By Kim Nguyen
Among the Vietnamese, the honest man is born amidst traditions and rites; as an adolescent, he seeks to improve himself through culture; and in maturity, he aims at wisdom through following the spiritual path. This pattern is not an abstract ideal but a way of life which often leads to an attitude of tolerance and detachment. The bulk of the Vietnamese people lived for centuries in this environment of ancestral beliefs and religious doctrines.
Nowhere. on earth, according to the philosopher Jung, does a society exist which is not convinced of the immortal and transcendental nature of the human soul, em-bodied in a psychic principle capable of surviving the disintegration of the body
With the Vietnamese, as with a great number of others who have lived under Chinese influence, this psychic principle consists of a number of more or less pure elements: man possesses three souls ( hon ), and seven vital principles ( phach ). Whereas the three souls command the superior functions (life, intelligence, perception), the seven vital principles are concerned with the visceral functions. For this reason, woman is said to have nine vital principles instead of seven, because of her supplementary responsibilities of childbearing. The plants have only the soul-life ( sinh hon ), whereas the animals have an additional sensory soul ( giac hon ). Human beings, having a monopoly on intelligence, are the only creatures which possess three souls, of which the linh hon is the transcendental one. While the principles related to the organic functions wane with life, the linh hon possesses the capacity for survival. This is the origin of the Cult of the Ancestors, which Confucius elevated to level of a moral duty. regulated by strict rites.
According to pure Confucianist doctrine, one must honor the dead on a par with the living; and the greatest misfortune conceivable is to die without leaving a male descendant to perpetuate the Cult of the Ancestors. Later, this rule was relaxed to permit daughters to carry on the cult, in case there were no male descendants. If a man dies without leaving any descendants at all, how-ever, the souls of the dead, for lack of homage and honor on the occasions of traditional feasts and anniversaries, are doomed to eternal wandering - one of the most appalling maledictions which could afflict any family. It is thus that the custom of polygamy among the Vietnamese was ex-plained, and justified in the eyes of the law :it more or less assured that there would be a descendant to perpetuate the cult. Adoption was considered to be a last resort.
The cult of the ancestors is accompanied by a certain number of beliefs and practices, some of them deriving from Confucian teachings, and others originating from popular superstitions and Taoist rites. Many people, whether scholars or common folk believe that the souls of their ancestors are the natural protectors of the family line: it is to them that prayers are addressed, imploring, for example, the curing of a sick child; their influence, and the sum of good actions they accomplished in the lifetimes are also used to explain success in business, in examinations. and all other fortunate developments.
In wealthy families, the ancestors' altar is a piece of furniture of great value, made of hand-carved wood, red and gold painted. On which are arranged copper candlesticks and perfume pans. The names of the ancestors for the past four generations are inscribed on mahogany tablets: beyond that generation, the dead are supposedly already reincarnated. The altar itself is placed in the main room of the house, where it is ordinary shielded from view by a red silk curtain. Carved and painted panels fixed on the walls or against the pillars, bear inscriptions whose texts are usually composed by scholars who are personal friends of the family. But whether the ancestors' altar is richly adorn-ed, or consists merely of a white-painted. ordinary wooden table, it is always the place where the entire family gathers on the occasions of the main feasts of the year. It is the rallying place - a symbol of family solidarity. Around the altar, in the presence of the ancestors, all discord must disappear and it is before the altar that major decisions are made, and marriages consecrated.
The cult of the ancestors, which has no connection with religious faith, exerts a profound influence on the daily life of the Vietnamese people. The recollection of the ancestors - the fear of offending them or soiling their reputations - coupled with the desire to please them, are sources of inspiration, which guide the actions of the descendants. Even for a hardened sinner, to lack respect for the ancestors is the worst offense imaginable.
