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"The 15th day of the seventh lunar month in Vietnamese tradition "

Submitted by: lanhnguyen Length of trip: The weekend
Trip taken: January 2008 No. of people on trip: 1 person

Locations visited:

Far East and Asia: Vietnam

Trip Features:
Culture: Museums, Ethnic/Religious, Cityscapes, History

lanhnguyen took this trip with her Significant other/Spouse and also recommends this trip for those traveling with their:
> Grandkids
> Guy Friends
> Pet
> Extended, large family
> Immediate Family
> Group of friends

The cost category of this trip was: moderate


According to Vietnamese traditions, for one day each year, departed souls return to earth. Professor Le Van Lan explains why these traditional beliefs are important in the modern world.

The 15th day of the seventh lunar month occupies an important position in the minds of Vietnamese people. On this day, people invite their ancestors to come home in a spirit of compassion and forgiveness.

Influenced by China and India, this ritual was introduced to Vietnam along with Buddhism and Chinese for beliefs.

During the first century BC, Vietnam was occupied by China. During the nation's long occupation, people often made offerings to the Messenger God, who was believed to travel between the worlds of the dead. Today, this belief has taken a different form.

For people in Northern Vietnam, the 15th day of the seventh lunar month is a time to offer forgiveness to dead souls who have returned from the nether world. People believe that on this day, all souls are greed from Hell to revisit their families. As such, they hold that offerings made on this day are more worthy than those made at other times.

Families offer incense and food to the guardian deities and ancestors inside their house, then make offerings to the wandering souls outside, Offerings made to the guardian deities and ancestors include votive objects like paper money and clothes. Offerings made to wandering souls in the streets are cheaper and typically include boiled sweet potatoes, corn, rice porridge, rice and salt.

If people in Northern Vietnam focus more on making offerings to departed souls, those living in the Center and South emphasize paying gratitude to their ancestors in what is known as the Vu Lan ritual. The source of this ritual is the Vu Lan Bon prayer- book. Muc Kieu Lien was one of Buddha's 10 disciples and a great wizard. His mother lived a wicked life. After her death, Muc Kieu Lien found his mother in Hell, where she was suffering greatly. He entreated the Buddha for help. The Buddha advised Muc Kieu Lien to offer delicious fruits and rare foods to monks from the 10 directions of the sky. Muc Kieu Lien did as he was told and his mother was released from Hell. This emotional story is the basic of the Vu Lan ceremony.

As revealed in history books, the Vu Lan ceremony is a very old custom, having been practiced from the second century, when Buddhism was imported into Giao Chau (as Vietnam was then known). During the Ly and Tran Dynasties, when Buddhism grew to become the national religion, the Vu Lan ceremony was held on a big scale. History books reveal that in 1309, a monk named Phap Loa organized a Grand Vu Lan ceremony, prayers for Truc Lam, and prayer for national peace and prosperity. In 1320, this monk held another Vu Lan ceremony at Dai Ninh Pagoda to pray for the long life of King Tran Anh Tong.

During the Nguyen Dynasty, some large scale Vu Lan ceremonies were listed in old historical documents. In the book "Nam Trieu Cong Nghiep Dien Chi" it states: "In 3rd Hoang Dinh (1603), King Nguyen Hoang, who became alive to the ideals of Buddhism, held a Vu Lan ceremony on the 15th day of the seventh lunar month, prayer in Thien Mu pagoda." King Minh Mang held five Grand Vu Lan ceremonies during his reign, In 1837, the king ordered his monks to worship and pray for 21 days during the Vu Lan period.

The ideals of Vu Lan have also influenced historical literature. There are two famous poems about forgiveness for the departed: "Thap gio Co hon Quoc van" (King Le Thanh Tong) and "Van te Thap loai Co hon" (Great poet Nguyen Du). Both of these verses were inspired by the Buddhist Khoa Nghi Du Gia prayer-book. The Vu Lan ceremony has taken root in the spirits and souls of Vietnamese people. The values expressed in in art and literature point towards the ideal of living a moral life.

Returning to the rituals of the Vu Lan ceremony, through our the seventh month of the lunar calendar, locals do their best to obtain better food and offerings for their rituals. Many vegetarians perform daily prayers for the entire month in a bid to win salvation for their ancestors. On the Vu Lan day, they also come to the pagoda to pray, listen to lessons from prayer-books, give alms and free animals like birds or turtles.

The following verse explains.

"Breezes cool the Vu Lan night,

As the Buddha's altar is engulfed with incense,

My prayers go to my forefathers of the past seven incarnations.

So that they may find salvation in the Buddha's land..."

Vietnamese people believe that each incense stick offered to their ancestors on this occasion is an expression of a fine cultural tradition of gratitude to those who gave them life. This act reflects spirituality, ethical behavior and a respect for life, as well as compassion, gratitude and a wish to bring salvation to the deceased.

In the Vietnamese Buddhist tradition, followers wear a rose on their chest, a red one if their mother is still alive and a white one if she is departed. This practice shows the close bonds that people feel with their mother, the joy of living with her and the pain of losing her. It also plays an important role in educating younger generations about Vietnamese philosophy. Many people perform this practice year round.

The seventh month of the lunar calendar is considered to be the month of wandering souls. As such, most people avoid making big decision during this month. However, historical records reveal that a very important decision was made in this very month under the reign of Ly Thai To, who ignored the tradition when he chose to move the royal capital from Hoa Lu to Thang Long (now Ha Noi). Ly Cong Uan, or Ly Thai To, was born a Buddhist and considered the 15th day of the seventh lunar month to be auspicious.

As Vietnam's economy is developing rapidly, people are enjoying better standards of living and renewed interest in faith and spirituality. People are looking to find their national roots. Today, Vietnamese people are seeking to make the best out of their traditional culture in the modern world.

This article written by Lanh Nguyen from Vietnam Heritage Travel

For original article, please visit:

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