Simple buddhism facts in Vietnamese pagodas

With nearly 15.000 pagodas in Vietnam and 1000 ones in Hanoi, a visit to such a site can become repetitive and confusing. Below are some artifacts or images frequently seen in those places. From which, we can turn them into either explainations or stories targeted at “fresh outsiders”, decoded as people who have no idea what Buddhism is about 🙂

Religions, after all, reflect basic human spiritial beliefs and exploring core spiritual cornerstones of a country is an essential step in decoding their mindset. In Vietnam, with a long history of invasion, our ideologies are a mixture of both Western and Eastern influence, in which Buddhism still stands out.

Upon visiting, what people want to perceive is a basic understanding of what Buddhism is as a religion, its core philosophy, how it is perceived in Vietnam and some regularly seen sites. This is minimum coverage, probably a  “Buddhism for dummies” and deeper illustration is encouraged.

1. The Buddha tree (“cây bồ đề”)

The type of plant often seen in front of a pagoda.

cây bồ đề

Etymology: Bodhi tree

Vietnamese: Bồ đề (which is a direct pronunciation of this name)

What it means: awakening/ enlightenment (giác ngộ)

Why is this tree often put in pagodas: according to buddhism myths/ stories, Buddha sat under this type of tree for many days, which directly led to his enlightenment.

“According to Buddhism, after his Enlightenment, Buddha spent 48 days in front of the tree, standing with unblinking eyes, gazing at it with gratitude. A shrine was later built where he had stood”.


Biologically, it is a type of fig tree (họ cây sung).

2. The life journey of Buddha (simplified)

Not all, but definitely many pagodas feature a big picture or series of pictures about life of Buddha. How this figure is portrayed has a direct influence to core ideas of Buddhism.


A simple way to summarize his life

“One day, an Nepalese prince called Siddhartha Gautama, who afterwards became Buddha went outside and saw 4 types of people: a convent (monk), an old person, a sick human and a corpse”.

Vào một ngày nọ, hoàng tử Ấn Độ Siddhartha Gautama, người sau này trở thành người truyền bá Đạo Phật và trở thành Đức Phật đã ra ngoài và nhìn thấy 4 loại người: một nhà tu khổ hạnh, một ông già, một người bệnh và một xác chết.

These 4 types of people made him understand and realize that life is a cycle of suffering. He decided to be a convent, explore the world and get away from his royal life.

Bốn loại người trông thấy trên đã khiến hoàng tử Ấn Độ hiểu và tin rằng, cuộc sống là một vòng tròn của đau khổ. Ông quyết định trở thành một nhà tu khổ hạnh, từ bỏ cuộc sống nhung lụa của một hoàng tử để ra đi, khám phá thế giới và học hỏi.

After a long journey and last 49 days of meditation under a Bodhi tree, he reached final enlightenment and became The Buddha.

Sau 49 ngày ngồi thiền định, Siddhartha đã đạt tới sự giác ngộ cuối cùng và trở thành Đức Phật – Thế Tôn.

The Bodhi tree in Sri Lanka

The Bodhi tree that he sat under was cut a branch to plant in Sri Lanka. Until now, it is still the most well-known Bodhi tree in the world.

It’s also necessary to note that after the prince went out and be aware of the sufferings, he did not go on a journey right away. In fact, he was not allowed by his father – the King. Soon after hearing about the plan of his son, the King recruited a beauty to marry him and soon the price had a son. Looking at the baby, he signed “Here comes a new suffering, an attachment”.

Eventually he still insisted to go and tried to remove life’s temptations by going through lack of comfort. He was constantly in thirst, danger and on the verge of death but still could not come to an ultimate awareness or enlightenment.

He then decided “The journey must be explored from inside“. During this time, a lot of temptations appeared to prevent him from enlightenment. Following is a series of meditation days under Bohdi tree, as we know it.

phật 2

In this big picture (taken from “Chùa bà đá”) , we can see that when he got enlightenment under Bodhi tree, many types of temptations and threats approached him (beautiful women, snakes) but he got over them all (?) :)).

Eventually, he died and transformed into Nivarna, in lying position.

niết bàn nivarna


3. Flag of buddhism


The official  flag for Buddhism was originated in 1880 in Sri Lanka.There are 6 colors in this flag, symbolizing for the light surrounding Buddha when he reached enlightenment. There are many ways of explaining what they mean. Below is a popular one:


  1. Blue – Kindness

2) Yellow – Royalty.

3) Red – Morality.

4) White- means the religion goes beyond time and space.

5) Orange – Intellect

6) The hybrid color (sixth color) – abslute truth.

4. Core ideas of buddhism

Buddhism has many branches, however they share some core ideas

Universe and the world, according to buddhism, is always changing and the world does not have a beginning or an end. There is no eternal. Nothing is consistent and forever. Human is also part of that forever -changing current.

Suffering is an inevitable part of life and Buddhism encourages people to look inward to look for inner peace.


=> In that way, Buddhism sounds more like a philosophy rather than a religion. However, the fact that Buddhism worships a certain figure (Buddha) and the karmic rules that govern the morality system still make it very spiritual.

5. How Buddhism is transfered to Vietnam

– From India (orginally via commercial trading, then leading to culture and
religion exchange)
– Afterwards it has some interactions with Chinese Buhhism. Different from the original Buddhism, this version in Vietnam also worship a female figure.

ExtraInfographic about religions in the world






Nationalism is inevitable


Upon deleting buried trash in my feed, I found this article again.

3 years ago I was angry with the article. Now I just laugh it off.

If I detach my identity from Vietnam, would the article trigger any feeling in me? Definitely not.

If I attach my identity with Vietnam as part of nationalism, should I be angry either? Probably not.

A personal opinion should not be taken personally.

However, there is one thing I know for sure: no matter how rational & neutral I try to be, nationalism always leaves a trace in my heart, making all observations biased. Home is a concept to be nostalgic about, when we get beaten by harsh life. I know I am welcome here. If VN is good, I will be proud, if VN is bad, I will try to be a tiny positive change agent. I know many are conscious and willing to be positive change agents as well.

The only people I cry for are my dear people in this country, and rarely anyone else. Not because they are better. Just because they are part of my root, part of my bedrock, the ones who share the same privileges or same struggles.

Running away is easy. Especially when a better material life is not what I am craving for.

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