Senior Venerable Zen Master Thích Tuệ Hải whose Dharma name means “Ocean of Wisdom” (birth name: Đinh Kim Nga, also known as Vô Trụ Thiền Sư or Hiển Hiện Như Nhiên Thiền Sư) was born in 1968 in Long Thới Village, Chợ Lách District, Bến Tre Province. Master Tuệ Hải came from a land-owner family and was the youngest of seven children. The land on which he was born was thought to be sacred, because during the war, bombings and gunfire never reached it. Thus, many people in nearby areas would escape to his family’s land in search of sanctuary. One day, following an upheaval Master Tuệ Hải’s father gave up his career, and his family found themselves in very difficult circumstances. As two of his older brothers took to heart the meaning of impermanence, they decided to become bhikkhus. Thereafter, his older sister also became a bhikkuni and is now the Abbess of Thường Tịch Quang Nunnery in Vietnam.
Since his childhood, Master Tuệ Hải has been very filial toward his parents. At the age of six, he already knew how to cook a meal, and in order to support his family, he would follow his mother to help her sell things at the market. At night, he would come back home to take care of his father with much love and devotion, always serving and following his father’s wishes without even the slightest thought of objection. Tuệ Hải said, “I was raised over very difficult circumstances ever since I was a young child; therefore, I was equipped with a strong determination to overcome arduous, challenging life situations until this very day.”
His mother, on the other hand, was a peaceful, wondrous woman who was full of loving-kindness and free from discord. Master Tuệ Hải used to say: “It would be difficult to find another woman throughout this world with as wonderful qualities as my mother.” His mother spent her entire life devoting to her family, and in 1993, she became an ordained nun, learning and practicing the Dharma at the Tuệ Không Monastery.
Accompanied by great roots of virtues planted in the Buddha-Dharma,Master Tuệ Hải, at the age of seven, became deeply moved the very first time he saw the statue of Buddha Shakyamuni. He stood immobile and entered meditative absorption in front of the statue for close to eight hours during which he was completely aware of everything that tookplace around him. Many people witnessed this and they did not dare to disturb Master Tuệ Hải until he left the meditative state himself.
In 1985, Zen Master Thích Tuệ Hải fell severely ill and began to research and study the macrobiotic diet method of Sir G. Oshawa. He followed the nutritional macrobiotic diet for just twenty-one days and reached the so-called Diet #7 empirical experience. It was the state of perfect complimentary yin-yang balance just as Sir G. Oshawa had indicated. All illnesses, therefore, disappeared, and throughout those seven days and nights, Master Tuệ Hải remained in a tranquil state of emptiness of body and mind with boundless bliss and happiness.
In that very same year, while still a young student, Master Tuệ Hải was listening to his teacher give a lecture on the subject of “All things are set in motion in space” during which he suddenly realized the principle of impermanence, and therefore, began to build the determination to become ordained. It was not until the beginning of 1986 that Tuệ Hải left his household for Thường Chiếu Zen Monastery where he would begin his volunteer work and Dharma studies to prepare for his ordination.
On December 8, 1986, which fell on the anniversary of the Buddha’s Great Enlightenment, Master Tuệ Hải officially received ordination from the Grand Master Thích Thanh Từ and was given the Dharma name Tuệ Hải (Ocean of Wisdom). When living with the other monks in the monastery, he was assigned to toil the land and to grow vegetables; however, his aspiration to gain liberation from the mundane world, to resolutely transcend life-and-death and to merge with the absolute truth, continued to be his burning desire.
As months and years passed by, the yearning in his heart grew more intensively, until one day, on July 7, 1997, as he listened to his Root Teacher, the Great Master Thích Thanh Từ, explain Nāgārjuna’s Middle Way (Mādhyamika-Shastra), he heard the following comment, “the emptiness of sensation is Nirvāṇa,” and at that very moment, immediately severed all kinds of past and present conventional knowledge. With his mind and body empty and clear, he thoroughly and lucidly realized that all conditions and object-appearances were no longer the same physical form aggregate as he had always known.
Since then, Master Tuệ Hải fathomed the sublime teachings and no longer had any doubts regarding the words of the Buddha; he has fully comprehended the perfect truth, and from an understanding that transcends all conventions, life has become nonchalant and leisurely calm. At that very moment, he appreciatively composed a verse depicting this living force within him:
From now on, to leisurely live in happiness,
Each condition brightly lucid and non-mistaken
Non-mistaken, unconfused, unerring,
Simply radiant, just like that – how is it possible to express it fully!
On December 12, 1994, Master Thích Tuệ Hải followed the command of his Teacher, the Grand Master Thích Thanh Từ, who appointed him to become the Abbot of Long Hương Temple in Nhơn Trạch District, Đồng Nai Province, where he presently resides. Master Thích Tuệ Hải has taught extensively on Mahāyāna Zen, the true nature of the mind, and on various major Sūtras, especially the Essence Prajnāpāramitā (commonly known as the Heart Sūtra) the Avataṃsaka Sūtra (Flower Ornament Sūtra) and its vast and profound view, similar to the pure view of Vajrayana that all dharmas are equanimous, non-discriminatory, and are actually Buddhas. In all of his teachings, Zen Master Thích Tuệ Hải always tries to point out the "singleness" and "true essence" of all traditions, whether it is Theravāda, Mahāyāna, Pureland, Zen or Vajrayana.
His greatest aspiration is for all the diverse traditions of Buddhism to have a unified view in accordance with the realized and liberated view as taught by Buddha: “Hundreds of rivers together flow to the vast sea; as the sea has a single salty taste, my Dharma, too, has only a single taste of liberation.”
Aside from propagating the Dharma to benefit beings, Master Tuệ Hải is also a physician of traditional medicine and macrobiotics who has cured many severe illnesses, and has advised everyone to develop a healthy balance of body and mind in order to unlock one’s inner wisdom, to understand the natural order of the universe, and to gain limitless freedom, absolute impartiality, and endless bliss and happiness.
In 2009 and 2012, Zen Master Tuệ Hải traveled extensively and taught in over forty states in the USA, as well as Europe and Australia. Thereafter, he chose to remain in Vietnam to oversee the long-term construction of the new Long Hương Temple, as well as to provide weekly teachings and spiritual guidance to local Buddhist communities and the newly established ordained sangha at his Temple. Currently, Zen Master Thích Tuệ Hải remains a Senior Standing Committee Member of the Educational Committee of the Central Buddhist Congregation in Vietnam.
BREATHING IN PERFECT MERIT AND WISDOM
BREATHINHG OUT FULL OF LOVE
* ZEN MASTER THÍCH TUỆ HẢI
is currently residing at Long Hương Temple, Đồng Nai, Vietnam.
The English translation of the above condensed biography, as compiled by Long Huong Temple Editorial Team, was rendered by milam s. in 2019 and updated in 2023.
The following "oldie" photos were taken over the years and kindly shared by the Zen Master Thích Tuệ Hải, the Editorial Team, Nuns and Monks, staff, volunteers and students of Long Hương Temple. To view more photos of Zen Master Thích Tuệ Hải and Long Hương Temple, please visit: https://ekayanazen.com/photo-gallery
Breathing in perfect merit & wisdom
Breathing out full of love