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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


In the 5th month of Đinh Mùi, Chế Mân died. In the 9th month, Huyền Trân’s son, Chế Đa Da, ordered the messenger Bảo Lộc to offer white elephants to our Court, probably for the purpose of requesting our Court to receive Princess Huyền Trân back to our country. For “it is customary in Champa that when a king dies, his wife has to be cremated alive together with him.” Therefore, by the 10th month, Trần Khắc Chung and Đặng Văn went to Champa to receive Princess Huyền Trân and her son. The Complete History of Đại Việt says, “On the pretext of attending the Cham king’s funeral service, Trần Khắc Chung came and suggested that ‘if the princess is cremated at the same time [with the king], no one will be in charge of his funeral service. The best way, therefore, is to have the ceremony for evoking the king’s soul held at the seashore. After the ceremony the princess will come back onto the cremation together with his soul.’ The Chams agreed to his suggestion. [When arriving at the seashore, however,] Khắc Chung managed to flee with the princess in a small ship, on which they coupled with each other for a rather long time before returning to the capital.”[31]

In the words of the Complete History of Đại Việt: “On the 18th of the 8th month of Giáp Thân (1308) Princess Huyền Trân returned from Champa. By the Emperor-Father’s order, the chief of Hóa District led three hundred Chams back to their country by ship.”[32] Accordingly, it took nearly one year for Trần Khắc Chung to take Princess Huyền Trân back to Đại Việt. And not more than three months before his death, the Emperor Nhân Tông went on with his care about the issues of Champa. Today, we cannot know who then was appointed the chief of Hóa District and why three hundred Chams had to be returned to their country. Was it likely that they were those who had followed the princess to the seashore for the rites of evoking their king’s soul? Whatever happened, the Emperor was eventually able to see his beloved daughter again. Though a slender princess, she had effectively fulfilled the mission of annexing the two districts Ô and Lý to the map of Đại Việt, which later became a well-known area named Thuận Hóa and the imperial capital of a unified Vietnam for a long time.

Geographically, Ô District was the region called Ô Mã by the Chams, which had been reported by So-tu in his 1283 invasion to be the area “bordering Annan,” as recorded in the Yuan Shih 209.[33] And Lý District, i.e., the area of Việt Lý, was the place where So-tu had passed on their way of attacking Camp Bố Chính and Hoan Ái of Đại Việt. It was due to So-tu’s Army rushing from the south that the Emperor Nhân Tông and his father had commanded the South Army to fight against them and had finally put down their attack, in which So-tu’s head was cut off and nearly ten thousand Yuan men were captured alive.

Thus, Ô and Lý were a strategically decisive position with respect to the security of Đại Việt. Just in the early years of war, the Emperor Nhân Tông, from the view of such a gifted militarist as him, thought of some control of these two districts to make possible the safety of Đại Việt. It was doubtlessly from such a view that a series of measures was put into action, including the decision of marrying Princess Huyền Trân, the only daughter of the Emperor, to the Cham king Chế Mân. As a consequence, the annexation of the districts Ô and Lý to Đại Việt was peacefully accomplished, in quite a different manner from the Emperor Lý Thánh Tông’s in his annexation of the three districts Địa Lý, Ma Linh and Bố Chính more than two hundred years earlier. In order to gain these districts, the latter had then forced the Cham king Chế Củ to surrender them in return for his own life. But, not so the former. Thanks to his ingenious policy, the Cham king Chế Mân had a Vietnamese wife and this wife further bore him a son. Indeed, the Emperor Nhân Tông’s peaceful diplomatic policy actually brought about unexpectedly great achievements in politics and security of Đại Việt. Accordingly, we become aware that the advance to the south by the Vietnamese in the past took place so increasingly swiftly as a tide was rising violently. Less than a hundred years after Ô and Lý had been turned into Thuận District and Hóa District respectively, the southern borderland of Đại Việt was extended with Thăng Hóa and Tư Nghĩa by Hồ Quý Lý. And about half a century after that, the Emperor Lê Thánh Tông succeeded in having boundary posts erected on Mount Đá Bia in Phú Yên Province. Hence, it may be said that the annexation of the two districts Ô and Lý in such a peaceful manner laid a foundation for the extension of the border of the Fatherland—a great contribution by the Emperor Nhân Tông to the country, which will be forever remembered with gratitude by all the Vietnamese.

