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Vietnamese Buddhism in Intercultural Communication: the Aspect of Buddhist Philosophy

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By Hoang Thi Tho

Institute of Philosophy

Vietnam Academy of Social Sciences



Vietnam is a small country with the population of about 80.000.000 (eight million), and the size of 329.565 square kilometers. At present, Buddhist population in the world is about 300 million and in Vietnam is about more than 7 million1. That is why Buddhism is considered as Vietnamese traditional religion which has great affect on Vietnam culture now, but Buddhism is not the same as an original religion in Vietnam, it is a mixed product of intercultural communications through a long history.

Vietnam is located in South-East-Asia, with the South China Sea on the East, Laos and Cambodia on the West and Thailand on the South-West. According to the map drew by French historians in the beginning of 19 century, Vietnam is named “Indochinese Peninsula”, here Indochinese means between India and China. It was also named as “Tonkin” or “Giao Chau”, now [[Red River Delta. In Jataka Buddhist collections the namegolden land” (Suvannabhumi) is also including Vietnam in the region. In this geographical position, early before Christian Era Vietnam had been a bridge between India and China, the two most ancient civilizations of Asia, and probably, the most of the world as well.

By the sea routes Hinduism and Buddhism from India were imported into Vietnam and became parts of Vietnamese culture before CE. Now we can see communities of Champa – a community with their Hindis customs, art and religion (Brahmanism) living in the Middle, and Theravada Buddhists in the South of Vietnam. By both land and sea routes Mahayana Buddhism, together with Confucianism and Taoism were also imported into Vietnam form India and China. We should say that right at the beginning Buddhism in Vietnam was a mixed product of intercultural communication, including Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism coexisting with the native belief. All these together constitute Vietnamese traditional culture. In its structure, Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism are altogether the basic ground. This structure are similar in China, Japan and Korea, but in Vietnam according to the particular conditions of cultural communication, Vietnamese Buddhism is quite not as the same as other ones.

Through the long history Vietnamese Buddhism already contributed its brilliant marks in building and defending the nation. Now, at the beginning of the 21st century, Vietnam is much influenced by the global tendency of modernization, industrialization. To develop the nation and country sustainable Vietnam has been accepting human’s progressive achievements of culture and civilization, and at the same time tries to preserve and develop its own preeminent characters and dignity. How will Buddhism contribute or develop its advantages from the well-known tradition in the modern time? This article wishes to contribute one opinion from aspect of Buddhist philosophy to discuss about our capacity of intercultural communication in a Time of Global Interaction.


1. Buddhist Philosophy a General Background for Intercultural Communication


1.1. Buddhist Teaching of Human Suffering and Liberation

From the point of history of thoughts, it is important to mind that at the beginning Buddhism was a revolutionary movement against theistic authority of Brahmanism in ancient time in India. So that Buddhist teaching is a religious one but it already contains progressive spirit about equality and non-theistic authority which are sustainable factors even in modern time. According to the Buddha’s teaching every one is equal in suffering. Suffering is neither special for any caste nor except any one. This idea was inherited from ancient Indian religions by Buddha but the revolutionary point in his teaching is to affirm that every one are equal in ability of achieving enlightenment and on the way to liberation; especially, the way to emancipation is not paved by any god or supernatural one, but every one must decide by himself, step up by himself and realize by himself... and only by passing over just the human life of oneself with his entire believe and morals.

To avoid the two extremes of lust and mortification which were non-stop argued by the ancient Indian, the Buddha’s teaching paved the Middle way (Madhyamika) which proves that the true nature of human is not-self (anatman) but because of the leading of ignorance and craving sentient being misunderstands that there is a real self (atman) and then tries to possess it (by both ways of lust or mortification). It is the cause of pain and evil that can begin and grow uncontrolled from then. This is the basic point investigated by Buddha to build up the Buddhist theory of human suffering and emancipation.

In Buddhist teaching the theory of emancipation and ethics are not separated each other. It is taught that good or evil and right or wrong are attributives which are neither originally decided by birth nor created or determined by any god, but deeply rooted just in the realization of self or no-self. Because of ignorance (avidya) sentient being attaches his mind to the self (atman), then arising his craving (kama) and forming his deeds through body action, speech and thought which would be stored and accumulated to be karma that consists of good, evil, right and wrong... and the more karma is accumulated the longer people is floating in the circle of birth and death with suffering (duhkka).

The Buddhist way for emancipation is closely combined with the way of moral. On this way, firstly, sentient being has to avoid the ignorance to be conscious of not-self by regular introspection. So that he should avoid the attachment of the self; latter, he consciously practices self-discipline of concentration to control his deed (body, speech and thought). So that he should change himself from wrong (even from evil) to right and good; finally, by regular meditation (zen) he should automatically avoid kama and reach the ultimate enlightenment and turn himself to be his own nature of no-self. It is the ultimate emancipation where there is no more good or bad, right or wrong, good or evil... and perfection becomes human’s no self-character (the natural character). This way to liberation is at the same time the one to moral goal.

