Cao Đài

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Cao Đài's left eye.
The "Holy See" temple in Tây Ninh is the centre of the main Caodaist church.
The altar of ta Caodaist temple in Mỹ Tho.

Caodaism or Caodaiism (Vietnamese: Đạo Cao Đài 道高臺, "Way of the Highest Power"; Chinese: 高台教; pinyin: Gāotáijiào) is a monotheistic religion, officially established in the city of Tây Ninh in southern Vietnam in 1926.[1] The full name of the religion is Đại Đạo Tam Kỳ Phổ Độ ("The Great Faith [for the] Third Universal Redemption").[1]

Cao Đài (Vietnamese: [kāːw ɗâːj] ( ), literally the "Highest Lord" or "Highest Power")[1] is the utmost deity, originating the universe, worshipped by the Caodaists.[1][2] Caodaists often use the term Đức Cao Đài (Venerable High Lord) as the abbreviated name for the creator of the universe, whose full title is Cao Đài Tiên Ông Đại Bồ Tát Ma Ha Tát ("The Highest Power [the] Ancient Immortal [and] Great Bodhisattva"). The symbol of the faith is the Left Eye of God, representing the yang (masculine, ordaining, positive and expansive) activity of the Lord.[3]

Adherents engage in ethical practices such as prayer, veneration of ancestors, nonviolence, and vegetarianism with the goal of the union with God and freedom from saṃsāra[citation needed]. Estimates of the number of Caodaists in Vietnam vary; current government figures give 3.2 million for Caodaists affiliated to the Tây Ninh church, with numbers rising up to 4 to 6 million if other branches are added.[4][5] An additional number of adherents in the tens of thousands, primarily ethnic Vietnamese, live in the United States, Europe, and Australia. The design of Caodaist temples, shape and coloring, is quite standard around the world and includes the incorporation of sacred images, symbols, and colors.[6]

Caodaist temple in Dallas, Texas, serving a local large Vietnamese community.


From 1921, His Venerableness Ngô Văn Chiêu, a district head of the French administration in Cochinchina, was the first disciple to worship and receive messages from Duc Cao Dai/God the Father. He received a vision of the Divine Eye which is now the symbol for Duc Cao Dai/God as well as the focus for worship on all Cao Dai altars.

On Christmas Eve 1925 God identified Himself to the first group of Caodaist mediums which included their Venerableness Phạm Công Tắc, Cao Quỳnh Cư, and Cao Hoài Sang. These great souls were to play an essential role in the growing religion, as the Hộ Pháp, Thượng Phẩm and Thượng Sanh respectively.

On 7 Oct 1926, His Excellency Lê Văn Trung (a former elected official of the Colonial Council of Cochinchina and a member of the Conseil de Gouvernement de l'Indochine), and a leading group of 27 Caodaists, the first disciples of Duc Cao Dai, signed the "Declaration of the Founding of the Cao Dai Religion” and presented it to the French Governor of Cochinchina.

Caodaism was formally established in the Vietnamese city of Tây Ninh in 1926.[1] It emerged as a public, mass movement that brought together a number of once underground sects into a new and vigorous national religion.[7] It was at the same time filled with nationalist spirit and oriented towards universal salvation.[7] Officially called the "Great Way of the Third Time of Redemption" (Đại Đạo Tam Kỳ Phổ Độ), it became enormously popular in its first few decades, gathering over a million members and converting a fifth to a fourth of the population of Cochinchina by 1940.[7]

In the 1930s the leader voiced an articulated critique of the hypocrisy of the French colonial regime, though emphasizing dialogue with the French.[7] This stance was controversial, and contrasted with the liturgy of dozens of "dissident" branches of Caodaism that followed a more Taoist model.[7]

During the First and Second Indochina Wars, members of Caodaism (along with several other Vietnamese sects, such as Hòa Hảo) were active in political and military struggles against both French colonial forces and South Vietnamese Prime Minister Ngô Đình Diệm.[8][9]

Their critique of the communist forces until 1975 was a factor in their repression after the fall of Saigon in 1975, when the incoming communist government proscribed the practice of Caodaism.[10] In 1997, Caodaism was granted legal recognition and free practice once again.[8]

Religious mission[edit]

