Thông Tuệ | | 9 min read

Living in the world, joyful in the Way

(Written by Emperor Trần Nhân Tông, Founder of Trúc Lâm Zen School, Trần Đình Hoành translated). Trần Nhân Tông (7 December 1258–16 December 1308) was the third emperor of the Trần dynasty, reigning over Đại Việt from 1278 to 1293.

Living in the world, joyful in the Way

During the second and third Mongol invasions of Đại Việt, the Emperor Nhân Tông and his father the Retired Emperor Thánh Tông were credited as the supreme commanders who led the Trần dynasty to the final victories and since established a long period of peace and prosperity over the country.

After ceding the throne to his son Trần Anh Tông, he left home and went to Yen Tu Mountain to be come a Zen Buddhist Monk. He founded the Truc Lam Zen School in Viet Nam. Since then, he is known at Truc Lam Dai Si (竹林大士).

Truc Lam Monastery in Yen Tu Mountain

The text is the way he cultivate Zen Buddhism. This is also the first poem that written in Nôm character in Viet Nam.  Nôm Character has been used in Vietnam until the 20th century. Afterthat, Latin character was introduced, and the Vietnamese decided to switch to Latin.

In term of culture and art, this is a master piece of Vietnam literature. In term of Buddhism, this is a great teaching of an enlightened zen master.

Part 1

Written in Vietnamese Nôm character. 

Sitting in the city, living the mountain way
All movements settling down, True Nature is at rest;
meditating half a day, body and mind are tranquil
Greed sources stop, no more desire for precious jewelry
Quarreling voices quiet down, I freely listen to the birds
Enjoying scenic waters, retreating into the mountain, those many people like Knowing the pink peach, understanding the green willow, how many people share such interest?
The bright moon on the blue sky shines on all places, the Zen river overflows
The willows are soft, the flowers grow well, on all beings the wisdom sun thrives

[Others]
Wanting to change their bones, wishing to fly high, they drink their elixir Craving to be eternal, longing to come to heaven, they pestle their panacea still
[But me]
Books, easy to read, I love the light, more than precious gems
Sutras, restful to read, I value Zen mind, more than even gold

Part 2

Know that
If you have Zen mind, there is no other dharma
Keep the light, then the True Nature is at peace
Control false thoughts, then your thoughts can’t be wrong
Stop clinging to the idea of self and others, then the diamond True Nature will appear.
Stop greed, anger, and ignorance, then you will understand the enlightened sacred heart.
Pure Land is a pure heart, don’t be doubtful as to search for Western Paradise
Amita is the shining quality, don’t tire yourself finding way to Ultimate Bliss
Examine body and mind, forge the awakening ability, no need to wait and see the cause-andeffect law show results
Keep the precepts, face non-permanence, no care for buying and selling fame
Eat vegetable and fruit, then the mouth karma worries not about heat and bitterness
Wear coarse clothes, then the six senses mind not people changing black and white If you’re happy with morality, half of a tent is more precious than a castle in heaven
If you know love and righteousness, three shingles are more loveable than a mansion

Part 3

If you know
You would have no sin and would understand dharma
Keep the light, don’t go astray to the evil way
Correct yourself, in accordance with the right path Buddha is your heart, check the teaching of Ma-tso Tao-i
Ignore money, chase away beauty, learn the true P’ang Yun way
Wealth piled up, the light has no greed, not due to dwelling in Cánh Diều, Yên Tử.
Sound and form controlled, all thoughts stop, no need to sit in San Temple on the East Mountain.
Living in the world but enlightened, that blessing, indefinitely loved.
Not knowing the mountain way, that harm, such a wasteful life!
Pray to be near a good teacher–the Bodhi fruit may ripen overnight.
Be blessed to meet learned friends–udumbara may blossom once in many lifetimes.

