The Emperor Nhân Tông’s Monastic Life
by Lê Mạnh Thát
As various attempts to keep peace and improve the people’s living in the postwar period were proceeding, the Emperor Nhân Tông decided to hand over the imperial throne to his son Trần Anh Tông in the 3rd month of Quý Tỵ (1293). In the year that followed, i.e., the 7th month of Giáp Ngọ (1294), on an excursion in the Vũ Lâm Valley he made up his mind to be ordained a Buddhist monk. The Complete History of Đại Việt says, “The Emperor-Father then was going on a cruise in a cave in Vũ Lâm. The mouth of the cave was narrow and he was seated in a small boat. The Queen-Mother Tuyên Từ, who was sitting at the rear of the boat, told Văn Túc Vương to move to the bow and had only an oarsman employed. Later, when the Emperor-Father was about to leave [the citadel] for his ordination, he summoned Văn Túc to the Dưỡng Đức House in the Thánh Từ Palace to take part in a feast of seafood…”[1]
Thus, the Emperor’s ordination was formally held in the year Giáp Ngọ (1294). In the Imperial Condensed History of Đại Việt, however, it is dated the 6th month of Ất Mùi (1295), that is, after his fighting expedition to Laos: “After his return from Laos, the Emperor-Father was ordained at the Vũ Lâm Palace but then went back to the Capital.”[2] In so recording, the work definitely connotes that the Emperor would not have taken any more military actions after his ordination. As it will be seen below, however, even when he already became a monk, Nhân Tông went on to have activities for the sake of the country. And he was, too, often consulted by imperial officials for crucial decisions of the court. Before his arrival in Champa as a messenger, for instance, Đoàn Nhữ Hài is said to have waited nearly a day to meet with Nhân Tông at the Sùng Nghiêm Temple on Mount Chí Linh. Accordingly, the fact that the Emperor was ordained on Mount Vũ Lâm certainly took place in 1294, as in the words of the Complete History of Đại Việt.
Vũ Lâm is a beautiful valley in what is now Ninh Bình Province.[3] On the east is the Ngô Đồng River, and on the other sides are limestone mountains. There remains today a shrine named Thái Vi built by the Emperor Nhân Tông’s order for worshiping his grandfather the Emperor Thái Tông, his father the Emperor Thánh Tông, and his mother the Queen Hiếu Từ, which may be precisely recognized in terms of inscriptions on the three stone tablets preserved inside the shrine.
The first tablet titled Tu Tạo Thái Vi Cung Thần Từ Thạch Bi (Stone Tablet [Recording] the Restoration of the Thái Vi Sacred Shrine) and engraved on the 10th of the 3rd month of Vĩnh Thịnh the Tenth (1715) was erected by the villagers, their chiefs, and local functionaries of the two villages Trung and Cật of Ô Lâm when the shrine was in time of repair. The tablet runs, “In the autumn, the 8th month, of Giáp Ngọ (1715), having seen the magnificently precious shrine handed down by the preceding reign to be in such badly ruined condition, [the local inhabitants] made a decision to restore it (…)
The Thái Vi Precious Shrine,
An ancient relic from the days
Of sacred ancestors in the Trần dynasty,
Who were, for generations, interested in Dhyāna,
Keeping the nation’s security,
Protecting the people…
The second tablet of the same title records the merits of those who contributed to the restoration of the shrine. It was erected six months later of the same year and by the same people. These two tablets are engraved on the front and back only. But the third is engraved on its four sides, the three sides of which record merits and the other titled Tu Lý Thái Vi Điện Bi Ký (Stone Inscription of the Restoration of the Thái Vi Shrine) records the date of construction of the shrine, that is, the years between 1273 and 1278 of Era name Bảo Phù of the Trần house, and those of its restorations in the years of Quang Hưng, Kỷ Sửu (1598), and of Bảo Đại, Bính Dần (1926). This tablet was engraved in the latter restoration.
From the inscription dated Bảo Đại, Bính Dần it is known that the shrine was built in the year Bảo Phù. That is to say, before mounting the throne in the 10th month of Bảo Phù, Mậu Dần (1278) the Emperor Nhân Tông had learned of Vũ Lâm. Then, in the war of 1278 when he was commanding the South Army to halt T’o-huan’s troops from the north and So-tu’s troops from the south, he might have chosen that valley to be his headquarters where he could hold swift and urgent conferences with prominent generals Trần Quốc Tuấn, Trần Quang Khải, and so on. Being situated in the midst of Hoa Lư, Vũ Lâm was naturally a remarkably strategic position. Further, the landscape there has a fantastically attractive beauty as is described in one of his poems:
The splendid bridge is horizontally reflected on the stream,
Beyond which comes the ray from the sun in the evening sky.
Quietly in the endless mountains red leaves are falling;
Like in a dream are the wet clouds and the bell from afar.
Tuệ Trung and the Emperor Nhân Tông
Thus, Vũ Lâm was definitely chosen by the Emperor to be the place where his ordination would take place. Yet we do not know how the ordination was held and by whom it was ritually conducted. From the Recorded Sayings as the Lamps of the Saints, however, it is known that Nhân Tông was “capable of penetrating into the essentials of Dhyāna doctrine under Tuệ Trung Thượng Sỹ. Therefore, he treated the latter as his master.” Accordingly, he who transmitted the mind-seal to him was none other than Tuệ Trung Thượng Sỹ, who had formerly liberated the capital Thăng Long from the Yuan occupation in the war of 1285 and had ostensibly negotiated with the enemy at the base of Vạn Kiếp in our army’s plan of counteroffensives in the war of 1288.
As has been said before, the Emperor Nhân Tông received an education of various branches of his time and, according to his family’s tradition, came in contact with the Buddhist teaching very early in his life. In spite of this, he professed in a poem that he did not so early experience Buddhism profoundly:
Form-Emptiness was incomprehensible for me at such an early age.
Spring came and my mind was among a variety of flowers.
Now that I have realized the ‘face’ of Spring,
From the meditation seat I can contemplate falling flowers.
On Tuệ Trung Thượng Sỹ’s death, the Emperor Nhân Tông himself composed a biography of his master and, simultaneously, his uncle, in which he accounted for his experience of enlightenment:
Formerly, when I was going into mourning at my Queen-Mother Nguyên Thánh’s death, I once visited Tuệ Trung Thượng Sỹ and was given two records of Hsüeh-tou and Yeh-hsüan. Rather doubtful of his secular way of living, I pretended to ask him, “How is it possible for those who have had the habit of eating meat and drinking wine not to be exerted by the effect of such unwholesome actions?” “Suppose somebody who does not know the king to be passing by his back has thrown something at him, would he be frightened in that case? Should the king get angry at him? [Certainly it does not matter anything at all] because the two facts have nothing to do with each other,” he explained. Then, he read two stanzas to express it:
All saskāras[4] are impermanent.
Faults proceed from doubt alone.
Nothing has arisen so far;
Neither seeds nor sprouts are.
And again,
In our everyday perception of all things,
They arise just from our mind.
Both things and mind have not truly existed.
Nowhere is no-pāramitā.[5]
Whereby I could comprehend his implications, so asking, “Though it is so, how should we act as faults and merits have been definitely distinguished [in the sūtras]?” He went on with his instruction in another stanza:
Eating grass and eating meat,
That depends on beings’ consciousness.
All kinds of grass grow when spring comes.
What may be called faults and merits?
“If so, what is the use of observing Brahmacarya[6] strictly?” I asked. He smiled without saying. At my repeated question, he read two more stanzas:
Observing precepts and cultivating patience,
That is to gain no merits but faults.
To realize merits and faults are all of śūnyatā,[7]
Do not observe precepts nor cultivate patience.