The core of Buddhist teaching is the Four Noble Truths that leads sentient being from suffering to emancipation, at the same time from wrong or evil to right and good. First, The Noble Truth of Suffering teaches about all kinds of suffering, as mentioned above. Second, The Noble Truth of Cause of Suffering explains that the initial cause of pain of sentient being is the ignorance which is always in chase of pleasure and lust, namely the craving for passion, for existence or non-existence... Third, The Noble Truth of Cessation of Suffering teaches about realization of the cessation of pain by non-attachment, abandonment, forsaking for that craving. Fourth, The Noble Truth of the Way that Leads to the Cessation of Suffering teaches about The Noble Eightfold Path (Ashtangika-Marga), namely, right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration.

It is obvious that Buddhist teaching focuses in the Fourth Noble Truth and the Noble Eightfold Path. They are eight methods of right cultivation for every one to consciously develop oneself on the way to final emancipation, also called Nirvana. In fact, in Indian tradition, Buddhism inherited the moral tradition of Hinduism in general, and techniques of introspection from Yoga in concrete. Then it was developed to be realizable model of self-cultivation and called Noble Eightfold Path. To practice the Eightfold Path man has to concentrate on the moral value of “right” when controlling himself in every conduct such as right view, right intention, right speech, right action, and right livelihood through right mindfulness and right concentration without cessation of right effort for the ultimate liberation (Nirvana) with right wisdom (prajna). The construction of Buddhist teaching is the combination of three parts comprehensively: Commandment (Sila) - Meditation (Samadhy) - Wisdom (Prajna), or in other word, they can be called three sections of self-cultivation: Self-cultivation of conduct (by sila), Self-cultivation of consciousness (by samadhy) and Self-cultivation of wisdom (prajna).

In Buddhist teaching, the final judgment of man’s deeds is the law of causes (karma) which acts secretly through lives not by any god’s decision. Happiness or unhappiness is the fruit caused by oneself good or bad conduct done in the past. The judgment as the law of causes admonishes people of being serious with every action (body, speech, thought) of oneself. Buddhist ideal examples are Buddha and Bodhisattvas who already enlightened the essence of the no-self and not be led by any craving or passion... They are omniscient and free from mundane attachment that means the perfect emancipation from the circle of lives, namely Nirvana.


1.2. Buddhist Teaching on Meditation

Ch'an/Zen of Buddhism is an Indian-Chinese product. It is a typical product of the intercultural communication of two cultures right from the beginning of the first millennium, and now it has become a long lasting Oriental value of culture. Literally, "Dhyana" is possibly formed by the Sanskrit verb root "dhyai", and it means "meditation" in English, "Ch'an" in Chinese, and “Zen" in Japanese.

Yoga of Indian was the very origin of Buddhist meditation practice. In the oldest ancient Indian literature, Veda sutra (about 2000 BC) had mentioned the method of liberating spiritual power from body through regulating breath, breaking off all barriers of the sensual world so that Atman (individual spirit) should dissolve in the Brahman (the Universal spirit). It is called Yoga; a technique of training man’s transcending ability of insight through controlling breath and postures. In ancient time, for every Indian religion while mentioning the method of training inner mind Yoga is used to be considered as the common way of practices. Meditation (Dhyana) is the basic technique of Yoga which was then selected inherited by Buddha.

Buddhism was founded in 6th century BC in Indian. According to Lalitavistara sutra, numberless forms of ascetic austerities were in vogue in Buddha's time. Some of the Buddha’s teacher, Alara is an adept in Yoga. The Buddhist teachings on meditation are familiar with the Yoga methods of concentration. Four states of Dhyana of Buddhism correspond roughly to the four stages of conscious concentration in the classical Yoga. Buddha himself practiced Raja-yoga (the fourth step of Yoga)[1] and He stressed on the two main capacities of Yoga: Dharana (concentration on thoughtfulness), Dhyana (meditation on insight), and Samadhi (concentration on Ultimate truth). Buddhist meditation inherited directly meditation practice of Yoga and considered it as technique of introspection to discover and experience the truth in order to get ultimate salvation. So on, it is possible to say that Buddhist Meditation directly developed from system of notions, categories, and practice of Yoga. Buddhist teachings use terms "dharana", "Dhyana", "Samadhy" to denote Buddhist meditation, for example: samyag-samadhy (means right concentration) is the eighth step in Eight-fold Path (astangika-marga); Samadhy is a main chain of the system of Three-learning (sikssa): Sila-Samadhy-Prajnaparamita (that means Moral Conduct-Meditation-Perfection of Wisdom).


