November 29 - December 5, 2020: Issue 476
The Caodai Great Temple in Tay Ninh
by George Repin
Caodaism is a religion, originating in Vietnam, which was officially established in 1926 in the city of Tay Ninh. Tay Ninh is 90 Kms north-west of Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City). The Caodai Great Temple, the “Holy See” and accordingly the centre of the religion, is in Tay Ninh.
Caodaism is a syncretistic monotheistic religion which combines elements of many world religions including Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, Hinduism, Judaism, Islam and Christianity – and also traditional religious beliefs indigenous to Vietnam. It is the outcome of an attempt to create an “ideal” religion through the fusion of the secular and religious philosophies of East and West.
However there are three colours on the religious banner of the religion. These are the colours of the religions which Caodaists apparently believe to be the main religions of the world – yellow for Buddhism, blue for Taoism and red for Confucianism.
Cao Dai in Vietnamese means, literally “high tower or palace” but apparently is regarded in the religion to mean “the Highest Lord” or “Highest Power” and is a euphemism for God.
(It should be stressed that some of what appears in this article may be disputed in some quarters.)
The symbol of the faith is the Left Eye of God – representing the yang masculine, ordaining, positive and expansive activity of the Lord.
Right: The Left Eye of God - symbol of the faith
Adherents to Caodaism engage in ethical practices such as prayer, veneration of ancestors, non-violence and vegetarianism with the goal of union with God and freedom from samsara. (In Sanskrit samsara simply means “wandering” and underlies the Buddhist concept of reincarnation and rebirth with the ultimate aim of achieving the cessation of suffering or nirvana and accordingly cessation of samsara).
The doctrines of the Cao Dai faith tend not only to reconcile all religious views but also to adapt to all degrees of spiritual evolution. A basic principle of Caodaism is “All Religions are One”.
Believers follow a number of rituals including four daily ceremonies at 6.00 am, noon, 6.00 pm and midnight.
With the establishment of the Vietnamese state the practice of Caodaism was proscribed but in 1997 it was granted legal recognition and Caodaists were again free to practise.
The number of adherents in Vietnam is about 3.2 million affiliated with the Tay Ninh church and up to 4 to 6 million in total if other branches are added. It is the third largest religion in Vietnam after Buddhism and Roman Catholicism. There are an estimated 30,000 adherents – primarily ethnic Vietnamese - in the United States of America, Europe and Australia.
As well as being a major centre of pilgrimage the Cao Dai Great Temple in Tay Ninh is one of Vietnam’s major tourist attractions.
Photographs by George Repin in 2002
Mosque-like superstructure on the roof of the Caodai Great Temple
White-robed monks at midday prayers.
Participants in prayers. Note the red (Confucianism), blue (Taoism) and yellow (Buddhist) coloured robes.
Previous Reflections by George Repin
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