Introducing to you to a very small & one of the oddest religions I had ever heard of, Cao Đài . Comparing it to some others out there like Scientology, mormonism or even Catholicism for that matter, it’s not weird at all. Cao Dai’s birthplace is in southern Vietnam when in 1926 a humble colonial servant one day envisioned God calling for a unity of the world’s religions through a common vision of one “Supreme Being”.
Caodaism began gaining strong support in the southern areas of Vietnam and predominantly draws from Buddhist beliefs. However Cao Dai is heavily influenced by Confucianism, preaches Taoist ideals of the Ying & Yang and has a heirachy and structure similar to that of the Roman Catholic Church. They even have a pope!
During the ‘Invasion War’, Caodaism united many Vietnamese, particularly in the Mekong Delta region which is now where a massive majority of the followers still reside. It is uniquely Vietnamese and as you can imagine all of its 3 million followers are very proud of this fact.
“The noble effort of Cao Dai is to unite all of humanity through a common vision of the Supreme Being, whatever our minor differences, in order to promote peace and understanding throughout the world. Cao Dai does not seek to create a gray world, where all religions are exactly the same, only to create a more tolerant world, where all can see each other as sisters and brothers from a common divine source reaching out to a common divine destiny realizing peace within and without.”
It’s full name translates to a mouthful of a title – “The Great Religion of The Third Period of Revelation and Salvation”. Sounds like an epic thing which would have no doubt brought about much interest when it began. In reality, it doesn’t need a fancy title to win over any would-be worshipers because the temples themselves do most of the talking. If your not in awe at the colours and uniqueness as you wander about a Cao Dai temple, there’s probably something wrong with you.
The first Cao Dai temple I saw was in My Tho and at first it just reminded me of a circus with its weird & wacky decorations. I’d never seen a building like it, anywhere and assumed it had to be a religion of some sort, but which one!? Since then, I find it very hard to ride past a Cao Dai temple with gazing dangerously from my motorbike. They seem to have a gravitational effect on me and I usually stop in for a visit.
Physically they are actually more of a church I guess, usually being built in a prominent position on a main street with two tall towers reaching to the heavens. In contrast they are so colourful & vividly decorated, quite against the normal conservative themes used by most churches.
The “Divine Eye”, symbolising god, is placed at the front of the building watching over the people, there are lion-esque guard statues by the front doors and dragons weaving through the columns & flowers & fruit decorating every window frame.
Inside they are much more like a Buddhist pagoda, albeit one where the architect was wasted on acid. Colourful curtains, shrines, incense & yet more colourful dragons await you. Fluro pinks, yellows & blue are a unique choice for the decor in a place of worship, but who doesn’t love surprises!? If you are looking to ‘pick a pew’ to rest those weary legs forget it – Its on the floor for prayer… with a cushion if your lucky. The caretakers at these temples are all so friendly you better like loose leaf teaf if you stop by one too, because I’ve no doubt you’ll be offered several glasses before you are allowed to leave!
They are bright, airy places which bring a sense of calm to a busy street-scape & to be honest I feel it very hard to walk back out the doors & leave once I’m in. I look back in admiration every time I’m outside ready to go & I’m always a little sad that I actually have to.