The Cao Đài Religion's (or Caodaism's) official name is Đại Đạo Tam Kỳ Phổ Độ. Translated directly it means: The Third Great Universal Religious Amnesty. (Đại Đạo - "Great Faith", Tam Kỳ - "Third Period", Phổ -"to announce" and Độ - "to save"). It will be a period of intense religious activity that will see God and Humanity united in ways not yet imagined. The Third Amnesty establishes a new Great Faith for salvation of living beings before the universal destruction. The primary objective of the Third Amnesty is the unity of all religions, which will bring mankind together in a universal family for universal peace.[11]

Throughout human history, God the Father has revealed His Truth many times. His Divine Messages have been translated through the mouths of many great prophets, but always these messages were either ignored or forgotten due to human’s susceptibility to secular desires. The Age has now come where He speaks to humanity directly.

The previous two Religious Amnesties saw the rise of Hinduism, Judaism, Confucianism, Buddhism, Taoism, Christianity, Islam, etc. Caodaism as the embodiment of The Third Amnesty comes to unite the traditions of these Two Periods. It does so guided directly by Đức Cao Đài (God the Father) and the Divine Beings.

One of the early messages received from Him went as follows, “Formerly people of the world lacked means of transportation; therefore they did not know each other… Nowadays, all parts of the world are explored: humanity, knowing itself better aspires to real peace. But because of the very multiplicity of religions, humanity does not always live in harmony. That is why I decided to unite all these religions into One to bring them back to the primordial unity.” [12]

In the nineteenth century Spiritism re-awoke the religious life of Europe. Great souls such as Madam Blavatsky, Alan Kardec and Victor Hugo opened new vistas of religious possibility. In Vietnam the age-old traditions of Asian divination and Taoist mediumship began to mix with the new traditions of European Spiritism. This meeting of Eastern and Western traditions caused an evolutionary leap in humanity's spiritual quest. Thus a strong communication link was established between Heaven and Earth. It was through this special link that God granted His Third Amnesty directly. Though it was announced to the humble and grateful nation of Vietnam, The Third Amnesty is a gift to all.

Emphasising this objective of unity, inside every Cao Đài Temple, is a representation of the Divine Contract of The Third Amnesty (The Third Alliance). This contract between Heaven and Earth is written and presented to humanity by the Venerable Saints, Victor Hugo, Sun Yat Sen and Trạng Trình Nguyễn Bỉnh Khiêm. Their mission is to guide humanity into the way of the Third Amnesty. The contract is written in French: Dieu et Humanité Amour et Justice; and in Chinese: Tian Shang Tian Xia Bo Ai Gong Ping. This translates into English as: "God and Humanity [for] Love and Justice."[11]

As mentioned in the Bible, Maitreya Bodhisattva will be enthroned the next Pope of Cao Đài, after He reaches enlightenment to become a Buddha[citation needed]. Maitreya Buddha together with His newly select congregation will fulfill the mission of uniting the world religions. Then, He will hold the Dragon Flower Festival where faithful souls are evaluated for the ranks of Angels, Saints, Immortals an Buddhas based on their virtues, and good deeds.

Beliefs and teachings[edit]


In Chapter I of Tao Te Ching, Lao Tse wrote:

The Tao that can be told is not the universal Tao

The name that can be named is not the universal name
The nameless is the beginning of the universe
The named is the mother of all beings.

According to God’s Divine message, there was nothing before the creation of the material universe but one principle, or monad. This monad is Tao or God. God has no form, no color, no beginning, and no end. He is invariable, unfathomably powerful, and everlasting. After creating the universe, He divided His spirit and with it made all matters and creatures.

I have told you that when there was nothing in this universe, the cosmic ether gave birth only to Me, and My throne is the universal monad. I divided the monad into the diad which is Yin and Yang, then into the tetrad and then into the eight trigrams. The latter changed continuously to form the universe. I then divided My spirit to create myriad creatures, including matters, plants, insects, animals – generally called living beings.[13]

"Cao Đài" refers to God the Father (The Supreme Being, the Creator, the Ultimate Reality of the Universe). “Cao Đài Tiên Ông Đại Bồ Tát Ma Ha Tát”, as God’s full title, indicates a combination of the three main religions - Confucianism, Taoism, & Buddhism.

