The Urban Dharma Newsletter... February 17, 2004


In This Issue: Buddhism in Vietnam

1. Theravada Buddhism in Vietnam ...Binh Anson
2. Vietnamese Buddhism
3. Temple/Center/Website:
BuddhaSasana a Buddhist Page by Binh Anson


1. Theravada Buddhism in Vietnam ...Binh Anson


Buddhism came to Vietnam in the first century CE [1]. By the end of the second century, Vietnam developed a major Buddhist centre in the region, commonly known as the Luy-Lau centre, now in the Bac-Ninh province, north of the present Hanoi city. Luy-Lau was the capital of Giao-Chi, former name of Vietnam, and was a popular place visited by many Indian Buddhist missionary monks on their way to China, following the sea route from the Indian sub-continent by Indian traders. A number of Mahayana sutras and the Agamas were translated into Chinese scripts at that centre, including the sutra of Forty Two Chapters, the Anapanasati, the Vessantara-jataka, the Milinda-panha, etc.

In the next 18 centuries, due to geographical proximity with China and despite being annexed twice by the Chinese, the two countries shared many common features of cultural, philosophical and religious heritage. Vietnamese Buddhism has been greatly influenced by the development of Mahayana Buddhism in China, with the dominant traditions of Ch'an/Zen, Pure Land, and Tantra.

The southern part of the present Vietnam was originally occupied by the Champa (Cham) and the Cambodian (Khmer) people who followed both a syncretic Saiva-Mahayana Buddhism and Theravada Buddhism [2], although Champa probably had a Theravada presence from as early as the 3rd century CE, whilst Cambodia received the Theravada as late as the 12th century. The Vietnamese started to conquer and absorbed the land in the 15th century, and the current shape of the country was finalised in the 18th century. From that time onward, the dominant Viet followed the Mahayana tradition whilst the ethnic Cambodian practiced the Theravada tradition, and both traditions peacefully co-existed.

In the 1920s and 1930s, there were a number of movements in Vietnam for the revival and modernisation of Buddhist activities. Together with the re-organisation of Mahayana establishments, there developed a growing interest in Theravadin meditation and also in Buddhist materials based on the Pali Canon. These were then available in French. Among the pioneers who brought Theravada Buddhism to the ethnic Viet was a young veterinary doctor named Le Van Giang. He was born in the South, received higher education in Hanoi, and after graduation, was sent to Phnom Penh, Cambodia, to work for the French government [3].

During that time, he developed a growing interest in Buddhism. He started to study and practice the Pure Land and Tantric ways but was not satisfied. By chance, he met the Vice Sangharaja of the Cambodian Sangha and was recommended a book on the Noble Eightfold Path written in French. He was struck by the clear message in the book, and decided to try out the Theravada way. He learnt meditation on the breath (Anapanasati) from a Cambodian monk at the Unalom Temple in Phnom Penh and achieved deep samadhi states. He continued the practice and after a few years, he decided to ordain and took the Dhamma name of Ho-Tong (Vansarakkhita).

In 1940, upon an invitation by a group of lay Buddhists led by Mr Nguyen Van Hieu, a close friend, he went back to Vietnam and helped to establish the first Theravada temple for Vietnamese Buddhists, at Go Dua, Thu Duc (now a district of Saigon). The temple was named Buu-Quang (Ratana Ramsyarama). Later, the Cambodian Sangharaja, Venerable Chuon Nath, together with 30 Cambodian bhikkhus established the Sima boundary at this temple [4]. The temple was destroyed by French troops in 1947, and was rebuilt in 1951.

Here at Buu-Quang temple, together with a group of Vietnamese bhikkhus, who had received training in Cambodia, such as Venerables Thien-Luat, Buu-Chon, Kim-Quang, Gioi-Nghiem, Tinh-Su, Toi-Thang, Giac-Quang, An-Lam, Venerable Ho-Tong started teaching the Buddha Dhamma in Vietnamese language. He also translated many Buddhist materials from the Pali Canon, and Theravada became part of Vietnamese Buddhist activity in the country.