And again,
Like a man who is climbing a tree,
Thus seeking for danger from safety;
If not climbing the tree,
Why must he be concerned with moon and wind?
Then he instructed me secretly, “Do not tell those who are not worthy.”
Such was the Emperor Nhân Tông’s process of studying and realizing the Buddhist teaching under Tuệ Trung Trần Quốc Tung. From his account we know that the two records he was given are named Hsüeh-tou yü-lu and Yeh-hsüan yü-lu respectively. The Record of Yeh-hsüan is lost now; even his name is not found in any Ch’an books of China except for a poem of his collected in the Ch’an-tsung sung-ku lien-chou-tung.[8] In this connection, he could probably live in the years 900-1050. As far as the other record is concerned, its author, Ch’an Master Hsüeh-tou, is Ming-chiao Ch’ung-hsien (980-1052), who lived on Mount Yehtou in Ningchou. He was a disciple of Chih-men Kuang-tsu of the Yün-men lineage of Ch’an in China. His record, namely, Hsüeh-tou Ming-chiao yü-lu, has been popularly in vogue. According to the Recorded Sayings as the Lamps of the Saints, it was ever taught many times in the meditation halls of Vietnam after the Emperor Nhân Tông’s time.
Still from the account cited above we can now determine the date the Emperor Nhân Tông attained enlightenment, that is, the spring of Đinh Hợi (1287) when our country was preparing for the third invasion of the Yuan court and when the Emperor-Queen Nguyên Thánh   Thiên Cảm departed. At his mother’s death, the Emperor himself invited his mother’s brother Tuệ Trung Thượng Sỹ Trần Quốc Tung to attend her funeral. And it was on this occasion that he got awakened under Tuệ Trung Thượng Sỹ as in the words of the dialogue above. Also from this dialogue we may acquire some knowledge of the doctrinal basis on which his thought was formed, which was later formulated by himself in a long verse titled “A Worldly Life with Joy in the Way,” and further developed to be a guiding principle of the development of Buddhism in Vietnam for nearly four hundred years at least, i.e., from 1300 to 1695. This is the period when Buddhism was introduced and practiced just in the midst of worldly life; otherwise stated, there were then no distinctions between monastic and lay devotees. They lived together at peace, and at times both ways of living could manifest themselves within one and the same practitioner, which is typified by Hương Chân Pháp Tính (1470-1550?), Thọ Tiên Diễn Khánh (1550-1610?) and Minh Châu Hương Hải (1628-1715). They had all passed national examinations, worked as imperial officials, and undertaken various national affairs before they became Buddhist monks, as what is expressed by Pháp Tính in the following lines:
In the prime of youth I ever passed national examina-tions;
Now in my old age I decide to tread on the Buddha’s path.
It should be borne in mind that the doctrinal basis mentioned above must not be neglected in any research in the teaching of the Trúc Lâm school founded by the Emperor Nhân Tông. For, though he had been ordained Buddhist monk in the 7th month, the Emperor actually commanded an army to attack Laos in the 8th month of the same year as in the words of the Complete History of Đại Việt: “In the 8th month [of Giáp Ngọ, 1294] the Emperor-Father himself marched an army into Laos, capturing alive numerous people and animals. In this campaign the spearhead General Trung Thành Vương (name unknown) was once besieged by Laotian troops. Shortly thereafter, Phạm Ngũ Lão launched a sudden thrust to break the ring and then attack them. Being defeated, they dedicated a golden tally to Ngũ Lão.”[9]
Receiving the mission of Li-hsin and Chiao T’ai-teng
By the 1st of the 5th month of the year that followed, the Emperor Nhân Tông received a Chinese mission headed by Li-hsin and Chiao T’ai-teng. They had left China in the 6th month of Chih Yuan the Thirteenth (1294), i.e., a month after Yüan Ch’eng-tsu’s enthronement, and reached our country in the 2nd month of the following year. At their departure, Chang Po-shun is said to have warned them of some difficulties in this mission: “Why is it said to be difficult? Formerly it was widely known that a decree once delivered to that country (Đại Việt) always represented our sovereignty, implying some favor or misfortune brought about for them. If they showed anxiety in receiving it, it meant they would obey it easily. Otherwise, our task was simply to return and report everything to the court for their own solution. Now, it may be somewhat difficult for you to have to cover thousands of miles to persuade them to reform their country only with the help of an ordinary letter. Remember that you are not assigned to go and return without anything achieved. It is natural that when one is aware of one’s innocence after so much anxiety, one will be extremely satisfied. But satisfaction is normally the very cause of pride and contempt. So, take advantage of their pride to persuade them to follow the new way [of reform].”
Obviously, the Chinese mission’s difficulty was in that behind the Yuan kings’ requests remained no compelling forces, which might be conducive to some contempt from the Đại Việt’s side. Nevertheless, Nhân Tông treated them in an unexpectedly polite manner, offering them a very formal reception, which was probably the most pleasant of his after he had been successful in smashing their plot of invasion as expressed in his poem at their departure:
By the deep pool is a farewell feast warmly held.
The wind of Spring cannot hinder their departure.
No one knows for how long the two ‘stars’[10] of fortune
Would be able to shine in the sky of Đại Việt.
Simultaneously with the Chinese mission’s departure, Trần Khắc Dụng and Phạm Thảo, by the Emperor’s order, went to the Yuan court with his letter of applying for the Chinese Buddhist Canon. The letter, which was signed by Nhân Tông himself, is extant in the An-nan Chih-lüeh[11] where it is further mentioned that his application was approved of by the Yuan court. Thus, this may be the edition of the Buddhist Canon that Nhân Tông’s work Thạch Thất Mỵ Ngữ (Words in Sleep in the Stone Chamber) was later added to by Trần Anh Tông’s order as in the words of the Recorded Sayings as the Lamps of the Saints.
By the 6th month of the same year (1295), “the Emperor-Father returned to the Capital from the Vũ Lâm Palace where he had been ordained Buddhist monk,” as is recorded in the Complete History of Đại Việt.[12] The fact that the Emperor was ordained in Vũ Lâm, therefore, might take place in approximately the 7th month of Giáp Ngọ (1294), that is, more than a year after his transferring the throne to his son. In the Section “The Emperor-Father’s Return from Laos in the Summer, the 6th Month, of Ất Mùi (1295)” of the Imperial Condensed History of Đại Việt, it is said that “after his return from Laos, the Emperor-Father was ordained Buddhist monk at the Vũ Lâm Palace; but soon he went back to the Capital.”[13] Thus, according to the Office of Historiographers of the Nguyễn dynasty it was not until the summer of Ất Mùi that Nhân Tông’s ordination was held.
Concerning his ordination, however, the Complete History of Đại Việt, in an account of the Emperor’s excursion in Vũ Lâm in the autumn[14] of Giáp Ngọ (1294) and his determination to become a monk there, mentions his affectionate attitude toward Thái Sư[15] Trần Quang Khải’s son, Trần Đạo Tải:[16]
The Emperor-Father then was going on a cruise in a cave in Vũ Lâm. The mouth of the cave was narrow, so he was seated in a small boat. The Queen-Mother Tuyên Từ, who was sitting at the rear, told Văn Túc Vương to move to the bow and had only one oarsman employed…When the Emperor-Father was about to leave [the Citadel] for ordination, he summoned Đạo Tải to the Dưỡng Đức House in the Thánh Từ Palace for a feast of seafood. There he wrote the poem:
The deliciously red skinned qui cước,[17]
And the sweet-smelling yellow mã yên[18] when toasted.
The mountain-monk with precepts purely observed
Sat at the same table but ate not the same food.
