Formerly called “Reformed Buddhism” in French colonial times, Caodaism was founded by Ngo Van Chieu, a civil servant in the Department of Criminal Investigation, being a bureau of the colonial government in Cochin-China of today’s southern part of Viet Nam.
Actually, during a spiritual séance held in 1919 while serving at the District Headquarters in Duong Dong on the Island of Phu Quoc, Ngo Van Chieu made his first contact with the being of “Cao Dai” or High Throne, later identifying it as the “supreme” being. After his transfer to Saigon he continued séances in communication with “Cao Dai” and organized a new religion, in which an all-seeing eye became the most important symbol. It was in Cholon that he met Le Van Trung, a well-to-do businessman to join the religious movement and even became its leader in 1926. By March of the next year the Cao Daists had acquired a tract of land in Tay Ninh and established their “Holy See” near the sacred Black Lady Mountain close to the Cambodian border. Much of the Cao Dai doctrine is drawn from Mahayana Buddhism and mixed with it are concepts of Taoist and Confucian origin, not forgetting to include the native ancestor worship of the Vietnamese. Having appeared at a later date, Jesus Christ was added too as well as Quang Am, the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy. Also in the pantheon were eventually Sun Yat Sen, Jeanne d’Arc and Victor Hugo among others, while a hierarchical structure emerged, which is very similar to that of the Roman Catholic Church, including a pope, cardinals, bishops and priests, having even their own army.