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Cao i is a syncretistic, monotheistic religion officially established in the city of Ty Ninh, southern
Vietnam in 1926. The religion combines Buddhism, Christianity, Taoism, Confucianism and Islam.
The full name of the religion is i o Tam K Ph (great religion of the third period of
revelation and salvation).
Cao Dai uses ethical precepts from Confucianism, occult practices from Taoism, theories of Karma
and Rebirth from Buddhism ,and a hierarchical organization (including a Pope) from Christianity.
Caodaiists (believers of Cao Dai) believe that the first disciples of the religion, Ng Vn Chiu, Cao
Qunh C, Phm Cng Tc and Cao Hoi Sang spoke to God and God spoke to them. God told
them to establish a new religion that would commence the third era of religious amesty. Because of
this, Caodaiist credit God for finding their religion. The ultimate goal of a Caodaist is to rejoin with
God the Father, in Heaven and to break away from the cycle of rebirth and death. Women can only
wear white dress as they have to be pure whereas men can wear coloured clothing once they reach
higher in the religion. In the daily ceremony, the who women in the choir sing the Bible in an accent
that is difficult to understand and they are not allowed to marry.

Name of God[change | change source]

The name for God in Cao Dai is Cao i Tin ng i B Tt Ma-ha-tt (translation: Cao i the
Ancient Sage and Great Bodhisattva Mahasattva). Caodaiist believe God chose this title because it
represents the Three Teachings: Saint, Sage, and Buddha.

Creation beliefs[change | change source]

God is represented by an eye in a sphere that resembles God seeing over the earth.

Cao Dai teaches that before God existed, there was Tao. Tao is the unchanging, nameless,
formless, immortal source. Then the Big Bang occurred, and out of the Big Bang, God miraculously
blessed us with his birth and was poured onto us from the universe ( emanationism ). The Universe
could not be formed so the Yin Yang were created by the Almighty himself. Like Adam took one of
his ribs to create Eve, God took control of yang and a part of himself, thereby creating the Goddess
to assemble with yin. Now that the Union was completed, the Universe was formed. The Goddess,
Holy Mother, is referred by Caodaiist as Mother Buddha. Cao Dai teaches that there are 36 levels of
Heaven, and 72 planets having intelligent life. The first planet is closest to Heaven while number 72
is closest to Hell. Earth is number 68.

The three teachings[change | change source]

The Cao Dai temple in Tay Ninh

The three teachings of Cao Dai are:

Note: The top is believed to be the hardest to achieve while the bottom is believed to be the easiest
to achieve.
The three teachings represent levels of spiritual attainment. In Cao Dai's teaching being a Buddha is
the hardest to achieve. Cao Dai teaches that humans can develop into other beings. Humans can
develop into: Thn (angel), Thnh (saint), Tin (sage), and Pht (buddha). According to Cao Dai,
everyone can turn into one of these beings. Angels, Saints, and Sages have extremely long lives in
the realms of Heavens, but Buddhas are the only ones free from the cycle of birth and death.

The three periods of revelation and salvation[change | change source]

First period[change | change source]
1. The teachings of the Buddhas - Dipankara Buddha
2. The teachings of sages
3. The teachings of saints- Phc Hy ( Fu Xi )
Second period[change | change source]
1. The teachings of the Buddhas - Shakyamuni Buddha (Gautama Buddha )
2. The teachings of sages - Laozi
3. The teachings of saints - Confucius and Jesus Christ.
Third period[change | change source]
According to Cao Dai teachings, God is at helm, he will not take human form as in the two past
periods. Instead he sends his teachings through sacred seance ceremonies.
The three anchors (the three teachings) are:

1. The teachings of the Buddhas - Guan Yin

2. The tachings of sages - L Bch
3. The teachings of saints - Guan Yu

Holy people[change | change source]

A Wall in a Cao Dai Temple depicting a few Holy people including Guan Yin, Buddha, and Jesus Christ.

There are many Holy people from other religions. Some people from history are also venerated. The
pantheon of Holy people includes: Buddha, Guan Yin, Jesus, Joan of Arc, Muhammad, Sun Yat-
sen, Julius Caesar, Victor Hugo, and many more.

