Yen Tu Pagoda

The Complex of Yen Tu Monuments and Landscape is located on the Dong Trieu range, at the intersection of two provinces: Quang Ninh and Bac Giang. The heritage site is mostly situated on a mountainous region which is about 600m above sea level. With its peak at 1,068m above sea level, Yen Tu is famous for its beautiful natural landscape and cultural heritage, called the anscestral land of Truc Lam Zen Buddhism in Vietnam.

The historical site and beautiful landscape of Yen Tu covers an area of about 9,200 hectars on which religious architectural constructions are built such as pagodas, temples and towers from the Ly dynasty, from Bi Thuong (Doc Do) to the mountain top of Yen Tu (Phuong Dong ward, Thuong Yen Cong commune (Uong Bi city) and Hong Thai Dong commune (Dong Trieu district), Quang Ninh province.)

According to historical books, about 1,000 years ago Yen Tu was considered “the fourth blessing land of Giao Chau” and “in the third year of Tu Duc’s reign, Yen Tu Mountain was listed in the book of well known beautiful places”.

Because of its mystic beauty and sacredness, Yen Tu was chosen by Vietnamese Buddhists as their place for prayer. Before Christ (B.C), An Ky Sinh (Yen Ky Sinh) went there to practice his religion and reached the peak of the mountain. After that, generations of Vietnamese kept coming to Yen Tu to practice Buddhism and build pagodas, towers and other types of constructions.

The Tran dynasty especially invested in an architectural complex of large scale pagoda temples in this area. This was implemented by King Tran Thai Tong (Tran Canh) who arrived to Yen Tu in April 1236 (Binh Than year in lunar calendar) and was continued by King Tran Nhan Tong (Tran Kham), who was the national hero in the two wars against the invader Nguyen Mong in 1285 and 1288. The latter brought peace to the country and led the dynastry to prosperity before handing over the throne to his son, in order to emphasize researching and practising Buddhism in Yen Tu.

In 1299, Tran Nhan Tong founded Truc Lam, a system of theories and actions connecting religion and life. He was considered the first master of Truc Lam Zen Buddhism with his Buddhist name Dieu Ngu Giac Hoang. Two successors, Phap Loa and Huyen Quang Ton Gia, later took over his career. These three individuals were called the « Three Ancestors of Truc Lam », and Yen Tu became the capital of Truc Lam Zen Buddhism, marking the philosophical development of Vietnam in 12nd, 13rd and 14th centuries. Associated with the history of Truc Lam Zen Buddhsim in Yen Tu, a complex of architectural constructions including hundreds of pagodas, temples, towers, graves, memorial steles and statues was built. This large complex was located in a spectacular and poetic landscape which spreads over a dozen of kilometers, forming the Yen Tu complex of histotical heritage and beautiful landscape.

Yen Tu was where the pure Vietnamese Thien Tong Zen Buddhism was founded and developed. It is home to many old architectural masterpieces built and conserved by local Buddhists as well as the feudal dynasties of Ly, Tran, Le and Nguyen. These constructions reflect clearly the development of Vietnamese architecture, arts and sculpture and represent the talent and innovative thinking of Vietnamese people. The large complex was founded early in Vietnam. The existence and development of Thien Tong Zen Buddhism was the flower of the Dai Viet civilization, a golden era for the country - the era of independence and freedom. All pagodas, temples, towers, memorial steles and statues are precious historical data associated with the name and career of Dieu Ngu Giac Hoang Tran Nhan Tong and generations of other Buddhists after him.

Memorial steles in Yen Tu are very informative. A list of Buddhists who practised their religion in this place could be found, and therefore the history of Truc Lam could be understood. Throughout the Ly, Tran, Le and Nguyen dynasties, Yen Tu was the destination for many great Buddhist monks from Hien Quang (Ly dynasty), for the three ancestors of Truc Lam (Tran dynasty), Chan Nguyen (Le dynasty) and the Buddhist nun Dam Thai  (Nguyen dynasty). Some Buddhist monks were from the royal family of Vietnam such as Tran Nhan Tong and Huyen Quang, respectively the first and the third ancestor of Truc Lam. Some were from China, such as Ty kheo Minh Hanh.

The legacy of Truc Lam Zen Buddhism, including written prayers and guide books for Buddhists and local communities such as “Thien tam thiét chuy ngu luc”, “Dai Huong hai an thi tap”, “Tang gia Toan su”, “Thach That My Ngu”, “Truyen Dang Luc”, “Thuong si hanh trang”… is very valuable. It is the national intangible heritage which will be preserved for future.

From the center Yen Tu, Truc Lam Zen Buddhism reached out to other regions of the country. Truc Lam was inherited and promoted to other countries in the world by later generations of Truc Lam Buddhists.

Additionally, thanks to its natural diversity, Yen Tu is also regarded as an ecological museum. Next to the complex of pagodas, temples and towers are forests filled with pine  bamboo and apricots trees. Along the way, architectural masterpieces can be seen in different ways: one might be hidden in the old forest, another is situated obviously in a wide open space and the next would be hidden by the clouds. At the top of Yen Tu, visitors can look down to the East and enjoy Ha Long Bay with thousands of stone islands forming a sort of diamond necklace; or they can look to the South and observe Hai Phong city along with the Da Bac and Bach Dang rivers flowing gently like a sparkling ribbon. To the West they can look over the green fields of Hai Duong and Bac Ninh, or to the North they can oberve endless ranges of mountains. Every year, the Yen Tu festival begins on the 10th day of the first lunar month and takes place throughout the three months of spring.

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