By Lê Mạnh Thát/Translated and annotated  by Đạo Sinh: Zen Master Chân Đạo Chánh Thống

ZEN MASTER
CHÂN ĐẠO CHÁNH THỐNG

By LÊ MẠNH THÁT
Translated and annotated 
by ÐẠO SINH

ZEN MASTER CHÂN ĐẠO CHÁNH THỐNG
By LÊ MẠNH THÁT
Translated and annotated by ÐẠO SINH
ISBN: 978-1-716-37208-7
All rights reserved
Printed in the United States of America
Copyright © 2019 by Lotus Media and Dao Sinh.

Mục Lục

LIFE OF THE ZEN MASTER
WORKS OF THE ZEN MASTER
POETRY―A MEANS OF CONVEYING ASPIRATION
ZEN MASTER CHÂN ĐẠO’S SOCIAL RELATIONS
SOME REMARKS ON THE ANTHOLOGY

_____________________________

LIFE OF THE ZEN MASTER

 

The Thủy Nguyệt Tòng Sao[1] is an anthology by Zen Master Chân Đạo Chánh Thống[2]. The Master was born at Trung Kiên village in Triệu Phong district of Quảng Trị province on the 30th of the 12th month of the year Canh Tý, i.e., February 18th, 1901. His father was named Nguyễn Thuyên, his mother Nguyễn Thị Chợ. In his own words his family has piously followed Buddhism for generations and taken Confucianism to be an indispensable factor in a Buddhist’s way of life. The relation between Buddhism and Confucianism was described by him as follows:
I am a native of Trung Kiên in Quảng Trị province. My family follows Zen Buddhism; my grandfather and father possess great knowledge of Confucianism. My family regulations are very strict. Those who fail to observe moral rules are severely blamed… [My father ever said,] “Fortunately, in the five successive generations of our family Buddhism has been taken as a ‘castle’ and Confucianism as its ‘foundation.’ If you fail to study [how to revive Confucianism] properly, you will hardly escape blames for being a ‘vehicle of gold and silver,’ an ‘old water crane.’…”

Traditionally, such a view of the interdependent roles of Buddhism and Confucianism may be traced back to Buddhists in Nguyễn Phúc Chu’s time. According to it Buddhists venerated the Buddha but kept their everyday living in the social patterns of Confucianism; that is, “living in Confucianist patterns, aspiring for Buddhist ideals.” Therefore, though he was described as being “often sick and too unhealthy to put on clothes by himself” in his childhood, Zen Master Chân Đạo began his studies at a Confucian school. In 1914 seeing that “the modernist movement was growing strongly whereas Confucian schools were getting deserted,” his father sent him to the Kim Quang Temple in Huế to study Buddhist teachings under Zen Master Ngộ Tánh Phước Huệ (1875-1963) so that he “might not shatter his forefathers’ great expectations.”

In 1919 he was transmitted precepts for Śramaṇera and given dharma-name Chân Đạo, dharma-title Chánh Thống, thus pertaining to the fortieth generation of the Lin-chi lineage in the Thập Tháp Zen sect. Two years later he was officially ordained to be Bhikṣu. After that, he went on to serve his master in Huế, from whom he received a dharma-transmitting gātha together with the further title Bích Phong. Also in this period he began reading The Song of a Warrior’s Wife[3] and wrote two folksongs[4] in the styles of nam-ai and nam-bình respectively in 1924. It may be said that these are among his first works extant in his anthology.

At the age of twenty-five he went to Bình Định to study under Zen Master Phước Huệ (1869-1945) at the Thập Tháp Temple, and returned to Huế in 1929. Thereafter, he joined the movement for reviving Buddhism so that in 1932, when the Annam Buddhist Studies Association was founded, he worked as a lecturer of the Association and was at the same time a “Buddhist college student” of the earliest university course in Buddhist Teachings of the twentieth century run by Zen Master Giác Tiên (1880-1936) and Doctor Tâm Minh Lê Đình Thám (1897-1969) at the Tây Thiên Monastery.

He was known to be a lecturer of the Annam Buddhist Studies Association in around the years 1932-1933; for in 1935 the periodical Viên Âm[5] published his “lecture at the Buddhist Studies Association at the Từ Quang Temple in Huế on the 15th day of the 10th month.”[6] At the beginning of the lecture, which is entitled Tứ Niệm Xứ or The Four Foundations of Mindfulness, he said, “Last year the lecture on ‘The Noble Truth of the Way Leading to Nirvāṇa’ dealt with the thirty-seven prerequisites for the attainment of enlightenment;[7] that is, the Four Foundations of Mindfulness, the Four Perfect Efforts, the Four Roads to Power, the Five Faculties, the Five Powers, the Seven Factors of Enlightenment, the Eightfold Path.”

In those words it is evident that in 1934 he was invited by the association above to deliver a lecture on the Fourth Noble Truth at the Từ Quang Temple. Accordingly, he must have been in Huế by the beginning of 1934, if not of 1929. The date “1929” is drawn by us from his preface to the two-part version of the Thủy Nguyệt Tòng Sao: [8] “In the autumn of the year Kỷ Tỵ (1929) I returned to the imperial capital to found the Buddhist College at the Tây Thiên Temple. The number of students from the four directions became larger and larger.” The character 己, Kỷ in 己巳, Kỷ Tỵ of the version just mentioned is rather faded, so it is easily mistaken for the character 乙, Ất in 乙巳, Ất Tỵ. The latter is, of course, not in accordance with the date of founding the college because it refers either to 1905 or to 1965; so in the three-part version it was replaced with 乙亥, Ất Hợi. Yet, had Ất Hợi (1935) been the year he returned to Hue, he could not have delivered the lecture in the previous year, i.e., 1934, as confirmed by himself in the lecture of 1935. For that reason we are agreed on the year Kỷ Tỵ as recorded in the two-part version.

Otherwise stated, five years after he had received full ordination, he went to the Thập Tháp Temple in Bình Định to study under Zen Master Phước Huệ in 1927. Two years later he returned to Huế, where together with Zen Master Giác Tiên he started some courses in Buddhist teachings, of which was the Advanced Buddhist Course at the Tây Thiên Monastery as recorded in the Preface of his work. This was the preparatory stage for him so that, when the Annam Buddhist Studies Association came into being, he became “the Buddhist College Student” of the first Buddhist University Course run also by Zen Master Giác Tiên at the Tây Thiên Monastery, and at the same time, the official lecturer of the Association, delivering lectures at the Từ Quang Temple in Huế, one of which was published in the Viên Âm in 1935.

Thus, Zen Master Chân Đạo was at the age of thirty-six when he was invited to be lecturer at the Tây Thiên Buddhist College. Also in the words of the Thủy Nguyệt Tòng Sao, in the winter of 1937 when he was thirty-eight years of age, “by Queen-Mother Khôn Nghi’s order the chief patron of the Quy Thiện Temple, His Excellency the Baron Thái[9] with his lady invited me [that is, Master Chân Đạo] to undertake Abbot of that temple and appointed me Tăng Cang[10] with monthly emoluments to lead the abbots and head-monks of other temples.”

As to those positions and emoluments he made a remark, “I would rather remain to be a pine in the cold than enjoy such a little warmth of spring. Then I had a cottage built on the left of the temple, naming it Thủy Nguyệt Hiên,[11] where I could concentrate on studying Buddhist and non-Buddhist literature. Furthermore, my noble and graceful friends, who did not consider my cottage to be a poor, humble place, occasionally visited it during their mountain sightseeing at leisure.”

 It was at the Thủy Nguyệt Hiên that many literary and philosophical discussions took place and numerous works were created; hence, the birth of the anthology entitled Thủy Nguyệt Tòng Sao. Based upon the definitely dated writings in both verse and prose collected in the anthology, a chronological list of Zen Master Chân Đạo’s works may be temporarily made as follows:

– 1924 (Giáp Tý) 中 秋 夜 讀 征 婦 吟, “Trung Thu Dạ Độc Chinh Phụ Ngâm,” “Reading The Song of a Warrior’s Wife in a Mid-Autumn Night”

– 1934 (Giáp Tuất) 道 諦, “Đạo Đế,” “The Fourth Noble Truth”

– 1935 (Ất Hợi) 四 念 處, “Tứ Niệm Xứ,” “The Four Foundations of Mindfulness”

– 1937 (Đinh Sửu) 送 正 信 禪 兄 歸 北, “Tống Chánh Tín Thiền Huynh Quy Bắc,” “At the Departure of Zen Brother Chánh Tín for the North”
送 素 蓮 禪 兄 歸 北, “Tống Tố Liên Thiền Huynh Quy Bắc,” “At the Departure of Zen Brother Tố Liên for the North”

– 1938 (Mậu Dần) 智 首 法 契 新 任 波 羅 寺 主, “Trí Thủ Pháp Khế Tân Nhậm Ba-La Tự Chủ,” “Trí Thủ Undertaking Abbot of the Ba-La Temple”

– 1941 (Tân Tỵ) 中 秋 夜 同 吳 澤 之, “Trung Thu Dạ Đồng Ngô Trạch Chi,” “Meeting with Ngô Trạch Chi in a Mid-Autumn Night”

– 1946 (Bính Tuất) 訪 敦 后 師 新 任 天 姥, “Phỏng Đôn Hậu Sư Tân Nhiệm Thiên Mụ,” “A Visit to Master Đôn Hậu on His Undertaking Abbot of the Thiên Mụ”
桃 源 夢 記, “Đào Nguyên Mộng Ký,” “Record of the Dreams in a Secluded Life”

– 1947 (Đinh Hợi) 次 叔 壄 氏 避 兵 火 韻, “Thứ Thúc Giạ Thị Tỵ Binh Hỏa Vận,” “A Verse in Reply to Thúc Giạ Thị’s ‘Tỵ Binh Hỏa’”
臘 月 廿 五 寄 覺 本 上 人, “Lạp Nguyệt Trấp Ngũ Ký Giác Bổn Thượng Nhân,” “Sent to Superior Man Giác Bổn on the Twenty-fifth of the Twelfth Month”

– 1948 (Mậu Tý) 謁 慈 孝 祖 廷 賦, “Yết Từ Hiếu Tổ Đình Phú,” “A Visit to the Từ Hiếu Patriarchal Temple”
冬 日 詠 梅, “Đông Nhật Vịnh Mai,” “About a Plum on a Winter Day”
春 日 謁 國 恩 祖 廷, “Xuân Nhật Yết Quốc Ân Tổ Đình,” “A Visit to the Quốc Ân Patriarchal Temple on a Spring Day”
和 艸 池 先 生 中 秋 韻, “Họa Thảo Trì Tiên Sinh Trung Thu Vận,” “A Verse in Reply to Mister Thảo Trì’s ‘Trung Thu’”

– 1949 (Kỷ Sửu) 七 夕 疉 去 年 叔 壄 氏 韻, “Thất Tịch Điệp Khứ Niên Thúc Giạ Thị Vận,” “A Verse Written on the Seventh Night of the Seventh Month in Reply to Thúc Giạ Thị’s Verse of the Previous Year”
初 春 追 悼 覺 本 大 德, “Sơ Xuân Truy Điệu Giác Bổn Đại Đức,” “In Memory of Bhadanta Giác Bổn Early in the Spring”

