Religions in Vietnam

by Dang Vu Hoai Nam on Monday, April 22, 2013 at 02:30pm

Despite being deemed a Buddhist country, most Vietnamese people are atheist. There are 03 main religions in Vietnam: Buddhism, Christianity and indigenous religions. Of those, the last one is the majority.

In most regions of Vietnam, the spiritual culture is a combination of 03 religions, referred to the so-called triple religion, including Mahayana Buddhism, Confucianism and Daoism. They remain a strong influence on the beliefs and practices of Vietnamese.

Mahayana Buddhism is the bigger branch of Buddhism, of which the smaller one is Hinayana Buddism. It is a religion derived from India and Nepal and a non-god religion. As for Buddhism in general, it is based on a doctrine in which life is deemed miserable and painful. Buddhism is the philosophy of misery and the path to rescue ourselves from misery.

The 02 other religions, Confucianism and Daoism are imported from China. The former one is initiated by Confucius while the latter one Laozi. Nowadays, Daoism is mostly popular in the countryside, which is a philosophical and religious tradition to advise people to live in harmony with “Dao”. It also popularizes a system of ceremonies and magics. Traditionally, Daoism features reverence for Laozi, immortals or ancestors, along with a variety of divination and exorcism rituals, and practices of achieving ecstacy, longevity or immortality. Daoism also emphasizes naturalness, simplicity, spontaneity, and the “Three Treasures”: compassion, moderation and humility.

Confucianism focuses on humanism, this world and the family, not the gods and not the afterlife. Confucianism does not exalt faithfulness to divine will or higher law. It appreciates the cultivation of virtue and maintenance of ethics, the most basic of which are ren, yi and li. Ren is an obligation of altruism and humaneness for the individuals within a community, yi is upholding of righteousness and the moral disposition to do good, and li is a system of norms and propriety that determines how a person should properly act within a community. Confucianism holds that one should give up one’s life, if necessary, either passively or actively, for the sake of upholding the cardinal moral values of ren and yi.

Sound interesting? However, I do not follow any religions. I believe that Mother Nature is the highest force which has created the world and regulated everything inside the world by its invisible laws. As we are part of Mother Nature, we should do good things for the world so that, conversely, Mother Nature will support us.

The majority of Vietnamese now do not really understand the religions they are following. Thus, they often believe in the divinity and create a more and more complicated and money-burning system of divination and exorcism rituals. They visit pagodas and temples to pray for big fortunes by serving a divine worship. They spend a lot on exorcists and votive offerings. This results in negative mentality with a bias of “something for nothing”. That’s why they often put change on alters in sacred places. They are devastating good traditions of Vietnam in terms of social norms, behaviors and religions.


Buddhism - A different view over its evolution!

by Dang Vu Hoai Nam on Thursday, June 12, 2014 at 10:30pm

Born in a country where Buddhism is deemed the national faith, I am particularly curious about this religion. I try to discover Buddhism from different viewpoints, from both an orthodox view to an innovative view. This article summarizes the evolution of Buddhism as well as its impacts on society, culture and economy. Let’s begin with a retrospective view.

History of Buddhism in a nutshell

Buddhism was born about 2,500 years ago in a country which used to be part of India but now belongs to Nepal. Its founder is Siddhartha Gautama or Shakyamuni, the son of King Suddhodana and Queen Maya, who reigned in Kapilavastu.  Siddhartha was believed to be a genius, with a lot of wonderful predictions about his future. He was raised in the palace. He led a luxurious and frivolous life until he was 29 years old. He was taught different things and became proficient in martial arts, literature, astronomy, etc. He also got married and had one son with his wife, who was selected from 500 girls presented to him in a ceremony.

However, when he was 29, he got out of the palace and experienced many miserable lives. These sufferings were so popular that they had imprinted on his mind. Thenceforth, he left the palace for the forest where he followed a spiritual life of meditation. At the age of 35, he attained enlightenment under the Bodhi tree in Bodh Gaya in India. He believed that he had found out the nature of existence as well as the nature of suffering. Thus, he discovered the way to attain full enlightenment or liberation from suffering for oneself alone.

Doctrine of Buddhism

According to Buddhism doctrine, life is none other than misery. Buddha Shakyamuni explained the truth about suffering and the spiritual path to attain self-liberation from suffering and to lasting happiness. By following his instructions or the spiritual path, anyone can rescue himself from misery, transforming his confused and dull mind into a blissful mind of a Buddha.

