Photos: Ba Han

Vietnam Heritage, February 2011 — I went with my mother to a Buddhist pagoda on Lunar New Year’s Day when I was a child.
From very early in the morning I and my brothers and sisters were excited waiting to put on new clothes. We romped along the road to the pagoda.
People in my village go to the pagoda to wish for the protection of their families and pick a l?c xuân, a piece of red, folded paper with a poem or a sentence from Buddhist scripture.
In the middle of the large front yard of the pagoda stood a large planter containing a mai tree, Ochna integerrima, bearing its yellow T?t flower, to southern Vietnamese. Beside the buds and blooms were red l?c xuân, on white threads, high and low, on the inside and outside of the tree. 
The representatives of my family first performed rituals of obedience before the altar of the Buddha. My mother held me high. I don’t know whether a higher l?c xuân brings better luck. I was proud to pick a l?c xuân on behalf of my family.
We children were usually allowed to play in the garden, where there were lots of big, shady trees.
In a living room at the back of the pagoda a Buddhist dignitary opened the l?c xuân I had picked, slowly read out the message and explained it in a slow, low, gentle voice.
Every l?c xuân gives ways to improve oneself.
Some people are advised to charitable works, some to patience and, some to a vegetarian diet and prayers, some to refraining from telling lies.
A l?c xuân brings spiritual strength.
As soon as we got home, my mother repeated the recommendations to my grandmother and father.
I recall picking a l?c xuân that said that if we followed Buddhist teachings we would not meet unfavourable events and my brother would pass an examination. If we practised self-improvement we get what we wished for.
My mother has received a lucky l?c xuân every year, never an adverse one.
Nowadays, instead of picking a l?c xuân, people may consult an oracle or have their horoscope read.
For a Buddhist, which I am, the latter practised must be hard to understand. For those who have never read the Buddha’s teachings, it’s fine to follow such superstitions. For those who have heard the very righteous and clear-sighted teachings of Buddha, it isn’t.

By Nguyen Minh