– 1951 (Tân Mão) 春 日 訪 圓 通 座 主, “Xuân Nhật Phỏng Viên Thông Tọa Chủ,” “A Visit to the Abbot of the Viên Thông Temple on a Spring Day”
全 國 佛 教 統 一 大 會, “Toàn Quốc Phật Giáo Thống Nhất Đại Hội,” “The Great Congress of the National Buddhist Unification”
贈 北 越 素 蓮 法 侶, “Tặng Bắc Việt Tố Liên Pháp Lữ,” “Dedicated to Dharma-Friend Tố Liên in North Vietnam”

– 1952 (Nhâm Thìn) 留 贈 慧 藏 和 尚, “Lưu Tặng Tuệ Tạng Hòa Thượng,” “Dedicated to Most Venerable Tuệ Tạng”

– 1953 (Quý Tỵ) 八 月 大 潦 後 賜 薦 難 亡 意, “Bát Nguyệt Đại Lạo Hậu Tứ Tiến Nạn Vong Ý,” “Offerings to the Victims of the Great Flood in the Eighth Month”

 – 1954 (Giáp Ngọ) 承 天 山 門 夏 日 安 居 之 紀, “Thừa Thiên Sơn Môn Hạ Nhật An Cư Chi Kỷ,” “Record of the Summer-Retreat at Zen Monasteries in Thừa Thiên”

– 1956 (Bính Thân) 智 首 大 師 賜 白 米, “Trí Thủ Đại Sư Tứ Bạch Mễ,” “Great Master Trí Thủ Giving White Rice”

– 1957 (Đinh Dậu) 秋 月 慈 恩 寺 晚 眺, “Thu Nguyệt Từ Ân Tự Vãn Thiếu,” “Watching the Từ Ân Temple in an Autumn Evening”
下 山 觀 展 覽, “Hạ Sơn Quan Triển Lãm,” “Leaving the Temple for an Exhibition”

– 1958 (Mậu Tuất) 十 塔 寺 開 講 日 訓 示, “Thập Tháp Tự Khai Giảng Nhật Huấn Thị,” “Instructions on the First Day of the School Year at the Thập Tháp Temple”

– 1959 (Kỷ Hợi) 中 秋 月 夜 六 十 自 詠, “Trung Thu Nguyệt Dạ Lục Thập Tự Vịnh,” “A Poem Written on Myself at the Age of Sixty in a Mid-Autumn Night”
釋 尊 寶 誕 恭 紀, “Thích Tôn Bảo Đản Cung Kỷ,” “In Respectful Memory of the Sacred Anniversary of Śākyamuni’s Birthday”
贈 明 齋 陳 君, “Tặng Minh Trai Trần Quân,” “Dedicated to Sir Minh Trai Trần”

– 1960 (Canh Tý) 自 恣 日 恭 紀, “Tự Tứ Nhật Cung Kỷ,” “In Respectful Memory of the End of a Summer-Retreat”

– 1962 (Nhâm Dần) 釋 尊 誕 日 恭 紀, “Thích Tôn Đản Nhật Cung Kỷ,” “In Respectful Memory of the Sacred Anniversary of Śākyamuni’s Birthday”

– 1963 (Tân Mão) 釋 尊 誕 頌, “Thích Tôn Đản Tụng,” “A Gātha on Śākyamuni’s Birthday”
弔 逍 遙 禪 師, “Điếu Tiêu Diêu Thiền Sư,” lit. “Attending Zen Master Tiêu Diêu’s Funeral”

While he was teaching at the Tây Thiên Buddhist College, he received a visit paid by Zen Master Tố Liên from the North in 1937. No doubt, these two masters discussed the unification of Buddhism after the three major parts―North, Central, and South―of the country had founded their own Buddhist Studies Associations; and they also severely criticized the view that some discussion about Buddhist unification might be pure nonsense, as mentioned in the last two lines of a seven-character regulated verse by Zen Master Tố Liên, which was later cited by Zen Master Chân Đạo in his anthology,

法 軌 將 來 君 得 志
三 圻 合 徹 妄 談 耶

How satisfied you are with the view of Buddha-dharma in the future!
That the three parts may be totally unified is hardly nonsense.

Also in this period he went on to teach at the Từ Quang Temple of the Buddhist Studies Association. The temple was then under the charge of Zen Master Giác Bổn, whom he had very close relations with and dedicated several poems to in his anthology. From 1937 on it was evident that he might go to the North, where he met with Zen Master Trung Thứ so that he could write a poem in reply to this renowned Zen master’s.

In 1941 at the invitation of District Chief Ngô Đình Nhuận he attended a musical performance. At that time the World War II broke out, and the movement to struggle for freedom and independence of our country was going on strongly. With regard to this gloomy circumstance Zen Master Chân Đạo expressed his feeling in the following lines:
相 將 握 手 上 江 樓
聽 曲 無 端 為 氐 愁
清 似 啼 鵑 懷 故 國
細 如 嫠 婦 泣 孤 舟

Walking up the river pavilion hand in hand together,
I spontaneously felt deeply sorrowful at the melody,
Which sounded clearly like the cry of a homesick bird,
And softly like a widow’s weeping in a lonely boat.

In the years that followed 1941 he might write some poems to present his view and emotions about contemporary political events; yet, probably on account of their political content they were not written down in his anthology. Not until 1946, when Zen Master Đôn Hậu began undertaking Abbot of the Linh Mụ Temple, he wrote a poem to record his visit to him.

Having been evacuated from Huế, he returned in 1948 and visited some temples, of which only the Quốc Ân Patriarchal Temple and the Từ Hiếu Patriarchal Temple were mentioned in the Thủy Nguyệt Tòng Sao. In 1949 at the passing away of Zen Master Giác Bổn he wrote a poem in memory of him; and in a great ordination organized at the Báo Quốc Temple for the purpose of stabilizing the Buddhist Order he, in his service as a secretary, composed a writing in the style of phú to celebrate this great event.

In 1951 a great congress was held to discuss the unification of the individual Buddhist Studies Associations across the country, of which the result was the birth of the General Association of Vietnam Buddhism. Zen Master Chân Đạo had participated in and written poems to congratulate the congress on its success. A year later during a congress held in the North to discuss the unification of the Buddhist Monastic Order, he wrote a poem to congratulate Zen Master Tuệ Tạng on his appointment as Head of the Saṃgha. After that he went on with his teaching. In 1958 he was invited to the Thập Tháp Temple in Bình Định to teach at a course in Buddhist teachings, whose students were, later, Zen Master Khế Châu, Zen Master Mật Hạnh, and so on.

On the 22nd of the 12th month of Đinh Mùi, i.e., January 21st, 1968 he passed away. His śarīra was enshrined in a stūpa just in the grounds of the Quy Thiện Temple. A student of his wrote a ‘couplet in parallelism’:
Thầy đã đi rồi, bể Thích rừng Nho trông vắng vẻ;
Con còn ở lại, kẻ tăng người tục thấy bơ vơ.

You have passed away, Master. How deserted the Buddhist ocean and the Confucian forest appear!
Your students, both monks and laymen, are gathering here. How desolate we feel!

And another one by Zen Master Tâm Như Đạo Giám Trí Thủ is cited below as a conclusion of our writing about Zen Master Chân Đạo’s life – a life that was totally devoted to the cause of education and literature for both Buddhism and nation.

昔 年 法 乳 同 沾 誓海 者 曾 盟 鐵 石
今 日 曇 花 先 落 禪 林 誰 是 耐 風 霜

Of old we drank Dharma-milk together, arousing firm resolutions in the ocean of vow.
At your passing away as the first fallen udumbara[12] flower, who in the Zen forest is now able to suffer ‘fog and wind’?

_____________________________

WORKS OF THE ZEN MASTER

 

Composed of more than 400 writings in verse and prose the Thủy Nguyệt Tòng Sao is an extremely copious anthology, whose content is expressed in various literary genres. As for prose different styles such as biền ngẫu, phú, , chí, etc., are used. As for verse the author calls into play all the styles found in Chinese poetry such as “couplet in parallelism,” eight-line regulated verse with five characters to a line, eight-line regulated verse with seven characters to a line, four-line truncated verse with five characters to a line, four-line truncated verse with seven characters to a line, and ancient style. Besides, a style typical of Vietnamese poetry called song thất lục bát[13] is used by the author for writing poems in Chinese. It may be said that they are the only song thất lục bát poems written in Chinese script of Vietnamese literature.

Some literary critics in the world have usually analyzed and studied literary works in terms of literary genres employed by their authors. This method of literary criticism proceeds from a regular phenomenon that a certain phase of literature is often characterized by a definite literary genre, which is in its turn to regulate the content of the same literary phase. In China, for instance, literary phases are often dealt with according to their own guiding literary genres such as 賦 during the Han Dynasty, 詩 during the T’ang Dynasty, 詞 during the Sung Dynasty, 劇 during the Yüan Dynasty, 小説 during the Ming Dynasty, and so on. The method has sometimes been applied in Vietnam, chiefly for literature during the Lý and the Trần Dynasty, in which the number of literary works is not large.

Apart from some advantages just mentioned the method has, however, some fundamental defects, one of which is its failure to present a panorama of literature of a definite phase or of an author, particularly of classical authors or those of classical type like Zen Master Chân Đạo. For them literature is regarded as a means to convey their views, or rather, their reflections on themselves and the age in which they find themselves. Zen Master Chân Đạo himself also declares his similar view in the Preface to the Thủy Nguyệt Tòng Sao: “verse is for exposing one’s aspiration, prose is for expressing one’s feeling. Therefore, those who were interested in the public life wrote verse as Tu Fu, 杜甫; and those who made use of things to represent their personal emotions were mostly of the same type as Ch’ü Yüan, 屈原.”

The view of “verse for exposing one’s aspiration, prose for expressing one’s feeling” was obviously advanced in Chinese literature in the old days, at least in Confucius’s time; for it was in the Preface to The Book of Odes, 詩 經, that Confucius formulated it. Thus, in classical literature verse and prose were conceived to be a way of exposing aspiration and communicating feeling, which was later summed up in the expression “Literature is for conveying the Tao.”

It is from such a literary view that we understand why and how the contents of Zen Master Chân Đạo’s anthology were arranged in its present form. Indeed, the Thủy Nguyệt Tòng Sao was not based upon any definite genre of literature; that is to say, his writings whether in verse or prose are not arranged in accordance with the genres in which they are created.

Consequently, it may occur that a poem is sometimes found to be followed by a writing or vice versa, and sometimes a five-character regulated verse is followed by a five-character truncated one, and so forth.