1.3. Buddhist Theory on Ontology

 “Sunyata” (Emptiness) could be seen as the ontological principle on Ultimate Reality in Buddhist philosophy. First, emptiness means that all things are without any substance and any attribute of their own because of the general principle of interdependent causation. Second, on the spiritual level, it means that the spiritual achievement of a sage consists in total freedom, attaching neither him to being nor to none being, neither to dualism nor to non dualism, even to any form of spiritual achievement, no matter how high and deep it is. Finally, on the linguistic level, emptiness means that all words are nothing than but artificially constructed, without any fixed correspondence to the Ultimate Reality.

With this theory of Ultimate Reality, Buddhists philosophy was enabled to make itself understandable to other indigenous philosophies of China such as Confucianism and Daoism. Buddhist experience of (emptiness), Taoist experience of dao and wu (avoid ness), and Confucian experience of ren (humanness, humanity and cosmic interconnectedness) and cheng (sincerity and true reality), all these, though quite different in terms themselves, still enjoy some sort of similarity and complementarities as experiences of Ultimate Reality. Therefore much effort has been made to meet one with another, through which a Confucian or a Taoist might be able to understand Buddhist discourse of “emptiness” as Ultimate Reality. This is the basic philosophical background for the construction of the Common Origin of Three Teachings in Vietnam, China, and Japan and Korea cultures as well.

1.5. Buddhist Theory on Epistemology: Prajñā and Alaya-vijñāna

            “Wisdom” (prajñā) is the Buddhist concept of epistemology founded by Nāgārjuna (100-200 CE.) in his Madhyamika-sastra (Treatise on the Middle Doctrine). This is the theory of converting consciousness into wisdom or to get wisdom. In fact, wisdom was the common concern of Madhyamika (Middle Doctrine) school and Yogacara (Consciousness Only) school, the two Indian Mahayana Buddhist schools. For Madhyamika, wisdom means emptiness, whereas for Yogacara, wisdom is based on the marvelous being of Alaya-vijnana (the eighth conscious). For the Madhyamika, the other (objective) is that which lies always beyond in denying or making void that which one arrives at in negative dialects. To render the void in order to show the non-substantial character of the Ultimate Reality is the Middle Path, which is wisdom, consists in understanding the interdependent causation in the sense of non-substantiality. After destroying any dualistic situation in the process of negative dialectics, even the reality of interdependent causation should be denied. This is considered as spiritual achievement of a sage, who has no attachment to the realm of either being or non-being, and no attachment to his own spiritual achievement whatsoever, belongs to the marvelous function of his mind/heart, which on the one hand is non-substantial and empty, but on the other hand, is marvelous in its function and self-transcending.

The theory of Double Truth develops further the Buddhist theory of epistemology on wisdom. However, the real point of this theory is to overcome any dualism rather than merely one-sidedness of the worldly view and the common view. The negative dialectics consists in first denying the dualism between you (being) and wu (non-being), then the second denying is of between two one-sided-views, and finally that between the one-sided-view and the middle (central) view. The true wisdom is somewhere in the middle path. It is thus interpreted as neither one-sided-nor-middle, realized in the process of negative dialectics as emptiness.

In the case of Yogacara (Consciousness Only) school the term “Alaja” (the eight consciousnesses) is the main theory of epistemology. This school is named Yogacara because it attains wisdom not by the method of negative dialectics, but by its yoga praxis that purifies consciousness and finally transforms consciousness into wisdom. Although the idealist doctrine of this school is quite often exaggerated, that there is no self, no dharmas, but Consciousness Only and everything else is merely a definite form of manifestation of the Consciousness.

The purification of consciousness takes the form of consciousness analysis. We find there is an analytic progression from the five consciousnesses to the empirical self-consciousness to the transcendental self-consciousness then finally to the ontological origin of all consciousness, the Alaya-vijñāna. Five sensible perceptions consist of: seeing, listening, touching, smelling, and tasting, as the five common consciousnesses. Then center of five sensations or in other word, the sense-centered consciousness, which could be called the sixth consciousness, as the empirical one. The seventh consciousness as the thought-centered consciousness (manas-vijñāna) is the store of all thinking and it often attaches itself to its own imagined center ness as its own true self. It is quite similar transcendental Ego in Western philosophy but for Yogacara School, it is not the ultimate self but only a derivative transformation of the Alaja (eighth consciousness). Finally, the eighth consciousness (alaya-vijñāna) contains all seeds or potentialities of right/wrong thoughts and good/evil deeds to be manifested and thereby affected in the former seven forms of consciousness and receives also their influences. Alaya-vijñāna exercises double processes: on the one hand, it realizes the seeds into deeds and thoughts in the process of manifestation and on the other hand, it receives the influence or is fumigated by the former seven consciousnesses in its actual operation. The process of Yoga praxis is the way to get converting consciousness into wisdom.

