Vietnam Everyday Religion

Sep 16, 2013 in

The practised religion in Vietnam is much different from religion in Thailand. There are Buddhist monasteries (and quite a few Christian churches), but Buddhism doesn’t play such a central role in daily life here. The monks are not in all that blessing and amulet business so much, which is a good thing.

Spirits are also not really worshipped here. While in Vietnam, I have only seen spirit altars in two places, one hidden away in a storeroom of a guesthouse and one in some corner in a big restaurant.

This is the one in the restaurant.

They also look inconspicuous: No pompous miniature temples with dozens of (figurines of) dancers around but instead a single piece of paper glued to the wall with a cupboard underneath for offerings.

So, the big thing here is ancestor worship. In every family home, there will be an elaborately decorated altar for the ancestors. It goes so far that sometimes the altar takes the size of a whole closet. The temples here are also quite ancestor-oriented, Buddha statuettes are not so big in numbers, instead there are many statuettes of deceased monks (or other people) to pray to, surrounded by a whole pantheon of I-don’t-know-what:

However, the family shrines are not the kind of thing travellers will see so much, what they see is this:

Also an altar, but neither really for Buddha, nor ancestors, nor spirits. You see it in almost every restaurant, shop or hotel, any place that will have customers. Here is a short explanations what the stuff in and above the altar are for. (Click the pic!)

Above the shrine, a golden beckoning cat (maneki-neko) is beckoning customers. Half behind the cat and the glass, there is a pile of gold beads, resembling, yes, wealth.
Below that, the laughing Buddha is happily holding up a bead of gold and carrying a sack of money. Left and right of him are guardian lions guarding the huge pile of gold beads behind them. This also resembles wealth and luck (through wealth?).
Finally, below the Buddha are three saints, gods or something (I didn’t find out exactly). Two of three are holding up gold beads. It has been explained to me that those are for wealth, the middle one is for luck.

So… yes. This religious practice is all about money then. They pray and give offerings for money and for customers. Not to be bitchy, but: it fits to them, though.

And to whom do they pray? I don’t know. As one restaurant owner said that also I could take the offerings, it might have something to do with karma. But this is just a shot in the dark.

For a separate religious practice that seems to be inspired by Buddhist belief on the other hand, they sell these products on markets for religious use:

Fake paper money, paper gold beads and other golden items and whole sets of paper luxury goods, for men (watches, shirts, wallets, smartphones,…) and women (see photo) alike are available on the market.

This fake paper-money (there are Dollars, Baht, Dong and even Euros) and the paper-cutout luxury goods are burned ritually to get rid of all those material things that stand between you and the path to enlightenment.
This is symbolically of course, haha! So to not burn the actual money and luxury goods. That would be stupid of course! wink wink

So, erm, just to summarize the last paragraph: They buy products and burn them to renounce material life but keep the actual products. And they do not see the contradiction in that, hmm!