Each religion or sect in Vietnam has its main spiritual center as a gathering site for followers on special occasions. As far as Lam Te Zen, which is a Zen school of Buddhism, is concerned, Giac Lam Pagoda is considered the most important Lam Te Zen place in Southern Vietnam and it is now an attractive religious place to both locals and tourists.
Address: 565 Lac Long Quan, Ward 10, Tan Binh District, Ho Chi Minh City
Opening hours: 5 AM – 12 PM and 2 PM – 8 PM from Monday to Sunday
Entrance fee: Free
How to get there: Giac Lam Pagoda is over 7 km away from the city center, and it can be easily accessed in the city taxi or the bus route number 27 from the bus station at Ben Thanh.
History of Giac Lam Pagoda
Giac Lam Pagoda was set up by an immigrant from Minh Huong, China, named Ly Thuy Long in the spring of 1744. Originally, the pagoda was named Cam Son as it was located on Cam Son Hill. However, it was over 30 years later that the monk Vien Quang was appointed as the new abbot of the pagoda, which was later given the new name of Giac Lam. From then on, Giac Lam Pagoda has played an essential role in teaching commandment to monks in Southern Vietnam and copying, engraving important Buddhist books.
Over the years, the pagoda has been well kept by various abbots and gone under several renovations and the notable ones were under the guardianship of Thich Vien Quang and Thich Hong Hung abbot in the 18th and 19th century. The pagoda is now one of the oldest ones in Ho Chi Minh City with a solid architecture and precious religious values.
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Structure of Giac Lam Pagoda
To come in the pagoda, you have to cross the triple gate which was just built in 1955. Each gate has its own roof decorated with sophisticated patterns. Entering the gate, you will see the front garden and get impressed with the big Bodhi tree brought to Vietnam as a great gift by a Sri Lanka Buddhist monk named Narada in 1953. Under the tree, there is a small statue of Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, and you will feel such a tranquil atmosphere when seeing the grave and statues in the middle of the open garden. You will see sights of locals doing small walks or jogs upon entering.
The triple gate of Giac Lam Pagoda
The statues of Buddha in the pagoda’s garden
Sophisticate cement tiles with lotus imprint
Xa Loi Stupa, or the 7-story stupa, is 32m high and each floor is shaped like a hexagon. It is built to store the samples of relics of Gautama Buddha brought along with the Bodhi tree by monk Narada many years ago. Therefore, you will obviously see many ancient Buddhist relics displayed in the stupa. Also, there is a statue of Bodhisattva standing in front of the stupa, on the stairs leading to the entrance. Originally, the pagoda was first set up based on the design of architect Vinh Hoang in 1970, but the construction was suspended in 1975 until 1993. In 1994, the stupa was officially inaugurated, and it has been a noticeable landmark in Ho Chi Minh City since then.
Xa Loi Stupa standing as a landmark of the city
The pagoda is featured by the rectangular-shaped building which was set up based on the word “tam” Ξ in Kanji. More specifically, there are 3 smaller buildings, namely: the main ceremonial hall, altars of patriarchs, and dining hall and they were all designed in typical Vietnamese architecture. Generally, the building is supported by 98 sophisticated pillars carefully carved with Buddhist couplets.
Within the altars of patriarchs, many antiques from the 18th and 19th centuries are stored in the wooden and glass cabinets, and more than 100 old statues; some are made of bronze, and some are of wood.
The steep roof tiles of the main hall were designed for quick drainage on rainy days, and there is a narrow corridor with a solid fence surrounding it. The arch of the main hall’s entrance is also attached with many artistic crockery plates, which present the traditional customs of doing pottery of Southerners. Inside the hall are sacred altars, with the main one worshiping Amitabha Buddha, Sakyamuni Buddha and four bodhisattvas who are Samantabhadra, Manjushri, Avalokiteshvara, and Mahasthamaprapta. Along the two passages of the main hall, two 18-Arhat statues and the statues of 10 kings of hell are placed on the altars, and they are among the oldest statues of the pagoda.
The main hall looked from the outside
The main altar with the statues of Buddhist gods
Two ancient sets of arhats are placed on the passages in the main hall
The altars of patriarchs are particularly important in worshipping because numerous plaques of monks and Buddhists have been placed there for many decades, showing Buddhism’s development in Southern Vietnam and Vietnam as a whole. As for the dining hall, there is an altar of Buddha gods and the atmosphere is archaic but still cozy for everyone.
The antiques kept in the altars of patriarchs where the abbots and monks are worshipped
Entrances to Zen hall, on the left of the main hall
Zen hall for learning Buddhism
On the left of the building is a complex of abbots’ stupas. Among them, the stupa worshipping the monk Thich Vien Quang is the oldest. Most of the stupas have 3 to 4 floors, and there is one special square statue which is the symbol of four immeasurables: love, compassion, empathetic joy, and equanimity (tu, bi, hi, xa).
The Cultural Value of Giac Lam Pagoda
Every year, on Tet holiday or the Vesak, Giac Lam Pagoda attracts many people who come to pray to the Buddha and bring offerings to the deities. Because of its long history and quiet location, it is ideal for you to visit the pagoda to see how Buddhists and Vietnamese as a whole pray for good things during these cultural days.
As a religious place built by a man from China, Giac Lam Pagoda has been renovated and embellished the Vietnamese way, preserving values in terms of architecture, religion, beliefs, and Vietnamese customs. Constructed in 1744, the pagoda is a big artifact where you can learn the spiritual values of the Vietnamese ancestors and the culture over time. In 1988, the pagoda was recognized as a historical-cultural heritage site by the Ministry of Cultures, Sports, and Tourism, a worthy title given to the witness of decades in Ho Chi Minh City.
Summary of the Giac Lam Pagoda
Giac Lam Pagoda is one of the oldest Vietnamese pagodas with traditional architecture and lasting religious values. It is ideal for you to get the sight of serenity, get away from the hustle and bustle of the vibrant city out there, at the same time learn about Vietnamese culture and religious values.
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