Dao Cao Dai (Caodaism in English) is the third largest religion in Viet Nam
(after Buddhism and Roman Catholicism). "Cao" means "high"; "Dai" means
"palace". Caodai refers to the supreme palace where God reigns. The word
is also used as God's symbolic name.
Caodaism is a syncretistic religion which combines elements from many of the
world's main religions, including Buddhism, Confucianism, Christianity,
Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Taoism, as well as Geniism, an indigenous religion
of Viet Nam.
Their main centre is in Tay Ninh, about 60 miles (100 km) North West of
Saigon. They currently have 7 to 8 million followers in Viet Nam and about
30,000 members elsewhere, primarily in Asia, Australia, Canada, Europe and
the United States.
They regard the history of religion as being divided into three periods of
revelation. The first was circa 2500 BCE, when God inspired selected
religious leaders to found Judaism in the Middle East, Hinduism in India
and Yi king (philosophy of transformation) in China. A few thousand years
later, God led the Buddha to found Buddhism, Lao Tse to create Taoism,
Confucius to start Confucianism, and Jesus Christ to found Christianity.
They believe that, due to the frailty of those religious leaders, the
truth became distorted. A number of religions were formed, but most
flourished only in or near their countries of origin. Religions became
adapted to the needs of individual cultures. Limitations in communication and
transportation prevented the formation of a single, true universal religion
which all of humanity could embrace. Followers of Caodaism believe that
God was concerned that the multiplicity of religions prevented people from
living together in harmony. God decided to initiate a third revelation, in
which he communicated Caodaism by spiritist means.
Ngo Van Chieu, a civil servant of the Cochinchina government began to
receive messages from a spirit called Duc Cao Dai (pronounced: Duk
Kow Dye), whom he believed to be God. After three years of studying and
worshipping God, he shared his spiritual discoveries with others in Saigon. At
the end of the year At Suu (1926 CE), Cao Dai instructed a small
group of mediums to found a new religion. One of the mediums, Le Van
Trung was named by God to be acting Giao Tong (Pope). Caodaism was
formally founded on 1926-SEP-26 by a group of 247 disciples.
Spiritism (called Spiritualism in England) is the method that God chose to
transmit this new religion to humanity. A mechanical device is commonly used
as a means of communication between spirit beings and humans. e.g.:
- a small movable platform on a Ouija board which is lightly touched by two
or more mediums. During a seance, the platform is seen to move around the
board and point to various letters, numbers and words.
- a small table which the mediums touch lightly. During a seance,
the table is observed to tip and tap on the floor. The number of taps
would indicate a specific letter
- a Ngoc co (basket with a beak), which consists of a wicker basket with
a radiating stick about 26 inches long; a pen is attached near the end of
the stick. In use, two mediums hold the basket; the apparatus moves and its
pen writes out messages which are interpreted by a third person and written
down by a secretary. This is a very efficient method of communication,
because words are directly written. It is the preferred method used in
With the unification of Viet Nam in 1975, the Caodaists' activities have
been restricted by the Communist government. Their Cuu Trung Dai
(executive body) and Hiep Thien Dai (legislative body) have
been abolished and replaced with a Governing Council under the direct
control of the government. Rituals and ceremonies continue, however.
- In the beginning was God, formless, nameless, unchangeable and all
powerful. God divided His spirit into many parts, and created the universe,
world, and its plants, animals and material components; each contains a part
of God's spirit.
- Animals and humans have two components:
- a visible, physical body and
- an invisible component which is composed of:
- a spirit (conscience) which is part of God's spirit, and
- a soul (or perispirit) which is responsible for emotions and personality
- They believe in reincarnation where a person experiences a series of
lives. One can break free of the reincarnation cycle by "cultivating self
and finding God in self".
- They believe in Karma in which one's future lives are dependent upon
deeds practiced in this life.
- If a person accumulates excessive Karma they will live another life after
their death. Large amount of Karma debt will cause them to be reincarnated
onto another planet which is much colder, darker and miserable. If they
have purified themselves spiritually, and fulfilled all of their duties,
they may reincarnate to another, happier life on earth. Or they might attain
Heaven or Nirvana.
- Members are instructed in their responsibilities to self, family,
society and all of humanity. Separation from honors, riches and luxury are
- Caodaists worship and adore God, venerate Superior spirits and worship
- Within Caodaism, there are two sects:
- Exoterism: in which one's duties (while conducting a normal family
life) are to:
- practice good and avoid evil
- show kindness to humans, other species, plants and nature
- follow the Confucian:
- three duties: (between king and citizen, father and child,
husband and wife), and
- five virtues (humanity, obligation, civility, knowledge, reliability)
- Esoterism, practiced by the Chieu-Minh Vo Vi sect which:
- practice meditation
- practice "eradication of the inferior self" and develop the
- At their altar, they worship:
- God as symbolized by the Divine Eye
- Sakyamuni who represents Buddha
- Lao Tse who represents Taoism
- Jesus Christ who represents Christianity
- Confucius who represents Confucianism
- Khuong Thai Cong who represents Geniism
- They venerate statues of Li Tai Pe, (representing Taoism), Quan
Am Bo Tat (representing Buddhism) and Quan Thanh De Quan
(representing Confucianism). These are the three Lords of the Earth
- They recognize three saints:
- Sun-Yat-Sen (1866-1925), leader of the Chinese Revolution of 1911
- Victor Hugo (1802-1885), French poet
- Trang Trinh (1492-1587), Vietnamese poet and prophet
- Followers are expected to follow three rules:
- pray at least once per day, at 6 AM, noon, 6 PM, and/or midnight.
- eat a vegetarian diet at least ten days each month
- observe five interdictions:
- Do not kill living beings
- Do not be dishonest
- Do not commit adultery
- Do not get drunk
- Do not sin by word
- Caodaism recognizes 9 ranks: Pope, Censor Cardinal, Cardinal, Archbishop
Bishop, Priest, Student Priest, Subdignitaries and Followers. Women are
limited to the level of Cardinal and below.
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- An American contact group is the CAO DAI Association of Washington DC
Metro Area, 14611 Country Creek Lane, North Potomac MD, 20878. Telephone
- The Sydney Centre for Studies in Caodaism maintains a home page at:
- Hum Dac Bui, "Caodaism, A Novel Religion", Hum Dac Bui, Redlands
- Tourism Service of the Tayninh Holy See, "An Outline of Caodaism",
Chan Tam, Redlands CA (1994)
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