Vietnam is bringing religion to the people

Buddhist, Catholic, Muslim – it doesn’t matter. Vietnam brings religion to the people.

Bringing religion to the people

Standing at the foot of the Buddha at the Tran Quoc Pagoda in Hanoi, one can’t help but feel a sense of reverence. When you look around and see the rich and poor, all colours and creeds, you realise there is something quite special about this place.

As a nation, the Vietnamese may be considered Buddhist, but the truth is, they are not. Most Vietnamese are free thinkers. Religion doesn’t matter as much as respect.

The people visit Tran Quac, which means ‘guardian of the nation’, to pay their respects to their ancestors and to honour the master, their families and fallen friends.

Image © Leon Della Bosca 

What matters most to people is other people – not doctrines or dogma.

The national conscience is governed by a balance of Confucianism, Buddhism and Communism, and it seems to work.

As our guide tells us: “Religion needs to be localised to bring it to the people.”

So, it is with reverence that I pay my respects to what I consider a healthy outlook on life. That is: respect for one another and our ancestors.

I am honoured to light incense and ask for blessings for my family, luck for my daughter and for me to be a good man.

Image © Leon Della Bosca  

After all, that what matters in life – not possessions and things. They pass in time. No one will light incense for ‘stuff’. But in years after we’re all gone, we can only hope that someone is lighting incense for the people we were during our lifetime.

From Tran Quac Pagoda, I visit the Temple of Literature, where a school was built in 1070 and, after many changes due to the ravages of war and moving the capital city, it stands in the form it’s in today. Still special. Still a symbol for the Vietnamese people.

Here, only the best and brightest studied, with many failing, but with those who passed continuing on to become teachers or assistants to the King.

The records of all students are carved into tablets that surround the Garden of Heavenly Brilliance – one of five gardens inside the temple grounds.

Students still come to touch the head of a turtle, which is meant to give them luck in passing their own exams. To enter the temple, one must pass a gate on the right which, as legend has it, will make them good people. When they exit, they pass through a gate on the left, which is meant to give them the talent they need to succeed in life and become good individuals, both for themselves and for the people.

It's an auspicious place – one that is visited and revered by thousands each day.

Image © Leon Della Bosca  

Another place prized by the people is Ho Chi Minh temple. The mausoleum houses the mummified body of the greatest man in Vietnamese history who, at the time of his death was known as Ho Chi Minh, but actually went by some 70-odd nicknames throughout his life.

I witness the changing of the guard and we move to visit another pagoda, this one called the One Pillar Pagoda.

It was built by a king who, in his yearning to have a son dreamt one night of a lotus flower in a pond that blessed him with a baby boy. So he built a temple with a lotus flower in a pond to show his gratitude.

There is a thousand-handed woman here – a female Buddha – which is specific only to Vietnamese and Chinese Buddhists, who, when prayed to, can offer one of her hands to help those in need.

At the back of the pagoda is a Buddhist tree which, when circled seven times clockwise then seven counter-clockwise and, if a leaf falls from the tree is caught by the circumnavigator, supposedly grants wishes.

I circle once and a leaf falls on my head, with another immediately falling at my feet. I may not have done the seven laps each way, but I’m taking it as a good sign.

Leon is travelling as a guest of Webjet Exclusives.



    To make a comment, please register or login
    28th Feb 2018
    Thanks for your blog Leon. My wife and i travelled through Cambodia and Vietnam for 6 weeks in 2016. I carry so many memories of stories told, sites visited, extraordinary geographical lands ape features, history unravelled, living in home stays, meeting with many ethnic groups but above all of the love the Vietnamese people have for their country. Certainly many were critical of aspects of their life and were free to express these experiences but everyone wanted to make sure I left their country with the most positive experiences. I hope your blog inspires many to go and visit these magical lands.
    28th Feb 2018
    Whether it's the Vietnamese people's religion or communist ideology I always found that most Vietnamese people are very polite in public places. It is not people's religion, race or colour that most people discriminate against, it's the other person's personality,character and behaviour that is always under the spotlight and subjected to a positive attitude or a negative attitude towards them.
    28th Feb 2018
    Quite true, HS - and also in private, if my wife's family are any indication. But there's little doubt that religion and/or ideologies can (and do) impact on people's personalities and behaviour in different ways, although not always in public I must admit.
    I'm hoping Leon will eventually make it to central and southern Vietnam so he can compare the differences to what he's finding in Hanoi - not least because weather in the central and southern regions make them all-year-round holiday destinations, whereas the north's v.chilly winters are best avoided until at least after the annual Tet (lunar new year) holiday by those who prefer to stay dry and warm (or hot).

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