Sample Essay on Vietnamese Goddess Quan Am Bo Tat

Vietnamese Goddess Quan Am Bo Tat

Most nations accommodate multi-religions leading to their diversity in beliefs among their people. However, there are countries such as Vietnam that fall under multi-religious nations but are still recognizes for different traditional and mythical practices and beliefs.  The Vietnamese honor their traditions and are among the few people on earth who are void of influence and dilution of their religious practices. Different ethnicities have diverse beliefs according to their cultures and spiritualities. They incorporate these tenets into their daily activities and go further to attribute events to their spiritualities and humanity. This link occurs because they relate everything to a superior spiritual existence or beings responsible for day to day happenings such as rain, sunshine, war, peace, and human emotions. This assignment seeks to explore different aspects of their religion and focusing on Vietnamese mythology. They believe in the existence of, and worship several gods and goddesses that they appease or please for spiritual and physical nourishment. The assignment will also explore this aspect of mythology and focus on the goddess of mercy known as “Quan Am Bo Tat.”

Religion in Vietnam

While studying several religions, most of them have a common foundation of upholding morality, peaceful co-existence, and love for self, others surrounding us, and the environment. It is significant to learn about the religions present in Vietnam to determine the extent to which they share common values and practices, and why some are more popular than others. Other than traditional ancestral worship, the Vietnamese subscribe to other mainstream religions such as Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism. The most common religious practices in the country fall under Buddhism, Islam, Catholicism, Caodaism, and Protestantism (Peterson 54).

The Vietnamese have traditionally stuck to their worship of several gods basing their faith on the belief that all objects have souls. The gods are linked to natural occurrences such as physical nature, weather, and supernatural events. The ethnic groups that uphold traditional beliefs include the Tay-Thai, Mon- Khmer, and Hmong- Dao among others. Their most outstanding and long lasting custom is ancestral worship and death remembrance. All families in different clans and villages customarily create altars to revere their ancestors who are formally referred to as Village Deities that represent the ancestors, gods, or exceptional people who made an impact in the society. Other gods include the god of the soil and the kitchen god. These altars can be located in public establishments or temples meant for worship.

Buddhism was initially introduced in the country around the century A.D and spread rapidly after the country’s independence. King Nhan Tong of the Tran Dynasty was critical in spreading this religion especially after he set up the Truc Lam Yen School of Zen, an organization that focused on harmony, creativity, and assimilation. Examples of branches of this religion include Theravada Buddhism, first introduced around the 4th century period. The majority of its followers stay in the Mekong Delta Area hence gaining the name Theravada Buddhists. This religion presently boasts of close to ten million members who are arguably the largest group in the country, 36 training institutions, 40,000 monks, and almost 20,000 pagodas. Hoa Hoa Buddhists are an original version of this religion, and it sprung up towards the mid-20th century. Huynh created it, and its followers are based in Hoa Hoa village found in Giang province. It has a following of over one million people, with almost 2,000 monks, and 1200 Buddhist pagodas (Taylor 383). Other than Vietnam, the majority of other Asian or Oriental nations are Buddhists.

The roots of this creed are in India by a man named Buddha.  In his view, man exists to suffer as a result of the greed and desire for vanities, riches, autonomy, and popularity. Therefore, to be freed from suffering, he must detach himself from all worldly desires and follow the path of pure thoughts, visions, behavior, speech, living, effort, mindfulness, and meditation. He also stated that the past existence determines a person’s destiny in the present reality through the law of karma. This faith does not believe in full death but a cycle of the human spirit reincarnation in several realities. Therefore, people should free themselves from this cycle to get to a state of complete redemption known as Nirvana.

Catholics is the root religion of modern Christianity in the AD era and was first introduced in the country in the 16the century by priests from Portugal and Spain. The preachers escorted trade ships as they sailed to Vietnam with a mission to conquer the other faiths and spread Christianity. They entered Macau from China Dang Trong, and Dang Ngoai (Shimkhada, Deepak & Phyllis 27). It currently has a setup of over 20 dioceses, 6 million faithful, over 6,000 churches, two educational and training institutions, almost 20,000 dignitaries, and six ostentatious seminaries. The other major branch of Christianity making up the Protestants came after the Catholics and set their roots towards the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century. It was introduced by the Christian and Missionary Alliance body and currently has a following of over one million faithful, 500 public figures, at least 300 churches and only one theology school. This is unlike other western and most African nations that are mostly Protestant.

