lịch sử việt nam
The Emperor Nhân Tông’s Monastic Life
by Lê Mạnh Thát
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. 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.”
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’ 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 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. 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.” 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 of Giáp Ngọ (1294) and his determination to become a monk there, mentions his affectionate attitude toward Thái Sư Trần Quang Khải’s son, Trần Đạo Tải:
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 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.
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