Buddishm in Vietnam


1. History of Buddha

Buddha is a spiritual name of prince – Siddhartha Gotama. He is regarded as the Supreme Buddha. “Buddha” meaning “awakened one” or “the enlightened one. Vietnamese literally pronounce “But”.”  Buddha lifetime was as c. 563 BC to 483 BC. Buddha was born in Lumbini, modern Nepal today in the Royal family.

Story has it that around the time of the Buddha’s conception, his mother, Mahayana had a dream in which she saw a large white elephant enter her side. Because the elephant was an auspicious symbol of sovereignty, Brahman (Bà La Môn)-priests said that there were two options: either the child would grow up to be a great emperor or he would become a great holy man who would teach the world.

Siddhartha married and had a son: Rahula, but at age 29, around 534 BC, Siddhartha abandoned his luxurious life because having increasingly dissatisfied with the contrast between a life of aristocratic luxury and the suffering he observed endemic in all people. He  began living an ascetic (khổ hạnh) life, training with ascetic philosophers, and practice mediations.

After six years, around 528 BC, he found that the severe practices did not lead to greater understanding, abandoned them and concentrated on meditation and soon afterward claimed he had realized complete awakening or enlightenment into the nature and cause of human suffering and the steps necessary to eliminate it. This enlightenment is called a state of “Bodhi,” and hence the name “Buddha,” or “enlightened one.”

The Buddha emphasized that he was not a God nor the messenger of a God and that “Enlightenment” was not the result of a supernatural process or agency, but rather the result of a close attention to the nature of the human mind which could be rediscovered by anyone for themselves. – This is core philosophy of ancient Buddhism.

After illness Buddha died at Kusinara (now Kusinagar, India) at the age of 80. Buddha could foretell about his death 3 months in advance.

Vegetarianism is for Buddhists an ideal rather than a mandate and only discouraged people from killing innocent livings for food. Monks and nuns in particular are enjoined to accept all offerings of food made to them (unless they know an animal has been killed especially to feed them).

Buddha’s last words said : “All things which are made of parts eventually come apart. Be mindful, and achieve Enlightenment!”,

 2. How did Buddhism arrive into Vietnam?

Buddhism came to Vietnam in the 1st or 2nd century AD through  via the South from India trade routes and then the North from China. Buddhism was known in Vietnam earlier than China. By the end of the 2nd century, Vietnam developed a major Buddhist center  in the region, commonly known as the Luy Lâu center, now in the Bắc Ninh province, north of the present day capital city of Hanoi .

Luy Lâu was the capital of Giao Chỉ, (the former name of Vietnam), and was a popular place visited by many Indian Buddhist missionary monks. The monks followed the sea route from the Indian sub-continent to Vietnam that mainly used by Indian traders.

Just because Buddhism was transmitted directly from India to Vietnam era. At beginning Buddha Sanskrit should have been transcribed into Vietnamese directly into :“Bụt” and in the eyes of Vietnamese, Buddha as a God is always  appearing ready to help the good and punishes evil. During this time, mainly Theravada (ancient Buddhism was known in Vietnam). In the IV and V century, there was a flow of Mahayana Buddhism  from China. Soon, it was overwhelmed and replaced with Theravada before. From Buddha to the Chinese transliteration of a Buddha into Vietnamese “Phật” and gradually replaced “Bụt” from beginning.

3. Differences of Mahayana and Theravada in Vietnam.

Mahayana that is “large vehicle” or  called “big wheel” is one of two major schools of Buddhism – the Theravada is called “small vehicle” or “small wheel”

Appeared in the first century BC in China, Mahayana considered themselves to be great because the vehicle based on the diversity of teachings to make way for a large number of enlightened beings and more opened than Theravada . Both Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism are rooted in the history of the philosophy of Buddha, but different places attention on teaching practices and ideas. Mahayana is remarkable in praising Bodhisattva’s love and compassion. Therefore a side from Buddha, Mahayana also worships many Bodhisattva and Theravada worships only Buddha.

Although Buddhism  is divided into two traditions known as Mahayana Buddhism and Theravada Buddhism. However, it should be considered as original and modern branch. It’s literally can say as a tree and if Theravada is a rood and Mahayana is branches and flower.  Not a tree could be called when there is no root or tree tops. Consistency in teaching of Buddhism can be seen easily and actually no conflict and it should be combined instead separation.