The similar fact was, too, written down in Hồ Nguyên Trừng’s Record of Nam Ông’s Dreams. According to the style of these two accounts, it is evident that the poem cited above is doubtlessly composed by Nhân Tông. On the other hand, the third line “The mountain-monk with precepts purely observed” points out explicitly that the poem might not be written by Trần Đạo Tải. For, from his great respect for the Emperor Nhân Tông and his determination to give up traveling in a chariot upon learning that the Emperor always went on foot ever since his ordination, it is obvious that Trần Đạo Tải hardly dared to mention the Emperor Nhân Tông in terms of mountain-monk. Thus, no one other than Nhân Tông could call himself mountain-monk, particularly when his peculiar interest in mountain and forest was frequently expressed in many of his verses.
Though his ordination in Vũ Lâm has been so definitely recorded, the Recorded Sayings as the Lamps of the Saints says that Nhân Tông could have been ordained “in the 10th month of Kỷ Hợi, i.e., Hưng Long the Seventh, when [the Emperor-Father] moved to Mount Yên Tử, diligently cultivating the Twelve Ascetic Practices,[19] calling himself Great Ascetic Hương Vân, having the Chi Đề Temple built where so many students as ‘clouds’ gathered to study the Buddhist teaching expounded by him.” It seems most likely that from the 6th month of Ất Mùi (1295) to the 8th month of Kỷ Hợi (1299) the Emperor might settle in Vũ Lâm since nothing in relation to his activities, monastic and secular, in this period is mentioned in the extant historical documents. This, too, may be the period when the Emperor is said in the Recorded Sayings as the Lamps of the Saints to have been training himself through the Twelve Ascetic Practices. In the poem “The Vân Yên Temple” by Lý Tải Đạo, who then was Dhyāna Master Huyền Quang and living with the Emperor on Mount Yên Tử, described the daily living of the Great Ascetic Hương Vân as follows,
Wearing kāya,[20] sitting behind the paper-curtain,
Not concerned with stores full of pearls and cases full of jades;
Forgetting delicious food, giving up sweet wine,
Only a pot of egg-fruit and a jar of soy left.
This is truly an unimaginably simple lifestyle of a hero, a talented emperor who just gained a glorious victory over the invaders. According to the Complete History of Đại Việt,[21] not until the 5th month of Kỷ Hợi did Nhân Tông return from Thiên Trường to Thăng Long where, seeing the Emperor Anh Tông to be drunk, he gave orders for all the Court to move to Thiên Trường. After getting sober again, the Emperor Anh Tông told Đoàn Nhữ Hài to write a memorial of apology, with which the former personally came and saw the Emperor-Father Nhân Tông in Thiên Trường to ask his pardon. Still in the words of the Complete History of Đại Việt, by his order a temple named Ngự Dược was built on Mount Yên Tử; and “in the 8th month, the Emperor-Father left Thiên Trường Prefecture again for Mount Yên Tử where he went on with his ascetic practice.”[22] Thus, it was by the 8th but not the 10th month as recorded in the Recorded Sayings as the Lamps of the Saints that Nhân Tông returned to his monastic life.
What then were Nhân Tông’s activities after his ordination? The Recorded Sayings as the Lamps of the Saints says: “At the Phổ Minh Temple in Thiên Trường Prefecture the Emperor-Father had eminent monks invited and large halls built for preaching Buddhist teachings for many years. Thereafter, having wandered everywhere, he arrived at Camp Bố Chính, staying at the Tri Kiến Temple.” In reality, according to the Complete History of Đại Việt,[23] it was in the period of Nhân Tông’s practice of asceticism on Mount Yên Tử that the Emperor Anh Tông together with Trần Quốc Tuấn once paid a visit to him. Later, in the 3rd month of Tân Sửu (1301) Nhân Tông went preaching as far as Champa and did not come back until the 11th month of the same year. Then, still in the words of the Complete History of Đại Việt, on the 15th of the 1st month of Quý Mão (1303), “while staying in Thiên Trường Prefecture, the Emperor-Father had a dharma-assembly held at the Phổ Minh Temple, preaching Buddhist teachings, transmitting precepts, donating gold, silver, money and silk to the poor in the country.”[24]
All these accounts indicate that after his return to Mount Yên Tử, Nhân Tông could have settled there for some time. By the 3rd month of Tân Sửu (1301), he went to the south and stayed at the Tri Kiến Temple in Camp Bố Chính. According to the Latest Record of Ô District, Tri Kiến is the administrative office of Camp Bố Chính: “Tri Kiến is the site of the old district.”[25] Therefore, the Tri Kiến Temple is probably the temple of the Tri Kiến District of Camp Bố Chính. It may be said that this is the first temple to have been known so far in the areas named Địa Lý, Ma Linh and Bố Chính, which were annexed to Đại Việt by the Emperor Lý Thánh Tông in 1069. Today they pertain to Quảng Bình Province and the two districts Vĩnh Linh and Gio Linh of Quảng Trị Province, where many other temples unknown today must have been built.
Nhân Tông’s Journey to Champa
It was from Camp Bố Chính that the Emperor set out to Champa. In Ch’ên Kuang-chih’s prefactory characters to the painting Chu-lin ta-shih chu-shan-t’u, it seems that his journey could be that of a missionary and he had been welcomed as such by the Cham king: “Sometimes, to teach Buddhism to the neighboring states he wandered as far as Champa where he often went on begging rounds in the Inner City. Learning of this, the king respectfully offered him vegetarian food, had ships and other ritual objects prepared for his return home. On his departure, the king personally saw him off. Further, the king conceded him the two districts, which are Thuận District and Hóa District today.”
Through the diplomatic relation between Đại Việt and Champa in the period when Nhân Tông was ruling the country, we may be assured that the king Chế Mân of Champa must have learned of and had some good feeling for him. For, as has been said before, when the Yuan-Cham war took place in 1283, the Emperor Nhân Tông sent 20,000 men and 500 warships to Champa as reinforcements. Though it is natural that his reinforcement then was aimed at ensuring a long peace for the people of Đại Việt, our troops actually devoted their lives to the Cham people’s victory over Yuan invaders. It was their devotion to the peaceful relationship between Champa and Đại Việt that caused the Cham king to have such great respect and admiration for the leader of Đại Việt.
Factually, the Complete History of Đại Việt[26] tells us that before his mission to Champa, Đoàn Nhữ Hài went to consult the Emperor Nhân Tông at the Sùng Nghiêm Temple on Mount Chí Linh. Though having to wait for him there all day, Đoàn Nhữ Hài could after all meet with the Emperor just in his excursion, and spoke with him for more than two hours. After their talk, the Emperor said to his followers, “It is naturally reasonable for the Court to employ such a competent man as Nhữ Hài.” This fact points out that though he had not been on the throne, Nhân Tông actually concerned himself with the relationship between our country and Champa.
According to the Complete History of Đại Việt,[27] in the 3rd month of Giáp Thìn (1304) a Cham monk well versed in yoga, whose peculiar habit was to have milk for daily food, arrived in our country. Still in the words of the Complete History of Đại Việt,[28] in the 2nd month of Ất Tỵ (1305) “Champa ordered Chế Bồ Đài together with more than a hundred men to come to our country, offering gold, silver, rare things for the purpose of asking for the date of marriage [between their king and our country’s princess]. Though the marriage was mostly protested by the Court, it was eventually passed owing to Văn Túc Vương Đạo Tải’s proposal for negotiation and Trần Khắc Chung’s approval.”