  • ‘‘Cao Dai’’ literally means ‘‘High Tower/Palace’, that is, the place where God reigns over the universe. These words represent Confucianism.
  • ‘‘Tien Ong’’ is the lowest rank in Taoism.
  • ‘‘Dai Bo Tat Ma Ha Tat’’ is the lowest rank in Buddhism.

Together, they represent not only the unification of the three main religions but also the humility of God who presents Himself as the lowest rank of Divinity.[14]


A sphere inside the Tây Ninh Holy See, representing the Left Eye of God.

Caodaists accept the idea of âm (yin) and dương (yang) duality constituting the harmonious balance of the universe.[15] Before the creation of the universe there was the Tao, the infinite, nameless, formless, unchanging, eternal source.[15] The negative and positive principles of the universe are the components of the eternal nature.[15]

There are two main Gods, the Cao Đài ("Highest Lord") and the Diêu Trì Kim Mẫu or Đức Phật Mẫu ("Holy Mother").[15] They represent respectively the yang and yin forces.[15] Cao Đài is viewed as the heart of the universe, the common Father of all beings.[15] He imparts part of Him into each living being, including even rocks, in the form of conscience. Đức Phật Mẫu is venerated as the Mother of the universe, responsible for giving visible forms, consciousness and emotions to all life.[15] Ultimately, She has to follow the orders of "Đức Cao Đài", who is revered as the Supreme Being of both Heaven and Earth.

Another important belief is that "Đức Cao Đài" is at the same time a loving Father, and an impartial Judge. He governs over the Divine hierarchy, a system whereby Heaven is organized into classes and roles to enact the principles of the Tao, as well as to maintain the continuous evolution of the universe. Therefore, Dignitaries are required to don their formal religious costumes when presenting themselves before Him in the Holy See. Meanwhile, "Đức Phật Mẫu" only has love for Her children, i.e. all the living beings. According to an important religious scripture (Divine path to eternal life) and the New Bible, she resides in the "Diêu Trì Cung" (The Palace housing a Yellow Gem Pond where the forms of spirits are created) in the Realm of Creation, the ninth one in the rank of evolution. The same scripture and the New Bible also describes "Đức Cao Đài" as presiding over the Divine court in the Jade Palace (just above the realm of "Diêu Trì Cung").[citation needed] The remaining deities each has their own role and responsibility as assigned by "Đức Cao Đài" or "Đức Phật Mẫu" or higher ranking Divine Beings. They reside across the thirty six heavens, three thousand worlds, and the four Cosmic regions.

A very detailed depiction of Heaven is provided in "Divine Path to Eternal Life", one of the most important scriptures of Cao Đài Religion. It is written by His Holiness Phạm Công Tắc, who was granted the blessing by God the Father to enter His kingdom during esoteric and meditative practice.

Three-fold revelation[edit]

The father of the universe, Cao Đài, is believed to have communed with men since the beginning of times, revealing his will.[16] According to Caodaist doctrine, history is divided into three times (tam kỳ) of revelation.[16] In the first two periods there were teachings of Dipankara Buddha, sages, Phục Hy, Shakyamuni Buddha, Laozi, Confucius and Jesus, who received the will of the Highest Power, and served suffering humanity founding religions.[16] But due to the frailty of the messengers and the common men, the will of the Highest Power was misled into corrupted forms.[16] Caodaists also believe that former revelations were culture-bound, being applicable only for certain ethnicities, and primarily intended for specific ages.[16] The third and final form of revelation is disclosed through the teachings of Caodaism.[16]

Twelve-fold hierarchy[edit]

Caodaists believe that there are various ranks of Divine spirits: Thần ("Angels"), Thánh ("Saints"), Tiên ("Immortals"), and Phật ("Buddhas").[17] Each of these ranks can be further divided in the three grades of Thiên (Heavenly), Nhân (Human) and Địa (Earthly), forming a twelve-fold hierarchy that reflects the twelve-fold earthly hierarchy of the Caodaist church.[17] Below those ranks are the spirits of matters, plants, animals and humans.[17]

Depending on their origin, human spirits are classified into three main types, including primary, evolutionary, and devilish spirits. Primary spirits were born at the same time with the creation of heaven and earth. Evolutionary spirits come from lower rank ones like matters, plants and animals. When these two types of spirits commit serious sins, they may be downgraded to devils. Only around 92 million people on this earth possess primary spirits; the remaining are either evolutionary or devilish with the latter as majority. According to one of the Caodaist holy scriptures, Collection of Divine Messages (Vietnamese: Thánh Ngôn Hiệp Tuyển), God the Father has said[citation needed]:

