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Yen Tu: Birthplace of Zen

By: Expat Advisory Posted: January-01-2006 in
Expat Advisory

On the quest for enlightenment, Oliver Martin finds higher ground on Vietnams Yen Tu.

"Although you may practice Buddhism for 100 years, you cannot attain enlightenment without reaching the summit of Yen Tu," say the Vietnamese pilgrims who visit Dong Pagoda, Yen Tu mountain, 120 kilometers north-east of Hanoi.

While the view may be beautiful and the breeze spiritual, it is the adventure of getting to the summit of this mountain in Quang Ninh Province where the fun is to be enjoyed.

Yen Tu is the stunning birthplace of the Truc Lam School of Buddhism, also known as the Bamboo Forest School. King Tran Nhan Tong founded the sect in the 13th Century and is believed to be one of the first national Vietnamese offshoots of the legendary Zen school of Buddhism.

Long considered sacred, the mountain and its series of pagodas and historical sites have drawn hundreds of thousands of visitors each year, mostly Vietnamese.

Most visitors start their trek at Giai Oan brook situated at the foot of the mountain. A stone memorial marks the spot where legend has it that King Tran Nhan Tong's concubines threw themselves into the river to show their loyalty to the king upon his decision to become a Buddhist monk.

There is a custom for visitors to write their name, and perhaps a wish, on a leaf and throw it into the brook. Having throw their wishes to the water, visitors have the choice of either hiking up the mountain or taking the cable car. The hike is challenging; energetic hikers eager to get to the top can make it in around four to five hours.

But for those who would prefer to take their time strolling up the picturesque paths lined with pine and bamboo forests then there are many distractions for them.

Exploration of some of the historical sites along the way will take you to the stupa that holds the ashes of King Tran Nhan Tong, and other stupas that house the remains of Yen Tu monks.

Paths branching off the main trail quickly reveal bamboo gardens, streams and waterfalls - taking a rest couldn't be more beautiful. Meditating monks at Golden Waterfall near Hoa Yen Pagoda wisely advise this area as a spot perfect for relaxing. Hoa Yen Pagoda is the largest pagoda complex on the mountain and includes basic sleeping quarters where visitors can break up the hike by resting for the night.

The final stage of the pilgrimage is a little more demanding, but the clamber up the steep slopes is worth it for the view from Vietnam's highest pagoda. Beautiful views and a spiritual breeze will greet visitors who find themselves exhausted yet elated, and possibly enlightened, to have made it. Pilgrims will mark their ascent by lighting incense and saying their prayers before making their way back home.

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