5 most popular religions in Vietnam with their belief

Through the development of history, many religions have been introduced into Vietnam, such as Buddhism, Confucianism, Christianity, etc.

But Vietnamese people are not religious fanatics. The local religions and beliefs have harmonized with each other and complemented each other.

In each individual or family, they all worship ancestors, god emperors, both Buddha and Confucius. This mixture is a great feature, showing the religious integration of Vietnamese people in the past and present.

religions in Vietnam
Explore religions in Vietnam is to study the culture. ©JillWellington/pixabay

Now, we will introduce you to famous religions in Vietnam, and add some comments at the end of the article to tell you more about the ways to study these religions.

1. Buddhism

buddhist monk in Vietnam
Buddhism in Vietnam | ©Vietnamdrive

Buddhism was born around the 6th – 5th centuries BC in India. Buddhism has two main sects: Mahayana and Hinayana.

The Mahayana sect was transmitted through China and then into Vietnam, while the Hinayana sect was transmitted through Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia to Vietnam.

The northern provinces in Vietnam are largely influenced by the Mahayana, the southern regions are influenced by the Hinayana school.

Although the same Buddhist philosophy, the Mahayana and Hinayana sects have different features. Mahayana represents the great wheel, the practitioner not only saves himself but also saves sentient beings. Hinayana is a small vehicle, the practitioner can only save himself first.

Therefore, there are many differences in the structure of pagodas, altars, and rituals. Mahayana tends to be more profoundly superhuman than Hinayana. In addition to worshiping Shakyamuni Buddha, Mahayana also worships the other Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.

On the altar of the Mahayana, there are usually 4 layers of statues:

The top layer is Tam The Phat (Three Level Buddha) consisting of three same Buddha, representing the past, present, and future.

The second layer includes: Amitabha statue in the middle, two sides include Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara and Dai The Chi.

The third layer includes the statue of the World-Honored One, including The Shakyamuni statue in the middle, and the two sides are the statue of Manjushri (Van Thu) and Universal Bodhisattva (Pho Hien).

The fourth layer is the statue of Cuu Long, also known as the newborn Shakyamuni, flanked by statues of King De Thich and Dai Pham Thien Vuong.

These four classes of statues in some pagodas have changed the position of the bodhisattvas or replaced the statue òf Cuu Long with a statue of Tuyet Son that Buddha practiced asceticism in Tuyet Son mountain.

The Hinayana sect is less worships and decorated with statues, only one Shakyamuni Buddha.

Buddhist philosophy emphasizes goodness, love, reason, and justice. Buddhism advises people to cultivate themselves, accumulate virtue, accept sacrifices. Human beings should not be greedy for alcohol, not be greedy for delicious bloody food, not be greedy for sex, not be greedy for fame, and not be greedy for money, which are the five precepts in Buddhism.

In the context of history, Vietnamese Buddhism also combines with Taoism and folk beliefs. In the ancient pagoda, both Ngoc Hoang (Heaven Emperor), Nam Tao, and Bac Dau are worshiped as gods of Taoism, and there is an altar for the Mother Goddess (the mother of the mother) which is a popular belief in Vietnam.

Currently, Buddhism is the religion with the largest number of followers compared to other religions. The number of followers of Buddhism and influenced by Buddhism is estimated at about 70% of the population in the country.

2. Confucianism

Confucius strongly influences the Vietnamese’s life, it’s a belief more than a religion.

Confucianism was founded by (Khong Tu) Confucius, a Chinese man in the 6th – 5th centuries BC. The main content of Confucianism is to cultivate oneself, rule the country, and pacify the world.

Confucianism emphasizes patriotism and loyalty, considering the king as the son of heaven, the supreme authority. The king forced anyone to die, it was the will of God.

Confucianism proposes the theory of the three main regulations, including the king – mandarin relationship, the husband-wife relationship, the father-son relationship; and the five personal regulations: benevolence, ceremony, justice, wisdom, and faith.

Confucianism valued ​​wisdom but despised workers and farmers who were petty people. The noble people had a higher voice, they read books and could teach other people. This ideology encouraged people to leave work when they had a small position in society. That thinking was one of the reasons Confucianism is not suitable for the development of society.

According to the Confucian concept, women are in the three-and-four-virtue rules. Three obediences are to carefully care father, husband, and son; four virtues are Cong – good cooking and embroidery, Dung – gentle and polite, Ngon – talk softly and carefully, and Hanh – good lady in characters.

