History of Cao Dai Temple

Cao Dai (a.k.a. Dao Cao Dai or Caodaism) is a syncretist Vietnamese religious movement with a
strongly nationalist political character. Cao Dai draws upon ethical precepts from Confucianism,
occult practices from Taoism, theories of karma and rebirth from Buddhism, and a hierarchical
organization (including a pope) from Roman Catholicism.
In 1919 Ngo Van Chieu, an administrator for the French in Indochina, received a communication
from the supreme deity during a table-moving séance. Chieu became the prophet of the new
religion, which was formally established in 1926. Caodaists believe this ushered in Tam Ky Pho Do
or the Third Period of Salvation, a period marked by direct revelation between heaven and earth.
Caodaism is the Dai Dao or great religion of this period.
The Great Temple was built between 1933 and 1955. A Cao Dai army was established in 1943
during the Japanese occupation of Indochina. After the war the Cao Dai was an effective force in
national politics; it first supported, then opposed, Premier Ngo Dinh Diem. In 1955–56 Diem
disbanded the Cao Dai army and forced the sect's pope, Pham Cong Tac, into exile.
After the communist takeover in 1975, Cao Dai was reportedly repressed by the government.
Centers of worship were established in Vietnamese refugee communities abroad, however, and it
was legalized in 1985.
By the early 1990s Cao Dai was reported (such as in the Encyclopaedia Britannica) to have some
two million adherents in Vietnam, Cambodia, France, and the United States. Today, Cao Dai
adherents number as high as 6 million, at least according to Cao Dai sources.
The faith is named for its supreme being, known as Cao Dai ("High Tower"), a Taoist epithet for the
supreme god. Cao Dai is seen as the same God honored in all major world religions, but the chosen
term avoids gender, personality or other earthly attributes.
Caodaists believe that all religions are the same in principle. CaoDai.orgexplains:
Cao Dai's pantheon of saints includes such diverse figures as the Buddha, Confucius, Jesus Christ,
Muhammad, Pericles, Julius Caesar, Joan of Arc, Victor Hugo, and the Chinese revolutionary leader
Sun Yat-sen. These are honored at Cao Dai temples, along with ancestors.
Cao Dai followers strive for inner peace and harmony in the world and try to gain religious merit and
avoid bad karma. Cao Dai encourages obedience to the three duties (those between king and
citizen, father and child, husband and wife) and five virtues (humanity, obligation, civility, knowledge,
reliability) of Confucianism.
Followers are expected to participate regularly in worship services, practice vegetarianism at least
ten days per month, purify their body and spirit and avoid killing living beings.
Cao Dai's organization is patterned after that of Roman Catholicism, with nine levels of hierarchy
including a pope, cardinals, and archbishops. Worship involves group prayer in the temple, elaborate
rituals and festivals (more details under "What to See' below).
In addition to the Great Temple, there are around 1,000 other Cao Dai temples in this part of
What to See at Cao Dai Temple
Constructed between 1933 and 1955, the Great Temple of Cao Dai closely resembles a Christian
cathedral in its architecture - two square towers, a long central nave with upper gallery, and side
aisles. The altar, an apse and ambulatory are at the opposite end from the entrance, just as in a
typical church.
The exterior and interior of the Cao Dai Temple are both extravagantly decorated, incorporating
symbols, abstract designs and images of saints. The high ceiling is painted sky-blue with fluffy
clouds and the floor tiles have busy patterns. The dragon-encrusted columns that run the length of
the nave number 28, representing the 28 manifestations of the Buddha. Seven-headed cobras
represent the seven human emotions.

The three principal colors of Cao Dai are yellow (for Buddhism), blue (for Taoism), and red (for
Christianity), and these appear in worshippers'; robes as well as the temple. The most important
symbol is the Divine Eye, representing God, which also appears in followers'; homes. It is a left eye,
because God is Yang, and Yang is the left side. It has a ying-yang symbol in the pupil.
There are four ceremonies with chanting each day: 6:00 am, noon, 6:00 pm, and midnight. An
orchestra of 10 musicians and a choir of 20 youths lead the service in prayer and hymns. The hymns
sound western, but the accompanying music is traditional Vietnamese.
One of the most memorable sights at the Cao Dai temple is the sea of worshippers who dress in
flowing robes and assemble in orderly rows during a ceremony. Men sit on the right and women on
the left.
Most worshippers are lay followers, who wear pure white robes. Men with the rank of priest and
higher have brightly colored robes reflecting their spiritual allegiance: yellow (symbolizing Buddhism
and virtue), blue (Taoism and pacifism) or red (Confucianism and authority). Bishops and cardinals
have the Divine Eye emblazoned on their headpieces.
Visitors are warmly welcomed at the Cao Dai Temple and may watch ceremonies and take photos
from the galleries. Visitors are only asked to wear trousers or skirts covering the knee, remove their
shoes before entering, and remain as quiet as possible during ceremonies. The noon ceremony
always has the largest audience, since most visitors are day trippers from Ho Chi Minh City.
Face Nguyen Cung

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