Contrasting Views Of The Spirit In Vietnam

by bria4123 on December 3, 2012


I’ve never seen these in any books about Asian art or Buddhist art.


But I saw 2 especially common types of statue in several Vietnamese temples. Many people resonate with them. Together, they reveal Vietnam’s unique cultural landscape.

The Dali Lama said that Buddhism has many facets, and that different cultures can interpret it in their own ways.


Many Buddha statues I saw in Vietnam have strong, masculine features.


Like these 2 in Hue. Sakyamuni’s broad forehead, thick ears and square jaw that you couldn’t break with a mallet project the strong will of a man who has just conquered his human cravings. But the squarish forms aren’t angular–their rounded and smooth surfaces reflect the Buddha’s compassion for all beings. He’s a strong man that you can trust to help you overcome your problems.

2 disciples flank the Buddha on many alters in Vietnam–an influence from China. One is old and the other is young. The venerable Kasyapa graces the above shot. Some traditions see him as the Buddha’s first follower. He has a lot of wisdom and meditative powers.


Ananda is the other disciple. He’s young and known for his devotion and great memory. Many Buddhists feel that he memorized the Buddha’s teachings so they could later be written down.

So the wisdom of old age and youthful enthusiasm and raw brain power team up. The Buddha’s power and compassion radiate through the full spectrum of human abilities.

But all 3 men are portrayed with the firm will of a soldier–this trait holds society together. These figures contrast with many Thai Buddha statues. This iron will has probably resonated in Vietnam since the Chinese Han Dynasty made this beautiful land into a province more than 2,000 years ago. Though these faces project an equal amount of compassion, a boxer would hate to see one in his opponent’s corner. He’d get the kindness only after a thorough butt-kicking. Lyndon Johnson and his boys underestimated the Vietnamese will to fight.

But this will is made spiritual and refined by the statues’ softened forms and smooth surfaces which softly glow. Great balance–great art!

But I saw another view of the spirit in Vietnam which is very different than the heroic model. Together they comprise a very rich culture.

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