The cult of the ancestors can act as a substitute for religion, and many Vietnamese content themselves with it.. But this cult is only a consequence, or a sort of continuation of the respect owed to the parents beyond their terrestrial existence. Thus, filial piety and the cult of the ancestors are but two aspects of a single obligation. Filial piety stems from the idea that a child is indebted to his parents for all the sacrifices they made for his upbringing and education. The child thus owes his parents many favors and kind-nesses, in addition to gratitude for the greatest kindness of all the gift of life. Consequently the child owes submission to the authors of his existence, no matter what his age. When his parents grow hider, he ought to prove his gratitude by providing for their wants. As in the words of a popular song.
The kindnesses of my father are comparable to the Thai mountain.
Those of my mother, to a perennial Spring.
With great fervor I venerate my father and my mother
In order to conduct myself as a pious son.
In every family, as a rule, a part of the inheritance will be set aside for use the cult of the ancestors, to assure the perpetuation of the rites. This part of inherited property is called worshiped property ( huong hoa), and is entrusted to the most worthy of the heirs, frequently the eldest son, who receives a life annuity from this source. For fear that any impious son might venture to sell this inalienable property, the Gia Long Code stipulated that any descendant who attempted illicitly to sell the property bequeathed to him by his parents, and de-signed to cover the expenses of the ancestral cult. will be severely punished.
The doctrine of Confucius is set forth in the four classical texts called Tu Thu and in the five canonical works called Ngu Kinh . The origins of the world did not hold much interest for Confucius and this is why he chose to dedicate himself instead to social problems. He founded his doctrine on the basis of etiology. As a realist he proceeded as a sculptor would, realizing that the final form can be molded only after the starting materials have been properly prepared. Thus, the stability of a regime depends on an ideal, and this ideal can have value. only if it is based on great examples from the past.
Starting with this conception, Confucius instituted the cult of the ancestors, which places the dead relatives in the very heart of the household; since this time, the family has been required to respect this tradition, because none would dare to offend or provoke the souls of the dead.
In order to comprehend the doctrine of Confucius, it is necessary to sketch the mainlines of his philosophy, which encompasses his conception of the universe, of man and his principles of government - in short, all his guiding ideas.
Cosmology. According to Confucius, in the beginning there was no God, but rather, an ether which was laden with molecules called Khi , which carried within them-selves a creative and moving force called ly , the force of gravitation. The ether, which was inert in the beginning, was trans-formed by the action of this force with the result that matter was created. Living creatures in turn, were created from the matter thus produced. According to Confucius, the world undergoes periodic changed: at the beginning of each one of these great trans-formations, all molecules are freed to move unhindered in space. Under the influence of the Ly gravitational force, a sort of cosmic fermentation takes place, and in this way the matter for the following period is produced. The lighter molecules then rise to form the firmament, while the heavier ones descend to make up the planets. All of the creatures which are produced from this original cosmic matter are categorized as either male or female, and are thus subject to the general laws which govern male and female behavior
The Innate Goodness of Man. According to Mencius, the most distinguished of Confucius' disciples, man is inherently good; and to preserve this inherent goodness, it is only necessary to keep passions in check. If men do not live up to their potential goodness, it is because they neglect their intellect, which atrophies in the hum-drum routine of everyday life. The wise man, in contrast to the ordinary man, improves himself through study; lie knows himself, and is the master of his passions. For this he will be honored by his heirs, and his soul will have peace in the hereafter. In sum, those who do good are rewarded and those who do evil must suffer the consequences.
Self-Perfection. According to Confucius, there are four rules which must be followed to achieve perfection. First, one must be interested in everything which exists, and second, be able to penetrate the secret, inner essence of things. The third requirement is clear thinking, and the fourth is a pure heart.
