Urban Dharma Newsletter... February 17, 2004
This Issue: Buddhism in Vietnam
Theravada Buddhism in Vietnam
2. Vietnamese Buddhism
3. Temple/Center/Website: BuddhaSasana a Buddhist
Page by Binh Anson
4. Book/CD/Movie: VIETNAM SPECIFIC
Theravada Buddhism in Vietnam
came to Vietnam in the first century CE . By the end of the
second century, Vietnam developed a major Buddhist centre in
the region, commonly known as the Luy-Lau centre, now in the
Bac-Ninh province, north of the present Hanoi city. Luy-Lau
was the capital of Giao-Chi, former name of Vietnam, and was
a popular place visited by many Indian Buddhist missionary monks
on their way to China, following the sea route from the Indian
sub-continent by Indian traders. A number of Mahayana sutras
and the Agamas were translated into Chinese scripts at that
centre, including the sutra of Forty Two Chapters, the Anapanasati,
the Vessantara-jataka, the Milinda-panha, etc.
the next 18 centuries, due to geographical proximity with China
and despite being annexed twice by the Chinese, the two countries
shared many common features of cultural, philosophical and religious
heritage. Vietnamese Buddhism has been greatly influenced by
the development of Mahayana Buddhism in China, with the dominant
traditions of Ch'an/Zen, Pure Land, and Tantra.
southern part of the present Vietnam was originally occupied
by the Champa (Cham) and the Cambodian (Khmer) people who followed
both a syncretic Saiva-Mahayana Buddhism and Theravada Buddhism
, although Champa probably had a Theravada presence from
as early as the 3rd century CE, whilst Cambodia received the
Theravada as late as the 12th century. The Vietnamese started
to conquer and absorbed the land in the 15th century, and the
current shape of the country was finalised in the 18th century.
From that time onward, the dominant Viet followed the Mahayana
tradition whilst the ethnic Cambodian practiced the Theravada
tradition, and both traditions peacefully co-existed.
the 1920s and 1930s, there were a number of movements in Vietnam
for the revival and modernisation of Buddhist activities. Together
with the re-organisation of Mahayana establishments, there developed
a growing interest in Theravadin meditation and also in Buddhist
materials based on the Pali Canon. These were then available
in French. Among the pioneers who brought Theravada Buddhism
to the ethnic Viet was a young veterinary doctor named Le Van
Giang. He was born in the South, received higher education in
Hanoi, and after graduation, was sent to Phnom Penh, Cambodia,
to work for the French government .
that time, he developed a growing interest in Buddhism. He started
to study and practice the Pure Land and Tantric ways but was
not satisfied. By chance, he met the Vice Sangharaja of the
Cambodian Sangha and was recommended a book on the Noble Eightfold
Path written in French. He was struck by the clear message in
the book, and decided to try out the Theravada way. He learnt
meditation on the breath (Anapanasati) from a Cambodian monk
at the Unalom Temple in Phnom Penh and achieved deep samadhi
states. He continued the practice and after a few years, he
decided to ordain and took the Dhamma name of Ho-Tong (Vansarakkhita).
1940, upon an invitation by a group of lay Buddhists led by
Mr Nguyen Van Hieu, a close friend, he went back to Vietnam
and helped to establish the first Theravada temple for Vietnamese
Buddhists, at Go Dua, Thu Duc (now a district of Saigon). The
temple was named Buu-Quang (Ratana Ramsyarama). Later, the Cambodian
Sangharaja, Venerable Chuon Nath, together with 30 Cambodian
bhikkhus established the Sima boundary at this temple . The
temple was destroyed by French troops in 1947, and was rebuilt
at Buu-Quang temple, together with a group of Vietnamese bhikkhus,
who had received training in Cambodia, such as Venerables Thien-Luat,
Buu-Chon, Kim-Quang, Gioi-Nghiem, Tinh-Su, Toi-Thang, Giac-Quang,
An-Lam, Venerable Ho-Tong started teaching the Buddha Dhamma
in Vietnamese language. He also translated many Buddhist materials
from the Pali Canon, and Theravada became part of Vietnamese
Buddhist activity in the country.
