Cao Dai (Dao Cao Dai or Caodaism) is a syncretistic, monotheistic Vietnamese religious movement with a strongly nationalist political character. During the war, adherents of Cao Dai formed their own powerful militia and opposed the communist forces. For many years following reunification, they were repressed as punishment. Colorful Cao Dai churches dot towns and cities all over southern Vietnam. On our way to the Mekong Delta in southern Vietnam, we visited the central place of worship in the town of Tay Ninh.
Cao Dai draws upon ethical precepts from Confucianism, occult practices from Taoism, theories of karma and rebirth from Buddhism, and a hierarchical organization (including a pope) from Roman Catholicism.
The Divine Eye symbol, representing Cao Dai (God).
Adherents engage in ethical practices such as prayer, veneration of ancestors, nonviolence, and vegetarianism with the minimum goal of rejoining God the Father in Heaven and the ultimate goal of freedom from the cycle of birth and death.
The faith is named for its supreme being, known as Cao Dai (“High Tower”), a Taoist epithet for the supreme god. Cao Dai is seen as the same God honored in all major world religions, but the chosen term avoids gender, personality or other earthly attributes.
Caodaists believe that all religions are the same in principle.
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.
Inside the Cao Dai Temple
Estimates of the number of Cao Đài adherents in Vietnam vary, but most sources give two to three million, according to other sources up to six million. An additional 30,000 (numbers may vary), primarily ethnic Vietnamese, live in the United States, Europe, and Australia.