_____________________________

POETRY―A MEANS
OF CONVEYING ASPIRATION

 

No doubt, such an arrangement, though it might make an impression of some disorder in the whole anthology, does represent the author’s view of “verse for exposing aspiration, prose for expressing feeling.” Indeed, both copies of the Thủy Nguyệt Tòng Sao begin with the text called “The Repentance”.[14] The date when it was written is not known. Yet, as a text of repentance it may rather fully represent the afore-said view of literature and art; that is, the author’s aspiration for serving sentient beings in the Triple World [15] with all his heart. In Vietnam it is the aspiration that Buddhist practitioners in all monasteries have to arouse within themselves every day. It is originally conveyed in a phrase extracted from a sūtra that has been recited at morning service in Buddhist temples and monasteries in Vietnam for centuries. So, if that is the aspiration Buddhist monks have to raise in their mind very early in the morning, what must they do to realize it? Let us read the next phrases, “we vow to be the first to enter the evil world of five impurities [for the benefit of all beings],” [16] and “we refuse to enter Nirvāṇa until the last being [in the Triple World] gets perfectly awakened.” [17] Obviously, the aspiration for engaging oneself in the “evil worlds of five impurities,” that is, in the realms fraught with hardship and suffering, has been put forward to be the top mission of all Buddhist followers in monasteries as well as amidst the world. In his own words we have known that Zen Master Chân Đạo was born of a Buddhist family. The date he came into existence, too, was the time when French Colonialists had just finished their campaign of occupying our country by force and began to carry out their extremely savage policy of colonial exploitation (1897).

A chain of events took place, some of which were the elimination of our traditional education in Chinese script and the introduction of Quốc Ngữ or Romanized Vietnamese as the official script of the country. These events engendered the movement to copy the so-called new culture, which was boosted by French Colonialists in their plot to enslave the Vietnamese for long, as in the words of a Christian priest who, then, was working in the North of our country:
“The matter is of great importance. And subsequent to the founding of Catholicism, I think, the abandonment of Chinese script and the step-by-step substitution of Annamese [that is, Romanized Vietnamese] for it, and then the whole substitution of French are a measure, very political, very convenient, and very effective to found in the North a little France of the Far East.”[18]

To abandon traditional education was aimed at eliminating the intellectual circle in Vietnam, that is, all the intellectuals of the day. As far as its reason was concerned, it was Puginier who had said to Governor-general De Lanessan in 1887,

“Because the intellectuals have a very great influence, very great prestige, and are respected when they serve as officials, it is necessary to eliminate them. As long as they exist, we will have to fear everything. For with their warm patriotism they refuse to recognize our domination; moreover, none of them agree to follow Catholicism.”[19]

This is the very germ of the situation described in Zen Master Chân Đạo’s words as “the modernist movement was growing strongly whereas Confucian schools were getting deserted.” In that period Confucianism had organic relations with Buddhism, as the Master’s father stated, “Fortunately, in the five successive generations of our family Buddhism has been taken as a castle, and Confucianism as its foundation.” The view of an organic connection between Buddhism and Confucianism was a great policy of Buddhism in the age of Nguyễn Phúc Chu (1692-1715), when the view of “living in Confucian patterns, aspiring for Buddhist ideals” began to affect all the subsequent developments in the history of Vietnamese Buddhism.

Yet, by the time Zen Master Chân Đạo was born, Confucianism no longer remained positive, and it was being overpowered by the enslaving cultural movement mentioned above. Those Buddhists who held the view of “living in Confucian patterns, aspiring for Buddhist ideals” as his father inevitably felt highly anxious and could not fail to urge their subsequent generation to seek to revive the Confucian role in social life after they had analyzed the course of its formation in the history as well as its present state:
If you fail to study [how to revive Confucianism] properly, you will hardly escape blames for being “a vehicle of gold and silver,” “an old water crane.” Those who have concerned themselves with Confucianism would find it hard to remain silent at the tragic fact that its true face, which was first covered in the ages of Hsin and Han and then by debased Confucianists on a larger scale, is being much more distorted by false statements from the supporters of the Modernist Movement. Moreover, the throng of scholars who are secretly misusing the doctrine of “dependence upon the circumstances” is not of small number. Reflecting upon our forefathers’ favor of nurturing and educating us, we feel extreme shame at not being able to repay them so much for their favors as those birds for their mothers’.

While reviewing the course of Confucian development in the history, Zen Master Chân Đạo’s father paid attention to the degeneration of this doctrine just in his age when a number of Confucianists made use of the principle of “dependence upon the circumstances” to plead for their pursuit of the modernist movement, of which he himself never showed approval. As a consequence, the most urgent requirement for Buddhists at the time was that they had to retreat into the Buddhist “castle” as a final support whereas the Confucianist “foundation” was being violently attacked. This explains partly why the Thủy Nguyệt Tòng Sao, which came into being in a period when “Confucianist education is already obsolete” as in Trần Tế Xương’s remark, was composed in Chinese.

After they had retreated into the Buddhist “castle,” the immediate demand for them was to “forsake trivial phrases and penetrate marvelous implications so that the ‘sun’ of meaning could shine more and more brightly, the ‘ocean’ of enlightenment could become as pure as possible; hence, not disappointing their forefathers.” In spite of this, Buddhism in Vietnam could not show a shadow of hope in the gloomy situation of the whole country. Following the uprising of Đoàn Trưng Nguyễn Văn Quý, which was suppressed in bloodshed in 1868, and particularly subsequent to the uprising of Võ Trứ in Phú Yên with the assistance of Trần Cao Vân in 1896, the life in Buddhist monasteries which had been reduced to the minimum became more and more declined in a country without sovereignty.

When Zen Master Chân Đạo began his monastic life under the instruction of Zen Master Ngộ Tánh Phước Huệ at the Kim Quang Temple in Huế in 1914, “the daily routine in monasteries was worse than any harsh policy, in which interest was shown not in education but in raising livestock. Laughing and crying on the occasions of welcoming and seeing off respectively were regarded to be unwholesome. Life in monasteries was unstable. Not much of the knowledge of Buddhist teachings was acquired. The more I expected, the more disappointed I felt,” as in the Master’s words.

Such was Buddhist education in the first decades of the twentieth century that it required a fundamental change, which was later commonly called the Buddhist Revival Movement and in which Zen Master Chân Đạo enthusiastically participated from the very beginning. A few years after being ordained to be a Buddhist monk, he went to the Thập Tháp Temple in Bình Định in 1928 and studied under Most Venerable Phước Huệ (1869-1945), as recorded in a note to the poem “Falling Ill in the Western Pavilion of the Thập Tháp Temple” [20] composed in 1958: “I recall I fell ill while I was studying there thirty years before.”

Though it was said that “interest was shown not in education but in raising livestock” during the first decades of the twentieth century, there were actually some seats of learning for the succeeding Buddhist generation. In the North there was the Vĩnh Nghiêm Patriarchal Temple under the charge of Patriarch Thanh Hanh (1840-1936) in Bắc Giang. In the Central was the Báo Quốc Patriarchal Temple presided by Patriarch Hải Thuận Diệu Giác (1801-1891). Of his nine disciples whose dharma-names all began with the word Tâm was Patriarch Tâm Tịnh (1879-1929), founder of the Tây Thiên Temple where the first Buddhist college of the country was built in 1935. In the Preface to the Thủy Nguyệt Tòng Sao it is recorded that Zen Master Chân Đạo took part in founding this college and teaching there, “In the autumn of Ất Hợi (1935) I returned to the imperial capital to found the Buddhist college at the Tây Thiên Temple. The number of students from the four directions became larger and larger. Besides Buddhist teachings, Confucianist literature, which was rather useful to students, was included.” In the South there was the Giác Lâm Patriarchal Temple founded by Patriarch Hoằng Ân Minh Khiêm (1850-1914), where many prominent monks and writers of the South such as Patriarch Từ Phong (1864-1938), translator of the 歸 源 直 指 演 義,[21] were educated.

In addition to those big centers of learning, there were dozens of smaller ones which, due to the war against French colonialists, were organized on a small scale but could also produce outstanding Buddhist figures in the first half of the twentieth century such as Most Venerable Trung Thứ (1871-1947), Zen Master Tố Liên (1903-1977) in the North, Zen Master Viên Thành (1874-1929) in the Central, Zen Master Khánh Hòa (1877-1947) in the South, and so on.

Thus Buddhist education in the first decades of the twentieth century had remarkable achievements. Not only did it produce a highly competent force for Buddhism but it also devoted talented citizens to the country in the long struggle for national independence. In spite of this, our country at that time did not yet restore sovereignty and cultural tradition, let alone Buddhism which was then being violently persecuted. Consequently, the aspiration for “serving the world with all one’s heart,” which Zen Master Chân Đạo referred to, really reflected the general attitude of a Buddhist generation towards the existence of nation as well as the fate of Buddhism at the time.

Naturally, the fact that Zen Master Chân Đạo, as being a Buddhist, vowed to serve with all his heart sentient beings in the world implies first his faithful service to Buddhism, which has been publicly determined since Zen Master Định Không’s time (730-808) to be the abiding principle of Vietnamese Buddhism: Buddhism incorporated in national existence. Accordingly, to serve Buddhism is, in Vietnam, a way of serving the nation. Commonly, in order to serve something it is necessary to understand its true needs as well as its circumstances. If so, what are true needs and circumstances of Buddhism in Vietnam at Zen Master Chân Đạo’s time?

Its circumstances have been partly pointed out in his description that “the daily routine in monasteries was worse than any harsh policy, in which interest was shown not in education but in raising livestock.” For that reason, the primary need was to improve Buddhist education by transforming individual educational institutions in monasteries and Buddhist centers mentioned above into large-scale educational institutions, in which both monkhood and lay people would have equal opportunities for studying Buddhist teachings and applying them to their everyday living so that they could no longer carry on any improper activities due to their lack of knowledge.

We have seen that just as the Tây Thiên Buddhist College was founded, Zen Master Chân Đạo as being a student of it could deliver a lecture on the Fourth Noble Truth at the Từ Quang Temple in 1934, and another one on the Four Foundations of Mindfulness a year later. The former was not published, but the latter was inserted in the Forum of the periodical Viên Âm in 1935. It is his only extant lecture written in Vietnamese and one of the first writings in Vietnamese prose of Buddhist literature in the twentieth century. This points out the indispensable need of expounding Buddhist teachings to Buddhist followers at the time.

Later on he was still interested in education until his death. In 1958 when a Buddhist college was founded at the Thập Tháp Monastery, where he had ever taken Buddhist courses as a young monk, he was invited to work there as a lecturer in Buddhist Teachings. In his Instructions at the opening ceremony of the new school year his aspiration for serving the cause of Buddhism was once again raised. He stressed the fact that Buddhism in Vietnam was then being persecuted by the regime of Ngô Đình Diệm, and that his students should bravely defend against it:
“A Great Man whose aspiration is nurtured as lofty as Heaven should not aim at where the Tathāgata passed. It is, however, a pity that the evil is much stronger than the good such that those possessing wide knowledge and profound understanding all feel anxious. Let’s ‘go straight to the dragon’s den to take the pearl from inside its jaws’ instead of remaining inactive in our thatched cottage, and bravely do righteousness just on the very site of recreation. Only if one can do so is one then to be called a Great Free Man with unlimited capacity.”

Those enthusiastic instructions naturally had their own effects. They were delivered to a generation of young monks, of whom some would become pivotal figures of Buddhism in Bình Định a few years later. Accordingly, it may be said that his instructions could raise some consciousness in Buddhist monks of their responsibility for the growth of Buddhism. In this connection, it would not be an exaggeration for us to say that those instructions actually made a remarkable contribution to the achievement of the 1963 Buddhist Movement just in its preparatory phase.