1949-1950, Venerable Ho-Tong together with Mr Nguyen Van Hieu
and supporters built a new temple in Saigon, named Ky-Vien Tu
(Jetavana Vihara). This temple became the centre of Theravada
activities in Vietnam, which continued to attract increasing
interest among the Vietnamese Buddhists. In 1957, the Vietnamese
Theravada Buddhist Sangha Congregation (Giao Hoi Tang Gia Nguyen
Thuy Viet Nam) was formally established and recognised by the
government, and the Theravada Sangha elected Venerable Ho-Tong
as its first President, or Sangharaja.
that time, Dhamma activities were further strengthened by the
presence of Venerable Narada from Sri Lanka. Venerable Narada
had first came to Vietnam in the 1930s and brought with him
Bodhi tree saplings which he planted in many places throughout
the country. During his subsequent visits in the 1950s and 1960s,
he attracted a large number of Buddhists to the Theravada tradition,
one of whom was the popular translator, Mr Pham Kim Khanh who
took the Dhamma name of Sunanda. Mr Khanh translated many books
of Venerable Narada, including The Buddha and His Teachings,
Buddhism in a Nutshell, Satipatthana Sutta, The Dhammapada,
A Manual of Abhidhamma, etc . Mr Khanh, now in his 80s, lives
in the USA and is still active in translating Dhamma books of
well-known meditation teachers from Thailand, Burma and Sri
Theravada movement spread to other provinces, and soon, a number
of Theravada temples for ethnic Viet Buddhists were established
in many areas in the South and Central parts of Vietnam. As
at 1997, there were 64 Theravada temples throughout the country,
of which 19 were located in Saigon and its viccinity . Beside
Buu-Quang and Ky-Vien temples, other well known temples are
Buu-Long, Giac-Quang, Tam-Bao (Da-Nang), Thien-Lam and Huyen-Khong
(Hue), and the large Sakyamuni Buddha Monument (Thich-Ca Phat
Dai) in Vung Tau.
the 1960s and 1970s, a number of Vietnamese bhikkhus were sent
overseas for further training, mostly in Thailand and some in
Sri Lanka and India. Recently, this programme has been resumed
and about 20 bhikkhus and nuns are receiving training in Burma.
there has been a close relationship between the Cambodian and
the Vietnamese bhikkhus. In fact, in 1979, after the Khmer Rouge
were driven out of Phnom Penh, a group of Vietnamese bhikkhus
led by Venerables Buu-Chon and Gioi-Nghiem came to that city
to re-ordain 7 Cambodian monks, and thus re-established the
Cambodian Sangha which had been destroyed by the Khmer Rouge
when they were in control .
literature in the Vietnamese language comes from two main sources:
the Pali Canon and the Chinese Agamas, together with a large
collection of Mahayana texts. Since 1980s, there has been an
ongoing programme to publish these materials by scholar monks
of both Mahayana and Theravada traditions. So far, 27 volumes
of the first 4 Nikayas, translated by Venerable Minh-Chau, and
the 4 Agamas, translated by Venerables Tri-Tinh, Thien-Sieu
and Thanh-Tu, have been produced. Work is under way to translate
and publish the 5th Nikaya. In addition, a complete set of the
Abhidhamma, translated by Venerable Tinh-Su, has been printed,
together with the Dhammapada, the Milinda-Panha, the Visudhi-Magga,
the Abhidhammatthasangaha and many other work.
summary, although Buddhism in Vietnam is predominantly of the
Mahayana form, the Theravada tradition is well recognised and
is experiencing a growing interest especially in the practice
of meditation, in Nikaya-Agama literature and in Abhidhamma
Perth, Western Australia
08 June 1999
Nguyen Lang, 1973. Viet Nam Phat Giao Su Luan, vol 1 (History
of Buddhism in Vietnam)
 Andrew Skilton, 1994. A Concise History of Buddhism
 Le Minh Qui, 1981. Hoa Thuong Ho-Tong (Biography of Maha
 Nguyen Van Hieu, 1971. Cong Tac Xay Dung Phat Giao Nguyen
Thuy tai Viet Nam (On The Work of Establishing Theravada Buddhism
 Pham Kim Khanh, 1991. Narada Maha Thera
 Giac-Ngo Weekly, no. 63, 14-06-1997
 Thich Dong Bon, 1996. Tieu Su Danh Tang Viet Nam (Biography
of Famous Vietnamese Monks)
classical period of Buddhism in South East Asia was from the
11th to the 15th century. In this period, there were several
elements which made it classical. Buddhism, in the classical
time period, had homogeneity of form and institutional orthodoxy,
as well as helped to formulate kingship.
in this time period, tended to follow the Theravada tradition.
