Photo Gallery

Cao Dai Cathedral (built 1933-55)

Caodaism (Dai Dao Tam Ky Pho Do, or Third Great Universal Religious Amnesty) is a syncretic religion that had its beginnings in Vietnam, then part of French Indo-China, in the 1920s. Its founder, Ngo Minh Chieu (or Ngo Van Chieu), was a French civil servant and was also a mystic who was well-versed in western and eastern religions. In 1919 he began receiving revelations about the truth of religions from God (Caodai) that told him to combine the teachings of Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, Confucianism, Christianity, Islam and other religions into one religion to promote peace. In 1926 he revealed his seances to the public as a new belief system. It soon became quite popular.

There are a number of important figures in the Cao Dai pantheon. The major saints are Chinese revolutionary leader Sun Yat-sen, the 19c French writer Victor Hugo and the 16c Vietnamese poet Nguyen Binh Khiem. Lesser dignitaries who have manifested themselves in seances include notables such as Joan of Arc, Descartes, V. I. Lenin, William Shakespeare, and Winston Churchill. The organizational structure roughly follows that of the Roman Catholic Church with a pope, cardinals, bishops and priests. There are several million practicioners in (mostly southern) Vietnam and perhaps over a thousand temples, mostly in the Mekong delta. There are also practicioners in the west, though these are primarily in the expatriate Vietnamese communities.

The movement became involved in the Vietnamese nationalist movement against the French and for a while even were allied with the Viet Minh. But Cai Dai military units eventually joined the French against the Viet Minh. After the triumph of the North in the Vietnam war Cao Daiists suffered much along with other religions.

The Great Temple, or Holy See, is the center of the sect. Constructed between 1933 and 1955, is about 60 miles (100 kilometers) northwest of Ho Chi Minh City. It is near the market village of Long Than, and only 5 kilometers from Tay Nihn, the capital of the province of the same name. There are colorful ceremonies with chanting four times a day, including the noontime service in January, 1992, depicted here.

Text by Robert D. Fiala


All images copyright 2000 Professor Robert D. Fiala of Concordia University, Nebraska, USA

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Rich Liebe posted on Sat Nov 05, 2011 1:53 am:

I saw this beautiful temple in person while serving in Vietnam in 1967-68. After dealing with all the nastiness of the war on a daily basis, I found it hard to believe that something this magnificent even existed in that country - and right outside my back door, so to speak, since I was stationed at Tay Ninh base camp. I keep telling people about it to this day, but somewhere along the line I lost the pictures I had taken of it. Wonderful to see them again.

Aidan posted on Thu Oct 20, 2011 2:55 pm:

A Map and how to get here would be handy.

Michael Meteyer posted on Fri Jun 11, 2010 7:39 am:

Cao Đài is a relatively new, syncretist, monotheistic religion, officially established in the city of Tây Ninh, southern Vietnam, in 1926. Đạo Cao Đài is the religion's shortened name, the full name is Đại Đạo Tam Kỳ Phổ Độ (Great Religion [of The] Third Period [of] Revelation. The term Cao Đài literally means "Kingdom of Heaven", i.e. "Heaven." Figuratively, it means that highest place where God reigns. Caodaiists often use the term Đức Cao Đài (Venerable Cao Dai) as the abbreviated name for God, the creator of the universe, whose full title is Cao Đài Tiên Ông Đại Bồ Tát Ma-ha-tát (translation: Cao Dai [the] Ancient Sage [and] Great Bodhisattva Mahasattva). According to Caodaiists, the full title was purposefully chosen by God because within it are representations of the Three Teachings: Saint, Sage and Buddha.

Michael Meteyer posted on Fri Sep 25, 2009 6:19 pm:

Looks like a wonderful sight.

eric beard posted on Wed Apr 22, 2009 3:09 am:

my wife loves your site

b mcnabb posted on Fri Apr 03, 2009 4:41 am:

I was at this amazing place/temple of peace in 1990 and since back twice.It is a special place that realises religion is withen not of staed beliefs .Should you have the oppurtunity I do suggest you go and spend 3-5 days just enjoying the music and peace.Viet Nam saw such atrocity as did the young American soldiers all in the NAME OF WAR!!Peace is not just a utopian it is attainable.

Laura Jicha posted on Mon Mar 30, 2009 11:27 am:

I am so glad I clicked on this link, the pictures are amazing and the article is very imformative.

Truong posted on Sat Jan 17, 2009 8:24 am:

It's an amazing article!