Holy scriptures[change | change source]

These are the main scriptures of Cao Dai.

Kinh Thin o V Th o (Prayers of the Heavenly and the Earthly Way) This is used for
Daily life and Prayers for Worship.
Php Chnh Truyn (The Religious Constitution of Caodaiism) This is used for information on
the elections of officials, their powers, and ritual dress.
Tn Lut (The New Canonical Codes) This is used for laws regulating religious, secular,
monastic life.
Thnh Ngn Hip Tuyn (Compilation of Divine Messages)
H Php Phm Cng Tc The Sermons of His Holiness
Other branches of Cao Dai have additional scriptures.

Organizational structure[change | change source]

Cao Dai has an organizational structure like Catholicism. Cao Dai's hierarchy includes a Pope,
cardinals, bishops, priest, etc. Cao Dai teaches equality between men and women but women are
not allowed to be Legislative Cardinal and Pope, the two highest position in Cao Dai. The religion
and church claims that God ordered this because Yang represents Male while Yin represents
Female. Yin cannot dominate Yang or else Chaos will happen.

Branches[change | change source]

Inside the Ty Ninh Holy See. Inside there are monks, nuns, priests, and people. All the way in the front is the
shrine dedicated to God.

In total there are about 6 officially recognized branches of Cao Dai. There are several others but
there are remained unknown. The largest branch is based in Ty Ninh Province, where the religion
was founded in 1926 and where the seat of Cao i authority is located. Some sects broke away
from the Ty Ninh Holy See. The sects that broke away are Chiu Minh, Bn Tre, and Nng. Ng
Vn Chiu founded Chiu Minh. He left because he refused his appointment as Cao Dai's first Pope.

Demographics[change | change source]

Cao Dai is the third largest religion in Vietnam after Buddhism and Roman Catholicism. Estimates of
followers in Vietnam, is about 2-6 million around 2%. Estimates of followers oversea, is about

Cao i 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 tell 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]

In spirit and in pictorial representation, the Eye serves to remind Cao i believers that the God
witnesses everything, everywhere, constantly. At the Holy See, there are in total 50 Divine Eyes of
five different shapes; each carrying a different meaning related to various spiritual aspects. The One
on the globe shows the Supreme Being above the North Star in the Ursa Minor constellation. The
One on the faade of the Holy See has 35 rays of light which represent the three major religions and
five main religious doctrines of the world. At the local Cao i 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.[23]

The religious banner and emblem[edit]

In accordance with the religious mission, the three colors of Cao i 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 the religious emblem 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.[13]

Holy scriptures[edit]
There are various Caodaist scriptures. Some of those belonging to the Holy See of Ty Ninh
are: Kinh Thin o V Th o ("Prayers of the Heavenly and the Earthly Way"),[24][need quotation to
Php Chnh Truyn ("the Religious Constitution of Cao i Religion"),[25] Tn Lut ("The
Canonical Codes"), [26] and Con ng Thing Ling Hng Sng ("Divine Path to Eternal
Life").[27] 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 Ty 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 Dng (Yang)
represents male and m (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 (Bt Qui i): 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

Tze (Taoism), Confucius (Confucianism), Jesus Christ (Christianity), Jiang Ziya (Geniism).
Founders and teachers of Caodaism, who represent the doctrines of Buddhism, Taoism and
Confucianism: Guanyin (Buddhism), Li Bai (Taoism), Guan Yu (Confucianism).
The earthly power: To avoid dictatorship, God divided the earthly power into two bodies - an
Executive Body (Cu Trng i) headed by the Pope, and a Legislative Body (Hip Thin i)
headed by the H Php (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.[28]

The Executive Body (Cu Trng i)[edit]

