was born in Nepal, five centuries before Christ. His teaching
was based on Brahmanism but without a deity or ritual. After
his death, Buddhism acquired the trappings of a religion
and split into two schools.
In the south of India, Theravada Buddhism remained close to
the Buddha’s teaching and aimed at acquiring ‘Nirvana’ – complete
detachment from worldly concerns.
In the north, Mahayana Buddhism incorporated a deity and various
‘intermediaries’ known as Bodhisattvas, people who strive
to attain perfection during their lifetime. Nirvana was replaced
by Sukhavati, the heaven of sensuous pleasures, and elements
of Hindu and Taoist superstitions, such as devotion to statues
and relics and the use of magic to ward off evil spirits were
Theravada Buddhism spread into southern Vietnam, then part
of the K’hmer kingdom, in the first century A.D. Mahayana
Buddhism arrived in northern Vietnam via China about a hundred
of Vietnam’s Buddhists now follow one of two sects of Mahayana
main Buddhist sects in Vietnam
The birthplace of the Thien (Zen) meditation sect is the sacred
mountain of Yen Tu, not far from the Hanoi to Ha Long Bay
road at Uoung Bi. It is a large complex of pagodas, statues
steles and other interesting relicts set in a forested mountain
area. The steep climb has now been eased by the recent installation
of a cable car system.
Dao Trang (Pure Land) sect exists mainly in the south of Vietnam
and venerates A Di Da, the Buddha of the past, above all others.
The few remaining devotees of Theravada Buddhism are mostly
clustered in the K’hmer minority areas of the Mekong Delta.
Buddhist sect, a militant breakaway group, was founded by
a faith healer in the Mekong village of Hoa Hao during the
1930s. Hoa Hao Buddhism was simple, with little ritual and
no clergy: gambling, alcohol and drugs were banned, and Confucian
piety was promoted strongly. The cult grew swiftly, and built
a private army to fight the French. Later, they sided with
the invading Japanese during WWII and became anti-communist,
resulting in the Vietminh assassinating its leader. During
the US war, most of the Hoa Hao fought with the Americans.
the victory, the new communist government arrested most of
its leaders and disbanded the priesthood. Nevertheless, Hoa
Hao Buddhism continues to flourish in the Mekong. The sect
is tolerated by the authorities, but closely supervised because
some of its followers apparently continue to engage in anti-government
Vietnamese Mahayana pagodas often have several common features.
A statue of Quan Am, the Goddess of Mercy, is a familiar sight
in front of a pagoda, occasionally in a multi-armed K’hmer
version. The Vietnamese believe that a male Hindu Bodhisattva
(usually portrayed as a multi-armed effigy) gave up his chance
to reach nirvana in favour of returning to Earth as the female
Quan Am, and that the metamorphosis took place in the grotto
shrine of the Perfume Pagoda, near Hanoi.
acts as the guardian spirit of mother and child – her supposed
power to bestow male offspring on true believers makes her
a popular deity.