Lê Mạnh Thát: Zen Master Chân Ðạo Chánh Thống (1)

Zen Master Trí Siêu Lê Mạnh Thát (Ảnh: Uyên Nguyên)

The Thủy Nguyệt Tòng Sao (1) is an anthology by Zen Master Chân Đạo Chánh Thống (2). The Master was born at Trung Kiên village in Triệu Phong district of Quảng Trị province on the 30th of the 12th month of the year Canh Tý, i.e., February 18th, 1901. His father was named Nguyễn Thuyên, his mother Nguyễn Thị Chợ. In his own words his family has piously followed Buddhism for generations and taken Confucianism to be an indispensable factor in a Buddhist’s way of life. The relation between Buddhism and Confucianism was described by him as follows:

I am a native of Trung Kiên in Quảng Trị province. My family follows Zen Buddhism; my grandfather and father possess great knowledge of Confucianism. My family regulations are very strict. Those who fail to observe moral rules are severely blamed. … [My father ever said,] “Fortunately, in the five successive generations of our family Buddhism has been taken as a ‘castle’ and Confucianism as its ‘foundation.’ If you fail to study [how to revive Confucianism] properly, you will hardly escape blames for being a ‘vehicle of gold and silver,’ an ‘old water crane.’ …”

Traditionally, such a view of the interdependent roles of Buddhism and Confucianism may be traced back to Buddhists in Nguyễn Phúc Chu’s time. According to it Buddhists venerated the Buddha but kept their everyday living in the social patterns of Confucianism; that is, “living in Confucianist patterns, aspiring for Buddhist ideals.” Therefore, though he was described as being “often sick and too unhealthy to put on clothes by himself” in his childhood, Zen Master Chân Đạo began his studies at a Confucian school. In 1914 seeing that “the modernist movement was growing strongly whereas Confucian schools were getting deserted,” his father sent him to the Kim Quang Temple in Huế to study Buddhist teachings under Zen Master Ngộ Tánh Phước Huệ (1875-1963) so that he “might not shatter his forefathers’ great expectations.”

In 1919 he was transmitted precepts for Śramaṇera and given dharma-name Chân Đạo, dharma-title Chánh Thống, thus pertaining to the fortieth generation of the Lin-chi lineage in the Thập Tháp Zen sect. Two years later he was officially ordained to be Bhikṣu. After that, he went on to serve his master in Huế, from whom he received a dharma-transmitting gātha together with the further title Bích Phong. Also in this period he began reading The Song of a Warrior’s Wife (3) and wrote two folksongs (4) in the styles of Nam ai and Nam bình respectively in 1924. It may be said that these are among his first works extant in his anthology.

At the age of twenty-five he went to Bình Định to study under Zen Master Phước Huệ (1869-1945) at the Thập Tháp Temple, and returned to Huế in 1929. Thereafter, he joined the movement for reviving Buddhism so that in 1932, when the Annam Buddhist Studies Association was founded, he worked as a lecturer of the Association and was at the same time a “Buddhist college student” of the earliest university course in Buddhist Teachings of the twentieth century run by Zen Master Giác Tiên (1880-1936) and Doctor Tâm Minh Lê Đình Thám (1897-1969) at the Tây Thiên Monastery.

He was known to be a lecturer of the Annam Buddhist Studies Association in around the years 1932-1933; for in 1935 the periodical Viên Âm (5) published his “lecture at the Buddhist Studies Association at the Từ Quang Temple in Huế on the 15th day of the 10th month.” (6) At the beginning of the lecture, which is entitled Tứ Niệm Xứ or The Four Foundations of Mindfulness, he said, “Last year the lecture on ‘The Noble Truth of the Way Leading to Nirvāṇa’ dealt with the thirty-seven prerequisites for the attainment of enlightenment (7); that is, the Four Foundations of Mindfulness, the Four Perfect Efforts, the Four Roads to Power, the Five Faculties, the Five Powers, the Seven Factors of Enlightenment, the Eightfold Path.”

