Ancestor Worship In Vietnam: A Sacred Cultural Tradition

Ancestor Worship In Viet Nam - Student Exchange

Ancestor worship in Vietnam is a profound and revered practice that is woven firmly into the fabric of the nation’s vibrant culture. This traditional Vietnamese custom has deep significance and is essential to daily life.

In this article, Student Exchange will delve into the fascinating world of ancestor worship in Vietnam, exploring its origins, rituals, and enduring importance in contemporary society.

The Origin Of Ancestor Worship In Vietnam

The practice of ancestor worship was brought to Vietnam by the Chinese during the long reign, that began 200 years before the birth of Christ. Since then, it has fully embedded itself in the Vietnamese psyche and, together with Confucianism, has consolidated the religious and social fabric of the country.

Ancestor Altar - Ancestor Worship In Viet Nam - Student Exchange

Ancestor worship is not only the glue that holds Vietnamese together, but it is also one of the most confusing concepts for people of Anglo-Saxon or European descent. It is said that the Vietnamese believe in the dead, while the Westerners only believe in death.

The foundations of ancestor worship appear to be rooted in two main ideas: (1) a continuing and productive interest in the affairs of the living by “precursors”; (2) wider insecurities, fears of the dead, and The practice of placating the dead. These latter thoughts are usually a form of emotional allocation, not worship.

How Do Vietnamese Worship Their Ancestors?

The custom of worshiping ancestors is relatively simple. In Vietnam, almost every home, office, and business has a small altar used to communicate with ancestors. Burn incense regularly. Make offerings – fruit, candies, and gifts. The second item is a paper copy of dollar bills (‘ghost money’), motorcycles, cars, houses, etc. Once offered, the paper offering is burned so that the spirit of the offering ascends to heaven for the ancestors.

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In the past, income from a plot of land was used to maintain the altar and arrange ceremonies, but this tradition is now lost. However, the custom of the eldest son presiding over the ceremony and inheriting the family house after the death of the parents is still widespread.

Another traditional element is the placement of wooden plaques on the altars of each ancestor in recent generations. These days, this is less strictly observed, and tablets are often replaced by snaps. Some temples have placed ancestral tablets in place of ordinary worshipers.

When Do Vietnamese Worship Their Ancestors?

On numerous occasions, such as special days and important occasions, Vietnamese people worship their ancestors. The New Year’s celebrations, often referred to as Tết, are one of the most important periods for ancestor worship. During this time, families get together to pay their respects to the deceased by cleaning their altars and presenting them with food, incense, and fruits. Days of the full moon are also important for ancestral worship. Families may burn incense and make offerings during these times to honor their ancestors.

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In addition, when family members need support or help, they may consult their ancestors for advice. The practice of these significant ceremonies is indicated by the presence of little flames blazing in the streets during festivals or moon days. Particularly significant are paper fires, which frequently serve as symbolic representations of situations that affect the home and family.

Why Do Vietnamese Worship Ancestors?

For the Vietnamese, ancestor worship has nothing to do with the devil, spirituality, or even the supernatural in Western ideas. It’s not even “faith” in the sense that it can be questioned by “believers”. The Vietnamese accept the fact that their ancestors continued to live in another world and that the living have a responsibility to provide for their needs. In return, the ancestors give advice and bring good luck.

Ancestor Worship Ceremony - Ancestor Worship In Viet Nam - Student Exchange

Buddhists believe in past lives and seek to correct past bad behavior to gain enlightenment. Ancestor worship has a fundamental difference. For the Vietnamese, death, and ancestor worship are a shift of power from the visible to the intangible. Existence is a continuum that extends from birth, with physical life on earth, and then death, where the soul exists in another realm for the next two or three generations.

Who Are The Ancestors Of Heroes?

Hung Dao Vuong Tran Quoc Tuan, Hai Ba Trung, and other heroic ancestors, because of their meritorious service, can continue to be enshrined in temples for generations, plus two or three generations of ordinary people. Their integrity is the template that guides the behavior of the living.

The Altar Of The Kings - Ancestor Worship In Viet Nam - Student Exchange

What About “Bad” Ancestors?

All ancestors are worthy of respect and reverence, regardless of their behavior as sentient beings. However, the evil deeds of the ancestors of the evil family will befall their descendants in the form of bad luck. This has a powerful influence on the behavior of the living, causing them to behave well and do good deeds in this life, thereby bringing future good fortune to the living and unborn children.

How Does Ancestor Worship Affect Daily Life In Vietnam?

The influence of ancestor worship on Vietnamese society is profound. There are three main concepts:

  • Seeing life as a small part of an infinite whole that encompasses the entire race.
  • Believe that the past and the present exist at the same time.
  • Determines that a person’s actions in life have a direct impact on the quality of life of their offspring.
  • Taken together, these beliefs expand the concept of family far beyond the meaning of the word as it is used in the West. Vietnamese are never “lonely” – their “family” is always there.

Ancestor Worship In Viet Nam - Student Exchange

What Is The Future Of Vietnamese Ancestor Worship?

It is an open question whether ancestor worship will continue to prevail as the influence of scientific rationalism and social change increases. In the past, most family members lived geographically close to each other.

However, the turbulent years before and after the defeat of the US military led to the exodus of hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese. Economic immigration and travel to distant countries for study or work have created a growing immigrant community. Only time will tell whether the power of ancestor worship will continue.

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In summary, Vietnamese people have a great deal of regard and appreciation for their ancestors, as seen by the cherished and long-standing habit of ancestor worship. This historic practice is intimately woven into the country’s cultural fabric.

In addition, understanding and honoring the significance of ancestor worship in Vietnam allows us to better understand the ethics, customs, and spiritual beliefs that have shaped this thriving nation.