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Project 4:  Vietnam

A Glimpse of Religious Tourism

By Gordon Klco

            I traveled to the Cao Dai Temple in Vietnam to observe the daily worship of the Temple’s monks and nuns.  The Cao Dai Religion was founded in 1926 and has flourished in Southern Vietnam for the past 79 years.  The religion’s history is very volatile.  The followers of Cao Dai were and continue to be very anti-communist and firmly supported the South during the Vietnam/American War.  Now they are a peaceful religion with around 3 million followers.  Their service seemed very odd to me because it was so public.  The fact that the service was open to hundreds of people with cameras flashing surprised me.

            The service was a like a sporting event.  We were ushered into the temple, up some stairs and to an overlook so we could stare down on the monks and nuns during the ceremony.  The temple was beautiful.  A cross between a Buddhist temple, Hindu temple and a Catholic church, the hall was very tall with an altar and idol at the far end.  It was one large hall with large pillars lining the space.  The pillars, floor walls and ceiling were all ordained with symbols of dragons, the sky etc.  The large idol at the end of the hall consisted of a globe with a large eye painted on it.  The worshipers sat on the floor at one end of the hall facing the idol at the far end.  The ceremony consisted of them chanting, a gong sounding and them bowing.  This was repeated several times throughout the service. 

            Just like the Andalusian Pilgrimage that Mary Crain wrote about in "The Remaking of a Andalusian Pilgrimage", I was witnessing to a ceremony that had been altered by the tourist industry.  In Crain’s article she describes the changes a certain pilgrimage has gone through since the sites have been opened to tourism.  I was witness to something very similar.  What once was a sacred event had now become a money maker and a spectacle.  It made me wonder if the ceremony was real or just an act.  The experience blew me away, and I was left with questions.  Do all religious paths lead to the same place?  In a capitalist world does religion, at some point, become just another way to make money?

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