Those educational activities, which Master Chân Đạo determined to be of his major task, were tenaciously carried out for a long time, at least until the 1962s, when we were taking the last course in Buddhist teachings at the Quy Thiện Temple, of which he took charge for nearly thirty years. It was his enduring efforts in the field of education that helped improve the knowledge of monastic Buddhists and eradicate those evils which ever caused some misunderstanding of the Buddhist role in society. One of these evils was that Buddhist monks’ activities began to show the increasingly general tendency towards gratifying lay Buddhists’ ritual needs rather than instructing them to apply Buddhist teachings to their everyday living.

In reality, as the Annam Buddhist Studies Association was founded, the first task it set forth consisted in two main points, as recorded in the Viên Âm No. 14 (1935); that is, (1) improving way of life in the Buddhist Order with the emphasis laid on monastic rules by means of close supervision of brahmācāra or pure conducts of the monkhood; (2) restricting conducts harmful to the reputation of Buddhism, of which the trend towards meeting lay Buddhists’ needs for religious rituals had to be noticed and changed. In the Thủy Nguyệt Tòng Sao it is evidently shown through a series of his works that Master Chân Đạo participated positively in the carrying out of this task.

“A Judgment in Behalf of the Buddhist Association in Thừa Thiên Province,” [22] for instance, tells us about the case of a monastic member who “possessed neither a trace of ink in his bosom nor an easiest-to-write character in his eyes” and had such “unwholesome livelihood” that he should be purged from the Order. Here by “unwholesome livelihood” it undoubtedly refers to some way of making living not in accordance with Buddhist disciplinary rules. In addition to this, it was necessary to reorganize Buddhist activities systematically, particularly in monasteries, by holding traditional ordinations for the purpose of “guiding the subsequent generation and preserving the Buddha-wisdom,” in which Master Chân Đạo was greatly interested and took part warmly as recorded in his writings such as “The Ordination Schedule.”[23]

Furthermore, it was necessary to criticize disputes among some members of the Buddhist Order, which would weaken the practice of Buddha-Dharma and turn the sacred temple into the “land of dense undergrowth,” “the place of unpleasant troubles,” and cause the growth of unwholesome ideas. In the words of “Competition between Certain Monks for the Head of Temple,” [24]

晨 昏 攝 念 禮 空 王
世 事 徒 勞 莫 較 量
憎 愛 未 忘 知 法 弱
怨 親 難 解 恨 魔 強
祇 園 化 作 荊 楱 地
淨 境 翻 成 熱 惱 場
警 醒 愛 河 名 利 客
却 酣 利 鎖 與 名 繮

Pay homage to King Śūnyatā [25] attentively morning and evening
Instead of concerning yourselves with troublesome affairs in the world.
Hatred and desire being not destroyed, the practice of Dharma would be weakened;
Enmity and friendship being not abandoned, the force of Passions would be strengthened.
The Jeta Park [26] has become the land of dense undergrowth;
The Pure Land has turned into the realm of unpleasant defilements.
I advise those who are still attached to passion, fame and interest
Not to be infatuated with the “lock” of interest and the “rein” of fame.

Those disputes were chiefly caused by some monks’ pursuit of fame and interest. From his view not only lay people were occupied with striving for fame and interest, but a number of Buddhist devotees who had been practicing the control of their minds showed their desires for humble values of the world. In the words of “Fame Persuading Interest,” [27]

君 不 見
釋 徒 守 高 潔
避 我 畏 君 似 蛇 蠍
遑 知 內 外 不 相 關
心 慕 吾 儕 如 聖 哲

You have not seen
That Buddhist followers who are leading pure and noble lives
Keep away from you and me as from snakes and centipedes.

Only those unaware of the relation between the inward and the outward
Respectfully regard us to be saints and sages.

On the other hand, it was necessary to appreciate the preservation of pagodas and temples as the solemn, sacred support for the masses and at the same time to criticize strongly those who maintained the opposite view. In a writing about the Thiền Tôn Temple entitled “An Outline Record of the Thiền Tôn Temple on Mount Thiên Thai” [28] Zen Master Chân Đạo presented his view bluntly, pointing out those who had let this patriarchal temple fall into ruin and those who had tried to preserve and renovate it.

His next step in the plan of reorganizing the Order was to reduce to the minimum some activities that placed too much emphasis on religious rituals at lay followers’ and thus, if not properly performed, could exert some unwholesome influence on monastic living. The reason for such a restriction was that some Buddhist monks who had not been well trained in monasteries made use of these religious services as the principal means of gaining their own livelihood. In the poem “Interference” [29] they were regarded by Zen Master Chân Đạo as “bluebottles,”

可 憐 失 業 半 為 僧
搖 尾 哀 求 不 忍 聞
涉 習 科 儀 三 數 月
人 間 應 赴 作 青 蠅

How poor they are!
Because of unemployment they have entered the monastery.
It is so pitiful to hear their moaning entreaties
With “their tails wagging.”
After roughly three months’ study and practice of rituals
They work as “bluebottles” in religious services at lay people’s home.

In face of this tragic situation the Master wondered whether it might be “cured.” For he considered it a kind of “tubercular bacteria” that would soon destroy completely the “lungs” of Buddhism. In the poem “It Is Hard to Cure,” [30]

一 聽 禪 門 文 字 離
城 狐 社 鼠 總 歸 依
方 袍 圓 頂 猶 人 也
害 肺 痨 虫 豈 易 醫

Upon hearing that Zen is not founded on words and letters,
City “foxes” and village “rats” came taking refuge [in it.]
With heads shaven, clad in robes, they look just like monks,
But truly “tubercular bacteria,” which are not easy to kill.

Living in the Master’s time, Buddhists followers had not only to confront such offensive facts but also seek for some urgent measure to regulate and improve Buddhist living of their age. This was the requirement set forth by the Annam Buddhist Studies Association in its plan for vitalizing Buddhism, and published in the Viên Âm mentioned above.

Following the efforts to stabilize Buddhist living was the need to reorganize its forces and activities. In 1930, when he was studying and lecturing at the Tây Thiên Buddhist College, Zen Master Chân Đạo showed his aspiration for the unification of Buddhist forces as expressed in his talk with Zen Master Tố Liên, an outstanding figure of Buddhism in the North. And in the great congress of Buddhist representatives of the three parts–North, Central and South–of the country held at the Từ Đàm Temple in Huế, Zen Master Chân Đạo wrote a poem to congratulate his dharma-friend Tố Liên,

 三 圻 合 徹 憶 前 言
海 會 重 重 湧 素 蓮
鐵 石 有 懷 登 鷲 嶺
桑 滄 遺 恨 泣 祇 園
金 縢 詳 記 當 時 跡
寶 月 高 懸 萬 里 天
一 統 現 成 酬 往 約
由 君 顯 實 我 開 權

I remember our talk about the unification of the three parts.
Out of the congress as great as ocean has a Pure Lotus grown,[31]
With his firm aspiration for reaching the Vulture Peak Mountain[32]
And his bitter feeling over the desolation of the Jeta Park.
Since our plans were elaborately drawn up in advance,
The precious moon has been shining high in the vast sky.
Now that the unification comes true as in our former wish,
Truth will be formulated by him, and skillful means indicated by me.

In the poem he cited the couplet dedicated to himself by Zen Master Tố Liên and considered it a prophecy telling exactly what would happen to the cause of unification of Vietnamese Buddhism,

“Ten years ago he dedicated to me a regulated verse, of which the last two lines read,

法 軌 將 來 君 得 志
三 圻 合 徹 妄 談 耶

How satisfied you are with the view of Buddha-dharma in the future!
That the three parts may be totally unified is hardly nonsense.
It now proves to be a prophecy.”

In reality, the poem of which the two lines have just been cited obviously deals with some possibility of Buddhist unification in his talk with Zen Master Tố Liên in 1937 or earlier. The date may be definitely determined owing to the fact that he composed a poem in reply to Zen Master Tố Liên’s, which was later published in The Viên Âm [33] (1937) with the title “Respectfully Dedicated to the Wandering Zen Brother Tố Liên.” [34]

From those poems it is evident that these two outstanding Zen masters drew up some plans for Buddhism of their age, which aimed at nothing but the advancement of Vietnamese Buddhism,

非 關 塵 世 留 虛 跡
為 契 時 機 作 遠 途

Not intended for leaving our deluded traces in the world,
But for the time being that long-term plans were drawn up.

Therefore, when the dream of unifying Buddhist followers in the three parts of the country came true through the great congress at the Từ Đàm Temple in 1951, the Master wrote several poems of congratulation such as “Dedicated to the Two Dharma-Leaders of the North and the South” [35] and “Dharma-Friend Tố Liên’s Arrival at the Imperial Capital” [36] in addition to the poem dedicated to his dharma-friend Tố Liên cited above.

In the poem “Dedicated to the Two Dharma-Leaders in the North and the South” there is a remarkable point that the Buddhist flag was for the first time referred to in a literary work. Later it became the official symbol for the 1963 Campaign of Vietnamese Buddhism. The aspiration and objective of the Master as well as of the congress of unifying Buddhism represented nothing other than their great efforts to transform every family in Vietnam into a Buddhist one; that is, to improve their living and working conditions in accordance to the greatest ideals of Buddhism,

觀南成北北成南
到氐中標無定參
三一互融明般若
自他兼利放優曇
光騰五色雲旗表
界普千如海印涵
寂炤隨緣憑妙力
家家户户總伽籃

The South should be viewed as the North and vice versa;
Thereby, no place would be necessarily considered the central.
Through the unification of the three parts is the principle of prajñā formulated.
For the benefits of both oneself and others is the udumbara born.
The five-colored light is represented in the flag of cloud.
The thousand forms of universal suchness appear in the “symbol of ocean.” [37]
Whether being displayed or included depends on marvelous force,
With which homes and families would all turn into the pure ones.

In the year that followed,[38] during the great congress of Vietnamese Saṃgha held in Hanoi Zen Master Chân Đạo, as a delegate from Huế, wrote a chain of poems to congratulate the congress, of which a poem was dedicated to Most Venerable Tuệ Tạng (1889-1959), then elected as Supreme Patriarch of the Saṃgha. Once again the aspiration for the unification of Buddhism, without discrimination of North and South, was performed and the need for giving due prominence to virtue and wisdom of Buddhist monks was stressed,

涅槃會上奉遺音
戒行嚴持契妙心
智絕秋光澄海印
德同春日煦禪林
人天共仰無南北
文軌咸通冠古今
願啟慈悲常住世
轉迷爲作指南針

Under the instructions received from the Nirvāṇa assembly
His strict observance of precepts accords with the marvelous mind;
His wisdom, which transcends the autumn light, illuminates the “ocean symbol”;
His virtue, which shines as the spring sun, warms the Zen forest.
Admired by deities and human beings in the North and the South,
He has found no match at Literature and Dharma so far.
May he, out of his compassion for sentient beings, often appear in the world
To enlighten those who are sinking in illusion!

