Spiritual life is a complex topic of all the things and events that have yet to be explained by science. Vietnamese spiritual life bears strong influences from Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism. The Vietnamese believe in the existence of things humans cannot control, such as destiny, time, life after death, karma, reincarnation, and more. There is a Vietnamese saying that goes: “Có thờ có thiêng, có kiêng có lành”, which means that as long as you worship, there will be sacredness, and as long as you avoid the taboos, you can stay away from bad luck.
Related: Religions in Vietnam
Are Vietnamese Spiritual Beliefs Still Relevant Today?
Although some beliefs are considered superstitious, the Vietnamese spiritual life, like many other Asian countries, is rooted in the locals’ subconscious. People subconsciously assume that the universe has a plan that would considerably affect the critical milestones of their lives. The number of Gods and Ghosts and spiritual ceremonies (nearly 8,000 ceremonies yearly) is also evidence of how Vietnamese respect the supernatural.
Gods and Ghosts in Vietnamese Spiritual Life
The Vietnamese Pay Great Respect to Their Ancestors
Though the spiritual life is common sense in Vietnam, not everyone prays to the same Gods. This is due to the diversity of the religions in Vietnam and the fact that more and more young people in Vietnam focus on their materialistic values more than spiritual ones. But if there is one thing in common, it is that almost every household in Vietnam has a way of remembering their past relatives. In fact, rather than majestic gods, almost all Vietnamese families send prayers to the spirits of their ancestors. Each family has an altar to perform the tradition of worshipping their forebears. Our credence is that our forefathers would guide and help us overcome hardships or support us in achieving our wishes.
People would burn “Hell’s” money hoping their late ancestors will have enough spending in their after life
Other Gods in Vietnamese Spiritual Life
Vietnamese worship specific Gods, hoping to be blessed and protected from ghosts and devils. These gods do not have fancy names. Instead, their names have a close connection with the blessings they give: God of Wealth (Than Tai), Blessing – Prosperity – Longevity gods (Phuc – Loc – Tho gods), Land Spirit (Ong Dia), and God of Kitchen (Tao Quan).
Some gods are known for their legendary lives or essential status in Vietnam’s history. These include Au Co and Lac Long Quan, who gave birth to the first generation of Vietnamese; Thanh Giong, who saved the country from a big invasion war; and Tran Hung Dao, or Saint Tran, who commanded Vietnamese troops to win the unstoppable Mongols. They are real people who made significant contributions to the country’s development. After their death, to remember and commemorate their merits, people exalt and worship them in temples and pagodas.
Tran Hung Dao Temple in Ho Chi Minh City
Find out more about these Vietnamese gods.
The ubiquity of temples in Vietnam, which welcome thousands of visitors annually, also indicates another group of gods in Vietnam. These “citizen gods” were once ordinary people whose lives underwent major traumas and ended up unhappy, usually death. Due to the unfairness they receive in their life, their spirit has the superpower to give blessings or curses to others. Chua Ba Den (Black Virgin Temple) in southern Vietnam is such a case. Most Vietnamese people believe The Black Virgin god (Ba Den) to be mighty in making wishes come true, and thus, the temple worshipping her welcomes countless visitors every year who come to pray for luck, peace, or wealth in their lives.
Ba Den Temple in Tay Ninh Province
The Four Immortal Gods in Vietnamese Spiritual Life
There is also a theory about the Four Immortal Gods in Vietnam, including:
- Tan Vien Son Thanh (or Son Tinh), the God of the mountains, represents the determination to conquer nature
- Phu Dong Thien Vuong (or Thanh Giong) is the God of fighting against invaders and the power of youth
- Chu Dong Tu, the God of love, marriage and wealth
- Lieu Hanh Princess, or the Goddess of the Sky, the only female in this group, represents the spiritual world, luck, and literature
Lieu Hanh Princess Temple is set by the infamous West Lake in Hanoi
In addition to gods, Vietnamese believe ghosts are another force that can decide a misfortune. The stories about these ghosts are not recorded in written forms, but they live on thanks to oral transmission and rumors. Some types of ghosts that frequently appear in Vietnamese horror folktales are Ma Doi (Hungry ghost), Ma Men (Alcoholic ghost), and Ma Da (Drowning ghost), which, respectively, are the spirits of people who died because of hunger, alcohol-drinking, and drowning.