In the 6th month of Bính Ngọ (1306), still in the words of the Complete History of Đại Việt, “Princess Huyền Trân was married to Chế Mân, the Cham king. For, formerly in his journey to Champa the Emperor-Father had promised to do so. Most of the intellectuals inside and outside the Court, who relied on an old story as to the Han king’s Chao-chün being married to Hsiung-nu, wrote verses in the national speech to laugh over [this incident].”[29] In the spring, the 1st month, of the year that followed, “Đoàn Nhữ Hài was ordered to rule the people of the two districts Ô and Lý, which then were renamed Thuận and Hóa respectively. Formerly, when the Cham king Chế Mân conceded these districts as a proposal of marriage, the inhabitants of the villages La Thủy, Tác Hồng and Đà Bồng protested his concession. For that reason, [our] King ordered Nhữ Hài to go there to proclaim the Court’s policy, according to which local inhabitants would be selected to be officials and land would be allotted without any tax collected for three years for the purpose of allaying them,” as recorded in the Complete History of Đại Việt.[30]
In the 5th month of Đinh Mùi, Chế Mân died. In the 9th month, Huyền Trân’s son, Chế Đa Da, ordered the messenger Bảo Lộc to offer white elephants to our Court, probably for the purpose of requesting our Court to receive Princess Huyền Trân back to our country. For “it is customary in Champa that when a king dies, his wife has to be cremated alive together with him.” Therefore, by the 10th month, Trần Khắc Chung and Đặng Văn went to Champa to receive Princess Huyền Trân and her son. The Complete History of Đại Việt says, “On the pretext of attending the Cham king’s funeral service, Trần Khắc Chung came and suggested that ‘if the princess is cremated at the same time [with the king], no one will be in charge of his funeral service. The best way, therefore, is to have the ceremony for evoking the king’s soul held at the seashore. After the ceremony the princess will come back onto the cremation together with his soul.’ The Chams agreed to his suggestion. [When arriving at the seashore, however,] Khắc Chung managed to flee with the princess in a small ship, on which they coupled with each other for a rather long time before returning to the capital.”[31]
In the words of the Complete History of Đại Việt: “On the 18th of the 8th month of Giáp Thân (1308) Princess Huyền Trân returned from Champa. By the Emperor-Father’s order, the chief of Hóa District led three hundred Chams back to their country by ship.”[32] Accordingly, it took nearly one year for Trần Khắc Chung to take Princess Huyền Trân back to Đại Việt. And not more than three months before his death, the Emperor Nhân Tông went on with his care about the issues of Champa. Today, we cannot know who then was appointed the chief of Hóa District and why three hundred Chams had to be returned to their country. Was it likely that they were those who had followed the princess to the seashore for the rites of evoking their king’s soul? Whatever happened, the Emperor was eventually able to see his beloved daughter again. Though a slender princess, she had effectively fulfilled the mission of annexing the two districts Ô and Lý to the map of Đại Việt, which later became a well-known area named Thuận Hóa and the imperial capital of a unified Vietnam for a long time.
Geographically, Ô District was the region called Ô Mã by the Chams, which had been reported by So-tu in his 1283 invasion to be the area “bordering Annan,” as recorded in the Yuan Shih 209.[33] And Lý District, i.e., the area of Việt Lý, was the place where So-tu had passed on their way of attacking Camp Bố Chính and Hoan Ái of Đại Việt. It was due to So-tu’s Army rushing from the south that the Emperor Nhân Tông and his father had commanded the South Army to fight against them and had finally put down their attack, in which So-tu’s head was cut off and nearly ten thousand Yuan men were captured alive.
Thus, Ô and Lý were a strategically decisive position with respect to the security of Đại Việt. Just in the early years of war, the Emperor Nhân Tông, from the view of such a gifted militarist as him, thought of some control of these two districts to make possible the safety of Đại Việt. It was doubtlessly from such a view that a series of measures was put into action, including the decision of marrying Princess Huyền Trân, the only daughter of the Emperor, to the Cham king Chế Mân. As a consequence, the annexation of the districts Ô and Lý to Đại Việt was peacefully accomplished, in quite a different manner from the Emperor Lý Thánh Tông’s in his annexation of the three districts Địa Lý, Ma Linh and Bố Chính more than two hundred years earlier. In order to gain these districts, the latter had then forced the Cham king Chế Củ to surrender them in return for his own life. But, not so the former. Thanks to his ingenious policy, the Cham king Chế Mân had a Vietnamese wife and this wife further bore him a son. Indeed, the Emperor Nhân Tông’s peaceful diplomatic policy actually brought about unexpectedly great achievements in politics and security of Đại Việt. Accordingly, we become aware that the advance to the south by the Vietnamese in the past took place so increasingly swiftly as a tide was rising violently. Less than a hundred years after Ô and Lý had been turned into Thuận District and Hóa District respectively, the southern borderland of Đại Việt was extended with Thăng Hóa and Tư Nghĩa by Hồ Quý Lý. And about half a century after that, the Emperor Lê Thánh Tông succeeded in having boundary posts erected on Mount Đá Bia in Phú Yên Province. Hence, it may be said that the annexation of the two districts Ô and Lý in such a peaceful manner laid a foundation for the extension of the border of the Fatherland—a great contribution by the Emperor Nhân Tông to the country, which will be forever remembered with gratitude by all the Vietnamese.
Thus, even in his last days the Emperor Nhân Tông proceeded to pay his special attention to Champa. This attention alone, however, did not hinder him thoroughly from other national affairs. According to the Recorded Sayings as the Lamps of the Saints, in Giáp Thìn (1304) the Emperor “wandered through villages, teaching the people to practice the Ten Good Things[34] and give up superstitious beliefs.” The fact that the Ten Good Things were introduced to the people reflected evidently the political view of Buddhism in Vietnam, which had been formulated and collected in the Collected Teachings of the Six Pāramitās more than a thousand years before. It may be said that it is the most ancient Buddhist text known in our country, in which Buddhist thought and national tradition have been successfully mixed. Since its propagation, the text has unceasingly called for the leaders of the nation to apply the Ten Good Things as the basis of “national law” and “national policy”.[35] And the Emperor Nhân Tông was the first seen to respond to this appeal.
In the winter of the same year, “Anh Tông submitted a memorial to the Emperor-Father, applying for the latter’s transmission of Bodhisattva mind-precepts. As the Emperor-Father was about to enter the citadel, the officials held a ceremony for welcoming him. They were all exhorted to undertake the precepts, too.” Thus, the entire imperial court of Đại Việt determined to lead a living in accordance with the Buddha’s teachings. The transmission of Bodhisattva mind-precepts to the Court demonstrated so obviously the thought of “Worldly Life with Joy in the Way” that the Emperor Nhân Tông had inherited directly from his father, Vô Nhị Thượng Nhân Trần Thánh Tông, and his master, Tuệ Trung Thượng Sỹ Trần Quốc Tung.
Just before the Emperor Anh Tông’s undertaking Boddhisattva precepts, the imperial court of Đại Việt might have been a Buddhistic court and all the people the Buddhist followers. For, in a mission of his in 1293 Ch’en-fu composed the verse “An-nan chi-shih” written down in the Collected Poems of Ch’en Kang-chung,[36] where it is known that the court of the Trần House, “in spite of many temples built, did not hold anniversaries for the departed. Instead, they held only the ceremonies of offering to the Buddha very respectfully,” and “the people were for the most part Buddhist monks.” Still in the words of Ch’en-fu, even Trần Hưng Đạo “was so interested in Buddhism that he named the district Vạn Kiếp[37].” Further, Buddhist thought was expressed in a poem of Đinh Củng Viên, composed in his seeing Ch’en-fu off. The poem, which was written down in the Collected Poems of Ch’en Kang-chung,[38] has been recorded neither in the most ancient books of our country nor in the collections of poetry and prose under the Lý and Trần dynasties. It therefore is now published for the purpose of supplementing the literary heritage of Lý and Trần dynasties in general and of Đinh Củng Viên in particular:
The “messenger-star” flies down together with a “good cloud,”
Without fear of the perilous way through nine heavens.
The two sleeves can sweep away the bad climate of the South Sea.