Buddhism is naturally a cultural phenomenon. Accordingly, in whatever way it may be organized, the fundamental question is for what purpose it is expected to serve. In this connection, the Master declared clearly that the Buddhist organization was for the dissemination of its living principles to Buddhist and non-Buddhist people, for “turning every family into a pure Buddhist one.” In order to carry out this dissemination, which is termed “the propagation of Dharma” in Buddhism, the primary requirement is of education. We have discussed the urgent need for enhancing and enlarging Buddhist education at the Master’s time; yet, we have not dealt with what the content of that education was from the Master’s view.

Merely with a glimpse at the Thủy Nguyệt Tòng Sao the reader may have the distinct impression that its author received an ancient education which was rather comprehensive not only in Buddhist teachings but further in other branches of learning such as Confucianism, Taoism, and some branches of technology. It may be said that this is an educational system typical of a particular tradition in Vietnam; for, in the Master’s view “the Buddha is just in the world, and the Perfect Enlightenment may not be realized outside the world. Therefore, a practitioner of Bodhisattva ideal has to enter the world for the benefit of sentient beings, and deliver those Buddhist teachings that are suitable for them, wandering in hells as if walking in an imperial park, taking off a valuable robe to put on a ragged one. If he, though not capable of doing so, is fond of talking about the deluded, the non-action while loving the apparent and pursuing fame and interest, how can he free himself out of the suffering of the three realms, or take a bath in the lotus pond of eight-attributed water?”

Based upon the concept that “the Buddha is just in the world, and the Perfect Enlightenment may not be realized outside the world,” the Buddhist education is in essence never separated from the secular general education, which is to some extent the very basis of the former one. In nearly two thousand years’ existence of Buddhist education in our country that has become a fundamental principle. In whatever times it was well applied, it could then contribute excellent citizens to the nation and Buddhism. On the contrary, whenever it was violated, not only Buddhism but the whole nation had to suffer seriously harmful effects. In the history of our country there have been numerous illustrations that can prove the soundness of that principle, just from the times of Mâu Tử, Khương Tăng Hội (200?-280) to the present.

Through a series of nearly nineteen poems grouped under “Phiếm Ngâm,” 泛 吟, the Master imagined himself to be in various circumstances of a hunter, a weaver, an old fisherman, a woodsman, a plowman, a herdsman, an instrumentalist, a chess-player, a poet, a heavy drinker, even one who wished to be a Buddha, or a king, or a lord, and so on. Obviously, those people of various types in society can all be Buddhists; and the Buddhists may find themselves in various circumstances as such, not only in all parts of our country but all over the world.

The essential point is what Buddhists, when finding themselves in such circumstances, should do to perform their own Buddhist characters, to apply Buddhist teachings to everyday life. There is no doubt that such jobs as weaving, plowing, trading, teaching, etc., are always necessary in any civilized society, aimed at meeting everyone’s needs like food, clothing, housing, and studying. Since the old days those jobs have always been necessary to society; and every struggle has also proceeded from such needs. The human kind has struggled against famine, cold, ignorance, etc., in many different forms, from the overthrow of a regime, a government to the discovery of a new principle, a new structure of materials. Accordingly, if the function of weaving is to “warm those who are suffering from the cold,” that of farming is to bring about

千倉百廪皆盈溢
樂聽民歌相杵舂

A great number of granaries bursting with grain,
And villagers’ singing joyfully while husking rice.

Apart from various jobs necessary to social life mentioned above, even some activities supposedly not related to production or struggle such as writing poetry, playing chess, and so on, should be viewed from a new point. Since the old days verse and prose have been considered in China as well as in Vietnam to be strong weapons capable of eliminating enemy. The Emperor Thái Tông (1218-1277) of the Trần Dynasty said, “The pen of literature can sweep away thousands of troops in the battle-field.” [39] It was from the view of literature and art as a kind of weapon that Zen Master Chân Đạo wrote about the circle of poets as follows,

青燈窗下學裁詩
退虜驚人未易期
東摸西塗從所好
借他鼻孔更何之

Learning to write verse under the lamp by the window
In order to push back enemy and frighten men unexpectedly.
If the pen is used for now copying now doodling at will,
It then will be like depending on another’s nostrils [for breathing].

The function to “push back enemy and frighten men unexpectedly” of literature and art is a truth, though it is not easy to be done. Nonetheless, literature and art are not always to perform their functions as such. On the contrary, if they are wrongly used, they may produce a hack writer whose pen is used merely for “copying or doodling uselessly” and whose breathing then has to “depend on another’s nostrils” to work. For that reason, a Buddhist does not fail to adapt himself to any righteous job; for every job requires some course of training under a master; that is, education. If it is the case, the Buddhist education must be a general and interdisciplinary one.

The Thủy Nguyệt Tòng Sao gives us an example. The chain of fifty-four poems grouped under the headline “Vịnh Cổ” [40] can show us how wide the Master’s knowledge of the ancient history of China is. Conventionally, it is not necessary to those who are treading the path leading to Perfect Enlightenment to acquire some knowledge of ancient history, let alone to reflect upon it or write poems about some renowned characters, though merely of a certain period, in Chinese history; for it is a matter for politicians alone. If so, why did the Master study it? The answer is implied in the citation above; that is, “a practitioner of Bodhisattva ideal has to enter into worldly life for the benefit of sentient beings.”

As far as the matter is concerned, it should be noticed that all the writings related to contemporary political issues were thrown away by the Master just as they had been composed, which was revealed by himself in the Preface to the three-part version of the Thủy Nguyệt Tòng Sao, “Those works of mine, in verse and prose alike, that have been composed either unable to convey my true inspirations or related to contemporary political issues were thrown away.” Nevertheless, in addition to poems of ancient history that are definitely related to political issues some of his are discovered to have more or less dealt with that aspect. For instance, in a ‘couplet in parallelism’ dedicated to the District Chief Trạch Chi Ngô Đình Nhuận, the Master writes,

If governance is made benevolent, … even the wildest beings may be tamed;
If officials are promoted in terms of their own righteousness, … the source of their ambitions may be dried up. [41]

Reading it, we may recognize the political view of Zen Master Chân Đạo. And this is nothing other than a traditional view that formerly became the guiding principle in the political system of Vietnam in the times of Lý Thường Kiệt and Trần Hưng Đạo. It was realized in the personality of the former that “internally his mind is mild and brilliant; externally his appearance is plain and humane,” or formulated in a statement of the latter that “for the nation to be constantly stabilized, let the people’s strength not be exhausted”.

Generally speaking, from the Master’s view the education of Buddhism should not be limited to the Buddha’s teachings alone but it should be developed into an all-round education as has ever been implemented in the educational tradition of Vietnam, of which he himself was a typical student. It was from his training in such an education and his aspiration for “serving the world with all his heart” that Zen Master Chân Đạo, apart from his activities within the Buddhist order, tried to have a very close relationship with lay Buddhists of various social classes, and even with those who were not Buddhist followers.

_____________________________

ZEN MASTER CHÂN ĐẠO’S
SOCIAL RELATIONS

 

Indeed, some poems in the Thủy Nguyệt Tòng Sao belong to the type of “writing and replying in poems.” The type itself is not much appreciated due to its regulated patterns and its rules of corresponding ideas. In spite of this, its great advantage is to show us the relation between the poet and his contemporaries. On the part of Zen Master Chân Đạo this advantage proves its positive effect since through such poems we can know those with whom the Master had social relations and what roles they played at that time.

Merely picking out those names mentioned in the anthology, we can almost know most of the prominent figures of Vietnamese Buddhism in the twentieth century, namely, Zen Masters Thanh Trí Huệ Giác (1858-1935?), Ngộ Tánh Phước Huệ (1875-1963), Trung Thứ (1871-1942), Giác Nhiên (1878-1979), Giác Tiên (1880-1936), Giác Bổn (?-1949), Tuệ Tạng (1889-1959), Tịnh Khiết (1890-1973), Bích Không (1894-1954), Tố Liên (1903-1977), Mật Khế (1904-1935), Đôn Hậu (1905-1992), Trí Thủ (1909-1984), Mật Nguyện (1911-1972), Viên Giác (1911-1976), Trí Đức (1921-2001), Trí Quang, Khế Châu, and so forth.

It is the poems written by the Master about them that present not only his aspiration but a picture of Buddhist life. Indeed, they had been composed before those Zen masters became the historical figures of Vietnamese Buddhism in the twentieth century. It seems likely that those poems were his prophecies of their individual futures as well as that of Vietnamese Buddhism. For instance, in the two poems written in reply to Zen Master Tố Liên’s on his visit to Huế in 1937 and published in the Viên Âm, Zen Master Chân Đạo referred not only to the aspiration of “taking pity on sentient beings’ deluded visions” but also to his enthusiasm of carrying out “long-term plans drawn up under the circumstances.” Only nearly twenty years later could the poem show clearly what the two Zen masters had discussed with each other at their meeting in 1937. And that was actually a significant event of Vietnamese Buddhism at the time; that is, the unification of Buddhism throughout the country. It was not until the representatives of Buddhism in the three parts gathered at the Từ Đàm Temple in Huế in 1951 to unify Buddhism in the whole country under the General Association of Vietnam Buddhism together with its own seal and its resolution to take the flag of International Buddhism to be the official symbol of Vietnamese Buddhism as mentioned above that the dream of Buddhist unification in our country came true. On this occasion Zen Master Chân Đạo composed a chain of poems to congratulate this great event.

During the 1930s in the three parts of the country there appeared three great organizations of Buddhism – the Southern Buddhist Studies Association,[42], the Annam Buddhist Studies Association,[43] and the Northern Buddhist Association [44] – for the purpose of reorganizing Buddhist forces to meet historical requirements of the age. In the contemporary political background that the three parts of our country were undergoing different ruling policies imposed by French invaders, Buddhism was compelled to divide itself into such individual organizations; yet, all the members of these three Buddhist institutions obviously maintained the same position that our country was unified from the North to the South, in which the people shared the same culture.

Accordingly, the need for the unification of Buddhism as an inseparable part of a unified nation became urgent, of which the talk between Zen Master Tố Liên and Zen Master Chân Đạo in Huế in 1937 was a typical fact. And on the journey to the North that followed Zen Master Chân Đạo could have had other discussions on it with the Northern Buddhist leaders, as evidenced by a poem of his in reply to Zen Master Trung Thứ’s. The latter was one of the supreme leaders of Buddhism in the North, who had dedicated himself to the foundation of the Northern Buddhist Association at the Quán Sứ Temple in Hanoi in 1934.

個中滋味本非經
只恐聲聞滯化城
五教開遮除二執
一拳晃燿破無明
休論目下通還塞
敢向竿頭死又生
且喜慈容今再睹
願將法樂鎭迷情

We have never indulged ourselves with pleasures of any kind
For fear that we might be trapped in the Invented City as Śrāvakas.
Two attachments may be cut down with the Five Teachings flexibly applied.
Ignorance may be destroyed with the One Blow brilliantly employed.
Let us stop discussing the current state of being cleared and blocked;
Try our best to seek for an escape from the dead end, instead.
It is a great pleasure to see your benevolent countenance again.
May the joy of Dharma overcome all beings’ deluded passions!