Part 4

Believe that
If you understand one mind, you will no longer suffer delusions
Transform the three poisons, then you may realize three bodies of Buddha
Tame the six senses, then you may eliminate the six thieves
Looking for bone-changing ways? Be diligent in making and drinking elixir.
Asking about Sunyata? Do not mind avoiding attachment to sound and form.
Understand Tathata, believe in Pragna, don’t keep looking for Buddha in the East or the West.
Realize True Nature, understand Vo Vi, don’t tire yourself asking for Zen sutras in the North or the South.
Reading Three Dharma Baskets, you of course learn to follow the rules of Zen gardens.
Burning the five incenses of Dharmakaya, you have no need for chandan or champaca.
Grow love and righteousness, cultivate morality, who knows this is not Sakya?
Keep the precepts, stop jealousy and greed, that truly is Maitreya.

Part 5

So we know
Buddha is in the house, no need to search afar
Short of roots, we look for Buddha
Having understood, we are Buddha
Zen, speaking five sentences, we lie playing at home in the empty village
Sutras, reading three times, we sit resting in the country of the Buddha King
Keep morality clear, expand training methods, take refuge in the sutra school in the door of the
patriarchs.
Avoid quarreling, fear sound and form, be afraid of wrongful sexual conduct
Buddha’s virtue is loving kindness, I wish to be near Him in many lifetimes
Yao’s grace is immense, I try with all my might to drop the old kingship
Shirt and blanket keep me warm, though old or mended
Rice and soup keep me full, though plain or cool
Stopping eight parijnana, suppressing eight winds, the more you press the more they grow
Raising three mysteries, enlarging three essentials, you sharpen and you file
Though the lute has no strings, let’s play the no-birth no-death song
Though the flute has no holes, let’s do the song of peace
Digging the root to look for the branches, pitiful was Jùzhī Yīzhǐ
Turning the head to look for his own image, laughable was Yajadatta
Creeping through the diamond ring, the face is not hot from passing
Eating thorny chestnuts, the hands are not scratched from holding

Part 6

It’s true
Have no mind, and you naturally fit in with the Way
Stop three karmas, then body and mind are quiet
Achieve one mind, then you understand the Patriachs’s teaching
Reading words to guess the meanings, lost and lonely be Zen practitioners
Experiencing reason and knowing man’s capacity, strong be the wise monks
Ask the impure, ask the pure, they’ll say: silk sifter leaks, bamboo ladle contains
Question Mahayana, question Theravada, they’ll answer: cord may string coins, silk thread may weave into dipper
Knowing well the original mind, we worry not about changes from dependent origination
Keeping the heart mirror clean, we’re unaffected by six noisy dusts
Gold still with ore must be molded nine times and forged nine times
Wealth without greed needs only fasting food and soup
Cleaning heart precepts, cleansing form precepts, both inside and outside, Bodhisattva is thus adorned
The righteous revere their king, the filial revere their parents, that’s the attitude of the loyal pious
Practicing Zen, we choose friends; only when our body disintegrates we would qualify to thank friends
Learning the Way, we venerate our teacher; even if our skull liquefies we would still be unable to repay the teacher’s grace

Part 7

Thus we know
The Buddha’s teachings are precious, only through practicing we understand
Ignorance’s gone, Bodhi shines brighter
Affliction stops, morality rises higher
Follow the Heart Sutra, the track of the Buddha’s teachings is easy to see
Learn the patriarchs’ way, strenuous Zen Void now becomes knowable
Understand the fundamentals, stop all causal conditions, don’t leave any splinter before you
Know success and failure, gain full knowledge, don’t keep harms in your hands
Drop the enlightening flame to burn the evil forest of the past
Hold the wisdom sword to sweep off all delusions of the old days
Grateful to Ju saints, loving parents, we revere our teachers to learn the way
Loving the Buddha, avoiding indulgences, we keep the fasting rules
Moved by His loving kindness, through many lifetimes we pray to be near
Grateful for His liberation, we endure hardship though our body is crushed a thousand times
Keep in mind loyalty, don’t forget the way, offer incense and flower to show your filiality
The mouth says “I believe”, the heart commits sin, even gold and jewel offering couldn’t straighten your heart