Social Relations. Confucianism is a doctrine of social hierarchies, whose effectiveness has been demonstrated by history; the status quo was maintained by the doctrine better than it could have been by the use of force. Confucianism defines the attitudes which each member of the society should have by rigid rules; and it prescribes the formula for three all-important sets of social interaction, called Tam Cuong . These interactions are between ruler and subject, Quan Than , between father and son, Phu Tu , and between husband and wife, Phu Phu. It also dictates a moral code for the man of virtue, Quan Tu , who should be a living example of the five cardinal virtues: humanity, equity, urbanity, intelligence and honesty. The man of virtue should also follow a path of moderation: exaggeration in any direction is to be avoided, and equanimity is to be cultivated. This attitude has often been mistaken by Westerners for impassiveness, placidity, or even hypocrisy. This moral perfection may be progressively attained by traversing four essential steps: the improvement of oneself, the management of the family, the governing of the country, and finally, the pacification of the world.
As for the woman, she should in all circumstances conform to the three obediences: obedience to her father until she is married, obedience to her husband after she leaves her father's house, and obedience to her eldest son, should she be widowed. Further, the model woman should possess the four essential virtues : skill with her hands, agreeable appearance, prudence in speech, and exemplary conduct.
Propagation of Confucianism in Viet Nam. Confucianism was introduced to Viet Nam during the period of Chinese domination. Later, even with the period of national in-dependence, 939 to 1407, the Vietnamese did not abandon the traditions of Confucianism. Thus, it is clear that the politico-philosophic system of Confucianism- has left a profound impression on the social structure of the country. The Confucian system of competitive examinations was adopted by the Vietnamese to determine eligibility for admission to civil and military posts. Concerning these competitions, the Annals report that they were first held in 1070, that a temple of literature dedicated to Confucius and 72 wise men was built in 1075, and that the first Vietnamese Academy was instituted in 1086, headed by Mac Hien Tich, a First Doctor of the kingdom. Started at' this time, the literary competitions were held almost without interruption, even up to the beginning of the Twentieth Century, and furnished the country with competent military and civil leaders. At that time, it was thought that the requirements of a military education did not differ very much from those necessary for a ruler. Thus, Vietnamese generals were not only military strategists, but were men of letters as well; and the orders of the day were often written in poetic form.
As far as the distribution of wealth is concerned, Confucianism teaches that poverty is less to be feared than injustice, since the latter engenders hatred and jealousy.
The principle of communal autonomy Is so important in Viet Nam that it is unsurpassed in any other region of the world. An old adage illustrates this very well: The customs, of the village take precedence over the laws of the King . The administration of the village is handled by a Council of Notables, elected by the people. Since the 15th Century, each village has been required to make an annual payment to the national treasury.
The ancient Vietnamese society was, in principle, divided into four loosely defined classes: farmers, artisans, merchants and scholars. No one was a prisoner of his class at birth, because anyone at all could become a Governor or Prime Minister - provided that his culture and his merits enabled him to win in the triennial literary competitions.
According to the principles of Confucianism, the State belongs to everyone. Any ruler who possessed the Mandate of Heaven was considered responsible for both the for-tunes and misfortunes of his people. Since the people knew the will of Heaven, it was the duty of the leaders to respect the people's desires - to love what the people love, and to hate what the people hate. This concept of democracy was condensed by Mencius in the formula, First comes the people, then comes the state, and the King is negligible. It is thanks to these egalitarian principles of Confucianism that the Vietnamese were able, during their long history, to accomplish their social evolution and a democratic apprenticeship without bloodshed or disorder.
The origins of Buddhism in Viet Nam can be traced to the Second Century.
The Philosophy of Buddha. For the Buddhist, life is seen as a vast sea of suffering, in which man wallows hopelessly. In effect, the vicious circle of existence is renewed in the course of endless reincarnations. Buddha himself taught that, All the pain which we suffer is caused by Desire: desire for life, happiness, riches, power, and so on. If desire were suppressed, the cause of pain would be destroyed. The essence of Buddhist teaching is contained in the concept of Kharm, the law of causality: the present existence is conditioned by earlier existences, and will condition those to follow. Thus, the virtuous man should strive constantly to improve himself by doing good deeds, and by renouncing sensual pleasures, so that he can become conscious of the existence of Buddha, who is present in every living being. Con-sequently, desire must first be overcome; and a pure heart is necessary to break the chains binding man to his earthly existence.
