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Pagoda honours plight of fighting monks

Update: August, 30/2008 - 00:00

Pagoda honours plight of fighting monks

Veteran: Dinh The Hinh (right) joins in a meeting with General Vo Nguyen Giap in Ha Noi. Hinh was one of 27 monks to leave Co Le Pagoda for the front in 1947. — Photos courtesy of Dinh The Hinh and Doan Tung

Old days: Hinh (first left), who was a former monk, visits Co Le Pagoda in Nam Dinh Province.

(31-08-2008)

When the country stood up against the French, a group of monks left the monastery to take up arms. Cong Luat – Cong Thanh tells their story.

This year is the 61st anniversary of the sending-off ceremony of the first group of 27 monks, who left Co Le Pagoda in Nam Dinh Province for the war of resistance against French colonialism in 1947.

Co Le Pagoda – now a national heritage site – lies over 50km east of Nam Dinh City and 140km south of Ha Noi, and traditionally trained monks to fight for the country in times of war.

Dozens of monks joined the army after 1947. Current Head Administrator of the pagoda, the Venerable Thich Tam Vuong, was the last to join in 1981.

Dinh The Hinh, aged-82, and a retired colonel, was among the first group of 27, to leave the pagoda to fight, and remembers it well. He studied Buddhism for eight years at the pagoda, before shedding his saffron robes and joining the army as an ordinary citizen in 1947. Hinh, now lives in Ha Noi and fondly recalls his teenage years living in the pagoda in the late 1940’s, when he was refereed to take the Buddhist name Thich Phap Lu.

Religious life

Born in Xuan Truong District in Nam Dinh Province, Hinh, the youngest of a family of eight children, is no stranger to the plight of the rural poor.

His parents struggled to provide him with a primary school education, and at the age of 13 his parents sent him to neighbouring Nam Truc District to study at the Co Le Pagoda.

"As Buddhism was the most popular religion, my parents wanted me to devote my life to Buddhism," said Hinh.

"I liked life in the pagoda, young boys and girls brought honour to their families by devoting their life to Buddhism."

Hinh added that Buddhism helped him further his education, and taught him to think about the inequality he saw in daily life.

"Rural people in the late 1940s were so poor. I was the only son in my family that finished primary school, and I then received an education from the Venerable Thich The Long in the pagoda," Hinh recalled.

Hinh then joined the But Thap Pagoda in Bac Ninh Province – the biggest centre of Buddhism in Viet Nam at the time – to join in a five-year Buddhist study programme. He met the Venerable Thich Dai Nguyen during this time, who introduced him to the revolutionary movement.

"The Venerable Thich Dai Nguyen was a great teacher, he taught Buddhism and revolutionary thought, and it was he who inspired me to fight," said Hinh.

Retired colonel Dinh The Hinh shows an old album from his army days.

Long march

In 1947, Hinh returned to Co Le Pagoda, and began training other monks. He taught them to read and write, as well as Vietnamese culture.

The French stepped up their military presence in the area and occupied cities near the pagoda, forcing the monks to withdraw to the mountains.

Monks and nuns, who gathered in the pagoda before the evacuation, talked about their martial arts training, and how to resist the French.

"Traditionally, monks fought for the country in times of war, we thought it our duty and made preparations to leave monastic life for the front lines," said the 82-year-old.

In Spring that year, the Venerable Thich The Long took charge of the pagoda, he rallied the monks and nuns together and urged them to listen to the call of late President Ho Chi Minh, to take up arms and resist the colonialists.

Hinh was among the first 27, including two nuns, who after great fan-fare and ceremony, shed their robes and left for the front.

In the first major fighting they encountered, defending the Non Nuoc Pagoda, 12 of the 27 were killed due to lack of military experience.

At the end of 1947, Hinh was sent to study at Nguyen Hue Infantry Officer College in Thanh Hoa Province – where he was trained as a political officer.

Between 1947 and 1955 when he married, Hinh was a political officer with the 542 regiment and the 312 Corps.

He retired in 1989, a veteran of both the French and American wars. Hinh still keeps in contact with some of the monks he fought with.

"I left religious life to fight as an ordinary man, the Buddhist scriptures kept me going through those hard times," he said. "As far as I know, only a few of the monks who left Co Le Pagoda to fight are alive now, I wish we could all get together to remember those times and celebrate what we have achieved." — VNS

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