Islam was introduced in the area during the 10th century and set ground in the 11th century. The majority of Muslims in the country are Cham people located in Thuan and recently Giang provinces (Taylor 383). Vietnam has only 80 mosques and a little over 70,000 followers with 700 notables. Other than Islam, Caodaism also falls under the category of minor religions in Vietnam (Shimkhada, Deepak & Phyllis 29). It is a native faith that was established around the early 20th century with a following of over 2 million people. It comprises of a fusion of diverse beliefs arising from teachings of the major religions such as Buddhism, Christianity, and Confucianism among others.

The Vietnamese also practice Confucianism (Shimkhada, Deepak & Phyllis 31). It is a doctrine that focuses mostly on social philosophy than its religious aspect. It is unique because it lacks a church, Bible, and clergy. The teachings emphasize more on appropriate social behavior and the need for humanity to co-exist harmoniously with the environment and society to attain the highest level of happiness. People who practice this faith focus more on maximizing the quality of their lives while still alive on earth than worrying about death, the afterlife, and spiritualities. Kung Fu-tzo Confucius established this religion between 478- 550 B.C era (Shimkhada, Deepak & Phyllis 31). He emphasized on the enhancement of the individual moral entity as a primary duty to oneself and the surrounding. For a person to lead the world he or she has to rule his nation and for the individual to rule the state, he or she has to start from the family. To govern a family successfully and an individual has to start with the self thus laying the foundation of morality. The doctrine states that man is inherently good, but society eventually corrupts him and to regain the virtue he should uphold loyalty, honesty, intelligence, compassion, and decency. Also, for a man to be in accord with his country he needs to maintain happiness at three levels namely between husband and wife, father and son, and leader and the subject.

The last religion named Taoism is small but still has an impact in the Vietnamese community and is among the influential religions in the area. It was founded by Lao-Tse in 500 B.C and introduced into the country by the Chinese (Overmyer & Chun-fang 419).  This creed was appealing to the Vietnamese because it incorporated polytheism and mysticism. Lao’s philosophy involved promoting peace and avoiding confrontation. He also stressed on virtues such as simplicity, forbearance, and self-satisfaction that man can use to refrain from chaos, conflict, and cravings. He is capable of living a righteous life by following the path of meditation and inward examination of his soul. Even though the philosophy was later transformed into a religion and churches set up, the clergy practices communication with spirits, divinities, and the departed (Fjelstad, Karen & Thi 27). The priests claimed that they had the power to alleviate diseases, calamities, and foresee future events.

The Vietnamese constitution provides for the freedom of worship, belief, and religion in Article 70. All religions are equal as stipulated by the decree which also protects public worship grounds. It is illegal to impinge on another person’s freedom to worship or practice personal beliefs and to take advantage of practicing religion to break the state policies.

Mysticism and the worship of deities

Deities in Vietnam can either be gods or goddesses representing male and female versions and are categorized into four groups namely heavenly, ancestral or tutelary, hierarchical, and ethnic gods. Heavenly deities and nature gods are present in or represented by rocks, trees, water bodies, rain, lightning, and space. The second category of tutelary gods is those who were consecrated and sanctified as village heroes, patriarchs, and great innovators and founders.  The third group classifies gods according to superiority and power inheritance. For example, in Taoism, heavenly emperors top the group followed by immortals, holy sages, and then the local divinities. Examples of ethnic and regional deities include Cham, Po Yan, Neak Ta, and Khmer (Fjelstad, Karen & Thi 23). They are associated with the Southeast or Asian region.

A greater percentage of Buddhists in Vietnam subscribe to the Pure Land School. It is a practice of the doctrine whereby Amithaba is the higher figure separated from other Buddha aside from Shakyamuni and presides over the Pure Land. This land is perceived as a heaven existing aside from the reality. Human beings achieve eternal bliss through him by calling on his name daily and living decent lives.

