Translated with notes by Phan Minh Trị: Zen Master Trần Nhân Tông

His Teachings and Literature

Translated with notes by PHAN MINH TRỊ


登 寶 臺 山

地 僻 臺 逾 古

時 來 春 未 深

雲 山 相 遠 近

花 徑 半 晴 陰

萬 事 水 流 水

百 年 心 語 心

倚 欄 橫 玉 笛

明 月 滿 胸 襟



In the secluded place the mountain looks far more ancient.
The spring has just come in the present.
The clouds are floating, now far from now close to the mountain.
Half in shade half in moonlight, the path is lined with flowers.
Like flowing water are various kinds of mundane affairs.
In mind remains only the trace of the hundred years’ life.
Leaning on the balcony, with a jade flute in hand,
I am thoroughly wrapped in the moonlight.

鐵 膽 石 肝 凌 曉 雪

縞 裙 練 帨 迓 東 風

人 間 儉 素 漢 文 帝

天 下 英 雄 唐 太 宗



In the morning snow the plum stands bold and dignified.
Its plain trunk with white branches welcomes the spring wind.
The most modest in the world is Emperor Yen of the Han;
And the renowned hero is Emperor Thai-tsung of the T’ang.

二 月 十 一 夜

歡 伯 澆 愁 風 味 長

桃 笙 竹 簟 穩 龙 床

一 天 如 水 月 如 晝

花 影 滿 窗 春 夢 長


Cleansing sorrow, the wine has a long-standing flavor.
Lonely I am on the bed covered with a bamboo mat.
The sky is clear and the moon is bright.
The flowers shadowing the window, the spring dream is prolonged.

閨 怨

睡 起 钩 簾 看 墜 紅

黄 鸝 不 語 怨 東 風

無 端 落 日 西 樓 外

花 影 枝 頭 盡 向 東



Raising the blind and watching falling flowers after getting up;
Being angry at the spring wind, the orioles cease singing.
Beyond the west pavilion the sun is indifferently setting.
The flowers and branches are all throwing their shadows to the east.

諒 州 晚 景

古 寺 淒 涼 秋 靄 外

漁 船 蕭 瑟 暮 鐘 初

水 明 山 淨 白 鷗 過

風 定 雲 閑 紅 樹 初



The old temple looks gloomy in the mist of autumn.
A fishing boat is floating lonely in the first sounds of the evening bell.
Over the clear water and quiet mountains the white sea-gulls are flying.
The wind subsides, the clouds are moving leisurely over a few red-leaved trees.

春 晚

年 少 何 曾 了 色 空

一 春 心 在 百 花 中

如 今 勘 破 東 皇 面

禪 板 蒲 團 看 墜 紅



Form-emptiness was incomprehensible at such an early age.
Spring came and my mind was among a variety of flowers.
Now that I have realized the ‘face’ of Spring,
From the meditation seat I can contemplate falling flowers.

武 林 秋 晚

畫 橋 倒 影 蘸 溪 橫

一 抹 斜 陽 水 外 明

寂 寂 千 山 紅 葉 落

濕 雲 如 夢 遠 鐘 聲



The splendid bridge is horizontally reflected on the stream,
Beyond which comes the ray from the sun in the evening sky.
Quietly in the endless mountains red leaves are falling;
Like in a dream are the wet clouds and the bell from afar.

春 日 謁 昭 陵

貔 虎 千 門 肅

衣 冠 七 品 通

白 頭 軍 士 在

往 往 説 元 豐



Solemnly at the thousand gates are brave guards,
Together with officials of all the seven ranks.
There remain the soldiers whose hair has already turned white,
Occasionally recounting the victory of Nguyên Phong.

春 曉

睡 起 啟 窗 扉

不 知 春 已 歸

一 雙 白 蝴 蝶

拍 拍 趁 花 飛



Getting up and opening the window,
I know not the Spring has come.
A pair of white butterflies
Are steadily flying to the flowers.

