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New Buddhist movements and the construction of mythos : the Trúc Lâm Thiền sect in late 20th century Vietnam

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Nguyen, Loan Thuy




Doctor of Philosophy in Religious Studies


Iwamura, Jane
Lee, Jonathan H. X.
Lancaster, Lewis


The rise of Buddhist modernism in an increasingly globalized world resulted in the development to new Buddhist movements in the late 20th century and into the new millennium. A distinctive feature of many of these new religious movements is the way in which they selectively referenced traditional lineage structures or canonical texts to legitimize their existence, while at the same time disrupting traditional forms of authority in order to appeal to contemporary and transnational audience. This dissertation examines one of these movements; the Trúc Lâm Thiền sect led by Thích Thanh Từ. Founded in the 13th century by King Monk Trần Nhân Tông, this Thiền [Chan/Zen sect] sect flourished under three Vietnamese patriarchs with many renowned Thiền masters. The sect subsequently faded over the centuries and then re-emerged as a popular movement in the late 20th century, calling for a restoration of the 13th century Vietnamese-branded Thiền meditation in Vietnamese Thiền Buddhism.

In this dissertation I deconstruct and document the mythos or revised “foundations or origins” of the revitalized Trúc Lâm sect through a detailed study of primary sources and interviews with monastic and lay members. Thích Thanh Từ’s biography, which included a recounting of the sect’s origins was brought into conversation with the history and recorded lineage of the Trúc Lâm Thiền Sect, including the writings of the first patriarch, King Monk Trần Nhân Tông, whose writings greatly influenced the contemporary movement. In order to further gauge the movement’s self-knowledge, in particular their ability to articulate their origins, I interviewed monastic and lay members about Trúc Lâm’s origins and the relevance of the movement’s approach and philosophy apropos their own Buddhist practice. Analyzing the movement in these ways provided a platform by which to view Trúc Lâm’s current mythos as a creative reformulation of the sect’s earliest forms in response to shifting contemporary needs.

This detailed analysis of Trúc Lâm’s own original myth and foundational texts provided deeper insight into an influential and growing movement within Vietnam’s longstanding engagement with Thiền Buddhism. This study also sheds light on the ways in which new Buddhist movements negotiated their traditional roots, Western views of religious practice, and the needs and interests of their practitioners while simultaneously constructing new lines of authority in their quest to propagate the Buddha Dharma in Vietnam and beyond.

Degree Granter

University of the West



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