For Zen Buddhism finally integrated both theories of epistemology of Madhyamika and Yogachara schools with Chinese Taoist philosophy of “Avoidness”. Zen Buddhism used Dhyāna to attain one’s own Buddha nature and considered it as the prajñā of Madhyamika and as well as the Alaja (Purification of consciousness) of Yogacara.

The common characters of these methodologies are to lead to a direct insight into the unfathomable emptiness. This direction of Buddhist epistemology tends to deny the function of language, texts and forms but unfortunately the sacred scriptures and rituals are thereby abandoned without being carefully read and serious practice as it was considered. This is a direction of Zen Buddhism which is considered as modernization of Buddhism from inside the system.

2. Vietnamese Buddhism

Vietnamese Buddhism is a first and a mixed product of cultural interactions. In this part I would like to concern the history of intercultural communications that influenced by Buddhism and in vice versa affected Buddhism in Vietnam.

2.1. Buddhism Introduced into Vietnam

Following the voyages of sailors and traders, probably Buddhist monks companied together to propagate Buddhism into Vietnam. According to Chinese and French historical records, by sea routes Buddhism was introduced directly into Vietnam by Indian monks a very long time before it entered Southern China. Buddhist monks at that time were often intellectuals who had a broad knowledge of Buddha and Buddhist teaching. In Tonkin (Giao Chau), Luy Lau was a Buddhist center, and from here Buddhism spreaded to Pengcheng and then to Luoyang in China. Some one even suggested that by this way Theravada Buddhism was first introduced into Vietnam, before Mahayana Buddhism.

Vietnam is of the water-agriculture civilization that is why water is the most natural power which effects people’s life here. When Buddhism introduced into Vietnam it also accommodates the local water-agriculture civilization. At the beginning Indian Buddhism was to be accepted and introduced through local belief. The narrative “Chu Dong Tu” is an obvious example of this case. In this story, Chu Dong Tu and his wife were given a hat and a stick by an Indian priest and they also taught magic to control the power of water. Then in a huge flood disaster they used the hat and stick to save the whole village survive and good rice seed and necessary things for water-rice cultivation were preserved. Another Buddhist narrative describes Arahants and Bodhidsattvas as the Four Dharmas: Dharma Rain, Dharma Thunder, Dharma Cloud and Dharma Lightning which were introduced by an Indian monk (Mahakyvuc) and they has been considered as the symbols of Buddhism. Now these symbols the four Dharmas are worshiped in many Buddhist pagodas together with Buddha statutes. Working people hope that they will control the power of water and give good crops. This ritual expresses the belief of people of water-rice culture, and the symbol is that mixed of the native with the Buddhist belief in meaning. In some narratives and fairy-tale “Buddha” as Indian name was changed to be a Vietnamese name “But” and became the symbol of a Deity or God who always supports and encourages the good and the poor man with his magic power. “Dharma” here is understood by common people as a superpower who shares the peasants’ happiness or unhappiness on their farms. At that time, religious theory on rebirth, suffering (dukha), circle of lives, liberation, seed of action (karma), passion, altruism, generosity, charity, tolerance, avoidance, bad and evil ... was only explained simply as a belief of good way of life that common people could easily understand and accept it.

In the first intercultural communication Buddhism was peacefully introduced into and accepted and then it was indigenized in Vietnam earlier than Confucianism and Taoism. From that time on, Buddhism was always considered as traditional religion, either when as orthodox or as heterodox one with the special advantage of Vietnamese Buddhism in the relation with Confucianism and Taoism.


2.2. Buddhism in Establishing System of Religion and Thought

Around the first ten centuries, another movement of Mahayana Buddhism was by land route introduced indirect from China, spreading from India to China and then from China to Vietnam. I think it is necessary to clear out the difference between the first time and the second time that Buddhism introduced into Vietnam. First time Buddhism was introduced through common people’s belief, but in the second time, when Vietnam was under Sino-domination (about one thousand years); it was introduced through royal classes’ belief. Most of Buddhist monks had good knowledge of either Buddhism or Confucianism and Taoism. Taoism and Confucianism were two main traditional religions in China and Buddhism was introduced there through these two systems. Here, I want to mention again that Chinese Buddhism was a mixed Indian-Chinese product and in early period somehow it was not really a system of Chinese Buddhism and it also should had not been a particular system of thought and religion as it was if China and India had had no more intercultural communication with each others.