The role of gods and goddesses

Just as in any religion, gods and goddesses are spiritual and powerful beings whose existence cannot be comprehended by an ordinary human mind. They attempt to explain spirituality and supernatural occurrences beyond science and mostly describe events that people are unable to. People subscribe to religion because they try to make a connection between what they see and what they feel or experience. Human nature is bent towards accepting what they see rather than having blind faith, and this could explain why they have to create physical representations of their gods instead of being fulfilled with the idea of knowing that they exist. It is ironic how these gods are so supreme and dominant, but they are presented in various forms such as carvings, metals, stones, and paintings that can be easily destroyed.

Worshipping deities provides an escape for people from their pains and frustrations as sought care and comfort in deities. The male versions of gods were respected and feared because they were associated with punishment, calamities, and severe consequences. On the other hand, goddesses were associated with love, grace, mercy, fertility, and forgiveness. As these gods sustained people’s needs, health, wealth, and development, the followers pay back in various forms. They developed rituals and practices for every god or circumstance to offer sacrifices to appease them, appreciate them, to ask for forgiveness, and to declare their greatness. The people relied on the gods for their success, and these rituals were only a small way to appreciate and reciprocate the excellent service offered to them.

The Vietnamese goddess of mercy

Quan Am Bo Tat is among the Vietnamese deities frequently worshiped. The goddess takes a female form and is the only one among the Buddhist gods that are adored as opposed to feared. The Chinese also revere Quan and refer to her as Guanyin or Quan Yin. The name stands for “One who sees and hears the cry” about human suffering. In their culture, she is the model of beauty. She is also referred to as Padma-pâni in Sanskrit which is translated to “Born of the Lotus.” Quan was initially male up to the 12th century after evolving from an Indian god of mercy and enlightenment who stayed on earth to reprieve people from their suffering instead of enjoying Nirvana. One of the tales about Quan Am narrates of her form as a devoted Buddhist who made sacrifices just to go to Nirvana after her death (Shimkhada, Deepak & Phyllis 37). While at the gate, she chose to come back to earth due to the cries of the suffering of people hence renouncing her eternal reward of happiness for the plight of human suffering. She is compared to Catholic’s Virgin Mary and credited with titles such as savior from misery and woe, merciful one, and a great pity.

“Bo Tat” or “bodhisattva” is an elaborate Buddhist term associated with the Mahayana tradition and referring to the concept of devotion and self-sacrifice. It represents the sense of a person who dedicates his or her life to other people’s tribulations. Other Buddhists have different names for the concept according to their language and ethnicity, but all of them have the fundamental concept of the religion. The believers believe that these deities live within them. For example, the Thailand King is thought to be a bodhisattva living in the flesh. The Bo Tats are required to take an oath to serve in human emotional suffering before transcending into Buddhas.

The role of Quan Am

Just as the belief is among the Chinese, the Vietnamese also believe that Quan Am descended from Avalokiteshvara as a male god then later transitioned into a goddess (Overmyer & Chun-fang 418). Quan  Am can take up several forms depending on the context of worship. In some instances, she is presented as having a countless number of faces and arms that signify her capacity to visualize everything and help all sensitive beings concurrently.  She can also be portrayed as an elegant female grasping a willow branch and an upturned vase, indicating her ability to heal, cleanse, and purify. Quan Am is also shown an incarnation of souls in her barefoot with flowing white robes carving and covered with a white hood (Taylor 383). In the real sense, Quan Am encompasses the ultimate or most desirable nature of femininity thus making her popular among women. They are required to be gentle, loving, compassionate, self-sacrificing, motherly, and giving. They strived to emulate her character at the same time worshipping her.

Her name defines her characteristics such as being merciful, loving, self-sacrificing, observant, and compassionate. She is also described as one who hears prayers of the meek and comforts the sad and troubled. In China, she is also named Sung-Tzu- Niang-Niang, and portrayed as having 11 heads (Overmyer & Chun-fang 420). They revere her as the goddess of fertility or lady who brings offspring. For example, when a woman has not yet birthed a son and was wedded from the 15th day of the preceding year, her relatives send her a present of articles bearing Quan Am’s image holding a child and wishing the same for her.