In 1949-1950, Venerable Ho-Tong together with Mr Nguyen Van Hieu and supporters built a new temple in Saigon, named Ky-Vien Tu (Jetavana Vihara). This temple became the centre of Theravada activities in Vietnam, which continued to attract increasing interest among the Vietnamese Buddhists. In 1957, the Vietnamese Theravada Buddhist Sangha Congregation (Giao Hoi Tang Gia Nguyen Thuy Viet Nam) was formally established and recognised by the government, and the Theravada Sangha elected Venerable Ho-Tong as its first President, or Sangharaja.

Ky-Vien Temple

During that time, Dhamma activities were further strengthened by the presence of Venerable Narada from Sri Lanka. Venerable Narada had first came to Vietnam in the 1930s and brought with him Bodhi tree saplings which he planted in many places throughout the country. During his subsequent visits in the 1950s and 1960s, he attracted a large number of Buddhists to the Theravada tradition, one of whom was the popular translator, Mr Pham Kim Khanh who took the Dhamma name of Sunanda. Mr Khanh translated many books of Venerable Narada, including The Buddha and His Teachings, Buddhism in a Nutshell, Satipatthana Sutta, The Dhammapada, A Manual of Abhidhamma, etc [5]. Mr Khanh, now in his 80s, lives in the USA and is still active in translating Dhamma books of well-known meditation teachers from Thailand, Burma and Sri Lanka.

The Theravada movement spread to other provinces, and soon, a number of Theravada temples for ethnic Viet Buddhists were established in many areas in the South and Central parts of Vietnam. As at 1997, there were 64 Theravada temples throughout the country, of which 19 were located in Saigon and its viccinity [6]. Beside Buu-Quang and Ky-Vien temples, other well known temples are Buu-Long, Giac-Quang, Tam-Bao (Da-Nang), Thien-Lam and Huyen-Khong (Hue), and the large Sakyamuni Buddha Monument (Thich-Ca Phat Dai) in Vung Tau.

In the 1960s and 1970s, a number of Vietnamese bhikkhus were sent overseas for further training, mostly in Thailand and some in Sri Lanka and India. Recently, this programme has been resumed and about 20 bhikkhus and nuns are receiving training in Burma.

Historically, there has been a close relationship between the Cambodian and the Vietnamese bhikkhus. In fact, in 1979, after the Khmer Rouge were driven out of Phnom Penh, a group of Vietnamese bhikkhus led by Venerables Buu-Chon and Gioi-Nghiem came to that city to re-ordain 7 Cambodian monks, and thus re-established the Cambodian Sangha which had been destroyed by the Khmer Rouge when they were in control [7].

Dhamma literature in the Vietnamese language comes from two main sources: the Pali Canon and the Chinese Agamas, together with a large collection of Mahayana texts. Since 1980s, there has been an ongoing programme to publish these materials by scholar monks of both Mahayana and Theravada traditions. So far, 27 volumes of the first 4 Nikayas, translated by Venerable Minh-Chau, and the 4 Agamas, translated by Venerables Tri-Tinh, Thien-Sieu and Thanh-Tu, have been produced. Work is under way to translate and publish the 5th Nikaya. In addition, a complete set of the Abhidhamma, translated by Venerable Tinh-Su, has been printed, together with the Dhammapada, the Milinda-Panha, the Visudhi-Magga, the Abhidhammatthasangaha and many other work.

In summary, although Buddhism in Vietnam is predominantly of the Mahayana form, the Theravada tradition is well recognised and is experiencing a growing interest especially in the practice of meditation, in Nikaya-Agama literature and in Abhidhamma studies.

Binh Anson,
Perth, Western Australia
08 June 1999


[1] Nguyen Lang, 1973. Viet Nam Phat Giao Su Luan, vol 1 (History of Buddhism in Vietnam)
[2] Andrew Skilton, 1994. A Concise History of Buddhism
[3] Le Minh Qui, 1981. Hoa Thuong Ho-Tong (Biography of Maha Thera Ho-Tong)
[4] Nguyen Van Hieu, 1971. Cong Tac Xay Dung Phat Giao Nguyen Thuy tai Viet Nam (On The Work of Establishing Theravada Buddhism in Vietnam)
[5] Pham Kim Khanh, 1991. Narada Maha Thera
[6] Giac-Ngo Weekly, no. 63, 14-06-1997
[7] Thich Dong Bon, 1996. Tieu Su Danh Tang Viet Nam (Biography of Famous Vietnamese Monks)

2. Vietnamese Buddhism


The classical period of Buddhism in South East Asia was from the 11th to the 15th century. In this period, there were several elements which made it classical. Buddhism, in the classical time period, had homogeneity of form and institutional orthodoxy, as well as helped to formulate kingship.

