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Buddhist weddings gaining popularity

Update: January, 19/2015 - 14:03
Family values: Brides and grooms listen to marital messages delivered by monks, who teach them how to build good family values and maintain tranquility. — VNA/VNS Photos Le Hieu

An increasing number of young Vietnamese couples are opting for Buddhist wedding ceremonies. Hong Thuy reports.

Buddhist wedding ceremonies are a solemn, sacred, traditional affair, accentuated by the golden statue of Shakyamuni Buddha sitting cross-legged under the pipal tree and the exotic perfume of burning incense.

Today, the altar is decorated with fresh flowers, and spiritual leaders adorned in orange-coloured robes, chanting prayers, add to the sacred atmosphere. Heeding the peal of the temple bell and associated prayers, bride Hang My and groom Tuan Thang kowtowed to each other and exchanged vows before the Three Precious Ones known as Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha, promising to love and support one another throughout their marriage.

Praying:Relatives of brides and grooms seek Buddha's blessing for couples.

"I promise to listen to you, empathise with you, and love you throughout my life," stated the groom, placing a wedding ring on the bride's finger before he was betrothed the same formality by his wife-to-be.

Sitting in front of the couple in a kneeling position, with hands clasped together, seven monks raised their eyes and looked at the Buddha statue, loudly chanting prayers seeking Buddha's blessing for the couple to live together till death do them part.

In the midst of the chanting, the head monk rose from his seat to move towards the altar and used a stem of rose imbrued with blessed water to slightly splash on the couple's wedding rings, which is believed to produce a magical effect on the rings and prayed for the pair's peace, contentment, and well-being as they share their lives together till a ripe old age.

The ceremony continued with further chanting and blessings from the monks. The head monk then came in front of the bride and groom to lightly splash blessed water on their heads, wishing them peace and good health so that they can live a happy and harmonious life.

The wedding ceremony that was held at the Sung Phuc monastery, where the Buddhist rituals were carried out, is called the "Hang Thuan" ceremony.

Keeping the faith:A monk gives couples a betrothal paper reminding them to stay faithful to each other for the rest of their lives.

Head of Sung Phuc monastery, Venerable Thich Tam Thien defines "Hang" as eternity and "Thuan" as unity. If a married couple seeks eternal unity, they should sincerely say their vows out aloud before the Three Precious Ones and promise under oath to stay faithful to each other for the rest of their lives. The moment when the bride and groom exchanged rings represents the love and respect they have for each other. If in their future life they lack respect for each other, then it will be impossible for them to have a long-lasting marriage. Thus, when the exchange of wedding rings and vows takes place in front of the Three Precious Ones, families and friends, it sends a strong message to the couple, the Venerable said.

That being said, a wedding ceremony being performed in a monastery or temple will help to imbibe spirituality into the couple's future married life. This will give a significant message to the couple on how to build good family values and maintain tranquillity in order to honour their commitments.

Hang Thuan also symbolises 'promise', which says that Buddha, Dharma and Sangha will help the couple overcome any obstacles that they may encounter in their journey.

"When I make a promise in front of Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, I will try my best to fulfil my filial duty as a child and a faithful husband to my wife," added the groom Tuan Thang.

For the bride Hang My, the ceremony has left an imprint on her mind as she was reminded of her duties as a virtuous, gentle, and faithful daughter-in-law and wife.

"I feel secure and find myself lucky to have my wedding in the Sung Phuc monastery," she said.

Worship:They kowtow to the Three Precious Ones (Buddha, Dharma and Sangha).

According to Deputy Head of Sung Phuc monastery Venerable Thich Tinh Thien, organising wedding parties at homes or hotels is merely to entertain guests and friends.

Meanwhile, an increasing number of young Vietnamese couples want to hold their wedding ceremonies at temples and monasteries as they want to seek the blessings of Buddha, Dharma and Sangha as well as imbibe the teachings of Buddha delivered by the monks on how to be grateful children to parents and faithful soul mates to their husbands and wives, he claimed.

This trend has been evident at the Sung Phuc monastery in the recent years, where over 100 couples hold their wedding ceremonies annually after the Hang Thuan ceremony.

This represents a remarkable increase in the number of couples having their wedding ceremonies organised at the monastery as compared to the figures recorded before 2011, when less than 20 couples held their marriage ceremonies here each year. Then, most of them came to know about the Hang Thuan ceremony through their parents who are Buddhist devotees.

More people come to know about the Hang Thuan ceremony from their relatives and friends, who may have visited the Sung Phuc monastery and other temples, added Venerable Thich Tinh Thien.

