Spiritual Tour: Sacred Places in Vietnam

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By Theresa Yiju Lin

In Vietnam, there is no national religion, but the traditional religions are Buddhism (a fusion of Buddhism, Taoism and Confusianism), Christianity (Catholicism and Protestantism), Islam, Caodaism and the Hoahaoism sect. Vietnamese first learned about Buddhism in 5th century B.C. Today, about 70 percent of the population are Buddhists or influenced deeply by Buddhism. Buddhism is also part of Vietnamese’s social and cultural life.

The two main types of sacred places in Vietnam: Chua (pagoda) and den (temple). They are essences to traditional Vietnamese life. Pagoda is a Buddhist place of worship. The concept of temple began in 5th century B.C. in China by Confucianism and Taoism. There are five kinds of temples in Vietnam: temples to Confucius, temple to Taoist divinities, temple to ancestors, temples to national heroes and temples of the community. They represent the significance to the Vietnamese culture.

Ngoc Son Temple in Hanoi
Ngoc Son Temple is tiny compared with other sacred places. It situated at the end of the Hoan Kiem Lake. The Hoan Kiem Lake is the center of Hanoi and a spiritual location. Ngoc Temple is the Chinese Wooden structure was built in 1855 and remodeled by Nguyen Van Sieu in 1864. At the entrance of the temple, there are Chinese characters painted by the brush with blue background that symbolizes “the height of a genuine and righteous person’s determination and will.”

Ngoc Son Temple is a temple to the national heroes. It honors Van Xuong, Quan Vu, La To and Tran Hung Dao. In the back there is a 250 kilogram turtle found in the lake. In the morning, there are locals coming to the surrounding parks to exercise. The temple is a refreshing start for the day.

Thien Mu Pagoda in Hue
Thien Mu Pagoda is the oldest monastery in Hue and one of the most important culture centers in Vietnam. It is on the banks of the Perfume River and about three kilometers from downtown Hue. There are seven stories in the tower, and on each floor there is a different Buddha. The history of Thien Mu Pagoda began in 1601 by the governor of Thuan Hoa Province, Nguyen Hoang. In 1844, Emperor Thieu Tri later built a seven-story tower in front of the three temples. The three temples include Dau Hung, Dia Tang and Quan The Am.

Thien Mu is the heavenly lady, but the most famous Buddha is the Chinese Zen mater Poe-Tai Hoshang, the Laughing Buddha who found “Buddha within himself.” Many people who have traveled to Thien Mu Pagoda think that it was a wonderful place to learn about the religion. The pagoda is located on a small remote island, and it takes less than one hour to get there.

Phuoc Kien Pagoda in Hoi An
In the 17th century, Chinese from different provinces such as Fujian, Guangdong, Chaozhou and Hainan gathered in Hoi An and established community halls to assist each other. Depending on their hometowns, they organized their own societies. At one time, they had their own schools, clinics and temples to the ancestors. Phuoc Kien Pagoda is the former Fukien Community Hall.

The pagoda is dedicated to Thien Hau (Queen of Heaven). Thien Hau is also known as the goddess of the sea. The story of Thien Hau is painted on the wall right next to the entrance. Thien Hau is also accompanied by her two followers who possess special abilities. The blue one can see great distance, and the red one can hear great distance; they help Thien Hau to discover where to go to help fishermen who suffer on the sea. Vietnam is a peninsula, and many people work on the sea to make a living so Phuoc Kien Pagoda often has many visitors from the local communities.

Caodai Great Temple in Tay Ninh
Caodaism (Dai Dao Tam Ky Pho Do, or Third Great Universal Religious Amnesty) is a synergy of religions began in Vietnam. It is now the third largest religion in Vietnam. The Supreme Being (Caodai) is symbolized by a gigantic eye. In 1919, the founder, Ngo Minh Chiew, who also known as Ngo Van Chiew, was a French civil servant who came to realization of the truth of religion from Caodai. He connected the doctrines of Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, Confucianism, Christianity, Islam and other religions into Caodaism, a new popular belief system since 1926.

The Caodai Great Temple (Holy See), built between 1933 and 1955, is the center of the sect. Tay Ninh is about 100 kilometers northwest of Ho Chi Minh City. There are colorful ceremonies with chanting four times a day. The multiple colors represent the different origins of Caodaism.

Vinh Nghiem Pagoda in Saigon
Vinh Nghiem Pagoda, one of the largest pagodas in Vietnam, is located in Saigon. Except from the main sanctuary, there is a seven-story Kwan-Yin Tower. Vinh Nghiem Pagoda was built between 1964 and 1971 designed by architect Nguyen Ba Lang with the Japen-Vietnam Friendship Association’s assistance.

Like many other architecture styles, it was influenced by other Asian cultures. There is a spacious courtyard in front of the building. The walls are decorated with scrolls with Jataka Tales and the large bell in the temple was a gift from Japan during the wartime. The peaceful atmosphere fascinates many people to come here to relax daily. However, during the religious holidays, it is so crowded and loud that give the Vinh Nghiem Pagoda a different quality.

Tour the holy places show not only the history of the country but also the culture of the area. They give the tourists one step closer to the authentic, generic Vietnamese style. There is more information about sacred places in Vietnam available at www.traveltovietnam.com and www.travel-to-vietnam.com.

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