ClockWednesday, 01/02/2023 07:39

Not just an address for academy

TTH.VN - Ideas materialized. Books have been gathered into collections and are on display and more are coming.

The place where the precious treasures of Hue Buddhism are keptLaunching the Archive and Research Center of the Vietnam Buddhist Academy in HueHue Buddhist woodblocks - a treasure

The set of Diamond Sutra woodblocks (1698) attracts the interest of researchers.

The phone rang. I took a glimpse at the screen. It was Khong Nhien, a Buddhist monk from Hai Duc Pagoda. It was strange because I had been usually calling him asking for help. But this time it was him who called me. There must be something important. 

“Hello.” I heard his voice at the other side. “I want to inform you that we have just collected another set of woodblocks and stored at the Archive and Study Center of the Vietnam Buddhist University in Hue. This is one of the latest sets, or it can be said that it is the last set of woodblocks in our country.”

The set of woodblocks that Ven. Khong Nhien mentioned is collected from a private pagoda. Though they were made just tens of years ago (mainly of spells and messages), the interesting thing is that they were made just before the appearance of computers and photocopiers in Vietnam in general and Hue in particular. 

Those woodblocks then suddenly became outdated. They could not compete with modern machines. As a result, they had never been used. They had never even “felt” the good smell of ink.

“I’m very happy about it. Each set of woodblocks contains in itself stories about various historical periods. From them we obtain lots of precious and interesting information which sometimes can surprise us for its value. If we study them well, they may help us decode many other issues about history and culture,” said Khong Nhien with excitement.

I actually heard Khong Nhien talk about his idea of collecting those woodblocks at some talks over tea before. At that time, though I was excited, I thought it was hard to materialize his idea because it requires effort, perseverance and many other conditions both internal and external. 

After a while, in the first week of last September, I was invited to the opening ceremony of the Buddhist Archive and Study Center belonging to the Vietnam Buddhist University in Hue.

At the ceremony, attendees were astonished when they saw the collection of 828 woodblocks considered the biggest Buddhist collection in Hue. Those woodblocks are engraved with Buddhist sutras, laws, essays, ancient graphic paintings and works of famous monks collected from famous ancient pagodas in Hue such as Ky Vien, Duc Son, Thien Lam, Vien Thong, Thuyen Ton, Bao Quoc, Bao Lam, Ba La Mat, etc.

Especially, there are the Diamond Sutra woodblocks dated in 1698 under Lord Nguyen Phuc Chu’s era considered the oldest Buddhist woodblocks in Hue and the Central Vietnam to be found.

Besides the woodblocks, the Buddhist Archive and Study Center owns a family library donated by a Buddhist researcher and collector in Hue. A number of books, documents and valuable artifacts are on display. This collection will develop and be digitized. 

Standing in the display space I suddenly recalled the meal a few years ago with Mr. Phan Dang, Former Dean of the Faculty of Literature at College of Sciences, Hue University, Mr. Cao Huy Hoa and some leaders and lecturers at the Vietnam Buddhist University in Hue. That day, our talk was mainly about books and knowledge.

Phan Dang confided about his collection of good and rare books. He worried about the “destiny” of his collection when he leaves the world because none of his children follows in his footsteps. He was thinking about donating his books. 

Books lead a helpful life only when there are readers. They become useless if they are just kept on bookcases becoming food for termites. The Vietnam Buddhist University in Hue is a reliable and suitable place for him to donate his most precious property. 

Ideas materialize. Some book collections have been gathered at the Center and many more are coming. Of course, that requires lots of effort to search and persuade. That is what the Vietnam Buddhist University in Hue in general and Khong Nhien in particular have pursued tirelessly for many years. 

That perseverance will be continued together with how to preserve and store them in a scientific and sustainable way. The most important thing is to create an attractive space and environment for the books and artifacts to be promoted and become beneficial for Buddhist studies in particular and Hue culture in general, which is what the Buddhist Archive and Study Center aims at. 

With the above-mentioned noble mission, the Buddhist Archive and Study Center at the Vietnam Buddhist University in Hue is not only an address for academy but also an interesting destination for tourists who are interested in knowledge from everywhere when they come to visit the land of the Huong River and the Ngu Mountain. 

Story and photo: Hien An

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