August 07, 2005

The Tu Hieu Lineage of Thien (Zen) Buddhism

The chart below provides only a sketch of the development of Vietnamese Thien (Zen). A great source of information is Thich Nhat Hanh’s, Master Tang Hoi: First Zen Teacher in Vietnam and China (2002). Other sources include: Zen in Medieval Vietnam: A Study and Translation of the Thien Uyen Tap Anh. By Cuong Tu Nguyen. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 1997; and of course, Than Van Giap’s 1932 scholarly work based on the Thien Uyen Tap Anh for which I have no information. Some excerpts of Master Thich Thanh Tu’s work, Vietnamese Zen At The Late 20th Century, can be had here, but I suspect this book is also based on Than Van Giap’s work. The Quan Duc website has various writings on Vietnamese Buddhism, including some excerpts from work by Van Giap.

There are a few nice sites out there that have some info on

Vietnamese Zen, but we definitely need more scholarly and popular work

in this area. Various influences shape the development of Zen in

Vietnam. Early monks from India (during the reign of King Asoka)

traveled to Vietnam and brought with them Theravada Buddhism and various

other influences. Notwithstanding this early Theravadan influence,

Mahayana Buddhism is the dominant tradition in Vietnam, particularly

expressed in Zen, Pure Land, and some Vajrayana influences. Zen is the

primary school.

The traditional accounts of the development of Buddhist in

Vietnam come from Buddhist Scholar Tran Van Giap, and are based on his

1927 discovery of the Thien Uyen Tap Anh (A Collection of

Outstanding Figures of the Zen Community), an ancient treatise detailing

various Zen schools in Vietnam. Van Giap is the one that tells us that

from the sixth to the thirteenth century Zen flourished in Vietnam and

was primarily seen in three main schools. Here’s what Van Giap’s

account looks like:

Vinitaruci is usually considered the bringer of Zen to Vietnam (580

CE), many years later the Vo Ngon School gets established (Vo Ngon came

from China), then Thao Duong establishes the Thao Duon School around the

11th century, apparently a mix of Zen and Pure Land Buddhism. It isn’t

until much later that the Lam Te (Lin Chi, Japanese: Rinzai) School gets

to Vietnam.

The Journal of Buddhist Ethics has a review

of Cuong Tu Nguyen‘s Zen in Medieval Vietnam: A Study and Translation

of the Thien Uyen Tap Anh. Tu Nguyen’s book challenges Van Giap’s

account on historical and methodological grounds, and applies some

contemporary critical methods to the analysis of Zen in Vietnam,

ultimatately raising questions about Van Giap’s tripartite division.

Read the review, it is good.

Vietnamese Zen then is a fairly eclectic blend of traditions,

although practitioners do have their specific lineages. Finally, Dhyana

Master Nhat Hanh makes the 42nd generation of the Lam Te School.

The Tu Hieu Lineage of Vietnamese Zen

Sakyamuni Buddha

Buddha’s Disciples: (Makhakasyapa, Sariputra, Mahamaugalynayan, Sariputra, Upali, Ananda, and Mahagotami (mother of Buddha and first nun)

Ancestral Teachers in Vietnam (also in China, but this lineage traces the Vietnamese line)

Tang Hoi: (Vietnam’s first known Buddhist Master: expounded mindfulness of breathing)

Dharmadeva: (Indian meditation master who came to North Vietnam in mid fifth Century to teach meditation)

Vinitaruci: (Indian Master who traveled to China and then to

Vietnam and founded schools of meditation. Apparently companion of

Bodhidharma around 580 CE)

Vo Ngon Thong: (developed form of meditation monasticism and

practiced sitting most of the time, his presence not words attracted

people to him)

Master Thao Duong: (developed school of meditation which linked Buddhist and Confucian teachings)

Master Bamboo Forest (1258 –1308): (practiced to promote

well-being of his own people and surrounding countries; practiced

asceticism and taught the five mindfulness trainings (precepts)-taught

disciples in questions and answers. The Bamboo Forest school [Truc Lam Yen Tu] was founded by King Tran Nhan Tong after he abdicated his throne and became a monk.

Master Lam Te Nghia Hugen: (Lin Chi, Japanese: Rinzai)

(founded Chinese Dhyana School of meditation and taught enlightenment by

means of blows with a stick and shouts. Famous for quote: “If you meet

the Buddha on the road, kill him”-the Lin Chi School came to Vietnam in

two different stages during the 13th and 17th century.

Lieu Quan: (born Central Vietnam in 1670; he wandered in

search of teachers and teachings; He was given the koan: “All things

return to the one; where does the one return to?” this did not help him

to awaken. Later he read a sentence in his Lamp Transmission which read:

“ Points someone to things in order to transmit the mind, that is why

people do not understand.”-Enlightenment! –He made Lin Chi School a

reality in Vietnam

Thien Su Nhat Dinh: (Was promoted by the King and Queen to

offer leadership to the Sanghas in Vietnam. He was happy to just

practice and said: “I am old and fortunately the king is kind to me, I

have my body and this bowl and the side road is open to me.”-the Queen

created Tue Hieu (Loving Kindness as Filial Piety) in remembrance of his

love for his parents

Dhyana Master Cuong Ky: (Abbot of the Tu Hieu Temple, made Buddhism a shining light in the 20th Century)

Dhyana Master Thanh Quy Chan Tiet: (Root teacher of our own

teacher-Thich Nhat Hanh; he died during the Tet Offensive in 1968. Thay

said of him during his memorial service: “You loved and were able to see

the virtuous qualities and capabilities of people who were difficult to

understand and you loved, accepted, and helped everyone.”

Dhyana Master Trung Quang Nhat Hanh: (Thich Nhat Hanh) Thich Nhat Hanh makes the 42nd generation of the Lam Te (Lin Chi, Rinzai, Japanese) School of Zen, and the 8th generation of the Lieu Quan School of Zen.

Four- Fold Sangha made up of Nuns and Monks and lay men and women

Thich Nhat Hanh traces the concept of Engaged Buddhism at least as

far back as King Tran Nhan Tong. Like I said, this is only a sketch,

but helpful in understanding where Thich Nhat Hanh comes in Zen, as well

as the various influences to Vietnamese Zen. This doesn't explain

however, Thich Nhat Hanh's own views on Zen, his eclectic philosophy,

especially as articulated through the Order of Interbeing that he

founded in 1964. I'll post on that later.

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