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RELIGION

Four great philosophies and religions have shaped the spiritual life of the Vietnamese: Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism and, later, Christianity. Over the centuries, Confulcianism,Taoism and Buddhism have fuded with popular Chinese beliefs and ancient. Vietnamese animism to create the Tam Giao (Triple Religion). When discussing religion, most Vietnamese people are likely to say that they are Buddhist, but when it comes to family or civic duties they are likely to follow the moral and social code of Confucianism, and turn to Taoist concepts to understand the nature of the cosmos. Although the majority of the population has only a vague cotion of Buddhist doctrines, they invite monks to participate in life–cycle ceremonies, such as funerals. Buddhist pagodas are see by many Vietnamese as a physical and spirtual refuge from an uncertain world.
Buddhism
Buddhism , like all great re ligions, has been through a messy divorce, and ar­rived in Vietnam in two flavours: Mahayana Buddhism (the Northern school) proceeded north into Nepal, Tibet, China, Korea, Mongolia, Vietnam and Japan, while Theravada Buddhism (the Southern school) took the southern route from India, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Cambodia , The Theravada school of Buddhism is an earlier and, according to its followers, less corrupted form of Buddhism than the Mahayana schools found around East Asia and the Himatayan regions. As Therevada followers tried to preserve and limit the Buddhist doctrines to only those canons codified in the early Buddhist era, the Mahayana school gave Theravada Buddhism the pejorative name 'Hinayana' (meaning 'Lesser Vehicle' ). They considered. themselves 'Greater Vehicle' because they built upon the earlier teachings. The predominant school of Buddhism, and indeed religion, in Vietnam is Mahayana Buddhism (Dai Thua, or Bac Tong, meaning 'From the North' ). The largest Mahayana sect in the country is Zen (Dhyana or Thien), also known as the school of meditation. Dao Trang (the Pure Land school), another important sect, is practised mainly in the south. Theravada Buddhism (Tieu Thua, or Nam Tong) is found mainly in the Mekong Delta region, and is mostly practised by ethnic-Khmers. Vietnamese Buddhist monks (bonze) minister to the spiritual needs of the peasantry, but it is largely up to the monks whether they follow the lore of Taoism or the philosophy of Buddhism.
Taoism
Taoism (Lao Giao, or Dao Giao) originated in China and is based on the philosophy of Laotse (The Old One), who lived in the 6th century BC. Little is known about Laotse and there is some debate as to whether or not he actually existed. He is believed to have been the custodian of the imperial archives for the Chinese government , and Confucius is supposed to have consulted him. official websiteof the Understanding Taoism is not easy. The philosophy emphasises contem-plation and simplicity. Its ideal is returning to the Tao (The Way, or the essence of which all things are made) , and it emphasises am and duong, the Vietnamese equivalents of Yin and Yang. Much of Taoist ritualism has been absorbed into Chinese and Vietnamese Buddhism, including, most com­monly, the use of dragons and demons to decorate temple rooftops.
Confucianism
More a philosophy than an organised religion, Confucianism (Nho Giao, or Khong Giao) has been an important force in shaping Vietnam's social system and the lives and beliefs of its people. Confucius (Khong Tu ) was born in China around 550 BC He saw people as social beings formed by sociely yet also capable of shaping their society. He believed that the individual exists in and for society and drew up a code of ethics to guide the individual in social interaction. This code laid down a person's obligations to family, society and the state, which remain the pillars of Vietnamese society today.
PAGODA OR TEMPLE?
Travelling around Vietnam, there are a lot of pagodas and temples, but how does the average person know which is which? The Vietname se regard a chua (pagoda) as a place of worship where they make offerings or pray. A Vietnamese den (temple) is not really a place of worship, but rather a structure built to honour some great historical figure (Confucius, Tran Hung Dao, even Ho Chi Minh). The Cao Dai temple seems to somehow fall between the cracks. Given the mixture of ideas that is part and parcel of Cao Daism. it's hard to say if it's a temple, pagoda, church or mosque
TET: THE BIG ONE
Tet is Christmas, New Year and birthdays all rolled into one. Tet Nguyen Dan (Festival of the First Day) ushers in the Lunar New Year and is the most significant date in the Vietnamese calendar. It's a time when families reunite in the hope of good fortune for the coming year, and ancestral spirits are welcomed back into the family home. And the whole of Vietnam celebrates a birthday; everyone becomes one year older The festival falls some time between 19 January and 20 February , the same dates as Chinese New Year. The first three days after New Year 's Day are the official holidays but many people take the whole week off, particularly in the south. Tet rites begin seven days before New Year's Day, This is when the Tao Quan - the three Spirits of the Hearth, found in the kitchen of every home - ascend to the heavens to report on the past year's events to the Jade Emperor. Altars, laden with offerings, are assembled in preparation for the gods' departure, all in the hope of receiving a favourable report and ensuring good luck for the family in the coming year. Other rituals as Tet approaches include visiting cemeteries and inviting the spirits of dead relatives home for the celebrations. Absent family members return home so that the whole family can celebrate Tet under the same roof. All loose ends are tied up so that the new year can be started with a clean slate; debts are paid and cleaning becomes the national sport. A New Year's tree (cay neu) is constructed to ward off evil spirits. Kumquat trees are popular throughout the country, while branches of pink peach blossoms (dao) grace houses in the north, and yellow apricot blossoms (mai) can be found in homes further south. For a spectacular sight, go to ĐL Nguyen Hue in Ho Chi Minh City. much of which is taken over by the annual Tet flower market. In Hanoi, the area around Pho Hang Dau and Pho Hang Ma is transformed into a massive peach-blossom and kumquat-tree market. On New Year's Eve the Tao Quan return to earth. At the stroke of midnight all problems from the previous year are left behind and mayhem ensues. The goal is to make as much noise as pos­sible. Drums and percussion are popular, as were firecrackers until they were banned in 1995. The events of New Year's Day are crucial as it's be lieved they affect the course of life in the year ahead. People take extra care not to be rude or show anger. Other activities that are believed to attract bad spirits include sewing, sweeping, swearing and breaking things. It's crucial that the first visitor of the year to each household is suitable. They're usual ly male-best of all is a wealthy married man with several children. Foreigners are sometimes welcomed as the first to enter the house, although not always, so it's unwise to visit any Vietnamese house on the first day of Tet, unless explicitly invited. Apart from New Year's Eve itself, Tet is not a particularly boisterous celebration. It's like Christmas Day, a quiet family affair. Difficulty in booking transport and accommodation a side, this is an excellent time to visit the country, especially to witness the contrasting fren zied activity before the New Year and the calm (and quiet streets!) that follows. Wherever you're staying, you're sure to be invited to join in the celebrations. If you are visiting Vietnam during Tet, be sure you learn this phrase: chuc mung nam moi-Happy New Year!