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Several comments on the Buddhist cultural role in Vietnam culture

Buddhism was brought into Vietnam from India and China. With unique and practical principles for integration into secular life, Buddhism has intermingled with folk beliefs and cultures and become a religion full of life in Vietnam.

The more Buddhism develops and takes roots in society, its attachment to the nation become more profound. In its long history, Buddhism has become the nation’s religion for two periods: Ly dynasty (1010-1225) and Tran dynasty (1225-1400). It can be said that Buddhism has contributed considerably to the rich and unique cultural heritage of Vietnam on aspects such as ethics, philosophy, literary, architecture, sculpture, rituals, paintings… The Buddhist cultural heritage in Vietnam has been imbued with simple, harmonious and close characteristics of the national culture. The Buddhist cultural influence in Vietnam culture has been profound and broad, so this paper will only raise and discuss several aspects of this role influence.

Under the colonization of almost a thousand years by the Northern empire, Buddhism intermingled and integrated into the nation by mobilizing Buddhist followers and general people to unite in their struggle against the aggressor for the national independence. The history has recorded many Buddhist contributions to the cause of national building and defense. Buddhists understand that Buddhism can only develop when the country is independent… Buddhism had great influence under Ly and Tran dynasties, though Taoism and Confucianism developed strongly in this period. Wise kings in this historical stage created a great national unity for successfully fighting off aggressors from the North and built a strong and prosperous country by living and applying profound Buddhist ethical values of love and compassion.

On culture, with a history of almost two thousands of years, Buddhism had deep influence on cultural life of peoples in Vietnam, stayed closely attached to the nation. Buddhism has permeated into the heart of the nation for a long time and the Buddha has come into folk culture where the Bụt (Vietnamese name for the Buddha) always appears in times of sufferings as a kind deity. So, for a long time, there has been a saying ‘as virtuous as the Bụt’ (Hiền như Bụt). Image of the Bụt is a unique outcome of Buddhist integration into Vietnam’s folk culture. Vietnamese people may be scared by deities but never be afraid of the Bụt, because though the Bụt has unlimited powers, He always cares for people. In Vietnamese mind, the Bụt is always kind and compassionate towards people, especially those being lonely or oppressed. In folk tales, such as Tam & Cam (Tấm Cám), Star-fruit Tree (Cây Khế), and Coconut Shell (Sọ Dừa)… the Bụt appears when characters are facing extreme difficulties or sufferings. In Vietnam’s folks, the Bụt is a very close and intimate person, as in the proverb ‘living close by the temple, calling the Bụt as brother/ seeing the virtuous Bụt, carrying the Bụt on the back to go around’ (Gần chùa gọi Bụt bằng anh/Trông thấy Bụt lành, cõng Bụt đi chơi).

 One of important contributions of the Buddhist culture is the pagoda, a familiar and intimate place for people. The pagoda in a village becomes ‘village pagoda’ (chùa làng), belongs to such village, not the abbot/abbess of that pagoda if any. Sometimes the pagoda uses the name of the village for its own name and observes the village’s norms. The pagoda plays important roles in spiritual life of people because, with contributions of the Buddhist monks/nuns, the pagoda helps establishing ethical and ideological standards of value. For many generations, the pagoda has been regarded as a cultural center and learning school, especially under Ly and Tran dynasties.

Under the Le dynasty, Confucianism became influential. However, Buddhist influence did not disappeared, as many pagodas were upgraded under the reign of Le kings. Since the Le dynasty, through periods of ups and downs, Buddhism has continued to play important roles in Vietnam culture, because Buddhism has deeply permeated into the Vietnamese folk culture… as in the proverbs ‘The land belongs to the king, the pagoda belongs to the village’ (Đất của Vua, Chùa của Làng), “The youth enjoy staying at home, the elderly enjoy being in the pagoda’ (Trẻ vui nhà, già vui chùa), “Construction of pagoda, creation of statute, casting of bell/People should do such three deeds’ (Làm chùa, tô tượng, đúc chuông/Trong ba việc ấy, thập phương nên làm).

The Buddha’s teachings have existed for more 25 centuries and helped establishing individual and social ethical standards of value. Buddhism has integrated into Vietnam culture, taken deep roots and strong foot in the heart of Vietnamese people. In the current context of degrading of moral values, materialism and wide spread of social ills in the society, Buddhist values should be promoted more than ever./.  

(Đặng Tài Tính)

Several comments on the Buddhist cultural role in Vietnam cultureThe more Buddhism develops and takes roots in society, its attachment to the nation become more profound. In its long history, Buddhism has become the nation’s religion for two periods: Ly dynasty (1010-1225) and Tran dynasty (1225-1400). It can be said that
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