Zen Master Trung Thứ passed away in 1942, at the age of seventy-one. Consequently, the poem above must have been composed prior to 1942, if not 1939, when the World War II broke out. In all probability, shortly after Zen Master Tố Liên’s return to the North, Zen Master Chân Đạo could have been invited to the North and met with Zen Master Trung Thứ there. During this visit many issues might be dealt with, one of which was undoubtedly of the relations between the political situation of the world and our country as well as Buddhism, as expressed in Zen Master Chân Đạo’s ideas of “being cleared and blocked” and “an escape from dead end” in the poem cited above.

“Being cleared” indicates advantages; “being blocked” denotes disadvantages. The advantages and disadvantages of Buddhism at the time were certainly influenced by the happenings of the international situation prior to the World War II. Therefore, those who participated in Buddhist activities could not neglect them in their seeking for measures to revive and develop Buddhism. “Being cleared” and “blocked” referred to in such a situation implied contemporary Buddhists’ concern about the future of their nation and Buddhism in the new situation of the world and the country.

So were the poems and writings in the style of châm about the Zen masters Tịnh Khiết, Giác Nhiên, Đôn Hậu, Trí Thủ, Trí Quang, Trí Đức, and so on. They all reveal in some way the author’s presentiments of those masters’ onerous duties in a vital period of the history of Buddhism in our country. In the poem on Zen Master Tịnh Khiết, the first Dharma-Leader and Supreme Patriarch of the Saṃgha of Vietnam after 1945, for instance, the Master put it like this,

香江之月
御嶺之雲
山川毓秀
挺出奇人
覺塵是幻
惟道為珍
宜兄宜弟
無著天親
振起禪風
折伏邪態
化滿閻浮
其兄難再
雲暗長天
波狂大海
慧燭慈帆
惟師是賴
為教會主
為眾中尊
教流南土
孰與比倫
法弘家務
道繼宗門
儀端表正
目擊道存
棒喝隨宜
人咸敬仰
清淨難名
應用無量
佛法棟梁
山門堡障
選佛場中
禮尊和尚
春城後進
久附法音
無以表誠
虔備拙箴
願垂蓮眼
俯鑒葵忱
永奉塵剎
將此深心

Like the moon over the Perfume River,
The cloud on the Imperial Mountain
He was nurtured by the spirit of Fatherland
To be a distinguished man,
Who got awakened to delusions of the world
And to the great and precious Way.
Thus he was worthy of a brother
Of Asaṇga and Vasubandhu’s.[45]
Raising the tradition of Thiền,[46]
Shattering the evil conducts,
His teaching spread all over the Jambudvīpa.[47]
It would be hard to see him, our brother, again.
As dark clouds were covering the vast sky
And high waves were raging in the great ocean,
He was the torch of wisdom, the sail of compassion,
And the unique support for everyone.
As being Supreme Patriarch of the Saṃgha,
The Honored One of the monastic order,
He delivered Buddhist teachings across the country
With no match found for him.
Propagating Dharma was his family task;
Succeeding the Way was his sectarian mission.
How magnificent his countenance!
It proves the Dharma-wheel in constant motion.
Making use of ‘stick and shout’ flexibly,
He was held in esteem by all.
With his purity hard to describe,
His capacity unable to measure,
He became the major pillar of the Dharma-House,
And the shelter for Buddhist believers.
In the examination for the Buddhas-in-Future,
He was selected as the Most Venerable.
Having relied on his teaching on Dharma so long,
We, his succeeding generation in Huế Capital,
Not knowing how to expose our innermost admiration,
Would like to take this châm as a means of expression.
May he always have his lotus-eyes
On our devout aspirations
For serving the world
With all our hearts forever.

The closing two lines of the poem above do present the aspirations not only of Zen Master Tịnh Khiết but also of an entire period of Buddhism in the twentieth century when the country and Vietnamese Buddhism were making their extraordinary efforts to liberate themselves and boost the whole people’s strength in a new way of development. Indeed, it was due to such talented figures’ enthusiastic devotions of themselves to the nation and Buddhism that Zen Master Chân Đạo’s presentiments mentioned above were justified through a series of important events later.

The similar spirit may, too, be found in the poem dedicated to Zen Master Trừng Thủy Giác Nhiên, a disciple of Zen Master Tâm Tịnh’s and the master of Zen Masters Thiện Minh Trí Nghiễm (1922-1978), Thiện Siêu Trí Đức (1921-2001), etc. He was a member of the Annam Buddhist Studies Association, the General Association of Vietnam Buddhism, and then Supreme Patriarch the Second of the Unified Buddhist Saṃgha of Vietnam after the passing away of Zen Master Tịnh Khiết in 1972. Though it was composed at some time following 1954, that is, before Zen Master Giác Nhiên’s participation in various activities of Buddhism, particularly of the Unified Buddhist Saṃgha of Vietnam, the poem itself could suggest what this Zen master would contribute to Buddhism later,

丕休哉
慈扇春風
悲沾夏雨
秋月孤圓
冬松獨秀
大週沙界
非去非來
細入微塵
無聲無臭
童年向佛
福智兼修
一悟入神
師資授受
披衣持鉢
利普人天
付偈談經
道通緇素
僧綱爾日
海衆咸依
和尚當時
戒珠廣布
閻浮化滿
直到無餘
四衆虔求
塔留玆土

How great and cheerful he is!
His loving-kindness is like spring wind,
And his compassion like summer rain.
As the lonely full moon in autumn,
As a magnificent pine in winter,
He appears in the vast universe,
Neither coming nor going,
And exists in a particle of dust
Without a trace of sound or smell.
Following the path of Buddha as a child,
He has practiced merit and wisdom alike.
He delivers Buddhist teachings to students.
Wearing the robe, holding the alms-bowl,
For the benefit of earthly and heavenly beings.
Whether in a gātha given or a sūtra preached
His teaching is for both monks and laymen.
As Rector of the monastic community,
He is the support for all Buddhist followers.
As the most venerable of the time
He spreads widely his virtue-pearls.
Fulfilling his preaching in Jambudvīpa,
He would go directly to Nirvāṇa.
In the devout request of all Buddhist devotees
His stūpa remains just in this land.

Towards Zen Master Giác Tiên, the founder of the Tây Thiên Buddhist College, Zen Master Chân Đạo showed an extraordinarily deep respect when he wrote down the poem entitled “Praising Most Venerable Giác Tiên at the Trúc Lâm Temple” [48] right on his portrait,

靈光獨露
逈脫根塵
現凡現聖
應俗應真
能肉白骨
能生死人
讚嘆莫及
大哉師恩

Like the unique emergence of sacred light
He perfectly freed himself from wordly defilements,
Appearing now in secular now in saintly form,
According to both the Relative and the Absolute,
Able to revive a withered tree
And bring the dying back to life.
How great the Master’s favor!
Beyond praises of all kinds.

Not only for the Zen masters of the precedent generation like Trung Thứ, Giác Nhiên, Tịnh Khiết but also for his contemporaries like Zen Masters Bích Không, Giác Bổn, Tố Liên, Mật Khế, Đôn Hậu, and so forth, and particularly for those from ten to twenty years younger than him of the subsequent generation did Zen Master Chân Đạo always have great admiration. He expressed his confidence in and expectation of their futures when writing about them, as in the afore-said relationship between Zen Master Tố Liên and him. Now concerning Zen Master Bích Không, a Dharma-brother of his, who had “possessed dharma” together with him from Zen Master Ngộ Tánh Phước Huệ, Zen Master Chân Đạo wrote the poems in which his warm emotions were openly exposed, particularly when he heard of Zen Master Bích Không’s resignation from his position as an imperial official to enter the monastery. In the words of “Dedicated to Dharma-Brother Bích Không on His Becoming a Zen Student after Resignation,” [49]

漢學堪憐日已晡
夜闌文閣一燈孤
半生風雨驚塵夢
千載衣冠厭宦途
涉世何妨來去倦
知心始覺我人無
權施文字離文字
佛印如今昔老蘇

How pitifully the Confucian education is declining!
In the pavilion of literature remains only a lamp in the night.
Half a lifetime in hardship is enough to break the worldly dream;
Thousands of times in uniform suffice to get rid of an official’s job.
The world once understood, life becomes no more tiresome.
The mind once realized, all things are found to be empty.
It is quite spontaneous to employ, then abandon words and letters,
Just as being then an Old Su,[50] and now a Fu Yin.[51]

For the poem to be thoroughly understood it is necessary to have some knowledge of Zen Master Bích Không’s life. According to the Record of National Examination Graduates,[52] he was born of a family in which his “father and brothers all passed the national exams.” His father Hoàng Hữu Xứng passed the Cử Nhân exam in 1852, then worked as Tham Tri, additionally bestowed Thượng Thư. He was also the chief editor of the Đại Nam Cương Giới Vựng Biên. His brother Hoàng Hữu Bình passed the Cử Nhân exam in 1879, then the Hoàng Giáp exam in 1889. He was the author of the stele inscription at the Tịnh Quang Imperially-Granted Temple in Quảng Trị.[53] Zen Master Bích Không himself, after passing the final Tú Tài exam in Chinese of the Nguyễn Dynasty in 1918, worked for the imperial court for a time, then entered the monastery in around 1930. In 1935 he was ordained to be Bhikṣu at the Ordination held at the Tịnh Quang Temple in Quảng Trị. In the years that followed he participated in the founding of Buddhist associations in Đà Nẵng, Khánh Hòa, Phan Thiết, Lâm Đồng, Nghệ An, Thanh Hóa in Central Vietnam.

It was during his participation in the founding of the Phổ Đà Buddhist Primary and High School that Zen Master Chân Đạo Chánh Thống composed the poem entitled “Visiting a Dharma-Friend in Đà Nẵng,” [54] in which he expressed his feelings for Zen Master Bích Không as follows,

夜夜金風徹骨寒
懷人只作夢中看
幾多雲樹無窮恨
香水茶山路緲茫

The northern wind is bitterly cold night after night.
Missing him I can do nothing but trying to see him in my dream.
I feel extremely sorrowful at so many clouds and trees.
How far the road between the Perfume River and the Tea Mountain is!

The poem conveys their memory of the Perfume River on which they went for a cruise, writing and replying in poems, as described in the following lines,[55]

一 棹烟霞眼界寬
晚來繫纜且加飧
微風何處隨波動
皓魄無痕入水寒
隔岸樓臺驚昨夢
橫天鷗鷺愛餘閑
禪心香月知何似
半是相關半未關

A boat in the mists and rosy clouds, a widened field of vision,
A ferry reached in the twilight, and a plain meal prepared.
The waves moved lightly along with a cool breeze.
The bright moon was clearly reflected in the cold water.
The palace over there was a terrible reminder of the past events;
But we felt so relaxed at the sight of white herons in the sky.
Would Zen mind be identified with the moon on the river?
They might be half related and half unrelated.

