By Nhat Quan
First of all, is the matter of worship. Worship means showing your respect to your ancestors, the Saints to whom you have given all your faith, such as worshiping Buddha, worshiping the Fatherland, worshiping Ancestors, Grandparents, etc.
If you have a family background, you must have an Ancestor altar. People with races must have an altar to the Fatherland. If you are a follower of religious beliefs, you must have an altar to your Buddha. On the contrary, children without altars of ancestors and grandparents are unfilial children. A citizen without an altar to the Fatherland is disloyal. A believer who does not have an altar to his or her Patriarch is an unbeliever.
Many Vietnamese people, in addition to their religion, often have the custom of worshiping their ancestors. For Vietnamese people, the custom of ancestor worship has almost become an ancestor worship belief, so almost every family has an ancestor altar in the house, but it is not a religion but the Vietnamese people's respect for their parents, and grandparents, lineages, ancestors... This is a very important and indispensable belief in Vietnamese customs and is one of the elements that create Vietnamese cultural identity.
When Buddhism was introduced to Vietnam, there was a selective interference with indigenous beliefs, and the custom of worshiping ancestors was still respected and maintained in the spiritual life of Vietnamese Buddhists from the past to the present day. At that time, Buddhists still worshiped their ancestors, but with a new and multicultural view, both suitable for national traditions and suitable for Buddhist views.
First of all, Buddhists do not consider the ancestral altar as the residence of their grandparents, ancestors, and deceased relatives in general because they know that they have followed their karma to be reborn in the six paths. The ancestral altar was set up to commemorate and remember the nurturing virtues of ancestors and grandparents. The ancestral altar represents the origin and bloodline parallel to the spiritual source, which is the Buddha altar. Trees have roots, water has sources, and people have ancestors. Worshiping ancestors to show filial piety, showing gratitude, and the desire to repay the deep gratitude has molded and formed the precious tradition of filial piety of Buddhists.
Thus, ancestor worship is to express filial piety, and gratitude and repay the deep support of parents, grandparents, and ancestors. The tradition of ancestors and clans is a thread connecting the past to the present. You are proud of your ancestors, so you should vow to live a good life, worthy of being a good son and daughter. If you lose your roots, don't worship, and forget the traces of your bloodline roots, you will lose your roots and have no morals. That is the first benefit of ancestor worship.
Next, in remembrance of the ancestors' favor, the children and grandchildren make a great vow to do all the merit and good deeds in their power to dedicate the blessings to their ancestors. Buddhism encourages children, grandchildren should do good deeds to dedicate to their deceased loved ones, no matter where they are reborn, they will receive blessings and virtues from their filial descendants. Therefore, Buddhists do not pay too much attention to the high platter full of great food and drink on the memorial days, but mainly create blessings to dedicate to the deceased, and set a filial example for the next. As a result, Buddhists do not consider ancestor worship as worshiping the devil as some people are ungrateful, ignorant, unfilial, and have wrong views.
Ancestor worship links with the past and promotes good living values for the present. Worshiping grandparents and parents to realize the concept of knowing and repaying for nurturing care. At the same time, it is also a way to educate filial piety for children in the future. Buddhist teachings uphold the spirit of filial piety, respect, and care for parents, which has been mixed with Vietnamese ancestor worship to become the ethical and filial lifestyle of Vietnamese Buddhists today.
The root cause of ancestor worship and death anniversary worship is for the following reasons:
- Death is not the end, although the body dissipates, the soul is not dead but is reborn in some other realm, depending on merit or karma..
Therefore, the Vietnamese mentality still believes that there is the presence of ancestors in the daily life of the family. They believe in the blessings of their ancestors. Because of this belief, for great things happening in the family, the householder bows to the ancestors, first to present the event, then to ask the ancestors for help. As for Buddhism, the issue of worship is even more meaningful and valuable, demonstrating the great spiritual spirit of the Holy Sages.
