Caodaism (Vietnamese: Đạo Cao Đài, Chữ nôm: 道高臺) is a monotheistic syncretic religion officially established in the city of Tây Ninh in southern Vietnam in 1926. 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] (listen), literally the "Highest Lord" or "Highest Power")[1] is the supreme deity, believed by Caodaists to have created the universe.[1][2] Caodaists often use the term Đức Cao Đài (Venerable High Lord) as the abbreviated name, 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 male creator, which is balanced by the yin (âm) activity of Mother Goddess, the Queen Mother of the West (Diêu Trì Kim Mẫu, Tây Vương Mẫu), the feminine, nurturing and restorative mother of humanity.[3]

Adherents engage in practices such as prayer, veneration of ancestors, nonviolence, and vegetarianism with the goal of union with God and freedom from saṃsāra.[4] Estimates of the number of Caodaists in Vietnam vary; government figures estimate 4.4 million Caodaists affiliated to the Tây Ninh church, with numbers rising up to 6 million if other branches are added.[5][6][7][8][9] An additional number of adherents in the tens of thousands, primarily ethnic Vietnamese, live in North America, Europe, and Australia. The design, shape and coloring of Caodaist temples is quite standard around the world and includes the incorporation of sacred images, symbols, and colors.

Cao Đài temple in Dallas, Texas
Caodaist temple in Dallas, Texas, serving a large local Vietnamese community.
Caodaist eye
Cao Đài's left eye, similar to Eye of Providence.
Temple Cao Dai
The "Holy See" temple in Tây Ninh is the centre of the main Caodaist church.


Ngô Văn Chiêu, a district head of the French administration in Cochinchina, was the first to worship and receive messages from Cao Đài in 1921.[10] He received a vision of the Divine Eye which is now the symbol for Cao Đài as well as the focus for worship on all Cao Đài altars.

Adherents maintain that on Christmas Eve 1925, God identified Himself to the first group of Cao Đài mediums, which included Phạm Công Tắc, Cao Quỳnh Cư, and Cao Hoài Sang. These three figures were to play an essential role in the growing religion as the three founding spirit mediums of the Hiệp Thiên Đài or "Palace Uniting Heaven and Earth". Phạm Công Tắc was the head spirit medium or Hộ Pháp ("Defender of the Dharma), while Cao Quỳnh Cư was the Thượng Phẩm (his Sacred Assistant) and Cao Hoài Sang was the Thượng Sanh (his Secular Assistant). [11]

On 7 Oct 1926, 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 Cao Đài, signed the "Declaration of the Founding of the Cao Đài Religion" and presented it to the French Governor of Cochinchina. The Cao Đài faith brought together a number of once underground sects into a new national religion.

Officially called the "Great Way of the Third Time of Redemption" (Đại Đạo Tam Kỳ Phổ Độ), it became 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.[8]

In the 1930s, the leader criticized the French colonial regime, though he also emphasized dialogue with the French. This stance was controversial, and contrasted with the liturgy of dozens of "dissident" branches of Caodaism that followed a more Taoist model.[8]

During the First and Second Indochina Wars, members of Cao Đài (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.[12][13]

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 banned the practice of Caodaism.[14] In 1997, Caodaism was granted legal recognition and unrestricted practice once again.[12]

Religious mission

Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism are One, a painting in the litang style portraying three men laughing by a river stream. 12th century, Song Dynasty
Bức Họa Tam Thánh 012014
Three Saints and the Divine Covenant

The official name of the Cao Đài religion (or Caodaism) 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").

According to Cao Đài's dogma, this Third Period will be of intense religious activity which will unite God and humanity in ways not yet imagined. Cao Đài also states that the Third Amnesty will establish a new great faith for the 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.[15]

Caodaism teaches that, throughout human history, God the Father has revealed his truth many times through the mouths of many prophets, but these messages were always either ignored or forgotten due to humanity’s susceptibility to secular desires. Adherents believe that the age has now come when God speaks to humanity directly.

