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Cao Dai (Cao Đài)

Vietnamese. ‘Highest Power’. Name of  a monotheistic religion that was officially established in 1926, in the city of Tay Ninh (Tây Ninh), in southern Vietnam, where it is today also practiced the most. It also has its centre in Tay Ninh, located at Da Lat and referred to as the Holy See. The people that adhere to the Cao Dai religion, also referred to as Caodaism, believe that their teachings, symbolism and organization were conveyed directly from God, in a vision given to Ngo Van Chieu (Ngô Văn Chiêu), the religion's first disciple and Ho Phap, one of the top-ranking posts of the clergy, usually translated as pope (fig.), although he declined this appointment and withdrew to a life of seclusion instead. He was not even involved in the official establishment of the religion in 1926 and later founded the Chieu Minh (Chiếu Minh) sect of Caodaism. The actual founder of the religion is considered to be Pham Cong Tac (Phạm Công Tắc - fig.), after he purportedly received divine messages through séances and spiritism, wrote out the Cao Dai Religious Constitution and most of the Scriptures. He was subsequently promoted to Ho Phap. The ultimate purpose of Caodaists is to break the perpetual cycle of samsara. As such, Caodaism borrows and fuses certain aspects from mainly three other religions, namely Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism, which are represented in the Cao Dai banner by the colours yellow, blue and red, respectively (fig.). These colours are represented in their religious symbols and iconography, sometimes as three interlocking rings (fig.) as well as in the three different colours of the ceremonial robes worn by senior members of the clergy. The  Cao Dai emblem also consists of symbols from these three religions, i.e. an alms bowl from Buddhism, said to represent charity, compassion and asceticism; a fly whisk (fig.) from Taoism, representing purification; and the Chun Qiu (fig.), a book ascribed to Confucius and symbolizing virtue and love (fig.). The Cao Dai religion practices non-violence, vegetarianism, and worship of ancestors, and also uses aspects and symbols from other religions and philosophies. For example: the Divine Eye (fig.), Cao Dai's main symbol, which appears in their iconography and on the robes and hats of senior clerics. It is usually surrounded by rays of light and sometimes it is placed in a triangle (fig.), a sign taken from the Eye of Providence, i.e. the all-seeing eye of God from Christianity. Other symbols adapted by Caodaism are yin-yang (fig.) and the trigram (fig.). One may also spot certain iconographic features that seem to derive from the polytheistic religion of Hinduism, such as the swastika and the lotus, though those are of course also symbols of Buddhism. Besides this, and somewhat oddly, Cao Dai buildings are often adorned with stone clocks frozen in time (fig.). See MAP.