Due to her increasing popularity over the centuries, she has also grown to be held as the protector of farmers, sailors, and explorers. Several people invoke her name when conducting funeral rituals. They believe that her presence frees the deceased’s soul from purgatory’s suffering.  Asian communities have dedicated temples to her, and the women pay their tribute to her in the South more than in any other region (Traylor 87). Buddhists travel up to Ningbo to pay pilgrimage and worship her as they believed that she reigned there as the Queen of the Southern Seas for almost a decade (Taylor 66).

Quan Am assumes various postures such as sitting on an elephant, standing on a fish, tending to an infant, holding a basket, or a vase in an overturned position (Taylor 89). In other places, she has several arms reaching out indicating service to others, or multiple arms that can’t be counted. Other Buddhists represent her as riding a “Hou” which is a mythological creature that looks like a lion. It is a symbol of divine sovereignty over nature. Several people also name her as the legendary name her as Miao Shan among the Buddhist community.

Quan Am vs. other gods and goddesses

Quan Am is a more renowned goddess among Buddhists in comparison to other gods in Vietnam and the religion as a whole. First of all, she is the only deity that is more loved than feared due to what she represents. While others are feared because they may bring punishment and calamity, Quan Am represents all the tender emotions that human crave to receive. She is merciful, tender, care, loving, compassionate, comforting, and sacrifices on behalf of others. People are more receptive towards positive than negative reinforcement.

It is arguable that the role of gods was assigned according to societal expectations based on gender. Most existing fables or recounts of her existence started off stating that Quan Am morphed from a male god to a goddess. Looking at gender roles from a family level, a man was the firm, strict, and disciplinarian among the two parents whereas the woman was the tender and nurturing person (Leshkowich 279). Therefore, their views of the roles played by gods and goddesses were only a projection of the existing societal roles and not occurring from divine intervention. Painting her as a superhero was also a projection of the role women play in society. Quan Am has several hands to cater to people’s needs at the same time, and women more or less perform the same function. Traditionally, they are the home makers by being wives, parents, domestic managers, farmers, and community builders while men played the role of being providers. However, Buddhists still pray to Quan Am for fertility, farming, and success. Comparing the two positions, it is safe to assume that women are mini-goddesses due to the impact they create in society (Hoskins 33).

Comparison between Quan Am in Buddhism and other religions

As stated previously, most religions have variations in practices but have a similar underlying concept of preaching love, tolerance, harmony, and morality. They seek to establish a world without conflict, greed, immorality. The similarity between Buddhism and Christianity other than its teachings is the societal influence it commands, and the existence of rituals, though the latter has broken away from several of its previous traditions. Quan Am can also be likened to Virgin Mary, an important female symbol, particularly among the Catholic faithful (Clobert, Magali & Vassilis 462). She is a symbol of faith, love, hope, and the mother of Jesus who is the Son of God. No female in Islam is elevated as Mary in Christianity or Quan Am in Buddhism. While the Vietnamese worship several gods, Christians believe in one God who made Himself known to humanity through His Son Jesus Christ. Christians believe in their faith and the presence of a supreme being without having a physical manifestation present. In fact, the building of, worshipping, and offering sacrifices to natural forms is known as idolatry and is shunned. They communicate with God via Scripture, prayer, mediation, and intercession. Their God is universal and does not need to be presented in different forms. Other than a few key figures of the time, women in traditional Christianity have taken a back seat as opposed to Quan Am.

While sensitivity and tenderness are only associated with Quan Am, teachings from the Christian Bible state that God is merciful, kind, loving, tender, compassionate, and forgiving just as Quan Am. Buddhists portray these qualities as being feminine only, but the Bible states them on God and Jesus. God is a supreme being in the form of a spirit but referred to as a male. This contrasts the Vietnamese version of gods who are strict, harsh, out to punish wrongdoers, and needed to be worshiped as a duty.