Besides this, Venerable Thich Nhan Duc attributed the rise in the number of couples holding their wedding ceremonies after the Hang Thuan ceremony to an increasing number of youngsters visiting the monastery to gain insights into Buddhist principles and applying what they have learnt into meditation practices.

Many have become life partners after partaking in meditation practices, charity, and other religious activities in the monastery.

Bride Nguyen Thi Hang and groom Do Dinh My are among them.

With gleaming faces, the couple stated that they had been looking forward to holding their wedding at the Sung Phuc monastery during their courtship period.

"Both of us partake in activities held at the Sung Phuc monastery where we grew up and fell in love with each other. It is our honour to have the monks help us in performing our wedding ceremony at the monastery," the groom Dinh My noted.

Unlike Hang and My, the couple Tuan Thang and Hang My are not Buddhist followers so as they seldom visit the Sung Phuc monastery or temples. They came to know about the Hang Thuan ceremony through Thang's mother, who is a Buddhist devotee and frequents the Sung Phuc monastery.

Trading vows:The couple kowtow to each other and exchange vows before the Three Precious Ones.

"Our parents, all, have supported our decision to hold our wedding at the Sung Phuc monastery because we believe that Buddha is the heralder of good things and blesses us with a happy married life," Hang My claimed, adding that both she and her husband to-be were able to experience a sacred and tranquil atmosphere as soon as they entered the monastery.

"I don't want to be judgemental, but I find it less significant to hold a wedding for mainly feasting our guests with special meals at home or hotels. For couples like us, we need to know how to understand and empathise with one another in marriage and it is Buddhist principles that can help us," remarked the groom Tuan Thang.

In Buddhism, marriage is considered a personal choice and not as a religious duty. Buddhism does not compel a person to be married. It also does not force anyone to remain a bachelor. Buddhism offers each individual the freedom to decide for himself or herself all the issues pertaining to marriage.

Those who choose to be married are encouraged to listen to marital messages drawn from the prayer book Thien Sanh, which were written and preached by the Buddha. These messages are being delivered by the monks and nuns at the monasteries and pagodas during the Hang Thuan ceremony.

"Now, I know that wearing wedding rings not just symbolises that you are married, but also reminds us to be patient and be forgiving and understanding towards each other throughout our life," Tuan Thang further added.

Having a Hang Thuan wedding ceremony at the Sung Phuc monastery is synonymous with no alcoholic drink, music, and non-vegetarian food. Thus, there are no instances of an overly emotional and inebriated relative rambling on as he/she lost control.

A wedding-goer, Bui Hong Van, noted that she knew very little about Buddhism, but she found it interesting when she did not hear people clinking their glasses and screaming out the word 'zo' during the wedding feast at the Sung Phuc monastery.

"It is my intention to re-organise a wedding for my son at the monastery hoping that he will turn over a new leaf to treat me and his wife better. One can't tell lies before Buddha, Dharma and Sangha," Van pointed out.

Most Venerable Thich Hue Thong cited world figures stating that up to 50 per cent of couples throughout the world have divorced or separated, about 30 per cent are leading an unhappy marital life, and nearly 20 per cent claiming to be happily married.

Yet, there is a positive side to all this. "We are very surprised and glad to know that most couples who claimed to have led a happy marital life are Buddhist devotees adopting Buddhist morals and principles. This is a positive signal, which will enhance people's faith in Buddhism," the Most Venerable claimed.

Yet, the Hang Thuan ceremony holds significance only when the couple is dedicated to each other, to move forward together for the rest of their lives. With love, a sense of responsibility, sharing the same purpose in life, and a strong foundation of Buddhist ethnics, the couple will be able to build a home filled with happiness, he added.

The founder of the Hang Thuan ceremony is scholar Do Nam Tu, who was born under the name Nguyen Trong Thuat, in 1883 and died in 1940. He hailed from Hai Duong Province. He was raised in the Confucian principles but later converted to Buddhism. He was a strong supporter of the Buddhist renaissance in his motherland.

Tu strongly believed that Buddhist beliefs should be spread and practiced by all human races. In 1930, a profound philosopher named Le Dinh Tham, also known as Tam Minh in Buddhist name, was one of the greatest pioneers of the renaissance movement of Buddhism.

The wedding ceremony of Tham's eldest daughter, Le Thi Hoanh, to Hoang Van Tam, was held in the Tu Dam pagoda (Thua Thien-Hue Province). It was believed that was the first wedding ceremony ever carried out in a Buddhist temple.

Responding to the belief propagated by scholar Tu, Venerable Thich Thien Hoa came up with Hang Thuan, a terminology that describes a marriage ceremony at pagodas or monasteries. — VNS

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