The last coconut monk


DSC_0346A few months ago we discovered one of the most interesting and surprising religious shrines in Vietnam, the one built in Ben Tre in the 1970’s for the followers of the belief known as coconut religion. It is possible to go by bicycle from Saigon and come back the same day if you are fit enough, we already did that with the Sunday Bike Ride. At its height, this religion got over 4,000 followers all over the world, including journalist John Steinbeck IV, son of the famous Literature Nobel Prize.

What we didn’t know is that there is one person who still follows the teachings of Nguyen Thanh Nam, known at the time as the coconut monk. You can find more about his story here. Nguyen Ten goes almost every day to the temple in the coconut religion shrine in Phoenix island and spends the morning praying. she says her master, who died in 1990, talks to her from the other world and tells her when she will be needed. She prays, she entertains the tourists and tell them about her belief. At age 79, her body looks frail, very skinny, but that impression disappears as soon as she stars talking about her religion.

Since she joined, in 1974, she only eats coconuts and occasionally drinks juices of other fruits, as her master taught her, to avoid killing animals. Coconuts are the most abundant fruit in Ben Tre and the coconut monk was very enthusiastic about its nutritious benefits. But Nguyen Ten admits a weakness: unlike her master, who used to eat it plain, she adds chili, salt or pepper to change the taste. “Our message is that all beliefs have the same root, there is one only God. We need to lead a simple life, not eating animals, not giving importance to material goods”, she says.


In the shrine she shows the tourists photos of her master with a coconut tree looking like a lotus flower or the master with the mice and cats he bred together as a symbol of peace for humans. She says there are other followers of the religion spread all over the world and she will carry the message in the island as long as her body can do it. After that, she doesn’t know who could be her successor, but she thinks someone will eventually replace her.

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