Bibliography & References
The Cao Đài Altar
The layout of the altar of the Great Divine Temple is complex, but the basic elements of this altar, like those of all local temples and home altars are: The Divine Eye (Thiên Nhãn / 天眼), the lamp of the Universal Monad, five incense sticks, 2 candles, one cup of water (Yang), one cup of tea (Yin), 3 small glasses of wine, flowers (Yang), fruits (Yin).
The lamp (Đèn Thái Cực / 太極燈) symbolizes the Universal Monad which is the eternal light of the universe (Ngôi Thái Cực /太極). This lamp should remain constantly lit.
The three offerings (San Bao / Tam bửu /三寶 - Tinh, Khí, Thần / 精 - 氣 - 神) are referred to as the three treasures and are the best elements - body, mind and spirit, of each human being.
Flowers/ Fruit represent ching (tinh / 精), the essence of all matter, life matter.
Wine/ Water represent chi (khí / 氣), the vital energy, life energy.
Tea represents shen (thần / 神), the spirit.
The three offerings (Dâng Tam Bửu) symbolize the main concern of worshippers: the offering of their complete self to God. Additionally, it serves to remind believers of the importance of cultivating the three treasures to break through cycles of karma and reincarnation, to be united with the Divine.
Tea is offered during morning and evening ceremonies, wine is offered at noon and midnight.
On the 1st and 15th day of each lunar month and major commemoration days, (Major Ceremonies: Đại Lễ or Minor Ceremonies: Tiểu Lễ), the three offerings (Dâng Tam Bửu) are made.
The two candles represent Yin and Yang (陰 陽)
Yin (Âm): negative logos, female, negative, the passive female principle of the universe,
Yang (Dương): postive logos, male, positive, the active male principle of the universe.
Two candles are lit at the beginning of each ceremony; the left (positive) must be lit first.
The five incense sticks represent five primary elements of the earth (Ngũ Hành /五行) - metal / kim, wood (plant) / mộc, water / thuỷ, fire / hỏa, earth / thổ. The five incense sticks also represent the five different levels of spiritual development: purification, meditation, wisdom, superior/universal knowledge, and karmic liberation.
End of Worship