In the nineteenth century, Spiritism became established in Europe. The likes of Madam Blavatsky, Allan Kardec and Victor Hugo championed new religious possibilities. In Vietnam, the age-old traditions of Asian divination and mediumship began to mix with the new traditions of European Spiritism.

To highlight this objective of unity, there is a representation of the Divine Covenant of The Third Amnesty (The Third Alliance) inside every Cao Đài Temple. This Covenant 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 said to guide humanity into the way of the Third Amnesty. The Covenant is written in French: "Dieu et Humanité Amour et Justice; and in Chinese: 天上天下 博愛公平. This translates into English as: "God and Humanity [for] Love and Justice."[15]

Theology and Theosophy


Eight Trigrams
The Eight Trigrams (Bagua, 八卦) in Caodaism, borrowed from Taoism

"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, and Chinese Buddhism.

  • Cao Đài
    Pronunciation of "Cao Đài" in Vietnamese
    literally means "High Tower/Palace", that is, the place where God reigns over the universe. These words represent Confucianism.
Pronunciation of "Cao Đài" in Vietnamese
Pronunciation of 'Tiên Ông' in Vietnamese
  • Tiên Ông is the largest rank in Taoism.
Pronunciation of the third phrase in Vietnamese
  • Đại Bồ Tát Ma Ha Tát literally means Great Bodhisattva the Great Being (Mahasattva) 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.[16]


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

Caodaists adopt the traditional Chinese idea of âm (yin) and dương (yang) duality constituting the harmonious balance of the universe. Before the creation of the universe there was the "dao", the infinite, nameless, formless, unchanging, eternal source. The negative and positive principles of the universe are the components of the eternal nature.[17]

There are two main Gods, the Cao Đài ("Highest Lord") and the Diêu Trì Kim Mẫu or Đức Phật Mẫu ("Holy Mother"). They represent respectively the yang and yin forces. Cao Đài is viewed as the heart of the universe, the common Father of all beings. 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.[17] Ultimately, She has to follow the orders of "Đức Cao Đài", who is revered as the Supreme Being of both Heaven and Earth.

All other Divine Beings are to obey the orders of these two Creators during the course of evolution of the universe. Each of them carries a specific role as designated by their Father and Mother. Any being who falls out against them is considered devils in nature. These devils are led by the most powerful being, named Kim Quang Sứ (Satan).

In terms of the cosmos, faithful Caodaists believe there are heaven and hell, which are the main destinations for souls after death. Heaven consists of thirty six planes and many heavenly realms upon each of them, e.g. the Realm of Saints, the Realm of the Holy Mother, the Realm of the Perfect Beings, the Divine Court Realm, The Paradise of Extreme Joy, Nirvana, etc. Meanwhile, hell has ten key realms to carry out punishments in accordance with sins of souls.

In order to go to heaven, souls are required to cultivate their virtues and/or devote themselves to spiritual causes. Without merit from the latter, they cannot escape the cycle of birth and death, but can improve their virtues and merit gradually to reach better places in the universe, including the 72 planets (ours is the 68th), the 3,000 worlds, the four great cosmic regions, and the thirty six heavenly planes. True liberation can only be attained when souls reach Nirvana, i.e. the realm of Divine Beings with the most virtues, merits, and wisdom.

Three-fold revelation

The father of the universe, Cao Đài, is believed to have communed with men since the beginning of times, revealing his will. According to Cao Đài doctrine, history is divided into three times (tam kỳ) of revelation. In the first two periods, there were teachings of Dipankara Buddha, sages, Phục Hy, Gautama Buddha, Laozi, Confucius and Jesus, who received the will of the Highest Power, and founded their respective religions to serve and/ or educate humanity. But due to the frailty of the messengers and the common men, the will of the Highest Power was misled into corrupted forms. Caodaists also believe that former revelations were culture-bound, being applicable only for certain ethnicities, and primarily intended for specific ages. The third and final form of revelation is disclosed through the teachings of the Cao Đài faith.[18]

Twelve-fold hierarchy

Caodaists believe that there are various ranks of divine spirits: Thần ("angels"), Thánh ("saints"), Tiên ("Immortals"), and Phật ("Buddhas"). 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. Below those ranks are the spirits of matters, plants, animals and humans. All spirits may evolve to attain higher rank based on present deeds. Disembodied spirits fulfill a number of roles: they are benefactors of mankind, messengers and instructors of the truth.[19] Quan Âm is regarded as the exemplary goddess of the Buddhas, Lý Bạch of the Immortals, and Quan Vũ of the Saints.

