1/ Vietnamese Buddhism
In theory there are three main religions in Vietnam: Taoism, Confucianism and Buddhism; but in fact there is “tripple religion”, which is an amalgamation of these three doctrines, each of which represents a particular aspect of the whole. And now Buddhism still is main religion in Vietnam.
Buddhism spread first from China to Vietnam's Red River Delta region in approximately the second century A.D., and then from India to the southern Mekong Delta area at some time between the third and the sixth centuries. The Chinese version, Mahayana Buddhism, became the faith of most Vietnamese, whereas the Indian version, Theravada (or Hinayana) Buddhism, was confined mostly to the southern delta region. The doctrinal distinction between the two consists of their differing views of Gautama Buddha: the Mahayana school teaches that Gautama was only one of many "enlightened ones" manifesting the fundamental divine power of the universe; the Theravada school teaches that Gautama was the one-and-only enlightened one and the great teacher, but that he was not divine. The Mahayana sect holds further that laypersons can attain nirvana, whereas the Theravada school believes that only ordained monks and nuns can do so.
At the 13 century, during the Tran dynasty (1225-1400), the first 3 Kings Trần Thái Tôn, Trần Thánh Tông, Trần Nhân Tông and many high-ranking mandarins and royal members were Zen Buddhists. Among them King Trần Nhân Tông was the most prominent, being the founder of Trúc Lâm Yên Tử Zen School after his retirement from the throne in 1299. The essence of Truc Lam Yen Tu Zen school is to “live the dharma” and Trần Nhân Tông’s life is the illustrated example. Trần Nhân Tông’s Truc Lam Yen Tu Zen School marked the beginning and foundation of Vietnamese Buddhism, which is exemplified by the tenet, “Dharma applied to worldly life,” all of the characteristics of which are outlined in the verse Cư Trần Lạc Đạo. In this interpretation of Buddhism, practicing Buddhism is not limited to ritual activities, worship, and meditation, but right within daily activities. There is no need to search for enlightenment and peace anywhere outside of self and of the environment one lives in.
Vietnamese Buddhism continues to hold this supremacy in our own time. It is therefore easy to understand how great an influence the Buddha has had on the Vietnamese mind, and the generous contribution it has made to the moral and spiritual training of a people whose gentleness and simple outlook on life predisposed them to accept the «Religion of Compassion.
Confucianism can be considered as a social philosophy than just a normal religion. It has no church, no clergy and no bible as well. It advocates a code of social behavior that man ought to live in harmony with society and attain happiness in his individual life.
Confucianism was introduced into Vietnam early during the Chinese rule and has maintained its influence since that time. In 1072, there was a temple dedicated to Confucius and his leading 72 disciples. Located in Hanoi, this temple was called the Temple of Literature. If one of you has ever been Saigon, you can see at the Botanical Gardens a temple dedicated to Confucius called the Temple of Souvenirs. This is the site of Confucius' birthday celebration which is solemnly honored each year.
What is Confucianism?
As a major emphasis in its ethical system, Confucianism regulates relations between people. If there is improper conduct of these relations, it will cause disorders in the social group and therefore, throw man out of harmony with the universe. The cosmic world (heaven and earth) are in harmony and man's aim is to achieve a similar one. Vietnamese Confucianism, though without a strong formalized organization, still vitally affects nearly all ethnic Vietnamese. This is part of the cultural environment where the child is born.Khong Tse - the founder of Confucianism
The influence of Confucianism in Vietnam
The profound impact of Confucianism remains strong in Vietnam. Social order is defined by its principle as well as the rituals, deference and obedience.
Confucianism gave Vietnam a highly organized hierarchical society. Yet, while encouraging the improvement of the individual, it did also appeal his positive relationship with the community. In this sense, Confucianism is anti-individualistic.
According to Confucianism, death does not mean the annihilation of man. Confucianists believe that, the spirit which wanders in space as an exile should be brought back to the family altar and be worshiped. Besides, filial reverence is the primary duty of all Confucianists. That the reason why, on all solemn occasions, the ancestral spirit is invoked and offered liquors, flowers and fruit, accompanied with prayers and incense.
Confucianism is vividly seen throughout Vietnam in the Festival of the Arrival of Spring, the Mid-Autumn Festival, the Children's Festival and the Festival of Tet.
Tet is the festival of renewal and rebirth, or meditation and hope. With fireworks, ringing bells, beating tom-toms, toys and food, Tet is a big occasion in Vietnam. Many folk visit the pagodas to worship, burn joss-sticks and sandalwood incense, with flowers, food and liquors placed also on the family altars.
