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