Cao Dai Cathedral (built 1933-55)
Caodaism (Dai Dao Tam Ky Pho Do, or Third Great Universal Religious Amnesty) is a syncretic religion that had its beginnings in Vietnam, then part of French Indo-China, in the 1920s. Its founder, Ngo Minh Chieu (or Ngo Van Chieu), was a French civil servant and was also a mystic who was well-versed in western and eastern religions. In 1919 he began receiving revelations about the truth of religions from God (Caodai) that told him to combine the teachings of Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, Confucianism, Christianity, Islam and other religions into one religion to promote peace. In 1926 he revealed his seances to the public as a new belief system. It soon became quite popular.
There are a number of important figures in the Cao Dai pantheon. The major saints are Chinese revolutionary leader Sun Yat-sen, the 19c French writer Victor Hugo and the 16c Vietnamese poet Nguyen Binh Khiem. Lesser dignitaries who have manifested themselves in seances include notables such as Joan of Arc, Descartes, V. I. Lenin, William Shakespeare, and Winston Churchill. The organizational structure roughly follows that of the Roman Catholic Church with a pope, cardinals, bishops and priests. There are several million practicioners in (mostly southern) Vietnam and perhaps over a thousand temples, mostly in the Mekong delta. There are also practicioners in the west, though these are primarily in the expatriate Vietnamese communities.
The movement became involved in the Vietnamese nationalist movement against the French and for a while even were allied with the Viet Minh. But Cai Dai military units eventually joined the French against the Viet Minh. After the triumph of the North in the Vietnam war Cao Daiists suffered much along with other religions.
The Great Temple, or Holy See, is the center of the sect. Constructed between 1933 and 1955, is about 60 miles (100 kilometers) northwest of Ho Chi Minh City. It is near the market village of Long Than, and only 5 kilometers from Tay Nihn, the capital of the province of the same name. There are colorful ceremonies with chanting four times a day, including the noontime service in January, 1992, depicted here.
Text by Robert D. Fiala
All images copyright 2000 Professor Robert D. Fiala of Concordia University, Nebraska, USA
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