Caodaism, also known as Cao Dai, was founded in Vietnam in 1926 as a mixture of several other religions including Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism. This belief system began in 1921 when a man received a vision from the divine eye, an important symbol for 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 4 visionaries, 1 government official and a group of over 200 followers signed a founding declaration of the religion on October 7, 1926. Due to its nationalistic ideologies and with the promise that all followers, whether sinners or innocents, would find a home in paradise when they died, Caodaism attracted over half a million followers in its early years.
Followers of the religion consider several documents to be holy. These texts include Heavenly Way and Earthly Way Prayers, Compilation of Divine Messages, and the Divine path to eternal life. As mentioned earlier, Caodaism borrows ideas from several other religions. Believers practice prayer, non-violence, ancestor veneration and vegetarianism in order to break the cycle of reincarnation and reunite with God in heaven. The teachings say that Tao existed before God, that God was created during the Big Bang, and that he created yin and yang. The union of yin and yang allowed the universe to form. In this religion, the sky has 36 levels and intelligent life exists on 72 planets. In the eyes of Caodaists, holy people include Muhammad, Jesus, Joan of Arc, Victor Hugo, Julius Caesar, and Buddha (to name a few).
While the majority of followers are found in Vietnam, where the holy city of Tay Ninh is located, today Caodaism is practiced all over the world. Followers and temples are found in the United States, Canada, England, Germany, France, Japan and Australia. About 5 million individuals identify as believers in Caodaism.
Perhaps Caodaism’s greatest challenge was the communist movement of the 1970s. During this time, the government seized property belonging to the religious organization and turned temples into warehouses and factories. The communist government has also banned seances that Caodaists use to choose new religious leaders. Since then, Caodaism has not inducted new priests for spiritual guidance. When the US government withdrew its troops in 1973, communist forces were able to take control of all of Vietnam. Many individuals, including Caodaists, fled the country.
Fleeing as refugees has also presented a challenge in religious preservation efforts, as these people often find themselves in new countries that speak different languages and have other majority religions. It is different to transmit and teach the beliefs of this religion to new generations when they do not speak the same language.