The Vietnamese are wonderfully warm people. They seem to live with a smile on their faces even though life is often hard, especially in the rural areas. All they ask for is respect and they expect those on Vietnam tour packages to also respect their religion. The vast majority are Buddhists though minorities, mostly the hill tribes, follow other religions as well though tourists may find it difficult to identify a person’s religion.
Buddhism actually developed out of Hinduism around 530BC in Nepal. Salvation is found in the search for the right path and the rejection of earthly possessions and pleasures. Buddhism seeks morality and sincerity.
Buddhism spread south from China through Vietnam in the 1st and 2nd Century and east from India during the following centuries. The Indian version dominates in the Mekong but the Chinese is the dominant one. The communists tolerated Buddhism during their early rule and sought to ensure everyone supported their ideas on the country and how it should be run. What they did not want was that the clergy did not hold any great revered position.
Taoism originated in China about 500BC, a movement begun by Lao Tzu advising people to avoid any action that harmed nature. It developed into a religion in the 1st Century, with advice on meditation and good deeds, with ritual and worship.
It is a philosophy of contrasts, Ying and Yang where the aim is to restore harmony in all behavior. Natural law should govern life and change is usually bad. When you visit temples and pagodas on Vietnam private tours you are likely to see images of the ‘’gods’’ of Taoism and some festivals include Tet, a Taoist tradition. Those on Vietnam holidays may notice small octagonal discs above a door; they guard against evil spirits and ghosts.
K’ung Fu Tzu (Confucius), was a Chinese court official around 500 BC when China was filled with internal conflict and he sought to solve this problem with a code to live by, stressing obedience and loyalty. He left court and began to travel spreading his ideas. There is an argument that it is not a religion, more a philosophy.
The result of following Confucius would be a rigidly structured society demanding duty, placing education as central to advancement. Like Taoism it questioned progress. It spread into Vietnam with the Chinese many centuries ago: Van Mieu (Temple of Literature) in Hanoi is dedicated to Confucius. Its modern day impact remains in respect for elders and education.
A shaman is the intermediary between man and the spirit world, someone who can communicate with the spirits and probably possessing magical and healing powers. Within Vietnam traditional villages may well have a shaman whose songs and dances create a trance-like state which appears to put the shaman in touch with the spirits themselves. While the activities are illegal no one bothers to implement the law, partly because of the value to tourism.
Some shaman tell fortunes and charge significant amounts for their services, especially for locals who are willing to pay in the hope of improving their futures.
16th Century missionaries from Europe, France, Spain and Portugal brought Christianity and Jesuits were allowed to establish missions in Hanoi, Hoi An and Danang by the Trinh lords. However Alexandre de Rhodes who helped create the written Vietnamese language was ultimately expelled along with other Christians when the lords decided the religion was potentially subversive.
Until the arrival of the French it largely vanished; schools, hospitals and missions were established. However when the communists took over in the North many Christians heading south across the border. Catholics are tolerated now though the government is no more than that. There are several buildings that are replicas of European cathedrals in places like Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and Hue. Tourists on Vietnam travel packages are certain to have a chance to see them. The highlight is the ‘’Stone Church’’ in Phat Diem.
Vietnam travel packages will include several aspects of religion, especially in relation to buildings and ceremonies. These religions have played an important role in the development of the national character and for that it deserves its rightful place in Vietnamese society.