What is the meaning of the HO PHAP altar at the Cao Dai Holy see in Tay Ninh?
Updated 2012-05-07 11:56:19
The altar consists of five semi-circular steps surmounted by three thrones (exactly one throne and two pedestals). It is on these steps that the twelve Lords of the Zodiac stand during ceremonies. These Zodiacal Lords serve as the official mediums of the religion and assist during seances.
The three lotus-flower thrones presently have three statues placed on them :
The “Ho Phap PHAM CONG TAC” statue.
His Holiness PHAM CONG TAC, Chief of the Legislative Body (HO means to protect, to guard, and PHAP means the Law, Rule), born in 1890 in Viet Nam, died in 1959 in Cambodia, was instrumental in the establishment and operation of many facets of the religion.
His highly decorative ceremonial dress are in the style of an ancient marshal’s uniform. He wears a gold headdress (or Kim Khoi). On his feet are boots inscribed with the chinese character PHAP (esotericism) on the toes. Around his waist is tied the three-coloured commander’s scarf which represents the union of the three ancient doctrines of Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism. He holds in his right hand the staff of GIANG MA XU, or the Rule Over Evil. Cao Dai adepts venerate the HO PHAP as the one who unveils the mystery of the invisible. He is also the maintainer of the rules and laws of the religion. From this high position, the HO PHAP is able to watch over the ceremony and gather the spiritual forces that flow through the temple.
Behind the HO PHAP’s statue is the red and gold chinese character CH’I (or KHI). Fundamentally, it means mist or “essence”. Litterally, it means “breath, air” or the “sustaining breath of the cosmos”, which makes it the central key to meditation. CH’I is in man, equivalent to health, strength, vital energy. It is in the perispirit the agent that unites the soul with the physical body which it vivifies. CH’I is also the food of the Immortals. Thus, this character is incredibly important. the HO PHAP is the Master of the CH’I, and from his position, controls and directs the forces of CH’I during worship.
The “Thuong Pham CAO QUYNH CU” statue.
On the right side of the temple, or on HO PHAP’s right side, stands the statue of His Excellency THUONG PHAM CAO QUYNH CU (1888-1929). THUONG PHAM is the Leader of the Spiritual Realm and aids and directs souls in the process of spiritual and heavenly evolution. His uniform is of white color, covered with a blue chasuble. He wears white shoes on his feet, inscribed with the chinese character “DAO” (Spiritual) on the toes. Around his waist is the commander’s scarf, like the one worn by the HO PHAP, with the knot on the right side. His right hand holds the LONG TU PHIEN (Fan of Exteriorisation) made of 36 crane feathers. At the top of this fan is the PHAT CHU (the Feather-Duster of Sanctification).
Mystically, the LONG TU PHIEN has the spiritual power to guide the souls through the 36 heavens of Caodaist cosmology. His left hand holds the string of beads called TU BI, which symbolises the presentation of virtuous souls to the HO PHAP.
Behind the statue is an identification banner inscribing with the title of THUONG PHAM in chinese characters.
The “THUONG SANH CAO HOAI SANG” statue.
On HO PHAP’s left side is the statue of His Excellency THUONG SANH CAO HOAI SANG (1901-1971). THUONG SANH is the Leader of the Temporal Realm for souls experiencing some kind of purgatory before being elevated (all souls must be converted by the THUONG SANH in order to be able to cross over the temporal realm). He has control of all the laws and rules which relate to the wordly life of all adepts to guide them out of the Abyss of Suffering. His uniform looks like the one worn by THUONG PHAM, except that on his head he wears a THANH CAN, or headdress made of sky blue silk, and around his waist is a band of red silk called THAN THONG (Knowledge of Spirituality).
Like HO PHAP and THUONG PHAM, he wears the commander’s scarf around his waist, but its knot is tied on the left. He carries a sword called THU HUNG KIEM (Sword of Elevation) on his back, and this sword symbolises the way Wisdom gives Deliverance for the self, or symbol of karmic liberation. His right hand holds the PHAT CHU (Feather-Duster of Sanctification) which symbolises the presentation of the Temporal Realm to HO PHAP. His left hand holds the string of beads called TU BI, ahich symbolises the offering of the Holy Doctrine to humanity. He wears white shoes inscribed with the chinese character “THE” (Temporal) on the toes.
Behind the statue is an identification banner inscribing the title THUONG SANH in chinese characters.
THE SEVEN-HEAD SERPENT
Between these three thrones is coiled a great brown cobra, which represents the seven human passions (jealousy, lust, anger, sadness, beatitude, joy and love). The seven heads form part of the HO PHAP’s throne, the tails curl around the other two thrones. The passions of Jealousy, Lust, Anger and Sadness are the heads that form the feet and armrests of the throne. During ceremony, HO PHAP is sitting down, his hands and feet would press down on these heads to subdue these passions. In the meantime, behind him, the heads representing Beatitude, Joy and Universal Love rise up, forming the back of the throne and symbolizing that good feelings must be encouraged and developed.
Thus, according to the Cao Dai doctrine, in order to reach Nirvana or to liberate from karma, an adept must subdue the four evil passions, in the meantime must sustain the three good ones.