Unknown to most outsiders, Joan of Arc is worshipped in the Cao Đài pantheon. She is seen as having guided the Faith at its inception and promoted full equality for women (via séances).[20][21] The Cao Đài pantheon also has many other well-known figures, including Muhammad, Moses, Louis Pasteur, Shakespeare, and Lenin.[22] Victor Hugo is probably the most important European figure to play a role in the Caodai pantheon, since he gave many teachings and also the text of a number of important prayers. He himself practiced spiritism on the island of Jersey from 1852 to 1855, and predicted that he would become the prophet of a new religion to merge European and Asian mysticism.[23] Reports that Winston Churchill and Charlie Chaplin were also "saints" are based on an inaccurate 1956 Time magazine article, since both of them were still alive at the time.[24]

Fundamental rules and values

The doctrines of the Cao Đài faith 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". Cao Đài has been described from five different points of view:

  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.

Worship rituals

Believers 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 06:00, Midday, 18:00 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 the Cao Dai religion.[15] 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.

Ceremonial prescriptions such as actions, dress and music were organized 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.[15]


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 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

In spirit and in pictorial representation, the Eye serves to remind Cao Đài 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 façade 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 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.[25]

The religious banner and emblem

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 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.[15]

Holy scriptures

There are various Caodaist scriptures. Some of those belonging to the Holy See of Tây Ninh are: Kinh Thiên Đạo Và Thế Đạo ("Prayers of the Heavenly and the Earthly Way"),[26] Pháp Chánh Truyền ("the Religious Constitution of Cao Đài Religion"),[27] Tân Luật ("The Canonical Codes"), [28] and Con Đường Thiêng Liêng Hằng Sống ("Divine Path to Eternal Life").[29] Other sects have additional scriptures.

The Canonical Codes

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

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

Cao Dai temple (Vietnam)
Inner hall the Tây Ninh Holy See temple.
Cao Dai monks
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:

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.[30]

The Executive Body (Cửu Trùng Đài)

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).[27]

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).[30]

The Legislative Body (Hiệp Thiên Đài)

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).[30]

Community structure

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[28]

The Holy See

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.[16]


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


  1. ^ a b c Hoskins (a) 2012, p. 3.
  2. ^ Oliver 1976, p. 7.
  3. ^ Hoskins (a) 2012, pp. 3–4.
  4. ^ Hoskins 2015, pp. 1–28.
  5. ^ Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights & 2014-07-31.
  6. ^ Hoskins 2015, p. 4; 239.
  7. ^ Eller 2014, pp. 184–186; 188.
  8. ^ a b c Hoskins (a) 2012, p. 4.
  9. ^ Hoskins (b) 2012.
  10. ^ "The Colors of Cao Dai". Angelstan Christy. 12 November 2015.
  11. ^ "Caodaism – WRSP". Archived from the original on 29 April 2018. Retrieved 29 April 2018.
  12. ^ a b Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor & 2014-07-31.
  13. ^ Vietnam Timeline 1955.
  14. ^ Cao Dai Overseas Missionary & 2008-01-07.
  15. ^ a b c d e Sydney Centre for Studies in Caodaism (a).
  16. ^ a b Tam 2000.
  17. ^ a b Oliver 1976, p. 8.
  18. ^ Oliver 1976, p. 9.
  19. ^ Oliver 1976, p. 10.
  20. ^ Biederman & 2006-01-07.
  21. ^ Hoskins 2015, pp. 10; 16–17; 83–85; 135; 241.
  22. ^ Hoskins 2015, pp. 83–85.
  23. ^ Hoskins 2015, pp. 99–110.
  24. ^ Hoskins 2015, p. 249.
  25. ^ Sydney Centre for Studies in Caodaism (c).
  26. ^ Sydney Centre for Studies in Caodaism (d).
  27. ^ a b Tâm 1996.
  28. ^ a b Sydney Centre for Studies in Caodaism (e).
  29. ^ Hộ-Pháp Phạm Công Tắc.
  30. ^ a b c Sydney Centre of Studies in Caodaism (f).


