually devoted their lives to the Cham people’s victory over Yuan invaders. It was their devotion to the peaceful relationship between Champa and Đại Việt that caused the Cham king to have such great respect and admiration for the leader of Đại Việt.

Factually, the Complete History of Đại Việt[26] tells us that before his mission to Champa, Đoàn Nhữ Hài went to consult the Emperor Nhân Tông at the Sùng Nghiêm Temple on Mount Chí Linh. Though having to wait for him there all day, Đoàn Nhữ Hài could after all meet with the Emperor just in his excursion, and spoke with him for more than two hours. After their talk, the Emperor said to his followers, “It is naturally reasonable for the Court to employ such a competent man as Nhữ Hài.” This fact points out that though he had not been on the throne, Nhân Tông actually concerned himself with the relationship between our country and Champa.

According to the Complete History of Đại Việt,[27] in the 3rd month of Giáp Thìn (1304) a Cham monk well versed in yoga, whose peculiar habit was to have milk for daily food, arrived in our country. Still in the words of the Complete History of Đại Việt,[28] in the 2nd month of Ất Tỵ (1305) “Champa ordered Chế Bồ Đài together with more than a hundred men to come to our country, offering gold, silver, rare things for the purpose of asking for the date of marriage [between their king and our country’s princess]. Though the marriage was mostly protested by the Court, it was eventually passed owing to Văn Túc Vương Đạo Tải’s proposal for negotiation and Trần Khắc Chung’s approval.”

In the 6th month of Bính Ngọ (1306), still in the words of the Complete History of Đại Việt, “Princess Huyền Trân was married to Chế Mân, the Cham king. For, formerly in his journey to Champa the Emperor-Father had promised to do so. Most of the intellectuals inside and outside the Court, who relied on an old story as to the Han king’s Chao-chün being married to Hsiung-nu, wrote verses in the national speech to laugh over [this incident].”[29] In the spring, the 1st month, of the year that followed, “Đoàn Nhữ Hài was ordered to rule the people of the two districts Ô and Lý, which then were renamed Thuận and Hóa respectively. Formerly, when the Cham king Chế Mân conceded these districts as a proposal of marriage, the inhabitants of the villages La Thủy, Tác Hồng and Đà Bồng protested his concession. For that reason, [our] King ordered Nhữ Hài to go there to proclaim the Court’s policy, according to which local inhabitants would be selected to be officials and land would be allotted without any tax collected for three years for the purpose of allaying them,” as recorded in the Complete History of Đại Việt.[30]

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9

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