洞 天 湖 上

洞 天 湖 上 景

花 草 減 春 容

上 帝 憐 岑 寂

太 清 時 一 鐘



On the Động Thiên Lake,
The scenery has lost part of its verdant feature.
Out of the Jade Emperor’s favor, however,
Its desolation is occasionally warmed by the bell from Thái Thanh.

竹 奴 銘

傲 雪 心 虚

凌 霜 節 勁

假 爾 爲 奴

恐 非 天 性



The mind remains empty in snow,
The body keeps firm in fog;
Being employed as a servant,
It is unlikely of your inborn character.

山 房 漫 興

誰 縛 更 將 求 解 脫

不 凡 何 必 覓 神 仙

猿 閑 馬 倦 人 應 老

依 舊 雲 庄 一 榻 禪



We are not so bound as to seek deliverance;
Nor so secular as to seek the Immortals.
The gibbons resting, the horses exhausted, men must be old.
The meditation bed remains in the cloud-covered hermitage.

是 非 念 逐 朝 華 落

名 利 心 隨 夜 雨 寒

華 盡 雨 晴 山 寂 寂

一 聲 啼 鳥 又 春 殘

Following the fallen morning flowers, ideas of praise and blame ended.
Together with the cold night rains, desires for fame and interest perished.
The flowers all falling, the rain stopping, the mountain was serene.
The echo of a bird’s cry; and the spring was gone.

贈 北 使 李 思 衍

雨 露 汪 洋 普 漢 恩

鳳 啣 丹 詔 出 紅 雲

拓 開 地 角 皆 和 氣

凈 挾 天 河 洗 戰 塵

盡 道 璽 書 十 行 下

勝 如 琴 殿 五 絃 薰

乾 坤 兼 愛 無 南 北

何 患 雲 雷 復 有 屯



Like torrent rains is favor from the Han house.
The red decree is brought by the phoenix from the pink cloud.
All the quarters of the earth are permeated with a peaceful atmosphere.
The dust of war is all cleansed by water from the heavenly river.
It is generally said that ten lines of His Majesty’s script
Can surpass King Shun’s five-stringed lute.
His universal compassion is delivered without differentiation of north and south.
Thus no more worry about any thunder in the air.

贊 慧 中 上 士

望 之 彌 高

鑽 之 彌 堅

忽 然 在 後

瞻 之 在 前

夫 是 之 謂

上 士 之 禪



Higher when admired,
Harder when drilled,
Suddenly appearing before,
Then found behind,
That is called
The Superior Man’s Zen.

世 數 一 索 莫

時 情 兩 海 銀

魔 宮 渾 管 甚

佛 國 不 勝 春

A lifespan comes to an end in the confused state of mind;
Human feelings close at the same time with the eyes.
How narrowly the Maras’ Palace is confined.
But the Buddha-land is in Spring at all times.

一 切 法 不 生

一 切 法 不 滅

若 能 如 是 解

諸 佛 常 現 前

何 去 來 之 有

All dharmas do not arise;
All dharmas do not pass away.
If it is so understood,
The Buddhas are always present.
What is the use of asking ‘going and coming’?

身 如 呼 吸 鼻 中 氣

世 似 風 行 嶺 外 雲

杜 鵑 啼 斷 月 如 晝

不 是 尋 常 空 過 春

The body is like breath through the nose;
The world is like wind through the clouds on the peak.
The cuckoos are singing away in the bright moonlight.
Let not the spring pass so idly.



1. THE DISCOURSES AT THE SÙNG NGHIÊM TEMPLE[1]Recorded in The Recorded Sayings of the Saints.

In the beginning of his discourse at the hall, the Emperor-Father[2]That is, Zen Master Trần Nhân Tông. mounted the platform, burning incense to pay homage [to the Buddhas and the Patriarchs]. Thereafter, the head monk struck a board to invite him to the seat. The Emperor-Father said, “For the sake of a great deed Buddha Śākyamuni appeared in the world. For forty-nine years he moved his lips but not a word was ever spoken. As for me, present here in this seat in front of you all, what may I say?” He sat down for a moment on the Zen-bed, then said:

The cuckoos are singing away in the moonlight;

Let not the spring pass so idly.

