Viet Nam is a multi-religion and multi-belief country. The earliest introduced religions in Vietnam are Mahayana Buddhism, and Taoism remains a strong influence on the beliefs and practices of the Vietnamese, even if the levels of formal membership in these religious communities may not reflect that influence. The combination of Mahayana Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism forms Tam Giao (The triple religion). Although Vietnamese people classify themselves as non-religious but they visit religious temples and pagodas several times a year. Their everyday behaviours and attitudes are dictated by the synthesis of philosophies which can be traced from the triple religion.
The triple religion have been co-exiting with a very traditional Vietnamese practice is ancestor worshiping and national heroes and supernatural Gods (Vietnamese people have worshiped a large number of gods, especially those related to agricultural activities such as sun, moon, land, mountain, river and forest, etc). Having an altar in their home or business where prayers are offered to their ancestors. These offerings and practices are done frequently during important traditional or religious celebrations (e.g., death anniversaries), the starting of a new business, or even when a family member needs guidance or counsel.
Beside ancestor worship in each family and each clan, many villages have a communal house or a temple to worship the Village Deity. The custom of worshiping the Village Deity is a unique feature of Vietnamese villages. The Village Deity worshiped in the village’s temple and communal house can be a god or an outstanding figure that rendered great service such as the forefather of a traditional handicraft or a national hero who greatly contributed to the cause of national building and fighting foreign invaders.
Significant minorities of adherents to Roman Catholicism, Cao Dai, and Hoa Hao and smaller minorities of adherents to Protestantism, Islam, Hinduism, and Theravada Buddhism were established later, in recent centuries.
Ancestor worshiping is originated from Confucianism, holds that the dead’s soul does not disappear from sight but still stays around to look after the family. Those who practice this religion have just an altar in their home for that purpose. Emperors and Kings had imperial temples where they are worshiped, the late emperors whose achievements and exploits were recorded on ancestral tablets and steles. Wealthy people have their family temples for the whole family to worship their ancestors. The responsibility falls upon the oldest son to take care of the various anniversaries during the year. For this, he receives incomes from a number of rice fields and or land as a hereditary state. Poor people who has no temple of their own but having an altar in the best part of their house to show gratitude and respect for their ancestors.
Buddhism was first introduced in Viet Nam in the early years A.D. From the 10th to the 15th century, Buddhism developed rapidly in Viet Nam after Viet Nam had gained independence. Buddhism reached its extreme popularity under the Ly-Tran Dynasty (from the early 11th century to the late 14th century). At present, Buddhism is the most popular, about 85% of Vietnamese identify with Buddhism (all sects) even though they do not practice on a regular basis. There are two types of Buddhism found in Vietnam, Mahayana Buddhism (Greater Buddhism) and Theravada (Lesser Buddhism). Mahayana Buddhism first spread from China to Vietnam’s Red River Delta region around 300 BC and remains popularly followed throughout the whole country, whereas Theravada Buddhism arrived from India into the southern Mekong Delta region between 300-600 AD and remains commonly adhered to in only the south delta area of Vietnam.
Historians believe that Catholicism was first introduced in Viet Nam in 1533. From 1533 to 1614, priests of Portuguese Order of St.Francis and Spanish Order of Preachers accompanied merchant ships to Viet Nam. From 1615 to 1665, priests of Portuguese Society of Jesus entered Viet Nam from Macau (China), both in Dang Trong (south of Gianh River) and Dang Ngoai (north of Gianh River). At present, Viet Nam Catholic Church has 26 dioceses, 6 million followers, 6,270 churches, 19,000 dignitaries, 6 grand seminaries, and 2 training schools.
Protestantism was first introduced in Viet Nam in the late 19th and early 20th century by the Christian and Missionary Alliance – CMA, later than other religions. 1911 is recognized as the beginning year when Protestantism was introduced into Viet Nam. At present, there are over one million Protestants, 500 dignitaries, 300 Protestant churches, and 01 biblical theology institute in Viet Nam.
In Viet Nam, Muslim followers are mostly Cham people. According to historical records, the Cham were first introduced to Muslim in the 10th and 11th century. There are two schools of Muslim in Viet Nam: the older one (Cham Ba Ni) with followers in Binh Thuan and Ninh Thuan Provinces; and the newer one (Cham Islam) with followers in Chau Doc (An Giang Province), Ho Chi Minh City, Tay Ninh and Dong Nai Province. At present, there are 79 mosques, 72,000 Muslim followers and 700 dignitaries in Viet Nam.
Caodaism is an indigenous religion, officially established in Go Ken Pagoda, Tay Ninh Province in mid November 1926. At present, there are 2.4 million Cao Dai followers, 31,700 dignitaries and over 100 churches in Viet Nam.
Hoa Hao is another indigenous religion created by Huynh Phu So on July 4th May 1939 in Hoa Hao Village, An Giang Province. At present, there are 1.3 million Hoa Hao Buddhist followers, over 1,700 monks and 1,200 pagodas in Viet Nam.