Buddhism, in this time period, tended to follow the Theravada tradition. Since the 19th century, Buddhism has continued to act as a structure for East Asian societies. Despite the challenges that western science has had on Buddhism, it has provided cultural and ideological support for modern, nationalist movements.

Buddhism has also offered solutions to political, economic, and social change. Vietnam, however, is different from the "norm" of the traditional South East Asian period of Classical Buddhism, since it was strongly impacted by the Chinese. With communist revolutions, Buddhism was displaced to as a fundamental mediator of cultural values.

Historically, Buddhism played a significant role in the definition of the classical South East Asian states. With Buddhism, when a country was dominated by a colonial power, nationalist movements grew out of and identified with a religious context. An example of this is the 1960 Buddhist protests, in which the Buddhist monks immolated themselves in fire. After the removal of Deim and his brother Nhu, the United Buddhist Association, which was under the leadership of Thich Tri Quang and Thich Thien Minh, remained politically active. "Vietnamese are Confucians in peacetime, Buddhists in times of trouble." (Fire in the Lake, 176)

Confucianism is Vietnam's governing religion. It consists of a hierarchy of relationships which governs day to day life. Husband to Wife, Father to son, Elder brother to younger brother, Emperor to subject, and the relationship amongst friends. Therefore when Buddhism was introduced to Vietnam, it was introduced to a society which was used to a hierarchical governance. The Buddhist missionaries accepted Confucianism as a political system and social structure. According to a scholar of Asian studies, Paul Mus, "Confucianism was a social order defined by culture and history; Buddhism was a faith relevant to all times and to all men, no matter what their circumstances." (Fire in the Lake, 177)

Buddhism was a way to transcend the limitations of society and the self to a higher level. Buddhists were all equal whereas Confucians existed primarily in the five relationships. Buddhism offered the people a Way out of Confucianism's confining restrictions. "In peacetime it offered the Vietnamese an internal life--a soul, a personal identity--outside the conventions of society. In times of tyranny and 'splitting apart,' it indicated a morality that lay beyond loyalty to existing authorities." (Fire in the Lake, 177) Buddhism offered a form of brotherhood, where people become equals, rather than a world ruled by a few. Buddhism offered "means of reconciliation and showed the Way back into Confucian society." (Fire in the Lake, 178)

Along with this integration with Confucianism, Taoism also played a necessary part in the development of Vietnamese Buddhism. The natural tendency of Taoist philosophy towards meditation and contemplation was a compliment to many of the Buddhist techniques. As a result, many Taoist symbols and meditation tools became mainstreamed into Vietnamese Buddhist thought.

Buddhist entered Vietnam in two significant waves. The first was a missionary wave of scholars from India during the early millennia. These were primarily Mahayana scholars who introduced not only the scholarly elite to Buddhist doctrine, but the peasant class as well. The second wave of Buddhist thought occurred about two hundred years after the common era. This was a style of Buddhism filtered first through China, the Theravada school. Both of these schools of Buddhist thought co-existed throughout Vietnam.

The most significant defining features of Buddhist thought in Vietnam is first the integration of Buddhist, Taoist and Confucian traditions. In this respect Vietnam represents almost a unique case. The rituals, beliefs and notions of religion reflect each tradition equally. The second defining feature is the two step development of Mahayana and Theravada schools throughout the country. These two schools not only reflect differences in doctrine and basic theology, but also two different cultural influences: India and China.


India is the historical seat of Buddhism as well as home to both the Theravada and Mahayana sects. As the birthplace of the Buddha and the land where he traveled to spread the word of his teachings, India is considered the center of Buddhist studies. Buddhism is one of the most popular religions in India, and influences the culture in a multitude of ways.

Buddhism's roots are closely related to the Jain and Hindu religions in that its ultimate origin was found in the Rig Veda and Brahman tradition. It is possible to see Buddhism as a natural extension of these theologies, building on the foundations of a belief laid a thousand years before.

