|The main temple of Cao Daism, also known as the Holy See|
Out of curiosity, while in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly known as Saigon) last week, my friend and I decided that we should pay a visit the heart of a very strange sect that flourishes in Communist Vietnam, with 2-3 million followers worldwide. This thought provoking sect is none other than Cao Daism – a syncretic institution that embraces a mixture of Islam, Buddhism, Taoism, Christianity and native Vietnamese spiritualism.
|A beautiful or eyesore blend of East and West, depending on one's view.|
Pronounced as “cow thy” in English, the mecca for this sect is situation in Tay Ninh town which is at the border with Cambodia. After a dreadful three and half hours’ drive from Ho Chi Minh City, we arrived at the temple complex which houses the sect’s gigantic temple, administrative center, residence for officials and adepts as well as a hospital of traditional Vietnamese healing. Only the main temple is open for public. The best time for the public to visit the temple is at 12 noon when the prayer is in session. Prayers are conducted 4 times daily at the main temple with hundreds of adherents in white and led by three leaders dressed separately in red, yellow and blue.
|Sun, Hugo and Nyugen - the 3 Saints|
|Read with caveat.|
The founder of this sect is the mystic Ngo Minh Chieu whom in 1919 began receiving revelations in which the tenets of Cao Daism were set forth. In 1926, the gigantic Cao Dai Temple began its construction with a blend of whimsical east and classical west architectural flavors. At the entrance of the temple, a strange mural greets the visitors. It depicts the three signatories of the “Third Alliance between God and Man with Chinese Nationalist leader Dr Sun Yet Sen holds an ink stone, while author Victor Hugo and Vietnamese poet Nguyen Binh Khiem write “God and Humanity” and “Love and Justice”. Nguyen writes with a brush and Hugo uses a quill pen.
After spending about 30 minutes in the temple complex with most of the time spent snapping pictures, my friend and I decided to leave. Cao Daism is just a very strange notion for both of us. However, it is worth the long drive from Saigon to widen one’s knowledge about the complexity of religion and what can go wrong or right with it.