Confucianism took the king-mandarin relationship as a model for social relationships. Confucianism had many positive factors in educating people about morality, but Confucianism was thoroughly exploited by the ruling class to take advantage of its beneficial aspects to serve the ambition of ruling the country and the world. Confucianism was promoted as the state religion by Chinese feudal dynasties. Confucianism was introduced to many countries in Asia, including Vietnam.

Confucianism was introduced into Vietnam quite early, but it was not until the 2nd century that it was widely spread. During the long years, theoretical books on Confucianism such as Analects (Luan Ngu) and the Spring and Autumn Sutra (Kinh Xuan Thu) were taught in some schools for the children of Han-Vietnamese mandarins. However, there were not many Confucian schools like this, and these schools were opened to train the mandarins. The number of Vietnamese people who had passed their education was still very small. Confucian social theories were also not widely spread among the public.

In the Ly Dynasty (XI-XII centuries) and the beginning of the Tran Dynasty (13th century), Confucianism was developed along with Buddhism and Taoism. In 1070, Van Mieu Quoc Tu Giam – the first university of Vietnam was established to train Confucian scholars and mandarins. From the end of the Tran Dynasty (XIV), Confucianism developed stronger and began to gradually overwhelm Buddhism.

As feudalism developed, Buddhism and Taoism failed to take on the role of social order. The educational system and the electoral system established by Confucianism trained ranks of mandarins loyal to the feudal system.

In this respect, Confucianism is more powerful than Buddhism. Buddhism directs people to the afterlife while Confucianism ties people to the contemporary social order. Therefore, Confucianism with a whole ideological system, encouragement, and worship of the king had a positive effect on protecting the feudal system and its hierarchical order. Therefore, the kings gradually became more interested in Confucianism.

In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the Le dynasty fell, Confucianism also declined.

In the 19th century, the Nguyen Dynasty could not develop Confucianism. Besides Quoc Ngu script (modern Vietnamese script) was born. Confucianism gradually faded into political life. But the moral teachings of Confucianism have been ingrained in the subconscious of Vietnamese people for generations.

Confucianism for Vietnam today, although there are still many influences with both positive and negative sides, with a new thinking perspective, the positive aspects of Confucianism are creatively promoted by the Vietnamese people.

3. Christianity with Catholicism and Protestantism

Praying in a church
Praying in a church | ©nickelbabe/pixabay

Since the 16th century, Vietnam and Asian countries have been in the area of ​​exploration and resource search by Western merchants. Following the merchant ships were missionaries. Since then, in Vietnam, a new type of religion has appeared, namely Christianity.

Christianity appeared on all continents. According to church doctrine, God was founded by Jesus in Rome from the beginning of the Common Era. It quickly gained popularity in the Roman Empire. At first, it was Christianity, until the 6th century that it split into two main sects, Catholicism and Orthodoxy. Also, in the sixteenth century, a third sect appeared, Protestantism.

Christianity highly values ​​the humanity and infinite love of Jesus for people, because of his love for people, he had to pile nails on the cross.

Christianity has a system of doctrines, rituals, and beliefs to strongly influence the psychology of believers, making them believe absolutely in the miracle of God and live patiently on earth to achieve eternity. forever in heaven.

Christianity, mainly Catholic, was introduced to Vietnam from the 15th to the 16th centuries, but it was not until the 17th century that the missionary work was really effective. In addition to evangelization, Western missionaries were taken advantage of by the colonialists, either directly or indirectly, playing the role of guide for the invading army into Vietnam.

In the early years of being introduced to Vietnam, Christianity was strictly banned by the local feudal government. After France established a dominant system in the country, Christianity entered a new phase, developing at a rapid pace.

In Vietnam today, the places where many Catholics are concentrated are the Bui Chu and Phat Diem areas of Ninh Binh province and the Ho Nai and Bien Hoa areas of Dong Nai province. The number of Christians in the country accounts for around 5.5% of the total population.

After the introduction of Catholicism, Protestantism was also introduced into Vietnam, but it was less popular. Currently, the followers of Protestantism are concentrated mainly in the Central Highlands of Vietnam. Hanoi capital also has an ancient Protestant church in Hang Da market street.

4. Cao Dai Religion

Cao Dai Temple in Tay Ninh
Cao Dai Temple in Tay Ninh | @nyhbron

Cao Dai religion was established in October 1926, the founder is Le Van Chieu and a group of members (28 people). The founders of Cao Dai religion called their religion “Dai Dao” – the Great Religion, which brought together all religions into a single one.

