Vietnam #15 New Religion and Cu Chi Tunnels

We were treated to a huge buffet breakfast this morning. (Elios Hotel in Saigon.) They serve sliced mixed fish cake which is a Vietnamese version of gefilte fish. Think I’ll wait forPesach, and our own version. There is always fresh fruit, Vietnamese noodle soup and eggs made to order. By8am we were out on the street meeting up with other tourists to visit the Cao Dai Temple just outside of Tay Nihn. On the way, we were again treated to a mega-tourist shop, again with Vietnamese artists and craftsmen injured in the war. This time, we just stood outside and waited for the group. It is hot and humid here. We are close to the Cambodian border.

Cao Dai Prayers

Cao Dai Prayers

Cao Dai Prayers

Cao Dai Prayers

View from the balcony

View from the balcony

A half hour later, we were on our way and we were scheduled to arrive at the temple in time to hear the noon prayers.

We watched as a few hundred followers in white robes formally entered an ornate temple and sat cross-legged on the floor in even rows. We were directed to an upstairs area, where we listened to them singing and chanting. They were accompanied by a Vietnamese traditional ensemble of 10 musicians.

Monk walking outside the Cao Dai Temple

Monk walking outside the Cao Dai Temple

Maybe my favorite photo of the trip, I caught this monk walking just outside the temple.

Sorry about the long factual entry below, but I could not believe what I read about this relatively new religion that also has followers in France and the US. (See Religion Facts below) Then again, we had a burning bush, who’s to say a séance is any better or worse.

Tunnel Entrance

Tunnel Entrance

We left after a half hour and went to lunch, then on to the Cu Chi tunnels. The tunnels were occupied by the Viet Cong for 20 years during both the French and American occupations. We saw the booby traps, methods of confusing American troops, learned about life in the tunnels, and crawled through a portion of one. It was clear why, even with napalm, defoliants, tanks and dogs, US troops were not able to find the soldiers operating out of the tunnels.

While there, we finally ran into someone else from LA, a lovely woman who teaches Korean history at UCLA. She told a bit about the intricacies of modern, South Korean politics in reference to North Korea. She mentioned a book about a South Korean woman’s visit to North Korea, and the subsequent reaction to the book by the South Korean government.

We drove back to the Ho Chi Minh City through cultivated rubber tree forests and rice fields. Arriving in Saigon at rush hour is a crazy experience – thousands and thousands of motorcycles and scooters, buses, bicycles, and pedestrians, all moving at the same time, weaving seamlessly in every direction. We put our stuff down, then returned to the tour agency to discuss the possibility of changing our plans for tomorrow. We decided to forgo the trip to the Mekong Delta and stay in the city. We switched to a city food tour by motorbike.

Then we set out for the night market for dinner. Rachelle found the perfect white shirt and bargained like a pro. We had a seafood hot pot for dinner, something new for us, and very good. Back in the hotel room, we watched the final episode of Glee and a rerun of Sex And The City. Stayed up late as we had no early plans.

Religion Facts:

Cao Dai (a.k.a. Dao Cao Dai or Caodaism) is a syncretist Vietnamese religious movement with a strongly nationalist political character. Cao Dai draws upon ethical precepts from Confucianism, occult practices from Taoism, theories of karma and rebirth from Buddhism, and a hierarchical organization (including a pope) from Roman Catholicism. Its pantheon of saints includes such diverse figures as the Buddha, Confucius, Jesus Christ, Muhammad, Pericles, Julius Caesar, Joan of Arc, Victor Hugo, and Sun Yat-sen.

The Divine Eye.

Date founded: 1926

  • Place founded: Vietnam
  • Founder: Ngo Van Chieu
  • Adherents: 2-6 million

History -In 1919 Ngo Van Chieu, an administrator for the French in Indochina, received a communication from the supreme deity during a table-moving séance. Chieu became the prophet of the new religion, which was formally established in 1926. Caodaists believe this ushered in  Tam Ky Pho Do or the Third Period of Salvation, a period marked by direct

Cao Dai’s saints include such diverse figures as the Buddha, Confucius, Jesus Christ, Muhammad, Pericles, Julius Caesar, Joan of Arc, Victor Hugo, and Sun Yat-sen. These are honored at Cao Dai temples, along with ancestors.

In Cao Dai, the purpose of life is peace within each individual and harmony in the world. Cao Dai followers also seek to gain religious merit and avoid bad karma.

Cao Dai beliefs about the afterlife are derived from Buddhism. Those who have gathered too much bad karma during their lifetime will be reincarnated in negative circumstances, which may include rebirth on a darker, colder planet than this one. Good karma leads to rebirth to a better life on earth.

Salvation is freedom from rebirth and the attainment of nirvana or heaven. “The ultimate goal of CaoDaists is to be reunified with The All That Is, to return home.”


Cao Dai draws upon occult practices from Taoism and includes communication with the dead in séances. This has been outlawed by the Vietnamese government, but Cao Dai leaders also say that it is no longer necessary.

“We don’t see the necessity to have séance any more because we have direct communication from the Supreme Being to people by returning inside to our heart to see the Supreme Being in there.”

Cao Dai encourages obedience to the three duties (between king and citizen, father and child, husband and wife), and five virtues (humanity, obligation, civility, knowledge, reliability) of Confucianism.

Cao Dai’s organization is patterned after that of Roman Catholicism, with nine levels of hierarchy including a pope, cardinals, and archbishops.

Worship involves group prayer in the temple, elaborate rituals and festivals.

Similar to the division in Theravada Buddhism between lay Buddhists and monks, Cao Dai offers two ways of practice its adherents. Esoterism focuses on meditation, with the goal “to progressively eradicate the inferior self and develop the divine element within the self, reaching toward oneness with the Supreme Being.” These are priests of Cao Dai, which can be men and women. Exoterism is the form available to laypersons living a normal family life. These are expected to:

  • cultivate the Confucian duties and virtues (see above)
  • practice good and avoid evil
  • observe five Precepts: do not kill, do not steal, do not commit adultery, do not get drunk, do not sin by word.
  • practice vegetarianism at least ten days per month, to purify one’s body and spirit and to avoiding killing living beings
  • participate in worship to the Supreme Being through four daily ceremonies, at 6:00 a.m., noon, 6:00 p.m., and midnight, with at least one ceremony per day