1- Hoa Hao Village

23 Tháng Năm 200712:00 SA(Xem: 8284)
1- Hoa Hao Village

Photo: Little Girl in a long dark brown tunic before the Altar of Heaven at Hoa Hao village


 

Hoa Hao Village! Just three simple words. But every time I recall these three words, my heart always feels so touched and excited. A whole world of childhood reminiscences appears and absorbs me.

 

The meek and simple scenery of a small village in the western part of South Vietnam in the memory of a little girl comes back clearly and vividly: the gentle river with small boats going back and forth, a muddy road ran around the Hoa Hao Holy Land bearing cars, bikes, and pedestrians in plain rural clothes.

 

Before dawn, at the sound of cockcrow, or in the evening twilight, a blissful fragrance floated in the air of the whole village, because every house burned incense and lighted lamps for religious worship.

 

My parents told me I was born during a time of fierce combat, in the midst of the piercing sounds of gunfire. But I remember the sweetness and delight of my childhood in Hoa Hao Village. When I first began to recognize the circumstances of my life, I did not see anything like war. I knew only peace and happiness. I saw all the people around me living together in sincerity and love with their fellow believers, treating one another as members of one big family.

 

My mother told me their story: “Before 1945, many families of Hoa Hao believers had bought large boats and used them to move into Hoa Hao Village. Facing the  unstable situation that had been predicted in the oracles in the Poetic Holy Scriptures of Prophet Huynh Phu So, their minds awakened and they withdrew into Hoa Hao Village to practice their religion. They lived from day to day, grateful for the land of peace and harmony in which they lived, devoid of any competition or discrimination.  They bought land, built their houses, and took pleasure in a simple and undisturbed life. In this village, no house ever locked its doors, everyone lived and slept with peace of mind, without the pressure and anxiety that trouble city dwellers.”

 

The Altar of Heaven rose in front of every house in Hoa Hao Village.  The altar was a simple small square wooden board nailed over a tall round post. On top of it they placed a small flower vase, three tiny cups of water, an incense burner, and an oil lamp. The lamp was made of tin; on top of its round glass chimney was a lid to protect the fire from wind and rain.

 

Every day, between five and six o'clock in the evening, all male and female believers, wearing the religious clothes called ao trang - a long dark brown tunic -  burned incense and performed their rites of worship. After prostrating themselves before the altar of what are called the Three Jewels of Buddhism: Buddha, Dharma  (the Law), and Sangha (Community) --- inside their houses, they went outside  in front to bow over four directions before the Altar of Heaven. Facing the Altar of Heaven (the main direction), they chanted the prayer of taking refuge, and then facing the other three other directions (toward the back and in beyond each of their two shoulders) they recited the five western vows .

 

Following the religious tradition of all Hoa Hao believers from a very young age, when I went anywhere or visited someone's house I always stood behind the adults to bow at the altar of Buddha, the altar of the ancestors, and the picture of His Holiness the Master (Prophet Huynh Phu So). Only after that routine did I begin to talk and run out to play games with other children. This eventually became the pattern of my whole life.

 

Later on, whenever I had the chance to come back to the village with my family to attend the Great Ceremony on May 18 - the day Prophet Huynh Phu So founded Hoa Hao Buddhism in An Giang province - we always acted in the same way. We would go to any house whose owners were absent, worship in front of the altars, and find a place to sleep just as though it were our own house. It was the same with meals: on feast days people voluntarily brought whatever kinds of food they had to offer to others, and we ate as much as we wanted, all together.

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