came to Vietnam in the first century CE . By the end of the second
century, Vietnam developed a major Buddhist centre in the region,
commonly known as the Luy-Lau centre, now in the Bac-Ninh province,
north of the present day Hanoi city. Luy-Lau was the capital of
Giao-Chi, (the former name of Vietnam), and was a popular place
visited by many Indian Buddhist missionary monks on their way to
China, who were following the sea route from the Indian sub-continent
used by Indian traders. A number of Mahayana sutras and the Agamas
were translated into Chinese script at that centre, including the
sutra of Forty Two Chapters, the Anapanasati, the Vessantara-jataka,
the Milinda-panha, etc.
In the next
18 centuries, due to geographical proximity with China and to being
twice annexed by the Chinese, the two countries shared many common
features of cultural, philosophical and religious heritage. Vietnamese
Buddhism has been greatly influenced by the development of Mahayana
Buddhism in China, with the dominant traditions of Ch'an/Zen, Pure
Land, and Tantra.
part of present day Vietnam was originally occupied by the Champa
(Cham) and the Cambodian (Khmer) people who followed both a syncretic
Saiva-Mahayana Buddhism and Theravada Buddhism , although the
Champa probably had a Theravada presence from as early as the 3rd
century CE, whilst Cambodia received the Theravada as late as the
12th century. The Vietnamese started to conquer and absorbed the
land in the 15th century, and the current shape of the country existed
in the 18th century. From that time onward, the dominant Viet followed
the Mahayana tradition whilst the ethnic Cambodian practiced the
Theravada tradition, and both traditions peacefully co-existed.
In the 1920s
and 1930s, there were a number of movements in Vietnam for the revival
and modernisation of Buddhist activities. Together with the re-organisation
of Mahayana establishments, there developed a growing interest in
Theravadin meditation and also in Buddhist materials based on the
Pali Canon. These were then available in French. Among the pioneers
who brought Theravada Buddhism to the ethnic Viet was a young veterinary
doctor named Le Van Giang. He was born in the South, received higher
education in Hanoi, and after graduation, was sent to Phnom Penh,
Cambodia, to work for the French government .
time, he developed a growing interest in Buddhism. He started to
study and practice the Pure Land and Tantric ways but was not satisfied.
By chance, he met the Vice Sangharaja of the Cambodian Sangha and
was recommended a book on the Noble Eightfold Path written in French.
He was struck by the clear message in the book, and decided to try
out the Theravada way. He learnt meditation on the breath (Anapanasati)
from a Cambodian monk at the Unalom Temple in Phnom Penh and achieved
deep samadhi states. He continued the practice and after a few years,
he decided to ordain and took the Dhamma name of Ho-Tong (Vansarakkhita).
In 1940, upon
an invitation by a group of lay Buddhists led by Mr Nguyen Van Hieu,
a close friend, he went back to Vietnam and helped to establish
the first Theravada temple for Vietnamese Buddhists, at Go Dua,
Thu Duc (now a district of Saigon). The temple was named Buu-Quang
(Ratana Ramsyarama). Later, the Cambodian Sangharaja, Venerable
Chuon Nath, together with 30 Cambodian bhikkhus established the
Sima boundary at this temple . The temple was destroyed by French
troops in 1947, and was rebuilt in 1951.
Here at Buu-Quang
temple, together with a group of Vietnamese bhikkhus, who had received
training in Cambodia, such as Venerables Thien-Luat, Buu-Chon, Kim-Quang,
Gioi-Nghiem, Tinh-Su, Toi-Thang, Giac-Quang, An-Lam, Venerable Ho-Tong
started teaching the Buddha Dhamma in Vietnamese language. He also
translated many Buddhist materials from the Pali Canon, and
Theravada became part of Vietnamese Buddhist activity in the country.
Venerable Ho-Tong together with Mr Nguyen Van Hieu and supporters
built a new temple in Saigon, named Ky-Vien Tu (Jetavana Vihara).
