Caodaism, also known as Cao Dai, was founded in Vietnam in 1926 as a mixture of many other religions, including Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism. This belief system began in 1921 when a man received a vision of the Divine Eye, an important symbol for the Caodaists today. Four years later, God showed himself to 3 other people. Believing that God had told them to form a new religion, the original seers 4, the government official 1 and a group of over 200 signed a declaration of foundation of religion in October 7, 1926. Because of its nationalistic ideologies and the promise that all followers, sinful or innocent, would find a home in paradise after death, Caodaism attracted over half a million followers in its early years.
Followers of religion hold various documents as saints. These texts include Heavenly Way and Earth Prayers , Compilation of Divine Messages, and the Divine Path to Eternal Life.As mentioned above, caodaism borrows ideas from various other religions. Believers practice prayer, nonviolence, veneration of ancestors and vegetarianism to break the cycle of reincarnation and reunite with God in heaven. The teachings say that the Tao existed before God, that God was created during the Big Bang, and created yin and yang. The union of yin and yang has allowed the universe to form. In this religion, paradise has levels 36 and intelligent life exists on the planets 72. The holy people in the eyes of the Caodaists include Muhammad, Jesus, Joan of Arc, Victor Hugo, Julius Caesar and Buddha (to name a few).
- Global presence and notable professionals
While most of the followers are in Vietnam, where the holy city of the Tay Ninh faith is located, today Caodaism is practiced all over the world. Followers and temples can be found in the United States, Canada, England, Germany, France, Japan and Australia. About 5 million individuals identify themselves as believers of Caodaism.
Caodaism has had only one Pope since its inception, Pham Cong Tac, and died in 1959. He was one of the original mediators to have received the word of God. Many followers believe that without him, Caodaism cannot really exist. At some point between 1955 and 1956, the pope was exiled to Cambodia by Ngo Dinh Diem, a former prime minister of Vietnam. Diem exiled the religious leader because of his control over the Cao Dai army which required positions within the Diem administration and control over most of the Caodaism that practiced the regions of the country.
- Development and dissemination of the faith
After such rapid growth in its early 5’s, caodaism began to change and branched out into several sects. During the Second World War, Japan helped the religious group form an army that involved caodaists in politics. Religion enjoyed relative peace until the arrival of Prime Minister Diem who wanted to spread Catholicism throughout the country and disagreed with Pham Cong Tac and his political demands.
As mentioned above, caodaism now exists in several countries besides Vietnam. This spread of followers around the world can be attributed to Communism and the Vietnam War. In 1975, hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese sought refugee status within these countries. They brought their families, culture and religious beliefs with them.
- Challenges and controversies
Perhaps the greatest challenge to Caodaism was the communist movement during the 1970s. During this period, the government seized property belonging to the religious organization and turned the temples into warehouses and factories. The communist government also prohibited sessions that the Caodaists used to choose new religious officials. Since then, Caodaism has not introduced new priests for spiritual guidance. When the US government withdrew its troops in 1973, communist forces were able to conquer all of Vietnam. Many people, including caodaists, have fled the country.
Escape as refugees has also presented a challenge in efforts to preserve religion, as these individuals are often found in new countries that speak different languages and have other religions by majority. It is different to transmit and teach the beliefs of this religion to the new generations when they do not speak the same language.
- Future perspectives
Currently, the missionary movement of Caodaism is becoming more active on the international scene. The missionaries are also trying to translate the sacred texts into English so that they can reach a wider audience. As individual practitioners begin to practice new sessions (even if it is against the religious constitution to do so), it is possible for religion to break into seven more as people begin to follow their own beliefs and practices. With the young people of the Caodaista growing up in countries outside Vietnam, it will be difficult for them to continue to practice their religious beliefs within cultures that do not understand them.