Thus, even in his last days the Emperor Nhân Tông proceeded to pay his special attention to Champa. This attention alone, however, did not hinder him thoroughly from other national affairs. According to the Recorded Sayings as the Lamps of the Saints, in Giáp Thìn (1304) the Emperor “wandered through villages, teaching the people to practice the Ten Good Things[34] and give up superstitious beliefs.” The fact that the Ten Good Things were introduced to the people reflected evidently the political view of Buddhism in Vietnam, which had been formulated and collected in the Collected Teachings of the Six Pāramitās more than a thousand years before. It may be said that it is the most ancient Buddhist text known in our country, in which Buddhist thought and national tradition have been successfully mixed. Since its propagation, the text has unceasingly called for the leaders of the nation to apply the Ten Good Things as the basis of “national law” and “national policy”.[35] And the Emperor Nhân Tông was the first seen to respond to this appeal.

In the winter of the same year, “Anh Tông submitted a memorial to the Emperor-Father, applying for the latter’s transmission of Bodhisattva mind-precepts. As the Emperor-Father was about to enter the citadel, the officials held a ceremony for welcoming him. They were all exhorted to undertake the precepts, too.” Thus, the entire imperial court of Đại Việt determined to lead a living in accordance with the Buddha’s teachings. The transmission of Bodhisattva mind-precepts to the Court demonstrated so obviously the thought of “Worldly Life with Joy in the Way” that the Emperor Nhân Tông had inherited directly from his father, Vô Nhị Thượng Nhân Trần Thánh Tông, and his master, Tuệ Trung Thượng Sỹ Trần Quốc Tung.

Just before the Emperor Anh Tông’s undertaking Boddhisattva precepts, the imperial court of Đại Việt might have been a Buddhistic court and all the people the Buddhist followers. For, in a mission of his in 1293 Ch’en-fu composed the verse “An-nan chi-shih” written down in the Collected Poems of Ch’en Kang-chung,[36] where it is known that the court of the Trần House, “in spite of many temples built, did not hold anniversaries for the departed. Instead, they held only the ceremonies of offering to the Buddha very respectfully,” and “the people were for the most part Buddhist monks.” Still in the words of Ch’en-fu, even Trần Hưng Đạo “was so interested in Buddhism that he named the district Vạn Kiếp[37] .” Further, Buddhist thought was expressed in a poem of Đinh Củng Viên, composed in his seeing Ch’en-fu off. The poem, which was written down in the Collected Poems of Ch’en Kang-chung,[38] has been recorded neither in the most ancient books of our country nor in the collections of poetry and prose under the Lý and Trần dynasties. It therefore is now published for the purpose of supplementing the literary heritage of Lý and Trần dynasties in general and of Đinh Củng Viên in particular:

The “messenger-star” flies down together with a “good cloud,”
Without fear of the perilous way through nine heavens.
The two sleeves can sweep away the bad climate of the SouthSea.
A single shout can break the lower level of Dhyāna.
Though young but able to surpass Chung-chün,
And precede Liu-che in eloquent controversy.
On return to the Court, remember to report
That the people of this remote place always wish the King longevity.

According to the Recorded Sayings as the Lamps of the Saints, after the rites of transmitting Bodhisattva-precepts to the Emperor Anh Tông and his subjects in the winter of Giáp Thìn (1304), “the Emperor-Father settled at the Sùng Nghiêm Temple on Mount Chí Linh, expounding the Buddhist teaching.” In effect, it was not by the end of Giáp Thìn that the Emperor began to settle at the Sùng Nghiêm Temple. In the words of the Complete History of Đại Việt[39] he had lived there from the year Tân Mão (1303) when Đoàn Nhữ Hài came to consult him before a mission to Champa. The date recorded above by the Recorded Sayings as the Lamps of the Saints might probably be set forth to lay some stress on the fact that the propagation of Buddhist teachings had been actually performed by the emperor just at that point of time.

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

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