The Cu Trng i is the Executive Body of Caodaism which takes charge of the administration of
the Religion and missionary activities. Head of Cu Trng i is Gio-Tng (Pope).
The Gio-Tng (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 Gio-Tng (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 (Thin iu). He obliges all
disciples of God to conform strictly to the prescriptions of the New Codes (Tn Lut)... Since the
Gio-Tng (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 Gio-Tng (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
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 (Trn o) comprising several provinces, headed by a Bishop who is
called the Regional Religious Chief/ Khm Trn o.
The Religious Province (Chu o) comprising several districts/delegations, headed by a Priest
who is called Provincial Religious Chief/ Khm Chu o.
The Religious District (H o) comprising several villages, headed by a Student Priest who is
called the Religious Chief of Delegation (u Tc o/ u H o/ u Phn o).
The Religious Village (Hng o) headed by a Sub-dignitary who is called Village Religious
Chief (u Hng o). He is assisted by one (or more) Ph Tr S (Deputy Chief for
Administration of a religious village) representing the Executive Body and one (or more) Thng
S representing the Legislative Body. The Religious Village is made up of Religious Hamlets
(p o).[28]
The Legislative Body (Hip Thin i)[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 H Php (protector of laws and justice),
and assisted by the Thng Phm (Director of religious affairs) and Thng Sanh (Director of
secular affairs).

H-Php () (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 H-Php 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 Bt-Qui-
i for the union with Angels, Saints, Immortals and Buddhas.
Thng-Phm () (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 H-Php in all his
missions. In a word, the Thng-Phm helps the Cu Trng i 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 Thng-Phm is "Leader of the
Spiritual Power".
ThngSanh () (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 Bo Huyn Linh Qun (Theosophy), Bo Tinh Qun (Astronomy), Bo C
Qun (Orphanage), Bo Vn php qun (Culture), Bo Hc Qun (Education), Bo Y Qun
(Health), Bo Vt Qun (Science and Industry, Bo S Qun (Literature), Bo Sanh Qun (Social
work), Bo Nng Qun (Agriculture), Bo Cng Qun (Public Works), Bo Thng
Qun (Economics).[28]

Community structure[edit]
Any local area having more than 500 believers is authorized to establish a Parish (H o/ Tc o)
with a Thnh-Tht (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
Thnh-Tht (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 Ty-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.[14]

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 Ty Ninh Province, where the religion was founded in 1926
and where the seat of the Caodaist authority is located.
The Caodaist Executive Council of Ty Ninh Province received official government recognition in
1997. Independent Caodaist groups allege that government interference has undermined the
independence of the Ty Ninh group, and it no longer faithfully upholds Cao i'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 Ty Ninh Holy See are Chiu Minh, Bn Tre,
and Nng. Ng Vn Chiu founded Chiu Minh when he left the original church structure,
refusing his appointment as Caodaism's first pope.
What is Cao Dai?
Cao Dai (a.k.a. Dao Cao Dai or Caodaism) is a syncretist Vietnamese
religious movement with a strongly nationalist political character. Cao Dai
draws upon ethical precepts from Confucianism, occult practices from
Taoism, theories of karma and rebirth from Buddhism, and a hierarchical
organization (including a pope) from Roman Catholicism. Its pantheon of
saints includes such diverse figures as the Buddha, Confucius, Jesus Christ,
Muhammad, Pericles, Julius Caesar, Joan of Arc, Victor Hugo, and Sun Yat-

Fast Facts
Date founded: 1926
Place founded: Vietnam
Founder: Ngo Van Chieu
Adherents: 2-6 million

In 1919 Ngo Van Chieu, an administrator for the French in Indochina,
received a communication from the supreme deity during a table-moving
sance. Chieu became the prophet of the new religion, which was formally
established in 1926. Caodaists believe this ushered in Tam Ky Pho Do or the
Third Period of Salvation, a period marked by direct revelation between
heaven and earth. Caodaism is the Dai Dao or great religion of this period.

A Cao Dai army was established in 1943 during the Japanese occupation of
Indochina. After the war the Cao Dai was an effective force in national
politics; it first supported, then opposed, Premier Ngo Dinh Diem. In 1955
56 Diem disbanded the Cao Dai army and forced the sect's pope, Pham Cong
Tac, into exile.

After the communist takeover in 1975, Cao Dai was reportedly repressed by
the government. Centers of worship were established in Vietnamese refugee
communities abroad, however, and by the early 1990s Cao Dai was reported
to have some two million adherents in Vietnam, Cambodia, France, and the
United States. 1

Today, Cao Dai adherents may number as high as 6 million, at least

according to Cao Dai sources. 2 The headquarters of Cao Dai are at Tay
Ninh, near Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon).

