Cao Dai Temple in Vietnam: A Mysterious Sacred Destination

If you travel for about 60 miles north of Ho Chi Minh City, you will meet the Great Temple or the Holy See that is the center of the intriguing Cao Dai sect.  The Cao Dai is one of the syncretic Vietnamese religious movement that incorporates the aspects of Taoism, Catholicism, Confucianism as well as Buddhism. The Cai Dai Temple began at around 1993 and had a unique style that reflects all the blended traditions. Until now, around 4,8% population in Vietnam are Caodaism.

Cao Dai Temple in Tay Ninh near Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) in Vietnam

History

Cao Dai, also known as Caodaism is one of the religious movement in Vietnam that has a string nationality political character. The religion draws its ethical precepts from Confucianism, occults practices of Taoism as well as the rebirth from Buddhism and a hierarchy of an organization adopted from the Roman Catholic. The Cao Dai army was established in the year 1943 while the Japanese had occupied the Indochina. After the war, the regiment formed a strong political movement that ended up to be a religion that is now famous in Vietnam.

Symbols

Cao Đai temples and religious buildings host a rich array of symbols, all of which are instructed by either God the Father or Divine Beings. No symbol is redundant, and none is meaningless. They each tell a different story that reveals the beliefs, values, cosmic secrets, prophecies, etc. When combined, they lay out the journey of the Tao throughout the history of mankind and the universe, as well as its way forward.

  • The Divine Eye: In spirit and in pictorial representation, the Eye serves to remind Cao Đài believers that the God witnesses everything, everywhere, constantly. At the Holy See, there are in total 50 Divine Eyes of five different shapes; each carrying a different meaning related to various spiritual aspects. The One on the globe shows the Supreme Being above the North Star in the Ursa Minor constellation. The One on the façade of the Holy See has 35 rays of light which represent the three major religions and five main religious doctrines of the world. At the local Cao Đài Temples, the Divine Eye has 16 rays of light emanating from it. Nine radiate upward representing the nine levels of heaven, and seven radiating downward representing the seven emotions, which believers must control.
  • The religious banner and emblem: In accordance with the religious mission, the three colors of Cao Đài banner represent the three main religions of the world; yellow stands for Buddhism, blue for Taoism, and red for Confucianism. Under the Divine Eye is the religious emblem which also represents the essence of the three religions; the bowl of charity for Buddhist compassion and asceticism, the feather duster for Taoist purification; the Spring and Autumn Annals for Confucianist virtue and love.
A sphere inside the Tây Ninh Holy See, representing the Left Eye of God

What to see in the Temple?

After being constructed in between the year 1933 and 1955, the great temple of Cao Dai resembles the Christian cathedral in term of its architecture. It has a two square tower, along with central nave as well as sided aisles. The altar is an apse with an ambulatory that lies at the opposite end of the entrance just as a typical church. Both the interior and the exterior parts of the temple decorations have extravagant decorations that incorporates both symbols, designs, and images of saints.  The typical colors of the temple are yellow, which represents Buddhism, blue for Taoism and red for Christianity.

One of the most important symbols in the temple is the Divine eye. According to the followers of this religion, the divine eye represents their god. The followers ensure that the logo remains in their homes. Four ceremonies must adhere to each day. The first start at 6.00 am in the morning, then one at not, followed by the one at 6.00 pm and later at midnight. There is an orchestra of ten musicians and 20 youth members that lead the services in prayers and hymns.

TAY NINH, VETNAM – JULY 26: Religious ceremony in Cao Dai Temple on July 26, 2012 in Tay Ninh, Vietnam. Estimates of the number of Cao Dai adherents in Vietnam to 2 to 3 million.

Dress Code

One of the most memorable sites in the temple is the sea of worshippers who dress in robes and assemble in orderly rows during ceremonies. The men in the synagogue were sitting on the right as the female take their positions on the left side. Most of the followers wear pure white robes with men ranked in the highest place. The leaders will always have a headpiece that is embellished by the divine eye that represents their god.

Visitors

If you are a visitor, you will be welcomed in the temple and be allowed to watch the ceremonies and take some photos with you. You will be asked to wear trousers or skirts that cover your knees. Before entering the temple, you must remove the shoes and remain quiet during the ceremony. In most cases, the noon ceremonies have the largest audience as more visitors trips in the City during the day. The services are thus beautiful at this moment. If you visit the Ho Chi Minh City, make a point of visiting the temple and watch the ceremonies.

Tay Ninh, Vietnam – April 22, 2014: People praying in a Caodai temple in Vietnam. Caodai is a Vietnamese religion mixing different religions from around the world, including Buddhism, Confucianism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Taoism, and Geniism.

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