Unfortunately, these devils are innumerable and they are masters of illusion and seduction. This is why I have said that I have unleashed many ferocious beasts among you and have ordered them to devour you; however, I have also given each of you an armor to protect yourself. This armor is your virtue and it is invisible to these beasts.[18][not in citation given]

All spirits may evolve to attain higher rank based on present deeds.[17] Disembodied spirits fulfill a number of roles: they are benefactors of mankind, messengers and instructors of the truth.[17] Quan Âm is regarded as the exemplary Goddess of the Buddhas, Lý Bạch of the Immortals, and Quan Vũ of the Saints.

Fundamental rules and values[edit]

The doctrines of the Cao Đài Religion tends not only to reconcile all religious views, but also to adapt itself to all degrees of spiritual evolution. A basic principle of Caodaism is "All Religions are One".

1) From a moral point of view, Cao Đài Religion reminds people of their duties towards themselves, their family, their society (a broader family), then toward humanity (the universal family).

2) From a philosophical point of view, Cao Đài Religion preaches renunciation of honors, riches and luxury, in other words, deliverance from servitude to materialism in the attainment of full spiritual quietude of soul.

3) From the point of view of worship, Cao Đài Religion prescribes the adoration of God, the veneration of Divine Beings and the worship of ancestors.

4) From a spiritual point of view, Cao Đài Religion confirms, in harmony with other religions, the existence of the spirits and the soul, their survival beyond the physical body, and their evolution by successive reincarnations, according to the Karmic Law.

5) From the initiates' point of view, Cao Đài Religion communicates to worthy adherents and reveals teachings that enable them, by a process of spiritual evolution, to reach the ecstasies of happiness.[19]

A basic principle of Cao Đài Religion lies in synthesising the Doctrines of the three main Religions – Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism - into one. This is why in belonging to Cao Đài Religion, believers must observe the basic principles of these three Religions to cultivate and purify themselves by strictly pursuing the following:

- The three main duties (Tam-Cang) and five essential virtues (Ngũ-Thường) of Confucianism for males. The three main duties are social relationships between king and subject (quân-thần cang), father and children (phụ-tử cang), husband and wife (phu-thê cang). And the five essential virtues are: Love/Humanity (Nhơn), Justice/Faithfulness (Nghĩa), Good manner/Politeness (Lễ), Wisdom (Trí), and Loyalty (Tín).

The three main duties (Tam-Tùng) and four essential virtues (Tứ-Đức) of Confucianism for females. The three main duties are social relationships between a female and her father, husband, and son. Before marriage, she is to obey her father; after marriage, her husband; and when her husband passes away, her son. The four essential virtues are: Fulfillment of housework (Công), Maintenance of good appearance, but not addiction to it (Dung), Good verbal conduct (Ngôn), Gentleness/ Kindness (Hạnh).

- The three refuges and the five prohibitions of Buddhism. The three refuges (Tam Qui) are: to take refuge in the Buddha (Qui Y Phật), to take refuge in His Law/Dharma (Qui Y Pháp), and to take refuge in the Spiritual Community (Qui Y Tăng). The five prohibitions are: do not kill living beings (sát sanh), do not steal (du đạo), do not commit adultery (tà dâm), abstain from drinking intoxicants (tửu nhục), and do not sin by words (vọng ngữ).

- The striving to unify the three jewels and the five elements of Taoism. The three jewels (tam bửu) are: life matter/ching (tinh), life energy/chi (khí), and soul/shen (thần). The five elements are: mineral (kim), vegetable/wood (mộc), water (thủy), fire (hỏa), and earth (thổ). This principle actually applies more to esoteric practice to reach enlightenment, than to daily life.[20]

Worship rituals[edit]

Caodaists worship God the Father, Holy Mother and the Divine Beings with all their heart. They also venerate the Great Religious Prophets of history and honour the ancestors.