In its beliefs, Cao Dai draws upon ethical precepts from Confucianism and
theories of karma and rebirth from Buddhism, with some influence from
Catholicism. It is a very syncretistic faith, and proudly so. According to one
Cao Dai follower and author:

"That's the reason God has founded Cao Dai, in order to bring harmony to
different religions. And the principle of Cao Dai is that religions are not
different and if we take enough time to study deep --deeply enough in each
religion, we would see that they have one same principal, if not identical
principal." 3 Similarly, a Cao Dai website describes the religion's worldview
this way:

The noble effort of CaoDai is to unite all of humanity through a common

vision of the Supreme Being, whatever our minor differences, in order to
promote peace and understanding throughout the world. CaoDai does not
seek to create a gray world, where all religions are exactly the same, only to
create a more tolerant world, where all can see each other as sisters and
brothers from a common divine source reaching out to a common divine
destiny realizing peace within and without. 4 The supreme being is Cao Dai
("High Tower"), a Taoist epithet for the supreme god. Cao Dai is regarded as
the same supreme being honored in all major world religions, but the term
Cao Dai avoids gender, personality or other earthly attributes. God is
represented as the Divine Eye, an eye in a triangle, which appears on the
facades of the sect's temples and in followers' homes. It is a left eye,
because God is Yang, and Yang is the left side.
Cao Dai's saints include such diverse figures as the Buddha, Confucius, Jesus
Christ, Muhammad, Pericles, Julius Caesar, Joan of Arc, Victor Hugo, and
Sun Yat-sen. These are honored at Cao Dai temples, along with ancestors.

In Cao Dai, the purpose of life is peace within each individual and harmony
in the world. Cao Dai followers also seek to gain religious merit and avoid
bad karma.

Cao Dai beliefs about the afterlife are derived from Buddhism. Those who
have gathered too much bad karma during their lifetime will be reincarnated
in negative circumstances, which may include rebirth on a darker, colder
planet than this one. Good karma leads to rebirth to a better life on earth.

Salvation is freedom from rebirth and the attainment of nirvana or heaven.

"The ultimate goal of CaoDaists is to be reunified with The All That Is, to
return home." 5

Cao Dai draws upon occult practices from Taoism and includes
communication with the dead in sances. This has been outlawed by the
Vietnamese government, but Cao Dai leaders also say that it is no longer

"We don't see the necessity to have sance any more because we have
direct communication from the Supreme Being to people by returning inside
to our heart to see the Supreme Being in there." 3 Cao Dai encourages
obedience to the three duties (between king and citizen, father and child,
husband and wife), and five virtues (humanity, obligation, civility,
knowledge, reliability) of Confucianism.

Cao Dai's organization is patterned after that of Roman Catholicism, with

nine levels of hierarchy including a pope, cardinals, and archbishops.

Worship involves group prayer in the temple, elaborate rituals and festivals.

Similar to the division in Theravada Buddhism between lay Buddhists and

monks, Cao Dai offers two ways of practice its adherents. 6 Esoterism
focuses on meditation, with the goal "to progressively eradicate the inferior
self and develop the divine element within the self, reaching toward oneness
with the Supreme Being." These are priests of Cao Dai, which can be men
and women. Exoterism is the form available to laypersons living a normal
family life. These are expected to:

cultivate the Confucian duties and virtues (see above)

practice good and avoid evil
observe five Precepts: do not kill, do not steal, do not commit adultery, do
not get drunk, do not sin by word.
practice vegetarianism at least ten days per month, to purify one's body and
spirit and to avoiding killing living beings
participate in worship to the Supreme Being through four daily ceremonies,
at 6:00 a.m., noon, 6:00 p.m., and midnight, with at least one ceremony per
day at home

CaoDai claims to be a universal religion, and it combines the influential beliefs in Vietnam of that
time, including Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism. Its main principle is that all religions
share the same divine origin and message: love and justice. CaoDaists seek to unite all faiths in
order to end religious strife and bring world peace. They compare their faith to those of Bahai,
Unitarian Universalism, and New Age groups.