Making the core of Buddhism doctrine are the four noble truths, which provide a conceptual framework for all of Buddhist thought. These four noble truths explain the nature of suffering, its causes, its cessation and the path leading to its cessation. They are:

  1. The truth of suffering

  2. The truth of the origin of suffering

  3. The truth of the cessation of suffering

  4. The truth of the path leading to the cessation of suffering

The truth of suffering

According to Buddha Shakyamuni, human beings have 08 sufferings, which are associated with birth, growing old, illness, dying, living near the hatred but far from the beloved ones, wishing in vain and holding five senses (sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch).

-> Buddhism is a pessimistic philosophy

The truth of the origin of suffering

Suffering derives from a lack of satisfaction, a sense that things never measure up to our expectations or standards. In other words, the origin of suffering is explained as craving or thirst conditioned by ignorance. The root cause of suffering is identified as ignorance of the true nature of things.

The truth of the cessation of suffering

Buddhism confirms that it is possible for anyone to cease sufferings.

The truth of the path leading to the cessation of suffering

The fourth noble truth identifies a path to the cessation of suffering, which is called “The Eight-fold Path”. It is the essence of Buddhist practices, including: Right View, Right Intention, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration.

The Five Precepts

Regarding rules and regulations of Buddhism, the five precepts constitute the basic Buddhist code of ethics. They are commitments to abstain from harming living beings, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying and intoxication.

In general, Buddhism tells people to lead a good life. Most of its teachings are good. However, the nature of Buddhism does not reflect the natural life of human beings, in which all expectations are normal. The perception of life as an ocean full of sufferings is absolutely wrong. Thus, its doctrine is deemed unrealistic. For instance, sexual life is discouraged by Buddhist doctrine, whereas it is part of our daily lives.

The division of Buddhism

At the second summit of Buddhism followers, a number of followers required to modify Vinaya, one of the two most important contents of Buddhist scriptures (together with Dharma). They were expelled from the summit. This originated the division of Buddhism into Hinayana (or “Small Vehicle”) and Mahayana (or “Big Vehicle”).

Hinayana claimed that only monks could attain salvation while, according to Mahayana, all practitioners could be rescued. Mahayana supposed that, beside Shakyamuni, there existed other Buddhas like Adi-Buddha, Budai (the laughing Buddha). Moreover, anyone could become a Buddha. In fact, there had been many people attaining enlightenment. There were called bodhisattvas. They kept living on the planet to assist others on their paths.

-> It is Mahayana that has encouraged complex and costly rituals of Buddhism.

Buddhist expansion

Buddhism evolved as it spread from the northeastern region of the Indian subcontinent through Central, East and Southeast Asia. Nowadays, Buddhism, with its 02 main branches, is popular in China, Tibet, Mongolia, Korea, Japan, Vietnam (Mahayana), Burma, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, India and Nepal (Hinayana or Theravada).

-> Buddhism is mostly popular in poor countries. In Korea and Japan, Buddhism does not play a donimant role in spiritual life.

Recession of Buddhism

Unreality is the very reason why Buddhism has fallen into recession right in the place where it was born. In India and Nepal today, Buddhist followers only account for a small proportion of the total population. Hinduism is the most widespread religion.

In fact, Buddhism is impractical and frivolous. Thus, it does not nurture innovation and development. Buddhist practitioners are told to be content with their current situations. Real life is not worth living. Human instinct is not respected.

-> Buddhism is a supportive religion for such regimes of dictatorship as China or Vietnam.

In these countries, Buddhism is encouraged to become the national religion. However, most people do not fully understand its tenets. People do not follow instructions of Buddha. They still do terrible evils, telling lies and wasting time and money on costly rituals.


Brahmanism - Precursor of Hinduism

by Dang Vu Hoai Nam on Sunday, June 15, 2014 at 10:30am

Brahmanism was an early religion in the Indian sub-continent. It was based on Vedic writing and considered to be the precursor religion of Hinduism. In Aryan society, there were different gods. Of those, Brahman was regarded as the most important one. Brahman was supported by Siva, the god of destruction and Vishnu, the god of maintenance.

Brahmanism insisted on sacrifice to the gods. To conduct religious rituals correctly, there played an important role of priests, called Brahmans. If Aryans did not perform these rites, they would suffer from natural disasters such as floods, famine, etc. The Aryans paid the Brahmans to make these sacrifices and to conduct rituals. Thus, Brahmans were considered to be the highest caste of Aryan society. Over time, Brahmans made the sacrifices and rituals more and more complicated with stricter rules. They also propagate the idea of an afterlife.

This religion was born when the Aryan society was classified into different castes. Later on, Brahmanism was blended with the ideas of people already living in the Indus valley, setting the foundation for the appearance of Hinduism.