Since the 19th century, Buddhism has continued to act as a structure
for East Asian societies. Despite the challenges that western
science has had on Buddhism, it has provided cultural and ideological
support for modern, nationalist movements.
has also offered solutions to political, economic, and social
change. Vietnam, however, is different from the "norm"
of the traditional South East Asian period of Classical Buddhism,
since it was strongly impacted by the Chinese. With communist
revolutions, Buddhism was displaced to as a fundamental mediator
of cultural values.
Buddhism played a significant role in the definition of the
classical South East Asian states. With Buddhism, when a country
was dominated by a colonial power, nationalist movements grew
out of and identified with a religious context. An example of
this is the 1960 Buddhist protests, in which the Buddhist monks
immolated themselves in fire. After the removal of Deim and
his brother Nhu, the United Buddhist Association, which was
under the leadership of Thich Tri Quang and Thich Thien Minh,
remained politically active. "Vietnamese are Confucians
in peacetime, Buddhists in times of trouble." (Fire in
the Lake, 176)
is Vietnam's governing religion. It consists of a hierarchy
of relationships which governs day to day life. Husband to Wife,
Father to son, Elder brother to younger brother, Emperor to
subject, and the relationship amongst friends. Therefore when
Buddhism was introduced to Vietnam, it was introduced to a society
which was used to a hierarchical governance. The Buddhist missionaries
accepted Confucianism as a political system and social structure.
According to a scholar of Asian studies, Paul Mus, "Confucianism
was a social order defined by culture and history; Buddhism
was a faith relevant to all times and to all men, no matter
what their circumstances." (Fire in the Lake, 177)
was a way to transcend the limitations of society and the self
to a higher level. Buddhists were all equal whereas Confucians
existed primarily in the five relationships. Buddhism offered
the people a Way out of Confucianism's confining restrictions.
"In peacetime it offered the Vietnamese an internal life--a
soul, a personal identity--outside the conventions of society.
In times of tyranny and 'splitting apart,' it indicated a morality
that lay beyond loyalty to existing authorities." (Fire
in the Lake, 177) Buddhism offered a form of brotherhood, where
people become equals, rather than a world ruled by a few. Buddhism
offered "means of reconciliation and showed the Way back
into Confucian society." (Fire in the Lake, 178)
with this integration with Confucianism, Taoism also played
a necessary part in the development of Vietnamese Buddhism.
The natural tendency of Taoist philosophy towards meditation
and contemplation was a compliment to many of the Buddhist techniques.
As a result, many Taoist symbols and meditation tools became
mainstreamed into Vietnamese Buddhist thought.
entered Vietnam in two significant waves. The first was a missionary
wave of scholars from India during the early millennia. These
were primarily Mahayana scholars who introduced not only the
scholarly elite to Buddhist doctrine, but the peasant class
as well. The second wave of Buddhist thought occurred about
two hundred years after the common era. This was a style of
Buddhism filtered first through China, the Theravada school.
Both of these schools of Buddhist thought co-existed throughout
most significant defining features of Buddhist thought in Vietnam
is first the integration of Buddhist, Taoist and Confucian traditions.
In this respect Vietnam represents almost a unique case. The
rituals, beliefs and notions of religion reflect each tradition
equally. The second defining feature is the two step development
of Mahayana and Theravada schools throughout the country. These
two schools not only reflect differences in doctrine and basic
theology, but also two different cultural influences: India
is the historical seat of Buddhism as well as home to both the
Theravada and Mahayana sects. As the birthplace of the Buddha
and the land where he traveled to spread the word of his teachings,
India is considered the center of Buddhist studies. Buddhism
is one of the most popular religions in India, and influences
the culture in a multitude of ways.
roots are closely related to the Jain and Hindu religions in
that its ultimate origin was found in the Rig Veda and Brahman
tradition. It is possible to see Buddhism as a natural extension
of these theologies, building on the foundations of a belief
laid a thousand years before.
Jain and Hindu schools both held the idea that life is a series
of painful reoccurrence. A person attempts to learn these painful
life lessons in order to reincarnate and come back as a more
perfect person. Hindu's maintain that one can tell how far an
individual has progressed by their position in the caste system.
