VIETNAM’S SPIRITUALITY

I’ve never consider myself a religious person in the sense that there were some divine entity influencing our lives. While I grew up Catholic, it wasn’t necessarily by choice. When I was finally of age, I stopped going to church. For a time I sought to understand and explore as many religions as possible and I came to the conclusion that they were elementarily all the same. Religion essentially taught one to lead a good life of virtue and compassion. In this regard, I wholeheartedly agree.

However, as a man of science and a scholar, I take comfort in logic and reasoning. Everything should and can be explained with the use of empirical data through testing and experimentation. I firmly believed in this until I came to Vietnam. There are many things that occur here that cannot be explained by science or reasoning.

I wouldn’t describe Vietnam as a very religious country. While the majority of the population are Buddhist, very few fully adhere to the rules and disciplines of Buddhism. However, what is undeniable is that Vietnamese people are very spiritual. Heavily influenced by Buddhism, Vietnamese believe that the spiritual world and the living are interconnected and intertwined. Vietnamese homes are often feature altars which people frequently pay tribute to their ancestors and the spirits asking them to provide them favorable outcome.

Even after death, ancestors and loved ones are literally never forgotten. The funerals themselves are long affairs in Vietnam with the full set of rituals being drawn out over the course of years, three years to be exact. Following a death, family and friends will mourn for the next 100 days. Those in mourning, especially during the funeral procession will wear a piece of white cloth tied around their head. The white color symbolically represents the ashes of the deceased. Finally, 3 years after the burial, the body is exhumed with the bones being cleaned and rearranged in a smaller coffin for reburial. Death is a complicated matter in Vietnam, however, when you understand how spirituality influences and often times dictates everything from marriage to career to everyday life, it will come as no surprise.

Vietnamese believe that spiritually everyone is preordained. Similar to astrology, Vietnamese believe that the day and time you were born coupled with the astrological formation with play an important role in influencing your life. From this, experts can formulate a road map of your life. They can supposedly determine when you should get married, what career path you follow, and how many children you will have. Some are believed to be so inept that they can determine what happens each day of your life.

As a result, many Vietnamese often consult monks or psychics who are privy to the spiritual world before making major decisions. If a location is deemed not fitting by an expert, one would have to find a new location to open shop. If a potential husband and wife is deemed to be incompatible parents will either dissuade the couples to marry or outright forbid it. Although times are changing, this is still a prominent thing in many traditional Vietnamese family.

I have to confess that I have went to a psychic for a consultation at the beckoning of a friend. “Just try it for fun. She will blow your mind,” my friend urged me. While I was very skeptic going in, the things she knew about me and revealed about my life left me bewildered and surprised. Impressed but still wary, it was nevertheless a intriguing experience. If you have the time I would encourage you to visit one while you’re in Vietnam.

If you’re looking for an even more bizarre experience you may consider seeking out psychics who specialize in communicating with the dead. There are centers and individuals who specializes in this throughout the country. Although I’ve yet to experience first hand, the stories I’ve heard and the videos I’ve seen leaves my body shivering with goose bumps. Those looking to connect with loved ones who passed away seek out these mediums who allow these spirits to enter their bodies and communicate with the living.

For the faint of heart, I do encourage you to visit the plethora of beautiful ornate pagodas and temples. They are labeled “chùa” in Vietnamese and visiting one mysteriously gives you peace of mind, even for the non-religious individuals such as myself. You can find them scattered throughout the countries varying from small temples to grand architectural masterpieces. Be sure to wear appropriate long clothing when visiting out of respect. Vietnamese often go to temples and pagodas on the first and fifteenth day of the lunar calendar month to pay tribute. They will also restrain from eating all forms of meat and animal product. This has resulted in a multitude of delicious vegetarian foods and restaurants that even non-vegetarian like myself can enjoy.

It’s difficult to fully explain Vietnam’s complex relationship with spirituality. It’s simply isn’t just a way of life but rather an ideology and its what makes Vietnam and much of Southeast Asia so unique. When you visit Vietnam, I encourage you to explore Vietnam’s spiritual rituals and customs. While you don’t have to believe it, you do have to respect and until science can empirically explain all the mysteries of the world, who is to say this alterative explanation is wrong. At the least, you will get a kick out of some psychic trying to predict your life.

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