Legend has it that an old lady from the spirit world appeared on Ha Khe Hill, saying that one day a wise Lord would come and build a Buddhist pagoda with seven successive tiers, symbolizing different stages of enlightenment and this Pagoda would help the country to grow strong and prosper.
In 1601, Lord Nguyen Hoang starts the construction of the seven tiered Pagoda.
Lord Nguyen Phuc Tan starts renovations in 1665. The works continues from 1710 – 1715 under the watchful eye of Lord Nguyen Phuc Chu, who contributes a great bell and erects it on the back of a marble tortoise.
Photo: Heavenly Lady Pagoda
Behind this Pagoda there is a fully functioning Buddhist monastery, who at the time of our visit is a hive of activity with everyone quietly, noiselessly preparing food. To my surprise I see young girls and very young boys who in the full regalia appear to be are aspirant monks.
Photo: Fully functioning Buddhist monastery
And then I see it, the famous car in which the monk Thich Quang Duc, drove on the 11th June 1963.
A short note to self
Please excuse that somehow I deleted the photo of the car from the camera but let me tell you what happened
On this bright Tuesday morning Thich Quang Duc leaves his temple An Quang Pagoda and travels to Saigon. Then, at an intersection of Phan Dinh Phung Street and Le Van Duyet Street he gets out of car, sits down in the lotus position, pours petrol over his body and ignites it, thereby burning himself to death. His drastic action is a protest against the violation of religious freedom and discrimination against the Buddhist religion in Vietnam in the 1960’s
Photo: The monk Thich Quang Duc who set himself on fire on the 11th June 1963.
Note to self.
The death of Thich Quang Duc is one of my earliest memories. And, while I could not understand it at the time, it made an impression.
To my parents and many Irish people in the 1960’s, religion was all important. We were Catholics living in a protestant area in Northern Ireland.
Even though we had Protestant friends, we believe that us Catholics, had the correct angle on God.
Many Catholics during the time of the Protestant Reformation( 1541-1598) were tortured and died for their faith and became martyrs just like Thich Quang Duc.
I find it strange that messages of love and peace, can instill the opposite in people who believe their doctrines completely, utterly and absolutely.
I’m more of a ‘middle man ‘myself, looking for similarities rather than differences in religious beliefs.
Thus, when I look at the Pagoda symbolizing Buddha’s seven stages of enlightenment I am struck by the unity that exists in all religions.
In the story of creation we are told in the Bible that the Earth was created in Seven days.
Light when it hits a prism breaks into a rainbow, red, orange,yellow,green,blue. violet red and violet.
Mystics tell us that there are seven energy wheels /chakras which are every color of the rainbow , energizing our spinal cord starting at the base with red and moving towards the crown with violet.
And last year my Guru in India, Korko Moses – A Catholic Jesuit priest, spoke eloquently about the seven stages of Spiritual evolution,
- In the first stage- Instinctive Mind, we are governed by instincts alone and the need for survival is paramount.
- In the 2nd stage – Social Mind, we become aware of family and community. We identify with and obey, the rules the norms of our family and social unit
- The 3rd stage- Individual Mind, we question the social systems and the rules that are trying to control us
- We open up in the 4th stage – Universal mind, we literally experience a conversion or an awareness that there is more to life that self-cantered needs and desires. And the need to serve others becomes strong progressing from a self centered into a God centered life.
- When the 5th stage- Transcending mind is reached the person questions the very meaning of their existence, the mystery of which cannot be grasped by the mind, but can only be, as the great Indian mystic Sri Ramana Maharishi ( 1879- 1950)says experienced in the heart. Often a Guru or great teacher is needed to help a spiritual aspirant reach this stage.
- At the he 6th stage the Christ Mind is experienced, which is beyond the powers of description of the human language. Korko says that ‘those who have gone through this experience see their very self in all beings, recognize God in all beings and see all beings in God. They attain God consciousness. This is the height of spiritual perfection’
- The 7th Stage is Service, with unending joy of union with the Divine and compassion for all beings, the enlightened one now takes to alleviating suffering of humanity. Such a state- as far as I can make out, it is known as Reaching Buddha hood, which I understand requires several reincarnations back into this life! Jesus on the other hand, reached this stage and the Good News is that we can, if we follow His example reach it too. Imagine that!!!
So there you have it, once again this country is so steeped in God that I am ready to swoon.
A wise friend of mine Sr Claude Mc Donald once said
‘God hides behind the most unlikely ‘unholy’ people, in desolated broken places.
God is always waiting and will seek you out when you least expect it.
So stay awake and listen to whispering of the trees.
And, with these serious thoughts in my mind, Paul literally drags me to the Dung Ba Market for lunch.
We are tourists after all and Paul is very hungry indeed!
Photo: traders of fresh vegetables in Dung Ba Market.
We sit on stool beside a narrow table toppling over with piping hot food.
Photo: Our happy chef In Dong Ba Market.
A final Note to self.
I am not sure what I am eating. It is on a stick and it tastes wonderful. I am assured it is not dog thank heavens!
It worries me that the greens are raw. I am breaking my Indian rule – eat only what is well cooked and hot!!
This market chef is a very happy lady. Halfway through our meal she buys bun from another traveling vendor and proceeds to eat it with us, laughing and talking away in Vietnamese. On leaving, she insists that we take free water!!!
Guess we paid three times as much if not more than the locals, but sure why not, it is still very cheap and we can afford it!
That evening, we dine in The Golden Rice Restaurant in 40 Pham Ngu Lao St in the center of Hue. It is absolutely Yummy!!!
Before I leave Hue I want to tell you about the incredible Hotel Siagon Morin, which I promise to do in the next post.