With a slap given [on the bed] he said, “Nothing at all. Go out! Go out!”


The monk asked, “What is Buddha?”

The master said, “To understand as before is not possible.”

The monk asked, “What is Dharma?”

The master said, “To understand as before is not possible.”

The monk asked,  “What does it mean after all?”

The master said,

The ‘eight words’[3]Referring to the essentials of the Zen doctrine. have all been openly spoken;

Nothing left for me to demonstrate to you.

The monk asked,  “What is Saṃgha?”

The master said,  “To understand as before is not possible.”

The monk asked,  “What does it mean after all?”

The master said,

The ‘eight words’ have all been openly spoken;

Nothing left for me to show you.

The monk asked,  “What is the task that helps go upwards?”

The master said,  “Keeping the stick up to tease the sun and the moon.”

The monk asked,  “What is the use of setting forth an old ‘công án’[4]Chinese, kung-an; Japanese, kōan. In Zen teaching and practice, the term usually refers to a phrase from a text or teaching on Zen realization, an episode from the life of an ancient master, a … Continue reading?”

The master said,  “Once repeated, once renewed.”

The monk asked,  “What is the meaning of ‘the special transmission outside the teaching’?”

The master said,  “The frog fails to leap out of the pail.”

The monk asked,  “What about leaping out but then submerging?”

The master said,  “That depends on the length of its jumping in mud or sand.”

The monk asked,  “What about failing to leap out?”

The master said,  “What does that blind man see?”

The monk asked,  “What are you playing tricks for, master?”

The master uttered a sigh. The monk stood thinking. The master hit him. He was about to pose another question when the master shouted. So did the monk.

“What then do you mean when shouting at me again and again?” asked the master.

The monk thought over it. The master shouted again, “Where is the cunning fox that has just come?”

The monk bowed and went out.


Question: “With such diligent efforts to practice meditation for a long time, how many of the Buddha’s six marvelous powers have you achieved, Master?”

Answer: “All the six.”

Question: “What about the power of knowing others’ mind?”

Answer: “Minds whatsoever in your country are all seen and known by Tathāgata.”

Raising his fist, the monk said, “If so, can you know what is inside it?”

Answer: “There is and there is not; it is neither form nor emptiness.”


Question: “A monk once asked the Venerable Lang-yeh, ‘If it is called “original tranquility,” why did mountains, rivers and great continents all of a sudden arise?’ What does that mean?”

Answer: “Just as the fishing boat sails on the sea.”

Question: “What do you mean?”


Who can know smoke and waves in the distance?

There remains a matter to discuss.

Question: “What is the traditional task of the Buddhas in the past?”


Wild gardens and forests need no tending;

White plums and pink peaches blossom spontaneously.

Question: “What is the traditional task of the Buddhas in the present?”


The clear water is used to reflecting swallows early in the morning;

Pink peaches in the immortals’ garden are attracted by spring wind.

Question: “What is the traditional task of the Buddhas in the future?”


The shore is waiting for tides, the sky is longing for the moon;

Hearing the flute from the fishing village, the visitor feels homesick.

Question: “What is your traditional task, master?”


With the cloud wrapped in the tattered robe, I eat gruel in the morning;

With the moonlight poured out of the pot, I prepare tea in the evening.

Question: “What does it mean by ‘Ling-yun got awakened at the flowering peaches’?”


They open and close naturally;

Even the Spring does not know.

Question: “What is the meaning of ‘killing without blinking’?”

Answer: “The body is permeated through with gall.”

Question: “May a great practitioner be trapped in the cycle of cause-and-effect?”


Like a bowl of blood the mouth utters blames for Buddhas and Patriarchs;

Like sword-shaped trees the teeth pierce the Zen forest.

On entering the Avīci Hell[5]The last of the eight hot hells, where the damned suffer, die, and are instantly reborn to suffering without interruption. some day after death,

Laugh uproariously—Namo Avalokiteśvarabodhisattva.

Question: “What is the meaning of ‘the white herons fly down the field—a thousand marks on snow; the yellow orioles sing in the bush—a stem of flower’?”