The other worship occasions involve the worship of the land. Such ceremonies include the festival of the beginning of plowing, the rice festival, the harvest festival and the festival of the first fruits. In spite of drought, war, foods… the Vietnamese farmer never seems to lose faith in the land as he plows, plants, harrows, weeds and irrigates it. To express his thankfulness for such response, the land is given honor in seasonal festivals which expressing their hopes and efforts of the past and for the future. Such worship of the land has tended to create in the Vietnamese peasant an almost fanatical attachment to his birthplace which nourished him during his life. It is the combination of worship of the land and ancestor veneration that creates the sight of numberless graves being scattered throughout the farming areas of Vietnam.
Besides, Confucianism has exercised a powerful influence in the formation of Vietnamese society where family is the basic unity. Thus, the three fundamental principles which govern Vietnamese women are the obedience to father until married, the obedience to husband while married, the obedience to eldest son when husband is dead
However, the value of Confucianism as a moderating influence upon social behavior is being rapidly superseded by the flexibility and openness in a developing society.
Tam Giao, which includes Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism, plays the key role in Vietnamese religion. “Tao” means “path” or “way” that turns Taoists’ thoughts to health, longevity, immortality and spontaneity.
The origin of Taoism
Taoism is believed to be founded by Lao Tseu (Lao Tu), a Chinese contemporary of Confucius in about 500 B.C. The ideas and doctrines of his religion are explained in his book entitled Dao Duc Kinh (The Book of Morality).
He did spend his life on searching for a way that would avoid the constant feudal warfare and conflicts that disrupted society during his lifetime. Taoism, therefore, is the natural mode of behavior that encourages one to live purely and simply. It relies on harmony between Man, Nature and a Universal Order. Such a harmony would promote good will, personal integrity. The ritual of Taoism in Vietnam today consists of religion-magical features, divining, worship of the spirits of nature, and so forthYin-Yang symbol
The Yin Yang is a common theme in Taoism, with black representing yin and white representing yang. The symbol was derived from astronomical observations which recorded the shadow of the sun throughout a full year. The two swirling shapes inside the symbol give the impression of change - the only constant factor in the universe. Hence, another idea states that, Yin - the dark side- represents the breath that formed the earth or symbolizes for the feminine which is soft, cool, calm, introspective, and healing… In contrast, Yang - the bright side- symbolizes the breath that formed the heavens and associate with the masculine: hard, hot, energetic, moving, and sometimes aggressive. However, since nothing in nature is purely black or purely white, the symbol includes a small black spot in the white swirl, and a corresponding white spot in the black swirl.
The implications of Yin and Yang
The Yin Yang symbol reflects the inescapably intertwined duality of all things in nature. No quality is independent of its opposite, nor pure. This principle applies to all elements of existence – from nature to a particular individual. Social disturbance, natural disasters, personal illness, unsettled family relationships and so on are the results of an imbalance between the forces of Yin and Yang
A comparison between Taoism and other beliefs
The congruity of Taoism and Confucianism is obvious. Confucianism is a means of regulating behavior without a spiritual dimension while Taoism grant people precepts that mostly go without spirituality and mysticism. Like some aspects of Buddhism, Taoism seems to have overtones of pessimism and a negative attitude toward attempts to change drastically the life patterns.
Vietnam and Taoism
Prior to the Communist domination, many Vietnamese tended to accept all the three religious beliefs, Taoism, Confucianism and Buddhism, without conflict concerns. Taoism aims to adjust the nature, and has its evidence in the daily life circle of ethnic Vietnamese whether they are city-dwellers or peasants on rice paddy fields. Through our country, you can see so many images of the Gods of Taoism to be worshipped in temples and pagodas. Most families use their altar to worship the ‘Kitchen God’- one of Taoist deities that monitor the families’ behaviors. Coming to Vietnam, you may be puzzled by a small mirrored octagonal disc, with the Yin Yang and other symbols, fixed above the door of most houses and small shops. According to the Vietnamese people, it plays an important role inbarring wandering spirits or ghosts.
Welcome to the world of Caodaism - an extraordinary indigenous religion that has captured the belief of over two million Vietnamese and the whimsy of everyone. Compared with other religions that have existed for millennia, this little-known religion is a visual and theological spectacular that could have been created only in the 20th century.
