Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Hanoi City Tour: The Temple of Longevity

The temple bell tolls faintly in the autumn night

Ripples dissipate slowly under the pale moonlight

Images of the birds fly across the water so cold

The towers' silhouette by the silver moon so bold.

Ch’an Master Huyen Quang

Once upon a time, about a thousand years ago in Vietnam, there lived a great king named King Ly Thai Thong. He was a benevolent ruler who was loved by his subjects and blessed by the monks. However, he was very sad for in spite of his advancing age, he had yet to have a son; a son who will succeed him to the throne when he dies.

Then one night, the king had a strange dream. In that dream, he found himself in a lotus pond. And in the middle of the pond stood an unsually tall and large lotus tower. Seated on the leaf was a very beautiful lady dressed completely in white.

The king recognised the woman as the Goddess Kuan Yin, one of the manifestations of Buddha. She looked up at him and smiled, beckoning him to come closer.

"You have been a good man and a good ruler," she said in a gentle and loving voice. "I know of the sorrow that is in your heart."

A single tear formed at the corner of the king's eyes. "Oh Goddess of Mercy. I fear my enemies are plotting to take over my country when I die," the king said sadly.

"Yes. I have heard the murmurs of their black hearts and have seen the plans churning in their evil minds," she said as she stood up and reached for the king. She whispered, "Let me help you allay your fears. I will grant you the deepest desire of your heart."

The king looked up upon her. "And pray tell, what is my deepest desire?"

She answered, "You shall have the light you have been searching for. Be patient and trust that the light shall shine on you and your own for a very long time," as she stooped down to kiss the king on his forehead.

The king closed his eyes in reverence and when he opened them again, she was gone.

Perplexed by this dream, he summoned his wisest advisers and related the dream to them. Many of them were stumped and could not decipher the dream for fear of making a wrong interpretation. Then his wisest aide, a monk, stood forward and said,"Be glad, my King, for you have been promised longevity." Seeing the king's bewilderment he smiled and explained, "You shall be blessed with a son soon."

Not long after, the King met a woman while walking in the fields and fell in love with her. He took her to be his concubine and soon she bore him a son, the heir to his throne. The King was overjoyed and instructed his soldiers to build a pagoda in honour of the Goddess Kuan Yin.

He had a stone pillar erected in the middle of the pond and placed a Buddhist's lotus tower on the pillar just like in his dream. He named the temple Dien Huu (lasting life) Pagoda, for it was a symbol of his dynasty's lasting reign, and a reminder of the promise the Goddess made to him.

Every morning, before he began his day attending to his country's affairs, he would climb up to the small pagoda to offer a prayer and burn incense to the Goddess. This he did till the day he breathed his last breath.

Today, the temple is widely known as the One-Pillar Pagoda for it is a pagoda that stands on a single stone column in the middle of a small lake filled with lotus blossoms.

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