BUDDHIST SUTRA WOODBLOCKS OF TRUC LAM ZEN AT VINH NGHIEM PAGODA
Buddhist Sutra Woodblocks of Truc Lam Zen preserved at Vinh Nghiem Pagoda (Tri Yen Commune, Yen Dung District, Bac Giang Province) are the only original woodblocks. The woodblocks used to print Buddhist Sutras from the Truc Lam Zen Buddhist school of thought at Vinh Nghiem Pagoda contain the exceptional content showing the formation and development of this typical Vietnamese Buddhist school of thought as well as other books written by Buddhist monks. They also present profound ideology values of Truc Lam Zen Buddhism, and mark the development process of Nom scripts (a classical vernacular script of Vietnamese language) through the periods.
The collection consisting of 3,050 Buddhist sutra woodblocks stores many valuable works which affect positively the social life. And the woodblocks also served as platforms for unique artistic and cultural expression.
The carving and publishing woodblocks at Vinh Nghiem Pagoda had took place in the late 19th and early 20th century, which was an important step of prosper process of Truc Lam Zen Buddhism as well as Vietnamese Buddhism.
On 16 May 2012, at the meeting of Asia Pacific Regional Committee of UNESCO held in Bangkok (Thailand), Buddhist Sutra Woodblocks of Truc Lam Zen at Vinh Nghiem Pagoda were recognized as World Documentary Heritage in Memory of the World Programme, based on three criteria as authenticity, uniqueness and irreplaceability, and its position and role in the region.
Establishment History of the Woodblocks
Since founding Truc Lam Zen Buddhism in the late 13th century and during the Tran Dynasty, Vinh Nghiem Pagoda was chosen to be the training centre of Dai Viet Buddhism Association.
In this period, King Tran Nhan Tong (1278-1293) had some important texts, sutras edited, carved, and published to popular ideology of Buddhism and master monks of Truc Lam Zen Buddhism. Thus, woodblocks were created to print text books for training centre. However most of the woodblocks were destroyed or lost due to war and weather later.
In the late 19th, Truc Lam Zen Buddhism experienced a rebirth, resulting in a new collection of woodblocks being fashioned to meet the people's increasing demand for learning more about it. Vinh Nghiem Pagoda had become major publishing house of Vietnamese Buddhism. The collection of currently stored woodblocks was carved at the pagoda during the late 19th and the early 20th century. According to lac khoan(1) at the end of the book, the majority of the collection of woodblocks in Vinh Nghiem Pagoda was carved under the Nguyen Dynasty (the last half of 19th century) including the regimes of King Tu Due (1847-1883), King Thanh Thai (1889 - 1907); the minority was carved in the King Canh Hung's regime (1740-1786) and Le Dynasty (the last half of the 18th century).
Truc Lam Zen Buddhism
Truc Lam Zen Buddhism is an official Buddhism of Viet Nam, founded in the 13th century. After changing Ly Dynasty (1009 -1225) to rule the country, the first King of Tran Dynasty - Tran Thai Tong (1225- 1258) selected Zen sect as typical ideology. He established a Zen sect with independence thought, expressing the national spirit and identity of Vietnamese. He unified Zen sects in that time such as Ty Ni Da Luu Chi (India), Vo Ngon Thong, Thao Duong (China) into an only Zen Sect, Yen Tu, base for developing Truc Lam Zen Buddhism.
Tran Nhan Tong, grandson of King Tran Thai Tong, took over the crown when he was 21. Although he was a king, he was determined to follow Zen Buddhism and so embraced its philosophy that helped him lead the Vietnamese against the Yuan-Mongolian invaders. By applying Buddhism ideas of peace, he established peaceful and opened policies with neighbouring countries like Champa and Laos.
Tran Nhan Tong abdicated in favour of his son, Tran Anh Tong, in 1293 and in 1299 moved to Yen Tu Mountain (in Quang Ninh Province present) to continue his spiritual life. He admitted thousands of disciples into the school and propagated Buddhism. After his death, he was recognized as the First Patriarch of Truc Lam Zen due to his effort to unite Vietnamese Buddhism.
Followed King Tran Nhan Tong, Truc Lam Zen Buddhism also had two more preeminent patriarchs, Monk Phap Loa Dong Kien Cuong (1284-1330) and Monk Huyen Quang Ly Dao Tai (1254-1334).
Truc Lam Zen Buddhism has also contributed greatly to cultural heritage treasure of Viet Nam with unique relic ensemble in Yen Tu Mountain; there are pagodas, temples, stupas, pine and bamboo roads, Ngu Duoc Garden, Giai Oan (Vindication) Stream, An Ky Sinh Stone Statue, Dong (Bronze) Pagoda...