Further reading

  • Blagov, Sergei (2012). Caodaism: Vietnamese Traditionalism and Its Leap Into Modernity. Nova Science Publishers. ISBN 1590331508
  • Goossaert, Vincent; Palmer, David A. (2011). The Religious Question in Modern China. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 022600533X
  • Jammes, Jeremy (2010). Divination and Politics in Southern Vietnam: Roots of Caodaism. Social Compass 57(3), 357–371. DOI: 10.1177/0037768610375520
  • Jammes, Jeremy (2014). Les Oracles du Cao Dai: Étude d'un mouvement religieux vietnamien et de ses réseaux. Paris: Les Indes Savantes. ISBN 978-2-84654-351-4
  • Werner, Jayne (1981). Peasant Politics and Religious Sectarianism: Peasant and Priest in the Cao Dai in Vietnam. New Haven: Yale University Southeast Asian Studies. ISBN 978-0-938692-07-2

External links

Cao Hoài Sang

Cao Hoài Sang (1901–1971) was one of the founder figures of the Vietnamese religion Cao Đài, participating in the first Hội Yến Diêu Trì with Phạm Công Tắc and Cao Quỳnh Cư in 1925.

Cao Quỳnh Cư

Cao Quỳnh Cư (1888–1929) was one of the founder figures of the Vietnamese religion Cao Đài, participating with Phạm Công Tắc and Cao Hoài Sang in the first Hội Yến Diêu Trì to Đạo Mẫu in 1925.

Chợ Mới District, An Giang Province

Chợ Mới is a rural district (huyện) of An Giang Province in the Mekong Delta region of Vietnam. As of 2003 the district had a population of 362,492. The district covers 355 km². The district's capital lies at Chợ Mới.In addition to the district capital Chợ Mới, there is one other urban subdivision, thị Trấn Mỹ Luông. The rural communes are: Kiến An, Kiến Thành, Mỹ Hội Đông, Nhơn Mỹ, Long Giang, Long Điền A, Long Điền B, Tân Mỹ, Mỹ Hiệp, Bình Phước Xuân, Long Kiến, An Thạch Trung, Hội An, Hòa Bình and Hoà An. The district is heavily criss-crossed by waterways in the delta, causing the district to consist of small islands. Hòa Hảo, Cao Đài, Protestantism and Roman Catholicism are the main religions.

Hiệp Thiên Đài

The Hiệp Thiên Đài is the Legislative Branch of the governing body of the Cao Đài Church. The name literally means "where man communes with God".

Based on Cao Đài Law, the Cao Đài Church consists of three branches:

Cửu Trùng Đài (the Executive Branch) or (the Branch of Body), led by Giáo Tông (Pope of the Caoddaiist Church).

Hiệp Thiên Đài (the Legislative Branch) or (the Branch of Mind), headed by Hộ Pháp (Cardinals of the Caoddaiist Church).

Bát Quái Đài (the Spiritual Branch) or (the Branch of Soul), reigned by God.Theoretically, these branches are mutually run so as to produce the maximum religious power. In reality, nevertheless, only Cửu Trùng Đài and Hiệp Thiên Đài can launch secular or religious activities, so all Cao Đài dignitaries work for or in these two branches. More characterized by spiritual features, Bát Quái Đài is where God reigns.

Hội Yến Diêu Trì

Hội Yến Diêu Trì (Religious Banquet for Great Mother and the Nine Goddesses), a great religious ceremony of Cao Dai, is annually held in Tây Ninh Holy See on the 15th of the eighth lunar month. This coincides with the Mid Autumn Festival in Vietnam. Most Caodaiists choose to go on a pilgrimage to Tay Ninh Holy Land on this day.