There are four daily ceremonies, that is, at 6:00 a.m., Midday, 18:00 p.m. and midnight, either at the temple or in front of the home altar. Monthly rituals take place on midnight of the 1st and 15th days of the lunar month. There is also a special anniversary ceremony once a year for God the Father, the Holy Mother, the five founders of the world’s major religions, and the founders of Cao Dai Religion.[11] The rituals differ between places, depending on who they pray to.

  • At the Holy See: Prayers include incense offering, ceremony opening, prayer to the Jade Emperor (God the Father), prayer to Dipankara Buddha (Buddhism), prayer to Thái Thượng Lão Quân or Taishang Laojun (Taoism), prayer to Confucius (Confucianism), one of the three jewel offering prayers (flower, wine, and tea), and the five pledges.
  • At the Holy Mother temple: Prayers include incense offering, ceremony opening, prayer describing the role of the Holy Mother, prayer to express gratitude to the Holy Mother, one the three jewel offering prayers (flower, wine, and tea), and the five pledges.

There are also differences between monthly rituals, and anniversary ones.

Additionally, disciples also chant other prayers on appropriate occasions, e.g. the Maitreya Sutra to save souls from the Yin realm, the Repentance prayer for self-correction, the Suffering Relief prayer, Baptism prayer, Funeral prayer, etc. They can all be found in the New Bible scripture[citation needed].

Ceremonial prescriptions such as actions, dress and music were organised in detail by God the Father. These include ceremonies for initiations, marriages and funerals. Particular attention is paid to death, and it has been revealed to the religion how the soul journeys towards heaven and how, on earth, co-religionists can pray for souls to help them on their way.[11]


Cao Đài temples and religious buildings host a rich array of symbols, all of which are instructed by either God the Father or Divine Beings. No symbol is redundant, and none is meaningless. They each tells a different story that reveals the beliefs, values, cosmic secrets, prophecies, etc. When combined, they lay out the journey of the Tao throughout the history of mankind and the universe, as well as its way forward.

The Divine Eye[edit]

The Eye symbolizes the spirit and also the place where the spirit resides in each human being. The spirit or conscience is granted by God to each living being, and thus represents God Himself. The Eye also points to the secret mechanism of enlightenment via esoteric or meditation practice. According to the Collection of Divine Messages:

The Eye represents the soul
Two sources of light (Yin and Yang) are the Master
Light is the spirit
The spirit is God
God is Myself.

Since the Dao was lost, there has been a lack of the spirit in the miraculous mechanism of enlightenment. With this third salvation, I will allow the Than (spirit) to be unified with the Tinh (physical matter) and the Khi (perispirit), leading to a unification of the three elements, which is itself the miraculous mechanism of enlightenment.[21][not in citation given]

In spirit and in pictorial representation it serves to remind Cao Đài believers that the God witnesses everything, everywhere, constantly. At the local Cao Đài Temples, the Divine Eye has 16 rays of light emanating from it. Nine radiate upward representing the nine levels of heaven, and seven radiating downward representing the seven emotions, which believers must control.[22]

The religious banner[edit]

In accordance with the religious mission, the three colors of Cao Đài banner represent the three main religions of the world; yellow stands for Buddhism, blue for Taoism, and red for Confucianism. Under the Divine Eye is a symbol which also represents the essence of the three religions; the bowl of charity for Buddhist compassion and asceticism, the feather duster for Taoist purification; the Spring and Autumn Annals for Confucianist virtue and love.[23]

Holy scriptures[edit]

There are various Caodaist scriptures. Some of those of the Tây Ninh Holy See are: Kinh Thiên Đạo Và Thế Đạo ("Prayers of the Heavenly and the Earthly Way"), Pháp Chánh Truyền ("The Religious Constitution [of Caodaism]"), Tân Luật ("The Canonical Codes"), Thánh Ngôn Hiệp Tuyển ("Collection of Divine Messages"), "Con Đường Thiêng Liêng Hằng Sống" ("Divine Path to Eternal Life"), "The Sermons of His Holiness Phạm Công Tắc". Other sects have additional scriptures.[citation needed]

The Canonical Codes[edit]

This scripture sets out the rules and boundaries for different aspects of the religion, from a believer to the Pope, from education to marriage, etc. There are ten sections in the scripture with the following content:

  1. Hierarchy of religious dignitaries
  2. Initiation and ranks of believers
  3. Establishment of a parish
  4. The five interdictions
  5. The four commandments
  6. Education
  7. Sanctions
  8. Promulgation of laws and regulations
  9. Secular rules
  10. The house of meditation

The Religious Constitution[edit]

The Phap-Chanh-Truyen (The Religious Constitution of Caodaism) was delivered to the Religion as a series of Divine Messages. These are the guiding texts of the Religion's organisation, stipulating the authority, responsibility, limits, as well as religious vestment for each rank in the Religion.