A single shout can break the lower level of Dhyāna.
Though young but able to surpass Chung-chün,
And precede Liu-che in eloquent controversy.
On return to the Court, remember to report
That the people of this remote place always wish the King longevity.
According to the Recorded Sayings as the Lamps of the Saints, after the rites of transmitting Bodhisattva-precepts to the Emperor Anh Tông and his subjects in the winter of Giáp Thìn (1304), “the Emperor-Father settled at the Sùng Nghiêm Temple on Mount Chí Linh, expounding the Buddhist teaching.” In effect, it was not by the end of Giáp Thìn that the Emperor began to settle at the Sùng Nghiêm Temple. In the words of the Complete History of Đại Việt[39] he had lived there from the year Tân Mão (1303) when Đoàn Nhữ Hài came to consult him before a mission to Champa. The date recorded above by the Recorded Sayings as the Lamps of the Saints might probably be set forth to lay some stress on the fact that the propagation of Buddhist teachings had been actually performed by the emperor just at that point of time.
Indeed, after so dating the Recorded Sayings as the Lamps of the Saints devotes more than six pages to Nhân Tông’s discourses at the Sùng Nghiêm Temple:
In the beginning of his discourse at the hall, the Emperor-Father mounted the platform, burning incense to show gratitude [to the Buddhas and the Patriarchs]. Thereafter, the head monk struck a board to invite him to the seat. The Emperor-Father said, “On behalf of a great deed Buddha Śākyamuni appeared in the world. For forty-nine years he moved his lips but not a word was ever spoken. As to me, present here in this seat in front of you all, what may I say?” He sat down for a moment on the dhyāna-bed, then saying,
The cuckoos are singing away in the bright moonlight;
Let not the spring pass so idly.
With a slap given [on the bed], he said, “Nothing at all; go out! go out!”
Of the discourse above only a passage is cited here to show partly how its procedure and content started and proceeded. We may be sure that in each of the beginning of the discourse, which is termed “opening the hall”[40] in the original text, there must have been an announcement for all the students to attend. When they were all present, the Dharma-master mounted the platform, burned incense for showing gratitude to the Buddhas and Patriarchs, and went to the seat. There, the organizer and conductor of the assembly, who is called the “head monk”[41] in the Recorded Sayings as the Lamps of the Saints, struck a board as the signal for beginning the discourse and invited the master to start preaching.
In accordance with Dhyāna tradition, the Emperor Nhân Tông’s opening words at the discourse by the end of winter in Giáp Thìn (1304) were to remind the audience of the fact that the World-Honored One spoke nothing in his forty-nine years’ preaching on earth. Then, he concluded that even an Enlightened One could not say anything about the ultimate truth, much less anyone like him. It was after those opening words that he could sit down on the dhyāna-bed and began his discourse with an exhortation that everyone should not let time pass at leisure, just like what the World-Honored One had exhorted his immediate disciples before his parinirvāa: “Vayadhammā samkhārā appamādena sampādethāti” (All composed things are impermanent; strive on with diligence.) Thereafter, his preaching turned into a Dhyāna dialogue of master-and-student. It may be said that such dialogues have represented a particular feature of the preaching of Buddhist teachings in Vietnam in the old days. A student raised the questions to which the master would accordingly give his answers. It may be said that this was the first discourse recorded in full in the history of Buddhism in Vietnam that could provide us with an example of the activity of preaching Buddhism in our country in the thirteenth century, if not earlier. An intensive study of it may help us acquire some rather proper knowledge of the activity just mentioned. There were at least three students who had posed their questions in the discourse just cited. And the following is the dialogue between the first student and the Emperor Nhân Tông:
The monk asked, “What is Buddha?”
The master said, “Understanding as before is not possible.”
The monk asked, “What is Dharma?”
The master said, “Understanding as before is not possible.”
The monk asked, “What does it mean after all?”
The master said,
The ‘eight words’[42] have all been openly spoken;
Nothing left for me to demonstrate to you.
The monk asked, “What is Sagha?”
The master said, “Understanding as before is not possible.”
The monk asked, “What does it mean after all?”
The master said,
The ‘eight words’ have all been openly spoken;
Nothing left for me to demonstrate to you.
The monk asked: “What is the task that helps go upwards?”
The master said: “Keeping the stick up to tease the sun and the moon.”
The monk asked: “What is the use of setting forth an old ‘công án’[43]?”
The master said: “Once repeated, once renewed.”
The monk asked: “What is the meaning of ‘the special transmission outside the teaching’?”
The master said: “The frog fails to leap out of the peck.”
The monk asked: “What about leaping out but then submerging?”
The master said: “That depends on the length of its jumping in mud or sand.”
The monk asked: “What about failing to leap out?”
The master said: “What does that blind man see?”
The monk said: “What are you playing tricks for, master?”
The master uttered a sigh. The monk stood thinking. The master hit him. He was about to pose another question when the master shouted. So did the monk.
“What then do you mean when shouting at me again and again?” asked the master.
The monk thought over it. The master shouted again, “Where is the cunning fox that has just come?”
The monk bowed and went out.
A full translation of the dialogue is produced here to present partly the style and content of Nhân Tông’s discourse at the Sùng Nghiêm Temple by the end of winter in Giáp Thìn (1304). Its theme explicitly deals with the three precious ones, i.e., Buddha, dharma, sagha, the way of enlightenment, and the ‘transmission outside the orthodox teaching’. And just in the style of Dhyāna teaching, the answers appear by no means to correspond with the student’s questions, which are to be grasped by the people involved only. That is because the language of Dhyāna has its own characteristics, requiring that the listener has to possess some level of knowledge, some resolution of penetrating into the matter in question in a certain way. Though making use of the same words as the everyday language, its structure is quite different from the latter.
According to the Thiền Uyển Tập Anh (Collected Prominent Figures of Dhyāna Garden), the dialogues in such a pattern came into existence in the time of Master Pháp Hiền (? - 626) and remarkably popular in the time of Master Viên Chiếu (999–1090) when the latter composed the Tham Đồ Hiển Quyết, which has been completely preserved so far. The work consists in analyzing the ‘công án’ for the practitioners of Dhyāna to grasp their meaning. For instance, the Collected Prominent Figures of Dhyāna Garden records one of the first phrases like this:
“What is the meaning of Buddhas and [Confucian] sages?” asked a monk.
“The chrysanthemum blooms under the hedgerow in the autumn; the bird sings on the branch early in the spring,” the master said.
From the question-answer above, it may be interpreted that the relation between Buddhism and Confucianism is likened to that of a chrysanthemum, which blooms in September, and the bird singing in the early spring. That is to say, Buddhism and Confucianism have their respective tasks that are to be implemented according to their own circumstances.
The language of Dhyāna, therefore, has its own semantic structure that can only be comprehended and grasped by the people involved. This structure is at times interpreted as a device to awaken and give rise to some potential capacity of getting enlightened inherent in each being. The language of Dhyāna, however, is not always confined within its semantic or grammatical structure. In effect, it often goes beyond the verbal language to embrace even such bodily actions as gazing, shouting, striking, etc., that is, the body language. In the above-cited dialogue the language of the latter type is known to have been applied by Nhân Tông when he shouted and struck the monk. Today, we cannot know how many people could comprehend his teaching and how many people got truly awakened through his instruction in the discourse just mentioned. Yet, the point is that they were after all capable of gaining some understanding of the Buddhist teaching.