As a result, the experiences of a person's life are seen as
being the result of action taken in previous incarnations. If
a person lives in unhappy circumstances, that is taken to mean
that they made mistakes or acted incorrectly in a past life.
This is also true for those who experience great fortune, their
happiness is the result of acts of compassion and good works
which they engaged in during their last life. In this way, life
is a continuous cycle that is improved or harmed by the actions
that one commits. In the Buddhist tradition, the mechanism that
regulates these occurrences is Karma.
Buddhist centers in India were also responsible for the spread
of Buddhism throughout Asia. During the reign of King Ashoka,
missionaries were sent out to Asia, in order to relay the teachings
of the Buddha. As a result, the earliest recorded ventures landed
in Vietnam through India, then overland from China.
Buddhism was introduced to China, the Chinese civilization was
already ancient and had already developed several traditions.
Therefore, once the doctrines were introduced, the Chinese quickly
translated them. To them, these doctrines were the word of Buddha.
The Chinese divided into different sects, Theravada and Mahayana.
The Theravada doctrine was canonized first. The Mahayana school
composed their text later with a more liberal interpretation.
The Mahayanists said,
the Hinayana [Theravada] was not untrue, but was merely a
preparatory doctrine, preached by the Buddha to disciples whose
minds were not yet receptive to the ultimate truth. When he
[the Buddha] had prepared them with the tentative doctrine,
then revealed to them his final truth. (The Buddhist Tradition,140)
philosophy first began to flourish in the fourth century CE.
It was interpreted and judged in Taoist terms. Altogether, ten
schools formed, divided into two categories, schools of Being
and schools of Non-being. The underlying issue which divided
the two schools was whether the school affirmed or denied the
idea of "self-nature of the dharmas... and the ego."
(The Buddhist Tradition, 141) Most of these schools did not
last long. The schools which are the substance of Chinese Buddhism
are the T'ien-t'ai ,Hua-yen, Meditation , and Pure Land. All
of these schools developed distinct Chinese characteristics.
began to suffer during the T'ang dynasty, tenth century AD,
and continued to do so until the Confucians revived.
early Vietnamese governed their country in a similar manner
as the classical Chinese dynasties, however, their habits and
custom differed. The Chinese empires achieved their length of
power through their ability to keep track of their family ties.
Many Vietnamese families worshipped their ancestors to only
the ninth generation. After several wars, the clans have spilt
to many families with unknown ties. As a result, the Chinese
and Vietnamese governments have never been the same. "The
emperors followed the rituals of state... so that time would
not flow through the empire, but the 'natural order' of the
universe did not hold throughout the society." (Fire in
the Lake, 57)
village was the primary community, though. The village was informally
a family. "The village was always the efficient unit of
local government, but in the fifteenth century, when the court
abandoned the village mandarinate and retired the lowest order
of its officials from the villages, it became a quasi-autonomous
unit."(Fire in the Lake, 58) This was demonstrated in the
Vietnam War since the government failed continually to satisfy
the peasants. In a state of confusion, Vietnam was fighting
a civil war between the Confucian government and the Buddhist
peasants. The Chinese government ruled with a compassion for
all of China, since they kept such close ties amongst their
families. In China, a whole community could be linked together
on a line of heritage, whereas the Vietnamese could not.
Land is a theology designed to help believers attain Sukhavati
(or the Buddha land) in only one lifetime. Sukhavati is Located
Billions of Buddha lands away in the western direction from
the world. The Buddha who presides over Sukhavati is named Amitabha,
meaning immeasurable light. Amitabha created this theology in
order to help all mortal beings to Buddha hood.
meditation and mantras, the faithful will reach a stage of non-retrogression
and make the constant cycle of birth and re-birth unnecessary.
