“Great Scholar of the Bamboo Grove” (竹林大士 , Trúc Lâm đại sĩ) was a pen-name (號 , hiệu) of Emperor Trần Nhân-tông (陳仁宗 , 1258-1308), the third ruler of the Trần dynasty (陳朝 , 1225-1440). In addition to being a skilled ruler who successfully dealt with invasions from the Mongol Yuan dynasty (大元 , 1271-1368) and boasted impressive military feats, Emperor Trần Nhân-tông was also famous for his refined poetry and profound knowledge of Buddhist studies (佛學 , Phật học). In the year 1293, he abdicated the throne and having installed his son as his heir, he became a Buddhist monk and wandered the countryside, seeking instruction from learned monks and eventually founding his own school of Zen (禪 , Thiền) Buddhism, called the Bamboo Grove school of Yên-tử mountain (竹林安子 , Trúc-Lâm Yên-tử). He lived the rest of his days on Mount Yên-tử (安子山 , Yên tử sơn) in Quảng-ninh province (廣寧省 , Quảng Ninh tỉnh) in northern Vietnam.
Sơn phòng mạn hứng
Thị phi ngôn trục triêu hoa lạc
Danh lợi tâm tùy dạ vũ hàn
Hoa tận vũ tình sơn tịch tịch
Nhất thanh đề điểu hựu xuân tàn
Inspired in a Mountain Hut
Words of right and wrong wilt and fall with morning flowers
Desires of fame and fortune grow cold along with the night rain
Flowers gone, rain cleared, the mountain is still and quiet
In the sound of a crying bird, once again spring has faded away
-I translated this poem from the version printed in “The Dream-records of Nam-Ông” (南翁夢錄 , Nam Ông mộng lục) a Ming dynasty book written by Lê Trừng (黎澄 , ~1374-1446). He was the son of Lê Quý Ly (黎季犛 , 1336-1407), founder of the short-lived Hồ dynasty (胡朝 , 1400-1406). After the Ming dynasty intervened in the conflicts surrounding the chaos in Vietnam that followed the Hồ rulers rebellion against the Trần dynasty, Lê Quý Ly and his sons were taken captive to China. Lê Trừng was an engineer and had profound knowledge of firearms. He eventually rose through the ranks of the Ming court and became a prominent official. In his later years, he compiled the “Dream Records of Nam-ông”, which is a rather short work containing various sketches of history, important figures, and poetry from Vietnam. I am currently in the process of translating this work into English and hope to have it published relatively soon. Lê Trừng had this to say about this particular poem:
(Kỳ tiêu sái xuất trần, trường không nhất sắc, tao tình thanh sở, dật túc siêu quần, hữu “Đại Hương Hải Ấn tập”, phả đa tuyệt xướng, tích kỳ địa tao binh hỏa, bất đắc lưu truyền. Dư chỉ ký tụng nhất nhị nhi dĩ. Hu! Khả tích tai!)
How lofty and pure, escaping from the dust of this world. Like the uniform color of the vast heavens, the refined poetic sentiments therein are clear and bright, cool and severe. His skill rises far above the common multitudes. His works included the “Đại Hương Hải Ấn collection”, which contained quite a few poems of unmatched excellence. Regrettably, his lands met with the ravages of war, and his works were not passed down. I can only remember but a few poems. Alas! How regrettable!