In those words it is evident that in 1934 he was invited by the association above to deliver a lecture on the Fourth Noble Truth at the Từ Quang Temple. Accordingly, he must have been in Huế by the beginning of 1934, if not of 1929. The date “1929” is drawn by us from his preface to the two-part version of the Thủy Nguyệt Tòng Sao (8): “In the autumn of the year Kỷ Tỵ (1929) I returned to the imperial capital to found the Buddhist College at the Tây Thiên Temple. The number of students from the four directions became larger and larger.” The character 己, Kỷ in 己巳, Kỷ Tỵ of the version just mentioned is rather faded, so it is easily mistaken for the character 乙, Ất in 乙巳, Ất Tỵ. The latter is, of course, not in accordance with the date of founding the college because it refers either to 1905 or to 1965; so in the three-part version it was replaced with 乙亥, Ất Hợi. Yet, had Ất Hợi (1935) been the year he returned to Huế, he could not have delivered the lecture in the previous year, i.e., 1934, as confirmed by himself in the lecture of 1935. For that reason we are agreed on the year Kỷ Tỵ as recorded in the two-part version.

Otherwise stated, five years after he had received full ordination, he went to the Thập Tháp Temple in Bình Định to study under Zen Master Phước Huệ in 1927. Two years later he returned to Huế, where together with Zen Master Giác Tiên he started some courses in Buddhist teachings, of which was the Advanced Buddhist Course at the Tây Thiên Monastery as recorded in the Preface of his work. This was the preparatory stage for him so that, when the Annam Buddhist Studies Association came into being, he became “the Buddhist College Student” of the first Buddhist University Course run also by Zen Master Giác Tiên at the Tây Thiên Monastery, and at the same time, the official lecturer of the Association, delivering lectures at the Từ Quang Temple in Huế, one of which was published in the Viên Âm in 1935.

Thus, Zen Master Chân Đạo was at the age of thirty-six when he was invited to be lecturer at the Tây Thiên Buddhist College. Also in the words of the Thủy Nguyệt Tòng Sao, in the winter of 1937 when he was thirty-eight years of age, “by Queen-Mother Khôn Nghi’s order the chief patron of the Quy Thiện Temple, His Excellency the Baron Thái (9) with his lady invited me [that is, Master Chân Đạo] to undertake Abbot of that temple and appointed me Tăng Cang (10) with monthly emoluments to lead the abbots and head-monks of other temples.”

As to those positions and emoluments he made a remark, “I would rather remain to be a pine in the cold than enjoy such a little warmth of spring. Then I had a cottage built on the left of the temple, naming it Thủy Nguyệt Hiên, (11) where I could concentrate on studying Buddhist and non-Buddhist literature. Furthermore, my noble and graceful friends, who did not consider my cottage to be a poor, humble place, occasionally visited it during their mountain sightseeing at leisure.”

It was at the Thủy Nguyệt Hiên that many literary and philosophical discussions took place and numerous works were created; hence, the birth of the anthology entitled Thủy Nguyệt Tòng Sao. Based upon the definitely dated writings in both verse and prose collected in the anthology, a chronological list of Zen Master Chân Đạo’s works may be temporarily made as follows:

– 1924 (Giáp Tý) 中 秋 夜 讀 征 婦 吟, Trung Thu Dạ Độc Chinh Phụ Ngâm, “Reading The Song of a Warrior’s Wife in a Mid-Autumn Night”

– 1934 (Giáp Tuất) 道 諦, Đạo Đế, “The Fourth Noble Truth”

– 1935 (Ất Hợi) 四 念 處, Tứ Niệm Xứ, “The Four Foundations of Mindfulness”