Organisational structure[edit]

Inner hall the Tây Ninh Holy See temple.
Caodaists worshipping in a temple. Priests are dressed in red, blue and yellow, followers in white.

The organisational structure of the Caodaist church has similarities with that of a state. There are similarities between the hierarchy of the Caodaist clergy and that of the Catholic Church. Besides the Pope, the Caodaist hierarchy has Cardinals, Bishops, Priests, and further ranks.

Caodaism stresses equality among men and women in society. However, in the spiritual domain, ordained women may not attain the two highest positions: the Legislative Cardinal and the Pope. The church claims this is ordered by the Highest Lord, who declared that because Dương (Yang) represents male and Âm (Yin) corresponds to female, Yin cannot dominate Yang spiritually or else chaos ensues.

The Religion is governed by two powers, the spiritual and earthly ones.

The spiritual power (Bát Quái Đài): This is the heavenly council, that is, the Spirit and Soul of the New Religion. The council directs all activities of the universe. The council is the invisible part, made up of the Divine Beings, and directed by Duc Cao Dai (God the Father). The Divine Beings represent different religions of the world, including:

  • Founders of five religions: Shakyamuni (Buddhism), Lao Tse (Taoism), Confucius (Confucianism), Jesus Christ (Christianity), Khương Thái Công or Jiang Ziya (Geniism).
  • Founders and teachers of Caodaism, who represent the doctrines of Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism: Kwan Yin (Buddhism), Li Tai Po (Taoism), Kwan Kung (Confucianism).

The earthly power: To avoid dictatorship, God divided the earthly power into two bodies - an Executive Body (Cửu Trùng Đài) headed by the Pope, and a Legislative Body (Hiệp Thiên Đài) headed by the Hộ Pháp (Protector of Laws and Justice). The former takes charge of the administration of the Religion and its missionary activities, while the latter oversees legislation, jurisdiction and communication with God or Divine Beings. There is also the Charitable Body placed under the supervision of the Legislative Body, and a Lay Committee of selected professional specialists among worthy followers.[24]

The Executive Body (Cửu Trùng Đài)[edit]

The Cửu Trùng Ðài is the Executive Body of Caodaism which takes charge of the administration of the Religion and missionary activities. Head of Cửu Trùng Ðài is Giáo-Tông (Pope).

The Giáo-Tông (Pope) represents God to watch over the preservation of His Religion in this world. Whatever his age, he is eldest brother and acts as a guide for the children of God. The Spiritual Power has decided that this is so. The Giáo-Tông (Pope) has the same powers as God to teach Virtue to all His Disciples. He is concerned with each one of them, he guides each one and takes care to ensure that each one does not transgress the Divine Laws (Thiên Điều). He obliges all disciples of God to conform strictly to the prescriptions of the New Codes (Tân Luật)... Since the Giáo-Tông (Pope) has full powers to replace God he must try to transform the life of suffering into an existence marked by happiness. This is the Exalted Task of the Giáo-Tông (Pope).[25]

There are nine ranks in its hierarchy:

  • One Pope
  • Three Censor Cardinals
  • Three Cardinals
  • Thirty six Archbishops
  • Seventy two Bishops
  • Three thousand Priests
  • Student Priest (no limit)
  • Subdignitaries (no limit)
  • Followers (no limit)

For male dignitaries of the Executive Body, from the rank of Censor Cardinal to that of Student Priest, each echelon is subdivided into three branches corresponding to the three principal religions:

  • Buddhist Branch: These dignitaries are dressed in yellow.
  • Taoist Branch: These dignitaries are dressed in azure.
  • Confucianist Branch: These dignitaties are dressed in red.

Dignitaries of the same echelon, either Confucianist, Taoist or Buddhist, have the same attributes.