The launch of the Truc Lam Yen Tu Zen has great significance for Viet Nam and also influence regional and international level. Woodblocks of Vinh Nghiem Pagoda are important bases for researchers to affirm difference and originality of Truc Lam Zen Buddhism from other Zen Buddhism in the world.
The special value of woodblocks at Vinh Nghiem Pagoda represents through the entire of ideological doctrine of Truc Lam Zen stored very clear, meticulously, by the skilful hands of the ancient artisans. The date, artisan, and place of origin are showed in the first or last of the page of the book.
Woodblocks at Vinh Nghiem Pagoda also associated with some famous persons who found and expanded the centre Buddhism of Vinh Nghiem in many centuries and affected deeply the cultural, economic, social development of a history period of Viet Nam. There were 3 patriarchs of Truc Lam Zen Buddhism including Dieu Ngu Giac Hoang Tran Nhan Tong (1258 - 1308) - King, First Patriarch; Monk Phap Loa Dong Kien Cuong (1284-1330) - Second Patriarch, Vinh Nghiem Pagoda's Abbot, who organized many woodblock fashioning and Buddhism text printings courses in the 14th century; Monk Huyen Quang Ly Dao Tai (1254 -1334) - Third Patriarch; and besides, Monk Tinh Phuong (1819-1849); Monk Thich Thanh Hanh (1840-1936) - Vinh Nghiem Pagoda's Abbot, who organized woodblock fashioning and Buddhism text printings at the pagoda from 1873 to 1935.
Woodblocks at Vinh Nghiem Pagoda are unique, original features. On the other hand, this is irreplaceable material, because now woodblock carving craft has been lost. Especially, now only Vinh Nghiem Pagoda stores and preserves the woodblocks with the large number and relatively intact. Through this collection of woodblocks, readers can exploit plentiful information on many fields relating religion, language, literature, medicine, art...
Religion: Sutras, books in the collection of woodblocks at Vinh Nghiem Pagoda are documentary expressing thoughts, teachings of Truc Lam Buddhism. This is the first separate sect in Viet Nam on the basis of selective absorption of Buddhism in India and China. Unlike previous sects, the basic thoughts of Truc Lam Zen Buddhism are tu luc (self-reliance: considering Buddha as self and believing in oneself) and tuy duyen (or what is known in Buddhism as pratyaya, an indirect cause; living in harmony with nature, enjoying life on earth, reaching enlightenment, and helping others do the same).
The appear of woodblocks in Nom script - own script of Vietnamese was a turning-point in the development process of writing system in Viet Nam. Nom script in the collection of woodblocks is precious documentary resource for the study on the development of Vietnamese language and Nom scripts.
Woodblocks stored Buddhist texts, sutras, writings of three patriarchs and some other master monks of Truc Lam Yen Tu Zen Buddhism, including poems, dairies, odes by Nom script. Of which, Yen Tu son Truc Lam Tran trieu Thien tong ban hanh is typical. Besides, there were also the Trinity's Nom poems which are considered as the first writings to reach the standard of Vietnamese Nom poem.
Some woodblocks were summarized from folk experiences, experiments on medicine in that time. Now, the medical practice of Vinh Nghiem Pagoda still succeeds remedies in woodblocks to treat diseases on nervous, digestion...
The collection of woodblocks was carved meticulously by skillful artisans who were good at Han and Nom and patience, careful, high aesthetic. The woodblocks with many different fonts as chan thu, thao thu, le thu, hanh thu... are excellent calligraphy art works of the humanity.
The position and role in the region
The foundation of Truc Lam Zen Buddhism affects to the domestic Buddhist life, and also spreads widely outside Viet Nam. Especially, after the Renovation (1986), with opened policy of the Vietnamese Party and State, Truc Lam Zen Buddhism continuously develops. At home, many Truc Lam Zen monasteries were established in provinces of Vinh Phuc, Quang Ninh, Lam Dong and Ho Chi Minh City. Now, Viet Nam has thousands of pagodas of Truc Lam Zen Buddhism. In the world, Truc Lam Zen monasteries also have been established in France, U.S, Canada, Australia, Germany, Russia, Belgium.
Nom literary works of Truc Lam Buddhist monks bold inclined to the good ideas of Buddhism, contribute to enriching Zen literature treasure in the world. Many foreigners have learned Nom script to study Nom literature treasure of Viet Nam to introduce widely to the world.
The woodblocks at Vinh Nghiem Pagoda were made by artisans of the craft villages in Bac Giang, Bac Ninh provinces and especially Lieu Trang Craft Village in Hai Duong Province - where specializes in carving woodblocks.
All woodblocks are made of thi (diospy- ros) wood which is soft, smooth, durable and easy to carve on and rarely distorts or cracks. The majority of the blocks feature printing on both sides and have been carved with Han (Chinese) and Nom characters in a mirror like fashion. Depth of the carvings is approximately 1 - 1.5mm, so prints on do paper is very clear.