Jade Emperor

The Jade Emperor (Chinese: 玉皇; pinyin: Yù Huáng or 玉帝, Yù Dì) in Chinese culture, traditional religions and myth is one of the representations of the first god (太帝 tài dì). In Daoist theology he is the assistant of Yuanshi Tianzun, who is one of the Three Pure Ones, the three primordial emanations of the Tao. He is also the Cao Đài ("Highest Power") of Caodaism known as Ngọc Hoàng Thượng đế. In Buddhist cosmology he is identified with Śakra. In Korean mythology he is known as Haneullim.The Jade Emperor is known by many names, including Heavenly Grandfather (天公, Tiān Gōng), which originally meant "Heavenly Duke", which is used by commoners; the Jade Lord; the Highest Emperor; Great Emperor of Jade (玉皇上帝, Yu Huang Shangdi or 玉皇大帝, Yu Huang Dadi).

Lê Văn Trung

Lê Văn Trung (Hán nôm: 黎文忠; 25 November 1876 – 19 November 1934) was the first acting Giáo Tông of Cao Đài.The term Giáo Tông means “leader or head of a religious group”. Translators noticed similarities between the structural hierarchy of Caodaism and the Roman Catholic Church, and, for lack of better words or whatever reasons, borrowed terminologies such as pope, cardinal, bishop, priest, etc. In practice, Caodaiism has many more ranks and titles of which there are no official English translation yet. Also, the actual Vietnamese term for “pope”, as in “The Catholic Pope”, is Giáo Hoàng.

In 1926, Lê Văn Trung believed a great Chinese poet had contacted him during a séance to give him a religious mission in life. This led to his signing the “Declaration of the Founding of the Cao Đài Religion” on 7 October 1926. This formally announced the founding of the religion to the world. The declaration he signed affirmed principles that combined Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, Christianity, spiritism and others.

Before this, Ngô Văn Chiêu had declined his appointment as Pope and withdrew to represent a more esoteric form of the faith. Lê Văn Trung took the more exoteric approach, becoming their leader and acting Pope. After Trung's death (disincarnation) in 1934, the Venerable Phạm Công Tắc, who was also the Maintainer of the Laws/Dharma, assumed the role.

Major religious groups

The world's principal religions and spiritual traditions may be classified into a small number of major groups, although this is by no means a uniform practice. This theory began in the 18th century with the goal of recognizing the relative levels of civility in societies.

Nguyễn Phan Long

Nguyễn Phan Long (1889 – 16 July 1960) served as Prime Minister of the State of Vietnam in January 1950. He was dismissed in May 1950 by the Emperor Bảo Đại under pressure from the French colonial authorities, who resented his pro-American and nationalist attitude.Journalist at La Tribune Indigène, he founded in 1920 the liberal newspaper L'Écho Annamite, in which wrote e.g. the (Eurasian) Vietnamese nationalist Eugène Dejean de la Bâtie, friend of André Malraux.

He was in the 1920s-1930s the deputy leader of the Parti Constitutionnaliste Indochinois, a nationalist party founded in 1923 and led by Bui Quang Chiêu. He was elected as colonial councillor.

He wrote abundantly about spiritism in his newspaper and was also a fervent adept of Caodaism. He was elected in 1936 as president of the Congrès Universel des Sectes Caodaïques, an attempted unified caodai movement, which eventually failed.After 1945, he was Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of Interior as well as editor of L'Écho du Vietnam.

Organized religion

Organized religion (or organised religion—see spelling differences), also known as institutional religion, is religion in which belief systems and rituals are systematically arranged and formally established. Organized religion is typically characterized by an official doctrine (or dogma), a hierarchical or bureaucratic leadership structure, and a codification of rules and practices.

Phạm Công Tắc

Hộ Pháp ("Defender of the Doctrine", 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 Đài religion. This religion was founded in 1926.

