Vietnamese people are not just following only one organized religion, instead we tend to practice all the good things found in each religion. We are traditionally very much relying on the nature powers, it is both because we are superstitious and we are practical people who live on agriculture. Therefore, we worship various kinds of gods and deities, just in case!
Incense Travel introduces some religious beliefs and practices in Vietnam as below.
Firstly, the indigenous belief in Vietnam is known as animism, in which everything created by nature around us has a soul itself, even inanimate objects like rocks, water, fire, wind… So, the animist followers believe that there is a god of water, god of rain, god of sun, god of fire, god of wind, god of mountain …. Then, if people behave and know how to please these gods, they will have peaceful life. On the contrary, if people misbehave, these gods will get angry and cause natural disasters….
Secondly, beside animism, our people also worship phallic and female fertility symbols. Why? Because we wish to have more and more reproduction in our agriculture.
Thirdly, we worship Mother Goddesses, as the ancient Vietnamese society was matriarchal. The Mother or the wife in the family plays a more important role than the father or the husband.
Fourth, we worship our ancestors. To some extent, it can be considered as the main belief in Vietnam as it is widely practiced all over the country. Almost every family has an alter in their home to worship their deceased members. A death anniversary is always more important than a birthday celebration. National heroes and founders of handicrafts are also worshipped as people’s deities, but they are worshipped in temples.
Fourth, the arrival of Chinese religions to Vietnam in the 2nd century gave the people choices to follow an organized religion: Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism. Those are known as the three teachings in China, which is today play an important role in the Vietnamese spiritual life. So what are their doctrines?
Confucianism is a philosophy or a way of life by Confucius in China, it emphasizes personal and governmental morality, correctness of social relationships, justice and sincerity. Confucians are expected to respect those who are superior to them, its primary purpose is to achieve harmony, the most important social value. In Vietnam, its worshipping place is called a temple.
Buddhism is a religion founded by Siddhartha Gautama in India, it is about karma, life after death, circle of rebirth and reincarnation, enlightenment, nirvana. Buddhists believe in reincarnation, which is a cyclic life after death and their actions in this life will affect their next life. In Vietnam, its worshipping place is called a pagoda.
Taoism is a religion founded by Laozi in China, it emphasizes living in harmony with the nature. It concerns with yin-yang, 5 elements, feng-shui, divination, horoscope-telling. Taoists believe in the here and now more than what happens after death. In general, Taoism is an acceptance of your life, it’s the following your breath to find peace. Taoism is opening up a smile to enable possibility. In Vietnam, the worshipping place is called a communal house.
The similarity between those three teachings is that, they all attempt to find harmony in life and in nature. In details, Confucianism focuses on societal rules and moral values, whereas Taoism advocates simplicity and living happily while in tune with nature. On the other hand, Buddhism reiterates the ideas of suffering, impermanence of material items, and reincarnation while stressing the idea of reaching salvation beyond.
In Vietnam, these three religions co-exist and are blended with other local beliefs in a friendly way. In our daily life, Buddhism can be seen most obviously in pagodas, and even at home, people still practice this religion by offering incense and food on Buddha days twice a month. Confucianism can be seen in few temples like the temple of Literature in Hanoi. Taoism actually doesn’t exist independently itself, but is nowadays well-blended with a local indigenous belief known as Mother God worshipping.
Mother God worshipping refers to the worship of female goddesses including legendary figures like Au Co, the Lady of the Storehouse (Ba Chua Kho) and Princess Lieu Hanh, as well as female national heroes such as the Trung Sisters, and Lady Trieu… Mother God worshipping is commonly associated with spiritual mediumship rituals - known in Vietnam as len dong.
During early Communist rule, this practice of len dong, and Mother God worshipping in general, was once strictly prohibited by the government. Because it was considered as a form of superstition, which is unscientific. However, the mass people still perform rituals in secret. In 1987, after a long period of prohibition, the Vietnamese government relaxed restrictions on the practice of len dong, and it gradually saw a recurrence in popularity today.
Len dong means going into a trance (state of ecstasy) to receive incarnations of the deities. It is a ritual of spirit mediumship practiced in the Vietnamese indigenous religion of Mother God worshipping, in which followers can become mediums for various deities. The practice of len dong is unique to Vietnam, and it is considered to be an element of Vietnam's intangible cultural heritage.