Pho Linh Tay Ho Pagoda in Hanoi’s Tay Ho district is a fine example of a Vietnamese pagoda, with both traditional Buddhist symbolism and Tibetan statues and imagery.
The first area you come to as you enter the pagoda is the newer part of the complex. Here you will see both statues and murals reflecting Tibetan Buddhism, set around an open courtyard. Tibet is considered the closest place to Vietnam from which Buddhism came, so many temples in Vietnam are now incorporating Tibetan style.
As you continue your walk, with the lotus pond on your left — particularly beautiful in lotus season — the imagery becomes somewhat darker: along the wall the 10 deadly sins are represented, along with their gruesome punishments.
The walkway opens up into the temple courtyard, a peaceful spot in which to relax overlooking the pond, should the mood take you. The main building is at the end on the right. If — as when we visited — the doors are closed, try to get in round the back way, through the door that’s up the steps from the courtyard. The staff were quite accommodating when we took this approach. Don’t forget to take your shoes off though, whichever way you enter.
Inside is a shrine with representations of Buddha in each of the phases of his human life: he tried many different ways to reach Nirvana and these are represented by statues, including emaciated Buddha. The fat Buddha near the front symbolises what Nirvana may look or feel like, representing complete fulfilment. At the back is Buddha reaching enlightenment.
The gold statue in the centre depicts the dragons that protected Buddha at his birth. In Hinduism this would have been Naga, the seven-headed snake, but the Chinese changed this to dragons. Baby Buddha is at the front of the altar.
On either side of the altar are the angry and benign protectors, and in cases on the walls are the 10 judges of the 10 sins, as represented in the paintings outside.
If you turn right when going up the stairs from the courtyard you will enter an enclosed yard. On the left is the accommodation building and directly opposite is another shrine dedicated to the three Mother Goddesses. You can see the Goddess of the Mountain’s grotto on the left, with gaudy lighting and the cave of animals — primarily tigers and deers — a reflection of the animist beliefs of the time when the religion came to be.
How to get there
You can get to Pho Linh Tay Ho Pagoda (Chua) by heading down Dang Thai Mai Street from Xuan Dieu. The entrance to the pagoda is on the right between the lotus ponds. Consider combining a visit with a trip to Tay Ho Temple or Palace (Phu Tay Ho) which is about a 10-minute walk further down Dang Thai Mai Street and near to a number of eating places.
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