Cao Dai Religion in Vietnam
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Cao Dai (pronounced "Cow Die") didn't exist a century ago. Its beginnings date back to the 1920's when a provencial official for the French colonial government in southern Vietnam claimed to have heard from God in a séance in 1926. On September 26 the official, Ngo Van Chieu, founded the Cao Dai religion with the help of 247 disciples. Today visitors to the Great Temple, Tay Ninh Cao Dai Cathedral in Tay Ninh (about 60 miles northwest of Ho Chi Minh City), can watch the chanting ceremony take place four times a day. The cathedral is about 460 feet long by about 130 feet wide.
Explaining Cao Dai beliefs is not easy. The religion is said to have combined elements of Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, Confucianism, Hinduism, and Taoism. But at the heart of the religion is the duty of individual followers to their family and society -- a very Confucian theme. The concept of Karma and a detachment from the material world are both borrowed from Buddhism. Elements of Vietnam's prehistoric religions are also absorbed into Cao Dai beliefs.
The religion's eight million or so followers are governed by a church structure similar to that of Catholicism -- complete with a pope, cardinals, bishops, priests and other offices. And there are saints, including Joan of Arc, Lenin, Shakespeare, Chinese nationalist Sun Yatsen, and French poet Victor Hugo.
Only about 30,000 people outside Vietnam follow Cao Dai beliefs.
If you're looking for a day trip from HCMC, the Cao Dai Cathedral is an interesting excursion.