Standing at heaven’s gate on Bao Dai Mountain

  • 04:19 - 2018/02/24

We headed up to Bao Dai Mountain, also known as Vay Rong Mountain, to visit the Ngoa Van Am (Ngoa Van Pagoda) historical site. The site, located in the Yen Tu historical complex in the northern province of Quang Ninh, is where King Tran Nhan Tong (1258-1308) practised Buddhist Zen during the final years of his life.

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Stunning views: Tourists climb up Yen Tu Mountain. 

The Ngoa Van Pagoda is one of among 14 historical sites dating back to the Tran dynasty (1225-1400), located in An Sinh and Binh Khe communes, Dong Trieu District in Quang Ninh.

Looking up at the high mountain, a difficult-to-express feeling emerged inside me. The holy mountain should have been deserted with wild trees.

With a strong will and his spiritual enlightenment, King Tran Nhan Tong left the imperial citadel to lead a monk’s life in Yen Tu and establish the Truc Lam Yen Tu Zen Sect.

Truc Lam Yen Tu, or simply Truc Lam (Bamboo Grove), is the only native school for Buddhism in Vietnam.

Tran Nhan Tong was a wise emperor in Dai Viet State at the end of 13th century. He made many contributions in protecting the country, with two victories over Yuan-Mongol invaders (in 1285 and 1288), as well as developing the national economy and culture, and coordinating sophisticated diplomacy.

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Ancient: The original Ngoa Van Pagoda, the highest building at Ngoa Van Pagoda site, inside which placed an altar with a copper statue of King Tran Nhan Tong in reclining posture. — Photo Tran Mai Huong

In addition to the principle that Buddhism and life are never separate, Buddhism under the Tran dynasty also gave prominence to promoting altruism through helping people delve into their cognitive thinking. Believing that everyone has a Buddha nature inside them, King Tran Nhan Tong encouraged people to self-improve, keep away from inhuman activities, turn to charitable deeds and be masters of their lives. By so doing, the King claimed, people would be able to live lives of Nirvana, an enlightened state in which the fires of greed, hatred and ignorance have been quenched.

In his Lich Trieu Hien Chuong Loai Chi (Categorised Royal Regulations) book, which is considered the first encyclopedia of Vietnam, historian Phan Huy Chu wrote about the king:

“The king was humane in nature, wise, loved people and tried his best to unite people. In his reign, he twice fought and repelled Mongol invaders. He selected generals, and drilled the army by himself. After his son became king, he lost himself in learning Buddhist teachings, built the Thien Kien Temple, casted the Pho Minh bell and whole heartedly worshipped Buddha. He then led a monk’s life in the Yen Tu Mountain and died at the Ngoa Van Pagoda.”

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Holy site: Buddhist King Tower (some historic documents say it contain some of King Tran Nhan Tong’s sariras (small ball pearl found after burning corpses of veteran Buddhist monks). —  Photo Tran Mai Huong

Previously, there have been various opinions about the location of the Ngoa Van Pagoda. But according to archaeologist Nguyen Van Anh, from the Viet Nam Institute of Archaeology, research results provided scientific evidence that the Ngoa Van Pagoda in Tay Son Village, Binh Khe Commune, was where King Tran Nhan Tong led a monk’s life.

At six locations, stretching from the east to the south side of Ngoa Van Mountain, including today’s Ngoa Van Pagoda area, artifacts have been found dating back to various times, which proved that the Ngoa Van historic site was where the King died, as recorded in history.

Ngoa Van Tu means "Pagoda on the Clouds". At 500m above sea level, the pagoda has beautiful views, as it is seen resting on the cloud covered Ngoa Van Mountain Peak, with two mountain ranges seen on two sides, looking over a small mountain, and further into a valley with the Cam River curving around.

The pagoda was built under the Tran reign, and was added to during the Hau Le reign (1427-1789). The pagoda consists of three layers, with Am Ngoa Van (Ngoa Van Pagoda) as the highest building, and an altar inside displaying a copper statue of King Tran Nhan Tong in a reclining posture.

The Ngoa Van Pagoda has been upgraded into a spacious historical site, with a main pagoda, the small Ngoa Van Pagoda on top, the Buddhist King Tower, which some historic documents say contains some of King Tran Nhan Tong’s sariras, along with the small pearl found after burning corpses of veteran Buddhist monks.

Ancient stones at the historical site have been well preserved.

“I think local authorities have properly invested in the infrastructure here,” said visitor Le Vu Long from Hanoi, “The service here is well-managed, everything is in good order.”

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Men at work: Two men fix an ancient stele at Ngoa Van Pagoda the site. —  Photo Tran Mai Huong

Historical site on Yen Tu Range

The pagoda, located in a popular complex of landscape and historical sites on the Yen Tu Mountain Range, stretches throughout the three provinces of Quang Ninh, Bac Giang and Hai Duong.

The mountain range’s highest peak is Yen Tu, which rises to 1.068m above sea level. The site not only offers a naturally beautiful landscape, but hosts rare flora and fauna.

The Yen Tu Spring Festival begins each year on the 10th day of the first lunar month, which falls on February 25 this year, and lasts for three months. Tens of thousands of pilgrims begin their journeys to the uppermost shrine, after performing a solemn ritual at the base of Yen Tu Mountain.

During the months of the festival, people flock from all over the country to the Buddhist land to express their devotion and wishes, or to rid themselves of anxiety and sadness.

Others go to Yen Tu for sightseeing and to enjoy the pure, clean air of the mountain region. Foreigners visit Yen Tu to see the famous and mysterious tourist attraction and natural beauty.

Among the wide variety of sites in Yen Tu, there are 11 pagodas and hundreds of shrines and towers. Pilgrims climb the mountain on a path through the forest to see the Dong (Copper) Pagoda at the peak, located 1,068m above sea level, passing by pagodas, a tower, and a stream that appears and disappears under thick foliage. On a clear day, one can nearly see the entire northeastern area from here.

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Take me higher: Dong Pagoda at the peak 1,068m above sea level. —  Photo Minh Duc

The pilgrimage route from the foot of the mountain to the pagoda is nearly 30km long, however, visitors can reach the Hoa Yen Pagoda at 534m above sea level by cable cars to see two beautiful 700-year-old frangipani trees.

From there, visitors can feel they are walking on clouds as they walk the stairs to minor pagodas along the path leading to the Dong Pagoda.

Those who make it all the way to the Dong Pagoda will experience the magnificence of Yen Tu’s forests and of being atop Yen Tu Mountain, where visitors feel as though they are standing at Heaven’s Gate shrouded in white clouds. 

By Tran Mai Huong

Source: VietNamNet

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