The Jain and Hindu schools both held the idea that life is a series of painful reoccurrence. A person attempts to learn these painful life lessons in order to reincarnate and come back as a more perfect person. Hindu's maintain that one can tell how far an individual has progressed by their position in the caste system. As a result, the experiences of a person's life are seen as being the result of action taken in previous incarnations. If a person lives in unhappy circumstances, that is taken to mean that they made mistakes or acted incorrectly in a past life. This is also true for those who experience great fortune, their happiness is the result of acts of compassion and good works which they engaged in during their last life. In this way, life is a continuous cycle that is improved or harmed by the actions that one commits. In the Buddhist tradition, the mechanism that regulates these occurrences is Karma.

The Buddhist centers in India were also responsible for the spread of Buddhism throughout Asia. During the reign of King Ashoka, missionaries were sent out to Asia, in order to relay the teachings of the Buddha. As a result, the earliest recorded ventures landed in Vietnam through India, then overland from China.


When Buddhism was introduced to China, the Chinese civilization was already ancient and had already developed several traditions. Therefore, once the doctrines were introduced, the Chinese quickly translated them. To them, these doctrines were the word of Buddha. The Chinese divided into different sects, Theravada and Mahayana. The Theravada doctrine was canonized first. The Mahayana school composed their text later with a more liberal interpretation. The Mahayanists said,

the Hinayana [Theravada] was not untrue, but was merely a
preparatory doctrine, preached by the Buddha to disciples whose
minds were not yet receptive to the ultimate truth. When he
[the Buddha] had prepared them with the tentative doctrine, he
then revealed to them his final truth. (The Buddhist Tradition,140)

Buddhist philosophy first began to flourish in the fourth century CE. It was interpreted and judged in Taoist terms. Altogether, ten schools formed, divided into two categories, schools of Being and schools of Non-being. The underlying issue which divided the two schools was whether the school affirmed or denied the idea of "self-nature of the dharmas... and the ego." (The Buddhist Tradition, 141) Most of these schools did not last long. The schools which are the substance of Chinese Buddhism are the T'ien-t'ai ,Hua-yen, Meditation , and Pure Land. All of these schools developed distinct Chinese characteristics.

Buddhism began to suffer during the T'ang dynasty, tenth century AD, and continued to do so until the Confucians revived.

The early Vietnamese governed their country in a similar manner as the classical Chinese dynasties, however, their habits and custom differed. The Chinese empires achieved their length of power through their ability to keep track of their family ties. Many Vietnamese families worshipped their ancestors to only the ninth generation. After several wars, the clans have spilt to many families with unknown ties. As a result, the Chinese and Vietnamese governments have never been the same. "The emperors followed the rituals of state... so that time would not flow through the empire, but the 'natural order' of the universe did not hold throughout the society." (Fire in the Lake, 57)

The village was the primary community, though. The village was informally a family. "The village was always the efficient unit of local government, but in the fifteenth century, when the court abandoned the village mandarinate and retired the lowest order of its officials from the villages, it became a quasi-autonomous unit."(Fire in the Lake, 58) This was demonstrated in the Vietnam War since the government failed continually to satisfy the peasants. In a state of confusion, Vietnam was fighting a civil war between the Confucian government and the Buddhist peasants. The Chinese government ruled with a compassion for all of China, since they kept such close ties amongst their families. In China, a whole community could be linked together on a line of heritage, whereas the Vietnamese could not.

Pure Land Buddhism

Pure Land is a theology designed to help believers attain Sukhavati (or the Buddha land) in only one lifetime. Sukhavati is Located Billions of Buddha lands away in the western direction from the world. The Buddha who presides over Sukhavati is named Amitabha, meaning immeasurable light. Amitabha created this theology in order to help all mortal beings to Buddha hood.

Utilizing meditation and mantras, the faithful will reach a stage of non-retrogression and make the constant cycle of birth and re-birth unnecessary. Upon reaching Sukhavati the newly enlightened soul can choose to return to the world realm and take up the duties of Bodhisattva.

The term Pure Land was first used by T an Lua around 540 CE. Developed in China, there is not any evidence of Pure Land doctrine in India before 700 CE.

An important element of Pure Land is the existence of multiple Buddhas. There are indications that this theory was first discussed after the Sakyamuni Buddha's death in 486 CE. This notion is important to the development of Pure Land theology because if Sakyamuni Buddha is not the only Buddha, then others can attain Buddha hood as well.