The religious center in Tay Ninh region, developed mainly in the South, then also developed in the North as Cao Dai Thanh That in 48 Hoa Ma, Ngo Thoi Nham Street, Hai Ba Trung District, Hanoi.

Cao Dai advocates developing one religion for all followers. That thought is expressed on the altars of Cao Dai temples. The highest place is to worship one celestial eye, symbolizing the supreme being who can see through the world, behind the eye is the light that is always lightening. Under the eye, one side has a sword (cutting worldly strings), one side a brush – Phat Tran (sweeping dust of life). At the bottom are: Lao Tzu, Sakyamuni, and Confucius (Three Teachings of the Way).

The organizational system of the Cao Dai religion is quite large, including many divisions, a complex system.

Cao Dai religion seems to have no doctrine of its own, borrowing the teachings of Confucianism, Buddhism, Taoism, and even Christianity. 

Through the process of formation and development, the Cao Dai religion had complicated developments. But, in general, the majority of the masses, followers of Cao Dai dignitaries, have a patriotic spirit and made active contributions to the two resistance wars, contributing to the cause of national liberation. Currently, Cao Dai religion has over 2 million followers.

>> A tour includes visiting Cao Dai Temple and its ceremony in Tay Ninh.

Hoa Hao Buddhism

hoa hao buddhism
Hoa Hao Buddism | @thao_sammie_

Hoa Hao Religion is a major religion in the Mekong Delta of Vietnam, born in 1939, in Hoa Hao village, Cho Moi district, Long Xuyen town, An Giang province, Vietnam. The founder is Huynh Phu So.

According to religious books, Huynh Phu So was originally a contemplative person, gifted in writing and rhyme, or sick, with a basic education level of French and Vietnamese.

Due to a long illness, Huynh Phu So went to Cam Mountain to find a healer. In 1937, after recovering from his illness, he returned to his hometown. He told everyone that he had met a fairy, a Buddha, and had been treated by a fairy, and taught him many remedies.

Moreover, the Buddha gave him the mission to save the world. At this time, the Cho Moi area in his hometown always had floods, failed crops, and people were hungry and sick. Huynh Phu So used herb medicine to cure diseases, and at the same time composed the oracle and began to preach. In a number of suttas, he had anti-corruption, anti-corruption, and anti-exploitation, so the crowd was quite large starting following him.

The teachings of the Hoa Hao religion are mainly based on the teachings of Buddhism, advising people to be gentle. The altar does not worship statues but only red cloth curtains, worshiping Buddha with filtered water, incense, and flowers.

The Hoa Hao religion has no monks, but only a few dignitaries who take care of religious and world affairs, and have no place of public worship. The center of religion in Hoa Hao Village, called Tổ Đình, is also of a family nature.

Hoa Hao religion thrives in Long Xuyen, Chau Doc, Sa Dec, Can Tho. Hoa Hao followers now have about two million people, mainly concentrated in the Southwest region of Vietnam.

Vietnamdrive’s thoughts

Exploring and learning about religions is one of the interesting experiences when visiting Vietnam. It is also a good way of discovering the culture of indigenous people.

In particular, Buddhism has a lot of attention from foreign tourists. Plenty of temples in Vietnam from the north to south always attract many visitors to pray and visit.

In Hanoi, you can explore Tran Quoc Pagoda, one of the prominent temples in the North. Coming to Hue City, you can visit more temples like Thien Mu Pagoda, Tu Hieu temple, etc. And in Ho Chi Minh City, you can spend time in Vinh Nghiem and Giac Lam pagodas.

If you have a longer time and want to learn deeply about Buddhism in Vietnam, some temples in Hue City or HCMC will be convenient places, where you can find a few lessons to study and experience.

Typically, Hue has many ancient temples and is considered the center of Buddhism in Vietnam.

For Christians, in addition to Saigon otre Dame Cathedral in Ho Chi Minh City, two great churches in Hue City, Phu Cam Church and Redemptorist Church, are also attracting many believers.

Despite that, many people believe that the holy place, where the mother Maria appeared in Vietnam, is the Holy Land of La Vang (Thanh Dia La Vang) in Quang Tri province.

In general, each religion has its own beauty and charm. Studying it can help you to understand more about the culture in Vietnamese life and thoughts.

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    About the author

    The editorial staff of Vietnamdrive is a team of travel experts managed by Mr. Thom who has worked in tourism for 14 years. Trusted by thousands of tourists from all over the world.