But now there are some people who do not understand, saying that worshiping and prostrating is an act of superstition, uncivilized, and unscientific because the tablets and images worshiped are made of cement, or paper, and incense lamps are made of trees, made of sawdust, etc., and then trust them to worship and consider them sacred. These actions did not bring any benefit, but also dirtied the house, and wasted money. This statement sounds reasonable at first, but in fact, on closer inspection, it is completely wrong. This error is recognized as follows:
1- Figure or Statue
Even though figures or statues are made of paper or cement, or incense lamps are made of sawdust or wood, these objects have become sacred and noble, especially having symbolized the lineage surnames, Ancestors, Grandparents, Saints, and Buddhas that you have worshiped. Just like the flag of a country, although it is sewn with worthless ordinary fabric, it has represented the Fatherland, the National Soul, the National Spirit of a People, which both Citizens and Soldiers must-have Worshiped. A Citizen or Soldier every time they salute the flag, they don't have to salute that cloth or sacrifice under the flag not to die for the cloth, but here they salute and die for the Fatherland because the country's Sacred Soul has been expressed through Flag.
And your Ancestors and Grandparents Day is the great day of the Family, but some people despise it as an act of superstition, and lack of progressive civilization, and then let it go into oblivion. It is a grave sin. Every country has its own Culture and that Culture is absolutely culminating in its efforts. You also have your own culture. You also have a duty to promote the Culture of the Ancestors to be clearer than to defame and trample on it to offend the ancestors.
2- Reasons for worship
- You worship your ancestors to show your gratitude and repay the grandfathers and fathers who have worked so hard to grow your life. They have made a great contribution to the construction of society and family lineage.
- You worship the Fatherland to pay tribute and follow the example of heroes and martyrs who sacrificed for the defense of the country.
- You worship Buddha to pay respect to the enlightened and liberated masters who lead you and all sentient beings firmly on the path of holiness.
If grandparents' altars are not set up as symbols, descendants don't know where to turn to show their filial piety to their ancestors, and if they don't set up Buddha altars, disciples won't know what to base it on pay homage to your enlightened Master.
People need to have a fulcrum for peace of mind, no matter what form that fulcrum takes. Since you are not yet saints, rituals and worship are very necessary for self-cultivation, family education, and guiding your children and grandchildren to fulfill their duties in human society, especially living people in the civilized age. Thus the:
- Ancestor worship is a typical example of the patience of the forefathers who have worked so hard to build their family, for a spiritual career, a human will live in order to help their children and grandchildren be able to rise up in society, and imitate them that virtue to continue to build future generations more and more glorious.
- Worshiping the fatherland is to honor the noble example of the Forefathers who sacrificed their efforts and blood to preserve the country's longevity and to follow that shining example to protect the race, make the country prosperous, and build a real peaceful life for the nation, of course including your children and grandchildren.
- Worshiping Buddha is a symbol of enlightened wisdom, compassionate virtue, and the strong will of the Buddhas. You follow these noble examples to train yourself to be fully lucid, full of love, and full of energy like the Buddhas so that you can be lucid before all problems so as not to go astray. At the same time realize the true value of life, free from all suffering, samsara. That is the true meaning of the way of worship that you have been pursuing.
Buddhism is a major religion in Vietnam and has a profound influence on people's social life. Ever since, when starting to pray something in front of the altar of grandparents and ancestors, each person's catchphrase is:
- Namo Amitabha Buddha.
This explanation can only be explained from the desire of the descendants that the ancestors will soon be liberated to Western Paradise to help their descendants be at peace in the present life. Thus, the custom of worshiping ancestors of the Vietnamese people, after all, also originates from the quintessence of Buddhist culture, which advises people to do honest things, which will result in a peaceful and happy life.
