Coconut Religion – The Unique Ritual Power That Once Ruled the Kingdom of Coconut.

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Đạo Dừa/ Hòa đồng tôn giáo (Coconut religion or Religion of Unity) was once famous in Cồn Phụng (Phoenix islet), Bến Tre. Nowadays, even though the religion is almost dead and only a few old people follow it, many people are still curious about its unique name as well as its founder.

The origin:

Coconut Religion was founded in 1963 by Mr Nguyễn Thành Nam (1909-1990), as known as Sir Coconut Monk. In the 1900s, Mr Nam was a scholar born with a silver spoon in his mouth. After having graduated with a diploma of Chemical Engineering in France, he came back to Bến Tre and started his soap business. The company shortly went bankrupt. Soon after that, Mr.Nam left his family to start his own religion. At that time, people reported him meditating on tops of coconut trees and consumed mostly coconut water for daily nutrients. That’s why he’s got his name Sir Coconut Monk.

Ông Đạo Dừa – Sir Coconut Monk
photo: https://dongsongcu.wordpress.com.

In 1963, Sir Coconut Monk started spreading his doctrine to the locals. The religion is based largely on Buddhism and Catholic beliefs, along with the preaching of Sir Coconut Monk. It quickly adapted to the community and soon gained followers. At its peak, Coconut religion had around 4,000 followers.

The practice:

The advocates of Coconut Religion were mostly men. They practised praying and consuming only coconut products for their daily diets. However, polygamy was allowed for advocates as they could get married up to 9 wives. Under the government of the former Republic of South Vietnam, monks were exempted from joining the national army. For that reason, Đạo Dừa had gained so many followers, mostly young men at the age of 18 to 35 whose desires weren’t to serve the country’s service.

Advocates praying for peace in the temple.
photo: mapio.net

The advocates donated a large sum of money for Sir Coconut Monk to build his own temple in Phoenix Islet.  The temple is named Nam Quốc Phật (Vietnamese Buddha). Along with the temple, there is a large square with nine dragons columns – which stands for Cửu Long (the Mekong region). Behind, the Peace tower consists of two tall buildings which stand for Hanoi-North and Saigon-South.

Nam Quốc Phật, the temple of Coconut Religion.* photo: https://mapsights.com, taken by Lance and Cromwell

*The gate, with Crucifix on the left and Vietnamese Buddhist sign on the right, expresses the will to unify the two main Vietnamese religions.

The (phantom) legacies:

Sir Coconut Monk had been notorious for his so-called “ultimate” religion since the Southern Vietnam government existed. In 1967, Southern Vietnam began the new electoral campaign. Sir Coconut Monk, with his willing for peace for the humanity, had stood for election for Presidency! He promised to pacify the Vietnam War within 7 days had he been nominated Presidency. Nonetheless, he refused to answer how he could make that happen. Sir Coconut Monk had been then sent to Biên Hòa asylum to run a mental health check.

Sir Coconut Monk at Chợ Quán (Biên Hòa) asylum after his mental health check.
photo: baomoi.com

After that “historic” event of Coconut Religion, the government had banned him from seeking intervention from other countries to help develop his religion nationwide. Despite having sent many letters to President Diệm, President J.F.K, President Charles de Gaulle, and so on,  he never had a reply from any of whom he asked for help. Moreover, both the governments: the Republic of South Vietnam and Communist Vietnam had identified him as a threat of rebellion and had banned him from going abroad. Sir Coconut Monk had been caught at the border trying to pilgrimage to Angkor Thom, Angkor Wat, Siem Reap (Cambodia).

Sir Coconut Monk and foreign reporters.
photo: https://blog.nfb.ca/blog/2017/04/28/photo-friday-different-view-vietnam-war/
The tragedy:

During the end of Vietnam war, Sir Coconut Monk had failed to flee outside the country. Thus, he had been forced to go to a rehabilitation camp. After a short while, they had released him on bail because of his mental issues record. Ever since the fallen of South Vietnam, the new government had identified Coconut Religion as a cult. Sir Coconut Monk continued to run Coconut Religion under the law despite the government’s strong attempts to prevent it from expanding.

On 12/05/1990, while the crowd were practising Coconut religion at Sir Coconut Monk’s private property, the government broke into his house and issued Coconut Religion a ban from spreading superstition to the community. At the tipping point of the conversation with the government, Sir Coconut Monk left upstairs to “pray for peace”, but one of his followers pulled him back to confront the government. Unfortunately, the pull was too strong for Sir Coconut Monk that he fell off the ground. Sir Coconut Monk departed the next day of a serious traumatic brain injury, aged 81. Since the death of the creator of Coconut Religion, the number of followers has ceased drastically from thousands to very few people.

Sir Coconut Monk’s stone stele at his own temple.
photo: doisongphapluat.com
Ending:

For the locals, Sir Coconut Monk was an “accidental legend” of Bến Tre. In the kingdom of coconut, people do not worship this ‘creator’ anymore. Instead, they will tell either ridiculous or odd anecdotes about him. You can witness his legacy when coming to Phoenix Islet by coming to the temple and talking to his followers. I am sure there are yet things to learn about this interesting religion. If you haven’t registered on our upcoming trip to Bến Tre, do not hesitate to contact us! We wish to bring you the best discovery experience in Vietnam.

Levi.


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