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Ho Chi Minh’s human philosophy in religious tolerance

(LLCT) - Inheriting the national tradition of religious tolerance, Ho Chi Minh developed it into his thought on religious tolerance imbued with the communist’s human nature. This is one of the factors contributing to his human philosophy. It is this philosophy that created profound humane values in his thought of religious tolerance, thence helped him gather and unite his fellow countrymen in the block of great national unity to serve the revolution cause.

President Ho Chi Minh with delegates of Vietnam Buddhism Association _

Photo: hiec.org.vn

His philosophical thoughts are expressed in different areas of life, including those on humans, cosmology, economics, morality, history, and so on.

Ho Chi Minh had never written any work or delivered any speech representing his human philosophy. However, it was vividly shown in his revolutionary life and his daily life. This philosophy crystallizes the noble thought, morality and soul of Ho Chi Minh, Vietnamese hero of national liberation, and great man of culture. Professor Tran Van Giau remarked: “Allow me to understand that the stature of a sage is not necessarily in clarifying the correlation between existence and thought, identifying the world as reality or illusion, agnostic or not, choosing familiar dogmas or creating new ones, but rather, in taking care of humans who are existing on Earth and will surely continue to live there until the end of time, in taking that as the center of every thoughts and purposes of all actions. Uncle Ho belongs to that kind of sage...”(1).

Thus, Ho Chi Minh’s human philosophy contains his general conceptions of all aspects of life, as well as his views on life, feelings, dreams, and aspirations.

The tolerance thought appeared very early in human history both in the East and the West. However, it was not until 1995, the “International Year for Tolerance”, did the United Nations provide official definition of tolerance: “Tolerance means the respect, acknowledgement and evaluation of the richness and diversity of the cultures in our world. Tolerance is the harmony in the difference. It is not only an obligation in the field of morality but also a political and legal necessity”(2). The statement of Vietnam UNESCO Commission specified: “Tolerance is a form of freedom, freedom of inclination and legality. A tolerant person is the one who masters his own thought and action, and it is a positive behaviour, implying no patronization or condescension to others. Tolerance means different acknowledgement and acceptance. It is learning how to listen, communicate and understand others. Tolerance is the respect for cultural diversity, the openness to other philosophical thoughts, thirst for learning, knowing useful things to enrich one’s self, having no rejection to what one has not known. Tolerance is the respect for the freedom of others. Tolerance acknowledges that no culture or nation can possess knowledge and truth for their own”(3). Thus, in terms of essence, tolerance is respect, generous view on the differences between nations, peoples (ethnicities, beliefs, religions, political opinions, in-depth philosophy, etc.). In other words, tolerance is the harmonious attitude towards differences in order to exist and develop together in peace.

In the spirit of inheriting the Vietnamese tradition of tolerance, Ho Chi Minh used his independent and creative mind to build, implement and bring it to a new height - communist tolerance which emphasizes the positive values of religion in social life. As a result, religious tolerance has become the humane, moral standard values of communists in their behaviour towards religious fellow-citizens and dignitaries. His thought of religious tolerance also consists of profound human philosophy with the conception that religion is what matters human beings. It is this humane philosophy that has contributed deeply humane values to his thought of religious tolerance.

The human philosophy in Ho Chi Minh’s religious tolerance is expressed in the following fundamental contents:

Firstly, human philosophy respects the freedom of beliefs and religions of people. According to Ho Chi Minh, this respect can be understood as the respect for people and the spiritual needs of a part of them, It also means the respect for freedom and democracy in the cultural and spiritual life of people. Ho Chi Minh did not force or compel anyone to follow a certain ideology, and everyone could study any doctrine which they believed. On 12 July 1946, in response to an interview by journalists at Royal Monceau Hotel in Paris, he clarified: “Everyone has the right to study any doctrine. As for me, I study Marxism”(4). Therefore, it can be said that the respect for the freedom of beliefs and religions also means the right for people to enjoy freedom of thought.

