PAST: From A.D. 43 to A.D. 1975 (except 1010 A.D. 1010 – A.D. 1400): foreign aggressions or civil wars.
PRESENT: From 1975 up to now.
Map of land routes and sea routes in Asia in ancient times
A. VIETNAMESE BUDDHISM IN THE PAST
I. Preserving the Nation culture and independence
- Sĩ Nhiếp (137 – 226): Sĩ Nhiếp was a Chinese origin. During his time Buddhism was considered as a barbarian religion, and Pháp vân pagoda was built. There existed Indian or Central Asian monks called Hồ.
- The text Lý Hoặc Luận (a summary of struggle on culture): 37 pairs of questions and answers, late in the 2nd century AD by Mâu Tử (a Chinese convert), highlighting the superiority of Buddhism to Confucianism and Taoism. A thaumaturgical Buddha.
- Khương Tăng Hội (? – 280): A student of Mâu Tử’s, bringing the cultural strength from Vietnam to Nan-king, China under the reign of king Ngô Tôn Quyền in 247 AD. An-ban-thủ-ý, a text on meditation, leading to magical powers and seeing the Buddha.
Pháp Vân Pagoda in Luy Lâu
II. New Buddhist ideology
- Nobody saw the Buddha. Till the mid-5th century AD, the doubt was discussed by Lý Miễu (newly Buddhist tendency) and two monks, Đạo Cao and Pháp Minh (supernatural Buddhism).
- After Hội’s death, there were many uprisings. Strength inside. Leaders Lý Thường Nhân, Lý Thúc Hiến (458 – 485). Lý Bí (mid-6th), state of Vạn Xuân, Khai Quốc Buddhist pagoda.
- Tì-ni-đa-lưu-chi zen school (580): The enlightenment is from within.
- A thaumaturgical Buddhism was turned into a secular or socio-political one
Khai Quốc Pagoda in Hà Nội
III. Vô Ngôn Thông Zen school and Independence
- For a clear-cut solution of 2 things – crisis of thaumaturgical Buddhism in mid-5th century and taking part in the protection and construction of the country – Vô Ngôn Thông Zen school was founded.
- In 820, Vô Ngôn Thông, a Chinese Zen Master, came to Vietnam. He refused the viewpoint that Zen originated from India or China and advocated that whoever enlightens he is Buddha, wherever is enlightened it is Zen. This Zen school asks for the Buddhists to concretize their ideas by engaging in worldly life, politics.
- When the Đường Dynasty in China became weak and confused, the Viets started rising up. Mai Hắc Đế (722) and Bố cái Đại vương (766 – 799) failed. But Khúc Thừa Dụ (906 – 907), Khúc Hạo (907 – 917), Khúc Thừa Mỹ (917 -923) and Ngô Quyền (905 -938) continuously rose up, defeated the Chinese and started a long, stable period of National independence on every aspect with successive dynasties Ngô, Đinh, Tiền Lê, and especially the Lý (1010 -1225) and Trần (1225 – 1400) dynasties.
- It is during this period the intellectual Buddhist monks were skilful counselors who helped the leaders to gain success:
- Monk Định Không (730 – 808) said Buddhism can only develop in an independent country.
- Monk Vạn Hạnh advised King Lý Công Uẩn to move the Capital from Hoa Lư to Thăng Long (now Hà Nội) for keeping the National independence long.
- Monk Pháp Thuận utilized prophecy to help king Lê Đại Hành (980 -1005) seize power. The verse “Quốc tộ” (The first Vietnamese theory of government):
“Quốc tộ như đằng lạc
Nam thiên lý thái bình
Vô vi cư điện các
Xứ xứ tức đao binh.”
(The state destiny is like winding strings,
The Southern heaven opens the prosperous and peaceful sight.
Vô vi lies in the royal palace,
Everywhere stops hostility.)
IV. Thảo Đường Zen school and South March
Under the Lý dynasty, one more Zen school – Thảo Đường – was founded to meet a new demand of the country.
Một Cột Pagoda under the Lý dynasty
- In 1069, Champa king, Chế Củ, offered 3 provinces Hà Tĩnh, Quảng Bình and Quảng Trị.
- Thảo Đường, a Chinese monk among the prisoners was appointed Imperial Preceptor.
- Thảo Đường Zen school spent nearly 150 years with 18 Zen Masters, half laity, half monks.
- Tì-ni-đa-lưu-chi Zen school survived over 600 years, all generations were monks.
- Vô-ngôn-thông Zen school surviving around 250 years had 3 laymen.
- The impact of Buddhism moved gradually from monks to laity
V. TRÚC LÂM ZEN SCHOOL
- King Trần Nhân Tông (1258 – 1309) with the idea “Cư trần lạc đạo” (Living a worldly life and loving the Way).
- In 1307, the king received 2 provinces, Thừa Thiên and Quảng Nam.