During the first millennium, the Vietnamese-Indian Buddhism had another chance to mix with Chinese-Indian Buddhism. This is the reason why Vietnam is the only one country in Asia which has both Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism together. In this period Buddhism developed in the direction of more ideological about religion and philosophy as well. The Vietnamese Buddhist book Thien Uyen Tap Anh Ngu Luc (compiled from the late 11th century to the early 13th century) refers in some detail to the Buddhist situation at Luy Lau at that time: “Giao Chau has routes leading to India. By the time that Buddhism was introduced into China, twenty Buddhist towers had already been built, more than 500 monks trained and 15 books of Buddhist sutras translated in Luy Lau. Then monks like Mahakyvuc, Khuong Tang Hoi, Chi Cuong Luong, and Mau Bac went to China to spread Buddhism”. This quotation is direct evidence that Buddhism flourished in Luy Lau a long time prior to its introduction to Southern China.

In this time, many books were written by monks to introduce Buddhist theory. The book Ly Hoac Luan (On the Correction of Doubt) written by Mau Tu (160-198 CE.) especially explained Buddhist teaching about suffering and liberation, no-self and karma (deed) but through Taoist and Confucian terms. The An Ban Thu Y Sutras (Anapanasty Sutra) was translated by Khuong Tang Hoi (200-247 CE.), one of the first monks who spreading Buddhism into Vietnam and only after becoming a famous monk in the North of Vietnam he went to China to spread Buddhism. The An Ban Thu Y Sutras is a book of Buddhist Theravada meditation and until now in Buddhist community it is considered as the basic technique and theory of Buddhist meditation for every, even sub-sects of Buddhism nowadays.

It is possible to say that with the appearance of the Mahayana ideological movement, Buddhism flourished and reached beyond India's borders to far away countries including Vietnam. In this time Vietnam had chance to establish an integrated theoretical system of religion and philosophy, with Confucianism as theory of socio-politics, Taoism as theory of No-action (Avoid ness), and Buddhism as theory of Liberation from suffering. This system of knowledge was so effectively in resolving the contemporary problems. But during the period of Sino-domination Giao Chau still remained its function as the national Buddhist center to receive Buddhist thoughts from both India and China, for example: Khuong Tang Hoi from China (3rd century), Dharmadeva from India (5th century), Vinitaruci from China (6th century) and Wu Yan Tong from China (9th century)... That is the reason why Vietnamese Buddhism had opportunities to accept two greatest streams of Buddhist thoughts, and in that condition Vietnamese Buddhism is more flexible and less rigid.

Under the Ly and Tran dynasties (from 12th to 14th centuries) high educated Buddhist Masters were spiritual force who took part in political affairs in leading the nation to win the powerful Sino and Yan imperialists. As an orthodox religion, Buddhist monks contributed their high virtue and intelligence as adviser (Royal Court Adviser). They are profound of not only three religions, but also of politics, military and diplomacy while they never mind reputation and wealth for themselves. For example famous Zen masters as: Ngo Chan Luu (933-1011), Phap Loa (1284-1330) and Tue Trung Thuong Sy (1229-1291) etc... In this time Buddhism was at the height, and it was the leading spiritual tendency of the nation. In that period Buddhist teaching was one part of the content of the national examination (Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism). History of Ly-Tran period still records many Buddhist kings such as Ly Nhan Tong (1072-1128), Ly Anh Tong (1138-1175), Tran Thai Tong (1218-1277), Tran Nhan Tong (1258-1308) and famous bonzes combined the Buddhist idea of no violence, benevolence together with Confucian thoughts of socio-politics to govern the country in peace. Some famous kings transferred the throne to younger generation and converted to Buddhism and dwelled at Buddhist temples as ordained monks to cultivate their mind and virtue by practicing meditation, studying and explaining the meaning of Buddhist teachings. It is possible to say that in this period Buddhism has successfully fulfilled its function of an ideology in the second millennium in building and defending the nation.


2.3. Vietnamese Buddhism in war time and in peace time

The Buddhist non-violence and no-killing idea is a particular one but it was applied actively in the war time through patriotism without rigidity. For the Vietnamese Buddhism, the nation‘s existence is at the same time the Buddhism’s existence. For the sake of the nation’s existence as well as the Buddhism’s Vietnamese monks should take off their robes, took weapons and go to the front to struggle against violence and evil power to save the country. In the emergency of the nation and religion Vietnamese monks “took swear an oath of burning his temporary body” to make a patriotic torch as a demand for freedom of belief of Vietnamese Buddhism. We can not forget the Buddhist patriotic-body-torches such as Quang Duc (self-immolation on June 11th, 1963), Nguyen Huong (August 4th,1963), Thanh Tue (August 13th ,1963), Dieu Quang (August 15th ,1963), and Tieu Dieu (August 16th ,1963). The way that Vietnamese Buddhists developed non-violence and no-killing idea through patriotism and without rigidity is the unique one in the world.

In peace time, pagoda is a complex functional space not only for Buddhist cults but also traditional customs and folk ceremonies. Pagoda is often called “Zen gate” where every one can go to introspect oneself to cultivate one’s mind and moral in free time or even in emergency. At home, people often practice meditation and worship Buddha and Avalokitesvara or Maitreya together with their ancestors on the same altar, or follow Buddhist fast, pray and keep five radical Buddhist moral rules.

