Buddhist Sutra woodblocks of Truc Lam Zen at Vinh Nghiem Pagoda

Buddhist Sutra woodblocks of Truc Lam Zen at Vinh Nghiem Pagoda

Buddhist Sutra Woodblocks at Vinh Nghiem Pagoda (Tri Yen Commune, Yen Dung District, Bac Giang Province) is the only original woodblocks of Truc Lam Zen Buddhism preserved at the pagoda.

Since founding Truc Lam Zen Buddhism (the late 13th century), King Tran Nhan Tong (1258-1308) had some important texts, sutras edited, engraved, and published to popular ideology of Buddhism in general and master monks of Truc Lam Zen Buddhism in particular. However, most of the woodblocks were destroyed or lost due to war and weather.

In the late 19th and the early 20th century, Vinh Nghiem Pagoda was chosen to be one of the training centers of Vietnamese Buddhism Association where store records of Buddhist monks and nuns nationwide and major publishing house of Vietnamese Buddhism. The collection of woodblocks engraved in this period includes 3,050 woodblocks, most of which are Buddhist texts, sutras, writings of three Vietnamese master monks (Dieu Ngu Giac Hoang Tran Nhan Tong (1258 – 1308), Phap Loa Dong Kien Cuong (1284 – 1330), Huyen Quang Ly Dao Tai (1254 – 1334)) and some other master monks of Truc Lam Yen Tu Zen Buddhism. Besides, Vinh Nghiem Pagoda also has some woodblocks to print so, diep, a kind of document is only available in Truc Lam Zen Buddhism. Especially, the pagoda stores some wood texts about treatment by medicinal herbs, acupuncture…

The woodblocks at Vinh Nghiem Pagoda were made by artisans of the craft villages in Bac Giang, Bac Ninh provinces and especially Lieu Trang Craft Village (Hai Duong Province) – where specializes in engraving woodblocks. All woodblocks are made of thi wood. The majority of the blocks feature printing on both sides and have been engraved with Chinese and Nom (a classical vernacular script of Vietnamese language) characters in a mirror like fashion. Depth of the engravings is approximately 1 - 1.5 mm, so prints on do paper are very clear. And every page in a book printed this way has a bien lan (border), a ban tam (title in the centerfold), and ngu vi (blank corners). Especially, the first or the last page of the book contains lac khoan, which is a means of showing the date, artisan, and place of origin.

The size of the woodblock depends on the categories of the sutras. The biggest woodblock is over 100cm in length and 40-50cm in width. The smallest one is only 15 x 20cm.

The woodblocks at Vinh Nghiem Pagoda show the formation, development and ideology of Truc Lam Zen Buddhism, at the same time also mark the development of Nom writing system through the periods. This is also an excellent work of art with unique, original and irreplaceable features. Through this collection of woodblocks, readers can exploit plentiful information about many fields as religion, language, literature, medicine, art…

On 16th May 2012, at the meeting of Asia Pacific Regional Committee of UNESCO held in Bangkok (Thailand), Buddhist Sutra Woodblocks of Truc Lam Zen at Vinh Nghiem Pagoda was recognized as World Documentary Heritage in Memory of the World Programme, based on three criteria as authenticity; uniqueness, irreplaceability; and its position and role in the region.