Buddhism Buddhism in Vietnam
by
Elise Anne DeVido
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 March 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393521-0015

Introduction

While the precise details about the origins of Buddhism in Vietnam are still unclear, presumably coming to that country from India and Central Asia, textual and archaeological evidence suggests the presence of a Buddhist center in northern Vietnam (Red River Delta) by the 2nd century CE. In the centuries that followed, Buddhism in Vietnam remained predominantly Mahayana, but of Chinese provenance, including various traditions of Pure Land, Chan, and Tantric Buddhism. This was not only because China directly ruled Vietnam until the 10th century CE, when the kings of the Ly dynasty gained independence for Vietnam, but also due to the lasting Chinese cultural influence upon Vietnam. Even today, the predominant Mahayana tradition in Vietnam has been one form or another of a Chan-Pure Land practice, introduced from China in the 11th century, though long since evolved into distinctive Vietnamese varieties. However, it is important to note that King Tran Nhan Tong in the 13th century founded an indigenous school of Chan Buddhism called Truc Lam, which was also infused with Daoist and Confucian philosophy. Moreover, forms of Theravada Buddhism are practiced by many ethnic Khmers in the Mekong Delta and, since the mid-20th century, by some ethnic Vietnamese, while followers of the “new” Mendicant sect blend aspects of Mahayana and Theravada. Finally, there have been numerous popular sects informed by Buddhism, such as Cao Dai, Hoa Hao, and Tinh Do Cu Si. During the French colonial era, Buddhists and Buddhist institutions experienced both violent repression and patronage, while throughout the 20th century of war and revolution, Buddhists in Vietnam ceaselessly worked to save their religion and their nation. Since 1981, the various Buddhist traditions and organizations in Vietnam have joined the state-sponsored Vietnam Buddhist Sangha. Academic study of Buddhism in Vietnam has been difficult because of the necessity to know the languages of premodern texts: classical Chinese (Han) and the Vietnamese Demotic script called Nôm, in addition to Pali and Sanskrit, but scholars in Vietnam and around the world are collecting, preserving, and deciphering the Han-Nôm texts. With increased fieldwork opportunities, improved information systems and technology, and growing international academic collaborative efforts, the study of Buddhism in Vietnam is entering a new stage.

Bibliographies

The field is in dire need of rigorous bibliographies. For early French colonial scholarship on the Kinh (ethnic Vietnamese) and the Chams (several kingdoms or polities in south-central Vietnam, 7th–15th centuries) see Mus 1931. Tran 1943 is a study of the Vietnamese Buddhist texts held at the École française d’Extrême-Orient, then based in Hanoi. Also see Nguyen 1963, a slim bibliography without annotations published by the former Ministry of National Education in South Vietnam. No Nom or Chinese works are included, while the quoc ngu works listed on Vietnamese Buddhism are few. It is useful, however, for its listing of French sources and lists of sutra translations. Then there is Nguyen 1995, an annotated bibliography about works in the Vietnamese language published in Vietnam from the 1980s to 1995. This English-language article is a helpful guide to all researchers, even for non-Vietnamese readers. However, since 1995, many new works have been published in Vietnam and abroad that have already revised previous narratives of the history of Buddhism in Vietnam.

  • Mus, Paul. “Les Religions de l’Indochine, Bibliographie.” In Indochine. Edited by Maurice G. Dufresne, André Masson, Jean Przyluski, Charles Robequain, and Sylvain Lévi, 152–156. Paris: Société d’Éditions Géographiques, Maritimes et Coloniales, 1931.

    E-mail Citation »

    Though utilizing obsolete categories such as “Annamites” and “Peuples Sauvages,” this bibliography is a roll-call of the major French colonialist scholars working on the various areas and religions of Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos; readers can browse the section on “Religions des Annamites,” especially the work by M. Gustave Dumoutier (b. 1850–d. 1904), director of instruction and organizer and inspector of Franco-Annamite Schools, who observed and described specific Buddhist practices in pagodas.

  • Nguyen, Khac Kham, ed. So-thao muc-luc thu-tich ve Phat Giao Viet Nam. Saigon: Ministry of National Education, 1963.

    E-mail Citation »

    This is a selected, not complete, bibliography of Vietnamese Buddhism. Lists works in quoc ngu on Vietnamese Buddhism from the 1930s through the 1960s, and not historical works from previous centuries. Citations in French and English help point out French sources, and Vietnamese translations of Chinese, Pali, and Japanese Buddhist texts are useful for specialists. Mentions a few of the many Vietnamese Buddhist journals published in South Vietnam during the 1950s–1970s, including the Buddhist journal Phat Giao Viet Nam.

  • Nguyen, Trian. “Contemporary Vietnamese Publications on Buddhism: A Bibliographic Review.” CORMOSEA Bulletin 24.1 (June 1995): 8–13.

    E-mail Citation »

    Author discusses reference works (dictionaries, a guide to Han-Nom engraved texts), translations of Pali and Chinese sutras, histories of Buddhism, Chan works, monastic writings and Buddhist art texts, “miscellaneous” (Jataka stories, dharma teachings), and trends in Buddhist publishing in Vietnam c. 1995. CORMOSEA is the acronym of the Committee on Research Materials on Southeast Asia, Association for Asian Studies; its Bulletin is useful to browse for occasional articles related to research materials in and on Vietnam.

  • Tran, Van Giap. Contribution à l’étude des livres bouddhiques annamites conservés à l’École française d’Extrême-Orient. Tokyo: Société Internationale du Bouddhisme au Japon, 1943.

    E-mail Citation »

    The distinguished scholar of Vietnamese religions composed this early bibliography of Vietnamese Buddhist texts held at the École française d’Extrême-Orient in Hanoi; these books are now found in various libraries in Vietnam and overseas.

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