The size of the woodblock depends on the categories of the sutras. The biggest woodblock is over 100cm in length and 40-50cm in width, the smallest one is only 15 x 20cm, of which majority of Hoa Nghiem woodblocks (more than 2,800 pieces) is 33x23x2.5cm.
Technique of carving scripts and images in each block accorded to printing criteria of Viet Nam. Every page in a book printed this way has a bien Ian (border), a ban tarn (title in the centrefold), and ngu vi (blank corners). Especially, the first or the last page of the book contains lac khoan which means to show the date, artisan, and place of origin.
Among 3,050 woodblocks, most of which are Buddhist texts, sutras, writings of three patriarchs and some other master monks of Truc Lam Yen Tu Zen Buddhism. Besides, Vinh Nghiem Pagoda also has some woodblocks to print so and diep, kinds of documents are only available in Truc Lam Zen Buddhism. Especially, the pagoda stores some wood texts on treatment by medicinal herbs, acupuncture...
The collection of woodblocks were used to print 10 book titles, there are Ti khou ni gioi, Gioi luot kinh and So di ni gioi kinh, 34th year of King Tu Due's regime (1881); Dai phuong quang Phot Hoo Nghiem kinh, 37th year of King Tu Due's regime (1884); Kinh tin luc, 39th year of Tu Due's regime (1886); Yen Tu nhat trinh and Thien tong bon hanh, 7th year of King Bao Dai's regime (1932); Dai thua chi quan, 10th year of King Bao Dai's regime (1935); Di Do kinh and Quan the am kinh.
With unique, distinct, significant values in many aspects including personal philosophy, personality education, religious beliefs, language, writing, art and culture, woodblocks at Vinh Nghiem Pagoda are priceless national treasure, valuable asset of the humanity, need in preservation and protection. Buddhist Sutra Woodblocks of Truc Lam Zen at Vinh Nghiem Pagoda have been recognized as World Documentary Heritage in Asia Pacific Regional Memory of the World Programme, which is opportunities for Viet Nam to promote traditional culture char- acteristic, contributes to developing culture tourism; and it can be considered as an important prerequisite for this collection of woodblocks beyond regional level towards the highest honours of humanity.
Vinh Nghiem Pagoda
Vinh Nghiem Pagoda (or Due La Pagoda) located in Tri Yen Commune, Yen Dung District, about 18km from Bac Giang City to the southeast, was built in the early reign of King Ly Thai To (1009 -1028) with the name as Chuc Thanh Pagoda. To the reign of King Tran Nhan Tong, the pagoda was restored, enlarged and renamed as Vinh Nghiem. It has been considered as the place of the Truc Lam Zen Buddhism and kept special position in the history of Buddhism in Tran Dynasty in particular and Vietnamese Buddhism in general. So that, Vinh Nghiem Pagoda is the place where buddhists pilgrimage before to the legendary peak of Yen Tu in many centuries.
The pagoda is situated in an area of rolling hills. In the background is the Co Tien Mountain range and to the left are the batiks of the Luc River. Further away is the Thuong River which converges with the Luc River to form the Phuong Nhon Junction. In front of the pagoda are vast rice-fields dotted with villages and hamlets hidden behind green bamboo groves. Looming in the distance is the 99 Nham Bien Mountain range, wrapped in a poetic and mystical air. Vinh Nghiem Pagoda contains great cultural, historical values and also stands out by harmonious architecture with an area of more than 10,000m2. The main architecture of the pagoda lies on a south-west axis and is composed of four principal areas.
The first area includes Ho Pagoda and temples of Thieu Huong and Buddhist. The interior of the Ho Pagoda is adorned with many statues; at the two gables there are two Thap Dien niches, two colossi as high as the roof. Thieu Huong Temple is splendidly decorated with three horizontal panels and a gilded door; the first compartment is for bonzes to say prayers, the second is for the display of Buddha and Arhats statues. The Buddhist Temple is a world of Buddha statues bearing many architectural imprints of the Le Dynasty. A brick yard separates the second area from the first and is an ancestral shrine built in a simple architectural style with wooden planks and cloud - like decorations. The panel is inscribed with the words "Truc Lam ho thuong" (A rendezvous of the Truc Lam Trinity) in Chinese characters and is seen above the three statues of the Truc Lam Trinity.
The third area is the two-roofed bell tower and the fourth is the second ancestral shrine hosting two statues symbolic of the art of sculpture in the Nguyen Dynasty. Hundreds of years have elapsed but all four architectural structures remain intact. Vinh Nghiem Pagoda remains a major training centre of Buddhism with wooden shelves for the printing of Buddhist sutras still conserved as evidence of the important role of the pagoda.
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