– 1937 (Đinh Sửu) 送 正 信 禪 兄 歸 北, Tống Chánh Tín Thiền Huynh Quy Bắc, “At the Departure of Zen Brother Chánh Tín for the North”
送 素 蓮 禪 兄 歸 北, Tống Tố Liên Thiền Huynh Quy Bắc,“At the Departure of Zen Brother Tố Liên for the North”

– 1938 (Mậu Dần) 智 首 法 契 新 任 波 羅 寺 主, Trí Thủ Pháp Khế Tân Nhậm Ba-La Tự Chủ, “Trí Thủ Undertaking Abbot of the Ba-La Temple”

– 1941 (Tân Tỵ) 中 秋 夜 同 吳 澤 之, Trung Thu Dạ Đồng Ngô Trạch Chi, “Meeting with Ngô Trạch Chi in a Mid-Autumn Night”

– 1946 (Bính Tuất) 訪 敦 后 師 新 任 天 姥, Phỏng Đôn Hậu Sư Tân Nhiệm Thiên Mụ, “A Visit to Master Đôn Hậu on His Undertaking Abbot of the Thiên Mụ”
桃 源 夢 記, Đào Nguyên Mộng Ký, “Record of the Dreams in a Secluded Life”

– 1947 (Đinh Hợi) 次 叔 壄 氏 避 兵 火 韻, Thứ Thúc Giạ Thị Tỵ Binh Hỏa Vận, “A Verse in Reply to Thúc Giạ Thị’s ‘Tỵ Binh Hỏa’”
臘 月 廿 五 寄 覺 本 上 人, Lạp Nguyệt Trấp Ngũ Ký Giác Bổn Thượng Nhân, “Sent to Superior Man Giác Bổn on the Twenty-fifth of the Twelfth Month”

– 1948 (Mậu Tý) 謁 慈 孝 祖 廷 賦, Yết Từ Hiếu Tổ Đình Phú, “A Visit to the Từ Hiếu Patriarchal Temple”
冬 日 詠 梅, Đông Nhật Vịnh Mai, “About a Plum on a Winter Day”
春 日 謁 國 恩 祖 廷, Xuân Nhật Yết Quốc Ân Tổ Đình, “A Visit to the Quốc Ân Patriarchal Temple on a Spring Day”
和 艸 池 先 生 中 秋 韻, Họa Thảo Trì Tiên Sinh Trung Thu Vận, “A Verse in Reply to Mister Thảo Trì’s ‘Trung Thu’”

– 1949 (Kỷ Sửu) 七 夕 疉 去 年 叔 壄 氏 韻, Thất Tịch Điệp Khứ Niên Thúc Giạ Thị Vận, “A Verse Written on the Seventh Night of the Seventh Month in Reply to Thúc Giạ Thị’s Verse of the Previous Year”
初 春 追 悼 覺 本 大 德, Sơ Xuân Truy Điệu Giác Bổn Đại Đức, “In Memory of Bhadanta Giác Bổn Early in the Spring”

– 1951 (Tân Mão) 春 日 訪 圓 通 座 主, Xuân Nhật Phỏng Viên Thông Tọa Chủ, “A Visit to the Abbot of the Viên Thông Temple on a Spring Day”
全 國 佛 教 統 一 大 會, Toàn Quốc Phật Giáo Thống Nhất Đại Hội, “The Great Congress of the National Buddhist Unification”
贈 北 越 素 蓮 法 侶, Tặng Bắc Việt Tố Liên Pháp Lữ, “Dedicated to Dharma-Friend Tố Liên in North Vietnam”

– 1952 (Nhâm Thìn) 留 贈 慧 藏 和 尚, Lưu Tặng Tuệ Tạng Hòa Thượng, “Dedicated to Most Venerable Tuệ Tạng”

– 1953 (Quý Tỵ) 八 月 大 潦 後 賜 薦 難 亡 意 Bát Nguyệt Đại Lạo Hậu Tứ Tiến Nạn Vong Ý, “Offerings to the Victims of the Great Flood in the Eighth Month”

