Caodaism: A Unique Mixing Religion from Vietnam

Cao Dai is a unique religion. Dao Cao Dai (Caodaism in English) is the third largest religion in Viet Nam (after Buddhism and Roman Catholicism). “Cao” means “high”; “Dai” means “palace”. Caodai refers to the supreme palace where God reigns — that is the Kingdom of Heaven. The word is also used as God’s symbolic name. Cao Dai is a monotheistic religion.

Ngo Van Chieu, a civil servant of the Cochinchina government began to receive messages from a spirit called Duc Cao Dai (pronounced: Duk Kow Dye), whom he believed to be God. After three years of studying and worshipping God, he shared his spiritual discoveries with others in Saigon. At the end of the year At Suu (1926 CE), Cao Dai instructed a small group of mediums to found a new religion. One of the mediums, Le Van Trung was named by God to be acting Giao Tong (Pope). Caodaism was formally founded on 1926-SEP-26 by a group of 247 disciples.

Caodaism is a syncretistic religion which combines elements from many of the world’s main religions, including Buddhism, Confucianism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Taoism, as well as Geniism, an indigenous religion of Viet Nam.

They regard the history of religion as being divided into three periods of revelation. The first was circa 2500 BC, when God inspired selected religious leaders to found Judaism in the Middle East, Hinduism in India and Yi king (philosophy of transformation) in China. A few thousand years later, God led the Buddha to found Buddhism, Lao Tse to create Taoism, Confucius to start Confucianism, and Jesus Christ to found Christianity.

They believe that, due to the frailty of those religious leaders, the truth became distorted. A number of religions were formed, but most flourished only in or near their countries of origin. Religions became adapted to the needs of individual cultures. Limitations in communication and transportation prevented the formation of a single, true universal religion which all of humanity could embrace. Followers of Caodaism believe that God was concerned that the multiplicity of religions prevented people from living together in harmony. God decided to initiate a third revelation, in which he communicated Caodaism by spiritist means.

Cao Dai’s pantheon of saints includes such diverse figures as the Buddha, Confucius, Jesus Christ, Muhammad, Pericles, Julius Caesar, Joan of Arc, Victor Hugo, and the Chinese revolutionary leader Sun Yat-sen. These are honored at Cao Dai temples, along with ancestors.

Cao Dai followers strive for inner peace and harmony in the world and try to gain religious merit and avoid bad karma. Cao Dai encourages obedience to the three duties (those between king and citizen, father and child, husband and wife) and five virtues (humanity, obligation, civility, knowledge, reliability) of Confucianism.

Followers are expected to participate regularly in worship services, practice vegetarianism at least ten days per month, purify their body and spirit and avoid killing living beings.

Cao Dai’s organization is patterned after that of Roman Catholicism, with nine levels of hierarchy including a pope, cardinals, and archbishops. Worship involves group prayer in the temple, elaborate rituals and festivals.

In addition to the Great Temple, there are around 1,000 other Cao Dai temples in this part of Vietnam.

Bored to read? Let’s just see their syncretistic from their greatest temple, Great Holly See Temple (Cao Dai Temple)

The entrance view. What do you think? I think it’s look like a mix of  cathedral and  pagoda. Watch the center building among the tower. Do you see a familiar symbol? Too small? Save the curiosity till we see the interior ya 😉

The entire exterior building, especially the roof style really look like pagoda. Hey! The arrangement looks like a cathedral tower in the front, a dome in the middle and pagoda tower in the back.

This is the dome dome, just like a mosque but the dome is different. It was painted like a big globe.

Upside the globe, you can not find a star and a crescent like mosque dome it was replaced by an animal statue, look like a mix of dragon and horse.

Within the temple, males must enter on the right and females to the left and shoes have to be removed before entering the massive main hall just like entering mosque and synagogue. Many tourist said that once you step into the temple, you seem to be removed from the hassle and bustle of the outside world and placed into a world of calmness, peace and light.

This is the symbol that you see in the entrance but it is NOT an all seing eye or a Mahaparinibbana Sutta, it is a symbol of Caodaism. This symbol is the Divine Eye, representing God, which also appears in followers’ homes. It is a left eye, because God is Yang, and Yang is the left side. It has a ying-yang symbol in the pupil.

In this altar, they are worship God that symbolized with the Divine Eye but they are also worship Sakyamuni (represents Buddhism), Lao Tse (represents Taoism), Jesus Christ (represent Christianity), Confusius (represents Confucianism) and Khuong Thai Cong (represents Geniism)

The dragon-encrusted columns that run the length of the nave number 28, representing the 28 manifestations of the Buddha.

This seven-headed cobras symbolizing the seven human emotions.

There are also paintings of saints, Chinese unicorns, phoenixes and turtles, more depictions of the lotus .

Some moslem people think that the prayer movements are looks like Moslem Shalat but actually it is much more closer to the Kong Hu Chu praying movements.

Services are held four times a day and visitors are welcomed to watch from the balcony above which runs the entire length of the cathedral. Rows and rows of gracefully attired devotees dressed in white stroll into the hall systematically, accompanied by the sounds of the gong. As if on cue, once inside the hall, the devotees kneel down together before the altar signaling the start of the prayers. The priests are easily identified by their white pointy hats decorated with the holy eye and are dressed in either red (for Christianity), blue (for Taoism) or yellow (for Buddhism) flowing robes. The gongs are now joined in by the string instruments and harmonious chanting of the devotees.

Is it more unique than Jainism?


35 thoughts on “Caodaism: A Unique Mixing Religion from Vietnam

  1. I am very much in awe of these places of worship and very grateful to learn about this syncretic religion in Vietnam. I had not realized it was founded as recently as 09/26/1926. Thank for all this great information and these incredible photos.

  2. Hi,
    Wow, that is magnificent, the work that has gone into this is just amazing, and I love how it is all so colourful as well, Beautiful photos.

    • The appreciation for the magnificent photos should refer to my friend Chang who make this photograph. I don’t visit this temple actually, he just share his experience and I try to interpret his photos because Chang doesn’t know what is the all seeing eye and shalat movement. I will tell him that you love his photograph 🙂

  3. All the great religions and even discordant factions within religions all believe they have exclusive ownership of God and the correct religion. More people must realize that perhaps God reveals himself to different people in different ways, through different people and in different time.

  4. kofegeek … you have done a marvelous job with this fascinating essay. Thank you. I am of the belief that different legitimate religions are simply languages given by God to a culture … so that God and the culture can communicate. Well, that is a bit simplistic … but you get my drift.

    • Another wise comments, i love this one, …. ” different legitimate religions are simply languages given by God to a culture … so that God and the culture can communicate.” Thank you for the wisdom learning Raven 🙂

    • ah, I have friends around the world. They are so nice to share their flick-r album and their stories and my friends in blogsphere are so nice to visit and share my blog. Some stories also come from my past-professors and some of also comes from my experience and my mind

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