In Vietnam, Mahayana is popular practiced in the North because political and religious capital was there and Theravada is existed in Central and Mekong Delta of the South. However, two sects have been living well in harmony and transmitted each philosophy elites  into each other and forming distinguished Vietnamese Buddhism which is slightly different to other countries in Asia.

4 Development of Buddhism in Vietnam

In history, Buddism became prominent in Ly dynasty (11-3 century) and Tran dynasty (13-15 century)

This period, Buddhist monks also directly participated in politics by working directly establish economic and diplomatic plans, even the discussion of military issues. The main problem involved, but there were not Buddhist monks participate in government policy, so then, when the court was stronger, would be able to bear the all responsibilities, monks were retreated with official issues, became spiritual guidance and moral. It seemed great combination of Confucianism & Buddhism that made Buddhism has a strong foundation for further development and dept in set into society of monarchy system.

Under the impact of Buddhism , Ly and later successors Tran dynasty created a cultural identity politics in benevolence of human nature. The kings of these dynasties had moral life and lived in spirituality. Mostly minimum competition of winners, depressed the riots, tortured protestants, but instead with a politics of tolerance, mercy, compassion for the people  and even with all enemies (King Ly Thai Tong pardoned for Nung Tri Cao, Ling Ly Thanh Tong did not kill the old king of Champa). Social behaviors were well set up throughout the country.

King Tran Nhan Tong (1258-1308), the well known founder of Truc Lam Zen which developed until today. After 21 years as king, he resigned and devoted his life for Buddhism. That became tradition of later Kings of Tran dynasty.

Highlight of Truc Lam zen philosophy that teaching is not in theory, which is in existence in yourself, or back to ourselves, not to found in the Buddha. It’s very similarity with original of Theravada. In this time, King Tran Nhan Tong was well-known in giving contrast view to all accepted attitudes for example: ” Existence or nonexistence is all none “ .King also criticized that people are wrongly when set up boundaries and too much rely on theory and concepts which Buddha tried to avoid in his time such as between right and wrong, between day and night, between love and hate, between living world and nirvana. With this precepts, Truc Lam zen had opened to a new direction of deep, true wisdom in Buddhism of Vietnam.

5. What Does the Swastika (Chữ Vạn) mean?

The swastika is an ancient symbol that has been used for over 3,000 years, the image of the swastika was used by many cultures around the world, including in China, Japan, India, and southern Europe.

The word “swastika” comes from the Sanskrit svastika – “su” meaning “good,” “asti” meaning “to be,” and “ka” as a suffix.

What is Swastika in relation with Nazis (Hitler)?

In 1920, Adolf Hitler decided that the Nazi Party needed its own insignia and flag. The swastika the mission of the struggle for the victory of the Aryan man or the “God Chosen people” that led to the massacre million of Jews. Because of that, the swastika soon became a symbol of hate, violence, death, and murder in Europe.

There is a great debate as to what the swastika means now. For 3,000 years, the swastika meant life and good luck. But because of the Nazis, it has also taken on a meaning of death and hate. Maybe, When Hitler used this symbol he even didn’t know its meaning in the East. Therefore, it made more contrary of Buddha concepts of benevolence, love and hate, violence and peace, murder and arise, intelligent and stupid, dark and bright, blindness and enlighten.

Another way of explanation is quite interesting since the Nazis used of the swastika, some people are trying to differentiate the two meanings of the swastika by varying its direction – trying to make the clockwise, Nazi version of the swastika mean hate and death while the counter-clockwise version would hold the ancient meaning of the symbol, life and good-luck.

6. The meaning of Buddhist  flag

The Buddhist Flag, first hoisted in 1885 in Sri Lanka, is a symbol of faith and peace used throughout the world to represent the Buddhist faith. The six colors; Blue , Yellow , Red , White , Scarlet , and the mixture of these six colors  of the flag represent the colors of the aura that emanated from the body of the Buddha when He attained Enlightenment under the Bodhi Tree. The Horizontal Stripes represent the races of the world living in harmony and the Vertical Stripes represent eternal world peace. The colors symbolize the perfection of Buddhahood (Phật) and the Dharma (Pháp) – Monk (Tăng)

  • The Blue light that radiated from the Buddha’s hair symbolizes the spirit of Universal Compassion for all beings.
  • The Yellow light that radiated from the Buddha’s epidermis symbolizes the Middle Way which avoids all extremes and brings balance and liberation.
  • The Red light that radiated from the Buddha’s flesh symbolizes the Blessings that the practice of the Buddha’s Teaching brings.
  • The White light that radiated from the Buddha’s bones and teeth symbolizes the Purity of the Buddha’s Teaching and the Liberation it brings.
  • The Orange light that radiated from the Buddha’s palms, heels and lips symbolizes the unshakable Wisdom of the Buddha’s Teaching.
  • The Combination Color symbolizes the universality of the Truth of the Buddha’s Teaching.