Answer: “You are mistaken.”

Question: “What is your view, master?”


The white herons fly down the field—a thousand of marks on snow;

The yellow orioles sing in the bush—a stem of flower.

Question: “It is my words.”


If the immortal’s alchemical techniques are mastered,

That elixir of life surely proceeds from red cinnabar.

Question: “What is pure dharmakāya?”


In the golden bowl of wine is the lion’s dung;

On the K’un-lun iron mountain is the flock of partridges.

Question: “I can’t understand.”


“Not a Western merchant good at setting prices,

But a crowd of dealers cheating each other.”

Question: “What is the perfect sambhogakāya?”


“The eagle flies up on end in the still wind;

The shiny pearl looks smooth in the clear wave.

The monk prostrated himself.

The king said,

“From the very beginning have there been functions of all kinds,

Which are not fulfilled owing to your faults.”

Question: “What is the meaning of ‘innumerable nirmānakāya?”


Take hold of clouds and fogs to ascend to the Heaven;

The water is rising one meter high at your chest.

Standing up, the monk said, “Thus it is.”

The King said,

How laughable the fellow at the cloud-covered peak looks!

Everywhere iron has been swallowed up in confusion.

The monk prostrated himself and went out.


2. THE DISCOURSE AT THE KỲ LÂN HALL[6]denoting a practitioner’s heart or mind.

On the 9th of the leap 1st month of Bính Ngọ, the Most Venerable Trúc Lâm came to the Kỳ Lân Hall to open the preaching. Pointing at the Dharma-seat, he said, “This is the cane bed, the precious Seat of Golden Lion; yet, it is impossible to determine the words of the Buddhas and the Patriarchs in such a narrow seat.” Then, burning incense, he uttered his prayer:

“This incense, which can produce sweet-scented smoke and pleasant atmosphere, is composed of the five attributes of the Dharma-kāya and offered marvelously to the ten directions. May the heat arising from the incensory grant fortune to the ten directions, consecrate the nine temples, prolong the King’s life and consolidate the heavenly throne!

“This incense, which is pure at the root and born from a precious seed, is grown up not by tending but by understanding. May the heat arising from the incensory bring about favorable weather, make the country at peace and the people at ease, the Buddha-sun increasingly bright and the wheel of dharma constant in motion!

“This incense, which does not become cooked when toasted nor inflamed when burned nor does it open when knocked nor move when pulled, can split the brain into two if smelled and exhaust the pupil if looked at. May the heat from the incensory be dedicated to the Superior Man Vô Nhị and the Great Man Tuệ Trung, whose ‘dharma-rains’ have permeated through subsequent generations!

Thereafter, the Emperor-Father walked to the seat. When he was seated, the head monk struck the board, inviting him to preach. He said, “Venerables, if our presentation is centered on the transcendental truth, we would go wrong when forming a certain idea and utter falsehood when opening our mouths. In such a case, how should we grasp the truth? How should we master meditation? Is it then possible to base our presentation on the conventional truth?”

Then taking a glance from right to left, he said, “Is it true that no one in the very place has a sufficiently big eye? If he does, not even a hair of his eyebrows is lost. If not, I, a poor monk, find it hard to avoid from moving my mouth and uttering wasteful nonsense. Today, for your sake, let me draw out some mixed and blended part. Listen! Listen!

“Look, the Great Way is devoid of anything, neither tying nor binding. The original nature is transparent, neither good nor evil. Due to picking and choosing, numerous ways emerge; owing to a shadow of delusion, everything becomes greatly set apart. Saints and fools are of the same path; no distinction can be found between right and wrong. Remember that faults and merits originally do not exist, that cause and effect are devoid of essence. From the very beginning, nothing is lacking within everybody, all is inherent in everybody. Just like form and shadow, Buddha-nature and Dharma-nature occasionally appear and disappear, neither being attached to nor detached from each other. Obviously, just on the face the nostrils turn down and the eyebrows cross above the eyes; yet it is not easy for you to get an insight into it.

