Culture Culture

15/04/2020 - 07:53

A restless thought of Hue pagodas

The pagodas and temples in Hue are more than the religious establishments in Hue; rather, they are the unique national treasure that needs preserving.

A corner at Huyen Khong Son Thuong

It has been fifty years since I was a little child living with my grandparents in a small garden house at the foot of Ngu mount. There was no concept of extra classes or computer games then.

In summer, the children in the neighborhood played all kinds of games that are unknown to children now. Among these games, fighting was the favorite of the boys then. We divided into two sides armed with bamboo guns and litsea bullets.

We often cut the bambusa (a genus of clumping bamboos grown as fences) to make guns, and picked the litsea seeds to make bullets for the battles.

One day, I and my close friend Ut went together to Banh Beo junction to find the litsea seed to prepare for the fighting. While we were wandering, we happened to see an ancient pagoda with very ancient roof and green trees around. The front of the pagoda was surrounded by a small stream with murmuring water running on and on.

The sound and scene were so attractive that we both sat down on the cement bridge spanning the stream, listening to the sound of the running water. We had a hard-to-describe feeling of tranquility. We were sitting there for so long that we got startled to realize the sun already set, hurrying home before it was dark.

Huyen Khong Son Thuong

Later, we got to know the ancient pagoda was Trà Am. When I grew up and read more, I knew the exact name of the pagoda was Tra Am (without the falling diacritics) as it was called. The pagoda was established by zen master Vien Thanh in early 1930s.

Monk Vien Thanh took an ancient literary quotation to name his pagoda to pay homage to his master, Great Monk Vien Giac, the founder of Ba La Mat pagoda. A small pagoda in the wild as it was in the early years, Tra Am pagoda is now a “poetic unique work of art” thanks to the contributions from the Buddhist monks, nuns and followers.

And that poetic work in wordless attraction has once made strong impression on us as the children.

But there are more than just Tra Am in Hue. The land of Huong river and Ngu mount has long been known as the tranquil Zen capital – the land of Buddhism.

In this S-shape country, Hue has the largest number of pagodas and temples. According to statistics, there are around 550 pagodas in Hue and many of them are over 100 years old.

Keeping away from the busy urban life, the Buddhist monks tend to choose the quiet forest to set up their religious establishments, living in harmony with the nature. The next generations succeeded the founder’s works and developed the religious establishments into a long-lasting collection of works of art for Hue.

Many of these have been listed as scenic spots, including Thien Mu Pagoda and Thanh Duyen, Bao Quoc, Tu Hieu, Dieu De, Thuyen Ton, Tay Thien and Van Phuoc pagodas. The royal highness King Thieu Tri, who could not help beholding the scenic beauty of Hue pagodas, composed several verses that were passed on until today, such as Van Son Thang Tich (‘Cloud-Mountain Victory Monument’), Thien Mu Chung thanh (‘The Bell of Thien Mu’) and Giac Hoang Phan Ngu (‘Giac Hoang Prayers’).

Thien Mu Pagoda viewed from the Huong river

For hundreds of years in existence, Hue pagodas have contributed to characterizing the community as hospitality, formality, hidden depth; accumulate cultural treasure and add morale to the development of Hue spiritual tourism – a new form of tourism that many other cities are trying to invest but fail to achieve their goals.

Hue pagodas, no doubt, are not only the properties of Buddhism but also the unique treasure that deserves preservation.

I still remember the time I took my aunt to pay a new-year visit to the pagodas not long ago. We could not, of course, go to all pagodas, but to some typical ones. My aunt was moved at the scenic changes of the familiar places in memory.

Tranquil Tu Hieu

On the way home, my aunt remarked, with a bit of complaint, “the houses now seem to encroach the pagodas.” Given the population growth on a fixed area of land, there is no way. The urbanization has relocated many pagodas which used to be in the wild to the middle of the busy city, such as Tu Dam and Bao Quoc.

I started to pay more attention to the conditions of Hue pagodas ever since. Not to mention the mid-city pagodas, many others such as Ham Long, Bao Quoc, Di Da Tay Thien, Tuong Van, Chau Lam and Tu Hieu are in danger of urban encroachment. There is a feeling of regret and powerlessness.

Story and photos: DIEN THONG