Not that it probably makes much difference to the Gods themselves, but many visitors seem fascinated by this semantic question: what is the difference between a temple and a pagoda? In English, ‘temple’ is a more general term designating any building where people go to worship, while ‘pagoda’ more specifically refers to a Hindu or Buddhist temple. Vietnamese also uses two main words den and chua translated respectively as ‘temple’ and ‘pagoda’. Chua refers to temples dedicated to the worship of Buddha. Chua are tended by resident monks (those shaven-headed, saffron-robed guys). On the other hand, den is temples where all other deities are worshipped. They are tended by ordinary men or women assigned to each temple. Some pagodas – especially in the North – will comprise, in addition to the most important altar to Buddha himself, other altars to different deities. Thus, using the Vietnamese definitions of the words, one can find temples (den) inside pagodas (chua).
In the Vietnamese spiritual world, many deities are actually real human beings that have lived exceptional lives and have kept their influential position in the afterlife. Buddha is the highest ranking of all. Others deities of human origin include famous and powerful emperors, mandarins and national heroes that influenced Vietnamese history. Buddha the compassionate has to take care of everybody, irrespective of his or her deeds and situation. He is therefore extremely busy and does not have time to cater to each individual prayer. However, other figures are choosier; they will look upon individual prayers and decide which one they will answer favorably. This is why Vietnamese worshippers will visit different temples, addressing specific prayers to specific deities. A business request might be submitted to a successful mandarin, a family problem may be submitted to the Mother, etc.