If a believer recites the name of the Buddha, namely the Amitabha incarnation, they will reach enlightenment. Apparently this form of worship became well liked among the secular population because of its comparative ease to visualization and other meditation techniques. Power is gained by the recitation of the Buddha's name and that will balance against the bad karma from other lives. The sincerity of the chant is an important element of the Pure Land doctrine, mere pronunciation of the name alone will not hasten a follower to enlightenment.

Even with these practices, the Pure Land school also emphasizes the importance of the Bodhisattva. No individual can attain Buddha hood without the instruction of an enlightened teacher. The teacher describes the Pure Land as well as the many aspects of the Buddha. The student is expected to receive this instruction and practice singular devotion and contemplation.

Cao Dai

Cao Dai is an attempt to create a perfect synthesis of world religions. It is a combination of Christianity, Buddhism , Islam, Confucianism, Hinduism, Geniism, and Taoism. Established in the Southern regions of Vietnam in the early 1920's, the religion was officially codified in 1926. The functioning center of Cao Daism is located in the Tay Ninh province. Cao Dai literally means high tower or palace, a metaphor for the spender of spiritual growth.

The central philosophy of Cao Daism pertains to the duty that the faithful perform for themselves, their family, society and the world at large. Much like Confucianism, this element of the Philosophy pertains to how the individual functions within the context of the community.

Other elements of Cao Dai philosophy are more clearly influenced by Buddhism and Hinduism. The Cao Dai faithful are expected to renounce materialism in order to more fully cultivate their spiritual growth. Similar to the Buddhist concept of Samsara, the material world is seen as a distraction to the greater goal of enlightenment. Also similar to Buddhist belief is the use of the device of Karma.

Cao Daism also reflects some of the more ancient belief systems of worship in Vietnam. Believers are expected to worship God, superior spirits, and ancestors. This spiritualism is reminiscent of the Animism philosophy that had been a part of Vietnam during its earliest times.

Cao Dai also utilizes spiritual mediums and channelers. These individuals are an essential part of Cao Dai worship. They offer guidance from superior spirits, departed family members, and other wise individuals. Most of the important cannon of the Cao Dai was gleaned from these spiritual seances. Respected saints of the Cao Dai include: Joan of Arc, Rene Descartes, William Shakespeare, Victor Hugo, Louis Pasteur, and Lenin.

The clergy is made up of men and women. The entrances of the temple are divided by gender, men on the right, women on the left. The priests practice spiritual purification including meditation, prayer and vegetarianism. They believe that consuming meat not only pollutes the body, but hinders other life forms during their quest for enlightenment.


Put simply, Confucianism is the quest for order. Most of the ideology dictates that the primary focus of Confucian doctrine is to balance the relationships of individual family, and society with the Five Agents of the Universe. More a method of management than an actual religion, it became a mode by which rulers and civic leaders could run the bureaucracy of the state.

For the most part, Vietnam was considered a Confucian state until the mid nineteenth century.

The Confucian state is often stratified into classes, and only the most scholarly elite need conform to Confucian ideals. Leaders were decided by examination over sacred texts. As a result, the peasant or farmer had little to say over the workings of their government. Confucianism is not an exclusionary doctrine, it works well with other moral codes and can synthesize easily. In Vietnam, Confucianism was used primarily for the running of the state, and Taoism and Buddhism for the morality of its citizens. Most of the issues that the Confucian scholars concerned themselves with, during their tenure in power was the proper regulation of the state from the top down and the division of communal property among the citizenry. The Confucian system of philosophy lost prominence in more recent history, but is still common among government bureaucrats and leaders.


The Tao is the natural order of things. It is a force that flows through every living and sentient object, as well as through the entire universe. When the Tao is in balance it is possible to find perfect happiness. The primary religious figures in Taoism are Lao Tzsu and Chuang Tzu, to scholars who dedicated their lives two balancing their inner spirits. Lao Tzsu claimed that the Tao defines translation, that it simply is.

Taoism encourages working with natural forces, not against them. Taoism teaches the path of wu-wei - the technique of mastering circumstances, not trying to control them. Teachers of the Tao often use examples of the bending reed or grass blowing in the wind to illustrate this important point. A Taoist would encourage an individual to work with their obstacles and problems instead of fighting adversity at every turn.