In general speaking, the Vietnamese have actively and lively combined three religions and most effectively used Buddhist ethical value at those important historical moments so that Buddhism already got brilliant achievements. Through the long history Buddhism has firmly rooted in all aspects of culture and spirit even in war time and in peace time. Now Buddhism is the main inner feeling-religious life of the Vietnamese.


3. The Value of Buddhism

For my opinion, Buddhist values become more humanist and sustainable in comparison with other theistic religions, because its religious ethical advantage depends on individual internal mind of self-consciousness, self-confidence and self-liberation, while, in modern societies, the value of personal peace, freedom and confidence obviously becomes an urgent internal requirement. More than ever, the conflicts of modern societies are not only caused by economics and politics but also by religious and ethnic group conflicts which are rushing people in a blind alley of inner feeling and belief... The internal mind is still a vacant room in which theistic religions have to resolve by Gods and modern societies try to resolve its bad results by national court and law. Buddhist method of meditation (or Zen) can add people an active ability and realizable method to introspect oneself, reflect oneself in order to peace oneself.

Since middle of the 20th century, Buddhist method of training mind and inner feeling (meditation or Chan/Zen) has been really attracting modern (Western) scientists. They have been interested in Buddhist method of introspective self-cultivation and they also done various scientific investigations and analyzations by modern technique and modern psycho-physiology which produced marvelous results about realizable abilities of controlling and mastering human’s mind and inner feeling. It becomes more interesting, even urgently when people in the modern societies is more pressed in inner, mental life which could not be solved by the high standard of material life (high civilization). Now, modern scientific and technical achievements are making multiple abilities for killing on larger level of extermination with more “indirect” and more “clean” criminal way as its negative side. So that it is more difficult to reflect on oneself. Causes of the moral spoilage are not only by economic or politics but also by race and religious conflicts, so that modern society needs a more perfect and more progressive humanist ethics. Buddhist ethics about introspection and internal self-consciousness will be a necessary aid to improve the modern ethics.

However, Buddhism also appears its limits by its religious standpoint. Buddhism does not pay attention to politics, socio-economics and does not encourage any way of developing and satisfying human material need for individual and society. So that Buddhist social programs, in major, do not reform or create material condition of life, but only try to build up spiritual condition by ethics and religious believe in which every one is compassion, generous, perseverant, benevolent... altogether. This is the limit that Buddhism had been adjusting continuously in process of expanding and indigenizing in other cultures, especially when applying in various communities and nations in order to fulfill its religious mission in the modern age.

Radically Buddhist thought and market economy are opposites, because Buddhism resists hedonistism and never encourages achievement of wealth, and even considers enjoyment and desire of wealth as the cause of evil and pain. The basic economic thought in Buddhist teaching is the ethical-economic one with idea that by "less desire" or by "avoid craving, reduce need" to have feeling of plenty, but not by more production or by higher productivity to have real plenty. Buddhist paragon of virtue is Sakyamuni who left the royal luxury life full of pleasure to live as an ascetic and try to find the way to Liberation, as the same as Arahants and Bodhisattvas who live a plain ordinary life and pass over all difficult situation...

Today the in Vietnam, China, Korea, and Japan Zen Buddhism still sounds in various style of art such as: Method of Nutrition, Art of Martial, Zen Poetry, Zen Painting, Tea Ceremony, Calligraphy, Flower Arrangement,

As Buddhist way of life, Zen Buddhism is a typical product of intercultural communications; it highly praises capacity of body life to achieve human happiness. Zen Buddhism had contributed the term of theory and practice on resolving the problem of human being's suffering. However, in general, it is impossible to check Nirvana, Enlightenment, and Liberation on the side of individual. On the other hand it is also a cause of superstition or misleading because it turns back the responsibility of checking the truth to non-conception-experience.

Zen Buddhism successfully formed examples of life transcending material and spiritual suffering as salivated ones. For example, transcendental life of Zen Masters and the name "Zen Master" is often connected to the name of famous monks. Their lives are praised as a manner of compassion, altruism, modesty, wisdom, and transcendence over life and death. Zen Master is generally considered as a mirror of controlled mind, desire and the stream of thought, as well as internal universe and he could decide the life and death of himself. His life is described as typical religious exams of being super to life and death, being calm and wise at every event or dilemma. He should understand the natural reasonableness of all irrationalities, and realizing good side in bad one, beautiful aspect in ugly thing, goodness in evil, happiness in suffering etc,

Buddhist method of nutrition pays attention for training inner potentiality and teaching the nutriment of mental and body. Body nutrition is about training body through breathing practice, body postures and diet in order to strengthen body and nerves capacity to face all external challenges. Buddhist body nutrition inherited ancient Indian Yoga practice and combined with Chinese traditional breath practice and diet of Lao Tzu cult.1 Spiritual nutrition is about training mind, controlling sense organs and feelings of self in order to purify the instinct. The pure nature will automatically reach the good, creation will appear. Zen Buddhism insists that man could combine well both body and mental nutrition in meditation practice in order to transcend all worldly sufferings. It should be a reason to explain why Ch'an school has been lasting long through historical events and should propagate largely. Today Zen Buddhism is practiced and studied by Western people and they specially praise its value of avoiding stress which is a bad side of high civilization.

