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     Beliefs & Religions

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Beliefs & Religions
 
The Vietnamese folk beliefs since the ancient time consist of worshipping nature and man. Wet rice cultivation that depended much on natural factors ignited the belief of worshiping nature. In Vietnam, this belief was polytheism and respect for goddess (Mau), and worship of animals and plants as well. As to goddess-worshipping beliefs, the Vietnamese people worshipped not only the Creator but also Mau Cuu Trung which was a female Creator, as well as Mau Thuong Ngan, River Goddess and so on. Regarding botany-worshiping beliefs, rice plant was most venerated, next were banyan tree, areca tree, mulberry tree and gourd. In respect of animal-worshiping beliefs, unlike nomadic culture that worships fierce wild animals, Vietnamese tend to worship gentle species of animals like stag, deer, frog, especially those which are easy to come by in the riverside regions like water-birds, snakes, and crocodiles. The Vietnamese proclaimed themselves as belonging to the Hong Bang family line and the Tien Rong breed. Hong Bang was the name of a huge species of water-bird, Tien (Fairy) was deification of an egg-laying species of bird, Rong (Dragon) was an abstract image of snake and crocodile. The ascending dragon that was born in the water is meaningful and special symbol of the Vietnamese nation.

Among the human-revering beliefs, the custom of worshiping ancestors is the most popular, which nearly become one belief of the Vietnamese. The Vietnamese choose the deathday rather than the birthday to hold a commemorative anniversary for the deceased. Every family worships Tho Cong (the God of Home) who takes care of the home and blesses the family. Every village worships its Thanh Hoang (the God of the village), the founder and protector of the life of the whole commune (the Vietnamese always honour the people who rendered distinguished services for villagers or national heroes who were born or died in the village to be their Thanh Hoang). Nation-wide worship is paid to death anniversaries of the nation's first kings (the Ritual of Hung Temple). Particularly, the worship of Tu Bat Tu (the Four Immortal Gods), namely God Tan Vien (preventing flooding), God Giong (a legendary three-year old boy became a national hero in the struggle against foreign invaders), God Chu Dong Tu (bright example in industrious labour to build a happy and prosperous life from dire plight and poverty) and Goddess Lieu Hanh (heavenly princess who left Heaven for the earth in the yearning for happiness) has been observed as fine national values.

Although some of those rituals have been sometimes abused and turned into superstitious practicies, Vietnamese folk beliefs have lasted consistently and mixed with orthodox religions. Vietnam sees a rich mixture of religions, reflecting inter-influences of many different cultures. Traditional religion included elements from Indian beliefs and three Chinese religious systems: Maharayana Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism. Buddhism was said to have come to Vietnam directly from India through sea routes by the 2nd century A.D. and reached its peak in the Ly-Tran dynasties (11th-14th centuries). With many ups and downs in historical evolution, Buddhism has become the most familiar to Vietnamese: according to a nation-wide survey conducted in 1993, there were up to some 3 million Buddhist believers and another 10 million frequently going to pagodas for Buddha worship.

Under the Chinese domination, Confucianism had yet to gain a firm position in the Vietnamese society. The official adoption of Confucianism had not been recorded until 1070 when King Ly Thai To built Van Mieu (the Temple of Literature) to worship Chu Cong and Khong Tu (Confucius). In the 15th century, due to the need of constructing a unified nation, a centralized administration and a social order, Confucianism took the place of Buddhism to become a national religion under the Le Dynasty. Confucianism, mostly Song Confucianism, that took root deep into the social and political structure, the system of education and examinations and the circle of Confucian scholars gradually dominated social and moral life. However, Confucianism was only accepted to Vietnam in specific factors, particularly on politics and morality, rather than its entire system.

Taoism penetrated into Vietnam roughly at the end of the 2nd century. Since the Vo Vi (letting things take their own course) doctrine bore the thought of resisting the Chinese rulers, it was used as a weapon against the Northern feudalism. This religion also contained factors of magic and mystery, so it fits human subconscience and primitive beliefs. Many Confucianists also admired Taoism?s tendency of enjoying quietness and joyful leisure. However, Taoism has long been regarded as an extinct religion that only left vestiges in folk beliefs.
Christianity came to Vietnam in the 17th century as an intermediary of the Western culture and colonialism. It made use of then favorable opportunity in which feudalism was in the period of disintegration, Buddhism was seen as a depraved belief and Confucianism was pushed into deadlock. However, this religion failed to integrate into the Vietnamese culture for a long time. Its followers had to set up altars dedicated to Jesus Christ right at their homes. Only when the Gospel was introduced into Vietnam, could Christianity gain a position in the religious life in some parts of the country. In 1993, there were five million Catholics and nearly half a million Protestants.

Foreign religions introduced to Vietnam couldn't exterminate local folk beliefs but they were mingled to derive specific variants for both sides. For example, Taoism could not lower the women?s role, which was reflected by widespread worship of Mau (Goddess). The features of polytheism, democracy, and community are manifested by the worship of groups of ancestors, and pairs of gods. Entering a pagoda, people can easily recognize that not only Buddhas but also gods and even human are worshiped there. Perhaps, only in Vietnam, there were legends that a toad dares to sue Heaven or a human being marries a fairy. These are the prominent features of Vietnamese beliefs.

 

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