For much of Vietnamese history, Mahayana Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism have strongly influenced the religious and cultural life of the people. About 85% of Vietnamese identify with Buddhism, though not all practice on a regular basis. Most people ascribe to Tam Đạo (“Triple religion”): 80% of people worship the mixture of Mahayana Buddhism mainly, Taoism, Confucianism with Ancestor Worship; 2% Hòa Hảo (a new 20th century religious movement that is concentrated in the Mekong Delta) and 2% Theravada Buddhism, mainly among Khmer people in the Mekong. The census of Government showed that only over 10 million people have taken refuge in the Three Jewels; the vast majority of Vietnamese people of Asian religions practice Ancestor Worship.
When it comes to religion, most of Vietnamese people classify themselves as non-religious though to some extend, their spiritual life are dominated by a mixture of ritual and belief. For the majority, their everyday behaviours and attitudes are dictated by the synthesis of philosophies which derives from Mahayana Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism. This Trinity has been co-existing in the country for centuries and mixed perfectly with the Vietnamese traditional belief.
Confucianism and Taoism came to Vietnam sometime around 2nd century BC. And while Confucianism is a philosophy that sets up the codes of social orders and morality system, Taoism is a mystic theory people rely on to explain the Universe, its evolution and resolution and the world of Gods around.
Buddhism came almost the same time from India through contacts with Indian merchant and priests and is a mean to deliver and cultivate tolerance and compassion.
Veneration of ancestors and ancestor worship is very important and almost every Vietnamese family has an altar to worship their ancestors and attaches importance to the commemoration of death anniversaries of the predecessors. In the villages people have a communal house or a temple to worship the village deity. The village deity worshiped in the village’s temple and communal house can be a god or an outstanding figure that rendered great service such as the forefather of a traditional handicraft or a national hero who greatly contributed to the cause of national building and fighting foreign invaders.
The right to freedom of belief and religion of all Vietnamese citizens is provided by the Constitution and ensured in practice. There is no national religion in the country since all religions are treated equally. People are free to practice any religion that fits their taste. Though it is a syncretic system but religious conflict is something very rare in the country since Vietnamese are rather easygoing and not fanatical in this matter.
Some major religions in Vietnam include: Buddhism, Catholicism, Protestantism, Islam, Caodaism and Hoa Hao Buddhism.
Buddhism was first introduced to Vietnam in the 2nd century, and reached its
peak in the Ly dynasty (11th century). It was then regarded as the official religion dominating court affairs. Buddhism was preached broadly among the population and it enjoyed a profound influence on people’s daily life. Its influence also left marks in various areas of traditional literature and architecture. As such, many pagodas and temples were built during this time.
At the end of the 14th century, Buddhism began to show signs of decline. The ideological influence of Buddhism, however, remained very strong in social and cultural life. Presenty, over 70 percent of the population of Vietnam are either Buddhist or strongly influenced by Buddhist practices.
Catholicism was introduced to Vietnam in the 17th century by missionaries from Portugal, Spain, and France. Pop Alexander 11 assigned the first bishops to Vietnam in 1659. Nine years later, the first Vietnam-priests were ordained. At present the most densely-populated Catholic areas are Bui Chu-Phat Diem in the northern province of Ninh Binh and Ho Nai-Bien Hoa in Dong Nai Province to the South. About 10 percent of the population are considered Catholic.
Protestantism was introduced to Vietnam at about the same time as Catholicism. Protestantism, however, remains an obscure religion. At present most Protestants live in the Central Highlands. There still remains a Protestant church on Hang Da Street in Hanoi. The number of Protestants living in Vietnam is estimated at 400,000.
Islamic followers in Vietnam are primarily from the Cham ethnic minority group living in the central part of the central coast. The number of Islamic followers in Vietnam totals about 50,000.
Caodaism was first introduced to the country in 1926. It is also known as Tam Ky Pho Do, a name that insists on the importance of the cult of the three supreme beings: Buddha, Jesus Christ and the Spirit of Cao Dai.
The Church in Tay Ninh is the central point where are located settlements of Cao Dai followers in South Vietnam. Now, followers can also be found in Central Vietnam, Central Highlands, and even in the north of the country. The number of followers of this sect is estimated at 2 million.
Hoa Hao Sect
The Hoa Hao Sect was first introduced to Vietnam in 1939. More than 1 million Vietnamese are followers of this sect. Most of them live in the south-west of Vietnam.
Mother Worship (Tho Mau)
Researchers describe the Vietnamese mother-worship cult as a primitive religion. Mother, Me in the Vietnamese language, is pronounced Mau in Sino-script. The mother worship cult might be originated from the cult of the Goddess in ancient ages. In the Middle Ages, the Mother was worshipped in temples and palaces. Due to the fact that it is a worshipping custom and not a religion, the Mother worshipping cult has not been organised as Buddhism and Catholicism have. As a result, the different affiliations of the cult have yet to be consistent
and different places still have different customs.
The custom of Mother worship originated from the north. In the south, the religion has integrated the local goddesses such as Thien Y A Na (Hue) and Linh Son (Tay Ninh).
In fact, the Mother worship cult was influenced by other religions, mainly Taoism.