Greater and Lesser Vehicles. Born in India, Buddhism spread rapidly throughout Asia. Nevertheless, its disciples - without wanting to - created a schism. In fact, the form of Buddhism which was taught by monks who took the overland route differed significantly from the form taught by those who crossed the Indian Ocean to the lands bordering the Pacific. Thus, the religion propagated along the paths of the great historic migrations was the Mahaynna, or Greater Vehicle, while the religion which was carried over the maritime routes as Hinayana, or Lesser Vehicle Buddhism. The Greater Vehicle Buddhism, in the course of its long migrations, was gradually modified to include a number of minor Buddhas. On the contrary, Buddhism of the Lesser Vehicle kept all the rigor of the teaching of the Buddha: pity, morality, patience, zeal, contemplation and knowledge.
Propagation of Buddhism in Viet Nam. About two-thirds of Viet Nam's approximately 30 million people are of Buddhist faith. Since the Second Century the Vietnamese people were already acquainted with the great Buddhist doctrine which stresses the transitory nature of all things.
In its early stages, during the period of Chinese domination, Buddhism did not receive any official support, since the Chinese were mainly concerned with the doctrine of Confucianism. The brief independence of Viet Nam from 544 to 602, favored the expansion of Buddhism. But it was during the third Chinese domination from 603 to 939 that real progress was made, thanks to the arrival of two foreign missions of the Dhyana sect.
In 939, Ngo Quyen overthrew the Chinese and established a new regime. But the rebellion of the twelve feudal Lords thwarted his ambitions. During this troubled period, which lasted for three decades, Buddhism marked time.
With the coming to power Dinh Bo Link, Buddhism enjoyed an era of prosperity which was to last until 1009. The Emperor Dinh Bo Linh brought a monk into the Court, who taught the Emperor the lessons of the Dharma. In appreciation for this, the Emperor appointed the monk as head of the Buddhist Clergy, which had just been formed. Buddhism continued to benefit from the favors of the Crown under later rulers of this dynasty, and all the great scholars of the Court were drawn from the Buddhist Clergy. Thus, it is easy to understand why the Court continued to give its protection to Buddhism, and favored its expansion.
In the year 1009, a palace revolt put an end to reign of the Le and brought to power a mandarin by the name of Ly Cong Uan, who assumed the royal name of Ly Thai To. He immediately gave his protection to Buddhism, which was soon to attain the highpoint of its development. The successors to Ly Thai To continued to show their piety and devotion to Buddhism. Under the reign of fly Thai Tong, 95 pagodas were built and all the existing temples and statues of Buddha were restored. In 1049, the Emperor had a dream in which he was led to the Palace of the Lotus. As a result of this dream, he ordered the construction of a temple in the form of a lotus flower. This is the famous single pillared temple in Hanoi. The third king of the dynasty, fly Thank Tong, was a living incarnation of Buddhist compassion. During his reign, he ordered food and clothing to be distributed to the needy, and granted pardons to numerous prisoners.
Under the reign of fly Thank Tong, Confucianism entered into the intellectual life of the country via the competitions for recruiting new mandarins. These Confucianist scholars, however, were not concerned with Buddhism. At the beginning of the Tran Dynasty, all the signs indicated that Buddhism would maintain its position despite the renewed competition from Confucianism. But after a period of uncertainty, Buddhism was faced with the challenge of still other competing doctrines. Notably, in 1414, Viet Nam fell under the rule of the Ming Dynasty, which instilled new vigor into Confucianism. The Chinese governors destroyed many temples, and confiscated all the Buddhist books. In 1428, Viet Nam recovered its independence; but the Emperor Le Thai To instituted an examination for the monks, who had to become laymen again if they failed thirty years later, Buddhists were subjected to strict surveillance, and were forbidden to construct any new pagodas. Thereafter, Buddhism survived among the people only as one element in a mixture of religious beliefs.
