Archive for the 'Vietnam' Category


Wisdom from Buddha

Siddhartha Gautama Buddha was a spiritual teacher from the Indian subcontinent, on whose teachings Buddhism was founded.  The word Buddha is a title for the first awakened being in an era.

“A dog is not considered a good dog because he is a good barker.”


In most Buddhist traditions, Siddhartha Gautama is regarded as the Supreme Buddha of our age, “Buddha” meaning “awakened one” or “the enlightened one.”Siddhartha Gautama may also be referred to as Gautama Buddha or as Śākyamuni. The Buddha found a Middle Way that ameliorated the extreme asceticism found in the Sramana religions.

“Just as a candle cannot burn without fire, men cannot live without a spiritual life.”


The time of Gautama’s birth and death are uncertain: most early 20th-century historians dated his lifetime as 563 BCE to 483 BCE.

“Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon and the truth.”


UNESCO lists Lumbini, Nepal, as a world heritage site and birthplace of Gautama Buddha. There are also claims about birth place of Gautama Buddha to be Kapilavastu in Uttar Pradesh, or Kapileswara in Orissa. He later taught throughout regions of eastern India such as Magadha and Kośala.

“The wise ones fashioned speech with their thought, sifting it as grain is sifted through a sieve.”


Gautama is the primary figure in Buddhism, and accounts of his life, discourses, and monastic rules are believed by Buddhists to have been summarized after his death and memorized by his followers. Various collections of teachings attributed to him were passed down by oral tradition, and first committed to writing about 400 years later.

“I never see what has been done; I only see what remains to be done.”


Vietnamese Hill Tribe custom: Tooth Blackening

Asia is a land full of weird and wonderful customs and rituals. Throughout the continent there are literally thousands of different traditions that remain alive to this day. A strangely interesting custom that is often misunderstood is the Vietnamese ritual of tooth blackening or tooth lacquering.

Tooth blackening is not total uncommon for those Vietnamese people living traditional lives, nevertheless many tour guides still tell tourists that the blackening is the result of chewing betel nut. This mild stimulant comes in the form of a tiny parcel made up of betel nut, the fruit of an Areca tree, and lime paste wrapped in a leaf of the betel pepper vine. It is chewed in a similar way to tobacco and this stains the teeth. It is actually quite easy to spot the difference between blackened teeth and those stained by betel nut, the betel nut stains the teeth a dark red-brown color, and the constant chewing and spitting is a clear sign of the use of it. Betel nut can be found all over Asia, predominantly in areas occupied by hill tribes, but the more abrasive procedure of tooth lacquering is a tradition that only really remains in Vietnam. The chemical ingredients used to blacken the teeth can take several forms. In Vietnam it is ration to use red sticklac, a resin obtained from secretions of a tiny aphid-like insect that sucks the sap of a host tree, as a dye. The resin is diluted with lemon juice or rice alcohol and stored in the dark for a few days. It’s then applied with pressure to all the teeth. An application of iron or copper, and tannin from Chinese gall reacts as a solution to give the blue-black insoluble coating.

As with most Asian traditions, there are long standing cultural reasons for tooth blackening. It was believed that only savages, wild animals and demons have long white teeth. The blackening of the teeth, was an assurance that one would not be mistaken for an evil spirit. Back in 1938, a French survey found 80% of the countryside folk of Vietnam had blackened teeth. The procedure has been quite popular throughout the Asian history. But when the French came to Vietnam, they did not appreciate the implied beauty and the procedure was discouraged. Since then the numbers of Vietnamese dropped drastically, but in these modern times, the traditional people of Vietnam are once again trying to revive an almost lost tradition.


Children & Buffalos in Vietnam

Buffalos are very sturdy animals, who help Vietnamese farmers in countless arduous agricultural work.  It is considered the very faithful and constant companion in the peasants’ lives. The Mekong delta rice paddies conjure the picture of Vietnamese children, riding on the back of the buffalos, going home after a day’s work. The buffalos are often seen as playmates for the farmer kids.

“Ai ba?o cha~n tra^u la` kho^?. Cha~n tra^u su?o?’ng la~’m chu?’. Ngo^`i mi`nh tra^u pha^’t ngo.n co?` lau. Ro^’i mie^.ng ha’t nge^u ngao…. “

(Who can say taking care of buffalos is a painful chore?  Actually it’s a nice life… I can ride on the buffalo, shrub in hand, waving it like a flag while uttering some songs…. )

Buffalos are considered faithful and painstaking . The Vietnamese zodiac describes the people born under the sign of this animal, as constant, steady, laborious and stubborn. These complimentary qualifiers are also used to describe the buffalos.

These bovine friends are quite appreciated and well taken care of, in Vietnam, because they are the necessary work and life companions of the Vietnamese farmers. Without buffalos, there will be no work in the rice paddies. Without planting rice, there will be famine. The buffalo is a sacred animal.


Tay Ninh, Vietnam – Cao Dai – Temple of Color

Tay Ninh, in the Northwest of Saigon, is the Holy city of Caodaism, probably Vietnam’s most curious indigenous religion. Caodaism, founded in 1926 by Ngo Minh Chieu, is an attempt at an ideal religion, using religious and philosophical traditions from the West and the east, including Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, Hinduism, native Vietnamese spiritism, Christianity and Islam.

The eclectism of the religion is reflected in the Great Temple. Built between 1933 and 1955, it combines architectural elements of a church, a pagoda in a extravagant rocco style.

The ceremony at the Great Cao Da temple has a visually beautiful ritual, with the ordinary clergy in white robes and only the high priest wearing color. Traditional music is sung and played as well.


Minorities in Vietnam – The Hmong

The Hmong, also known as the Miao, originated from Southern China started to settle in Vietnam during the 19th century when they built hamlets in the highland regions of Ha Giang and Lao Cai provinces. The history of this emigration is closely linked to that of the Hmong struggle against the Chinese feudal authorities. The Hmong in Vietnam consist of three main sections: Color, White and Black.

The Hmong belong to the Hmong-Mien group of the Austro-Thai language, dress and customs, which may vary greatly from region to region and even from village to village. Their language has been divided into four main groups, consisting of over 80 sub-dialects. There are about 750.000 Hmong in Vietnam (over 1% of Vietnam’s population. The Hmong are widely spread across the highland areas of Vietnam, but particularly near the Chinese border.

The Hmong particularly value silver jewelry as this signifies wealth and a good life. Men, women and children wear silver necklaces and bracelets. The Hmong society is characterized by great solidarity among members of the same family and among villagers. Hmong value their independence and tend to live at high altitudes, away from other tribes. The principal food plant grown is corn, while rice taking second place. Besides irrigated rice fields, they also cultivate rice on terraces.

The Hmong are spirit worshippers. They believe in household spirits and those of the door and cattle. Every house has an altar, where protection for the household is sought. Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism have left their mark on a number of concepts and social institutions.


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