Sep 3, 2017

Posted by in BUDDHISM IN OTHER LANGUAGES | 8 Comments

Letter from Hanoi: A Complicated Story of Academic Burden (Lắc léo ngoằn ngoèo của cái nợ “cầm thư”)

Letter from Hanoi: A Complicated Story of Academic Burden (Lắc léo ngoằn ngoèo của cái nợ “cầm thư”)
Letter from Hanoi: A Complicated Story of Academic Burden
I had just arrived at the office when I got a phone call from my cousin K.L this morning. She informed that she had passed the entrance exam for Ph.D. program in economics. I sighed in relief and sent her my heartiest congratulation.
“How about tuition fee? Will your parents pay fully or part of it? Wanna support from me?” I asked like an elder sister who cares much about her younger sister
“Entirely, of course. But your support will be welcomed,” K.L replied in a thrilled voice.  
I was sure that a sum of between $200 and $500 from mine plus the rest covered by her parents would be enough, given the maximum cost for a Ph.D. program often stays at just around $2,000. Upon hearing my suggestion, K.L jolted out: “Good heavens! It’s not worth the support. Don’t you know $2,000 is just one tenth (twentieth) of the real cost?”

A little ashamed, I had a quick search on Google and found out an article on Tien Phong Online titled: “Real Cost for a PhD Degree in Vietnam”. It revealed that the real amount you’ve got to pay for a PhD degree in Vietnam varies depending on which field you choose. A “hot’ option like Economics, for instance, may cost you over $43,478 (VND1 billion) while the less “attractive” ones make you pay no less than $10,000. (

According to the regulation on tuition fee for post-graduate students in the academic year 2015-2016 stated by the Graduate Academy of Social Sciences on December 4, 2015, total payment for a three-year course is nearly $2,000 (VND45,750,000). “But this official figure is just the “tip of the iceberg” “, the paper warned. A post-graduate student has to pay out of his pocket for researches on 03 special subjects, 02 seminars, 02 defenses of dissertation, not to mention other expenses for the board of around 5-7 referees. A seminar costs him at least $2,173. Before that, he often pays for a “secret defense of dissertation” with an attempt of convincing the referees to adjust and approve his thesis before going out to official defenses. Worse are expenses derived from inviting referees from other provinces if they are assigned. A student told that he used to flight between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City to meet a referee in Ho Chi Minh City for doing dissertation. 

In the meantime, self-funded students in foreign countries like the United of Kingdom or United States often pay around VND1.5-2 billion per year (total of four years on average), depending on universities or subjects they choose to pursue. This sounds exorbitant to the average per capita income of Vietnam which was announced at nearly $2,200 in 2015.      

“Namo Buddha”, I mumbled, “That’s why she laughed at me. Such high costs can scare many prospective students away from pursuing PhDs. Luckily, that’s not my case as my study at Song Nguyen Tantra House over the past two years has “cost” me much lower even than the State’s level of VND45,750,000. You may say it’s unreasonable to compare between a secular and a Buddhist establishments. But how could a Buddhist practitioner learn to detach if he doesn’t know what attachment is. So how could I know the real value of wonderful termas transmitted by the Guru if they are not quantified (though just relatively)? To have a closer comparison, just look at Buddhist colleges and programs around the world:

In Sri Lanka, a country with Theravada tradition and 70.1% of population practicing Buddhism, the cost for a four-year Ph.D course on Buddhism and Pali (for monks and nuns) at Kelaniya University stands at $1,000 per year; $4,200 at Peradeniya University (accommodation fee for international students is excluded); and $5,500 for the whole four-year course at Sri Lanka International Buddhist Academic (under the management of Maligawa Pagoda). Those amounts quoted are all exclusive from daily allowances which stays at $3,000 per year on average. (Source:

In Minnesota (USA), the fee for a four-month course on Buddhism and meditation in Bodhi Gaya, India (under Carleton Global Management program at Carleton University) from August 30 to December 31, 2017 comes up to $21,475, exclusive of fees for books, visa, domestic travel and personal expenses. (Source:

Meanwhile, a ten-day course on meditation and yoga for the beginners in Dharamsala, India will cost you up to $900. (Source:

Namo Buddha,
With that amounts of payment, those courses will forever be a luxurious dream of a low income lay Buddhist with family burden like me. But what has happened? My dream has now come true. Not so much travel, no accommodation and learning material fees required, free online Buddhist library searching with over 1,500 articles, 100 audio sermons and 65,000 comments, and now I am going to get an official certificate from the Guru recognizing my accomplishment of one of six methods of Dharma practice in the upcoming Assembly of Song Nguyen Tantra House after two years of following “How blessed I am to have a chance of enjoying “sweet fruits” without putting too much effort on learning,” I told myself rejoicingly. 

