Buddhism is one of the most influential religions in Asian countries such as China, South Korea, Japanese, Taiwan and also Vietnam. It has a great influence on the cultural and spiritual life of the Vietnamese. Tourists in Vietnam will be extremely amazed by the number of temples, pagodas, shrines, etc. throughout the country, even in big metropolitan areas, where tourists can also easily spot decades- or centuries- ancient temples alongside 21st century’s modern buildings.
Although the era of technology and global integration is developing at a rapid pace, Vietnamese Buddhists ( or ‘phật tử’ in Vietnamese) still retain their traditional religious values. One of three most important and sacred Buddhism’s ceremonies is the Buddha’s Birthday Celebration held on April 15th (also called Mid-April day) in the lunar calendar. On this day, Buddhists have a vegetarian diet, honour ‘tam bảo’ (three precious treasures) and uphold ‘ngũ giới’ (five rules.)
‘Tam bảo’ is a Sino-Vietnamese word. ‘Tam’ means three, ‘bảo’ means precious treasure. Therefore, ‘Tam bảo’ is three precious treasures of Buddhism, including Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha.
Buddha is the first treasure. The true figure in human history – Prince Shakyamuni, the son of King Śuddhodana in nowadays Nepal, was the first person to enlighten and teach Dharma. In other words, Buddha found the truth and method of meditating towards liberation to abolish human sufferings in life.
Another treasure is Dharma. Dharma is the method of meditating and the truth of enlightenment taught by the Buddha. To attain enlightenment and liberation as the Buddha, Dharma is the only way the Buddhists can follow.
Sangha is the last treasure. This term refers to those who spend their lives dedicated to Buddhism, following Buddha’s footsteps, and practising Dharma. The monks while practising it are always trying to exemplify and teach the righteous deeds of the Buddha to other new religious converters, with the positive desire for a better and less suffering life.
‘Ngũ giới’ is five rules for the Buddhists to comply to achieve highest liberation. If all of them are conducted, human’s society will be full of happiness. Here are the five rules:
1. Stay away from killing: Do no harm people or animals, no matter how weak or strong they are. When a Buddhist sees somebody doing a harmful act against his/her own kind or other animal species, s/he should stop them.
2. Stay away from theft: Do not commit greedy acts. Do not steal or damage properties, money, food, etc. that belong to someone else or the society.
3. Stay away from sexual misconducts: Do not seduce or force others to satisfy your sexual desires against their wills. Do not manipulate others to commit adultery, and one must stop these acts upon observing the bad conduct is taking place.
4. Stay away from fraud: Do not lie or make up things, because lying with bad intentions creates harmful consequences to other people.
5. Stay away from alcohol and intoxicants: Buddhism believes that drunk people will lose their sanity and wisdom, and they also would be unable to control their behaviors. Consequently, people will easily break four above stated rules and in the end, they will meet their bad karma.
Buddha’s Birthday Celebration in Vietnam.
Because of the importance of the Buddha’s Birthday in the spiritual beliefs of the Buddhists, its celebration is held very solemnly on a large scale in many Buddhism-worshipped countries. On this day, millions of Buddhists in Vietnam will perform rituals such as parades, ceremonies, dropping flower pots to the river, and organizing Buddhism teaching sessions. In addition, the Buddhists erect grand stations and decorate flower carriages to give pagodas.
One of the most important rituals is the “Bathing the Buddha” ritual, which is a watering ceremony on the newborn Buddha statue. The meaning of this ritual is to eradicate negativity and enhance purity of each Buddhist.
Moreover, Buddhists can become volunteers at pagodas by helping with some chores, charity work, cleaning and decorating Buddha altars, and then they can enjoy vegetarian meals together.
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Writer: Linh Dang.
Translators: Diem Nguyen, Nhat Nguyen.