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  • Last Updated: March 6, 2013
  • Originally Published: January 23, 2012
  • Cao Dai Overview


Cao Dai is a Vietnamese syncretic2Scholars often describe certain religions as syncretic, meaning "the combination of different forms of belief or practice." [] Here, this term indicates that a religion is largely composed of various aspects of pre-existing religions. In the case of Cao Đài, it is primarily centered on Buddhist, Confucian, and Daoist elements. religion founded in the early twentieth century. It is formally referred to as “Đại Đạo Tam Kỳ Phổ Độ” Its founder, Ngô Văn Chiêu (February 28, 1878 - 1932), was extremely interested in both Eastern and Western religions. During 1919, Ngô held séances in which he purportedly made contact with an entity that called itself Cao Dai. Thus, Cao Dai refers not only to the religion, but also to the deity that revealed it.

Cao Dai

The Cao Dai Holy See in Tay Ninh, Vietnam

This deity gave Ngô the details of a new religion to proclaim to the world. According to Ngô, the supreme deity had twice brought the tools for mankind’s salvation to Earth: once in the form of Judeo-Christianity, and once in the form of Buddhism and Daoism. Ngô held that Cao Dai was the third such iteration of the path to salvation.

A ceremony was held in Tây Ninh, Vietnam, to commemorate the official inauguration of the Cao Dai movement in November 18, 1926, and drew some fifty thousand people. Within the next four years, membership rose to half a million people. By the early 1960s, there were over a million adherents.

Cao Dai Beliefs

  • Deitites: Cao Dai is polytheistic3 "Polytheistic" comes from the word "polytheism" which is the "belief in, or worship of, more than one God." [] and believes in nine principal deities: Cao Dai (represented by the Left Eye of God), the Buddha, Lăozǐ, Confucius, the poet Lǐ Bái, the bodhisattva Quan Âm, the warrior Quán Cóng, Jesus Christ, and the military strategist Jiāng Zǐyá.
  • Saints: Cao Dai recognizes saints from all over the world, including a great number of historical figures.
  • Harmony: Cao Dai emphasizes peace between all peoples, races, and religions.
  • Unity of Faith: Cao Dai adherents believe that the revelation of their religion to Ngô Văn Chiêu was a divine effort to unite all of the world’s religions into one single faith. Cao Dai is an attempt to unify the three major religions of China––Confucianism, Buddhism, and Daoism––into one common belief system. It draws heavily upon the morality of Confucianism, several doctrines of Buddhism (such as karma and reincarnation), and the ritual techniques of religious Daoism. Furthermore, it has definite roots in Vietnamese animistic6Generally speaking, animism is defined as the "attribution of conscious life to objects in and phenomena of nature or to inanimate objects." [] traditions. Later, it developed a hierarchal structure inspired by that of the Catholic Church.
  • Sacred Texts: The main Cao Dai scriptures, the Thánh Ngôn Hiệp Tuyển,7 are composed from the spiritual messages received by Ngô Văn Chiêu and other Cao Đài leaders from 1925 through 1935. According to the religion, these messages are received from the deity, Cao Dai. There are 170 messages total.
Cao Dai

Cao Dai worshippers in the Holy See, Tay Ninh, Vietnam

Cao Dai Timeline

  • The origins of the Cao Dai movement can be traced to 1919, when Ngô Văn Chiêu was contacted by the deity Cao Dai during séances.
  • The Cao Dai movement was officially inaugurated on November 18, 1926.
  • Between the 1920s and 1930s, Cao Dai existed as an independent community in Tây Ninh, Vietnam, with schools, hospitals, and a government of its own.
  • Between the 1940s and 1950s, the Cao Dai community at Tây Ninh acted as an independent state, complete with their own taxes, police, and armed forces.
  • In 1997, Cao Dai was officially recognized as a religion in Vietnam.