Laws of Karma in Vietnamese Spiritual Life
The Laws of Karma in Vietnamese Spiritual Life
Karma runs through generations to deter humans from doing harm to others and encourage them to live genuinely. It has been a crucial part of Vietnamese spiritual life for ages. You may know the saying, “What goes around, comes around.”, Karma has a similar concept. Sometimes, it can become the debt you must pay in your next life after reincarnation. In other cases, your children would have to be responsible for bearing with it. Of course, if your life is about being honest and helpful, the next generations can enjoy a better life.
Destiny in Vietnamese Spiritual Life
Future Prediction in Vietnamese Spiritual Belief
While many still doubt its accuracy, Zi Wei is based on Yi Jing (Kinh Dịch), or Book of Changes – an ancient system explaining every change in the universe. Yi Jing was first created in China thousands of years ago and has been studied by generation after generation. With such strong fundamentals, many Vietnamese people count on fortune tellers who are well-versed in “Kinh Dich” to learn about their fate.
Each person has an individual Zi Wei sheet, which gives an overview of his or her life, from marriage, children, and parents to prosperity and health. It is also crucial to consider their close relatives’ Zi Wei, physiognomy, the law of karma, and reincarnation. It might be inconvincible to some people since it seems your will cannot decide your life. If you always try to be kind and honest, there is a high probability that everything will improve.
Related article: Vietnamese Zodiac
A primary factor of Yi Jing shown in Zi Wei is the Five Elements: metal, wood, water, fire, and earth. Each person is born under a different element, which possesses various degrees of compatibility with other people’s elements. For example, a Fire person should not partner with a Water person as it might cost their health or property. Nowadays, young people have placed less consideration on this rule regarding marriage. Businessmen, however, is the group that seems to believe most in Yi Jing in general.
Time – Good Dates and Bad Dates in Vietnamese Spiritual Life
Like other countries that share the same belief about Yi Jing, the Vietnamese believe that in a year, there are good dates and bad dates based on the Lunar Calendar. Good or lucky dates mean you can marry, open your company, start building your house, or participate in events that bring long-term effects. And on unlucky ones, of course, you should not. Depending on each person’s age or element, their impact can be relatively more substantial than others.
Throughout a person’s life, it is believed that some years are specifically unlucky compared to others. You may have heard about 27 Club, a list of celebrities who died at 27. According to Yi Jing, around that age, some of the moving bad-luck “stars” would make you more prone to serious mistakes, and without prudence, you might have to face mishaps related to your money, health, or even one that cost your life.
Vietnamese Ghost Month (lunar 7th month) is another example of misfortunes. In Ghost Month, the Gates of Hell are opened, and the spirits can freely enter the living world. People are said to be easily triggered, even against their usual temper, which is why we have fascinating dos and don’ts during these days.
The Life after Death in Vietnamese Spiritual Life
Oriental people believe that human beings have two parts: the body and the spirit. They first unite when we are born and separate when we die. While the body would soon decompose after our death, the spirit would continue to exist.
Fruit offerings to the past relatives
After leaving the body, all spirits have to come to hell and go through the evaluation by the King of Hell and judges. The process lasts 49 days, which is enough for the dead to finish their uncompleted wishes and for their relatives to perform all the rituals. The judges would measure the good and bad things you have done to decide whether you can enter heaven, reincarnate, or endure the punishments in 18 levels of hell for thousands of years. Except for those who can enjoy eternal life in the celestial world, even the punished ones would have a chance to have the next life after paying back their trespass.
Reincarnation in Vietnamese Spiritual Life
This is one of the most concerning parts of Vietnamese spiritual life. After considering and measuring all your contributions and guilt, the King of Hell would allow you to reincarnate if you did not commit any serious crime. Some would become plants, some would live their next life as animals, and others would continue to be human.
Legend says you must cross a bridge named Nai Ha in Hell, which overpasses Vong Xuyen River, the river of oblivion. You would meet Manh Ba, and she would give you a bowl of soup cooked from all the tears you have cried in your whole life. By drinking it, you would lose all of your memories, both the joyful and the painful ones. Thanks to it, you can be reborn as innocent as a baby.
Although most people wish to have another life, we believe some still hesitate to enter the cycle of rebirth. Such is the case of people who do not want to forget about their lover. They must soak themselves in the Vong Xuyen River for a thousand years to meet their lover in the next life. Watching their beloved one walking across the bridge above to be reborn again and again, they cannot say a word, no matter how deep their nostalgia is. After all those desperate waitings, if their love remains unchanged, they can keep their memories and come back to the living world to look for the one they love.
Summary of Vietnamese Spiritual Life
Vietnamese spiritual life mainly emphasizes encouraging people to have a rightly inclined life. Despite things that might sound superstitious, many aspects have been studied by Asian philosophers for thousands of years.