Upon reaching Sukhavati the newly enlightened soul can choose
to return to the world realm and take up the duties of Bodhisattva.
term Pure Land was first used by T an Lua around 540 CE. Developed
in China, there is not any evidence of Pure Land doctrine in
India before 700 CE.
important element of Pure Land is the existence of multiple
Buddhas. There are indications that this theory was first discussed
after the Sakyamuni Buddha's death in 486 CE. This notion is
important to the development of Pure Land theology because if
Sakyamuni Buddha is not the only Buddha, then others can attain
Buddha hood as well.
a believer recites the name of the Buddha, namely the Amitabha
incarnation, they will reach enlightenment. Apparently this
form of worship became well liked among the secular population
because of its comparative ease to visualization and other meditation
techniques. Power is gained by the recitation of the Buddha's
name and that will balance against the bad karma from other
lives. The sincerity of the chant is an important element of
the Pure Land doctrine, mere pronunciation of the name alone
will not hasten a follower to enlightenment.
with these practices, the Pure Land school also emphasizes the
importance of the Bodhisattva. No individual can attain Buddha
hood without the instruction of an enlightened teacher. The
teacher describes the Pure Land as well as the many aspects
of the Buddha. The student is expected to receive this instruction
and practice singular devotion and contemplation.
Dai is an attempt to create a perfect synthesis of world religions.
It is a combination of Christianity, Buddhism , Islam, Confucianism,
Hinduism, Geniism, and Taoism. Established in the Southern regions
of Vietnam in the early 1920's, the religion was officially
codified in 1926. The functioning center of Cao Daism is located
in the Tay Ninh province. Cao Dai literally means high tower
or palace, a metaphor for the spender of spiritual growth.
central philosophy of Cao Daism pertains to the duty that the
faithful perform for themselves, their family, society and the
world at large. Much like Confucianism, this element of the
Philosophy pertains to how the individual functions within the
context of the community.
elements of Cao Dai philosophy are more clearly influenced by
Buddhism and Hinduism. The Cao Dai faithful are expected to
renounce materialism in order to more fully cultivate their
spiritual growth. Similar to the Buddhist concept of Samsara,
the material world is seen as a distraction to the greater goal
of enlightenment. Also similar to Buddhist belief is the use
of the device of Karma.
Daism also reflects some of the more ancient belief systems
of worship in Vietnam. Believers are expected to worship God,
superior spirits, and ancestors. This spiritualism is reminiscent
of the Animism philosophy that had been a part of Vietnam during
its earliest times.
Dai also utilizes spiritual mediums and channelers. These individuals
are an essential part of Cao Dai worship. They offer guidance
from superior spirits, departed family members, and other wise
individuals. Most of the important cannon of the Cao Dai was
gleaned from these spiritual seances. Respected saints of the
Cao Dai include: Joan of Arc, Rene Descartes, William Shakespeare,
Victor Hugo, Louis Pasteur, and Lenin.
clergy is made up of men and women. The entrances of the temple
are divided by gender, men on the right, women on the left.
The priests practice spiritual purification including meditation,
prayer and vegetarianism. They believe that consuming meat not
only pollutes the body, but hinders other life forms during
their quest for enlightenment.
simply, Confucianism is the quest for order. Most of the ideology
dictates that the primary focus of Confucian doctrine is to
balance the relationships of individual family, and society
with the Five Agents of the Universe. More a method of management
than an actual religion, it became a mode by which rulers and
civic leaders could run the bureaucracy of the state.
the most part, Vietnam was considered a Confucian state until
the mid nineteenth century.
Confucian state is often stratified into classes, and only the
most scholarly elite need conform to Confucian ideals. Leaders
were decided by examination over sacred texts. As a result,
the peasant or farmer had little to say over the workings of
their government. Confucianism is not an exclusionary doctrine,
it works well with other moral codes and can synthesize easily.
In Vietnam, Confucianism was used primarily for the running
of the state, and Taoism and Buddhism for the morality of its
citizens. Most of the issues that the Confucian scholars concerned
themselves with, during their tenure in power was the proper
regulation of the state from the top down and the division of
communal property among the citizenry. The Confucian system
of philosophy lost prominence in more recent history, but is
still common among government bureaucrats and leaders.
Tao is the natural order of things. It is a force that flows
through every living and sentient object, as well as through
the entire universe. When the Tao is in balance it is possible
to find perfect happiness. The primary religious figures in
Taoism are Lao Tzsu and Chuang Tzu, to scholars who dedicated
their lives two balancing their inner spirits. Lao Tzsu claimed
that the Tao defines translation, that it simply is.
encourages working with natural forces, not against them. Taoism
teaches the path of wu-wei - the technique of mastering circumstances,
not trying to control them. Teachers of the Tao often use examples
of the bending reed or grass blowing in the wind to illustrate
this important point. A Taoist would encourage an individual
to work with their obstacles and problems instead of fighting
adversity at every turn.
most common graphic representation of Taoist theology is the
circular Yin Yang figure. It represents the balance of opposites
in the universe. When they are equally present, all is calm.
