The Most Venerable Thich Giac Nhien was a
person who achieved the appointed position of the Sangha leader of the
Order of Monks and Nuns, known by his Dharma title as the Most Supreme
Patriarch of the United Vietnamese Buddhist Church on October 12, 1973.
Background to the title of Most Supreme
Patriarch of the United Vietnamese Buddhist Church: Originally this
title and position had been created during the Dinh Tien Hoang Dynasty
(968-979 AD). It was created after a particularly effective Dharma talk
delivered to Kinh Dinh Tien Hoang, the ruler of the country, that Zen
Master, Khuong Viet was appointed under this then newly created
position; the First National Supreme Patriarch of Vietnamese Buddhism.
Over the past ten centuries, occasionally
this title was unused. However during the 20th century, this title was
once again officially recognized and employed. The title is unusual, not
being granted by Kings or Government, but by the Buddhist Congregation
members, that is the lay Buddhist followers and their monks, nuns.
It was as a result of the passing away of the
First Supreme Patriarch The Most Venerable Thich Tinh Khiet, that Most
Ven Thich Giac Nhien was requested to accept this position in 1973.
This title is crystallized by virtue and labor
in services sentient beings and propagating the Buddha Dharma. In the
Pali language this position is known as Sarigharāja.
days & Family Life:
Born on January 7th 1878 in Ai Tu Village,
Trieu Phong District, Quang Tri Province, Vietnam. Most Venerable Thich
Giac Nhien’s lay name was Vo Chi Tham, his father was Vo Van Xung and
his mother was Tran Thi Dieu. At the age of seven, he commenced
studying ancient Chinese, soon becoming proficient due to his natural
intelligence and dedication to study and due to his virtue from previous
lives; he left home vowing to become a Buddhist novice at Tay Thien
Temple. His Master was Most Venerable Thich Tam Tinh and renamed him as:
Thich Trung Thuy.
As a novice, Most Venerable Giac Nhien
commenced his studies in Buddhism, studying the Sutras (Buddhist
scriptures) and Vinaya (law) and meditating as does the life of a
Buddhist Monk seeking liberation and wisdom. In 1895, during the Duy Tan
Dynasty, he and Most Ven Tinh Khiet attended the Bhikkhu Full Ordination
Ceremony at Phuoc Lam Temple in Hoi An city, Da Nang Province. This Full
Ordination was conducted by Zen Master Vinh Gia, Tam Truyen and Hoang
Phu. After this, the master-to-be continued to maintain the pure
precepts as a dedicated and outstanding Monk.
In 1932, Most Venerable Phuoc Hue, from Thap
Thap Temple, Binh Dinh Province, Most Venerable Giac Tien, Most
Venerable Tinh Hanh, Brother Tam Minh, and brother Truong Xuong, founded
the An Nam Buddhist Institution. This Institution invited Most Venerable
Giac Nhien to be an adviser to the Institute and a Rector of the Tay
Thien Buddhist School in Hue.
In 1934, most venerable Giac Nhien was
appointed Abbot of Thanh Duyen, National Temple at Tuy Mountain, Hue it
being one of three largest temples in the country along side Linh Mu
Temple and Dieu De Temple in Thua Thien, Hue.
It was in 1936, the Duy Tan Dynasty granted
him a position as Leader of Monks and in the same year, he was asked to
be an Adviser to Vien Am Buddhist Magazine; and the Buddhist newspaper
that published Buddhist-Dharma.
In 1937, due to the accrediting of all Senior
Monks in Hue, Most Venerable Giac Nhien became the Abbot of Thien Ton
Temple in Hue. This temple belonged to Tendai Buddhist Sect founded by
Zen Master Lieu Quan in Nguyen Dynasty in 1708. Thus, he was appointed
as the eighth Patriarch of Lieu Quan Zen Sect.
In 1956, Most Venerable Giac Nhien was
requested to be a Rector of Hai Duc Buddhist Institute in Nha Trang, a
college that trained monks and nuns working in Central Vietnam. From
1958-1962, the master was the Chief Director of the General Central
Buddhist Society for 4 terms and, although 80 years of age, he continued
to perform his duties meet his role propagating Buddhism, taking time
to visit many different Buddhist temples throughout mountainous areas of
On 14 April 1963, aged 88 years old,
suffering poor health at the time and only able to walk with the aid of
a bamboo stick, remaining true to his cause, he led a landmark
demonstration of a delegation of monks, nuns and lay Buddhists in Hue.
This was the commencement of the campaign for human rights and equality
in religion during the repressive days of the Diem Government which was
deeply anti-Buddhist. Never wavering in his commitment to Buddhism,
making supreme sacrifices on behalf of all beings, Most Venerable Giac
Nhien was supremely protective of the Dharma and Sangha but was always
able to relate to the common life. He shared the difficulties of
ordinary people and made constant representations on their behalf and
towards the relief of their suffering.
The Master also held the position of the
Preceptor Leader, (Master of Ceremonies) for monks, nuns and lay
Buddhists at the Ordination of Sangha members at Ho Quoc Precept
ceremony, Hai Duc Temple (1956), at the Van Hanh Precept ceremony at Tu
Hieu Temple (1965), and the Vinh Gia ceremony at Pho Da Buddhist
Institute in Da Nang. The Masters ( and many disciples too) who were
inspired by his example and leadership, contributed greatly to modern
Vietnamese Buddhism, some of these being; Most Venerable Thich Thien
Sieu, Most Venerable Thich Thien Minh, and Most Venerable Thien Binh.
