Magazine

Story, Experiences

The Cao Dai Religion: A Unique Syncretic Faith

The Origin and Beliefs of Cao Dai

Cao Dai is a relatively new religion that emerged in Vietnam in the 1920s, blending elements of Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, Christianity, Islam, and indigenous folk traditions. Despite its recent origins, it has gained a significant following, especially in Tan Chau on the Lower Mekong where it was founded and has become one of the largest religiously-endorsed traditions in Vietnam.

The Cao Dai faith was established in 1926 by Ngo Van Chieu, an administrator for the French colonial government. According to Cao Dai beliefs, Ngo Van Chieu was guided by spiritual forces to establish a new religion that would unify all faiths and bring peace to the world. The name “Cao Dai” translates to “The Great Faith” or “The Great Way.”

At the heart of Cao Dai teachings is the belief in a universal God, referred to as the Cao Dai (literally “Highest Dais” or “High Tower”). This supreme being is seen as the source of all religions and philosophies, which are considered different paths leading to the same truth. Cao Dai incorporates elements from major world religions, including the Ten Commandments from Christianity, the Four Noble Truths from Buddhism, and the teachings of Lao Tzu from Taoism. Ultimately, the faith emphasizes the importance of non-violence, vegetarianism, and the principles of love, justice, and righteousness. Adherents are encouraged to practice meditation, prayer, and self-cultivation to attain spiritual enlightenment and harmony with the divine.

The eye symbol of Cao Dai, known as the Divine Eye or the All-Seeing Eye, represents the divine presence and omniscience of the supreme being in Cao Dai belief. It is often depicted as an eye within a triangle, surrounded by rays of light, symbolizing spiritual enlightenment and the watchful gaze of the divine over the universe.

The Cao Dai religion acknowledges a pantheon of saints and spiritual figures from various faiths and cultures. These include Buddha, Jesus Christ, Confucius, Lao Tzu, Muhammad, and others. Additionally, the religion recognizes a hierarchy of divine beings, including the Cao Dai God, the Buddha Mother, and various saints and immortals.

Influence and Recognition

Despite its relatively short history, the Cao Dai religion has attracted a significant following in Vietnam and abroad. Some notable adherents include former Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem and his family, as well as several high-ranking government officials and military leaders during the Vietnam War era.

The Cao Dai faith’s unique blend of Eastern and Western philosophies, coupled with its emphasis on universal harmony and spiritual enlightenment, has captured the imagination of many seekers worldwide. Its colourful temples, elaborate rituals, and syncretic teachings continue to fascinate scholars, travellers, and those interested in exploring the rich tapestry of religious diversity.

Learn more about the Cao Dai religion during a Heritage Line cruise

Heritage Line guests who wish to learn more can have an exclusive meeting with one of the priests at the temple in Tan Chau to get a personal perspective on this unique culture on the Mekong. Heritage Line offers 3-, 4-, and 7-night luxury cruises sailing between Vietnam and Cambodia aboard two of our beautiful ships, The Jahan and Jayavarman.