From 1528 to 1602, thanks to the struggle between the Trinh in the North and the Nguyen in the South, Buddhism regained some lost ground: new Dhyana sects were formed, and many monasteries were restored. In 1601, Nguyen Hoang ordered the construction of the Pagoda of the Heavenly Lady, which can still be seen in the city of Hue.
With the coming to power of the Nguyen in the South, however, Buddhism became apolitical tool, and the monks were reduce to the function of guardians of the pagodas. They decay of discipline in the very heart of the monasteries was to provoke a devastating decline of Buddhism.
Modern Buddhism. 1920 saw the beginning of an organized movement for the restoration of Buddhism throughout the country. Starting in 1931, Associations of Buddhist Studies were established in the South, the Center, and North Viet Nam. The goal of these Associations was the regeneration of the Buddhist community, with a view to providing the country with faithful and educated monks. Many translations of both Greater and Lesser Vehicle Buddhist texts were distributed. The Dhyana sect, however, died out, while amidism - which makes Amitaba, the first historical Buddha, a meta-physical divinity - grew in popularity. The popularization of the doctrine was supported by all the Vietnamese social classes.
Unfortunately these advances were wiped out by the Second World War. In 1948, the monks reassembled in Hanoi. In 1949, an orphanage, a private college and other works of good will for the benefit of war victims appeared both in Hanoi end in the provinces. In South and in Central Viet Nam, the same reorganization took place with equal success. On May 6,1951, a National Congress at Hue brought together many delegates from the buddhist Associations in the country. Among other things, the Congress ratified the pro-position of the Buddhist delegate from the North, that Vietnamese Buddhism join the world Association of Buddhism. The Second World Congress which met in Tokyo in 1952, gave Vietnamese Buddhism a chance to demonstrate its vitality. All things consider-ed, it can be said that Buddhism remains the most wide-spread of Vietnamese religions.
Finally, let us mention the efforts to renovate and reunify Buddhism which have permitted the foundations to be laid for a unified Buddhist Church, and the creation of the Buddhist Institute for the Propagation of the Faith, the Vien Hoe Dao.
In comparison with the other religions of Viet Nam, Christianity was introduced relatively recently. In fact, it was not until the 16th century that Christian missionaries began preaching the Gospel to the Vietnamese; and their efforts met with greater success here than elsewhere in Asia. Also, because of the strong regionalism discussed previously, the tendency was for large portions of a community to convert at the same time; as a result, the Catholic population is for the most part grouped into separate communities, which possess a strong sense of unity and coherence.
The first who arrived in Viet Nam to propagate the Catholic faith were Saint Oderic de Pordenone and Saint Francis Xavier. En route to China in the beginning of the 14th century, the former stopped off in the Chaznpa kingdom, located in what is now the province of Binh Dinh, South Viet Nam. The latter, Patron' Saint of the Orient, landed in Central Viet Nam in the 15th century, seeking refuge from a storm which arose during his voyage to Canton.
Later, in 1533, the Emperor Le Trang Tong issued a decree forbidding the teaching of Christianity by a missionary named Inigs Ingace In the villages of Nine Cuong, Quan Anh, and Tra Lu, in the province of Nam Dinh. Nevertheless, the next fifty years saw the arrival of a continuous stream of Catholic missionaries from France, Spain and Portugal. In fact, the Spanish missionary, Ordonnez de Cevallos, was able to convert the sister of Emperor Le The Tong in 1591, as well as several other members of the royal family; however, Vietnamese documents of this period do not mention this.
Following the request of Alexandra de Rhodes, Pope Alexander VII appointed the first two Bishops for the Far East in 1659.Lambert de la Motte and Francois Pallu who were thus designated, took up their posts in Viet Nam, with the former going to the South, and the latter to the North. In 1668, at Yuthia, Siam, the first four Vietnamese priests were ordained by Msgr. Lambert dela Motto; and in the next year, acting for Msgr. Pallu, he ordained seven more priests. In North Viet Nam. Msgr. Pallu, who was in Rome at the time, requested that six new Bishops he chosen for- Viet Nam, from these newly ordained native priests. However, circumstances did not permit this request to be granted.
