A bell echoes at a tranquil monastery atop a small hill. Most Venerable Thich Vien Thanh says the bell, representing peace, was made from bombshells he collected in Quang Tri, Quang Nam, Quang Ngai, and Lam Dong province. Thanh has been Abbot of the Van Hanh Zen monastery since 1980.

Thanh said, “The Van Hanh Zen monastery was established in 1952 by Buddhist followers from the central region who moved to Lam Dong province. The monastery was originally a 9-square-meter Buddhist temple with a sheet-metal roof.”

“From 1980 when I became Abbot here until 1994, the temple was gradually upgraded to the large complex it is today. In 2002, we built a golden statue of Sakyamuni Buddha lifting a lotus in his right hand,” added Thanh.   

The statue is 24 meters tall and 20 meters wide. It weighs 60 tons. Under the lotus-shaped base is an artificial mountain with a cave decorated with images of Buddhist masters meditating.

Two small rooms nestle in the bonsai garden in the shade of the Buddha statue. Here, a thousand quartz crystals collected by Thich Vien Thanh are on display. Some have ben arranged to form pictures and a map of Vietnam.

Thanh said, “I started making pictures in 2007, using quartz and sand from the central coast, to depict ox herding, motherly affection, and farming. These quartz pictures are not for sale. I just wanted to create a legacy.”

Ten ox herding pictures illustrate short poems in the Zen tradition that describe the stages of a practitioner’s progress toward enlightenment, and his or her return to society to demonstrate wisdom and compassion.

Abbot Thich Vien Thanh has also collected 2,000 antiquities, most of them associated with integrating human philosophy with Buddhist philosophy. The collection includes 200 stone mortars. The oldest of them, from Quang Ngai province, is 300 years.

There are also stone and wooden animal statues, ancient scales, bronze pots, rice-hulling mills, and farming utensils, used by generations of Vietnamese people. Each item on display at the Van Hanh Zen monastery is tagged with its origin.

Abbot Thich Vien Thanh said, “We are reorganizing this exhibit. A buffalo will be placed next to the plough. A small lake will be built where visitors can try a pedal-powered water pump to see how it works. We will also have a rice threshing machine simulator.”