Here a question may be raised as to whether such a way of preaching may be influenced by that from China. Naturally, as a cultural movement Dhyāna, or Ch’an(-na) as transliterated in Chinese, has inevitably absorbed various factors during its development. For that reason, even in the history of its development in China, Dhyāna has really undergone some changes through the ages. This is evidently proved by the dialogues of Hui-neng and I-hsuan recorded in the Ching-te ch’uan-teng-lu (Record of the Transmission of the Lamp in the Ching-te Period). In the time of Hui-neng, a Dhyāna discourse in the form of question-answer is usually rather comprehensible; that is to say, a reply is to be found in exact accordance with the meaning conveyed in the question. It has, however, become quite a different style in I-hsuan’s time, when shouting and striking began to make their appearance in the language of Dhyāna.
In Vietnam, Dhyāna has developed in quite a different course. It came into being to set forth some solution to a problem of thought; that is, “why cannot the Buddha be seen during one’s practice of his teaching?”, which was put up in the middle of the fifth century C.E.[44] Factually, it is for answering that question that Dhyāna of Vietnam made its way. Thus, together with the appearance of Dhyāna a new concept was produced in Vietnam with regard to the Buddha. Not only is the Buddha conceived as a historical one or a certain being outside of us but he further becomes ‘something’ inseparable from our nature. In this connection, to practice the Buddha’s teaching is to make possible the manifestation of this ‘Buddha’ within ourselves. From such a starting-point, Dhyāna of Vietnam has inevitably been exerted by some impact of concrete requirements of Vietnam. If in the course of its development, Dhyāna of Vietnam is found to have had some similar or even identical features with the other traditions of Dhyāna, they should be regarded as an utterly natural demonstration of the same universality and humanitarianism of a particular tradition of Buddhism in the Far East.
The just-cited preaching of Dhyāna at the Sùng Nghiêm Temple by the end of Giáp Thìn may in some measure supply us with a view of Buddhist activities of our people as well as of the Emperor Nhân Tông himself. Besides, the True Record of the Three Patriarchs, a record composed by Tính Quảng and Ngô Thì Nhiệm and based upon historical documents of the Trần dynasty, gives us another discourse by the Emperor. It was held at the Kỳ Lân Hall on the 9th of the leap 1st month of Bính Ngọ (1306) and recounted by the True Record of the Three Patriarchs as follows:
On the 9th of the leap 1st month of Bính Ngọ, the Most Venerable Trúc Lâm came to the Kỳ Lân Hall to open the preaching. Pointing at the Dharma-seat, he said, “This is the cane bed, the precious Seat of Golden Lion; yet, it is impossible to determine the words of the Buddhas and the Patriarchs in such a narrow seat.” Then, burning incense, he uttered his prayer:
“This incense, which can produce sweet-scented smoke and pleasant atmosphere, is composed of the five attributes of the Dharma-kāya and offered marvelously to the ten directions. May the heat arising from the incensory grant fortune to the ten directions, consecrate the nine temples, prolong the King’s life and consolidate the heavenly throne!
“This incense, which is pure at the root and born from a precious seed, is grown up not by tending but by understanding. May the heat arising from the incensory bring about favorable weather, make the country at peace and the people at ease, the Buddha-sun increasingly bright and the wheel of dharma constant in motion!
“This incense, which does not become cooked when toasted nor fire when burned nor open when knocked nor move when pulled, can split the brain into two if smelled and exhaust the pupil if looked at. May the heat from the incensory be dedicated to the Superior Man Vô Nhị and the Great Man Tuệ Trung, whose ‘dharma-rains’ have permeated through subsequent generations!
Thereafter, the Emperor-Father walked to the seat. When he was seated, the head monk struck the board, inviting him to preach. He said, “Venerables, if our presentation is centered on the transcendental truth, we would go wrong when forming a certain idea and false when opening our mouths. In such a case, how should we grasp the truth? How should we master meditation? Is it then possible to base our presentation on the conventional truth?”
Then taking a glance from right to left, he said, “Is it true that no one in the very place has a sufficiently big eye? If he does, not even a hair of his eyebrows is lost. If not, I, a poor monk, find it hard to avoid from moving my mouth and uttering wasteful nonsense. Today, in virtue of you, let me draw out some mixed and blended part. Listen! Listen!
“Look, the Great Way is devoid of anything, neither tying nor binding. The original nature is transparent, neither good nor evil. Due to picking and choosing, numerous ways emerge; owing to a shadow of delusion, everything becomes greatly set apart. Saints and fools are of the same path; no distinction can be found between right and wrong. Remember that faults and merits originally do not exist, that cause and effect are devoid of essence. From the very beginning, nothing is lacking within everybody, all is inherent in everybody. Just like form and shadow, Buddha-nature and Dharma-nature occasionally appear and disappear, neither being attached to nor detached from each other. Obviously, just on the face the nostrils turn down and the eyebrows cross above the eyes; yet it is not easy for you to get an insight into it.
“Thus, seek for the Way that can by no means be sought. Concentrated in only one ‘inch of intestines’[45] are the three thousand Dharma-gates. And from just the source of mind are numerous marvelous functions. What is called the threefold gate of precept, meditation and wisdom is not lacking within yourselves.
“Dharma is nature; Buddha is mind. Not any nature is no Dharma. Not any mind is no Buddha. Mind is Buddha, mind is Dharma; Dharma is essentially no Dharma. Dharma is mind, mind is essentially no mind; mind is Buddha.
“Venerables, time passes so fast, human life is not stable. Eating gruel and eating vegetables, why do you understand nothing about the bowls, the spoons, the chopsticks?”
The opening passage of the discourse delivered by Nhân Tông at the Kỳ Lân Hall is here translated in full to make up what is left unwritten down in an account of the Recorded Sayings as the Lamps of the Saints concerning the same discourse at the Sùng Nghiêm Temple. In the latter account, Nhân Tông is recorded to “have mounted the platform, burning incense to show gratitude [to the Buddhas and the Patriarchs]. Thereafter, the head monk struck a board to invite him to the seat…” but nothing is mentioned as to how he burned incense. From the passage just translated, we are aware of how his ritual conducts of burning incense were performed and what meaning his actions conveyed.
Further, another reason for the passage above to be cited here is to prove that the prologue in his preaching at the Kỳ Lân Hall has quite an identical content with that at the Sùng Nghiêm Temple. However long and of rather different words, the former mainly consists in affirming that the ultimate truth cannot be expressed by means of language and exhorting the assembly to practice Buddhist teaching diligently. It is the identification of the two prologues that helps us determine that he who conducted the discourse at the Kỳ Lân Hall is none other than Nhân Tông.
Besides, if analyzing the content of the entire discourse, we can easily see that it has the same theme and style as those of the discourse at the Sùng Nghiêm Temple. This may be proved by the following short dialogue:
Then, a monk stepped out, asking, “It is an ordinary affair for having meals and putting on clothes. Why should one be so much concerned with them that one has to raise doubt?”
Having prostrated himself, he stood up, asking again, “We do not ask about the Realm of Dhyāna without Desire. We put up only a question as to the Realm of Desire without Dhyāna.”
Thereupon the master pointed to the air.
The monk asked, “What is the use of employing the ancient people’s saliva and sputum?”
The master said, “Once raised, once renewed.”
The monk: “The ancient people used to speak about what the Buddha is, what the Dharma is, what the Sagha is. What did they mean by ‘what’?”
The master said, “What!’ ‘What!”
The monk said, “The sound of a lute without strings is scarcely understood; yet its tune becomes highly appreciated when the father plays it for his son.”
The passage just cited from the True Record of the Three Patriarchs comes to an end with the words “and so on”. That is to say, the discourse did prolong some more but it was not entirely written down in the work. In spite of this, from the above passage it becomes evident that the main ideas and linguistic structures of the discourse are for the most part similar to what was preached at the Sùng Nghiêm Temple by the late winter of Giáp Thìn. And this is a particular feature of Nhân Tông’s way of preaching.
