Pham Cong Tac
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Hộ Pháp ("Defender of the Dharma," commonly translated as “Pope”) Phạm Công Tắc (1890-1959), was one of the most important leaders in the establishment, construction, development and consolidation of the system of the Cao Dai religion. This religion was founded in 1926.
The first disciple
Of the first twelve disciples, he was the most important leaders of Cao Đài, a new religion, in the process of construction and perfection of the religious mechanism. He was leader of the Tây Ninh branch, the dominant branch of Cao Đài in southern Vietnam. His authority, however, was not uncontested.
A top-level medium
In 1925, he and his two colleagues (Messrs. Cao Quynh Cu and Cao Hoai Sang) tried to contact with spiritual entities through spirit communications. Using table-tapping, they got messages, first from their deceased relatives, then from Saints, and eventually from God. They all were admitted to be God’s first disciples in the Third Religious Amnesty.
On 25-4-1926, eighteen mediums were chosen by God to spread His teachings and carry out His instructions. Of those, Mr. Phạm Công Tắc was the most important medium. It was he who wrote out the Cao Đài Religious Constitution and most of the Scriptures currently worshipped by Caodaiists. He was promoted to Hộ Pháp, one of the top-ranking posts of the clergy.
In 1927, transferred to Cambodia by the colonial government, he seized the opportunity to establish Cao Đài Foreign Missions under spiritual guidance.
After acting Giáo Tông Lê Văn Trung’s death, he became the religious head and established a number of other religious organs. Arguably, most of the relatively complex religious structure owed him the full development as we know it.
He himself both gave the order to begin the construction of the Tây Ninh Holy See and later officiated the inauguration. Without this temple, Cao Đài might not have become a well-organized religion. Furthermore, other buildings and houses were set up under his supervision, including The Temple Of Intuition, The Temple of Enlightenment, Long Hoa Market, The Temple of Acknowledgement, The Temple of the Goddess. Others were planned for more favorable conditions such as The Temple of Thousands of Dharma, The Main Entrance Avenue, Cao Đài University which have not been started (2007).
A priest spreading God’s teachings
In addition to the responsibilities of religious leadership, he was a true missionary who, in the name of God, preached the new doctrines. Not to mention numerous religious speeches, he gave speeches on The Holy Never Pathway and Esoteric Practice which were shorthanded by stenographists and published in 1970. These documents were considered among the most significant scriptures due to their content of Cao Đài philosophy as well as the ways of religious practice.
A leading religious figure in Vietnam from 1940s to 1950s
In 1941, lots of Vietnamese rebellions against French colonists broke out throughout the country. French rulers did what they could to crush the movement, imprisoning those who challenged their power. The fact that Cao Đài developed too fast also frightened them too much to overlook this new religion. Eventually, Hộ Pháp Phạm Công Tắc and at least four other Cao Đài dignitaries were sent into exile in Madagascar. During this period, French soldiers seized the Tây Ninh Holy See and the other religious offices, temporarily prohibiting all religious activities.
As a result, the Cao Đài Armed Forces were founded by General Tran Quang Vinh in Southern Vietnam so as to protect Cao Đài believers as well as to overthrow the French government with Japanese military aid. However Japanese Armed Forces were defeated in 1945 after the first American A-bomb raid and had to return to their country. Vietnamese, in general, and the Cao Đài Army, in particular, were faced with the Allied, then French, return to Vietnam.
In 1946, the political situation changed. Faced with the threat of the communist-led Việt Minh in the south, the French decided to bring back Hộ Pháp Phạm Công Tắc from exile and to ask for his cooperation in the struggle against the communists. Phạm Công Tắc agreed, but not all Cao Đài leaders followed his lead. A treaty was signed between General Tran Quang Vinh and the French colonists on 9-6-1946. From then on, Hộ Pháp Phạm Công Tắc resumed his post as leader of the Tây Ninh branch of the Cao Đài. Like most Cao Đài,
Phạm Cong Tác collaborated with the French with the aim of securing the independence of at least the southern part of Vietnam.