As above, we talk about worship in general. Now talk about the meaning of ancestor worship. First of all, as mentioned above, ancestor worship is to show gratitude for the merits of deceased ancestors, grandparents, and parents. Descendants express their respect and gratitude to previous generations who have given birth and raised them to be the good people they are today. As a filial son, he must be grateful for the birth and upbringing of his parents. To show filial piety to parents, one must be grateful to ancestors and grandparents who have passed away. That is the origin that gave birth to the generation of descendants today. Therefore, Vietnamese folk songs likened that:
- A tree with a root has a branch with a top
When water has a source, it becomes a wide pool and a deep river.
Where do people come from?
There are fathers and mothers, then there are you.
Indeed, every human being has a body, which is the material basis for life to exist. That body cannot be formed naturally but is inherited from parents. To you, you give life to your child, and then your child continues to pass this life on to their child, and so on…. So life is a continuous stream! Bloodline flows endlessly from beginningless to end, so you live to be grateful to your grandparents, parents, and ancestors for giving you life today. Therefore, Vietnamese people are lucky to have a common concept to lean on, a common ancestral land to miss; share a common ancestral temple to be grateful for forever. That is the morality of Vietnamese people, not all ethnic groups have them.
Therefore, ancestor worship has a practical and profound meaning, helping parents educate their children and grandchildren to be grateful for their ancestors and family lines, and also to learn the example, morality, and pure personality of their ancestors. With the spirit of hard work, they have overcome difficulties and hardships to nurture generations of children and grandchildren to this day. At the same time, descendants need to try to overcome the shortcomings of the previous generations because they did not have adequate learning conditions and exposure to the modern scientific information of this 21st century.
Moreover, the custom of ancestor worship creates the best opportunity and at the same time is the goal to develop the relationship of brothers, relatives of the same family, of the same origin with a common tradition. It is the worship of ancestors that has attached not only the members of small families such as parents, children, etc. but also strengthened the kinship and family relationships, sharing the same ancestor. Since then, there have been more relationships between uncles, aunts, children, and grandchildren on the paternal side, the maternal side ..etc. Anniversaries and New Year days are occasions to gather all relatives and close friends near and far. They meet face to face, first to worship their ancestors, then to talk, visit, share joys and sorrows, and difficulties, and find ways to help each other.
There are many families, and the anniversaries of ancestors are solemnly celebrated. The patriarch presided over, with all the representatives of the tribes coming to worship the ancestors. After that, everyone discussed what to do to show respect and gratitude to the ancestors of the family for many generations.
The kinship and clan relationships have been maintained and strengthened up to now, mainly from the ancestor worshiping custom that is still being practiced in many Vietnamese families and is organized more and more orderly.
Worshiping ancestors, deceased parents, and grandparents, descendants not only admire their birth, upbringing, and filial piety but also follow the example of their ancestors to glorify them in this day and age. Especially from doing useful work for society, living meaningfully, having love for people, doing well in daily professional work, and contributing to the development and strengthening of independence and freedom.
Thus, the custom of Ancestor Worship is an opportunity to remind descendants to follow the example of the deceased generations and do better at the work they have done, as the folk song has compared:
- Children who are better than their parents are happy families.
Children than parents are not wealthier, richer in money, but in morality, human personality, behaving with kindness, doing righteous business, caring and helping relatives and the poor in society. ... The positive and long-term meaning of the custom of ancestor worship is not just going back to the past to nostalgia and praising the merits of deceased grandparents and parents but looking forward to the future. The important thing about ancestor worship is that you need to think about your own life:
- Have a better moral character, and try to fulfill the assigned responsibilities.
This is also an opportunity to educate children to promote and brighten the merits and good deeds of past generations of ancestors. That is the good, positive, long-term meaning of the custom of worshiping ancestors, a beauty of Vietnamese culture that you need to preserve and promote.
Ancestor worship is a form of belief that through worshiping rituals, aims to establish the relationship between the living and the dead, between people in the present world and the spiritual world. As an expression of the Vietnamese people's concept of life:
- Death is life, death as survival.