During the 17th century, persecutions of Catholic priests and their followers took many lives in the North as well as the South. In the 18th century, the persecutions became even more severe: in 1750, Vo Vung expelled 26 foreign missionaries at one time, and there remained in the country only three Vietnamese priests to carry on the work of the Missions.
With the coming to power of Gia Long in 1802, the Church enjoyed a period of relative peace, which was interrupted sporadically under the reigns of Gia Long's successors, notably, during the reign of Tu Duc (1848-1983), the persecution of Catholics was resumed, since this Confucianist monarch feared that the newer religion would undermine the traditional social order.
After all these vicissitudes, the peace of the Church was reestablished in 1888. Since then, the number of converts has continually increased; from 420,000 in 1840, their numbers grew to 1,237,000 in 1927. In 1933, the vietnamese secular clergy saw the consecration of its first Bishop, Msgr. Nguyen Ba Tong; and since this time, the Vietnamese vicarates have gradually been placed under the jurisdiction of native Bishops; although as late as 1960, there were still two which remained under the direction of the Foreign Missions in Paris.
In 1965, there Were reportedly 1,559,077 Catholics in the South's population of approximately 14,764,000 people - that is, roughly 10.5%. As for the clergy, their number at this time was 1771 priests, of whom 1,376 were Vietnamese; also, there were 4,826 nuns, the majority of whom were Vietnamese.
One can only guess at the figures for North Viet Nam. However, it is estimated that in 1960, there were approximately 793,000 faithful and 321 priests.
From the foregoing paragraphs, It is obvious that the dominant Christian influence in Viet Nam has been Catholicism. Protestant religions got a much later start- in Viet Nam, and as a result have not achieved the same popularity as the Catholic Church; however, especially since the end of World War II, Protestant missionaries have taken an increasing interest in Viet Nam, and their influence has steadily, if slowly, increased.
Taoism. Vietnamese Taolsm is derive from the doctrine of Lao Tzu, which is based essentially on the participation of man in the universal order. This order, which is taken for granted, depends on the equilibrium of the two elements Yin (negative ) and Yang(positive), which represent the constant duality of nature: rest and motion, liquid and solid, light and darkness, concentration and expansion, material and spiritual. The material world being imbued with these two principles, the Taoist believes that whoever is able to act according to these principles could become the master of the world. This belief, in turn, has promoted a certain mysticism, reflected in the magical practices of certain sorcerers, who pretend to possess the secrets of the universe. The Taoist refrains from disturbing the Natural Order; on the contrary, he conforms to it in every circumstance. He considers the taking of initiatives to be in vain; and thus, he disdains the active life, which is the basis for the Taoist doctrines of passivity and absence of care. These doctrines, which were adopted by many Confucian scholars as well, are summed up in the Taoist maxim, Do nothing and everything will be accomplished simultaneously. The restitution of the seal and sword to the Emperor by the Imperial mandarins, who preferred retreat to honors and fortune; and the fabulous meetings between fairies and immortals, which have so often been set to verse in Vietnamese literature are of Taoist inspiration.
The supreme divinity of Taoism is the Emperor of Jade. With his Ministers of Death and Birth, he controls the destiny of men. This cult is replete with incantations, charms, amulets and the like, which once made for prosperous trade, with the sorcerers intervening on every possible occasion in life. With progress in education, however. these practices have tended to disappear.
Among the many popular cults attached to Taoism, two are particularly interesting. The first is the cult of the Chu Vi , the Spirits of the Three Worlds : the Terrestrial, the Celestial, -and the Aquatic, of which the feminine divinities are the most famous. This cult is served by female mediums, who permit the faithful to communicate with the divinities. The second cult, called the Nol Dao (Local Religion) is typically Vietnamese. The principle deity of this cult is the national hero, Tran Hung Dao, who is believed to offer protection against evil spirits. The priests of this cult are mediums.
