Buddhism and Philosophy in Trinh Cong Son’s Works

In his excellent article, “Death, Buddhism, and Existentialism in the Songs of Trinh Cong Son” (PDF format), John C. Schafer, an English professor at Humboldt State University, explores the Buddhist themes and “philosophy of life” in Trinh Cong Son’s lyrics. Shafer writes:

By refusing to announce simple meanings Trinh Cong Son lets listeners interpret his songs for themselves and thereby become partners with him in the creation of meaning. This willful incoherence also reflects a modernistic tendency to defamiliarize language in order to make one’s art appear fresh and new. But Trinh Cong Son’s intentional obscurity is also, I believe, a way to convey the Buddhist idea that one cannot reason one’s way to mental peace, a way to suggest that enlightenment lies beyond language and logic…

By studying Trinh Cong Son’s obsession with death, his fascination with Western philosophy and his admiration for Buddhism, Shafer concludes:

Perhaps Trinh Cong Son’s greatest contribution is that he has given Vietnamese a way to express this inner experience. Listening to many of his songs is for Vietnamese like visiting a pagoda and listening to the monks chanting prayers. Like these prayers, Trinh Cong Son’s songs are hard to understand, but they have the same power to soothe troubled minds.

The article is written in English with translation of the lyrics, but you could also read the Vietnamese version, “Cái chết, Phật giáo và chủ nghĩa hiện sinh trong nhạc Trịnh Công Sơn” (PDF), translated by Vy Huyen.