Ancestor Veneration & Religious Practices in Vietnam


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Our guided Hanoi food tours occasionally walk our clients to a pagoda, where we were often asked what’s the difference between pagoda and temple, are they not the same religious place? If you also happen to be interested in learning about the local religious practice, this blog post is for you!

Firstly, when it comes to beliefs in Vietnam, the majority of Vietnamese do not follow just one organized religion. Instead, people foremost worship their ancestors, then pragmatically participating in more or less practices (just in case) of the folk religion and three teachings, which include Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism. 

One pillar pagoda

Secondly, regarding to religious places, travelers often refer to all worshiping places as temples, no matter who is being worshiped inside. But in Vietnam, Buddha, Confucius, Mother Goddess, national heroes, and spirits are worshiped in different places though they may look the same from the outside.

Generally, people venerate their ancestors at home, honor national heroes and protective spirits in temples, worship deities in communal houses, and pray to Buddha in pagoda. That’s why people sometimes say a temple, other times we say pagoda. It also explains the main difference between the two terms, pagoda and temple.

To help prepare you for the next visit a religious place in Vietnam, followings are our brief introductions about these major local beliefs and its worshiping places you may wish to know.

Ancestor Veneration

Hanoi home

The veneration of the dead is a common practice among Asian countries, which is based on thelove and respect for the deceased. It’s related to beliefs that the dead have a continued existence, and may possess the ability to influence the fortune of the living. 

Veneration of the dead could be considered as the main belief in Vietnam. Almost every family has an alter to worship their deceased members, the alter is where they place photos of the deceased next to the incense burner. The most common practice is to offer food, burn incense, and pray to the deceased on the death anniversary and the living’s special days.

Vietnamese Folk Religion

Quan thanh temple

Vietnamese folk religion is not an organized religious system, but a set of local worship traditions devoted to the “protective spirits” known as “thần”. These spirits can be nature gods, national heroes in history, or community tutelary deities. According to the government of Vietnam, about 45% of the population are associated with folk religion.

Those protective spirits are worshiped in a communal house (“đền” in Vietnamese), which was built and shared by everyone in a village. The communal house used to serve as the center of cultural activities of the whole village, it was where disputes, punishments, tax collection, festivals took place.


pagoda in hanoi

Buddhism is a religion founded by Siddhartha Gautama’s followers in India, it talks about hisideas of suffering, karma, life after death, circle of rebirth and reincarnation, enlightenment, andnirvana. In Vietnam, its worshipping place is called a pagoda, or “chùa”.

In pagodas, you may see that there’re more women praying than men. Vietnamese women are more willing to endure to protect their families than men, hence the women tend to spend more time chanting in pagodas to spiritually guarantee a family safety. On contrary, more men are seen at temples due to an old tradition allowing only men to come in a temple and communal house.

Confucianism and Taoism

Confucius temple

Confucianism is a philosophy or a way of life founded by Confucius in China, it emphasizes personal and governmental morality, correctness of social relationships, justice and sincerity. Confucians are expected to respect and show obedience those who are superior to them,appreciating societal rules and moral values.

Taoism is a religion founded by Laozi in China, which advocates simplicity and living happily while in tune with the nature. It concerns with yin-yang, 5 elements, feng-shui, divination, horoscope-telling.

In Vietnam, the worshiping places for Confucianism and Taoism are called temples or “đền”, such as Confucius Temple in Hanoi. Beside Confucius and Taoist saints, the Mother Goddesses, national heroes, and founders of handicrafts are also worshipped in temples.    

As foodie guides, we love sharing the local culture while exploring the food. Join Flavors of Hanoi’s peronal foodie tour guide on our daily walking Hanoi food tourand explore the best of what the city has to offer. Follow us on Instagram and Facebook to keep updated on what’s new and what’s interesting in Hanoi.


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