For Ho Chi Minh, respecting the freedom of beliefs and religions of people means respecting one of the fundamental human rights, respecting the value of human beings, not just the political and situational issues. It shows his generous view on different standpoints, respect for other’s beliefs without imposing his ideas on others. It is different from all discriminating, fanatical, and dogmatic attitudes. The underlying meanings are his human philosophy and deep tolerance, vision and thought towards religions. This was asserted by historian Sainteny (who did not share the same view point with Ho Chi Minh): “For me, I must admit that I have never had the excuse to spot any trace of attack, suspicion, or ridicule to any religion, even minor one, at the places where Ho Chi Minh’s programs took place”(5)).

Secondly, Ho Chi Minh much appreciated the patriarchs of religions, socio-political theories as well as their positive values. He said:

“The strong point of Confucius’ doctrine is personal morality cultivation. The strong point of Jesus’ religion is the noble humanity. The strong point of Marxism is the dialectical working method. The strong point of Sun Yat-sen’s philosophy is that its policies are fitted with the conditions of our country.

Aren’t those the shared strong points among Confucius, Jesus, Marx, Sun Yat-sen? They all want to seek happiness for human beings... I try to be their little disciple”(6).

Ho Chi Minh always respected the founders of religions and greatly appreciated the values of religious dogmas. Respecting the head of a religion is respecting its followers, and respecting a religious dogma is respecting the followers’ faith. The human philosophy in his religious tolerance thought shows harmony and co-existence. Each of us may have different backgrounds, views, or beliefs, but the important point is to respect the differences, get adapted to one another and exist together. To do so, we must find out the things in common for such existence. Ho Chi Minh is the one who had deep awareness of such common things, so, in every religion, he could point out the strong points which are not only valuable to the faith of that religion but also the advancement of human society. He wrote: “Jesus taught: Morality means compassion. Shakyamuni taught: Morality means mercy. Confucius taught: Morality means benevolence”(7). The humanism of Jesus, the compassion of Shakyamuni, the “social harmony” of Confucius meet the ideal goal of socialism that we are building. Thus, underlying in the conception of religious tolerance of Ho Chi Minh is the deep human philosophy. According to him, the positive side of religions is that they are oriented towards fundamental human values, the values of being humans.

Ho Chi Minh highlighted the similarity of purposes between religion and socialism. He said: “The goal our Government pursues is to fight for independence and bring happiness to the people. However, to achieve that happiness for everyone, it is necessary to build socialism. If Jesus were born in our time and had to face the sufferings of his contemporaries, he would become a socialist who would follow the path of salvaging human beings”(8).

Ho Chi Minh’s human philosophy is the one targeting all kinds of people in society with the universal values, not for certain individuals or groups. Therefore, not only did Ho Chi Minh respect the heads of religions, priests but also had tremendous interest in the life of the followers. He reminded and instructed staff at grassroots levels to pay due attention to all aspects of people’s life, from accommodation to education: Religious followers could not go to church for services when hungry and felt cold, so their “body” and “soul” should be taken care of.

Ho Chi Minh approached religion on the cultural and ethical planes, with his human philosophy considering religion an issue of, and for people, highlighting and exploiting its moral values. From this, he could attract and gather a lot of clergymen, monks and religious people to participate in the national resistance and construction. This is a correct solution to religious issues in new conditions, suitable with the historical development of our nation, the mind and heart of the Vietnamese.

Beside recognizing, respecting and exploiting moral values, and ideals of religion, Ho Chi Minh also asserted that religion was a component of culture, a part of culture, which contributed very much to shaping the personality and spiritual life of people. Since early 1940s, he wrote: “For the survival as well as the purpose of life, mankind created and invented language, script, morality, law, science, religion, literature and tools for daily activities of dressing, eating, living and methods of use. All that creations and inventions are culture”(9). Thus, religion is originated from life, and it is of, and for people; religion is a component, a part of culture which exists in human life. This is the materialistic view of Ho Chi Minh, but there is no conflict with religions. It is because that underlying in that view is the respectful attitude towards religion and deep human philosophy, showing humanity in the thought and personality of Ho Chi Minh.

