The wonderfully tranquil air at Tu Hieu pagoda in Hue means some visitors find it hard to leave at the end of the day, says Vo Lan Known as the “root pagoda” of Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh, Tu Hieu pagoda is not only a place where monks seek enlightenment but also where people can find a serene, safe haven or even learn meditation. Nestled on low hills of Thuy Xuan commune in Hue, the historic Tu Hieu is one of the most ancient pagodas in Hue. Built in 1843, Tu Hieu was a modest temple, said to be little more than a large hut, founded and headed by Thich Nhat Dinh, a noble monk, who was a religious figure head under the Nguyen Dynasty. In 1848, the pagoda was renovated and expanded with the financial support of imperial eunuchs who in return wished to be buried in the pagoda’s graveyard and find solace for their souls after death. Their graves are still on the pagoda’s grounds Today, past the newly-built gate, you will find a narrow lane winding through bushes and pine trees to the main gate of Tu Hieu pagoda. Opposite the gate, there is a pine tree hill where the Bodhi tower was built in 1896 to store scriptures. On the other side of the ancient gate, on its second floor, a statue of the Dharma-defender perched over a crescent pond surveys the scene. A short concrete staircase allows the monks and visitors to descend closer to the water and feed the fish. In the narrow pond, the fish, both large and small, live in harmony. They are bold enough to swim very close to the bottom step where we sit on our hunkers. I spot a strange object in the pond before realizing it is a large black fish. Apparently it has a malformed spine and so it doesn’t really swim, it merely floats, as if quietly observing the other fish. The crescent pond is linked with the main sanctuary by a tree-lined alley. The main sanctuary is where the monks have worshipping services every day. In the front yard, there are two moss covered stele pavilions, which were built in 1849 and 1899, and narrate the establishment of the historic pagoda. I linger a little bit longer in the bookstore, and ponder the quote “Peace is every step”, written in calligraphy by Thich Nhat Hanh and hung on a wooden pillar. How I would love to be taught how to mediate while walking by such a master, or Thay, as we say in Vietnamese. At the spacious Zen hall Buddhists gather every Sunday to listen to Dharma talk or practice meditation. After strolling around the pagoda, you may wish to find a place to take a rest. My favorite seat is at a rock table by a well and a lotus lake. I enjoy sitting in silence to enjoy the white lotuses and violet water-lilies bathing under the day’s last rays of sunshine. By the edge of the lake, there stands a thatched-roof-pavilion where the monks often sit around to study or relax on sunny days. On the bamboo bridge, which links the pavilion to the other side, a monk sits in the posture of a blooming lotus. He reads a book blithely unconcerned by the stream of visitors or any other sounds in the area. From time to time, a monk walks past us with his light steps. He properly shapes his hands into a lotus bud in front of the chest to return our greetings. I feel clumsy at first trying to mimic this action, but as I am intrigued I start to practice with some degree of success. I admire the monks and their manners. Their modesty and serenity, for a while, makes me linger in the pagoda away from the relatively frenzied world outside. As Zen Buddhist monks, they learn Dharma and practice meditation to filter anger, greed and dullness out of their soul and mind. Moreover, they physically train themselves to strengthen their bodies, and sharpen the senses. They do not guard their secrets and will teach people who wish to learn. On a patch of even land, a young monk teaches a few kids martial arts. They are not novices from the pagoda but kids living in the neighborhood. From time to time, the monk stops to adjust their incorrect posture. Looking at the boys’ beaming smiles, I believe that they love this sport, and are happy with their special instructor. As dusk settles, visitors start to leave the pagoda. Tomorrow more visitors will come. Tu Hieu is open to anyone interested in meditation practice or simply fond of the tranquil atmosphere at a Zen monastery.
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