For Vietnamese people, perhaps because of the influence of Buddhism, they understand that death is not the end, but ancestors are always beside the living, like at the altar of each family, encouraging and supporting their children and grandchildren in everyday life. If religion often talks about spiritual life, guiding people to the transcendental world, ancestor worship, although it directs people to the past, attaches great importance to the present and the future...
 Ancestor worship rituals in Vietnam have elements that are very close to Buddhism. On the other hand, with the nature of a folk belief, the ceremonies are usually performed according to the customs of each place. Therefore, it is not completely unified in families, localities, having ancestor worship beliefs, but anyway, the principle does not change, that is:
- When you drink water, remember the source
Or spirit express:
- Filial piety.
Because filial piety is the root of every human being. The merit of raising the father's bread, the teaching of the mother is like the high mountains and the wide sea, so you must be filial to your father and mother while they are still alive. Respectfully, gratefully and mournfully return to their ancestors when their father and mother have died. Filial piety is a valuable moral value in the ancestor worship of the Vietnamese people.
 Ancestor worship is all forms of rituals and worship to show respect, the moral of drinking water to remember the source, and gratitude to ancestors, grandparents, and parents who gave birth and created a life for the people's offspring. For a long time, ancestor worship has become a custom, a moral standard, a principle of being human, and an important part of the spiritual life of Vietnamese people. Over the centuries, the Vietnamese way and concept of ancestor worship have changed in some respects, but the greatest meaning remains the same.
The Vietnamese consider ancestor worship as one of the moral principles of being human. It is a form of showing the filial piety and gratitude of descendants to their parents, so the belief in ancestor worship has simple and practical content, not as extreme as many other religions.  Therefore, it is easily secularized to become a way of life, a custom, deeply rooted in the subconscious of each person. By worshiping ancestors, the previous generation set an example for the next generation not only because of the responsibility towards the parents but also to educate and teach the descendants to pass on the lineage. Professor Dao Duy Anh said:
- Ancestor worship is the purpose of maintaining the race.
During the sacrifice, their vows are also very simple, and very practical. Praying for protection and support for their daily life to be peaceful and smooth. It is not known how effective that supplication is, but first of all, people feel spiritual serenity, an important spiritual fulcrum for life. In this cult a two-way relationship actually arose:
- The dead need the worship of the living so that they can be safe in the afterlife, not becoming a wandering hungry ghosts,
- The living can only be peaceful and serene when they are mysteriously protected and supported by the dead.
The ancestors' souls are always beside their children and grandchildren, telling them and helping them have a good and harmonious life. With simple wishes and spontaneous beliefs, ancestor worship is considered a religion that is accessible to all classes of people both in terms of moral content and implementation rituals. Therefore, the possibility of widespread dissemination of this type of belief in people's lives is also understandable.
It can be said that ancestor worship is a folk belief of the Vietnamese nation with ancient origins and bearing the moral principle of compassion, drinking water, and remembering the source in the historical process, it has been adopted by various ideological systems of other religions complete to become a religion:
- Religion of ancestors, the religion of grandparents.
No matter how you worship the Buddha or your ancestors, you have already spoken about the sacred value of the place of worship. According to Buddhism, you can place an altar anywhere in the house, but provided that the location of the place of worship must be pure and the altar must be decorated dignified, to be able to evoke you and your descendants a reverent impression every time you look at it. You do not think that the altar is like a shelf for books, or shelves for miscellaneous things, and then you put on it all kinds of junk, to offend the superiors. In case you have a very luxurious and splendid altar, but you never light incense and lamps to worship, it will be even more sinful for your ancestors and grandparents. If only you had a simple altar, but decorated dignified and pure and were regularly visited by you and your children and grandchildren, burning incense and candles to worship the ancestors, this is enough to show your duty being human and the value of the place of worship.