Later, at the breakdown of the Huế front in 1947 Zen Master Bích Không moved to the Linh Vân Temple, that is, the Diệc Temple in Nghệ An. It was at this temple that Nguyễn Du had written the Văn Tế Thập Loại Chúng Sinh one hundred and fifty years before, and then Zen Mater Bích Không started a strong Buddhist movement in the 1930s. On the full-moon day of the 9th month of the year Giáp Ngọ (1954) he passed away there, thus never seeing his beloved Dharma-brother again. His disciple, Zen Master Tâm Trí Viên Giác Chiêu Nhiên (1911-1976), who had not followed him to Nghệ An, stayed in Huế and continued his monastic life under Zen Master Chân Đạo’s instruction, from whom he received the dharma-transmitting gātha,[56]

衣鉢家風半夜傳
融通心智會真詮
不離見道登圓覺
法法昭然即實權

The robe and bowl are traditionally transmitted at midnight.
By means of mind and wisdom the True Teaching should be penetrated,
The Perfect Enlightenment may be realized without abandoning the way of insight,
As Dharmas are naturally characterized by both the Absolute and the Relative.

In addition to Bích Không, Zen Master Chân Đạo had close relationship with Zen Masters Đôn Hậu and Trí Thủ. His earliest poem about Zen Master Đôn Hậu was written when the latter undertook Abbot of the Linh Mụ Temple. It is “Visiting Dharma-Friend Đôn Hậu on His Appointment as Abbot of the Thiên Mụ Temple,”[57]

澄清江曲擁祇園
寶塔層層表福緣
遠帶雲霞重嶺樹
俯臨村落萬家煙
輝金煥碧宸恩重
付偈談經覺道圓
廿載故人新化主
況逢夜月蕩炎天

The Jeta Park is embraced by the cleanly river in front.
The Condition of Bliss [58] is represented in the multi-storied stūpa.
Far away are the rosy clouds over the surrounding peaks;
And below are numerous villagers’ homes covered in the mist.
In the brightness of gold and emerald is the King’s great favor reflected.
In the stanzas and teachings delivered is perfect understanding of the Way presented.
A close friend for twenty years has now become an Abbot,
Just like a bright moon shining in the Southern sky at night.

By the year 1946 the relationship between these two Masters had lasted twenty years. It was in such a long relationship that a poem, which sounds rather humorous but full of Zen flavor and thus may take place among his extremely close Dharma-friends alone, was composed. The poem is entitled “Laughing at My Dharma-Friend Đôn Hậu”:[59]

弘沾法雨北而南
近狀如何我未諳
聞道禪兄能強飯
午中三盞午前三

His dharma rains have fallen on end in the North and South,
Which I have not sufficient information about,
Except that he is able to eat rice as much as possible;
Three bowls before lunch and the similar at lunch.

If Zen Masters Bích Không and Đôn Hậu are mentioned in a few poems of the Thủy Nguyệt Tòng Sao, Zen Master Trí Thủ is given a particular position in Zen Master Chân Đạo’s poetry. In the three-part version a dozen of poems are devoted to him, of which the earliest poem [60] was written on the occasion of Zen Master Trí Thủ’s undertaking abbot of the Ba-la Temple in 1938. In it, Zen Master Chân Đạo mentioned the fact that Zen Master Trí Thủ was the honors graduate in an examination for Srāmaṇeras at the Từ Vân Ordination in Đà Nẵng in 1929, and later became such a renowned lecturer at the Tây Thiên Buddhist College that he was eventually appointed as Abbot of the Ba-la Temple.[61]

君是人中優鉢羅
衣傳不愧作當家
法承初祖廷前雪
道契能仁手裡花
講席而今稱巨擘
佛塲憶自占高科
試將法棹橫南浦
月色光洆萬頃波

You are really a blue lotus among human beings,
A competent personality worthy of being transmitted the robe.
Receiving Dharma from Patriarch Bodhidharma in the snowy yard,
Realizing the Absolute in the Buddha’s holding a flower,
Now you are the most outstanding in the lecture hall,
And earlier the honors graduate in the exam for Buddhas-in-future.
Try spreading the Buddha’s teaching across the Southern land,
Just like the moonlight covering all the waves in the wide open space.

Even in the poems composed after Zen Master Trí Thủ had become the Rector of the Hải Đức Buddhist College in Nha Trang in 1957 Zen Master Chân Đạo also expressed his affectionate feeling for him as in the “A Visit to Rector Trí Thủ of the Nha Trang Buddhist College,”[62]

栽培法種壯禪門
不亞三生石上魂
他土未曾忘此土
有言正欱顯無言
傍人漫謂山河隔
自我深知道義存
若問年來何所得
老兼貧病衆中尊

Fostering Dharma-seeds to enrich the Zen forest,
Not wasting a lifetime spent in such a firm aspiration,
This land not abandoned in spite of having attained that land,
The use of words for the purpose of revealing the non-verbal;
Others assume that we would be set apart as mountain from river,
Yet I know deeply that our monastic feelings remain forever.
If asked what to gain in the coming year,
It is an old, poor, and sick Honored One of the Order.

His affections and expectations with regard to the succeeding generation were showed not only towards such Zen masters as Trí Thủ but also to those who had studied under him for some time in the past. In the poems that were originally used as ‘captions’ on the small photos of some Zen masters and later grouped under the title “Tiểu Ảnh Đề Tặng” in the anthology he wrote about the masters who, apart from Zen Master Trí Thủ, were then very young but began to undertake important positions in Buddhism such as Mật Nguyện, Trí Đức, Trí Quang, and so on.

This chain of poems actually appeared in the two-part version, so it had to be written by 1953, when the version came into being in January of the year. Accordingly, those poems must have been composed roughly between 1949 and 1953, when the Zen masters like Trí Đức were officially ordained to be Bhikṣus at the Great Ordination organized at the Báo Quốc Temple. Merely taking a glimpse at those poems the reader can perceive how affectionate the author’s feelings were. Just as Zen Master Trí Thủ had been described as

非空非有
即假即真
鑒此伊誰
智首上人

Neither existent nor nonexistent,
Both false and true;
Let us watch who he is.
That is Superior Man Trí Thủ,
so was Zen Master Trí Đức in the following lines,

非自非他
不離不即
證此誰何
仁者智德

Neither I-ness nor Other-ness,
Neither differentiated nor identified;
Let us recognize who he is.
That is Noble Man Trí Đức.

As far as Zen Master Trí Quang is concerned, the poem written by Zen Master Chân Đạo sounds like a ‘couplet in parallelism’ full of Zen character,

水月隨緣
妙有還非有
智光普炤
真空不是空

Like the image of the moon on the water,
Existing marvelously but actually non-existing,
Light of your wisdom shines everywhere,
Truly empty but not empty.

Particularly concerning Zen Master Mật Nguyện, not only did Zen Master Chân Đạo expressed his feeling in the lines

碧峯法爾超情謂
密願云何定假真

Bích Phong,[63] he is just as transcendent as he is,
Mật Nguyện,[64] his vow is hard to determine,

but in his very life he also had the same feeling for him. During the rains in the autumn of 1954 or 1955 a mass of mushrooms grew in the front yard of the Quy Thiện Temple, which he picked up and sent to Zen Master Mật Nguyện, then the Abbot of the Linh Quang Temple, as described in the poem “Dedicated to the Abbot of the Linh Quang Temple,”[65]

傘蓋盈廷蟻献成
信知法大感群生
而今分轉靈光殿
庶備天廚作素羹

The yard is abundant in ‘parasols’ made by termites,[66]
Which proves the tremendous impact of Dharma on sentient beings.
Now half of them are sent to the Linh Quang Temple,
Enough for the cook to prepare vegetarian soup.

More than a decade later those words proved to be his exact predictions. Through the features of Zen masters in their small individual photos, on which Zen Master Chân Đạo were writing ‘captions’ about them, he could foresee the future of the country and Buddhism.

Apart from Buddhist monks, Zen Master Chân Đạo wrote about Buddhist nuns with words of no less than affection and expectation. In his anthology there are two poems about two renowned nuns, that is, Diệu Không (1905-1997) and Thể Quán (1920-1986). They were both born of noble families in Central Vietnam and made great contributions to the development of Vietnamese Buddhism from the 1930s. They themselves were well-known writers. The poem about Diệu Không puts it as follows,

侯門晚放一花枝
艷色芳心憶少時
早厭塵根忘世利
為栽道樹著田衣
還能落魄知人傑
寧把尋常看女兒
百尺竿頭重進步
莫嫌變易便遲遲

In the imperial palace there opened a “bloom” rather late,
With her graceful face and fragrant heart at an early age.
Aware of earthly bondage, unconcerned with worldly interest,
She put on the Buddhist robe to start a monastic life.
Her capacity as a genius is so startlingly powerful
That no one could dare consider women to be ‘good-for-nothing.’
May she be able to have “an ultimate leap” into the Absolute
Instead of being reluctant as everything is in constant change!

No doubt, the poem was composed subsequent to the year 1944, when this elder nun received full ordination at the Thiền Tôn Temple after her twelve years’ practicing Buddhism as a Śrāmaṇerikā. It was also during this period that the elder Nun Thể Quán renounced the world under the Queen-Mother Đoan Huy’s auspices, and temporarily settled in the Khương Ninh Pavilion, a temple exclusively built in the citadel for the queen-mothers and the queens of the Nguyễn Dynasty. She was the daughter of Minister Thái Văn Toản (1885-1952), who had the Quy Thiện Temple built in 1937 and later invited Zen Master Chân Đạo to take its charge. The following poem, entitled “Dedicated to Bhikṣunī Thể Quán,”[67] might be composed after the nun had left the Khương Ninh Pavilion and become officially a member of the Buddhist monastic order:

虎口中來事可悲
惡緣信矣善緣期
禪機既已空三世
塵夢何煩論四知
筆下珠光應自勵
眼前金相且存疑
生初見說蓮池浴
後此無難證寶池

Your departure from the Forbidden City is full of pity,
Which proves that all things arise in their causal dependence.
From Zen view the Three Periods[68] are essentially empty;
So life is known, without any of the Fourfold Knowledge, to be a dream only.
Encourage yourself in the long course of studying Buddhism;
Raise doubt to the utmost in face of any noble appearance achieved.
If rebirth in the Lotus Pond was ever heard of early in your life,

It would not be difficult for you to be there some day later.

Besides the figures belonging to the Buddhist Order mentioned above, Zen Master Chân Đạo had a close relationship with other Buddhist patriotic personalities and intellectuals of the time, such as Sào Nam Phan Bội Châu (1869-1942), Thúc Giạ Thị Ưng Bình (1877-1961), Trạch Chi Ngô Đình Nhuận, Bạch Mai Phan Ngọc Hoàn (1893-1977), Minh Trai Trần Tiễn Hy (1909-1994), and so forth. The Master ever met with Phan Bội Châu, a strong-willed patriotic scholar, as the latter was being put under house arrest in Huế from 1925 to his death in 1940. The talk between the patriotic scholar and the monk-poet was referred to in the poem “Talking about Heart in a Moonlit Night.”[69]

月下談心憶至言
先生何處弔忠魂
英雄氣魄終難死
國士精神貴自尊
壯歲我曾纓世網
暮年誰料到禪門
未平恨海容何害
老驥應知志尚存

Remembering our intimate talk of Heart in a moonlit night,
I am moved to pity for your abiding patriotism.
A hero’s lofty aspiration is hard to die out;
A patriot’s spirit is valued just in his honorable character.
As a young man I was ever caught in the world’s net;
But now I have unexpectedly settled behind the Zen gate.
Let us not be defeated as the sea of feud has not been calmed down;
For our aspiration as that of noble men remains firm forever.

