Vinh Nghiem Pagoda (also called Duc La Pagoda) in Bac Giang Province is located at the confluence of Luc Nam River and Thuong River. This pagoda is surrounded by mountain ranges, including Co Tien Mountain and considered the largest pagoda in the city. Travelling across the river, we will catch a glimpse of Kiep Bac Temple the old royal palace of General Tran Hung Dao.

Vinh Nghiem Pagoda is recognized as a Buddhist center where myriads of monks across the country are trained. In addition, it is the provenance of Truc Lam Trinity, playing a vital role in the development of Vietnamese Buddhism. 

Holding an important geographical and spiritual position, Vinh Nghiem Pagoda has become an ideal destination for tourists to visit before painstakingly crossing the rivers and climbing the mountains to reach the holy land of Yen Tu.

Location: Duc La Village, Tri Yen Commune, Yen Dung District, Bac Giang Province

I. History of Vinh Nghiem Pagoda

Vinh Nghiem Pagoda History
Source: dulich.petrotimes

Vinh Nghiem Pagoda was erected in the 11th century which dates back to the Ly Dynasty, with the initial name of Chuc Thanh Pagoda and was completed in 1016. The pagoda’s first abbot was Zen master Van Hanh, followed by Dao An, Minh Tam, Bao Tanh and Hue Quang.

At the end of the 13th century, Buddhist King Tran Nhan Tong developed it into a large Buddhist center under the Tran Dynasty. The pagoda was also renamed Vinh Nghiem in expectation of eternal existence and solemnity. Three patriarchs of the Truc Lam Sect, consisting of Tran Nhan Tong, Phap Loa, Huyen Quang, all adopted Vinh Nghiem Pagoda as a training institution to deliver their preaches. 

Through the ups and downs of Vietnamese history, Vinh Nghiem Pagoda was still maintained. Today it is often referred to as the most important Buddhist relic in Vietnam and a major Mahayana Buddhist Cultural Museum.

II. Architecture and Structure of Vinh Nghiem Pagoda

Vinh Nghiem Pagoda Structure
Source: tuvikhoahoc

Vinh Nghiem Pagoda possesses striking features of a traditional pagoda. Over nearly a millennium with many times of restoration and embellishment, the current architecture of Vinh Nghiem Pagoda is the product of both Le Trung Hung and Nguyen Dynasties.

With the total area of about 1 ha, surrounded by bamboo groves, the pagoda’s architectural clusters are wrapped in a rectangular space. Based on a South North axis, the pagoda’s structure can be divided into 5 primary complexes, including Tam Quan Gate, Three Jewels, The First House, Steeple and The Second House.

1. Tam Quan Gate

Tam Quan Gate (three-entrance gate) in Vinh Nghiem Pagoda is a wooden architecture which has one compartment, two wings and two layers of 8 curved roofs. In the middle of the rooftop, there are two statues of dragons surrounding the moon (Luong Long Chau Nguyet). According to Buddhism concept, the three gates represent falsehood, vanity and emptiness 3 ideas that a mediator must master.  

Passing this gate is tantamount to entering the world of meditation, the soul is refreshed, then becomes calm and peaceful.

2. Three Jewels

It is a combination of three works dedicated to Buddha, in accordance with the Mahayana Sect that worships many Buddhas, Bodhisattvas and monks. Three buildings (Tien Duong, Thieu Huong, Thuong Dien) are built in the “Cong” shape (工), forming a conspicuous layout. 

Three Jewels preserve three treasures of Zen which are Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. In terms of Buddha, it is a system of high-status statues which are respected and worshipped all year round. Dharma involves Buddhism-related scriptures. Sangha refers to monks who practice diligently and devote to Buddhism affairs. 

3. The First House

Vinh Nghiem Pagoda First House
Source: chuaviettoancau

This is the place worshipping three ancestors of Truc Lam Zen Sect: Tran Nhan Tong, Phap Loa and Huyen Quang. It is also arranged in the Cong shape, with a wide range of plain wood blocks instead of elaborate patterned sculptures. This first house has made Vinh Nghiem the pagoda with the most obvious Vietnamese Buddhism identity in the Northern region of the country.

