The Cao Dai Eye in Tân Ba

In the center of the living room, where the television would be in an American home, the old man had a shrine with a picture of a big eye in the center.

This reminded me vaguely of the CBS television eye, but actually it was a depiction of the “One All-Encompassing Eye”, a symbol of the Cao Dai religion.

Every evening the old man came to me and asked who exactly would be sleeping in the house that night. At first I thought he was spying on us for the Viet Cong, but it later turned out that he just wanted to light the correct number of incense sticks on his altar, one for each person in the house.

I’m not even sure he knew who the Viet Cong were. When there was an attack one night he came in yelling “Viet Minh! Viet Minh!” — which we all thought was rather quaint since the Viet Minh were the ones who had defeated the French in 1954, but their role had long since been taken over by the National Liberation Front a.k.a. Viet Cong.

The three saints of Cao Dai

In his house the old man had a poster showing the Three Saints of Cao Dai signing a covenant between God and humanity. I was happy to see that the poster was still there, in the same place, when I returned thirty years later.

The French words on the poster mean: God and Humanity, Love and Justice. And I assume the Chinese characters mean the same.

The Three Saints are, from left to right: the Chinese revolutionary and political leader Sun Yat-sen (1866-1925), the French author Victor Hugo (1802-1885) and the Vietnamese poet Nguyn Bnh Khiêm (1491–1585).

Cao Dai is a religion that was founded in 1926 in Tay Ninh, Vietnam, as “a universal faith with the principle that all religions have one same divine origin, which is God, or Allah, or the Tao, or the Nothingness, one same ethic based on LOVE and JUSTICE, and are just different manifestations of one same TRUTH.” 

In 1964 the old man lent me a book about Cao Dai in French and Vietnamese, so by reading the French side I learned a bit about his religion.

In the house in Tan Ba (photo 1995)

My impression was that most of the people in Tan Ba were Buddhists and only a minority were Cao Dai, but I never found out for sure.

My next post: The darkest nights of the month in Tân Ba

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