_____________________________

SOME REMARKS ON THE ANTHOLOGY

 

From the above analysis of the Thủy Nguyệt Tòng Sao some remarks may be drawn as follows,

First, as a literary collection of almost all of Zen Master Chân Đạo’s works the Thủy Nguyệt Tòng Sao should naturally be dealt with in its status quo. It may be said that the anthology is one of the final literary works published in the declining period of an education based on Chinese script in Vietnam and in the background of the policy of cultural genocide strictly imposed on the Vietnamese people by French Colonialists and their lackeys. It represents partly the Buddhist intellectuals’ reaction to that crafty policy, and thus displays to some extent their contemporary feelings for and expectations towards their people and Buddhism.

Secondly, the Thủy Nguyệt Tòng Sao may be considered a work of thought. For, according to Eastern tradition of “verse for presenting aspiration” all literary works are almost characterized by some point of view, some standpoint, some thought. The consistent stance adopted by the author of the Thủy Nguyệt Tòng Sao is to serve with all his heart Buddhism and nation, to eradicate evils in both Buddhist and non-Buddhist living by means of an all-round education; that is, the one not confined to Buddhist texts and teachings alone. Since the mid-1850s the development of Vietnamese Buddhism has been more or less influenced by such an educational standpoint.

Thirdly, the Thủy Nguyệt Tòng Sao provides us with a rather lively picture of Vietnamese Buddhism in the twentieth century. As has been said before, most of the Buddhist figures of the twentieth century appear in this work. For both the elders of the previous generation such as Zen Masters Phước Huệ, Trung Thứ, and their successors such as Zen Masters Trí Thủ, Mật Nguyện, Trí Đức, Trí Quang the author expressed his particular respect and highly affectionate expectations.

Fourthly, in terms of that picture the Thủy Nguyệt Tòng Sao reveals the author’s feelings and emotions in the relationship between him and his religious friends. These feelings and emotions arise not only out of his concern about several serious issues of the country and Buddhism but also out of ordinary affairs in his everyday life such as “giving some mushrooms growing in the temple yard,” “giving a fan,” etc. It is those seemingly ordinary behaviors that have brought about the solidarity indispensable for great deeds of Buddhism and the country to be achieved.

The above are some contributions that the Thủy Nguyệt Tòng Sao may make to researchers. Though the anthology has not been thoroughly analyzed, what we have discussed so far may suffice to indicate that it is worth a remarkable landmark in the history of Buddhism as well as of literature and thought in Vietnam. Some studies of it in the future, we hope, would be able to clarify much more of several problems which were dealt with by Zen Master Chân Đạo and not studied in detail by us in the present writing, particularly the personality of some lay Buddhists with whom the Master had come into contact.

 

_____________________________

[1] 水 月 叢 抄 , lit. The Copying of the Anthology [by the Owner of] the Thủy Nguyệt Cottage

[2] For short, Zen Master Chân Đạo.

[3] Chinh Phụ Ngâm Khúc

[4] Hò Mái Nhì

[5] No. 18, pp. 26-39

[6] i.e., November 10th, 1935

[7] Skt. bodhipākṣika-dharma

[8] His anthology is preserved in two different editions; one is composed of two parts, the other of three parts.

[9] Full title: Đông các Đại học sỹ Nam tước Thái Tướng công

[10] Rector of a community of Buddhist monks

[11] 水 月 軒, lit. the Cottage [named] The Moon [Reflected in] the Water.

[12] Skt.; a tree that is said to blossom only once every three thousand years. Therefore, it is often used as an illustration of how hard it is to come in contact with Buddhist teachings as well as to be born in the time of a buddha.

[13] lit. “double-seven six eight.” A verse in this style is composed of successive sets of four lines with seven words to each of the first two lines, six words to the third line, and eight words to the fourth line. For examples,

Khai lạc thiên tâm mai số điểm
Phù trầm thế cuộc tửu tam bôi
Thâm tiêu chích ảnh bồi hồi
Trùng thanh tức tức ám thôi sầu trường
Khuất chỉ tự tang thương biến cải
Tế chinh trần ám tải nan thông
Biệt thời vi oán đông phong
Kim niên y cựu đào hồng tái hoa.
(from “Xuân Tiêu Viễn Cảm”)

[14] 懺 悔 文, Sám Hối Văn.

[15] Skt. Kāmadhātu (World of Desire), Rūpadhātu (World of Form), and Ārūpyadhātu (World of Formlessness)

[16] 五 濁 惡 世 誓 先 入

[17] 如 一 衆 生 未 成 佛 終 不 於 此 取 泥 洹

[18] Author’s note: Cao Huy Thuần, Giáo sĩ thừa sai và chính sách thuộc địa của Pháp tại Việt Nam (1857-1914), Hà Nội, Nhà Xuất bản Tôn giáo, 2002, tr. 443.

[19] Author’s note: Nguyễn Xuân Thọ, Bước đầu của sự thiết lập hệ thống thuộc địa Pháp ở Việt Nam (1858-1897), Tác giả xuất bản, 1995, tr. 436.

[20] 十 塔 寺 西 樓 卧 病 , “Thập Tháp Tự Tây Lâu Ngọa Bệnh”

[21] Quy Nguyên Trực Chỉ Diễn Nghĩa, lit. Explanation of the Direct Pointing to the Source.

[22] 代 擬 承 天 省 佛 教 會 桉 辭, “Đại Nghĩ Thừa Thiên Tỉnh Phật Giáo Hội Án Từ”

[23] 戒 壇 節 次 榜, “Giới Đàn Tiết Thứ Bảng”

[24] 與 某 某 僧 暗爭 寺 主 互 將 擊 搏, “Dữ Mỗ Mỗ Tăng Ám Tranh Tự Chủ Hỗ Tương Kích Bác”

[25] that is, the Buddha

[26] Skt., Jetavana, the park dedicated to the Buddha and his disciples by the Crown Prince Jeta of an Indian kingdom.

[27] 名 喻 利 歌 , “Danh Dụ Lợi Ca”

[28] 天 台 禪 宗 寺 誌 略, “Thiên Thai Thiền Tôn Tự Chí Lược”

[29] 濫 厠, “Lạm Xí”

[30] 難 醫, “Nan Y”

[31] referring to Zen Master Tố Liên, whose name literally means Pure Lotus.

[32] Skt., Gṛdhrakūṭa, the mountain where the Buddha is said to have been delivering discourses since his Great Enlightenment.

[33] No. 27, p. 51

[34] 次 韻 敬 贈 遊 方 僧 素 蓮 禪 兄, “Thứ Vận Kính Tặng Du Phương Tăng Tố Liên Thiền Huynh”

[35] 全 國 佛 教 統 一 大 會 事 完 贈 北 南 二 法 主, “Toàn Quốc Phật Giáo Thống Nhất Đại Hội Sự Hoàn Tặng Bắc Nam Nhị Pháp Chủ”, lit. “Dedicated to the Two Dharma-Leaders of the North and the South at the End of the Great Congress of the National Buddhist Unification”

[36] 北 越 素 蓮 法 侶 乗 飛 艇 來 京 賦 呈, “Bắc Việt Tố Liên Pháp Lữ Thừa Phi Đỉnh Lai Kinh Phú Trình,” lit. “The North Vietnam Dharma-Friend Tố Liên’s Arrival at the Imperial Capital by Plane”

[37] Skt. sāgaramudrā, indicating the vastness of the meditation of the Buddha, the vision of all things.

[38] Nhâm Thìn, 1952

[39] 文 筆 掃 千 軍 之 陣, “văn bút tảo thiên quân chi trận.” Cf. Lê Mạnh Thát, Toàn Tập Trần Thái Tông, 2004, pp. 340, 636.

[40] 咏古, lit. “Poems Written on Ancient Subjects”

[41] 為 政 在 寬 感 物 曾 傳 馴 野 雉 潔 己 以 進 超 人 偏 慕 酌 貪 泉

[42] Nam Kỳ Nghiên Cứu Phật Học Hội, founded in 1931.

[43] An Nam Phật Học Hội, founded in 1932.

[44] Bắc Kỳ Phật Giáo Hội.

[45] Two great Buddhist philosophers in India in the fourth century C.E.

[46] Vietnamese equivalent for Ch’an (-na) in Chinese and Zen in Japanese.

[47] Skt.; it is the southern of the four continents shaped like a triangle resembling the triangular leaves of the Jambu tree, and called after a forest of such trees on Mount Meru.

[48] 竹 林 寺 覺 先 和 尚 肖 像 贊, “Trúc Lâm Tự Giác Tiên Hòa Thượng Tiếu Tượng Tán”

[49] 贈法弟碧空掛冠為禪, “Tặng Pháp Đệ Bích Không Quải Quán Vi Thiền”

[50] Su Tung-p’o (1036-1101 C.E.), a famous Chinese poet and scholar.

[51] A Chinese Zen Master, whom Su Tung-p’o often visited for discussions on Buddhism.

[52] Quốc Triều Hương Khoa Lục

[53] A copy of the stele inscription is preserved at the Hán-Nôm Institute.

[54] 與沱曩汎某法契, “Dự Đà Nẵng Phiếm Mỗ Pháp Khế.” It is entitled “Ký Thám Đà Thành Mỗ Pháp Khế” in the two-part version.

[55] 香江舟次和碧空法弟韻, “Hương Giang Chu Thứ Họa Bích Không Pháp Đệ Vận”

[56] 賜法姪心智字圓覺號昭然大師偈, “Tứ Pháp Điệt Tâm Trí Tự Viên Giác Hiệu Chiêu Nhiên Đại Sư Kệ”

[57] 丙戌夏訪敦后法侶新任天姥寺主, “Bính Tuất Hạ Phỏng Đôn Hậu Pháp Lữ Tân Nhậ Thiên Mụ Tự Chủ”

[58] 福緣, lit. “condition of bliss,” name of the stūpa.

[59] 嘲敦后法侶, “Trào Đôn Hậu Pháp Lữ”

[60] 戊寅智首法契新任波羅寺主之贈和韻, “Mậu Dần Trí Thủ Pháp KhếNhậm Ba La Tự Chủ Chi Tặng Họa Vận”

[61] The temple was founded by Zen Master Viên Giác Nguyễn Khoa Luận.

[62] 芽莊佛學鑒院智首大德之探, “Nha Trang Phật Học Giám Viện Trí Thủ Đại Đức Chi Thám”

[63] 碧峯, lit. “the green peak,” referring to Zen Master Chân Đạo.

[64] 密願, lit. “the secret vow” referring to Zen Master Mật Nguyện.

[65] 又贈靈光寺主, “Hựu Tặng Linh Quang Tự Chủ”

[66] The mushrooms growing from the termites’ nest on the ground are likened to parasols.

[67] 贈體觀比丘尼, “Tặng Thể Quán Tỳ Kheo Ni”

[68] past, present, future

[69] 月下談心, “Nguyệt Hạ Đàm Tâm”

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