Pilgrim spends 6 years traversing Vietnam on foot

By Duc Hung, Tran Hoa   May 18, 2024 | 10:00 pm PT
Pilgrim spends 6 years traversing Vietnam on foot
Thich Minh Tue shares his six-year journey of walking in Ha Tinh Province in central Vietnam, May 17, 2024. Photo by VnExpress/Duc Hung
A man from central Vietnam has been walking throughout the country since 2017 as a form of personal pilgrimage.

During his journey from the north to the south, 43-year-old Thich Minh Tue, born Le Anh Tu, took a rest at a vacant lot in the central province of Ha Tinh’s Cam Xuyen District on Friday.

Hundreds gathered around to hear him speak.

Tu said he was originally from Ha Tinh, but his family moved to the Central Highlands' Gia Lai Province in 1994. He was formerly a monk at a pagoda, where he took the Buddhist name Thich Minh Tue.

"'Minh' means bright, while 'Tue' means intelligence. The whole name means 'the shone way'," Tu said, adding that when he left the pagoda, he kept his Buddhist name.

Tu said he is neither a Buddhist monk nor affiliated with any pagoda or institution under the Vietnam Buddhist Sangha.

Over the past few years, he has been studying the teachings of the Buddha and learning ascetic practices, which involve letting go of conveniences and embracing difficulties, such as abstaining from food and wearing simple clothing, in order to attain enlightenment.

As part of his ascetic practices, Tu has been walking across Vietnam since 2017.

He said that in the early days of his practice he sometimes traveled by bus. However, he said that since 2020, he has been traveling entirely on foot, except for using a few marine vessels to cross various waterways. He said he has been to almost every corner of Vietnam, except for a few provinces.

"My journey is a lifelong walk. I don't intend to spread any message, as everything in Buddhism has been taught by the Buddha. I just want to practice per the teachings of the Buddha to complete myself. When I walk, I pray for everyone to always be happy with their families," he said.

In the past he used to doubt the teachings of the Buddha, but Tu said he is now more mature and so he wants to follow the teachings to see if they can bring greater happiness. He said he had spent a long time thinking before seeking for his parents' approval to leave home and follow his path.

On his journey, Tu has been collecting rags on the side of the road or from trash bins in order to stich them together as clothing. He eats only one meal a day. He bathes in rivers and streams, rests on the side of the road, and relieves himself at gas stations.

"For me, the walking journey is not difficult. When I'm on the move, if my mind is peaceful and happy, there are no obstacles in my way," he said.

As his long walk has continued, many people have dressed like monks and followed him.

While Tu said they are not his disciples, he also welcomes anyone who wants to join the trek. Tu simply asks them to seek approval from their families, as is the tradition for renunciates. He also encourages them to go home whenever they feel they are done with their journey.

More recently, Tu sometimes finds himself surrounded by people asking to take pictures and record videos with him. But he's said it is better to simply walk alongside him. He has voiced his disapproval for those who create scenes around him.

People gather to take photos of Thich Minh Tue in Ha Tinh Province, May 17, 2024. Photo by VnExpress/Duc Hung

People gather to take photos of Thich Minh Tue in Ha Tinh Province, May 17, 2024. Photo by VnExpress/Duc Hung

Even though he has not been in contact with his family for six years – he does not use phones or social media – Tu said he will always be grateful for his parents.

He said he has never called himself a monk, and that he does not feel that he is worthy of such a title yet.

Le Xuan, 84, Tu's father, said the family has four children. Tu was the second born and joined the army after graduating high school. After he left the army, he pursued a vocational education and then moved to Phu Yen Province to work at a private company.

In 2015, Tu returned home and asked his parents to be "released." After a night of thinking, Tu's parents granted him their approval and blessing to pursue his ascetic path.

Xuan said Tu told him he would study at a monastery in Saigon, but that he had then lost contact with him ever since.

The father only learned of his son’s whereabouts when neighbors showed him videos about the long walk released by the media.

"We saw that he was skinny and wasn’t eating well, so we felt pity for him. But this is his path and we support him," Xuan said.

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