"We will develop and cultivate the liberation of mind by lovingkindness -- make it our vehicle, make it our basis, stabilize it, exercise ourselves in it, and fully perfect it." The Buddha

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Buddha and the Gods

My tiger Emperor fountain pen in cross sections

Yesterday I spoke about being a Vietnamese refugee when I was a boy. Our escape was a perilous one. According to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, between 200,000 and 400,000 Vietnamese boat people died at sea, or as many as 70 percent of Vietnamese died in their attempt to escape from communist Vietnam.

Those are terrible odds. Casinos would give you better odds.

My grandmother, like my grandfather, was born in a village near Hanoi, Vietnam. After my grandfather died, she and my mother migrated south to Saigon during the 1950s. She was old school. She was elegant and dignified. Although she had beautiful long black hair, in public she always put it up in a silk Vietnamese turban. She never went outside with her hair down.

There was a time when I lived with my grandmother at her house. As elegant and dignified as she was, every morning she nonetheless would cradle me in her arms to give me lots of hugs and kisses.

My grandmother was also a devout Buddhist. I tagged along with her to Buddhist temples. I hated it. The rooms, filled with incense and somber chanting, were hot and stuffy. I felt Buddha himself would not have liked it.

There were many Buddhist rituals I witnessed that were absolutely fascinating, especially when there were delicious food involved, but I am not educated enough to speak about them beyond generalities.

However, there was one praying session I specifically remember the day before we left Vietnam. My grandmother prayed to the tiger god. She made offerings and asked him to follow us along our trip to protect us.

I know this tiger god well. As a boy, I was terrified of him -- so much so that I tried not to make direct eye contact. He was fearsome. You wouldn't find me in the room alone with him.

Fast forward to my family and me on a small fishing boat with many other families. We were put in the engine room. The room was hot and stuffy.

On a tiny boat traversing a vast ocean, we all understood our route out of Vietnam would take days, if we made it at all. Along the way were many dangers. One immediate danger for me was the engine itself, which was a mere foot away.

Tired and hungry, I remember being very sleepy and nodding off. As I feel myself falling into the engine compartment, a bright flash raced across my eyes. That flash was of a tiger. Not any tiger. It was the tiger god! He accepted my grandmother's request! Then I find myself being lifted up and placed right back to where I was before I nodded off. I was thus awakened by what transpired.

I am a man of science. But I am also a man of Buddha and the gods. ๐Ÿ’›


  1. Wonderful post, Cuong. Could you please, sometime (if you haven't already), comment on the role of gods in Buddhism? We here in the West often view Buddhism as an a-theistic religion. However, it doesn't take much experience with the subject to realize that this view is simplistic, if not wrong. Many thanks -- Chet

    1. Dear Chet, I wish I can speak more about Buddhism because I am rather uninitiated on the subject. What I can say is that in practice in Vietnam, my grandmother and others like her have more gods in their arsenal. Even the story of Buddha's life has an uncanny resemblance to Jesus's. Budda was tempted by a demon as was Jesus, for example. I would be curious to learn more from you and what YOU know! With much love, Cuong ๐Ÿ’›


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"Irrigators channel waters; fletchers straighten arrows; carpenters shape wood; the wise master themselves." The Buddha