The most common graphic representation of Taoist theology is the circular Yin Yang figure. It represents the balance of opposites in the universe. When they are equally present, all is calm. When one is outweighed by the other, there is confusion and disarray. The Yin and Yang are a model that the faithful follow, an aid that allows each person to contemplate the state of their lives.

Taoists believe that nature and the earth is constantly in flux. Simply, the only constant in the world is change. When individuals learn that growth and movement are natural and necessary, they can become balanced. Reality is perpetual change.

Another essential element of the Tao is the term P'u or the uncarved block. A person who exemplifies this characteristic is one who is simple and looks at the world without preconceptions. P'u is the student, always held in wonder by the world and its constant change.

More a listening technique than an actual theology, Taoism asks that each person focuses on the world around them in order to understand the inner harmonies of the universe. It is a religious system heavily focused on meditation and contemplation. The Tao surrounds everyone and one must listen to find enlightenment.


The oldest peasant religion in Vietnam was known as Animism or ancestor worship. This system of belief was most common among the peasant or laboring class. It is not a basic theology per se, but more a system of reverence for deceased family members as well as all living things. This respect was manifested in many dramatic rituals, as well as alters and other constructed buildings. It was not uncommon for Vietnamese peasants to dedicate large amounts of time to this form of worship.

It was often believed that the dead would aid in harvest and fertility rites. If there was a famine or flood, it could be interpreted as someone's relative making a commotion in the heavens. Because of the connection between these beliefs and agricultural yield, the family are always incredibly devout. Due to the difficult nature of rice farming, one poor crop could cause a family to starve. The Vietnamese worshipped their ancestors as the source of their lives, their fortunes, and their civilizations (Fire in the Lake, 11)

Many of these rituals were seen as primarily superstitious by nature, and as a result were rebuffed by the intellectuals who preferred Confucianism. The classes were divided in this manner, Animist peasants and Confucian leadership.

Animism blended well with Buddhism and added a new dimension onto the belief system. When Buddhism was added to the previous practices of ancestor worship it became an inseparable element of peasant practices. So in effect, the peasants practiced both, not forsaking the old or rejecting the new.


The introduction of Christianity, specifically the Catholic faith, to Vietnam occurred at the same time as the French colonization during the 1850's. During the French reign it came to symbolize both western thought and power.

In order for a Vietnamese national to gain employment, or a government position, it was necessary to demonstrate that loyalty was first to France, then Vietnam. Therefore, converting to Catholicism was one of the first important steps to that end. It was a strong sign of loyalty for a Vietnamese citizen to abandon their religious heritage for that of the Catholic tradition.

Because the Catholic faith was more attached to prestige than religious fervor, the demographic breakdown of converts tended to be the upper middle class. Always a minority, Catholics still wielded a significant amount of power in government. During the reign of Diem, being a Catholic was one of the only ways a person could be determined loyal. All non-Catholics were seen as potential traders and communist sympathizers.

Today the Catholics are still an affluent, though less powerful, minority. Many of the Vietnamese who left South Vietnam at the end of the American involvement were Catholic. They have had an easier time integrating into western culture and are disproportionately represented in the American Vietnamese community.


Possibly the most essential of all Buddhist practices, Zen focuses on the ultimate simplicity of the Buddha mind. Allen Watts writes that "Thus is Zen is to be translated at all, the nearest equivalent is 'Enlightenment', but even so Zen is not only Enlightenment; but the path to its attainment. (Watts, 24) Zen is a religion without a doctrine, a theology without theologians.

Zen stresses the prime importance of the enlightenment experience and the uselessness of ritual. This process stresses the spiritual analysis of doctrine and theology, not the analytical or expressly theological. Zen Buddhism, which is most commonly practiced in Japan, is the basic practice of meditation in order to reach peace within one's self. Zen is not a belief system ridden by dogma and philosophical intricacies but a belief etched by practice.

