Cao Dai in Vietnam

by Team ACF
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Vietnam 1Take a handful of Dragons, and put them in a colourful box. To that, add dollops of The Buddha’s teachings,throw in some Nationalist spirit, pour in a splash of Christianity and Islam, mix in percepts from Confucius and Taoism, and shake it up, blend it well and open and serve to a people, reeling and gasping under continuous foreign occupation and wars. This is how one can describe Cao Dai, a religion established in 1926, in the city of Tay Ninh in South Vietnam.
The faith brought together a number of underground sects into a new National religion,with a goal of Union with God and freedom from Samsara and to bring about a Unity of all religions and universal peace. The symbol of the Faith is the Left Eye of God, enclosed in a Triangle.
The speedboat takes off from a pier in Ho Chi minh city,with a view of the skyscrapers of the city, and whizz throughVietnam 2 the city canal to join into the Mekong river. After about an hour and a half of speeding down the river and admiring the green foliage and wide waters, we stop and get off the speedboat and walk through the bustling lanes of a village, past street vendors selling an array of vegetables and fruit and absolutely fresh eels, shrimp, frogs, ducklings and strange fish, to stand in front of a Cao Dai Temple. The design of Caodaist temples is quite standard, resembling a Christian cathedral with two square towers, a long nave and an altar at the end of it, there are balconies and side aisles, with extravagant abstract designs and symbols and images of saints. the brightly decorated temple has 28 pillars with dragons wrapped around them, symbolising 28 manifestations of the Buddha.
Vietnam 3Cao Dai talks about “Three Teachings” These are the Teachings of Buddha, Teachings of the sages and Teachings of the saints. They represent the levels of spiritual attainment. Cao dai believes that messages from God have been received through various spiritual entities, and through various figures in history through seance. The pantheon of      some of      the people venerated and considered holy includes
Buddha, Guan Yin, Jesus Christ, Muhammad, Sun Yat-Sen, Joan of Arc, William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar and Victor Hugo. Inside the Tay Ninh Holy temple there is a painting depicting the three saints signing a covenant between God and Mankind. In the painting, from left to right, they are Sun Yat Sen, Victor Hugo and Nguyen Minh Khiem. It is heartening to see that the Vietnamese, inspite of having seen so much strife, practice a religion that aims at peace for the world.
The Caodaists welcome tourists to attend the prayers that are held in the temple four times a day. But we are quite content with our rendezvous with Dragons and Victor Hugo, and decide to end the day with a meal of freshly caught fried fish and “333”, a popular Vietnamese beer, before leaving behind the Mekong Delta and heading back to Ho Chi Minh.
By Neetika Chopra

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