Hinduism - The dominant religion of the Indian sub-continent

by Dang Vu Hoai Nam on Sunday, June 15, 2014 at 10:30am

Hinduism is the religion of the majority of people in India, Nepal and some neighboring countries. It followed Brahmanism and co-existed with Buddhism for about 5 centuries BC. Then, it replaced Buddhism during the 5 following centuries. Nowadays, Hinduism has 900 million adherents worldwide. It is the world’s third largest religion and the oldest organized religion in the world.

Unlike other religions, Hinduism does not have a single founder, a single scripture, a single concept of deity, a central religious authority. Hindus believe that our beliefs determine our thoughts and attitudes about life, which in turn direct our actions. By actions, we create our destiny.

Regarding gods, Hinduism not only inherits the whole system of gods from Brahmanism but it also develops many other ones. Of those, Brahman, Shiva and Vishnu are the most important ones. Each god has different relations. For example, Shiva has a wife who exists in 15 different forms with 15 different names. One of those relations is with Uma, bearing Ganesha in form of an elephant, named Skanda. Indra often rides an elephant, Brahma riding a groose, Agni a rhinoceros, Yama a buffalo, Vayu a horse. Siva himself rides a cow named Nandin. Hinduism’s gods do not want to walk on foot. They often fly or ride different animals. They exist in different figures, with many wives, children, etc. Nobody can remember all gods in Hinduism.

From generation to generation, priests have added to the stories and developed into Shruti and Smriti. Shruti or Hindu scriptures are the Vedas, which are considered the oldest Hindu texts. There are 04 Vedas: Rig-Veda, Sama-Veda, Ya-jur Veda and Atharva-Veda. Of those, Rig-Veda is regarded as the oldest of all Hindu writings.

-       Rig-Veda: is divided into 10 books, including 1028 hymns of various deities. These include Indra, Agni, Vishnu, Rudra, Varuna, and other early or “Vedic gods”.

-       Yajur-Veda: is a priestly handbook used in the performance of sacrifices.

-       Sama-Veda: is composed of chants and melodies to be sung during worship and the performance of sacrifices.

-       Atharva-Veda: contains hymns, mantras and incantations, largely outside the scope of sacrifices.

Smriti is a codified component of Hindu customary law. It is secondary in authority to Shruti. In Hindu law, Smriti is commonly translated as “tradition”. It differs from Shruti in such a way that Smriti does not have divine origins. Smriti is composed of the memories of wisdom that sages have passed down to their adherents. In essence, Smriti is complementary to Shruti. It translates Shruti into daily lives, establishing Hindu way of life.

While Vedaism is the religion of tribes and villages at early days, Hinduism is the religion of a nation with different social castes, who altogether worship Hindu gods, believing in Hinduism and practicing Hindu traditions. Contrary to other religions which appreciate meditation, Hinduism encourages natural expression of human beings, in which love and sex are integral parts. Therefore, Hinduism is closer to daily lives of people. It has overcome Buddhism to be the most dominant religion in India sub-continent.


Islam - The second largest and fastest growing religion

by Dang Vu Hoai Nam on Tuesday, June 17th, 2014 at 04:30pm

Islam is a monotheistic religion articulated by Qur’an and the teachings and normative example of Muhammad, who is considered the last prophet of God. An Islam adherent is called a Muslim. Islam has 05 pillars or 05 basic acts: the creed, daily prayers, almsgiving, fasting during the Ramadan month, and going on a pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in a lifetime. Islam is divided into 02 sects: Sunni (75-90%) and Shia (10-20%). While Sunni is deemed the orthodox Islam, Shia differs from Sunni in such a way that they only believe caliph Ali is the next prophet after Muhammad.

History of Islam in a nutshell

Islam was originated in Mecca, Arabia over 1,400 years ago.  Known as a monotheistic religion with Allah as the one and pervasive god, Islam has different prophets like Moses, Noah, Adam, Jesus…. Of those, Muhammad is the last and most important one.

Muhammad was born in an Arabic nation. He grew in a powerful tribe in Mecca. He started to propagate Islam from the year of 610. However, he was persecuted by the leading Meccan authorities. This resulted in an emigration to the city of Yathrib, lately known as Medina. In Medina, he developed a political and religious authority and called for more followers. When Medina was strong enough, Muhammad led a troop to conquest Mecca. The Meccan authorities surrendered and the tribes of Arabia were united into a single religious polity. Thenceforth, more and more people converted to Muslims.

Doctrine of Islam

In Islamic doctrine, Allah is the One and Only. He is the Eternal, Absolute and there is none like unto Him. Allah is the term with no plural or gender used by Muslims and Arabic-speaking Christians and Jews to reference God. Like Jews, Muslims repudiate the Christian doctrine of the Trinity and divinity of Jesus, comparing it to polytheism. According to Muslims, there are no gods other than Allah. Everything in the world belongs to Allah. Allah created the sky dome without pillars, ruling over the Sun, the Moon and creating the Earth. Allah also created human beings and filled them with souls.