Zen is more often a monastic practice than one that has a strong ethic of public activism. it is the difference between debate and action, between diatribes about philosophy and turning within one's self and finding the answers that already lie there. Allan Watts writes in The Spirit of Zen that "Enlightenment, however, is living and cannot be fixed down into any form of words; therefore the object of the Zen school of Buddhism is to go beyond words and ideas in order that the original insight of the Buddha may be brought back to life." (p22) Watts continues that " It never makes the mistake of confusing teachings with wisdom, for essentially, Zen is that "something" which makes the difference between a Buddha and an ordinary man; it is Enlightenment as distinct from doctrine" (p22)

In Vietnam, Thich Nhat Hanh has written many books as guides for Western Buddhists attempting to practice Zen philosophy. His emphasis of ordinary practice as meditation encapsulates an essential ideal of Zen practice, action instead of dogma. Nhat Hanh maintains that "The most precious practice in Buddhism is meditation, and it is important to practice meditation in a joyful mood. We have to smile a lot in order to be able to meditate, the Bell of Mindfulness helps us do this(106).One of the poems he includes in his book Being Peace discusses the sound of breathing.

Listen, listen
this wonderful sound
brings me back to my true self

The Kingdom of Champa

While probably the strongest single cultural influence in Vietnam was China , the Cham civilization offers a startling contrast to many of Vietnam's Mandarin conventions. The Cham derive their cultural influences almost exclusively from India . Instead of the Confucianism and Taoism of other peoples in Vietnam, the Cham were almost exclusively Hindu. This divergence in religion had substantial impacts in both social organization and world view.

The Cham existed from the second to the sixteenth century throughout the central highlands of Vietnam. The strongholds of Cham influence and power were centered in the Dong Nai Basin and Deo Ngang province. It is generally agreed that the kingdom was separated into five regions: Northern area, Amravati area, Vijaya Area, Kauthara Area, and Panduranga area. Even though this is a considerable portion of Vietnam, the severity of weather and limited area for agriculture limited the size of the population to about two and a half million at its height. The Cham were separated into two clans: Narikel Vamsa (Coconut Clan) and Kramuk Vamsa (Betelnut Clan). The Narikel Vamsa primarily ruled the Northern regions of the kingdom, the Kramuk Vamsa centered in the South.

Much like the Brahman cultures that flourish in India , the Cham culture utilized a caste system. The strict rigor of this system benefited the privileged Brahmans and Kshatriyas, and served to relegate untouchables to the periphery of organized life. Marriages tended to occur within the same caste with little deviation. Bodies were also cremated in a funeral pyre, called a Ghat, instead of being buried in a family grave. A striking difference from some of the older animist beliefs that already existed in Vietnam. Unlike India , however, the position of women seems to be more central to the government power structure. Chinese historians note that women held considerable power in both matters of family and marriage. At the same time the ritual of Sati was also practiced. The Cham people also adopted the Hindu practice of not eating beef -- a practice still observed in some areas of Vietnam today.

The Cham worshipped the Trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh. In addition to this powerful trio, the Cham also paid reverence to their consorts and offspring. Shiva is the central figure of worship for most of the civilization of Champa. He is worshipped as both a figure of a man and his symbolic form, the linga. The Linga is often found in the art and architecture of the Cham people.

While the majority of the Cham people were Hindu, there is a significant minority of the population that were also Mahayana Buddhist and Islamic.

*much of the information presented in this section was obtained from the research conducted by J.C. Sharma in his text "Temples of Champa in Vietnam".

3. BuddhaSasana a Buddhist Page by Binh Anson


This is a large Buddhist web site in both English and Vietnamese from Australia, with many articles and eBooks on Basic Buddhism, Meditation, Suttas, and Buddhist Essays.



Bechert, J., and D. Gombrich. The World of Buddhism. London: Thames & Hudson, 1991.

* This text examines all of The Buddhist doctrine. It dedicates a large chapter to the spread of Buddhism to Vietnam. There is also a lengthy discussion of Taoism, Confucianism and local religions in Vietnam. There is an emphasis on the Chinese influenced theology, and when it began to flourish in Vietnam and Korea during the tenth century.

Cadiere, Leopold. Religious Beliefs and Practices of the Vietnamese. Trans. Mabbett, Ian W. Victoria: Centre of South East Asian Studies,1989.

* This text is a very good asset to a student who has a background in Buddhism and would like to learn specifics concerning Vietnamese Buddhism. It goes into depths of issues concerning: myths of the Buddhist introduction to Vietnam, description of a pagoda, and an in depth look at the way Buddhism is practiced in Vietnam. This text also addresses the importance of spirituality in Vietnam and worshipping one's ancestors.