War’, Campaigning for Peace:
Shortly after assuming his role as the second
Supreme Patriarch, the war in Vietnam intensified with terrible
suffering and terror expanding to all corners of the nation. His role
within the peace movement became an enormous burden in such trying
times. As Supreme Patriarch, Most Venerable Giac Nhien witnessed living
history of the nation being born of blood fire and tears during those
turbulent times. Vietnamese Buddhist followers, particularly the Supreme
Patriarch himself, deeply shared the suffering with all Vietnamese and
others involved in those bitter days. Throughout it all, the master
remained a firm and resolute guide to the Buddhist Congregation. In his
striving for peace and for the safety of his people, the Master was
intensely involved and worked as an advocate on behalf of all sentient
beings during those dreadful times and events that shaped modern world
history and the nation itself. His concerns, wishes and advice were
conveyed through his messages, requesting all people to develop self
awareness, mindfulness and responsibility, also for people to stop the
war and carry out peace and happiness on behalf of others the country
and the greater world through personal effort and right action. Finally
cease-fire news was broadcasted on January 28 1973, the nation turning
into the new phrase in its history.
After such a long life, full of great depth of
experience, after constantly facing and dealing with the many obstacles
which was facing the Buddhist Congregation and Vietnamese people as a
whole, the wonderful master- with his deep and profound characteristics
of silence and non-action through deep morality, concentration, and
wisdom- had developed an enormous energy in the spiritual disciplines
for the benefit of propagating and supporting Vietnamese Buddhism and
due to this was in an excellent position to face a new challenge.
When the First Supreme Patriarch Most Ven
Thich Tinh Khiet passed away in 1973, the Buddhist congregation’s
activities became difficult, lacking a supreme leader. Faced with this,
Most Venerable Thich Giac Nhien assumed the position of the Supreme
Patriarch of the United Vietnamese Buddhist Church in replacement of Ven
Thich Tinh Khiet. It was at the Vietnamese Buddhist Conference in
October 12 1973, that he assumed the highest position in his life with
the vow “ Protect and develop Buddhism”.
In his Message, he advised monks and nuns to
practice and keep the precepts constant, saying that: “As the Vinaya
(Law) is constant, so would the Buddha Dharma remain relevant and true”.
He advised monks and nuns of maintenance of the simple and pure way of
life. He said : “ I am old now, and over past 100 years, I have lived
and viewed all of the changes, up and down this country, I see nothing
else can be valued as is the simple and pure life and in keeping the
precepts, of developing concentration and wisdom in practicing Buddhism
and to help all sentient beings. With lay Buddhists, you should train
and cultivate your body and mind, being kind with people, being fully
responsible in life and religion, and working together to develop the
spirit of Compassion and Wisdom of Buddhism and to build up a new
Despite world events, national politics and
the war, he did not neglect the teaching of the Dharma to his people. He
taught the monks and nuns that “Buddhism remains; it is not only the
appearances and forms of temples, that is important, Stupas towers, and
rituals and sutras (Buddhist scriptures) are devise, a compass that
leads beings to the fruit of Buddhahood and, the real existence of
Buddhism is displayed through the vigor and manners of monks and nuns.
The brilliant example through the pure lifestyles of monks and nuns in
keeping to the precepts and propagating the Buddha’s teachings enables
the Dharma to remain forever relevant in this world in order to bring
the profit to all sentient beings.
At 102 years old, the Master did not feel
unusual symptoms alike other aged people; his body was thin and weaker
but his activities still normal. His walking looked relaxed, unhindered
and stately. He was able to do sitting meditation for hours without
back-pain, his knees weren’t tired, his eyes were not dim, nor was he
hard of hearing. His voice was still clear, and his wisdom was
extraordinarily brilliant. It was thanks to his morality and virtue in
practicing Buddhism that his old aged was unlike other people and
enabled him to keep his typical lifestyle as usual.
It was on the occasion of the Lunar New year
of Ky Mui that the master received visits from Most Venerable Thich Don
Hau, the chief Secretary of Patriarch Institute and many Most-Venerables,
Very-Venerables, Venerables, Monks and Nuns at Thuyen Ton temple in Thua
Thien Hue Province. He was in his bed, when delegation arrived and he
asked “who is that?” Most Venerable Thich Don Hau replied to him to “
Please master, we request that you remain lying down and rest, we hope
to prostrate and wish you longevity on the occasion of New Year”. They
prostrated themselves to Supreme Patriarch and wished him well.
Afterwards, the Supreme Patriarch as a Bodhisattva who may foreseen what
happiness in the future awaits him, felt that his time was cutting
short. He offered advice on the New Year coming: “I am old now, my
health is weak and I do not know when death will ultimately arrive, but
on this the occasion of beginning of year, all of you have come to visit
me. I am most grateful and I do hope the Buddha blesses you all with
healthier and stronger lives. Be patient facing obstacles, in the
service the Congregation, and lead the monks, nuns and lay Buddhist in
practicing Buddhism well as good examples. If you can do that then I am
Surprisingly, that advice on the Ky Mui New
Year 1979 was the last words of the Supreme Patriarch. The following
day, he felt unwell, and as with his teachings of the “impermanence is
permanent”, Most Venerable Thich Giac Nhien passed away in peace at
6.20am on February 2 1979 at the age of 102, Dharma age- 82 years. His
remains are then stored within a Stupa, which is housed within the
Thuyen Ton Temple, Thua Thien, Hue as an enduring reminder of his great
importance to us all.
His passing away left behind enduring respect
and love for such a wonderful person who contributed so much across the
nation, internationally and within the hearts of Vietnamese people.
Venerable Nguyen Tang
Edited by Chris Dunk Quang Tu & Jessica Tam Lac
(Quang Duc Monastery,
Melbourne, January 2005)
Layout: Jacinta &
Update : 01-02-2005