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Vietnam

Confucianism and the veneration of ancestors in Vietnam

You will find during your trip to Viet Nam that religion plays an extremely important role in the daily life of the inhabitants. In addition to the importance of worship, the Vietnamese also deeply venerate their ancestors, one of the oldest traditional beliefs.

The different religions

During your trip to Viet Nam you'll quickly observe that Buddhism is widely respected. It is the principal religion of the country. At every street corner you will come across many monks with shaven heads and dressed in saffron robes. You will also see countless pagodas. If you also want to become a true Buddhist and one day attain enlightenment, you need to scrupulously observe the five precepts of Buddhism: do not kill any living being, do not commit adultery, do not lie, do not drink alcohol and do not steal.

More than a religion, Confucianism is primarily a philosophy of life that is observed by some Vietnamese. It is a kind of moral code created by Confucius over 2500 years ago but whose precepts are still relevant today. Along similar lines, Taoism is governed by the search for a delicate balance, symbolised by the yin and the yang.

Catholics represent only 8% of the population, but worship is subject to government control. The faithful are monitored and those who refuse can be thrown into jail.

The Islam practiced by a handful of Vietnamese is a kind of watered-down version of classic Islam. Vietnamese Muslims allow themselves the right to drink alcohol, observe the Ramadan for only three days and replace daily prayers by a single weekly prayer on Friday. 

Caodaist mass

The veneration of ancestors

Regardless of their religion, the Vietnamese venerate their ancestors. There are no exceptions. In each house there is a small altar with photos of the dead, offerings of fruit and flowers as well as incense sticks. The soul of the dead thus continues to protect its descendants.

The worst thing that could happen to a Vietnamese would be to stop observing this cult. The soul of the dead would then be condemned to wander without end.

The altar is a little like the heart of the home. It is the place where marriages are held and where most major decisions are taken.

The photos of the ancestors are thus revered and honoured until the fourth generation. It is at this time that their souls can finally be reincarnated.

David Debrincat
459 contributions
Updated 3 November 2015
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