Buddhist Art of Martial is a special principle of martial which was discovered by Zen Master through process of training mind. From time to time Buddhist monks in training mind teacher this principle as the art of using weapons and martial gestures. Buddhist art of martial requires one to do well by forgetting oneself in state of unconsciousness, without the leading or checking of feeling or even rational consciousness. The self is completely forgotten. So that the power itself is well done by relaxing all power, all endeavor. Here, strong power, accuracy, and quickness should transcend consciousness, or distinction between subject and object. There is no win or lost in Buddhist art of martial. The beauty of this art depends not on the danger of martial level, but on the harmony of power with non-violence. The Art of Martial develops the perfect power of non-violence.

Zen poetry means verses praising the pure mind of human in accordance with the beauty of nature in order to express the noble teaching of Buddhism which is about the Ultimate Reality. Basically, Zen poetry develops the Buddhist idea of Enlightenment. They are often written by Zen Master who is both poet and philosopher at the same time. Principle of this style is the compact and modest words but with penetrating philosophy about life and human manner to nature. So that verses bear attributes of super salvation in which word is only a hint.

Zen painting is considered as one quintessence of the Zen Buddhist idea. The painting takes use of nature as an object to describe inner mind according to the idea of sudden enlightenment in which the basic of painting action should return to the original emptiness of no-mind. In a masterpiece mountain, river, lake, stream, and forest became the creation of the impermanent. Zen painter considers that Buddha nature or spiritual nature should be found in every thing and in every one. The aim of art is to grasp the essence of nature which is hidden under external forms of things. The painter should be quickly, accurately, without any hesitation to draw naturally. The strokes move freely with out the controlling of the Self. The painter should draw the spirit of object, not only the external forms of it. This style can show the moving space from limited to unlimited, from visible to invisible... Ch'an painting should express the feeling about origin of all forms-formless. Especially, while drawing, the painter integrates oneself with the object in a strong effort of concentration while only intuition works. Zen painting is respected and accepted as a holy product of Buddhist culture.

Calligraphy means the art of writing letters developed to be the term of Zen thought. Each letter as a masterpiece reflects the writer's mind and heart. Zen Master use Calligraphy to express completely his mind and soul, that's why each letter is a unique picture. The letter is active as lifelike strokes full of vitality. With Calligraphy, only light and dark strokes, black and white colors are used but they should manifest space abstractly as well as concretely. Calligraphy was used as a way to train mind by Zen Master, but latter it is accepted as a lofty art of Chinese intellectual, and then broadened to other countries in East Asia.

Tea Ceremony is the basic idea about inner spirit manifested creatively by Zen Master and improved to be the art of drinking tea. Tea Ceremony is arranged as a meticulous ritual of making tea with long series of actions that form a whole moment of simple harmony over every thing. The endless ritual seems the endeavor to help every participator should clearly feel how the atmosphere changing, and so that they can enjoy and experience those things not be able expressed by words. The aim of Tea Ceremony is to calm one's mind, to integrate oneself with nature, and to less action as possible. Tea Ceremony radiates aesthetic sense of simple, elegant, freedom. May be, at the beginning Tea Ceremony was the way to get perfect relaxation of Zen Master during training process, at the end, it was enjoyed by lay men of different classes. Gradually it became a unique art of drinking tea in China, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam. Whatever a bit different it is in every local, but its basic spirit remains as excellent and lofty art.

Flower Arrangement is an art of planting tree or arranging flower developed to be the philosophical term of inner life. Flower Arrangement is an artificial mode of the reduced nature. Flower and tree are just nature, but through art they suddenly show out their deep splendor. Flower Arrangement is not just collecting the external and visible beauty of nature, but it requires the artist to have mind and heart of nature, which should integrate with nature and know how to perceive and praise artificially the potential beauty hidden under simple form of nature. Artificiality of Flower Arrangement is an art of transcending subjective idea of the Self. It is the basic idea of this lofty art, and the basic trend of training inner mind of Zen Master. Latter, it is introduced as a style of art which makes the life beautiful. Flower Arrangement had a long tradition in China, and then it came into vogue in Japan, Korea, and Vietnam. Before a masterpiece of Flower Arrangement one should feel the sudden open of the mystic beauty as a perfect one of nature. And at the moment one should perceive that the Beauty itself is unlimited.