Dao Cao Dai (Caodaism in English) is the third largest religion in Viet Nam after Buddhism and Roman Catholicism. "Cao" means "high"; "Dai" means "palace". The word refers to the supreme palace where God reigns and also used as God's symbolic name. It originated in South Viet Nam in the early twenties and was officially inaugurated in 1926.
Caodaism is a religion which combines elements from many of the world's main religions, including Buddhism, Confucianism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Taoism, as well as Geniism. It is syncretistic in its doctrine, ritual practice, organizational structure, divinities and philosophy.
The history of this religion underwent three important episodes of revelations. The first and second took place in 6th century before our era. During the first manifestation, God appeared under the three forms of Jewish leader in the Middle East, Buddha in India and Fou-Hi symbolizing the cult of humanity in China.
During the second manifestation, Buddhism reappeared in the form of Sakiamuni, Confucianism in that of Confucius, Christianity in that of Jesus-Christ, Taoism in that of Lao-Tseu and Islam in that of Mohamed.
As for the third manifestation, God has decided to reveal himself. This third manifestation based on Buddhism is often called "Ðại Ðạo Tam Kỳ Phổ Ðộ" (Great Way for the Third Universal Amnesty).)
Ngo Van Chieu, a civil servant of the Cochin china government began to receive messages from a spirit called Duc Cao Dai whom he believed to be God. After three years of studying and worshipping God, he shared his spiritual discoveries with others in Saigon. According to him, the alliance represented in Caodaism is God's third attempt to reveal his truth to humanity
At the end of the year At Suu (1926 CE), Cao Dai instructed a small group of mediums to found a new religion. One of the mediums, Le Van Trung was named by God to be acting Giao Tong (Pope).
With the unification of Viet Nam in 1975, the Caodaists' activities were restricted by the Communist government. Their Cuu Trung Dai (executive body) and Hiep Thien Dai (legislative body) were abolished and replaced with a Governing Council under the direct control of the government. Rituals and ceremonies continued without government interference.
Caodaist ethics are based on the Buddhist ideal of becoming a good person with a veneer of traditional Vietnamese taboos. Basic parameters such as avoiding killing, lying, opulent living, sensuality, stealing and eating meat that facilitate the soul's progress through the cycles of reincarnation.
The Caodaist consider vegetarianism is one of humane service as it doesn't involve harming other creatures during the process of their spiritual evolution. They follow several different vegetarian regimens; the least rigorous one is to eat vegetarian meals six days a month. However, priests are required to be full-time vegetarians.
Intensifying its distinct if somewhat contradictory nature, Caodaism simultaneously embraces monotheism and ancestor worship, proselytizing and praying for acceptance. And although they believe in only one God, Caodaists also recognize another principal deity--the Mother Goddess. A popular debate among the Caodaists focuses on which deity was the primary source of creation. The acknowledgment of both genders pervades the religion. The celibate clergy consists of both men and women. In a hierarchical structure similar to the Roman Catholic Church, female priests occupy all but the highest levels. However, when male and female clergy of the same rank work together, the men function as leaders.
With brightly robed priests and colorfully painted temples, Caodaist ceremonies are visually spectacular. They occur four times each day: 6 am, noon, 6 pm and midnight. Women enter the temple from the left, walk clockwise around the hall, and then congregate on the left side for worship. Conversely, men enter from the right and walk counter-clockwise. Both genders give offerings that range from the conventional incense, fruit and flowers to more unusual gifts of tea and alcohol.
The "Vatican" of Caodaism resides in Tay Ninh- a province 58 miles northwest of Saigon at an ornate cathedral called The Holy See. Built between 1933 and 1955, The Holy See has been described as a rococo extravaganza and the Disneyland of religious centers. The main religious centers currently have 7 to 8 million followers in Vietnam and about 30,000 members elsewhere, primarily in Asia, Australia, Canada, Europe and the United States.
The architectural combination of a church, pagoda and shopping center creates an idiosyncratic place of worship. Looking at the garish central hall, you will see that it has nine levels that represent the nine steps to heaven. The impressive colonnade consists of bright pink columns encircled by thick enameled dragons with stylized scales. The dome is filled with a low hanging blue globe decorated with the "divine eye" gazing down at the worshipers. Merely entering the building is a powerful experience. Do you know that this eye is the official symbol of the church, representative of the visions that created this religion?
With its historical and ceremonial pageantry, Caodaism is a fascinating addition to Vietnamese religious sects. In its effort to create an ideal religion by fusing secular and sacred philosophies of both East and West, Caodaism has succeeded in being unarguably unique.