– 1954 (Giáp Ngọ) 承 天 山 門 夏 日 安 居 之 紀, Thừa Thiên Sơn Môn Hạ Nhật An Cư Chi Kỷ, “Record of the Summer-Retreat at Zen Monasteries in Thừa Thiên”

– 1956 (Bính Thân) 智 首 大 師 賜 白 米, Trí Thủ Đại Sư Tứ Bạch Mễ, “Great Master Trí Thủ Giving White Rice”

– 1957 (Đinh Dậu) 秋 月 慈 恩 寺 晚 眺, Thu Nguyệt Từ Ân Tự Vãn Thiếu, “Watching the Từ Ân Temple in an Autumn Evening”
下 山 觀 展 覽, Hạ Sơn Quan Triển Lãm, “Leaving the Temple for an Exhibition”

– 1958 (Mậu Tuất) 十 塔 寺 開 講 日 訓 示, Thập Tháp Tự Khai Giảng Nhật Huấn Thị, “Instructions on the First Day of the School Year at the Thập Tháp Temple”

– 1959 (Kỷ Hợi) 中 秋 月 夜 六 十 自 詠, Trung Thu Nguyệt Dạ Lục Thập Tự Vịnh, “A Poem Written on Myself at the Age of Sixty in a Mid-Autumn Night”
釋 尊 寶 誕 恭 紀, Thích Tôn Bảo Đản Cung Kỷ, “In Respectful Memory of the Sacred Anniversary of Śākyamuni’s Birthday”
贈 明 齋 陳 君, Tặng Minh Trai Trần Quân, “Dedicated to Sir Minh Trai Trần”

– 1960 (Canh Tý) 自 恣 日 恭 紀, Tự Tứ Nhật Cung Kỷ, “In Respectful Memory of the End of a Summer-Retreat”

– 1962 (Nhâm Dần) 釋 尊 誕 日 恭 紀, Thích Tôn Đản Nhật Cung Kỷ, “In Respectful Memory of the Sacred Anniversary of Śākyamuni’s Birthday”

– 1963 (Tân Mão) 釋 尊 誕 頌, Thích Tôn Đản Tụng, “A Gātha on Śākyamuni’s Birthday”
弔 逍 遙 禪 師, Điếu Tiêu Diêu Thiền Sư, lit. “Attending Zen Master Tiêu Diêu’s Funeral”

While he was teaching at the Tây Thiên Buddhist College, he received a visit paid by Zen Master Tố Liên from the North in 1937. No doubt, these two masters discussed the unification of Buddhism after the three major parts – North, Central, and South – of the country had founded their own Buddhist Studies Associations; and they also severely criticized the view that some discussion about Buddhist unification might be pure nonsense, as mentioned in the last two lines of a seven-character regulated verse by Zen Master Tố Liên, which was later cited by Zen Master Chân Đạo in his anthology,

法 軌 將 來 君 得 志
三 圻 合 徹 妄 談 耶

How satisfied you are with the view of Buddha-dharma in the future!
That the three parts may be totally unified is hardly nonsense.

Also in this period he went on to teach at the Từ Quang Temple of the Buddhist Studies Association. The temple was then under the charge of Zen Master Giác Bổn, whom he had very close relations with and dedicated several poems to in his anthology. From 1937 on it was evident that he might go to the North, where he met with Zen Master Trung Thứ so that he could write a poem in reply to this renowned Zen master’s.

In 1941 at the invitation of District Chief Ngô Đình Nhuận he attended a musical performance. At that time the World War II broke out, and the movement to struggle for freedom and independence of our country was going on strongly. With regard to this gloomy circumstance Zen Master Chân Đạo expressed his feeling in the following lines:

相 將 握 手 上 江 樓
聽 曲 無 端 為 氐 愁
清 似 啼 鵑 懷 故 國
細 如 嫠 婦 泣 孤 舟

Walking up the river pavilion hand in hand together,
I spontaneously felt deeply sorrowful at the melody,
Which sounded clearly like the cry of a homesick bird,
And softly like a widow’s weeping in a lonely boat.