Religion in Vietnam

Long-established religions in Vietnam include the Vietnamese folk religion, which has been historically structured by the doctrines of Confucianism and Taoism from China, as well as a strong tradition of Buddhism (called the three teachings or tam giáo). According to official statistics from the government, as of 2014 there are 24 million people identified with one of the recognised organised religions, out of a population of 90 million. Of these, 11 million are Buddhists (12.2%), 6.2 million are Catholics (6.9%), 4.4 million are Caodaists (4.8%), 1.4 million are Protestants (1.6%), 1.3 million are Hoahaoists (1.4%), and there are 75,000 Muslims, 7,000 Bahá'ís, 1,500 Hindus and other smaller groups (<1%). Traditional folk religions (worship of gods, goddesses and ancestors) have experienced a rebirth since the 1980s.According to estimates by the Pew Research Center in 2010, most of the religious Vietnamese practiced folk religions (45.3%). 16.4% were Buddhists, 8.2% were Christians (mostly Catholics), and about 30% were unaffiliated to any religion. Officially, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam is an atheist state as declared by its communist government.

Religious text

Religious texts (also known as scripture, or scriptures, from the Latin scriptura, meaning "writing") are texts which religious traditions consider to be central to their practice or beliefs. Religious texts may be used to provide meaning and purpose, evoke a deeper connection with the divine, convey religious truths, promote religious experience, foster communal identity, and guide individual and communal religious practice. Religious texts often communicate the practices or values of a religious traditions and can be looked to as a set of guiding principles which dictate physical, mental, spiritual, or historical elements considered important to a specific religion. The terms 'sacred' text and 'religious' text are not necessarily interchangeable in that some religious texts are believed to be sacred because of their nature as divinely or supernaturally revealed or inspired, whereas some religious texts are simply narratives pertaining to the general themes, practices, or important figures of the specific religion, and not necessarily considered sacred by itself. A core function of a religious text making it sacred is its ceremonial and liturgical role, particularly in relation to sacred time, the liturgical year, the divine efficacy and subsequent holy service; in a more general sense, its performance.

It is not possible to create an exhaustive list of religious texts, because there is no single definition of which texts are recognized as religious.

Southeast (Vietnam)

Đông Nam Bộ (literally "South-eastern region") is a region in Vietnam. This region includes one municipality, Ho Chi Minh City; and five provinces: Đồng Nai, Bình Dương, Bà Rịa–Vũng Tàu Province, Bình Phước and Tây Ninh. The two southern provinces Ninh Thuận and Bình Thuận are sometimes seen as part of the Southeast region. This region is the most economically developed region in Vietnam. In 2006, this region contributed 148,000 billion VND (equal to $9.25 billion) out of 251,000 billion VND to the state budget. This region is also the most highly urbanized in the country with more than 50% people living in urban areas (while the equivalent figure for Vietnam is just 25%).

Southeast (Đông Nam) - 6 provinces: Bình Phước, Tây Ninh, Bình Dương, Đồng Nai, Bà Rịa–Vũng Tàu and Ho Chi Minh City (formerly known as Saigon)


Spiritism is a spiritualistic philosophy codified in the 19th century by the French educator Hippolyte Léon Denizard Rivail, under the pen name Allan Kardec; it proposed the study of "the nature, origin, and destiny of spirits, and their relation with the corporeal world".Spiritism soon spread to other countries, having today 35 countries represented in the International Spiritist Council.Spiritism postulates that humans are essentially immortal spirits that temporarily inhabit physical bodies for several necessary incarnations to attain moral and intellectual improvement. It also asserts that spirits, through passive or active mediumship, may have beneficent or malevolent influence on the physical world.The term first appeared in Kardec's book, The Spirits Book, which sought to distinguish Spiritism from spiritualism.Spiritism has influenced a social movement of healing centers, charity institutions and hospitals involving millions of people in dozens of countries, with the greatest number of adherents in Brazil.

Spiritism was also very influential in the new Vietnamese religion called Cao Đài or Caodaism, born in 1926 after three spirit mediums received messages that identified Allan Kardec as a prophet of a new universal religion.

Trình Minh Thế

Trình Minh Thế (1920 – 3 May 1955) was a Vietnamese nationalist and military leader during the end of the First Indochina War and the beginning of the Vietnam War.

