Vietnam is a Buddhist country and one of the delights of the country for those enjoying Vietnam travel packages is the visual representation of Buddhism, the temples, statues and monks. However, that is not the whole story. Vietnam has absorbed Taoism and Confucianism as well to make religion in Vietnam a unique blend.
Gautama, a prince, was its founder. He did not like Hinduism’s formality and during his wanderings and meditation, he discovered nirvana, a world free from birth and death. Life should be free from the need for earthly pleasures and material things. Man can achieve that if he follows some principles; they include right views, sincerity, proper intentions, correct speech and conduct, effort, concentration and meditation.
Buddhism actually developed out of Hinduism around 530 BC in Southern Nepal. Buddhism first came to the Red River Delta region of Vietnam in the 2nd Century from China in the North but then also spread from India to the west into the Mekong Delta, starting initially in the 3rd Century.
Mahayana Buddhism is the Chinese version and that became the majority religion. Theravada Buddhism, the Indian version, remained mostly limited to the Mekong Delta. The difference between the two is basically their views of Gautama Buddha; Mahayana Buddhism regards Gautama as one of a number of enlightened ones and bestows upon him divine status. It further believes that ordinary people can attain nirvana. In contrast, Theravada Buddhism regards Gautama as the only enlightened one though it sees him as a teacher without saying he is divine. Only monks and nuns can attain nirvana.
During the Tran Dynasty in the 13th Century, the early kings, members of the royal family and mandarins where all Zen Buddhists. King Tran Nhan Tong founded the Truc Lam Yen Tu Zen School after he abdicated the throne in 1299. It marked the beginning of Vietnam’s brand of Buddhism which stated that Buddhism was central to all daily life, not just to meditation, rituals and worship. Ordinary people could find peace and enlightenment within themselves and the environment in which they live. This manifests itself today in the disposition of Vietnamese people whom you will encounter while touring in Vietnam on a Vietnam travel package.
The rise of communism threatened Buddhism’s autonomy. There had been action in the North against Buddhism in the 1950s when Ho Chi Minh’s Government took control. When the country was unified, initially the Hanoi government made no threat to religion as it concentrated on the real opposition it faced. Indeed, it set up the Patriotic Buddhist Liaison Committee in the South at the end of the Vietnam War. Before the War ended the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam had been powerful but the Committee helped neutralise its strength.
Monks and nuns were encouraged to lead a secular life, even working in the fields. Where there was opposition then some were arrested and pagodas taken for public use, similar to the 50s in the North. In 1980, a national committee of Buddhist groups throughout the country was announced. A year later, government-controlled Vietnam Buddhist Church was established.Itwas the only officially sanctioned organization allowed to represent Buddhism at home and abroad.
The popularity of Buddhism and religious activity fell as a result of this action. However, the government took no further action and Buddhism is tolerated within limits set by them. There are no obvious signs of conflict between the secular government and religion within the Country these days and when you are enjoying a visit to a temple or pagoda during your holiday in Vietnam you will be able to see a normal religious setting.