When one is outweighed by the other, there is confusion and
disarray. The Yin and Yang are a model that the faithful follow,
an aid that allows each person to contemplate the state of their
believe that nature and the earth is constantly in flux. Simply,
the only constant in the world is change. When individuals learn
that growth and movement are natural and necessary, they can
become balanced. Reality is perpetual change.
essential element of the Tao is the term P'u or the uncarved
block. A person who exemplifies this characteristic is one who
is simple and looks at the world without preconceptions. P'u
is the student, always held in wonder by the world and its constant
a listening technique than an actual theology, Taoism asks that
each person focuses on the world around them in order to understand
the inner harmonies of the universe. It is a religious system
heavily focused on meditation and contemplation. The Tao surrounds
everyone and one must listen to find enlightenment.
oldest peasant religion in Vietnam was known as Animism or ancestor
worship. This system of belief was most common among the peasant
or laboring class. It is not a basic theology per se, but more
a system of reverence for deceased family members as well as
all living things. This respect was manifested in many dramatic
rituals, as well as alters and other constructed buildings.
It was not uncommon for Vietnamese peasants to dedicate large
amounts of time to this form of worship.
was often believed that the dead would aid in harvest and fertility
rites. If there was a famine or flood, it could be interpreted
as someone's relative making a commotion in the heavens. Because
of the connection between these beliefs and agricultural yield,
the family are always incredibly devout. Due to the difficult
nature of rice farming, one poor crop could cause a family to
starve. The Vietnamese worshipped their ancestors as the source
of their lives, their fortunes, and their civilizations (Fire
in the Lake, 11)
of these rituals were seen as primarily superstitious by nature,
and as a result were rebuffed by the intellectuals who preferred
Confucianism. The classes were divided in this manner, Animist
peasants and Confucian leadership.
blended well with Buddhism and added a new dimension onto the
belief system. When Buddhism was added to the previous practices
of ancestor worship it became an inseparable element of peasant
practices. So in effect, the peasants practiced both, not forsaking
the old or rejecting the new.
introduction of Christianity, specifically the Catholic faith,
to Vietnam occurred at the same time as the French colonization
during the 1850's. During the French reign it came to symbolize
both western thought and power.
order for a Vietnamese national to gain employment, or a government
position, it was necessary to demonstrate that loyalty was first
to France, then Vietnam. Therefore, converting to Catholicism
was one of the first important steps to that end. It was a strong
sign of loyalty for a Vietnamese citizen to abandon their religious
heritage for that of the Catholic tradition.
the Catholic faith was more attached to prestige than religious
fervor, the demographic breakdown of converts tended to be the
upper middle class. Always a minority, Catholics still wielded
a significant amount of power in government. During the reign
of Diem, being a Catholic was one of the only ways a person
could be determined loyal. All non-Catholics were seen as potential
traders and communist sympathizers.
the Catholics are still an affluent, though less powerful, minority.
Many of the Vietnamese who left South Vietnam at the end of
the American involvement were Catholic. They have had an easier
time integrating into western culture and are disproportionately
represented in the American Vietnamese community.
the most essential of all Buddhist practices, Zen focuses on
the ultimate simplicity of the Buddha mind. Allen Watts writes
that "Thus is Zen is to be translated at all, the nearest
equivalent is 'Enlightenment', but even so Zen is not only Enlightenment;
but the path to its attainment. (Watts, 24) Zen is a religion
without a doctrine, a theology without theologians.
stresses the prime importance of the enlightenment experience
and the uselessness of ritual. This process stresses the spiritual
analysis of doctrine and theology, not the analytical or expressly
theological. Zen Buddhism, which is most commonly practiced
in Japan, is the basic practice of meditation in order to reach
peace within one's self. Zen is not a belief system ridden by
dogma and philosophical intricacies but a belief etched by practice.
