Caodaism in South Vietnam

Caodaism is an indigenous religion, one of the largest in Vietnam. It is estimated that as many as two million are real followers while plenty of others are clearly interested. Many religions have existed for many centuries but Caodaism is an ‘’invention’’ of the 20th Century. Cao means ‘’high’’ and Dai means ‘’palace’’ and the name means the palace where God lives and is actually also used for the name of God. The religion started in South Vietnam and got its official inauguration in 1926.

The religion takes many things from others; Buddhism obviously but also Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Christianity as well as Confucianism, Taoism and Geniism. It involves rituals, structure, philosophy and divinities.

caodaism in south vietnam

Three Manifestations
Caodaists believe that in the first manifestation, God appeared in three forms:

  • A Jewish leader in the Middle East
  • Buddha in India
  • Fou-Hi in China

In the second manifestation:

  • Christianity in the form of Jesus Christ
  • Buddhism in the form of Sakiamuni
  • Confucius as Confucianism
  • Islam as Mohamed
  • Taoism as Lao Tseu

In the final manifestation, God reveals himself; the Great Way for the Third Universal Amnesty, Dai Dao Tam Ky Pho Do.

Ngo Van Chieu who worked for the Cochin China Government began to get communications from Duc Cao Dai. He thought he was God and after a couple of years talked to others about these messages. He believed that this was God’s attempt to reveal himself. In 1926, God instructed mediums to found a new religion.

When the country was unified, Caodaists found themselves restricted by the Communist Government. The administrative bodies, executive and legislative,were abolished and replaced by a government-controlled council. Otherwise, there was little inference. Rituals and practices continued without disturbance.

The basis of the religion is that followers should live a good life, breaking none of the obvious things that would be regarded as evil. Lying, killing, stealing were obvious things that had to be avoided if someone was to progress to reincarnation. Vegetarianism is important but not full-time. Caodaist priests have to be full-time vegetarians (and celibate) but followers can just avoid meat six days in a month.

Caodaists believe in one God but also accept the concept of the Mother Goddess and there is constant debate on which was responsible for creation.

Priests wear colourful robes and tourists on Vietnam tour packages will see temples painted in bright colours. The ceremonies which those travelling to Vietnamwill certainly enjoy are spectacular. There are four a day, with women entering from the left and walking around clockwise before gathering on the left. Men do the opposite in each case. Offerings of fruit, flowers, even tea and alcohol together with burning incense all form part of the ceremony.

Caodaism has its headquarters in Tay Ninh Province to the north west of Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City). Its cathedral was started in 1933 and took twenty years to build. It is an interesting building to say the least. It includes bright, pink columns with enamelled dragons encircling them, a blue globe in the dome representing the divine eye and nine levels regarded as the nine steps to heaven. There are not many buildings like it.

Apart from Vietnamese, there are Caodaists in many other parts of the world including other parts of Asia, Australia, Europe and North America. It is certainly an interesting movement that those going on tours to Vietnam should try to find out more about. Whether you will leave Vietnam with a clear picture about the Country’s religions is doubtful but you will enjoy learning more about each of them.