Also known as DAO KHUNG and PHAT SONG.
Philosopher, founder (1939) of the religion Phat Giao Hoa Hao, more simply known as Hoa Hao after the village of his birth, and an anti-French, anti-Comunist military and political activist.
Frail and sickly all his life he was educated by a Buddhist monk and at the age of 20 was apparently miraculously cured.
He then set about preaching Buddhist reform, advocating a return to Theravada (Way of the Elders) Buddhism from the Mahayana (Greater Vehicle) from prevalent in Vietnam, and stressing austerity, Spartan living, simple worship and personal salvation.
Hoa Hao is an amalgam of Buddhism, ancestor worship, animistic rites, elements of Confucian doctrine and indigenous Vietnamese sorcery. Its adherents have their own flag, maroon in colour and their own special holidays.
so travelled thoughout Vietnam practicing the arts of herbal healing and acupuncture. In speaking he seemed to exert an almost hypnotic influence over his audiences and became known as Dao Khung (Mad Monk). He predicted with accuracy the fall of France in World War II, the Japanese invasion of Indochina and U.S. intervention at a later date.
His success as a prophet led his followers to call him the Phat Song (Living Buddha).
As his fame and adherents increased, his inflammatory speeches brought him to the attention of the French colonial authorities. Exiled from one Vietnamese province after another, he moved on as he continued to draw disciples. Finally he was committed to a mental institution where he proceeded to convert the doctor in change to his philosophy. In desperation the French tried to exile him to Laos but he was kidnapped by Japanese agents in 1942 and held prisoner in Saigon.
After the war disagreement first with the French and then with the Communist Viet Minh, made the Hoa Hao sect an aggressive religio-political-military cult. So met his death in 1947 while travelling to a meeting ostensibly to reconcile differences between Hoa Hao and the Viet Minh who executed him after a "trial" in Long Xuyen.
Many of the Hoa Hao faithful refuse to believe So is dead, asserting he will return in time of crisis.