Vietnamese Temple: Male and Female Spiritual Icons


“I try to give joy to one person in the morning, and remove the suffering of one person in the afternoon.  That is the secret.  Start right now. ”

Sister Chan Khong

I choose this quote by the foremost disciple Thich Nhat Hanh to match the photograph I took in a Vietnamese temple in the middle of Bangkok.  I noticed the colorful exterior and wandered into the grounds to be met by a kindly young monk who spoke enough English to describe its Vietnamese origins.  He invited me to explore the temple and went back to his work.

The figures in the photo are among many on an elaborate altar that include a possible Taoist warrior and a praying figure that may represent the Buddha or the monk that brought Buddhism to China.  The female icon in the background is not identified but may represent one of the Chinese female deities commonly seen in temples in Vietnam.

Below are two of the several statues of Guanyin in this temple and an unidentified Bodhisattva image in the background.  Discovering female images in temples in Thailand is unusual and I was delightfully surprised to stumble upon a Mahayana temple in the heart of Bangkok.




3dbuddha small_lzn

A third wonderful book review from Buddhist Art News.  


9 thoughts on “Vietnamese Temple: Male and Female Spiritual Icons

  1. Woah, I had no idea that Guan Yu was also known by the Vietnamese Buddhists! (the long-bearded figure in the first photo is Guan Yu, isn’t it?)


  2. Dear HQ,
    Thanks so much for identifying Guan Yu in this photo. I looked him up and realized that I have other images of him from temples in Cholon, the Chinese district of Saigon, and Taiwan. Wikipedia mentioned he would be placed on the far left side of the alter and that is where he is in this photo. It also mentioned that Guan Yu was mostly a south China figure and that explains the influence on Vietnam.
    Vietnam is so influenced by China that the country never had a script of its own and the Buddhist scholars used Chinese. It is the only country in East Asia with only a latin alphabet for their language that was given to them by the French priests in the last 400 years.


    • Guan Yu was one of the most popular “Chinese” Deities in Indonesia. In this country, Guan Yu is more associated with Confucianism than Buddhism. Most Chinese temples, especially the old ones, simply mix up all the deities from Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism.
      To find “pure” Buddhist temples, one must visit the ancient sites in Java island, which were built by the Native Indonesians.
      It is very interesting to learn how people in different places interpret and practice Buddhism. Your blog is an eye-opener, Deborah! 😀


    • Guan Yu is honored in all Chinese traditions. He was very quickly accepted by Buddhism in China as a protector of the Dharma, so his role is similar to Skanda. He came to Vietnam with the Chinese wave of Buddhism around the 2nd century CE.


  3. Dear Deborah,

    When i was last in Thailand, i found a surprising abundance of female Theravada Buddhist images, both in Bangkok at the Foremost Leading Women Disciples of the Buddha wall murals in the Hall of the Reclining Buddha at Wat Po and at Wat Thepthidaaram (“The Temple of the Heavenly Daughter”), as well as in the North at the Queen’s Chedi–Noppolbhumisiricedi up on top at Doi Inthanon, at the highest point in the country.

    Some of the images can be seen on the Women in Buddhism Tour–Thailand blog here:

    Metta to you
    and all readers! ~


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