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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


On the 1st of the 11th month, when the morning star was shining bright at mid-night, Nhân Tông asked, “What time is it?” “It is the Tý, Master,”[47] answered Bảo Sát. Opening the window, he looked out and said, “It is time for me to go.” “Where are you going, Master?” asked Bảo Sát. He said,

All dharmas do not arise;
All dharmas do not pass away.
If it is so understood,
The Buddhas are always present.
What is the use of asking ‘going and coming’?

Standing up, Bảo Sát asked, “What about non-arising and non-destruction?” Nhân Tông suddenly covered his mouth with his hand, saying, “Do not talk wildly.” Then he lay down in the lion-posture and quietly passed away.

According to Nhân Tông’s will, on the evening of the following day Bảo Sát had his body cremated in the grounds of the temple where he had spent his last days. It is said that during the cremation the space was permeated with fragrance and from the sky came down the heavenly music with a five-colored cloud covering the cremation. By the following fourth day, the Venerable Phổ Tuệ hurried back from Mount Yên Tử. He sprinkled the cremation with perfumed water and held a ceremony of gathering sacred bones where more than five hundred śāriras and numerous smaller ones were collected.

Soon, the Emperor Anh Tông, the Highest Minister and courtiers came with an imperial ship from the capital. To show their respect, they unceasingly prostrated themselves while walking along the mountain path to the cremation. Thereafter, Nhân Tông’s sacred bones and śāriras were brought to the capital where his funeral service would be officially held. For many days in every street of the capital was all the time sounding the cries of the courtiers and the common people. The Emperor Nhân Tông was bestowed the sacred title Đại Thánh Trần Triều Trúc Lâm Đầu Đà Tịnh Tuệ Giác Hoàng Điều Ngự Tổ Phật (The Great Saint of the Trần Dynasty, the Great Ascetic of Trúc Lâm, the Enlightened Emperor of Pure Wisdom, the Buddha-Patriarch in Guiding All Sentient Beings). His sacred bones were contained in a precious case. His śāriras were divided into two parts, which were placed in golden boxes each. After the funeral service, the sacred bones were buried in the imperial tomb named Nhân Tông. One case of śāriras was worshiped in the Precious Stūpa in the Long Hưng Prefecture; and the other was worshiped in the Golden Stūpa at the Vân Yên Temple on Mount Yên Tử.

Such were the last days of the Emperor Nhân Tông as in the words of the Recorded Sayings as the Lamps of the Saints. In the Complete History of Đại Việt the event is somewhat briefly and variedly recorded:

On the 3rd (of the 11th month), the Emperor-Father passed away at the Ngọa Vân Temple on Mount Yên Tử. Earlier, he was ordained Buddhist monk under the title Great Man Trúc Lâm on the Tử Tiêu Peak of Mount Yên Tử. Once, learning that his sister Thiên Thụy was getting a very serious illness, he went down the mountain to see her. “If it is time for you to leave, pass calmly. In the realm of the deceased if asked about something, remember to answer, ‘Please, wait for a moment; my brother, Great Man Trúc Lâm, is coming,’” said he. Then he came back to the mountain where, having given Pháp Loa some instructions about his own funeral service, he sat quiet and passed away. At the same time Thiên Thụy departed, too.

After the Emperor-Father’s cremation Pháp Loa gathered more than three thousand pieces of śāriras, which were by [the King’s] order brought to the Từ Phúc Temple in the capital. The King showed suspicious and most of the courtiers asked him for punishment on Pháp Loa. The Crown Prince Mạnh, who was just at the age of nine and was then standing aside, felt on himself something like pieces of śāriras, which he took out to see. It was truly the pieces of śāriras which had not been found in the case. Deeply moved by this, the King (Anh Tông) swept, showing no more suspicion [about Pháp Loa].[48]

Thus, according to the Complete History of Đại Việt Bảo Sát was not mentioned at all with respect to the Emperor Nhân Tông’s death; whereas, in the words of the Recorded Sayings of the Saints, he was named the “outstanding disciple” of the Emperor’s and was said to serve the latter during the last days of his life. It was Bảo Sát who carried out the cremation according to Nhân Tông’s instructions without waiting for Pháp Loa. When the latter came, his task was simply to sprinkle perfume on the cremation and collect sacred bones and śāriras. Through the above facts it seems that, in spite of having been appointed by Nhân Tông to be his dharma-successor, Pháp Loa’s role showed rather indistinct during the last days of the Emperor Nhân Tông’s life.

Further, in the Complete History of Đại Việt the fact that Nhân Tông’s śāriras were brought to the stūpa for worshiping is said to have taken place more than a year later: “On the 16th of the 9th month of the year Canh Tuất (1310) the Emperor-Father’s coffin was carried to the Quy Đức Tomb in the Long Hưng Prefecture for burial, where the body of the Queen-mother Khâm Từ Bảo Thánh was again buried nearby. His śāriras were worshiped in the Precious Stūpa at the Ngọa Vân Temple. The temple where he was officially worshiped was named Nhân Tông and he was posthumously bestowed Pháp Thiên Sùng Đạo Ứng Thế Hóa Duyên Long Từ Huyễn Huệ Thánh Văn Thần Vũ Nguyên Minh Duệ Hiếu Hoàng Đế. Before the burial service, his coffin was temporarily placed at the Diên Hiền Palace. Thereafter, although the good time came for his coffin to be moved into the tomb, the officials and the common people remained crowded in the grounds of the palace. The head minister had to drive them with sticks but could not open up the road. Sending for Trịnh Trọng Từ, the King (Anh Tông) said to him, ‘How can the coffin be moved when the people are gathering so crowdedly?’ Trọng Từ commanded his troops to come and sit everywhere in the grounds of the Thiên Trì Temple, where they were ordered to sing some phrases of the song Long Ngâm. Extremely amazed, the masses rushed there to watch, leaving enough room for the coffin to be moved to the Quy Đức tomb…”[49]

Such were the last days of the Emperor Nhân Tông’s life as recorded by the Complete History of Đại Việt. In the history of our country, few emperors received such a full account concerning the people’s admiration for them after their deaths. This is the life of an emperor who, only within fifty years, could make extremely great contributions to the country and the human kind. His life has ended but left so much regret for contemporaries as well as subsequent generations. A life was closed with an extremely plain but noble end. Today, whenever we read all that our ancestors wrote about the Emperor Nhân Tông, we cannot help feeling deeply moved as if we were in the presence of his genuine body, the embodiment of a national hero who went beyond the limits of time to exist forever with our country and our people.

dịch Việt: Đạo Sinh

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

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