This temple became the centre of Theravada activities in Vietnam,
which continued to attract increasing interest among the Vietnamese
Buddhists. In 1957, the Vietnamese Theravada Buddhist Sangha Congregation
(Giao Hoi Tang Gia Nguyen Thuy Viet Nam) was formally established
and recognised by the government, and the Theravada Sangha elected
Venerable Ho-Tong as its first President, or Sangharaja.
time, Dhamma activities were further strengthened by the presence
of Venerable Narada from Sri Lanka. Venerable Narada had first came
to Vietnam in the 1930s and brought with him Bodhi tree saplings
which he planted in many places throughout the country. During his
subsequent visits in the 1950s and 1960s, he attracted a large number
of Buddhists to the Theravada tradition, one of whom was the popular
translator, Mr Pham Kim Khanh who took the Dhamma name of Sunanda.
Mr Khanh translated many books of Venerable Narada, including The
Buddha and His Teachings, Buddhism in a Nutshell, Satipatthana Sutta,
The Dhammapada, A Manual of Abhidhamma, etc . Mr Khanh, now in
his 80s, lives in the USA and is still active in translating Dhamma
books of well-known meditation teachers from Thailand, Burma and
the Theravada movement spread to other provinces, and soon, a number
of Theravada temples for ethnic Viet Buddhists were established
in many areas in the South and Central parts of Vietnam. As at 1997,
there were 64 Theravada temples throughout the country, of which
19 were located in Saigon and its viccinity . Beside Buu-Quang
and Ky-Vien temples, other well known temples are Buu-Long, Giac-Quang,
Tam-Bao (Da-Nang), Thien-Lam and Huyen-Khong (Hue), and the large
Sakyamuni Buddha Monument (Thich-Ca Phat Dai) in Vung Tau.
In the 1960s
and 1970s, a number of Vietnamese bhikkhus were sent overseas for
further training, mostly in Thailand and some in Sri Lanka and India.
Recently, this programme has been resumed and about 20 bhikkhus
and nuns are receiving training in Burma.
there has been a close relationship between the Cambodian and the
Vietnamese bhikkhus. In fact, in 1979, after the Khmer Rouge were
driven out of Phnom Penh, a group of Vietnamese bhikkhus led by
Venerables Buu-Chon and Gioi-Nghiem came to that city to re-ordain
seven Cambodian monks, and thus re-established the Cambodian Sangha
which had been destroyed by the Khmer Rouge when they were in control
in the Vietnamese language comes from two main sources: the Pali
Canon and the Chinese Agamas, together with a large collection of
Mahayana texts. Since the 1980s, there has been an ongoing programme
to publish these materials by scholar monks of both Mahayana and
Theravada traditions. So far, 27 volumes of the first 4 Nikayas,
translated by Venerable Minh-Chau, and the 4 Agamas, translated
by Venerables Tri-Tinh, Thien-Sieu and Thanh-Tu, have been produced.
Work is under way to translate and publish the 5th Nikaya. In addition,
a complete set of the Abhidhamma, translated by Venerable Tinh-Su,
has been printed, together with the Dhammapada, the Milinda-Panha,
the Visudhi-Magga, the Abhidhammatthasangaha and many other work.
although Buddhism in Vietnam is predominantly of the Mahayana form,
the Theravada tradition is well recognised and is experiencing a
growing interest especially in the practice of meditation, in Nikaya-Agama
literature and in Abhidhamma studies.
Perth, Western Australia
08 June 1999
 Nguyen Lang, 1973. Viet Nam Phat Giao Su Luan, vol 1 (History
of Buddhism in Vietnam)
 Andrew Skilton, 1994. A Concise History of Buddhism
 Le Minh Qui, 1981. Hoa Thuong Ho-Tong (Biography of Maha Thera
 Nguyen Van Hieu, 1971. Cong Tac Xay Dung Phat Giao Nguyen Thuy
tai Viet Nam (On The Work of Establishing Theravada Buddhism in
 Pham Kim Khanh, 1991. Narada Maha Thera
 Giac-Ngo Weekly, no. 63, 14-06-1997
 Thich Dong Bon, 1996. Tieu Su Danh Tang Viet Nam (Biography
of Famous Vietnamese Monks)
SOURCE: Buddha Sasana Home Page - English Section