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The life of the Late
 Most Venerable Thich Giac Nhien

Second Supreme Patriarch of United Vietnamese Buddhist Church


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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.

 Early 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.

 Buddhist Training:

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. 

Dharma Propagating:

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 central Vietnam.

 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.

 ‘Stop the 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.

 The Top Job:

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 peaceful Vietnam.”

 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.

 Last Days:

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 happy.”

 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.

 

Translated by Venerable Nguyen Tang
Edited by Chris Dunk Quang Tu &  Jessica Tam Lac
(Quang Duc Monastery, Melbourne, January 2005)
 

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Layout: Jacinta & Anna
Update : 01-02-2005


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