Essay: Cao a -- a I Cao Daism

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Cao a -- a I

Cao Daism is a religious ideology that originates in Vietnam in 1919 and that was officially established in 1926. This religion is intriguing because it contains secular and religious elements from both the East and the West -- one can practically say that it entails ideas developed through centuries of secular and religious progress that a series of cultures from around the world experienced. This combination of concepts materialized into a religious ideology that entails the multitude of ideas that pervaded the Vietnamese society during the early twentieth century. The expression Cao Dai means high tower and it is intended to stand as a euphemism for the divine.

Ngo Van Chieu was born in 1878 in Vietnam and his series of interactions with cultural values originating in a series of communities from around the world enabled him to get a more general understanding of life. He became acquainted with these respective values mainly as a result of reading numerous texts both from the West and from the East. The fact that he "entered the colonial service of the French who governed Vietnam at that time" (Matthews 379) further contributed to exposing him to outside influences. This thus made it possible for him to become less discriminatory and to try and provide others with the opportunity to see matters from his perspective. He proceeded to engage in attempts to communicate with supernatural forces and his presence in groups sympathetic to his views was reported to improve people's attempts to connect with higher powers.

His attempts to communicate with spirits paid off eventually as "around 1919 he began to receive a series of revelations from Cao Dai in which tenets of Cao Dai doctrine were set forth." (Ray 374) Even with this, it was not until 1926 that Cao Daism was officially founded through a ceremony. "Within a year the group had 26,000 followers." (Ray 374)

The Cao Dai religion was very complex because it incorporated ideas originating in diverse cultures and could thus confuse some of the people interested in it as a result of the fact that it seemed to put across conflicting ideas at times. "Teachings included insights of Buddhism, Confucianism, Daoism, and Roman Catholicism." (Matthews 379) One can easily spot ideas originating in some of these ideologies by looking at Cao Daism, with the concept of the trinity being just one of the many that the religion borrowed from other cultures.

Ngo Van Chieu was careful about the principles he taught his followers and highlighted that it is not necessarily required for people to focus on a single religion in trying to connect with divinity. Cao Daism provides a more complex understanding of God, as it promotes the idea that "all religions are different manifestations of one meta-religion, Cao Dai." (Dodd, Lewis, and Emmons 517) to a certain degree, it is safe to say that Cao Dai largely emerged because of social changes occurring throughout Vietnam as a consequence of outside influences.

Cao Daism provides people with the fact that it is pointless for them to try and search for solid evidence proving that particular religious ideas are superior to others. Instead, they should apparently accept that the only way to understand God would be to try to relate to this concept by using ideas that are not characteristic to socially acceptable thinking. From the perspective of Cao Daism, Cao Dai is "He that name cannot name." (Gobron 42) This provides the opportunity to understand that the focus of Cao Daism is not necessarily to present its followers with an easy and socially acceptable way of defining divinity. Instead, the religion encourages individuals to embark on a spiritual journey to connect with a higher authority.

Cao Dai temples are intriguing because of the multitude of concepts they contain. Similar to the religion's principles, they are meant to portray the divine by making use of all the elements that it entails. A temple can have Buddhist, Christian, Confucian, and Christian components, taking into account that all of these religious ideologies have inspired Cao Daism and its followers believe that it is only natural for their temple to honor them. "Lao Tze, the Sakyamoni Buddha, and Confucius share the stage with Jesus Christ on the fronton above the altar" (Cao Dai).

Cao Dai temples have very permissive laws with regard to what visitors can do when entering their premises. People are allowed to take photographs of the temples and they are allowed to enter the temple and its grounds when services are not performed.

There are currently around two million followers of Cao Daism in Vietnam and several hundred thousand outside the country. The building hosting the central location in Cao Daism is in Tay Ninh and it is an imposing cathedral meant to emphasize the ingenuity of the religious ideology. Tay Ninh is generally considered to be an important place for Cao Daism in general, as it also contains "a school, agricultural co-operative and hospital" (Dodd, Lewis, and Emmons 517) installed as a result of Cao Daism's intervention in the region.

In order to reach the headquarters of Cao Daism, one needs to travel for approximately two hours northwest of the metropolitan area of Ho Chi Minh. This trip alone is impressive because it involves "travelling through bustling roadside commerce on the city's outskirts to reach the broad rice field expanses of the Mekong Delta and local farm communities" (Magnificent Temple a Divine).

There are a series of other temples spread through the Mekong Delta and there is even one in Sydney. The Holy See city is certainly the most impressive locations honoring the religious ideology and it is "is reputedly one of the most fascinating religious building complexes in Asia and the centre of the Caodaist world which has several million followers worldwide." (Magnificent Temple a Divine)

Cao Daist priests wear robes in accordance with their understanding of the religion and depending on the particular branch of ideas that they are interested in. The religion is also strict with regard to the role of gender when worshipping. "Statues of Jesus Christ, Buddha and the Hindu god, Brahma, stand side by side in the main chamber and priests of each following wear robes of their appropriate colour while worshippers wear white. Female worshippers enter the temple on the left and males the right." (Magnificent Temple a Divine) the hierarchy present in Cao Daism is relatively similar to the one in Roman Catholicism and it includes nine levels, with individuals being able to be popes, cardinals, and archbishops (Gary 58).

The Cao Dai sect is symbolized through an all-seeing Divine Eye. The symbol portrays a left eye because it is meant to emphasize the relationship between God and the concept of Yang -- Yang is the left side. The ultimate goal of Cao Daism is union with God and "evidence of success comes at death; the left eye, clear and bright, remains open, the body maintains its natural warmth, and it remains in a seated position without the aid of any mechanical means (e.g. ropes)." (Oliver 80)

The idea of karma is very important in Cao Daism and it is directly related to the concept of reincarnation. The religious ideology promotes the belief that people are reincarnated and individuals with a bad karma are likely to be born on a darker planet. In contrast, good karma is probable to lead to better life on earth. By struggling to have a good karma one can eventually reach a state known as nirvana. This makes it possible for people to observe how Cao Daism is related to Buddhism.

Many have expressed criticism with regard to how Cao Dai is but an example concerning proof that larger cultures assimilate smaller communities and make it difficult for individuals in… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Cao a -- a I Cao Daism.  (2013, July 10).  Retrieved June 19, 2019, from

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"Cao a -- a I Cao Daism."  10 July 2013.  Web.  19 June 2019. <>.

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"Cao a -- a I Cao Daism."  July 10, 2013.  Accessed June 19, 2019.