This introductory chapter explains that the book is about the way people’s life positions—especially age and gender—shape their attitudes towards Buddhism. Their religious practices play an important part in the construction of their identities, and have repercussions that extend well beyond the pagoda walls. In Vietnamese Buddhism, there is no systematized, formally imposed, orthodox practice that is required of all devotees. Even within one form of practice (e.g. chanting sutras), many interpretations across a wide range are given to its significance and objectives. Implicit in these variations are complex gender dynamics related to the family, age, and historical circumstances of living in Hanoi at the end of the twentieth and the beginning of the twenty-first centuries.
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