is more often a monastic practice than one that has a strong
ethic of public activism. it is the difference between debate
and action, between diatribes about philosophy and turning within
one's self and finding the answers that already lie there. Allan
Watts writes in The Spirit of Zen that "Enlightenment,
however, is living and cannot be fixed down into any form of
words; therefore the object of the Zen school of Buddhism is
to go beyond words and ideas in order that the original insight
of the Buddha may be brought back to life." (p22) Watts
continues that " It never makes the mistake of confusing
teachings with wisdom, for essentially, Zen is that "something"
which makes the difference between a Buddha and an ordinary
man; it is Enlightenment as distinct from doctrine" (p22)
Vietnam, Thich Nhat Hanh has written many books as guides for
Western Buddhists attempting to practice Zen philosophy. His
emphasis of ordinary practice as meditation encapsulates an
essential ideal of Zen practice, action instead of dogma. Nhat
Hanh maintains that "The most precious practice in Buddhism
is meditation, and it is important to practice meditation in
a joyful mood. We have to smile a lot in order to be able to
meditate, the Bell of Mindfulness helps us do this(106).One
of the poems he includes in his book Being Peace discusses the
sound of breathing.
this wonderful sound
brings me back to my true self
Kingdom of Champa
probably the strongest single cultural influence in Vietnam
was China , the Cham civilization offers a startling contrast
to many of Vietnam's Mandarin conventions. The Cham derive their
cultural influences almost exclusively from India . Instead
of the Confucianism and Taoism of other peoples in Vietnam,
the Cham were almost exclusively Hindu. This divergence in religion
had substantial impacts in both social organization and world
Cham existed from the second to the sixteenth century throughout
the central highlands of Vietnam. The strongholds of Cham influence
and power were centered in the Dong Nai Basin and Deo Ngang
province. It is generally agreed that the kingdom was separated
into five regions: Northern area, Amravati area, Vijaya Area,
Kauthara Area, and Panduranga area. Even though this is a considerable
portion of Vietnam, the severity of weather and limited area
for agriculture limited the size of the population to about
two and a half million at its height. The Cham were separated
into two clans: Narikel Vamsa (Coconut Clan) and Kramuk Vamsa
(Betelnut Clan). The Narikel Vamsa primarily ruled the Northern
regions of the kingdom, the Kramuk Vamsa centered in the South.
like the Brahman cultures that flourish in India , the Cham
culture utilized a caste system. The strict rigor of this system
benefited the privileged Brahmans and Kshatriyas, and served
to relegate untouchables to the periphery of organized life.
Marriages tended to occur within the same caste with little
deviation. Bodies were also cremated in a funeral pyre, called
a Ghat, instead of being buried in a family grave. A striking
difference from some of the older animist beliefs that already
existed in Vietnam. Unlike India , however, the position of
women seems to be more central to the government power structure.
Chinese historians note that women held considerable power in
both matters of family and marriage. At the same time the ritual
of Sati was also practiced. The Cham people also adopted the
Hindu practice of not eating beef -- a practice still observed
in some areas of Vietnam today.
Cham worshipped the Trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh. In
addition to this powerful trio, the Cham also paid reverence
to their consorts and offspring. Shiva is the central figure
of worship for most of the civilization of Champa. He is worshipped
as both a figure of a man and his symbolic form, the linga.
The Linga is often found in the art and architecture of the
the majority of the Cham people were Hindu, there is a significant
minority of the population that were also Mahayana Buddhist
of the information presented in this section was obtained from
the research conducted by J.C. Sharma in his text "Temples
of Champa in Vietnam".
BuddhaSasana a Buddhist Page by Binh Anson
is a large Buddhist web site in both English and Vietnamese
from Australia, with many articles and eBooks on Basic Buddhism,
Meditation, Suttas, and Buddhist Essays.
VIETNAM SPECIFIC TEXTS
J., and D. Gombrich. The World of Buddhism. London: Thames
& Hudson, 1991.
This text examines all of The Buddhist doctrine. It dedicates
a large chapter to the spread of Buddhism to Vietnam. There
is also a lengthy discussion of Taoism, Confucianism and local
religions in Vietnam. There is an emphasis on the Chinese influenced
theology, and when it began to flourish in Vietnam and Korea
during the tenth century.
Leopold. Religious Beliefs and Practices of the Vietnamese.
Trans. Mabbett, Ian W. Victoria: Centre of South East Asian
This text is a very good asset to a student who has a background
in Buddhism and would like to learn specifics concerning Vietnamese
Buddhism. It goes into depths of issues concerning: myths of
the Buddhist introduction to Vietnam, description of a pagoda,
and an in depth look at the way Buddhism is practiced in Vietnam.