Islam also acquires many notions from other religions, especially Judaism, saying legends about the creation of the world, heaven, hell, angels, Satan, the last judgment, etc. To some extent, Islam imitates some rituals and traditions of Judaism.

There is a unique thing of Islam that Muslims do not worship photos of Allah. They do not place photos of Allah on altars as they believe that Allah is pervasive. No image could represent Allah. Thus, Islamic mosques are only decorated by Arabic letters, no pictures and photos. There is only a black stone inside Kaaba.

Regarding family relations, Islam allows polygamy in which a man can marry up to 04 wives. Muslims can also get married to Christians or Jews. The Qur’an sets the rights, the responsibilities and the rules for Muslims to adhere to. It covers not only religious aspects but also scientific, social, legal and moral aspects of societies. In early days, Arabian countries had no laws other than the Qur’an.

Expansion of Islam

Nowadays, Islam is the second-largest religion in the world, following Christianity. It is regarded as the fastest growing religion with 13% of Muslims living in Indonesia, the largest Muslim-majority country, 25% in South Asia, 20% in the Middle East, and 15% in Sub-Saharan Africa. Islam accounts for 1.6 billion adherents or 23% of the world population. Its converts and immigrant communities are found in almost every part of the world.

Islam is the national religion of many countries like Indonesia, Malaysia, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Turkey, Lebanon, Algeria, Syria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, etc.


Judaism - Religion of one people, one nation

by Dang Vu Hoai Nam on Monday, September 29th, 2014 at 02:30pm

Judaism originated from and became a coherent part of Israel, “the only nation on earth that inhabits the same land, bears the same name, speaks the same language, and worships the same God that it did 3,000 years ago”.

 The current Jews, or Jewish people, are regarded as descendants of the ancient people of Israel who settled in the land of Canaan between the western coast of the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River. They trace their origin to Abraham, his son Isaac and his grandson Jacob, who are referred to as the patriarchs of the Israelites. All of them lived in Canaan, latterly known as the Land of Israel. Abraham believed that there is only one God who created the universe. Ancient Jews, or the Children of Israel, consisted of 12 tribes, each descended from one of Jacob’s twelve sons.

The name Israel derives from the name given to Jacob while the name Jew derives from Judah, one of the 12 sons of Jacob. Therefore, Israel, Israeli or Jewish refer to people of the same origin.

Due to a severe famine, Jacob and his 12 sons left Canaan for Goshen in northern Egypt. While in Egypt, their descendants were said to be enslaved by the government of the Egyptian Pharaoh. After 400 years of slavery, YHWH, the God of Israel, sent the Hebrew prophet Moses of the tribe of Levi to rescue the children of Israel from bondage. According to the Bible, the Hebrews miraculously fled from Egypt (the Exodus) and returned their ancestral homeland in Canaan. This event marks the establishment of Israel as a political nation in 1,400 BC.

After the establishment, Israel was divided into 12 parts, which were governed by 12 tribes, ruled by a series of Judges. Then, the Land of Israel was transformed into a monarchy by Saul, and continued under King David and his son, Solomon. During King David’s reign, the already existing city of Jerusalem became the national and spiritual capital of Israel. Solomon built the First Temple on Mount Moriah in Jerusalem. However, after Solomon’s death, there were constant conflicts between the 12 tribes, which led to a civil war between the 10 northern tribes and the tribes of Judah and Benjamin in the south. Subsequently, the land of Israel split into the Kingdom of Israel in the north and the Kingdom of Judah in the south.

587 BC is a milestone in Jewish history, when the land of Israel was invaded by the Babylonians. The First Temple was destroyed and the Jews were exiled to Babylon (modern Iraq). From this year onwards, the region was ruled or controlled by superpower empires: Babylonian, Persian, Greek Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantines Empires, Islamic and Christian crusaders, Ottoman Empire and the British Empire.

After the exile by the Romans at 70 CE, the Jewish people fled to Europe and North Africa. In the Diaspora, they established rich cultural and economic lives, and contributed greatly to the societies where they lived. However, they continued their national culture and prayed to return to Israel through centuries. In the first half of the 20th century, there were major waves of immigration of Jews back to Israel from Arab countries and from Europe. During the British rule in Palestine, the Jewish people were subject to great violence and massacres directed by Arab civilians or forces of the neighboring Arab states. During World War II, the Nazi regime in Germany decimated about 6 million Jews creating the great tragedy of the Holocaust.

In 1948, sovereignty was retrieved by Jewish People over their ancient homeland. Declaration of independence of the modern State of Israel was announced on the day that the last British forces left Israel.


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