4. Steeple

Vinh Nghiem Pagoda Steeple
Source: Facebook

Situated behind The First House, Steeple is a two-storey architecture affected by the Nguyen Dynasty’s style. Its upper storey is erected with the wooden floor, along with a large bell hung in the middle. With a harmonious combination of wood and tiles, Steeple is considered an exemplary construction of traditional Vietnamese architecture.

5. The Second House

Located behind the Steeple, The Second House has 11 main counterparts running parallel to 3 sub-counterparts, forming the shape of 二. It dates back to the Le Nguyen Dynasty and is used to place statues, ancestral tablets and worship photos of post-Truc Lam trinity masters.

III. What to See and Do in Vinh Nghiem Pagoda?

1. Contemplate Historical Artifacts

Vinh Nghiem Pagoda Artifact
Source: yendung.bacgiang.gov

Coming to this pagoda, visitors can witness valuable artifacts with an eye to exploring Vietnamese Buddhism history. Vinh Nghiem pagoda is the place where Buddha, Truc Lam Zen Sect masters and the following ones, as well as Dharmapala, Arhat,… are worshipped. Therefore, you can see a wide range of statues that reflect the pure adoration to these holy spirits.

Besides, as Vinh Nghiem pagoda was once the training institution for various monks, it has a large space (up to 10 counterparts) for Buddhist scripture storage. Here you can also behold an ancient half-meter black wooden fish used when reciting mantras during religious rituals and ceremonies.

Another interesting kind of artifacts that has still been retained in Vinh Nghiem Pagoda are woodblocks, most of them date back to the 17th 19th century. In 2012, the blocks bearing information on numerous fields like history, linguistics, medicine and literature were recorded in the UNESCO Memory of the World Register.

Vinh Nghiem Pagoda Woodblock
Source: thegioidisan

Today the pagoda hosts a wide-ranging stock of about 24 titles with nearly 3000 engravings. Each engraving has 2 sides and every side is made by 2 pages of reverse engraving, containing around 2000 Southern and Chinese characters. Through the harshness of time, these characters still maintain their sharpness and delicacy, which keeps descendants admiring their values. 

2. Join the Festive Air

Vinh Nghiem Pagoda Festival
Source: Facebook

Vinh Nghiem Pagoda Festival is held annually on February 14th according to the lunar calendar. This occasion attracts a large number of locals as well as domestic and foreign tourists to take part in. During the festival, the pagoda’s monks and nuns will burn incense and say Buddhist chants at Three Jewels, the First House and the Second House.

Immerse yourself in the chanting and recitation and you will feel that your soul is purified and your mind will become restful. In addition, when the atmosphere is overwhelmed by the bell sound from the Steeple, all the prayers’ sufferings and sorrows will be removed.

IV. How to Get to Vinh Nghiem Pagoda?

Vinh Nghiem Pagoda Get to
Source: mytour

Vinh Nghiem Pagoda is about 70km northwest from the center of Hanoi. You can choose to go by private vehicle like motorbike or car. To save time, you can go on tours or catch a bus to Bac Giang.

From Hanoi, you can travel on National Highway 1A, then continue on NH37 and go across Thuong River to the intersection of Bac Giang City. After that, make a turn into West Yen Tu Street and go towards Tri Yen Commune. You will soon catch a glimpse of Vinh Nghiem Pagoda on your route.

V. Extra Tips

Vinh Nghiem Pagoda Tips
Source: Facebook

Because pagoda is a religious and solemn place, visitors need to wear something smart when reaching Vinh Nghiem Pagoda.

Behind the sanctuary lies a solemn room, filled with photographs and memorials to the departed. Quan Am, the Goddess of Mercy, presides from her altar here.

On the second floor, a cloister leads into an art gallery where local artists show their works. Rocks and topiary gardens flank the building.

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