This text also addresses the importance of spirituality in Vietnam
and worshipping one's ancestors.
Frances. Fire in the Lake: The Vietnamese and the Americans
in Vietnam. New York: Vintage books, 1972.
This is an awesome text. Fitzgerald's understanding of the people
of Vietnam and the religion which governs the nation is excellent.
Fitzgerald describes the religion of Vietnam as "a blend
of Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism sunken into a background
of animism." (pg. 18) With her understanding, Fitzgerald
addresses the Vietnam War very thoroughly and covers Buddhist
issues such as: protest movements, self-immolation, nationalism,
peace movement of1970, and several other issues concerning Vietnamese
Buddhists. For anyone interested in learning about the Vietnam
war, this is an excellent source.
Peter. An Introduction to Buddhism: Teachings, History and
Practices. New York: Cambridge University Press,1990.
This is a great text in that it goes into great depths of Buddhism
in many different areas. It also has an in depth list of resources
and suggestions for further readings according to area and topics
within Buddhism. Specifically addressing Vietnamese Buddhism
,it touches on the spread of Buddhism throughout Asia, includes
a map with the approximate population of Buddhists throughout
Asia, and briefly covers the Buddhist protests of the Vietnam
War on page 203.
George C., America's Longest War: The United States and Vietnam
1950-1975. Second Ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1986.
This is a good text for anyone who wants to learn about the
Vietnam war. It touches on Buddhism in a matter-of-fact way
as it addresses the Buddhist protests, but it never seems to
address it as a religion. It is fairly dry reading, but the
author does show a very thorough understanding of the war and
the effects that it had on the United States. It lacks an understanding
of how the war devastated Vietnam. This text is superior to
other texts due to its list of references to other related sources.
Hanh, Thich. The Miracle of Mindfulness: A Manual of Meditation.
Massachusetts: Beacon Press, 1975.
This is a great text for those who want to find peace through
meditation. I would not recommend it for instructing students,
but as personal reading, it is well worth the time, and written
by one of Vietnam's experts.
Hanh, Thich. Present Moment Wonderful Moment: Mindfulness
Verses for Daily Living. California, Parallax Press, 1990.
This is a great text for those who have a thorough understanding
of Buddhism or who practice Buddhism. Basically it is a book
of verses which takes our daily routine and puts it into an
appreciative perspective. The text also reveals the serenity
and peacefulness of meditation and the importance of feeling
happy and peaceful.
Hanh, Thich. Walking Meditation. Trans. Hoang, jenny,
Anh Huong, Nguyen. Connecticut: Eastern Press, 1985.
This is another great text for those who want to learn how to
walk and live a peaceful life. Nhat Hanh seems to share his
experiences with the reader as a way of encouragement. It is
a great resource for those who are practicing Buddhism or who
have a thorough background in its beliefs.
Paul. The Role of Religion in Ethnic Self Identity. New
York: University Press of America, 1985.
Rutledge examines the Vietnamese community in the United States.
He discusses both the traditional roots of Buddhism, Confucianism,
and Taoism in Vietnam as well as how it has changed and developed
in the United States. It is an excellent account of the influence
of religion on the world view of Vietnamese nationals.
Jerrold. The New Face of the Buddha. New York: Coward-McCann,
This book is an examination of Buddhism and Communism. It examines
China, Thailand, Burma, and Vietnam in depth. One of the chapters
is dedicated to the dissident leader Thich Tri Quang and his
influence during the Vietnam conflict. There is also a well
written account of the many conflicts that have arisen between
the communist government and Buddhist leaders.
Phat, Antoine N., Mahayana Buddhism in Vietnam and its Background
in India and China. Diss. University of California, 1981.
Ann Arbor: UMI, 1981. 82-00915
A historical text examining the history of Buddhism in Vietnam.
This dissertation is extremely specific and detailed. It is
not a text designed to act as an introduction to Buddhism, but
it is exceptionally well done. It also takes time to explore
the origins of Buddhism in India and China.
Donald. In Pursuit of Peace -- Speeches of the Sixties.
Austin: Random House, 1970.
These are papers and speeches given during the Vietnam era.
Some analyze the American perspective of Buddhist dissidence
and desire for political freedom. The rhetoric is a study in
itself. This text is not a discussion or explanation of the
Buddhist doctrine, but it does demonstrate what American political
leaders thought about Vietnam and Buddhism.
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