- The expansion of new territories and the menace of aggressions put forward an urgent demand for population growth.
- Vienam continued its South March and Buddhism as a cultural instrument was necessary to stabilize the new territories.
- The next Lê dynasty (1428 – 1527) marked a newly developing period of secular Buddhism based on the idea of “Cư trần lạc đạo”. The Lê kings were ardent supporters of Buddhism, especially king Lê Thánh Tông, well-versed in both Confucianism and Buddhism.
Trúc Lâm Tam Tổ
VI. PERIOD OF NEW BUDDHISM
- In 1698, Lord Nguyễn Phúc Chu completed the South March. The idea “Cư Nho mộ Thích” (Living as Confucianist but loving Buddhism). Buddhists of this period must master the art of (Confucianism in) governing the country.
- 6 Zen schools, Tào Động, Trúc Lâm, Quốc Ân, Thập Tháp, Chúc Thánh and Liễu Quán have still existed until now.
- Under the French colony (1883 – 1945), many eminent Buddhists were ardent patriots and leaders of insurgent movements.
- In 1920’s, inspired by reformed movements in East Asian countries, particularly the Chinese monk Thái Hư Đại sư (1890 -1947), Vietnamese Buddhist magazines and periodicals appeared with a view to addressing political and social issues.
- In the 1930’s, three new Associations of Buddhist studies.
- The unity of three Associations were hindered by the French and lack of communication.
VII. VIETNAMESE BUDDHISM FROM 1945
- In 1945, Hồ Chí Minh set up the Vietnamese People’s Democratic Government. Buddhists participated in the construction of the country and later on in the resistance against the French.
- In 1949, king Bảo Đại (1913 – 1997) assumed the role of head of South Vietnam. In 1951 he signed Decree No. 10 relegating all religions (except Catholic and Protestant missions) to the status of “public associations”.
- On assuming power in 1955, Ngô Đình Diệm (1901 – 1963) retained Decree No. 10. In 1957 he eliminated the Buddha’s birthday from the list of official holidays.
On June 11, 1963, under the repressive policy of Diệm, the self-immolation of Monk Thích Quảng Đức partly resulted in the overthrow of this regime
The self-immolation of monk Thích Quảng Đức
In 1964, the Vietnamese Unified Buddhist Sangha was founded and Vạn Hạnh Buddhist University was established.
Eminent monks Thích Trí Quang, Thích Tâm Châu, Thích Nhất Hạnh (founder of School of Youth for Social Service).
Vietnamese failed to seize a rare opportunity to reform and explore the potential of Buddhist culture in its country.
B. VIETNAMESE BUDDHISM IN THE PRESENT
- In 1975 Vietnam was unified.
- 09 Vietnamese Buddhist sects or associations nationwide were unified in an organisation called “Giáo hội Phật giáo Việt Nam” (Vietnam Buddhist Sangha) with its motto: “Dharma – Nation – Socialism.” The Sangha is divided into two ranks: a) Central and, b) Local. In the Central the Sangha includes a Sangha Patronage Council (Hội đồng Chứng minh) and a Dhamma Executive Council (Hội đồng Trị sự) including 12 departments, and 01 institute (in Dec.27, 2022) as follows:
- 1) Tăng sự (Sangha affairs including Phân ban Ni giới – Nun subdepartment), 2) Giáo dục Phật giáo (Training Buddhists), 3) Hoằng pháp (Dharma propagation), 4) Hướng dẫn Phật tử (Guidance of laity), 5) Nghi lễ (Buddhist rites), 6) Văn hóa (Buddhist culture), 7) Kinh tế – Tài chánh (Economics and Finance), 8) Từ thiện xã hội (Social charity), 9) Phật giáo quốc tế (International Buddhism), 10) Pháp chế (Legislation), 11) Kiểm soát (Control), 12) Thông tin truyền thông (Media information), and 13) Viện Nghiên cứu Phật học Việt Nam (Vietnam Buddhist Research Institute),
- The Local Sangha in cities and provinces also have the same works as for the Central, except the 13th.
- There have been 54,973 monks and nuns in the whole country including Mahayana: 40,807; Theravada Vietnamese: 1,754; Theravada Khmer: 7,028; Mendicant: 5,384. There also have existed 18,544 monasteries and temples including Mahayana: 15,871; Theravada Vietnamese: 106; Theravada Khmer: 462; and Mendicant: 541.
- There exist 4 Buddhist universities in Hà Nội, Huế, Hồ Chí Minh and Cần Thơ; 8 Buddhist colleges, 35 Buddhist high schools and 50 Buddhist Elementary schools in the whole country.
- There are around 200 Tuệ Tĩnh Đường (Buddhist clinics) nationwide. The Sangha spent 1,092,987,436,000 VND (≈ 44,861,135 USD ) in the first 6 months of 2023 for the social and relief works.
Author: Ven. Thích Tâm Đức