In 1954, Vietnamese Head of State Bảo Đại asked Hộ Pháp Phạm Công Tắc to be one of the advisors for the Vietnamese delegates in Geneva, Switzerland. He went to Paris and tried to prevent Vietnam from being partitioned. However, a priest’s persuasion seemed to have no influence on heartless politicians, so he failed and returned to Vietnam. After that, he paid visits to Taiwanese and South Korean leaders. In 1955, General Nguyen Thanh Phuong, unofficially instigated by Ngô Ðình Nhu, surrounded Tây Ninh Holy See, demanding an internal purification which was actually a raid on those who opposed Ngô Đình Diệm’s regime. So critical was the situation that Hộ Pháp Phạm Công Tắc had to flee the country, seeking political asylum in Cambodia. He lived there until his death in 1959.
He was the author of many books on Cao Đài, including:
• How to practice Caodaiism – under the pen-name Ai Dan – 1928
• A Visit to Heaven – 1927
• The Third Method of Practicing Caodaiism– 1947
• Breviaries for secular activities.
A symbol of Esoterism for Caodaiists
It is believed that Hộ Pháp Phạm Công Tắc was taught how to practice esoterism by God. He himself established the first meditation house, The Temple of Intuition, and entered for the first esoteric performance. However, there has been no evidence that he taught someone else to do so. He was the only Cao Đài leader who did a lot of preaching on Esoteric and Exoteric Practices of Cao Đài. Therefore, he is considered the Master of Cao Đài Esoterism.
The life of Phạm Công Tắc exemplifies the early history of the Cao Đài religion from its founding in 1925 until 1956 when he left the Tây Ninh Holy See.
He is revered as one of the most beloved disciples of the Great Cao Đài (God). At 37 years of age, he was ordained [by God] as the highest dignitary of Hiep Thien Dai. Since then he dedicated the rest of his life to the service of Cao Đài.
From within the grounds of the Holy See to the surrounding areas throughout the Tay Ninh province, from temples to mansions, from small road ways to large highways and bridges, from the local markets to townhouses, from schools to hospitals, nursing homes to orphanages... there is a constant reminder of his great contributions in the name of Cao Đài.
Though he is no longer with us, his spirit and energy lives on in each of the Cao Đài disciple many generations since.
According to Cao Đài Cardinal Nguyen Huong Hieu and Cao Đài Juridical Renovator Truong Huu Duc, “without him there is no Cao Đài religion, because God came to Ngo Minh Chieu only to make it known that He is the Great Teacher, calling Himself Cao Đài the Great Sage”[without assigning specific duties as He later did Phạm Công Tắc]. This statement speaks of his great significance in the organization and proliferation of the Cao Đài teachings.
With this work concerning the Cao Đài faith and contribution to humanity, historian and Cao Đài dignitary Tran Van Rang summed up Pham Cong Tac's life ( in the book “A Portrait of Pham Cong Tac”) in the following way: “ An unwavering soul, of great courage, great fortitude, and great compassion”.
• Chân dung Hộ Pháp Phạm Công Tắc – Trần văn Rạng – 1974
• Lời thuyết Đạo của Hộ Pháp Phạm Công Tắc –– Tài liệu Tòa Thánh Tây Ninh – 1973
• Bí Pháp – Tài liệu Tòa Thánh Tây Ninh- 1973
• Con Đường Thiêng Liêng Hằng Sống – Tài liệu Tòa Thánh Tây Ninh -1973
• Đại Đạo Sử Cương – Trần văn Rạng – 1972
• Đại Thừa Chơn Giáo – Chiếu Minh – 1956
• Bí Pháp Luyện Đạo – Bát Nương Diêu trì Cung – Bản Thảo.
• Tự Điển Cao Đài – Nguyễn văn Hồng
- Serguei A. Blagov -Caodaism: Vietnamese Traditionalism and Its Leap Into Modernity 2001- Page 78 "800 delegates, representing some 135,000 adepts, reportedly attended. However, Lê Vàn Trung declined to attend the meeting. Consequently, the Council supported Trang's allegations. Phạm Công Tắc initiated an attempt to clinch a peace ...
- Nghia M. Vo Saigon: A History 2011 page 111 Phạm Công Tắc
- Philippe M. F. Peycam -The Birth of Vietnamese Political Journalism: Saigon, 1916-1930 - Page 151 2013 "This was reflected in the social origin of the religion's founders, who for the most part were second-rank clerical employees in the civil service (Ngô Văn Chiêu, Phạm Công Tắc) or were like Lê Văn Trung, a bankrupt businessman and former