“Thus, seek the Way that can by no means be sought. Concentrated in only one ‘inch of intestines’[7]A Buddhist monastery, where the teaching of Śūnyatā is studied and practiced. are the three thousand Dharma-gates. And from just the source of mind are numerous marvelous functions. What is called the threefold gate of precept, meditation and wisdom is not lacking within yourselves.

“Dharma is nature; Buddha is mind. Not any nature is no Dharma. Not any mind is no Buddha. Mind is Buddha, mind is Dharma; Dharma is essentially no Dharma. Dharma is mind, mind is essentially no mind; mind is Buddha.

“Venerables, time passes so fast, human life is not permanent. Eating gruel and eating vegetables, why do you understand nothing about the bowls, the spoons, the chopsticks?”


Then, a monk stepped out, asking, “It is an ordinary affair for having meals and putting on clothes. Why should one be so much concerned with them that one has to raise doubt?”

Having prostrated himself, he stood up, asking, “We do not ask about the Realm of Zen without Desire. We put up only a question as to the Realm of Desire without Zen.”

Thereupon the master pointed to the air.

The monk asked, “What is the use of employing the ancient people’s saliva and sputum?”

The master said, “Once raised, once renewed.”

The monk: “The ancient people used to speak about what the Buddha is, what the Dharma is, what the Saṃgha is. What did they mean by ‘what’?”

The master said, “What!’ ‘What!”

The monk said, “The sound of a lute without strings is scarcely understood; yet its tune becomes highly appreciated when the father plays it for his son.”




The Superior Man Tuệ Trung was the eldest son of Khâm Minh Từ Thiện Thái Vương, and the eldest brother of the Queen-Mother Nguyên Thánh Thiên Cảm. When his father died, the Emperor [Trần] Thái Tông, out of his respect for the former’s loyalty, conferred on Tuệ Trung the title Hưng Ninh Vương.

As a young man, he was endowed with a noble character, and widely known for his honesty. After being appointed to take charge of troops and people of Route Hồng, he made great achievements in defending the land twice against foreign invaders. Later, he was appointed to be Tiết Độ Sứ of Camp Thái Bình on the coastal land. His capacity was great and his manners gentle.

Just in his childhood, Tuệ Trung had great admiration for the Gate of Śūnyatā.[8]developing the Buddhist teachings. Since he penetrated the essentials of Zen teaching on his visits to Zen Master Tiêu Dao at the Phước Đường Temple, he concentrated his mind on it alone, which then became a joy of his everyday life, without any concerns about secular fame and success.

After retiring to Tịnh Bang, a granted village of his own and later renamed Vạn Niên by him, he led a normal life among the common people, to whom he never caused anything rude or harmful. Consequently, he succeeded in “fostering the seed of Dharma”[9]developing the Buddhist teachings. and leading honest people on the path to liberation. Those who had been instructed by him were capable of apprehending the most fundamental principles of Buddhist teachings, on which they came to discipline themselves such that they could live spontaneously in accordance with the Way without longing for earthly successes.

Hearing of his reputation so long, Dụ Lăng[10]lit. “the tomb named Dụ,” referring to the Emperor Thánh Tông of the Trần dynasty. summoned him to the Imperial Palace, where in each of their discussions the former was so amazed at his transcendental interpretation of the Zen teaching that he acknowledged him as his older Buddhist brother and bestowed on him the present title.[11]the Superior Man. At a banquet held in the palace by the Queen-Mother’s order, surprised at seeing him eat meat [as normally as those who did not observe the precept of being vegetarian] the former asked him, “How would you become Buddha while you, though always lecturing on Zen, are eating meat as such?” Smiling, he said, “Buddha is Buddha; I, Tuệ Trung, am Tuệ Trung. I needn’t become Buddha; Buddha needn’t become me. You don’t hear the ancients’ saying ‘Mañjuśrī is Mañjuśrī; liberation is liberation’?”