In the years that followed 1941 he might write some poems to present his view and emotions about contemporary political events; yet, probably on account of their political content they were not written down in his anthology. Not until 1946, when Zen Master Đôn Hậu began undertaking Abbot of the Linh Mụ Temple, he wrote a poem to record his visit to him.

Having been evacuated from Huế, he returned in 1948 and visited some temples, of which only the Quốc Ân Patriarchal Temple and the Từ Hiếu Patriarchal Temple were mentioned in the Thủy Nguyệt Tòng Sao. In 1949 at the passing away of Zen Master Giác Bổn he wrote a poem in memory of him; and in a great ordination organized at the Báo Quốc Temple for the purpose of stabilizing the Buddhist Order he, in his service as a secretary, composed a writing in the style of phú to celebrate this great event.

In 1951 a great congress was held to discuss the unification of the individual Buddhist Studies Associations across the country, of which the result was the birth of the General Association of Vietnam Buddhism. Zen Master Chân Đạo had participated in and written poems to congratulate the congress on its success. A year later during a congress held in the North to discuss the unification of the Buddhist Monastic Order, he wrote a poem to congratulate Zen Master Tuệ Tạng on his appointment as Head of the Saṃgha. After that he went on with his teaching. In 1958 he was invited to the Thập Tháp Temple in Bình Định to teach at a course in Buddhist teachings, whose students were, later, Zen Master Khế Châu, Zen Master Mật Hạnh, and so on.

On the 22nd of the 12th month of Đinh Mùi, i.e., January 21st, 1968 he passed away. His śarīra was enshrined in a stūpa just in the grounds of the Quy Thiện Temple. A student of his wrote a ‘couplet in parallelism’:

Thầy đã đi rồi, bể Thích rừng Nho trông vắng vẻ;
Con còn ở lại, kẻ tăng người tục thấy bơ vơ.

You have passed away, Master. How deserted the Buddhist ocean and the Confucian forest appear!
Your students, both monks and laymen, are gathering here. How desolate we feel!

And another one by Zen Master Tâm Như Đạo Giám Trí Thủ is cited below as a conclusion of our writing about Zen Master Chân Đạo’s life – a life that was totally devoted to the cause of education and literature for both Buddhism and nation.

昔 年 法 乳 同 沾 誓海 者 曾 盟 鐵 石
今 日 曇 花 先 落 禪 林 誰 是 耐 風 霜

Of old we drank Dharma-milk together, arousing firm resolutions in the ocean of vow.
At your passing away as the first fallen udumbara (12) flower, who in the Zen forest is now able to suffer ‘fog and wind’?

~ English Translation by Dao Sinh

———————–
Notes:
(1) 水 月 叢 抄, lit. The Copying of the Anthology [by the Owner of] the Thủy Nguyệt Cottage
(2) For short, Zen Master Chân Đạo.
(3) Chinh Phụ Ngâm Khúc
Romanized Vietnamese is employed in the present translation to transliterate all that is originally written in Chinese or Quốc Âm.
(4) Hò Mái Nhì
(5) No. 18, pp. 26-39
(6) i.e., November 10th, 1935
(7) Skt. bodhipākṣika-dharma
(8) His anthology is preserved in two different editions; one is composed of two parts, the other of three parts.
(9) Full title: Đông các Đại học sỹ Nam tước Thái Tướng công
(10) Rector of a community of Buddhist monks
(11) 水 月 軒, lit. the Cottage [named] ‘the Moon [reflected in] the Water’
(12) Skt.; a tree that is said to blossom only once every three thousand years. Therefore, it is often used as an illustration of how hard it is to come in contact with Buddhist teachings as well as to be born in the time of a Buddha.

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