28 DAYS: ADVENTURES FOR THE SOUL.
This morning we left the Ancient Town in Hoi An and flew to Saigon, more recently known as Ho Chi Minh City, in the South of Vietnam.
It’s hot and sunny here, so I celebrated the sunshine with a scoop of homemade coconut ice-cream! Delicious and healthy!
Oh and guess what? Tomorrow I get to experience my second New Year’s day of 2016!
February 8th 2016 will welcome the first day of the Lunar New Year! It’s the most important day in most asian countries because of its spiritual significance.
(Note: this post is quite long, but I urge you to finish reading!)
So, in the build up to these new year’s celebrations and due to my endless case of curiosity, today I set out to learn about these spiritual practices that the Vietnamese find so important in preparing for the New Year.
We met up with an old tour guide from the city. He is a war veteran from the Vietnam War (with mighty scars to prove it). He took us by bicycle through the city to show and tell us significant celebration spots and rituals. Besides it satisfying my curious tastebuds, it was super fun too!
First stop: a Roman Catholic church in the heart of the city. I haven’t seen any churches in Vietnam until now. This one was buzzing with chants from the choir and clad with offerings of exotic fruits, letters, money and spices to Maria Magdalena. What was more interesting though, is that even though Catholic people don’t follow the lunar calendar, there were rows and rows of women and families lining up for worship the day before the Chinese New Year.
There was even a room that holds peoples ashes in small ceramic boxes. With the photographs and family names lovingly inscribed on the boxes, hundreds of these lined up according to date of passing. Fascinating!
Next, we visited a modern Buddhist Temple. It was small and brightly colored, and enriched with the purest smells of incense! The tour guide told us that 50% of the population in Ho Chi Minh City practice Buddhism, 30% practice Catholicism and 20% practice other religions. Since he himself is Buddhist, we spent more time in the temple.
The old veteran showed us Buddhist meditation actions that we can use if we want to. I want to share them with you here today:
Meditation: Place your left hand and thumb at the center of your chest, in a half-prayer position. Try to keep your fingers relaxed yet stretched. Practice this position for effective meditation.
Prayer: Place both hands in the universal prayer position at the center of your chest with all fingertips touching. Practice this position for effective prayer.
Thinking: Place one hand above each hip, palms facing down and fingers stiff. Practice this position for effective mindful thinking.
Vietnamese Buddhists generally visit temples the day before Lunar New Year to end off the old year.
These modern temples have different Buddhist figures for different types of prayer. So, whatever you need to pray for, you go to the altar of a specific Buddha and pray. Usually, prayer is done by lighting incense and shaking it over the altar before placing it in a sand bowl to burn out.
Here are some the different Buddhas and what to pray to them for:
Lady Buddha: All encompassing prayers and thanks
Happy Buddha: Happiness
Buddha of Marriage: Successful marriage
Buddha of Family: Abundance in the family. Many sons. Health and prosperity for the family.
Buddha of Property: For a safe home (prevention against fire or natural disasters)
Buddha of Travel: For safe travels for you loved ones.
Then, as you leave and as good karma for the New Year, you should give a small donation to the temple as an offering to god before departing.
Perhaps what I’ve shared with you today is not what you’d expect to learn about the Lunar New Year! Maybe to were expecting to read about Chinese animal symbols, the Year of the Monkey or food varieties. My hope is that I’m able to offer you knowledge I’m picking up on my journey as well as some things you don’t already know.
What I’ve taken from the teachings from the war veteran is that there is one all-empowering thing that determines the lives we create for ourselves. That is belief. Our beliefs form us. What you believe stems from your ancestors, family values and your own developed thoughts. It also defines who you want to be and the life you want to create.
Take the war veteran for example: he has endured many terrible experiences in his life! Shot multiple times, fought in the war and thrown into prison. Yet his beliefs, and most of all, his enthusiasm about his beliefs, are contagious and inspiring. He could have given up, but it was his beliefs that has brought him to the sunshiny day that is tomorrow.
Happy Lunar New Year!