THE FIRST characteristic of Hoa Hao Buddhism lies in the fact that from Buu Son Ky Huong to Hoa Hao, it has always been a peasant Buddhism, one meant for Vietnamese farmers.
During his lifetime, The Healing Buddha of Tay An used to preach Buddhism and at the same time encouraged agriculture under the slogan PRACTICING BUDDHISM WHILE FARMING YOUR LAND.
In continuing the tradition of Buu Son Ky Huong Prophet Huynh also encouraged agriculture. This is the reason why He chose the most fertile part of Vietnam to begin his evangelical mission, and why the majority of Hoa Hao faithful are farmers.
From the perspective of cultural anthropology and sociology, it is well known that the farmers, by their pure and simple nature, are predisposed to study religion and self-improvement.
THE SECOND characteristic is that both Hoa Hao Buddhism and Buu Son Ky Huong advocate the practice of Buddhism at home. The reason was that both the Healing Buddha of Tay An and Prophet Huynh Phu So shared the view that Buddhism should not only be preached in pagodas and temples, but also be a living practice observed in every family.
For this reason, Hoa Hao followers are not required to shave their heads and take refuge in pagodas. Instead they are allowed to live with their families, to lead normal lives tilling their land while trying to improve themselves by observing Shakyamuni’s (*) Teachings.
“STUDY BUDDHISM TO IMPROVE YOUR-SELVES” is the guideline of Hoa Hao Doctrine. In order to attain Nirvana and free ourselves from the cycle of reincarnation, we must follow to the letter the genuine teachings of Buddha, keep a clear mind and improve ourselves to fulfill our duty in our present life.
A Hoa Hao Buddhist practicing Buddhism for self-improvement must first of all do his best to comply with the Four Great Debts Of Gratitude:
1. Gratitude to our Ancestors and Parents.
2. Gratitude to our Country.
3. Gratitude to the Three Treasures: Buddha, the Dharma (Buddhist teachings), and the Shangha (Community of monks).
4. Gratitude to our fellow countrymen and to mankind.
(See Biography and Teachings of Prophet Huynh Phu So).
To show our thankfulness to our Country, we must be ready to sacrifice ourselves for our country when required.
(*) Shakyamuni is the historical Buddha who founded Buddhism in the sixth century B.C.
THE THIRD characteristic is the modernization of the methods of self-improvement by discarding all unnecessary rites and superstitious practices. The purpose is to promote the essence of Buddhism in accordance with Buddha’s genuine teachings.
Here are some modifications advocated by Hoa Hao Buddhism:
- No pagodas or statues should be built besides the existing ones. Instead, let us reserve our money to come to the assistance of the poor and the needy, a really beneficial act unlike building a large pagoda or casting tall statues.
- Let us not require the services of sorcerers, magicians, astrologers, and fortune-tellers. Let us not offer food as offerings to Buddha because Buddha would never accept such bribery.
- Let us do away with flags, banners or streamers. Let us not burn votive paper because this is a futile waste...
- Let us not cry or conduct expensive funerals; instead let us pray quietly for the deliverance of the deceased person’s soul.
- Let us not compel our children to marry the one they do not like. Let us not demand large financial gifts from the bridegroom or organize big wedding parties, because this will only impoverish ourselves.
In short, the reforms advocated by Hoa Hao Buddhism are aimed at bringing us back to the original teachings of Buddha who taught: OUR BELIEF MUST COME FROM OUR HEART. Faith is a matter of heart rather than a matter of rite and ceremony.