Fitzgerald, Frances. Fire in the Lake: The Vietnamese and the Americans in Vietnam. New York: Vintage books, 1972.

* This is an awesome text. Fitzgerald's understanding of the people of Vietnam and the religion which governs the nation is excellent. Fitzgerald describes the religion of Vietnam as "a blend of Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism sunken into a background of animism." (pg. 18) With her understanding, Fitzgerald addresses the Vietnam War very thoroughly and covers Buddhist issues such as: protest movements, self-immolation, nationalism, peace movement of1970, and several other issues concerning Vietnamese Buddhists. For anyone interested in learning about the Vietnam war, this is an excellent source.

Harvey, Peter. An Introduction to Buddhism: Teachings, History and Practices. New York: Cambridge University Press,1990.

* This is a great text in that it goes into great depths of Buddhism in many different areas. It also has an in depth list of resources and suggestions for further readings according to area and topics within Buddhism. Specifically addressing Vietnamese Buddhism ,it touches on the spread of Buddhism throughout Asia, includes a map with the approximate population of Buddhists throughout Asia, and briefly covers the Buddhist protests of the Vietnam War on page 203.

Herring, George C., America's Longest War: The United States and Vietnam 1950-1975. Second Ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1986.

* This is a good text for anyone who wants to learn about the Vietnam war. It touches on Buddhism in a matter-of-fact way as it addresses the Buddhist protests, but it never seems to address it as a religion. It is fairly dry reading, but the author does show a very thorough understanding of the war and the effects that it had on the United States. It lacks an understanding of how the war devastated Vietnam. This text is superior to other texts due to its list of references to other related sources.

Nhat Hanh, Thich. The Miracle of Mindfulness: A Manual of Meditation. Massachusetts: Beacon Press, 1975.

* This is a great text for those who want to find peace through meditation. I would not recommend it for instructing students, but as personal reading, it is well worth the time, and written by one of Vietnam's experts.

Nhat Hanh, Thich. Present Moment Wonderful Moment: Mindfulness Verses for Daily Living. California, Parallax Press, 1990.

* This is a great text for those who have a thorough understanding of Buddhism or who practice Buddhism. Basically it is a book of verses which takes our daily routine and puts it into an appreciative perspective. The text also reveals the serenity and peacefulness of meditation and the importance of feeling happy and peaceful.

Nhat Hanh, Thich. Walking Meditation. Trans. Hoang, jenny, Anh Huong, Nguyen. Connecticut: Eastern Press, 1985.

* This is another great text for those who want to learn how to walk and live a peaceful life. Nhat Hanh seems to share his experiences with the reader as a way of encouragement. It is a great resource for those who are practicing Buddhism or who have a thorough background in its beliefs.

Rutledge, Paul. The Role of Religion in Ethnic Self Identity. New York: University Press of America, 1985.

* Rutledge examines the Vietnamese community in the United States. He discusses both the traditional roots of Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism in Vietnam as well as how it has changed and developed in the United States. It is an excellent account of the influence of religion on the world view of Vietnamese nationals.

Schecter, Jerrold. The New Face of the Buddha. New York: Coward-McCann, 1967.

* This book is an examination of Buddhism and Communism. It examines China, Thailand, Burma, and Vietnam in depth. One of the chapters is dedicated to the dissident leader Thich Tri Quang and his influence during the Vietnam conflict. There is also a well written account of the many conflicts that have arisen between the communist government and Buddhist leaders.

Tan Phat, Antoine N., Mahayana Buddhism in Vietnam and its Background in India and China. Diss. University of California, 1981. Ann Arbor: UMI, 1981. 82-00915

* A historical text examining the history of Buddhism in Vietnam. This dissertation is extremely specific and detailed. It is not a text designed to act as an introduction to Buddhism, but it is exceptionally well done. It also takes time to explore the origins of Buddhism in India and China.

Zacharas, Donald. In Pursuit of Peace -- Speeches of the Sixties. Austin: Random House, 1970.

* These are papers and speeches given during the Vietnam era. Some analyze the American perspective of Buddhist dissidence and desire for political freedom. The rhetoric is a study in itself. This text is not a discussion or explanation of the Buddhist doctrine, but it does demonstrate what American political leaders thought about Vietnam and Buddhism.


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