At the Queen-Mother’s death, His Majesty Dụ Lăng ordered a banquet with votive offerings for Buddhist monks to be held in the Forbidden Citadel. At the beginning of a discourse on Zen, he requested some renowned monks each to write a short stanza to present their own understanding; yet none of them were able to attain to the depth of the Buddhist teaching. When Dụ Lăng showed the notepad [in which their stanzas had been written down] to Tuệ Trung, he crossed them out only with a stroke, and wrote his own as follows:

見 解 呈 見 解

似 捏 目 作 怪

捏 目 作 怪 了

明 明 常 自 在

Knowing in terms of knowledge

Is likened to a view of odd things while screwing up one’s eyes.

If such a view comes to an end,

Everything is clearly seen as usual.

Reading the gātha, Dụ Lăng wrote another one on the spot:

明 明 常 自 在

亦 捏 目 作 怪

見 怪 不 見 怪

其 怪 悉 自 壞

That everything is clearly seen as usual

Is like odd things seen while screwing up one’s eyes.

Whether they are seen oddly or not,

They are all to pass away.

At this, the Superior Man grasped the Emperor’s implications.

When Dụ Lăng was taking sick, Tuệ Trung sent him a letter, asking about his health. After reading it, the King replied with a gātha, of which are the following two lines:

炎 炎 暑 氣 汗 通 身

未 曾 涴 我 娘 生 袴

In this intense heat my body is permeated with sweat;

Since my birth I have never wetted my mother’s skirt.

Reading the gātha, Tuệ Trung uttered a sigh.

When hearing the King’s sickness became serious, Tuệ Trung hurried to the Citadel; but the king had passed away.

I am deeply indebted to Tuệ Trung for his instructions. Formerly, when I was going into mourning at my Queen-Mother Nguyên Thánh’s death, I once visited him and was given two records of Hsüeh-tou and Yeh-hsüan. Rather doubtful of his secular way of living, I pretended to ask him, “How is it possible for those who have had the habit of eating meat and drinking wine not to be affected by the consequence of such unwholesome actions?” “Suppose somebody who does not know the king to be passing by his back has thrown something at him, would he be frightened in that case? Should the king get angry at him? [Certainly it does not matter anything at all] because the two facts have nothing to do with each other,” he explained. Then, he read two stanzas to express it:

無 常諸 法 行

心 疑罪 便 生

本 來無 一 物

非 種亦 非 萌

All saṃskāras[12]Skt.; referring to both the activity of forming and the state of being formed. Here it is used in the latter meaning (saṃskṛta), that is, all things that arise from dependent conditions. are impermanent.

Faults proceed from doubt alone.

Nothing has arisen so far;

Neither seeds nor sprouts are.

And again,

日 日對 境 時

境 境從 心 出

心 境本 來 無

處 處 波 羅 密

In our everyday perception of all things,

They arise just from our mind.

Both things and mind have not truly existed.

Nowhere is no-pāramitā.[13]Skt.; the other side (of the ocean of birth-and-death), denoting the ultimate liberation in Buddhism.

Whereby I could comprehend his implications, so I asked, “Though it is so, how should we act as faults and merits have been definitely distinguished [in the sūtras]?” He went on with his instruction in another stanza:

喫 草與 喫 肉

眾 生各 所 屬

春 來百 草 生

何 處見 罪 福

Eating grass and eating meat,

That depends on the beings’ consciousness.

All kinds of grass grow when spring comes.

What may be called faults and merits?

“If so, what is the use of strictly observing Brahmacarya[14]Skt.; holy conduct, referring to what constitutes the noble lifestyle of a Buddhist practitioner.?” I asked. He smiled without saying a word. At my repeated question, he read two more stanzas:

持 戒兼 忍 辱

招 罪 不 招 福

欲 知 無 罪 福

非 持戒 忍 辱

Observing precepts and cultivating patience,

That is to gain no merits but faults.

To realize merits and faults are all of śūnyatā,[15]A Buddhist term of various meanings. Here it means the state of being without self-nature. As being things that arise from dependent conditions, merit and fault are conventionally considered to be … Continue reading

Do not observe precepts nor cultivate patience.