It shall be inappropriate to compare any decrees from universities and colleges, even the Buddhist ones, to this certificate. The first one is merely a proof for completing an independent research on a certain topic and its application into practice (though the feasible application rate may not be high, given current situation in Vietnam where many are pursuing just for job promotion or have their dissertation done by others); while the second one is the certification of Dharma quintessence extracted from the Guru’s over 25 years of surveying, researching, practicing and successfully applying into daily life. This certificate is so valuable towards a Buddhist like me as it brings me such miraculous results a secular PhD decree cannot do. A vajra brother has completed a Master degree worth $21,739 on business administration and interpretation in South Korea but still she found it hard to get a job until stepping into the door of Song Nguyen Tantra House. She’s now doing her favorite job and got promotion recently. Another brother had his health harmed by an evil force for many years until practicing Dharma in Song Nguyen Tantra House. He has recovered completely so far and is now thriving at work. And I, an unlucky Master recipient until I met the Guru, everything has changed impressively.

A question has been raised over whether four years of pursuing a Ph.D can bring back results as solid and fast as it does from two years of learning Dharma in Song Nguyen Tantra House? Despite the fact that modern or secular knowledge is essential for our life, but without merit, will all our efforts in life soon be fruitful? This is not to mention that our bad karmas multiply each day because of our ignorance. Same as from Buddhist Dharma. Geshe Shabogaypa taught in “The Door of Liberation” that: “We cannot understand Dharma without merit. Even if we have a little comprehension but do not apply in your life, such comprehension will be faded and meaningless. Moreover, we have to wander in samsara because of creating bad instead of good karmas. Even in this life, things go against our will as we do not accumulate merit and abandon non-virtuous actions. So the foundation of Dharma is to accumulate merit and give up non-virtuous actions.” So how fast and easy accumulation of merit can methods of Dharma practice in Song Nguyen Tantra House bring back? 

Take the “Samyagdrsti-prabha Samadhi” (read and comment, the first among six termas, as an example. Practicing this method means I am carrying out at the same time four (04) spiritual activities in Buddhism, including:

1. Listening to Dharma: read articles and listen to audio sermons on Dharma
2. Delivering Dharma sermon: sharing knowledge and viewpoint on Dharma in the forms of comment or article
3. Praying: pray for the long lasting of Dharma and longevity of noble masters
4. Meditation: When Bodhisattva Shantideva was still a monk at Nalanda Monastery, he did nothing but slept all day in the corner of the garden. One day, the monastery warden came and reproached:

-Don’t you, a bhikkhu, feel ashamed?
-About what?
-Why don’t you do things a bhikkhu often does?
-Sitting meditation
-I’ve never got distracted, so why should I?

The story the Guru told us highlights an ultimate meaning of meditation. It is “non-distraction”, “to accustom oneself to the object” (called as “Gom” in Tibetan language). Hence, just when I focus my mind on reading, listening to and writing comments on, it means I am practicing meditation. It would rather be sitting for less time but in mindfulness than sitting for long hours but in disturbance. The time I read, listen to and comment on Dharma on, though just for 5 or 30 minutes, is the moment I’ve kept myself focused and mindful, given my mind revolves around the Guru, Buddha, Dharma and Sangha.

Another benefit I come to know now is that I have also been (indirectly) realizing at least two out of three enlightenment factors – Renunciation and Bodhicitta – the corpus of enlightenment any Tantric practitioners strive for pursuing. 

5. Renunciation: read and comment on indicate that I am willing and determined to spend the negligible fund of spare time I’ve got each day on learning Dharma

6. Bodhicitta: 

+ Aspiration Bodhicitta: At the end of each comment, I pray for all sentient beings to  cross the ocean of ignorance to the shore of supreme enlightenment.

+ Application Bodhicitta: Many new readers have yet been able to perceive  profound meanings of the Guru’s sermons. Despite the fact that the Guru has simplified his sermons to the lowest level for an easy understanding, many of them (including me) sometimes still find hard to follow unless reading comments of vajra brothers. Their diversified inside looks or detailed analysis of the sermons have helped me get a clearer and more comprehensive view on the Guru’s teachings, triggering an interest in learning Dharma and a desire to walk with brothers on the path of liberation under the guidance of the Guru. Therefore, commenting on can be seen as an indirect way to guide (or encourage) sentient beings to step into the door of holy Dharma.

This is not to mention a huge volume of Buddhist knowledge I’ve got through this method without having to spend years in colleges. With both Dharma knowledge and practice, step by step, we are flying high in the sky of liberation. 