Therefore, you must daily take care of the altar as well as the living room, and respect the altar as you value yourself, do not show disdain for the place of worship every time you worship. To define again, worship is not a superstitious act but a cultural tradition and belief of the nation, you cannot forget the origin of Eastern Culture. That is one of the symbols of the civilization of the East Asian people that Western countries can hardly find that spiritual value in human social life. Buddhists, you have understood the meaning, value, and method of worship according to the Buddhist concept. You should try to keep the tradition and carry out the home worship properly, both for your own benefit in cultivating yourself, while improving your circumstances and educating your children to become true, good, and beautiful people in the future. Worthy to be a Buddhist in the current situation amidst an advanced civilized society today.
Therefore, on the Buddha altar, there must be an image of Buddha or a statue of Buddha. On the altar of grandparents, there must be a spiritual person or a photo of a grandparent, parent... Behind the image or statue of Buddha, the spirit or image of grandparents should have a glass screen. On the screen were written parallel sentences about the merits of Buddha or grandparents. The arrangement on the altar usually has an incense burner in the middle, and a pair of lampstands on both sides of the incense burner. Flower vases used to arrange fresh flowers are placed on the left of the altar, looking from the inside to the outside. The fruit plate on the right is seen from the altar to the outside.
Today, few people still make tablets in Chinese characters, often replaced with large portraits of their parents. Behind the altar is often decorated with painted water paintings, drawn from behind the glass, with landscapes of rivers, mountains, countryside... On either side of the picture are double scrolls with words from top to bottom, content like:
- Ancestor of merit for thousands of years of success
The filial son and granddaughter are eternally luxurious
- Father's grace for birth is as heavy as a mountain
The foster mother is like the river and the deep sea.
And the horizontal scroll has large text like:
- Blessings fill the full house
- Wealth and prosperity
The general idea is to praise the merits of ancestors and to teach children and grandchildren good and right things.
If the altar of grandparents is not a place to serve as a connection between the living and the dead, the ancestors' souls cannot sympathize with the minds of their descendants. The same goes for the Buddha altar. If the devotee prays, if there is no Buddha altar to serve as a symbol of the condition, the sacredness of the Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, and Saints in the ten directions cannot be touched by the person praying.
Therefore, please note when you offer flowers or fruits, remember that a flowering branch is made of paper, and the value is different from a fresh flower branch. A paper flower branch is only valuable to decorate the altar for beauty, while a fresh flower branch, in addition to the task of beautifying the altar, also has the value of expressing the will to live fully compared to a flowering branch made of paper. The reason is that the fresh flower branch has its own vitality, while the paper flower is just a dead flower. Also, a pair of wax candles is worth more than a pair of electric lights. So on the altar, you burn incense, light lamps, and arrange fresh flowers, which are symbolic objects of the will to live and the meaning of life, increasing the majesty, reverence, and flexibility of the Buddhas, Patriarchs, Saints, or for ancestors through this symbol. Therefore, on the altar, pictures or statues, incense sticks, candles, fresh flowers, etc. are all important sympathetic links between the souls of ancestors and the minds of their descendants, and the communions of the Buddhas of the ten directions with the minds of the disciples.
In short, the reason you worship ancestors is to create a relationship between the living and the dead, between grandparents, parents, and descendants. The reason a Buddhist must worship Buddha, Bodhisattva, and Saint Hien is to let the compassionate energy of Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, and sages communicate with the followers' prayers. You already know and understand why as a son, a grandchild must worship his ancestors, and a believer must worship your Cardinal. Because the topic of this article tells you the reason to worship ancestors, then you need to promote the positive meaning of Ancestor worship and organize the death anniversary of family members, with words of promise to strive to do good works, good things, and to follow their good example. This is also an opportunity to educate children, try to study well, behave ethically, respect relatives, do not discriminate between rich and poor, and know-how to maintain the prestige of the family to shine on your ancestors.
This is a beautiful tradition, you should respect and nurture the kinship relationship, which is both a natural affection and an obligation of each person. It is associated with the custom of Ancestor Worship which has been sustainably maintained in Vietnamese families from ancient times to the present day.
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