The Origin of Vietnam-India Cultural Exchange
(A Case Study of Dot Son Pagoda, Cap Tien Commune, Tien Lang District, Hai Phong)
Assoc. Prof. Ph.D. Le Van Toan*
3. The historical and cultural values of Dot Son Pagoda, Cap Tien commune, Tien Lang district, Hai Phong and some suggestions
The Dot Son Pagoda in Cap Tien commune, Tien Lang district, Hai Phong province is an ancient pagoda with many names (Chuyet Son, Non Dong, Dot Son), and it used to be a part of Kinh Luong district and Cau Lau land in ancient times. This land was located in the estuary which had favorable conditions for the reception of foreign culture and economic exchanges with the outside world, as well as spreading cultural and economic values to other areas in the region.
Over some periods in history, the pagoda had many different names:
- When the building works completed, the pagoda was called Chuyet Son Tu or Juisan in Sanskrit which means the origin of light. In this context, it means that the pagoda is the place receiving and spreading the light of Buddhist thoughts. After that, the pagoda was renamed to Non Dong Pagoda which literally means the Eastern mountain, or belonging to the Eastern part of the country. In 1491, King Le Thanh Tong visited this land and made a poem as follows: “The pagoda called Dot Son/ Built by the monks and nuns/ Having perfect Buddha statue / And full of happiness…”, since then the pagoda was called Dot Son. The name of the pagoda is pronounced “Đót” or “Đốt”, and they are the same words, but pronounced differently according to the rules of Vietnamese phonology (similar to “chu” or “châu” in Phan Châu Trinh or Phan Chu Trinh, “trời” (sky) or “giời” (sky), “trăng” (moon) or “giăng” (moon),… are the same objects with different pronunciations). The words “Đót” or “Đốt” have the same original meaning as a link in a chain; as bamboo, neohouzeaua, Dendrocalamus barbatus trees… have nodes… with broad meaning as a part of a chain or a process. When King Le Thanh Tong named the pagoda as “Dot Son Pagoda”, did he possibly want to imply that this pagoda is an important “part” of the Buddhist temple system in the first period of Buddhism introduction and development in Vietnam?
From the pagoda’s names at its early stage of establishment in the Liang Dynasty (China) in the VI century, it can be said that Dot Son Pagoda was always a place of Buddhist gatherings and spreading in Vietnam. According to documents about the pagoda’s stelae12, as well as hagiologies, folk legends about gods and genii, and imperial decrees… about Kinh Lương village, Kinh Lương district – currently Kinh Lương hamlet, Cap Tien commune, Tien Lang district, Hai Phong province13, as well as historial and geographical documents about Hai Phong and relics such as the foundation and kitchen of the pagoda, a thousand-year old Bodhi tree, v.v., we can said that throughout Vietnamese history of nation building and protection, Dot Son Pagoda and Kinh Lương land are historical and cultural heritages, as well as tourist attractions of not only Tien Lang district, Hai Phong province, but also that of Vietnam. As it was written in Tân Tạo Bồ Đề La Hán Bi Ký (New Inscription on Bodhi Arhats in Dot Son Pagoda):
“Dot Son Pagoda,
Vietnam’s beautiful landscape,
In the past, the land of Kinh Lương was the center for Buddhism in the Eastern region, with the strong connection to Progenitor Huyen Quang and it was the capital of Jingtu Zong (the Pure Land school). This is the land of sea-oriented culture which has favorable conditions for sea-defense.
According to historical documents about Tien Lang, Hai Phong, the book The water drop of the river published by National Political Publishing House in 2004, and many folk tales, the land of Kinh Lương and the Dot pagoda did not only have cultural and historical values, but also were revolutionary bases for ensuring the security for Tien Lang, and Inter-zone No. 3, the military zone in the lelf bank of Red river in the period of Vietnamese resistance to French colonialism from 1946-195414.
During the period of Vietnamese resistance to French colonialism, together with other relics in Tien Lang, Hai Phong, Dot Son pagoda was damaged and degraded. Recently, the pagoda, which has the spirit of Cau Lau – Đò Mè (Domea) culture, was recognized by Vietnamese government as the cultural heritage of Kinh Lương. In March 15
th 2015, Vietnamese government awarded certificate recognizing the Bodhi Tree at Dot Son Pagoda as The Heritage Tree of Vietnam. In 2009, after receiving the construction certificate, the restoration works of Dot Son Pagoda started. With a lot of efforts of the government and people of Cap Tien commune, Tien Lang district, Hai Phong province, as well as philanthropists, the Dot Son Pagoda started having a new shape. The restoration of this cultural heritage is just the first step but it already achieved good results. However, this is not enough. A lot of works need to be done. For example, the collection of documents (archaeological documents, documents written in Chinese characters (Hanzi) and Nom characters) in the two thousand years of nation building and protection in the rural area of Tien Lang, Hai Phong, the holy land of extraordinary people, is not a simple job, but a very complicated and difficult one. However, if the document collection work is successful, the results will be rewarding, and it is similar to “killing two birds with one stone”. Firstly, these sources of documents play a decisive role in recognizing Dot Son Pagoda, as well as Dong Zoi, Mau Truc and Dong Khoan as cultural heritages; Secondly, the large collections of documents about a specific region will enrich the national sources of documents, contribute to research activities, as well as promote Vietnamese traditional culture – the Dai Viet Civilization, which is recognized by the world as one of the first 34 civilizations of mankind.
When talking about the foreign thoughts and cultures introduced into Vietnam, the late General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Vietnam Le Duan emphasized: “Our nation (Vietnam) made two leaps in thoughts: the first leap was the meeting with Buddhism; the second leap was the meeting with Marxism–Leninism”15.
The late General Secretary highly appreciated the Buddhist thoughts and Marxist-Leninist thoughts. This was proved by an undeniable fact that Buddhism was introduced into Vietnam for more than two thousand years, and it always plays an important part in the history of nation building and protection of Vietnam. Today, Vietnamese people still respect, preserve and promote values of Buddhism.
Should Dot Son Pagoda and the cultural land of Cau Lau-Domea - the first places to receive and acculturate Buddhism - be recognized and developed? This question needs to be solved by many levels of Vietnamese Communist Party leadership and local governments and it requires a lot of efforts by many scholars in examining and doing research to provide scientific clarification about the spiritual culture and sea-oriented and sea-defended culture of Tien Lang, Hai Phong./.
* Senior Lecturer, the Centre for Indian Studies, Ho Chi Minh National Academy of Politics.