There are few women mentioned in Islam, but they play a very secondary role in the religion. Women in Islam are not to be seen or heard, in contrast to Quan Am who stood out due to her acts and her roles. In fact, she was a true hero who attained her goddess status as versions of several legends.

Critique of Buddhism and Quan Am Bo Tat

This religion is among the oldest and most traditional religions, especially in the Asian region. It has been practiced for several years, but this segment seeks to explore its relevant in present day society. First of all, did the person who came up with the religion gain full Buddha status and what was its basis? Buddhists live a life waiting on reincarnation after death until they become Buddhas or end up in Nirvana. The religion also believes in staying away from the greed of wealth, property, and conflict. Contentment is a positive attribute that prevents vices such as crime, corruption, and fraud. However, if the religion’ supreme beings are the guardians and providers of all earthly wealth, why do riches exist in the first place? Is it wrong to have plenty or is it wrong to have enough? Why then have the gods not ensured the full provision of basic needs and wealth to all humanity to prevent them from being blinded by greed?

Another factor questioning the credibility of deities is the punishment aspect. Why are most of them more willing to punish than to comfort or show love and mercy? Why does the faith have a single goddess of love while the majority are related to severe consequences as a result of disobedience? How then do people seek refuge in gods if they fear them? It is natural for human beings to withdraw from something they fear or act in line out of the fear. Research indicates that having a relationship based on love, compassion, and friendship is more fulfilling than one based on fear. It could be that those who came up with different doctrines were looking for ways to influence people to join their cause or become followers by instilling fear in them.

Buddhists live vicariously through the opinions and philosophies of people passed down from one generation to another without questioning.  Even though most religions have a clear history of how they came into existence, there is no indication of supreme involvement in making rules and principles that make up the belief systems. The gods, goddesses, and supreme beings mentioned in each case appear to want to achieve the same goal of global harmony and morality. If so, why is there no universal religion? The different sects are only an indication of the differences in humanity’s thoughts and experiences that are passed over or manifested as doctrine. A universal religion is more likely to create harmony than the existence of several convictions (Kumar & Henrique 350). Also, if all faiths have the same fundamental message, why don’t they preach each other’s messages? For example, Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism all uphold the value of respecting life and avoiding conflict, but there is still animosity between religions. Each faith is quick to criticize another and discredit their beliefs or practices.

In modern day society of full awareness, does Buddhism need to worship these gods? Are they still relevant when we can scientifically explain events such as hurricanes, floods, and droughts (Ruhenove 443)? Due to technology people can apply advanced scientific methods to increase yield production and quality. For example, for farming people nowadays use pesticides, fertilizers, and proper farming techniques with efficient tools. They have also developed adequate storage facilities and skills for their harvests.  In the case of infertility, women have an option of artificial insemination, fertility treatments, and fertilization outside the womb and an implant afterward.

Contemporary Buddhism

Even though it is one of the strongest standing traditions, Buddhism had witnessed some changes in the current day. First of all, the religion has evolved to areas outside the Asian region. More people are embracing the belief and its practices. Some cities go further to erect public carvings or statues of Buddhist gods to honor the religion. This is a positive impact for a creed that teaches about selflessness and purity in thought and action. Then again, this spread has led to the dilution of its central doctrine due to cultural evolvement and lack of proper teaching and guidance. The full experience of the religion can be found in native areas in countries such as China, Vietnam, and India. Those in other states fail to receive the full experience to know what the religion is truly about.Weak guidance has also led to particular doctrine selection and application (Clobert, Magali & Vassilis 461). Most people end up using their judgment to determine what is acceptable to them or not. There is no strict enforcement of religious practices. Therefore, individuals have the freedom to choose what aspects to apply and what to omit. The Buddhists were a secluded or isolated group that focused more on their doctrines and living in purity, but the religion has been socially and politically influenced. They formed a movement known as The Buddhist Unifying Movement Committee in 1980 (Clobert 460). They introduced a hierarchy system consisting of three different councils with appointed leaders who represent the religion in various forums and work towards its global unification. However, the native Vietnamese people still maintained their beliefs and practices on Quan Am Bo Tat despite exposure to different mediums on religion and deity worship.

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