Cao-Daism originated in South Viet Nam in the beginning of this century. The founder of this religion, Ngo Van Chieu, was formerly an administrative official in Phu Quoc province. He was known as a holy man -a sweet and inoffensive visionary, who believed passionately in spiritualism. This religion had no real form until 1925, when the Colonial Counsellor, Le Van Trung revised the basis of the religion and established the Ceo Dai religion. Cao-Daism can be considered a mixture of religions, and includes elements of Buddhism. Confucianism, Taoism and Christianity
According to its believers, the spirit of Cao Dai appeared in the form of a raven in November, 1926 and traced cryptic messages in the sand: I am the Supreme Sovereign; the oldest of the Buddha - it is I; I am also Cakya-Mouni; I am Jesus Christ; I now take the name of Cao Dai to teach a new religion.
Cao-Daism considers that the principle founders of religions are nothing more than successive reincarnations of the same entity, the Supreme God, in different times and indifferent places. Although there may be a diversity of rituals due to differences of geography, usage and customs, the essence of all religions is the same. Thus, It is the supreme heresy to oppose one religion to another; on the contrary, it would be preferable to assemble all religions under the same banner and teach the spirit of concord and brotherhood to the members of all religions. Cao-Daism counts 1 million believers, residing principally in South Viet Nam, and there are several thousand residing in other countries as well. Cao-Deism preaches faith in one God; it recognizes the existence of the soul and its successive rein-carnations, as well as the post-humus consequences of human action, subject to the laws of Kharma (causality). It teaches respect for the dead, the cult of the ancestors, love of good end of justice, and; the practice of virtue and of resignation. It foresees the coming of a Messiah, Minh Vuong, the just end en-lightened King, to reestablish the golden age. This original religious system claims Universal excellence by unification of multiple forms of religions; and it numbers among its saints Dr. Sun-Yet-Sen, the Vietnamese prophet Treng Trinh. Victor Hugo, and even Sir Winston Churchill. The Holy See of Cao-Daism is in Tay Nine province, South Viet Nem, at the foot of Ba Den (Black Lady)mountain. This mysterious mountain shelters a number of hermits, who collect medicinal plants end act as oracles.
The Hoa Hao. The Hoe Hao is a Buddhist sect, which originated in 1919 in the village of Hoa Hao; in the region of the delta. The head of this new sect, Huynh Phu So, was taught by a hermit of the Tra Son pagoda, where he was cured of a previously hopeless illness. The holy man, a specialist in the practice of acupuncture, taught him the practice of sorcery, the principles of magnetism and hypnotism, and the art of fabricating lucky talismans. When the hermit died, Huynh Phu So returned to his village; and on the night of a storm, began a speak for several hours without interruption, as though he were possessed. He talked about a doctrine of Buddha, adapted to new circumstances, and declared himself to be the successor of Buddha and the founder of a new religion, Phat Giao Hoe Hao ( Hoa Hao Buddhism).
Huynh Phu So was known for his declamations of semi-religious, semi-prophetic verses. He recommended the simplification of rites and the abolition of temples and intermediaries, in order to enable the faith-full to enter into direct communication with the All-Powerful. In his preachings, he ventured to make prophesies, certain ones of which have been fulfilled. And he healed almost miraculously a number of individuals, which impressed the people even more, and thus assured the success of the new sect.
Hoa Hao Buddhism has 11/2 million adherents in the western part of South Viet Nam.
Among other religions found in Viet Nam, we might mention Brahmanism and Islam, which are practiced by the Hindus and the Pakistanis, as well as by the Chams; and the Bahai religion, which has been brought in only very recently, and claims to be the religion of the future. In a short time, it has succeeded in assembling a rather large following.