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Conceptual, ethical and ritual implications of Arahant and Bodhisattva in Vietnamese Buddhism

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Nguyen, Alice Hoa




Doctor of Philosophy in Religious Studies


Guruge, Ananda W. P.
Long, Darui
Shakya, Miroj


In the field of Buddhism, the Vietnamese people often have concerned to the forms of cultivation of the monks and nuns through the ethics and the rites in the temples in order to know that they will become Arahants or Bodhisattvas.

In fact, according to the teachings of the Buddha, in order to become an Arahant, the Buddhist has to eliminate all the defilements (the illusions of perceptions, mind, and consciousness), free themselves from āsavā and focus on the Truth of suffering. An Arahant has to reach to the holy life by practicing sīla,samādhiand pañña. In order to become a Bodhisattva, the Buddhist has to develop Bodhicitta through practice the Four Sublime States. The Buddhist also has to practice rigorously and completely the Ten Paramitas or Ten perfections (dasa pāramī) of the Bodhisattva in order to attain Supreme Enlightenment. The Bodhisattva vow is to remain in the mundane world for the welfare of sentient beings and rescue them from sufferings. They may appear in different forms in order to suit the situations of beings at a given time.

Scholars cannot assert exactly the time that Buddhism was transmitted to Vietnam. It is very difficult to ascertain the origin of Vietnamese Buddhism. This is due to many factors, including a lack of documentation. Wars and political policies resulted in the annihilation of cultural artifacts in Vietnam. For example, according to Buddhist sources, when Chinese invaded Vietnam, they destroyed many temples and seized many Buddhist sacred documents. Then in 1428, the year of Vietnamese independence, the Ly dynasty destroyed many Buddhist texts due to its favoring of Confucianism over Buddhism. Thus, Vietnamese Buddhist documents were almost entirely destroyed due to historical events. Any attempt to discover the origin of Buddhism in Vietnam will necessarily rely on the archaeological evidence, which has thus far been inconclusive.

Nevertheless, the importance and significance of Buddhism in Vietnamese culture is symbolized and depicted in the architecture, art, sculpture and literature throughout Vietnam, particularly in the Buddhist temples. The cultural manifestation of Buddhism in Vietnam is influenced by the Indian and Chinese cultures upon which Vietnamese Buddhism is based. Vietnamese culture has combined with these factors, resulting in a unique tradition in Vietnam, influenced largely by regional art and ritual. For example, Sages and Kings are often worshiped alongside Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, etc. In the rites of Vietnamese Buddhism, there are varieties a poetry and prose used in ceremonies, which are unique to this tradition. Indian Buddhism came to Vietnam early, but at that time the Vietnamese people only observed and transmitted Buddhism orally. The extant legends refer to the term “But” which symbolizes the Buddha, a Bodhisattva or a Saint.

It has been argued that Vietnam has attributed a number of monks and sutras to China. Yet, on the contrary, Vietnam was influenced by the propagation of Buddhism from China when the Chinese sutras were translated into the Han language.

Vietnam has been influenced by two traditions: Mahay ana and Theravada, and both traditions are practiced in peaceful coexistence. In modern Vietnam, the Arahant and Bodhisattva ideals are emphasized and practiced separately, according to the proclivities of each temple and practice community.

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