The Last Days of the Emperor
On the first day of the New Year festival of Mậu Thân (1308), the Emperor Nhân Tông moved to the Bảo An Temple in Siêu Loại District. There, he sent for Pháp Loa, who was later chosen as his official dharma-successor of the Trúc Lâm lineage and appointed the abbot of the temple. By the 4th month, Nhân Tông spent his summer retreat at the Vĩnh Nghiêm Temple in Lạng Giang. This time he summoned Pháp Loa and asked him to take charge of the Báo Ân Temple. There, during his three months’ retreat he preached the Ching-te ch’uan-teng-lu whereas the National Teacher Đạo Nhất expounded the Lotus Sūtra. After the summer retreat, he entered the Yên Tử Mountain, allowing the eunuchs and those who had served him in his daily life as a preacher of Buddhist teachings to go home, with the exception of ten servants who later often followed him in the last days of his life. Thereafter, he went to the Tử Tiêu Temple where he expounded the Ching-te ch’uan-teng-lu to Pháp Loa. Later, the servants gradually left the mountain, except for Bảo Sát, an intimate disciple of his, who stayed there to take care of him.
Since then, Nhân Tông wandered in all the caves where he often stayed for several days. Seeing that, Bảo Sát said to him, “What will the life of Buddhism be like if you go on wandering in the severe weather at such an old age, Master?” “My time has come. I am planning for my ‘long journey’,” said Nhân Tông. On the 5th of the 10th month, some boy-servants of Princess Thiên Thụy, who was suffering a serious illness, went to the mountain to inform him of the princess’s wish to see him again before her death. Sorrowfully, he said, “The time has come.” Together with only a servant, he went down the mountain. After ten days’ journey, he arrived at Thăng Long on the 15th of the 10th month. After talking and advising his sister, he went back to the mountain. On the way back, he stayed overnight at the Bảo An Temple in Siêu Loại District. Early in the following morning, he went on with his journey. When arriving at a temple in Cổ Châu Village, he wrote a stanza on the wall of the temple:
A lifespan comes to an end in such a confused state of mind;
And human feelings close at the same time with the eyes.
How narrowly the Maras’ Palace is confined!
But the Buddhas’ land is in Spring at all times.[46]
On the 17th, he stayed overnight at the Sùng Nghiêm Temple on Mount Chí Linh. Thereafter, the Great Queen Tuyên Từ invited him to a vegetarian dinner at the Bình Dương Temple. He pleasantly said, “This is the last meal offered to me.” On the 18th, he walked to the Từ Lâm Temple on Mount Kỳ Đặc in Yên Sinh, where, having a headache, he called the monks Tử Doanh and Hoàn Trung, saying, “I would like to go to the Ngọa Vân Mountain but I cannot lift my legs. How should I do now?” The monks said, “We can help you.” On reaching the Ngọa Vân Mountain, he thanked them and said, “After going down the mountain, try your best to cultivate the way; do not disregard the cycle of birth-and-death.” On the 19th, at his request, the attendant Pháp Không went to the Tử Tiêu Temple on Mount Yên Tử to ask Bảo Sát to see him immediately. On the 20th, when reaching the stream named Doanh, Bảo Sát saw a line of black clouds spreading from Mount Ngọa Vân to Mount Lôi over the Doanh stream. The water of the stream then rose several feet high but soon lowered. On the surface of water suddenly appeared two dragons, raising their heads as big as horses with their bright eyes like stars. They raised themselves several feet high and then disappeared. That night, Bảo Sát stayed in a hermitage on the mountain and he dreamt of unlucky omens.
On the 21st, he reached the Ngọa Vân Mountain. Seeing him, Nhân Tông smiled, saying, “I am about to go. Why have you come so late? Tell me what you have not yet comprehended of Buddhist teachings.”
Standing up, Bảo Sát asked, “When the Great Master Ma was not well, the abbot asked him, ‘How have Your Venerable been?’. Thereupon, he answered, ‘I see the Buddha every day; I see him every month.’ What did he mean in so replying?”
Nhân Tông spoke loudly, “What is ‘Three Nobles and Five Emperors’?”
Standing up again, Bảo Sát asked, “What is the meaning of ‘it is just like flowers blooming so colorfully as brocade; bamboo in the south and trees in the north’?”
Nhân Tông said, “Are you already blind?”
But Bảo Sát spoke nothing more. Since then, it is recorded that during the period of four days the sky became gloomy, the wind blew violently, the snowy rain covered all the trees, the monkeys and gibbons walked around the temple crying and screaming, the birds sang in grief.
On the 1st of the 11th month, when the morning star was shining bright at mid-night, Nhân Tông asked, “What time is it?” “It is the Tý, Master,”[47] answered Bảo Sát. Opening the window, he looked out and said, “It is time for me to go.” “Where are you going, Master?” asked Bảo Sát. He said,
All dharmas do not arise;
All dharmas do not pass away.
If it is so understood,
The Buddhas are always present.
What is the use of asking ‘going and coming’?
Standing up, Bảo Sát asked, “What about non-arising and non-destruction?” Nhân Tông suddenly covered his mouth with his hand, saying, “Do not talk wildly.” Then he lay down in the lion-posture and quietly passed away.
According to Nhân Tông’s will, on the evening of the following day Bảo Sát had his body cremated in the grounds of the temple where he had spent his last days. It is said that during the cremation the space was permeated with fragrance and from the sky came down the heavenly music with a five-colored cloud covering the cremation. By the following fourth day, the Venerable Phổ Tuệ hurried back from Mount Yên Tử. He sprinkled the cremation with perfumed water and held a ceremony of gathering sacred bones where more than five hundred śāriras and numerous smaller ones were collected.
Soon, the Emperor Anh Tông, the Highest Minister and courtiers came with an imperial ship from the capital. To show their respect, they unceasingly prostrated themselves while walking along the mountain path to the cremation. Thereafter, Nhân Tông’s sacred bones and śāriras were brought to the capital where his funeral service would be officially held. For many days in every street of the capital was all the time sounding the cries of the courtiers and the common people. The Emperor Nhân Tông was bestowed the sacred title Đại Thánh Trần Triều Trúc Lâm Đầu Đà Tịnh Tuệ Giác Hoàng Điều Ngự Tổ Phật (The Great Saint of the Trần Dynasty, the Great Ascetic of Trúc Lâm, the Enlightened Emperor of Pure Wisdom, the Buddha-Patriarch in Guiding All Sentient Beings). His sacred bones were contained in a precious case. His śāriras were divided into two parts, which were placed in golden boxes each. After the funeral service, the sacred bones were buried in the imperial tomb named Nhân Tông. One case of śāriras was worshiped in the Precious Stūpa in the Long Hưng Prefecture; and the other was worshiped in the Golden Stūpa at the Vân Yên Temple on Mount Yên Tử.
Such were the last days of the Emperor Nhân Tông as in the words of the Recorded Sayings as the Lamps of the Saints. In the Complete History of Đại Việt the event is somewhat briefly and variedly recorded:
On the 3rd (of the 11th month), the Emperor-Father passed away at the Ngọa Vân Temple on Mount Yên Tử. Earlier, he was ordained Buddhist monk under the title Great Man Trúc Lâm on the Tử Tiêu Peak of Mount Yên Tử. Once, learning that his sister Thiên Thụy was getting a very serious illness, he went down the mountain to see her. “If it is time for you to leave, pass calmly. In the realm of the deceased if asked about something, remember to answer, ‘Please, wait for a moment; my brother, Great Man Trúc Lâm, is coming,’” said he. Then he came back to the mountain where, having given Pháp Loa some instructions about his own funeral service, he sat quiet and passed away. At the same time Thiên Thụy departed, too.