Part 8

Therefore
Keep drilling, don’t stop learning
Shake the consciousness, don’t hold on to attachment
Drop all delusions, don’t jump around
Craving for power and fame, those are the ignorant
Having both blessings and wisdom, those are the wise
Build bridges and piers, raise temples and stupas, hold solemnity outside, practice the way as such
Increase mudita and upeksha, master maitri and karuna, stay tranquil inside, read often the Heart Sutra
Forging the heart to be Buddha, one must strive to train hard
Sifting the sand to find gold, one must screen and pick many times
Reading the sutras or upadesas, practice what you see and know
Respecting the Buddha in training, don’t make mistake even tiny as a hair
Understanding each verse and each word, you would never have to worry
Mastering each method, you wouldn’t let the eight winds sneak in

Part 9

Thus we understand
The patriarchs’ teachings, although containing many ways, are not so different
We only need to talk about Matsu and later time
We probably have forgotten the time of Emporer Xiao Yan
No blessings gained, attachment to ignorance only adds more sins
Nothing is sacred, I don’t know, dumb ears probably still hear the resonance
Born in India, dead in Shaolin, buried simply at the foot of Mount Xiong’er
Bodhi body, shining-mirror heart, shown full-facedly on the hallway wall
Nanquan Puyuan cut the cat’s tail, chasing away the monks’ doubts
Zihu Lizong directed the dog, pointing out progenies’ weak minds
In Luling, the rice price was so high, but no bargain was allowed
At Shito, all the rocks were slippery, hard to come to ask or do anything
Pozaoduo put away the flag, crushing the deity’s sacred mark in the joss house
Juzhi Yizhi raised a finger, using the ancestral method
Linji sword, Mimo crutch, the monks of the old days were wholly at peace
Xiyuduan’s lion, Guishan Lingyou’s buffalo, believers were taught not to be arrogant
Moving the fan, raising the stick, the teachers helped students learn Zen smoothly and easily.
Throwing the ball, holding the wooden ladle, Zen friends didn’t compete on boasting stratagems
Chuanzi Decheng moved the paddle, the blue stream hadn’t yet erased him
Daowu Yuanzhi played puppet, within the ghost pretension the wonderous light still shone
Yunmen Wenyan’s dragon swallowed heaven and earth, I am still fearful
Xuefeng Yicun’s snake lay across the world, people saw and moved away
The white pine is the mind, the first mistake is to seek the Morning Star
The lamp boy belongs to fire, the second mistake is to follow the North Star
Zhaozhou Congshen’s tea, Yunmen Wenyan’s cake, Zen students are still hungry and thirsty
Caoxi field, Bodhidharma cave, the monks still leave them deserted
Throw down the bundle of firewood, blow out the lamp, that would help you gain new habits
Watch cherry blossoms, listen to bamboo sounds, that would give you the noble aura.

Part 10

Hence everyone,
Only know Sunyata, using your capacity
For our hearts are still tangled, hard to flow through
Not that the patriarch’s teachings are still fettered
The Theravada folks do not understand enough, the Buddha does not separate Phantom City
from Treasure House
Practitioners with high capacity gain real experience and attain Enlightenment, who would
discriminate mountains from cities
Wild mountains, desolate forests, in which places the hermits are at ease
Quiet temples, still hermitages, those are where spiritual practitioners find enjoyment
Tall horses, big parasols, King of Hell respects not the arrogant
Jade towers, gold mansions, prison guards have lots of admirers
Solid title and fame, puffy me-and-them, that is truly ignorant
Devoted to morality, improving body and mind, that is forming the mind of a saint
Eyebrows and nose, though different we are indeed equal
Saintly face but ignorant heart, there a million miles in between


Concluding Poem

Living in the world, joyful in the way
          let’s go with the causation flow
When hungry, eat
         when sleepy, sleep
Jewels in the home
          search no more
Facing things, no mind
           why ask for Zen