At the Holy See, there are three governing councils:

  • The Popular Council: composed of Student Priests, Sub-dignitaries and representatives of adherents in the ratio of one delegate per 500 members. The Popular Council makes plans for the future.
  • The Sacerdotal Council: composed of Priests, Bishops, Archbishops and Principal Archbishops. The Sacerdotal Council examines the plans made by the Popular Council.
  • The High Council: composed of Cardinals, Legislative Body Cardinals and the Pope.

All plans made by the Popular Council and favoured by the Sacerdotal Council are submitted to High Council for approval.

In addition, there is also a Central Administration body chaired by three Cardinals. Each of them is assisted by three Principal Archbishops to oversee three religious ministries:

  • The Principal Archbishops of the Buddhist branch take care of finances, supply, and public works.
  • The Principal Archbishops of the Taoist branch take care of education, health, and agriculture.
  • The Principal Archbishops of the Confucianist branch take care of interior, rites, and justice.

The administrative network which functions throughout Vietnam consists of:

  • The Religious Region (Trấn Đạo) comprising several provinces, headed by a Bishop who is called the Regional Religious Chief/ Khâm Trấn Đạo.
  • The Religious Province (Châu Đạo) comprising several districts/delegations, headed by a Priest who is called Provincial Religious Chief/ Khâm Châu Đạo.
  • The Religious District (Họ Đạo) comprising several villages, headed by a Student Priest who is called the Religious Chief of Delegation (Đầu Tộc Đạo/ Đầu Họ Đạo/ Đầu Phận Đạo).
  • The Religious Village (Hương Đạo) headed by a Sub-dignitary who is called Village Religious Chief (Đầu Hương Đạo). He is assisted by one (or more) Phó Trị Sự (Deputy Chief for Administration of a religious village) representing the Executive Body and one (or more) Thông Sự representing the Legislative Body. The Religious Village is made up of Religious Hamlets (Ấp Đạo).[24]

The Legislative Body (Hiệp Thiên Đài)[edit]

This Body has the duty of communicating with Divine Beings, to preserve the religious laws and listen to the complaints of the unhappy. It is headed by the Hộ Pháp (protector of laws and justice), and assisted by the Thượng Phẩm (Director of religious affairs) and Thượng Sanh (Director of secular affairs).

  • Hộ-Pháp (護法) (The head of Legislative Body Affairs), is the one who unveils the Mystery of the Invisible and is the Maintainer of the Rules and Laws of the New Religion. He is the one who pronounces judgments on the dignitaries and adepts, elevates the dignity of the fervent through their merit and brings sanctions against those who have committed faults. The Hộ-Pháp holds control over the Legislative Body Power both exoterically and esoterically. He watches over the positive progress of the disciples in the Way of God, and guides all evolved souls to Bát-Quái-Đài for the union with Angels, Saints, Immortals and Buddhas.
  • Thượng-Phẩm (上品) (The head of Religious Affairs), is the Representative of the Ho-Phap in the formation of virtuous souls of the Sacerdotal Council. He depends on the Hộ-Pháp in all his missions. In a word, the Thượng-Phẩm helps the Cửu Trùng Đài to live in an atmosphere of happiness; he reveals the Heavenly Voice to virtuous souls, and guides them to the Divine Phase of the Great Spirits, while closing behind them the door of regression. He considers the priestly laws to take up the defence of all office-bearers and adepts; he prevents all perversion of the Divine Rules, and helps all initiates to attain their aim. He is simultaneously the President of the Hall of Defence and protector of all disciples. The Thượng-Phẩm is "Leader of the Spiritual Power".
  • Thượng–Sanh (上生) (The head of Secular Affairs), has control of all the laws and rules which relate to the worldly life of all adepts to guide them out of the sea of sufferings. He may present a formal complaint before the religious Tribunal against all those who impede the faithful as they move along the Way of God. He is the President of the Hall of Accusation.