Vietnamese folk religion

Vietnamese folk religion or Vietnamese indigenous religion (Vietnamese: tín ngưỡng dân gian Việt Nam, tôn giáo bản địa Việt Nam), is the ethnic religion of the Vietnamese people. About 45.3% of the population[1] in Vietnam are associated with this religion, making it dominant in Vietnam.

Vietnamese folk religion is not an organized religious system, but a set of local worship traditions devoted to the thần, a term which can be translated as "spirits", "gods" or with the more exhaustive locution "generative powers". These gods can be nature deities or national, community or kinship tutelary deities or ancestral gods and the ancestral gods of a specific family. Ancestral gods are often deified heroic persons. Vietnamese mythology preserves narratives telling of the actions of many of the cosmic gods and cultural heroes.

The Vietnamese indigenous religion is sometimes identified as Confucianism since it carries values that were emphasized by Confucius. Đạo Mẫu is a distinct form of Vietnamese folk religion, giving prominence to some mother goddesses into its pantheon. The government of Vietnam also categorises Cao Đài as a form of Vietnamese indigenous religion, since it brings together the worship of the thần or local spirits with Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism, as well as elements of Catholicism, Spiritism and Theosophy.

Vietnamese in Malaysia

The Vietnamese Malaysians consists of people of full or partial Vietnamese descent who were born in or immigrated to Malaysia. The estimated number of people who speak Vietnamese in Malaysia is 70,000 in the country.


The Xiantiandao (Chinese: 先天道; pinyin: Xiāntiān Dào; literally: 'Way of Former Heaven', or "Way of the Primordial"; Vietnamese: Tiên Thiên Đạo, Japanese: Sentendō), also simply Tiandao (Chinese: 天道; pinyin: Tiāndào; literally: 'Way of Heaven'; Vietnamese: Thiên Đạo, Japanese: Tendō) is one of the most productive currents of Chinese folk religious sects such as the White Lotus Sect, characterised by representing the principle of divinity as feminine and by a concern for salvation (moral completion) of mankind.

Xiantiandao was founded in Jiangxi in the 17th century Qing dynasty as an offshoot of the Venerable Officials' teaching of fasting (老官齋教 Lǎoguān zhāijiào), a branch of the Dacheng (大乘 "Great Vehicle") or Yuandun (圆顿 "Sudden Stillness") eastern proliferation of Luoism. It has also been traced to the earlier Wugongdao (五公道 "Way of the Five Lords"), a Yuan dynasty offshoot of the White Lotus tradition.The Xiantiandao religions were considered heterodox and suppressed throughout the history of China; they are still mostly forbidden in Mainland China, yet they thrive in Taiwan where at least 7% of the population adheres to some sect derived from the Xiantiandao.

The Xiantiandao movement is not limited only to Chinese-speaking countries, with at least one sect, the Tendō (天道, "Way of Heaven"), active in Japan. In Vietnam, "Tiên Thiên Đạo" doctrines ultimately influenced the rise of the Minh Đạo sects since the 17th century and subsequently of Caodaism in the 20th century.Sects that are or have been considered as part of the Xiantiandao stream are:

Guigendao (归根道 "Way of the Return to the Root")

Guiyidao (皈依道, "Way of the Return to the One"), best known by its corporate name of School of the Way of the Return to the One or simply School of the Way (道院 Dàoyuàn)

Shengdao (圣道 "Holy Way"), best known by its incorporate name of Tongshanshe (同善社 "Community of the Goodness")

Tiandi teachings (天帝教 "Heavenly Deity")

Yaochidao (瑤池道 "Way of the Jasper Lake")

Yiguandao (一貫道 "Complete Way")

Haizidao (亥子道 "Way of the Children")

Miledadao (弥勒大道 "Great Way of Maitreya")

Yixin Tiandao Longhua Hui (一心天道龙华会 "Dragon Flower Church of the Heart-bound Heavenly Way")

Yuanmingdao (圆明道 "Way of the Bright Circle")

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