Vietnam photo gallery
By DAISY NGUYEN
Blast Vietnam Bureau
When we were in Saigon last July, the tropical heat was so unbearable in
the city that we had to take an excursion to the nearby province, Tay
Ninh. Located north-west of Saigon, this province is bordered by
Cambodia on three sides and serves as headquarter to one of Vietnam's
most interesting indigenous religion, Caodaism.
The Caodai Great Temple is one of the most striking structures in
Vietnam. Built between 1933 and 1955, it is the biggest shrine to most
Caodai followers who live in Tay Ninh province. Caodaism is the product
of an attempt to create the ideal religion through the fusion of the
secular and religious philosophies of the East and West. The result is a
colorful and eclectic blend that includes bits and pieces of most of the
religious philosophies known in Vietnam during the 20th Century:
Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, native Vietnamese spiritism,
Christianity and Islam.
The term "Caodai" means "high tower or palace," and is used to refer to
God. According to the Lonely Planet guidebook to Vietnam, Caodaism was
founded in 1926 by a mystic man named Ngo Minh Chieu, who widely read
Western and Eastern religious works. Around 1919 he began to receive a
series of revelations from Caodai in which the tenets of Caodai doctrine
were set forth.
Much of the Caodai doctrine is drawn from Mahayana Buddhism mixed with
Taoist and Confucian elements. Although its main tenets include
believing in one god, and practicing priestly celibacy, vegetarianism,
reverence for the dead, and communications with the spirits through
seances, perhaps Caodaism's most interesting and quirky aspect is its
own debate over which deity was the primary source of creation.
According to Caodaism, history is divided into three major periods of
divine revelation. During the first period, God's truth was revealed to
humanity through Laotse and figures associated with Buddhism,
Confucianism, and Taoism. The human agents of revelation during the
second period were Buddha, Mohammed, Confucius, Jesus and Moses. The
Caodai believe that their messages were corrupted because of the human
frailty of the messengers and their disciples. They also believe that
these revelations were limited in scope, intended to be applicable to
only during a specific age to the people of the area in which the
Caodaism sees itself as the product of the "Third Alliance Between God
and Man," the third and final revelation. Disciples believe that
Caodaism avoids the failures of the first two periods because it is
based on divine truth as communicated through spirits, which serve as
messengers of salvation and instructors of doctrine. Spirits who have
been in touch with the Caodai included deceased Caodai leaders, heroes,
philosophers, poets, political leaders, as well as ordinary people.
Among the contacted spirits who lived are Joan of Arc, Rene Descartes,
William Shakespeare, Victor Hugo, Louis Pasteur and Vladimir Illyich
Lenin. It is said that Shakespeare hasn't been heard from since 1935.
A mural in the front entry hall depicts the three signatories of the
"Third Alliance Between God and Man." The Chinese revolutionary leader
Dr. Sun Yatsen (1866-1925) holds and inkstone while Vietnamese poet
Nguyen Binh Khiem (1492-1587) and French author Victor Hugo (1802-85)
write "God and Humanity" and "Love and Justice" in Chinese and French.
Above the front portico of the Great Temple, and around the temple's
walls, is the ominous "divine eye," the supreme symbol of Caodaism. All
altars also have above them the "divine eye," after Ngo Minh Chieu saw
it in a vision he had and made it the religion's official symbol.
Coming next week: More pictures of Vietnam!