7. Meaning of “Wheel of Birth and Deathc” (Bánh Xe Luân Hồi)

“Wheel of Birth and Death” moves continuously, it is also called “wheel of Dharma (Pháp) the Buddha’s teachings is ongoing of development and integration. Buddha teaching and practices will take  people from dark to light, from suffering to happiness, from low to high, from blindness to enlightenment, from hell to Nirvana.

The Wheel circle is drawn in 8 . The number 8 represents  the “The Eight right Path”, through the practice of “Eight right Path” which brings human beings toward enlightenment.

What are “the eight right paths?”

1. Right View (chánh kiến hoặc quan điểm đúng)

Our happiness and the happiness of those around us depend on our degree of Right View. Touching reality deeply — knowing what is going on inside and outside of ourselves — is the way to liberate ourselves from the suffering that is caused by wrong perceptions. It is the insight we have into the reality of life, a living insight that fills us with understanding, peace, and love

2. Right intention (chánh tư duy hoặc nghĩ đúng)

“All that we are is the result of what we have thought: it is founded on our thoughts, it is made up of our thoughts. If a man speaks or acts with an evil thought, pain follows him, as the wheel follows the foot of the ox that draws the carriage”.

3. Right speech (chánh ngữ hoặc nói đúng)

Right speech is avoiding “wrong” speech in our daily communication that creates hateful and deceptive. This engenders disharmony,  and physical and spiritual violence. The right speech has help Buddhists are living harmonious with other religion and not criticize or deny any other concepts since it was found.

4. Right action (chánh nghiệp hoặc làm đúng)

This means that when we act “rightly,” we act without selfish attachment to our work. We act mindfully, without causing conflicts with our speech. Our “right” actions spring from compassion and from understanding of the dharma. Each aspects of the path supports all the other aspects

5. Right livelihood (chánh mạng hoặc sống đúng)

Along with Right Speech and Right Action, Right Livelihood is part of the “moral conduct”, there are five percepts to keep right livelihood

  1. Not killing livings
  2. Not stealing
  3. Not misusing sex
  4. Not lying others
  5. Not abusing drug

6. Right effort (Chánh tinh tiến hoặc siêng năng đúng)

The effort to prevent evil thoughts or actions especially greed, anger and ignorance from arising inside of you and help others to do as you. The right effort support all other right paths.

7. Right mindfullness (Chánh niệm hoặc nhớ đúng)

The word “mindfulness” mean “retention,” “recollection,” or “alertness.” Mindfulness is a whole-body-and-mind awareness of the present moment. To be mindful is to be fully present, not lost in daydreams, anticipation, indulgences, or worry.

8. Right concentration (chánh định hoặc tập trung đúng)

Right Concentration is focusing all of one’s mentality onto one physical or mental object, it supports all other 7 right paths and mostly practice by Buddhist monk or teachers.

The “wheel of birth and death” is usually placed on the lotus symbolizes the  pure of Dharma (Pháp) as the lotus grows in mud rising from the mud, but no ill smell of mud.

By practicing Buddhist Dharma (Phật Pháp) will take people out of brith and death circle in spiritual life, it likes taking people from muddy, low place to fragrant, clean and higher bar.

In summary, Buddhism came directly from Indian in 1st and 2nd Century that allowed the development very early Buddhism in Vietnam. In the following centuries, Vietnamese Buddhism had communication with Chinese Buddhism, but based on original one for new development in philosophy. Over Dinh, Le, Ly, Tran, Buddhism had been growing and opened, combined other philosophies such as Confucianism and Taoism that made Buddhism of Vietnam very flexible, interactive,  tolerance, opened and durable from up and down of history. Buddhism of Vietnam is not only religion but it existed and a conduct of morality, a guidance of living in each Vietnamese.

Thank you for your reading!

Any question, please contact me at number 0903857607

Hong Duc

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About Insiderjourneyguidehelpdesk

Local guide manager-Vietnam
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