Of the religions in Vietnam, Buddhism owns the largest number of followers. According to the statistics by Government Committee for Religious Affairs in 2009, there are nearly 6,802,318 Buddhist followers while Buddhist Sangha of Vietnam shows that there are up to almost 45 million people taking refuge in the Three Jewels; 839 Buddhist families; around 44,498 monks and nuns; over 14,775 monasteries, viharas and pagodas throughout Vietnam.
Buddhism in Vietnam is divided into two main branches including Mahayana and Hinayana. Mahayana originated from China; have first come to Red River Delta in 200 and become the most popular religion all over the country while Hinayana came to the South of Mekong Delta from India in 300 to 600 and has been regarded as the main religion in the Southern Vietnam.
Until now, Buddhism is the most popular in almost all the provinces around Vietnam. Mahayana is widely recognized as the main religion of Vietnamese people, Hoa people and some ethnic minorities like Muong, Thai and Tay. Schools of Mahayana Buddhism in Vietnam include Zen, Pure Land Buddhism and Mikkyō. In reality, in Vietnam, Mahayana Buddhism exists in harmony with other religions and beliefs like Taoism, Confucianism, worship of ancestors and the maternal divinity. On the other hand, Hinayana is considered to be the key religion of Khmer Krom.
The first time Catholicism has arrived in Vietnam is under the Le dynasty (early the 16th century in Nam Dinh). It had been popularized by Portuguese and Spanish missionaries before Vietnam became the colony of the French. French colonial empire encouraged Vietnamese people to follow this religion with a view to keeping the balance between Buddhism and Western cultures. At first, this religion was propagated among people of some coastal provinces like Thai Binh, Nam Dinh, Ninh Binh and Thanh Hoa but then rapidly spread to Red River Delta and urban areas.
Nowadays, Vietnam has about 5,5 million Catholics and 6,000 churches all around the country. Over 80 years under French colonial control, 4 Vietnamese bishops were consecrated by the Holy See. During 30 years of war (from 1945 to 1975), 33 people received this honor in both Southern and Northern Vietnam. Between 1976 and 2004, the number increased up to 42.
Caodaism ( or The Great Faith for the Third Universal Redemption) is a native religion in Vietnam and was established by Ngo Van Chieu, Cao Quynh Nhu , Cao Quynh Cu and Pham Cong Tac in 1926. The center of the religion is Tay Ninh Holy See where followers worship Đức Cao Đài (Venerable High Lord), Buddha and Jesus. Caodaism is the combination between Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism and Catholicism. The followers comply with Caodaism rules such as no slaughter, living in harmonious relationship, doing good things, giving a hand to other people, worship of ancestors, having vegetarian diet, and so on.
Currently, there are over 2.4 million Caodaism followers in Vietnam, mainly in the South, especially Tay Ninh and about 30,000 followers living in U.S, European countries and Australia.
Haohaoism is in the close relationship with Buddhism and introduced by Huynh Phu So in 1939 at Hòa Hảo village, Tân Châu district (now An Giang), Châu Đốc.
Hoahaoism strongly develops in the Southwest. This region highly appreciates the philosophy of “Buddha at mind”, promotes simple rituals in worship (offerings just include flowers and clean water) and abolish superstitions. Ceremonies are usually held in a simple and modest way not including eating. Offerings, weddings or funerals are all not fussy as other religions.
In terms of the number of followers, there are about 1.3 million people, many of whom take up residence in the Southwest of Vietnam, especially Long Xuyên.
In Vietnam, Protestantism was introduced in 1911. At first, this religion was just spread in the regions controlled by the French and banned in other places. Until 1920, Protestantism was officially allowed to exist in Vietnam. In 2004, the number of followers is about 1 million and most of them live in Ho Chi Minh City, the Central Highland and the Northwest.