In Vietnam Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism are the three basic systems of Oriental thought which are accepted and applied altogether creatively in process of establishing and affirming the nation’s dignity. We can say that as the result of interaction with India and China, the Vietnamese radical theories about cultivation of self-improvement, controlling family and governing country were established in the tendency of integration of the three religions altogether, and among them Buddhism occupies an active and distinguish place in forming internal (introspecting) values.

After a period of trying to give off religions by Materialist ideology of Marxism, Socialist countries come to realize the spiritual values of religions, on a certain extent. For them, spiritual values of religions mean not only negative aspect such as superstition, but also of positive one as philosophy, moral, culture... And they are considered as tradition for the development in the meaning of civilization and globalization as well.

Civilization is a globalization trend in the new millennium, and the standard of life will be quite better thanks to progressive of scientific, engineering, technical achievements. These fruits are quickly popularized, globalize and become common property of human in the world. However, the trend of civilization, modernization and globalization is a reason to speed up the appearance of a philosophical problem: High quality of life is just not happiness. Man in modern society is facing modern dilemma such as AIDS, drug, corruption, pollution, nations and races-war etc. in the term of "worldly suffering" of Buddhism. The whole picture of modernization and civilization, some how, shows out the question that if high standard of life is an effective and all-round solution for human being's happiness or not.

The desire of understanding the Self once became a philosophical question. In the Western, Existentialism, Technoctativism, Psychnanalysm ... are sounds of requirements for real happiness when high quality of life was not the answer for "suffering". In general, Buddhism was a selected system inherited from Indian and Asian traditions which has been tested and improved through long history. So that its preeminent factors have become common precious values of mankind, not only belongs to Buddhism in the religious meaning. Buddhism which already has its advantage of an internal-equal-anti theistically authority-religious ethics and with its rich and experience in intercultural communication would be a candidate with potential capacity to integrate into the modern age and face with the challenges of globalization as well.


In future, individual will have much more and multifold chance to choose, but it is more difficult to decide and to realize the Self in that condition. In other word, it is easier to lose than to express the self. Anyhow, it should be the reason that forces man to directly challenge the internal suffering. The internal-atheistic-religious-philosophical approach of Buddhism, in this aspect, should be considered as an emerged character of Oriental thought which can make up for the shortage of the man's knowledge about the Self. But, Buddhism is a religion, so we should remind that it would certainly take advantage of modern scientific achievements to protect and improve its traditional theory of humanity towards the trend of a religious system. In the fact, Buddhism has to step back to (inner) psychology in which many questions about the Self remained.

However, Zen Buddhism has contributed a general value of humanity by the internal-atheistic-religious-philosophy approach. To day, in the trend of globalization, civilization, door will open for the meeting of Eastern and Western values onwards to the better life in common respective. In this condition, positive values of Buddhists thought and practice will be continuously preserved and promoted in the common perspective of the new millennium.






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5. web page: “Buddhist statistics”.

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17. Junjiro Takakusu. Buddhist schools. Translated in to Vietnamese by Tue Si. Van Hanh Buddhist Library, Sai Gon, 1973.

18. The books in Vietnamese:

19. Thich An Thuan. Buddhist General Teaching. University Press, Hanoi, 1992.

20. Thich Thanh Nghiem. Buddhist Right Believe. Institute of Buddhist studies, Hanoi, 1991.

21. UNESCO Universal Declaration on Cultural Divery. The 31st session of UNESCO’s General Conference, Paris, 2 November 2001.

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24. Vu Trong Can. Buddhist Spirit. Cong Luc Publishing house, Tonkin, 1944.

25. Lu K'uan Yu (Charles Luk). The Secrets of Chinese Meditation (part 5: Self-cultivation according to the Taoist school). Samuel Weiser, Inc. York Beach, Maine USA. 1969.


1 Vietnamese Encyclopedia, Vol. 1, Vietnamese Center for Publishing Dictionaries, Hanoi, 1995; Le Quang vinh. Respect and insurance for the right of religious believe and irreligious believe” Review of Communist Party, No 6, 2000, p. 13.; according to web page: “Buddhist statistics” Vietnamese Buddhists is the eight country in the list of 10 top Buddhist countries in the world, with 55% of population, in concrete number is 49.690.000.

[1]Radhakrishnan, Indian Philosophy, vol. 2. Edited by H.D.Lewis. A George Allen and Unwin, Bombay- Calcutta- Madras- New Delhi, 1977, p. 338-340

1 Lu K'uan Yu (Charles Luk). The Secrets of Chinese Meditation . Samuel Weiser, Inc. York Beach, Maine USA, 1969, pp. 167-175.