After the Emperor-Father’s cremation Pháp Loa gathered more than three thousand pieces of śāriras, which were by [the King’s] order brought to the Từ Phúc Temple in the capital. The King showed suspicious and most of the courtiers asked him for punishment on Pháp Loa. The Crown Prince Mạnh, who was just at the age of nine and was then standing aside, felt on himself something like pieces of śāriras, which he took out to see. It was truly the pieces of śāriras which had not been found in the case. Deeply moved by this, the King (Anh Tông) swept, showing no more suspicion [about Pháp Loa].[48]
Thus, according to the Complete History of Đại Việt Bảo Sát was not mentioned at all with respect to the Emperor Nhân Tông’s death; whereas, in the words of the Recorded Sayings of the Saints, he was named the “outstanding disciple” of the Emperor’s and was said to serve the latter during the last days of his life. It was Bảo Sát who carried out the cremation according to Nhân Tông’s instructions without waiting for Pháp Loa. When the latter came, his task was simply to sprinkle perfume on the cremation and collect sacred bones and śāriras. Through the above facts it seems that, in spite of having been appointed by Nhân Tông to be his dharma-successor, Pháp Loa’s role showed rather indistinct during the last days of the Emperor Nhân Tông’s life.
Further, in the Complete History of Đại Việt the fact that Nhân Tông’s śāriras were brought to the stūpa for worshiping is said to have taken place more than a year later: “On the 16th of the 9th month of the year Canh Tuất (1310) the Emperor-Father’s coffin was carried to the Quy Đức Tomb in the Long Hưng Prefecture for burial, where the body of the Queen-mother Khâm Từ Bảo Thánh was again buried nearby. His śāriras were worshiped in the Precious Stūpa at the Ngọa Vân Temple. The temple where he was officially worshiped was named Nhân Tông and he was posthumously bestowed Pháp Thiên Sùng Đạo Ứng Thế Hóa Duyên Long Từ Huyễn Huệ Thánh Văn Thần Vũ Nguyên Minh Duệ Hiếu Hoàng Đế. Before the burial service, his coffin was temporarily placed at the Diên Hiền Palace. Thereafter, although the good time came for his coffin to be moved into the tomb, the officials and the common people remained crowded in the grounds of the palace. The head minister had to drive them with sticks but could not open up the road. Sending for Trịnh Trọng Từ, the King (Anh Tông) said to him, ‘How can the coffin be moved when the people are gathering so crowdedly?’ Trọng Từ commanded his troops to come and sit everywhere in the grounds of the Thiên Trì Temple, where they were ordered to sing some phrases of the song Long Ngâm. Extremely amazed, the masses rushed there to watch, leaving enough room for the coffin to be moved to the Quy Đức tomb…”[49]
Such were the last days of the Emperor Nhân Tông’s life as recorded by the Complete History of Đại Việt. In the history of our country, few emperors received such a full account concerning the people’s admiration for them after their deaths. This is the life of an emperor who, only within fifty years, could make extremely great contributions to the country and the human kind. His life has ended but left so much regret for contemporaries as well as subsequent generations. A life was closed with an extremely plain but noble end. Today, whenever we read all that our ancestors wrote about the Emperor Nhân Tông, we cannot help feeling deeply moved as if we were in the presence of his genuine body, the embodiment of a national hero who went beyond the limits of time to exist forever with our country and our people.
dịch Việt: Đạo Sinh
[1] Vol. 6, p. 2b2-4.
[2] Khâm Định Việt Sử Thông Giám Cương Mục, vol. 8, p.23b1
[3] Ninh Hải village of Hoa Lư district. [LMT]
[4] Skt.; referring to both the activity of forming and the state of being formed. Here it is used in the latter meaning (saskta), that is, all things that arise upon dependent conditions.
[5] Skt.; the other side (of the ocean of birth-and-death), denoting the ultimate liberation in Buddhism.
[6] Skt.; holy conduct, referring to what constitutes the noble lifestyle of a Buddhist practitioner.
[7] A Buddhist term of various meanings. Here it means the state of being without self-nature. As being things that proceed from dependent conditions, merit and fault are conventionally considered to be existing. Yet, nothing within them may in essence be truly ‘merit’ or ‘fault’.
[8] Selection 1, p.128c5-6 (256a5-6).
[9] Vol.6, p.3a1-3.
[10] Referring to the messengers. In Chinese literature, a messenger is sometimes respectfully called ‘messenger-star’.
[11] Vol.6, p.80.
[12] Vol.6, p.3a7-8
[13] Vol.8, p.23a7
[14] the 7th month.
[15] The chief of the imperial tutors
[16] Vol. 6, p.2b4-6
[17] lit. “turtle legs”, a dish of seafood.
[18] lit. “horse saddles”, a dish of seafood.
[19] Skt., dhūta; lit. “shake off” (passions). Twelve such ascetic pratices are wearing patched robe, wearing a robe made of three pieces, eating begged food only, only one meal a day, taking no further food, taking only one portion, living in seclusion, living in a charnel ground, living under a tree, living in the open, living in whatever place presents itself, sitting only.
[20] Skt.; a monk’s robe.
[21] Vol.6, p.6a1-b9.
[22] Vol.6, p.7a6-7.
[23] Vol.6, pp.7a7-8a2.
[24] Vol.6, p.17a9b2.
[25] Viet., Ô Châu Cận Lục, vol.3, p.45a5: “ ”, which may be translated as “Tri Kiến is the old district of Kiến” in which Kiến may be the local name of Tri Kiến.
[26] Vol.6, pp.17b7-18b4.
[27] Vol.6, p.19b1.
[28] Vol.6, p.20a3-6.
[29] Vol.6, p.21a8b1.
[30] Vol.6, p.22a7-b2.
[31] Vol.6, pp.32a7-33a2.
[32] Vol.6, p.33b3-4.
[33] p. 9b.
[34] Refraining from (1) killing, (2) stealing, (3) sexual misconduct, (4) lying, (5) slander, (6) coarse speech, (7) frivolous chatter, (8) greed, (9) hatred, (10) false views.
[35] Viet. “quốc pháp” and “quốc chính” [LMT]
[36] Vol.2, pp.24a3-37b2.
[37] lit. the “Ten Thousand World Ages,” implying the eternal existence of the land.
[38] Vol. 2, p.27b3-6.
[39] Vol.6, p.17b8-9.
[40] Viet., “khai đường.”
[41] Viet., “thượng thủ”.
[42] Referring to the essentials of the Dhyāna doctrine.
[43] Chinese, kung-an; Japanese, kōan. In Dhyāna teaching and practice, the term usually refers to a phrase from a text or teaching on Dhyāna realization, an episode from the life of an ancient master, a question-answer—whatever the source, each points to the nature of ultimate reality, which transcends the logical or conceptual ability. Thus, a công án cannot be solved by reason but by some level of intuitive comprehension only.
[44] Lê Mạnh Thát, Lịch Sử Phật Giáo Việt Nam I, NXB Thuận Hóa, 1999, pp.574-578. [LMT]
[45] denoting a practictioner’s heart or mind.
[46] The original in Chinese:
Until now the first line of the poem has been understood and thus translated in various ways by Vietnamese reseachers, especially what concerns the phrase ‘ . My English translation here is based on a definition of as ‘mind or heart’ given in the Dictionary of K’ang-hsi and that of as ‘a confused state of mind’ given in the Dictionary of Wang Yun-wu. Further, the poem is preserved without its original title, which is so suggested by some to be “About the Temple in Cổ Châu Village”. I do not think it is a suitable title for the poem although it is recorded to have been composed by Nhân Tông there. The content of the poem has nothing to do with the temple; on the contrary, it expresses the author’s view of human life, particularly when he was being impressed by the image of his sister on her death-bed.
[47] the period between 11 p.m. and 1 a.m.
[48] Vol.6, pp.23b4-24a4.
[49] Vol.6, pp.25b9-27a8