Thay Thich Truc Thai Minh, the Abbot of Ba Vang Pagoda is one of the most influential Vietnamese Buddhist monks in modern times with hundreds of thousands of followers in many countries. Looking at what He has achieved today, few people can think of the tremendous hardships He has overcome since His very first days here.
Nowadays, Ba Vang Pagoda is famous far and wide as a go-to place for Buddhist followers to come and practise the Buddha’s teachings, or simply just enjoy the scenery of the Pagoda. What is often overlooked, however, is how and by whom all this came to be in the very first place. In today’s post, we will travel back in time through the stories of the very first days of Thay at Ba Vang Pagoda.
From the hardships Thay Thich Truc Thai Minh had to endure…
It can be really hard to imagine the start of Ba Vang Pagoda when people look at how it is today. Thay remarked: “… No electricity. There were only the foot trails. Mr. Tap (one of Thay’s first supporters) managed to collect just a little amount of cement, and he could only cement a small part of the trail. It was so slippery on rainy days that it could make us fall easily. There was no running water, either. The water we collected was from the Godly Well, and it was shallow. Some Buddhists and I had to dig a hollow beside the well in the hope that some water may seep from it. It was so tough! I had a washtub of water for personal hygiene. Many times I had to wash my face first and then use the same water to brush my teeth. Then, I would have to spit the water into the root of an apricot blossom tree or else it would wither…” His early days at Ba Vang Pagoda were so plagued with obstacles that no one would expect Him to stay with the Pagoda for too long.
Nonetheless, Thay persevered with His decision to stay to the bitter end. Once, Thay prayed to the Buddha that: “If it’s true that the Buddha assigned me to come here, even having to die with shattered flesh and bones, I vow to die here.”
…to the ardent support from the Buddhists for Thay Thich Truc Thai Minh
Fortunately, Thay and His Monks were not alone in their endeavour to disseminate the Buddha Dharma. During the construction stage of Ba Vang Pagoda, a lot of Buddhist followers showed their helping hands. Thanks to their unfaltering support, the Pagoda was able to survive the early arduous days. During the recent reunion with the early supporters of the Pagoda, they shared a lot of touching stories together.
The man who took Thay Thich Truc Thai Minh to the Pagoda
Mr. Nguyen Huu Ha, Former Secretariat of Thanh Son ward, Uong Bi City, where Ba Vang Pagoda is located, was the one who took Thay to the Pagoda in the first place. So in a sense, he could be regarded as one of the first major contributors to the Pagoda’s success today. Nonetheless, he always presents himself in a humble manner, saying that what he did was as trivial as a speck of dust. He went on to say that as long as he is still alive, his heart would always remain with the Pagoda. Wherever he goes, he always proudly tells everyone that it has been such a great blessing for Uong Bi City to have Thay Thich Truc Thai Minh and Monks of Ba Vang Pagoda. According to him, a road to Lung Xanh—a popular tourist destination of Uong Bi City—was built for everybody to transport thanks to Thay.
The follower of Thay since His days at Truc Lam (Bamboo Forest) Yen Tu Zen Monastery
Mrs. Nguyen Thi Vuong, one of the earliest followers of Thay since His days at Truc Lam (Bamboo Forest) Yen Tu Zen Monastery told her story as follows. When Thay first got here, He did not bring much with Him, only a bowl to eat and some clad robes. She and other followers were afraid that He would leave due to the hardships, so every day she would come to offer Him money for his meals, as well as give Him her words of encouragement. Seeing Him sleeping in a cottage in such scorching heat, she bought a mat so that He could rest on it but He did not use it. When she asked Him why, then, Thay, with His usual calm manner, replied: “I needn’t use the new mat. I can still sleep like this”. Witnessing Thay enduring hardships yet still being determined moved her to tears.
The one who cooked for Thay Thich Truc Thai Minh
Mrs. Truong Thi Thanh—one of the first followers who often cooked and offered meals to Thay—shared another heart-touching story. What makes her admire Him the most is His extraordinary patient endurance. There were days when she saw that His face was so pale but He told nobody, even when He got a fever. Without medicine, she tried to make some ginger water for Him to soak His feet and asked a man to bring it to Thay. Unfortunately, that man spilled all the ginger water because of his convulsions. One day, she was cooking soup in the light of a candle. The melted wax dropped into the soup, making it inedible. Then she told Him that there was no soup that day, Thay was still calm and said: “It’s okay. We can eat anything.”
Silent but ceaseless devotion
The silent but ceaseless devotion of Thay, along with the Monks and the Buddhists was the driving force behind Ba Vang Pagoda’s development until today. These people represent the utter dedication of true Buddhists. They have given all the support they can to the Pagoda, not for fame or fortune, but for the adoration for the Three Jewels. As long as Ba Vang Pagoda has Buddhists like these by its side, it will always overcome any obstacles lying ahead.
No matter how many obstacles cropping up on the path that Thay has been leading, He has always calmly confronted everything and serves as a role model for His disciples. Although the old remote Pagoda on the mountain of the early arduous days has been transformed into a splendid one, Thay remains a frugal lifestyle as that of His very first days here. And His vow to be “a drop of pure water which helps people to quench their thirst, to calm down their minds and purify their hearts” has never diminished.