Introduced into Vietnam through Chinese cultural influence and occupation, Taoism is "a way", "a road", "a law of life" which requires that man adjust to nature in order to have happiness. Its influence is one of the more powerful religious forces in Vietnam today.
Lao-Tze, founder of Taoism, lived about 600 B.C. in China and the religion which he founded is just a little bit older than that founded by Buddha of India or Confucius of China. In agreement with early Chinese thought which preceded Lao-Tze, he taught that man needs to have a relaxed and natural life which could be achieved only when in harmony with nature. Such harmony would promote good will toward others, grant personal integrity, encourage sincerity and simplicity. These qualities undergird spontaneity to the degree that man would be in harmony with nature.
Taoism ("Dah-o-ism"), therefore, is the natural mode of behavior; the best way to acquire perfection in relation to the natural world which surrounds man. Submission to the laws of nature is taught since this encourages virtues such as gentleness, peacefulness, serenity and resignation to "unchangeable fates".
Because harmony with nature is deemed essential, Taoism has encouraged nature worship in its popular practice at least. The ritual of Taoism in Vietnam today seems largely to consist of religio-magical features, divining, fortune-telling, worship of the spirits of nature including the earth, and use of the horoscope, etc., to ascertain the will of nature insofar as the individual is concerned.
Many of the more basic beliefs of Taoism have been absorbed into other religions found in Vietnam. They still mold and form cultural patterns affecting almost all ethnic Vietnamese or Chinese living in Vietnam. These Taoist concepts are to be observed in non-western medical practices; in marital arrangements which necessitate consulting horoscopes; consultation with those wise in reading the relationship of the earth's elements, so that the proposed marriage will be happy, prosperous and fruitful; in the choosing of auspicious dates; and in the ceremonies of worship as they pertain to the Spring, the Fall, the ploughing of the ground, the planting of seed, etc.
Like the Chinese peasants prior to Communist domination, many Vietnamese tend to accept all three of the ways--Taoism, Confucianism and Buddhism--without worry of conflict. Taoism is for adjustment to the natural world, Confucianism is for the social world, while Buddhism is utilized for harmony with the universe of which man is a part and for preparing for future existences. The adoption of a new religion by the ethnic Vietnamese does not necessarily mean the abandonment of an earlier faith. Rather it is often a process of accommodation to include all concepts to increase the surety for both the present and future existences.
The principle divinities of Taoism are the Jade Emperor, the Holy Mother (Lieu-Hanh), Lao-Tsu and Chu-Vi. The life of man is not granted that he might find pleasure, but pain as he atones for past offenses of previous existences and prepares for future lives in accord with the Cycle of Existence. Because Taoism insists on harmony with and submission to nature, its inherent drive is the repression of a willingness to exploit nature, to take risks or to gamble for distant goals if success is not obvious. To some extent, Taoism seems to discourage the willingness to engage in combat with either nature or man. Like some aspects of Buddhism, it seems to have overtones of pessimism and a negative attitude toward attempts to change drastically the life patterns.
While having only a limited formal organization in Vietnam today, the concepts of Taoism are in evidence in the daily life cycle of ethnic Vietnamese, whether they be dwellers of the cities or peasants tilling the rice-paddies. The cultural mold into which the Vietnamese are born and in which they are reared has been developed through more than two thousand years. While many people do not know just why certain customary acts are performed, the necessity to see that these are fulfilled is a constant pressure that few Vietnamese would be willing to ignore. The American may have little understanding of such influences, but success will be
present in Vietnamese/American relations only as awareness of such factors promote consideration and patience.
Section XI, "Religion in Everyday Life" reveals many observable ways in which Taoism is a current religious practice in Vietnam.
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SOURCE: The Religions of South Vietnam in Faith and Fact
US Navy, Bureau of Naval Personnel, Chaplains Division (1967)