Lotus Flower Estrade in Song Nguyen Tantra House

Tantra, as its name, means “the continuity of the flow of consciousness”, an uninterrupted cultivation process from life to life until the ultimate enlightenment. I deeply perceive that the transmission of certificate for one of six termas is the reward for my continual efforts of diligence and mindfulness over lives which has grown into fruit since I met the Guru in this life. This certificate bears with it such an inconceivably spiritual value that even a doctorate degree from Buddhist colleges or universities cannot bring back. 

Thanks K.L for your news having broken my long time ignorant mind, for helping me know that all flourish words for Dharma will be useless if I do not have a true acknowledgement of the Guru’s endeavors in teaching and helping sentient beings transform their minds. The Buddha once explained to Sariputra that through devotion and only devotion, one might recognize the Absoluteness. It’s not by chance Great Master Avagosha taught: “Guru devotion is the foundation of enlightenment.” The Dharma Assembly is coming soon! The Guru and his consort must have been busy with supports for participants from all over the country. Overwhelmed with joy and happiness, I told myself that I will definitely be a grateful person and know how to repay in a right way.

Song Nguyen Tantra House at night

 Hanoi August 19, 2017
Disciple Mat Hue Phap
  1. Dr.C H Lakshmi narayan says:

    I am Tantra Nirvadeva.

    Respected Guruji, l bow my head at the Lotus feet of Guruji.

    Though it is a lengthy letter dealing with comparative  cost and expenditure in getting PhD and other University degrees in different Universities and places  and also some aspects of Buddhism in general, ultimately  it draws the attention to the main goal, ” Guru’s devotion is the main foundation to Enlightenment.”

    Om Mani Padme Hum.

    Long Live our Guruji for upholding Dharma.

    Dr. C H Lakshmi narayan.


    • Kính bạch Thầy!

      Con xin phép dịch comment của đạo hữu Tantra Nirvadeva (C H Lakshmi narayan) sang tiếng Việt như sau:

      “Kính bạch Thầy tâm linh tôn quý!

      Con là Tantra Nirvadeva.

      Con xin cúi đầu đảnh lễ dưới chân sen của Thầy!

      Mặc dù đây là một bài viết dài so sánh về chi phí để có bằng tiến sỹ và các bằng cấp khác ở các trường đại học khác nhau và trong bài viết này cũng đề cập đến một vài khía cạnh trong đạo Phật. Nhưng cuối cùng, bài viết quay về nội dung chính: “sùng kính vị Thầy là nền tảng giác ngộ”.

      Om Mani Padme Hum.

      Con cầu nguyện Thầy trụ thế lâu dài vì sự nghiệp hoằng dương chánh pháp.

      Con – C H Lakshmi narayan.”


  2. Tantra Mahavita says:

    QUERIDO GURU .: Me inclino mi cabeza a los pies de mi GURU ….El objetivo principal en el camino a la iluminacion es ..”La profunda Devocion a nuestro Guru ” … Que nuestro Guru tenga salud y pueda vivir muchos años para beneficio de todos los seres sintientes .Que todos los seres encuentren la felicidad y sus causas ….OM MANI PADME HUM

  3. Mô Phật!

    Mật thúy rất hoan hỉ với thiện hạnh dịch bài viết này sang tiếng Anh của đạo huynh Mật Huệ Pháp cầu nguyện cho huynh luôn tin tấn thực hành pháp để được tha lực hô tri con cầu nguyện sức khoẻ và sự trường thọ của thầy cô vì lợi lạc của chúng sanh Om ah hùm

  4. BeeLay says:

    Dear Guru,

    Thank for the article and all of them was very touching.

  5. Tantra Upatissa says:

    Dear Guru thanks for sharing this article.

    I really feel touched with this article.

    Even I used to search for Buddhist and and other research books on meditation, but would hardly find them. Even if found it was difficult to buy them because of lack of money.

    Through Buddha blessings I am able to find you and read and comment on Buddhist articles. Even happier to learn tantric methods of meditation.

    These are valuable then higher studies I feel.

    May Guru live long and be protected and get enlightened.

    May all beings be free from suffering and get enlightened.

  6. Tantra Ashihata (Simon Michael) says:

    Dear holy Guru ,

    my name is Tantra Ashihata.

    You are wonderful for your article you have given to us,making academic comparison .we saw how much of help that buddahist institutions are in term of cost of which the effort of Guru will not be undermined .

    May Guru live long for the seek of happiness of all sentient being.

    Om mani padme hum.

  7. Ava Brown says:

    Nice blog you have here with unique and different thoughts!

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