Four "zodiacal dignitaries" under each of these branches carry the four key responsibilities of conservation, renovation, reformation, and legislation. They are further assisted by twelve technical academicians, including Bảo Huyền Linh Quân (Theosophy), Bảo Tinh Quân (Astronomy), Bảo Cô Quân (Orphanage), Bảo Văn pháp quân (Culture), Bảo Học Quân (Education), Bảo Y Quân (Health), Bảo Vật Quân (Science and Industry, Bảo Sĩ Quân (Literature), Bảo Sanh Quân (Social work), Bảo Nông Quân (Agriculture), Bảo Công Quân (Public Works), Bảo Thương Quân (Economics).[24]

Community structure[edit]

Any local area having more than 500 believers is authorized to establish a Parish (Họ Đạo/ Tộc Đạo) with a Thánh-Thất (Temple, Church, Holy House) which is led by the authority of a dignitary. Parish/Parishes can be established only with the permission and authority of the Giao-Tong/ Pope.

Twice a month, the first and the fifteenth day of the lunar calendar, the believers must meet at the Thánh-Thất (Temple, Holy House) of the local area to attend the ceremony and listen to the teachings. Exception can be made for those with reasonable excuses.[26]

The Holy See[edit]

Ninety kilometres north-west of Saigon in Tây-Ninh Province is the Caodaist Holy See. At the centre of this city stands the Great Divine Temple. This temple, like the religion, is a fusion of world influences. As well as being a major centre of pilgrimage, the Caodaist Holy See is also one of Vietnam's major tourist attractions.[23]


In total, there are six different officially recognized branches of the Caodaist religion in southern Vietnam, as well as several others that remain unrecognized. These sects generally divide along geographic lines. The largest is based in Tây Ninh Province, where the religion was founded in 1926 and where the seat of the Caodaist authority is located.

The Caodaist Executive Council of Tây Ninh Province received official government recognition in 1997. Independent Caodaist groups allege that government interference has undermined the independence of the Tây Ninh group, and it no longer faithfully upholds Cao Đài's principles and traditions. Religious training takes place at individual temples rather than at centralized seminaries. Some Caodaist sects that have broken away from the Tây Ninh Holy See are Chiếu Minh, Bến Tre, and Đà Nẵng. Ngô Văn Chiêu founded Chiếu Minh when he left the original church structure, refusing his appointment as Caodaism's first pope.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e Hoskins, 2012. p. 3
  2. ^ Oliver, 1997. p. 7
  3. ^ Hoskins, 2012. pp. 3-4
  4. ^ Hoskins, 2012. p. 4, note 1
  5. ^ Janet Alison Hoskins. What Are Vietnam's Indigenous Religions?. Center for Southeast Asian Studies Kyoto University, 2012.
  6. ^ June/ July2013 Afar page 45
  7. ^ a b c d e Hoskins, 2012. p. 4
  8. ^ a b Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (30 June 2005). "Vietnam". International Religious Freedom Report 2005. U.S. Department of State. Retrieved 19 May 2010. 
  9. ^ "Vietnam Timeline: 1955". Retrieved 16 January 2011. 
  10. ^ Cao Đài FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)
  11. ^ a b c d Dao, Tam. "Caodaism in a nutshell". University of Sydney. 
  12. ^ God the Master (1926). Collection of Divine Messages. Holy See: Sacerdotal Council. 
  13. ^ God the Master (1928). Collection of Divine Messages. Holy See: Sacerdotal Council. 
  14. ^ Tam, Dao (2000). Understanding Caodaism in 10 minutes. University of Sydney. 
  15. ^ a b c d e f g Oliver, 1997. p. 8
  16. ^ a b c d e f Oliver, 1997. p. 9
  17. ^ a b c d e Oliver, 1997. p. 10
  18. ^
  19. ^ Cao Dai Overseas Community (1994). An outline of Caodaism. Chan Tam. p. 37. 
  20. ^ Tam, Dao. Fundamental principles of Caodaism. University of Sydney. 
  21. ^ Bui, Dac Hum. Collection of Divine Messages I. University of Sydney. 
  22. ^ Dao, Tam. "Cao Dai Rituals". University of Sydney. 
  23. ^ a b Dao, Tam (2000). Understanding Caodaism in 10 minutes. University of Sydney. Retrieved 13 Jul 2014. 
  24. ^ a b c Dao, Tam. "Structure of Caodaism". University of Sydney. Retrieved 11 Jul 2014. 
  25. ^ Dai, Cao (1992). The Religious Constitution. Holy See: Sacerdotal Council. Retrieved 11 Jul 2014. 
  26. ^ Dai, Cao. The New Canonical Codes. Sydney: University of Sydney. Retrieved 11 Jul 2014. 


External links[edit]