Inheriting the human philosophy in Ho Chi Minh’s thought on religious tolerance, in the course of the country’s renovation, the Communist Party of Vietnam has been paying special attention to promoting the positive values of culture, and ethics of religions. The Resolution of the 12th National Party Congress asserted to “continue improving the policies, law on belief and religion, promoting the refined cultural and moral values of religions, caring about and creating conditions for religious organizations to run in accordance with charter of religious organizations the State has recognized in accordance with law provisions, making positive contributions to building and protecting the country”(10).

Thirdly, those who breach religious policies should be treated with mercy and tolerance. The human life philosophy in the religious tolerance thought of Ho Chi Minh is also expressed through his attitude towards the misguided priests, and adherents who were subjected to the enticement and enforcement of the enemy. He not only abandoned them but also expressed his sorrows for their sufferings when they left their fatherland with a variety of hardships, but also was ready to welcome their return. He wrote: “The fate of the religious followers makes me heart-broken and they must be strong enough to claim return to their homeland. On this occasion, I would like to remind my fellow countrymen that the Government frankly respects faith freedom. For those who have mistakenly moved to the South, the Government has ordered the local authorities to keep their fields and property intact and to hand them back to those who return”(11).

Ho Chi Minh always nurtured trust in people because such trust was built on the firm basis of his human philosophy pervaded with profound humanity. As a result, he asserted: “The five fingers are of different lengths... Among millions of people, there are some exceptions, but they are still the descendants of our ancestors... For those who have gone astray, we must convert them with affection”(12). From the belief in human goodness, Ho Chi Minh advocated to be merciful to the misguided fellows while eliminating those who smeared God, worked as the henchmen of the empire, betrayed God, betrayed the country, or harmed the people: “Except for few unpatriotic Vietnamese, our fellow citizens are patriotic. Although there were some misguided people, they have gradually become enlightened and returned to their Fatherland after a period of time”(13). Thanks to that, a large number of religious fellows and dignitaries were attracted to the block of great national unity, implementing the objectives of the Vietnamese revolution successfully.

The human philosophy in religious tolerance thought of Ho Chi Minh is the precious ideological legacy for the Communist Party of Vietnam and the State to inherit and to apply to the practice of religious policies and national solidarity in Vietnam in the current period.

l Endnotes:


(1) Nguyen Lan: Dictionary of Vietnamese Words and Idioms, Ho Chi Minh City Publishing House, 2000, p.1317.

(2) Ho Chi Minh: The National Liberation Hero, Great Cultural Celebrity, Social Sciences Publishing House, Hanoi, 1990, p.287.

(3), (4) Prof. Song Thanh: Ho Chi Minh - Outstanding Cultural Celebrity, National Political Publishing House, Hanoi, 2010, p.142, 142-143.

(5), (13) Ho Chi Minh: Complete Works, Vol. 4, National Political Publishing House, Hanoi, 2011, p.315, 280.

(6) Tran Tam Tinh: Cross and Sword, Youth Publishing House, Ho Chi Minh City, 1988, p.73.

(7), (9) National Center for Social and Human Sciences of Vietnam, Institute for Religious Studies: Ho Chi Minh on issues of religion and faith (2nd edition with addition), Social Sciences Publishing House, 1998, p.185, 79.

(8) Ho Chi Minh: op.cit., Vol.7, National Political Publishing House, Hanoi, 2011, p.95.

(10) Ho Chi Minh: op.cit., Vol.3, National Political Publishing House, Hanoi, 2011, p.48.

(11) CPV: Document of the 12th National Party Congress, Office of the Party Central Committee, Hanoi, 2016, p.165.

(12) Ho Chi Minh: op.cit., Vol.9, National Political Publishing House, Hanoi, 2011, p.206.

(14) Ho Chi Minh: op.cit., Vol.5, National Political Publishing House, Hanoi, 2011, p.516.

Dr. Nguyen Xuan Trung

Institute of Ho Chi Minh and other Party Leaders,

Ho Chi Minh National Academy of Politics

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