And again,

如 人 上 樹 時

安 中 自 求 危

如 人 不 上 樹

風 月 何 所 為

Like a man who is climbing a tree,

Thus seeking danger from safety;

If not climbing the tree,

Why must he be concerned with moon and wind?

Then he instructed me secretly, “Do not tell those who are not worthy.” Thereby I am aware that his personality is truly transcendent.

One day I asked him for some advice as regards my working principles. Spontaneously he said, “Reflect on nothing but your own affairs.” At this, I got instantaneously aware of the path I had to enter. So I made up my mind to serve him as my master.

How solemn and majestic his bearing was! How dignified his manners were. His lectures on the essentials of Zen always had such an influence on listeners as the cool breeze, the bright moonlight. The eminent scholars throughout the country at the time all recognized him to be among those who had nurtured a deep faith and gained a transcendental insight [into the Zen teaching] and whose actions, whether conformed or apparently contrary to conventional values, were in reality hard to measure.

Later, when he fell ill at the Dưỡng Chân Estate, he refused to rest in his own room. Instead, he had a wooden bed placed in the middle of an empty, large room where, lying in the same posture as the Buddha did in his pariṇirvāṇa, he gently closed his eyes, about to pass away. On hearing about this, his household gathered around him, crying and lamenting loudly. Opening his eyes, he got up and asked for water to wash his hands and clean his mouth. Gently he blamed them: “Birth-and-death is the ordinary principle [of all things]. Why are you crying so painfully as to disturb my true nature?” Thereafter, he quietly departed, at the age of sixty-two, on the 1st of the 4th month of Tân Mão, Trùng Hưng the Seventh.

At his death I attended his funeral and dedicated to him a stanza entitled “Burning Incense for Repaying His Favors,”[16]    which is not written down here. Since I became his dharma-successor, it has always occurred to me, especially at the beginning of a course of Buddhist practice or a discourse on the Buddhist teaching, that it is difficult for me to repay the Four Great Favors and the Dharma-milk. Therefore, I had his portrait painted as an offering to him together with a praising stanza as follows:

這 老 古 錐

人 難 名 邈

梁 皇 曲 尺

泰 帝 鐸 轢

能 方 能 圓

能 厚 能 薄

法 海 獨 眼

禪 林 三 角

His Holiness the Venerable Elder,
It is hard to offer him a designation.
His countenance is like the Emperor Liang’s;
His capacity is equated to the Emperor Thai’s.
Able to be now square, then round,
To be now thick, then thin,
He appears as the One Eye in the ocean of Dharma,
And as the Three Angles of the forest of Zen.

trans. by P.M.T.


1 Recorded in The Recorded Sayings of the Saints.
2 That is, Zen Master Trần Nhân Tông.
3 Referring to the essentials of the Zen doctrine.
4 Chinese, kung-an; Japanese, kōan. In Zen teaching and practice, the term usually refers to a phrase from a text or teaching on Zen realization, an episode from the life of an ancient master, a question-answer—whatever the source, each points to the nature of ultimate reality, which transcends the logical or conceptual ability. Thus, a công án cannot be solved by reason but by some level of intuitive comprehension only.
5 The last of the eight hot hells, where the damned suffer, die, and are instantly reborn to suffering without interruption.
6 denoting a practitioner’s heart or mind.
7 A Buddhist monastery, where the teaching of Śūnyatā is studied and practiced.
8, 9 developing the Buddhist teachings.
10 lit. “the tomb named Dụ,” referring to the Emperor Thánh Tông of the Trần dynasty.
11 the Superior Man.
12 Skt.; referring to both the activity of forming and the state of being formed. Here it is used in the latter meaning (saṃskṛta), that is, all things that arise from dependent conditions.
13 Skt.; the other side (of the ocean of birth-and-death), denoting the ultimate liberation in Buddhism.
14 Skt.; holy conduct, referring to what constitutes the noble lifestyle of a Buddhist practitioner.
15 A Buddhist term of various meanings. Here it means the state of being without self-nature. As being things that arise from dependent conditions, merit and fault are conventionally considered to be existing. Yet, nothing within them may in essence be truly ‘merit’ or ‘fault’.

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