ZEN AMID PINES By Nathalie Sokolovskaya

All my life I cherished a dream To get to the solitude, to get high to the mountains. Alas!Old age has come, my dream still stays a fantasy. I would have willingly abandoned all squabbles and mass of the world For desired exile to the solitude But weird poverty still gives no chance. Du Fu Feudal China,VIIIcentury Vietnam is a country of contrasts which supply each other amazingly ,composing together a multi-colored harmonous combination. Thus,Dalat, an aristocratic french colonial style city in Vietnamese central highlands , shelters amid its pine forest Truc Lam Zen Monastery, the biggest research centre of Vietnam Truc Lam Zen School. Zen Buddhism teaching is based on Mahayana doctrine(the Great Vehicle i.e. the big car that can bring all striving adepts to spiritual enlightment) and Nagarjuna’s doctrine of Sunyata(Emptiness).Its ultimate goal is to help anyone who likes to learn and practice what Buddha taught,to become enlighted , to liberate oneself from sufferings caused by ignorance, anger and greed.The spiritual practice of this school is based on the way of Buddha :dhayana (meditation) which comprises 4 main methods :counting one’s breaths in and out ,following one’s breaths with one’s mind’s eye,shikantaza(sitting in one’s whole awareness) and koans. The DOUBT about the crucial questions of human existence ,like”why do human beings have to suffer birth,old age ,sickness and death” is the nucleus of Zen Buddhism.It serves a guideline for life long Zen practice.Depending on how great or small one’s doubt is ,one’s enlightment will subsequently become great or small .The purpose of of a Zen mediator is to gain spiritual enlightment. Enlightment in Zen is an invention, a creation; but not a statics,motionless,blind following dogmas or waiting till death to know the result of the practice.Zen practitioner should be determined,persevering and courageous.Zen raises initiative,braveness and inventiveness in person. Being inventive,Zen cherishes the spirit of creativity.Invention,creativity and selfconfidence are the essence of Zen Zen Buddhism came to Vietnam at the end of II - the beginning of the IIIrd century and gained its pinnacle as religious teaching during 11-13 centuries.Historians havn’t yet reached a consensus about who brought the teaching in the country. According to many chronicles of Vietnam, in 580, an Indian monk named Vinitaruci (Vietnamese: Tì-ni-đa-lưu-chi) came to Vietnam after completing his studies with Sengcan, the third patriarch of Chinese Zen. This, then, was probably the first appearance of Vietnamese Zen Buddhism. The sect that Vinitaruci and his lone Vietnamese disciple founded ‘ve become known as the oldest branch of Thien (Zen). After a period of obscurity, the Vinitaruci School became one of the most influential Buddhist groups in Vietnam by the 10th century, particularly so under the patriarch Vạn-Hạnh ,who greatly contrubuted

. in Zen Buddhism transmission ,applying virtuously Zen principles in to the country politics.As According to Zen teaching : Not relying on the words and letters Spiritual teaching is transmitted outside the scriptures, Pointing directly in to one’s mind, One then can see into his own nature and attain Buddhahood. Zen doesn’t teach its practitioners to be strictly attached to words and letters,and inwardly involved with thought and concepts.Getting stuck in words leaves a person miles away from the goal. By 11 century Vietnamese Zen comprised several Zen schools as Vo Ngoc Thong,Thao Duong,Truc lam. According to historical records Vietnamese civilization at that period was even more advanced than Chinese. Starting from 11th century Buddhism was being broadly presented in national politics for 5 centuries .Many kings of Vietnam till 19th century had a profound understanding and deep devotion to Bouddhism.Thus,after allowing the throne to his son ,King Tran Nhan Ton ordained to become the first Patriarch of Truc Lam sect.Tran dynasty reigned the country for 2 centuries from 1226 till 1440.Buddhism at that time had become the uniting and inspiring power for Vietnamese people that brought them a glorious victory against Mongolian invaders and a high respect of neighboring countries . During the French colonialization Vietnamese Buddhism lived through its darkest years being constantly surpressed by new administration. Vietnam Liberation in 1945 was the time when Buddhism began its reestablishment .There are now more then 20 Zen monasteries and Zen centres in Vietnam , founded by Venerable Zen Master Thich Than Thu.He is also the founder of several Zen monasteries in the USA:in Texas and in the Southern California. Built in 1993 and inaugurated in 1995,Truc Lam Zen Monastery in Dalat is the heart of the regenerated Truc Lam Yen Tu Zen School, the lineage of authentic Zen in the Vietnamese tradition ,which was revived after nearly 100 years of suppressions. Truc Lam Monastery is now a place where this meditation method is taught to the monks, the nuns, to Buddhist lay people and to anyone who is interested in Truc Lam approach. Practitioners come to the monastery on their own free will.Those who wish to be admitted to study and to practice there must undergo a training in the outer area so that administration could make a decision if a person is suitable. Today there are nearly 100 residents studing and practising Zen in Truc Lam The whole Monastery complex comprises the outer area with the Shrine room,the Patriarch’s hall, the lecture hall and separate inner areas for monks and nuns with separate Meditation halls where the Zen adepts assist daily early morning meditation session that lasts 2 hours.Their afternoon is fully devoted to studing of Tripitaka canon and Zen history.The main principles which Zen Buddhism adept should respect in each his action are:1)Mutual respect 2)Mutual sympathy 3)Mutual compromise

4)Practice concentration.As only through practice one will reach enlightment and internal peace. Spiritual enlightment is the lighthouse all Zen practitioners orient themselves to.Zen practice doesn’t follow the pre-set rules in the sutras but follows its own way adapted from one of the Buddha in the old days.The purpose of Zen is to incover the uexplored innate wisdom in each person.This wisdom is one that Buddha gained under the boddhi tree.Recognizing in Zen is “seeing in to one’s real nature”.Once it recognized , the complete liberation and enlightment comes. In the outer area grounds of the Truc Lam Monastery there are two towers sheltering huge bell and drum to help bring monks’ prays to the years of Buddha .The bell is 1.98 m high and one tone weight. It has been cast by skillful Hue artisants. Inner monastery gardens impress by rich and colorful variety of flowers, grown devotedly by residents. Truc Lam monastery possesses a library with a rich collection of books on Zen Buddhism and on general subjects that are being kept at a free access of all visitors. Built on the top of Phoenix hill, 5 km from Dalat city centre ,next to the picturesque Tuyen Lam lake , Truc Lam is a small kingdom of peace and calmness that gives to anyone paying it a visit one of the rare chances to get a “private audience” with nature, to hear her voice through the mountainous wind in pine trees ,in bamboo valleys ,to catch her breathing through lake water movements .This place will give any visitor ,however far from Zen he is, a very generous gift that one would carry away inside:the internal calmness and warmness, the sound of chimes from monastery roofs, splashes of the sun on bamboo leaves that will stay with one and will become the sounds and colors of one’s inspiration for long. As according to Zen Buddhism teaching “there are no strangers and enemies : Only friends who have understood And those who have yet to understand. Truc Lam Monastery is a kind of place that is always waiting for you to be back. @Copyright protected.Saigon counsel of lawyers.Nathalie Alexandra Sokolovskaya.12.2.2009.