Cao Đài is a unique religion of Vietnamese, officially established in the city of Tây Ninh, southern Vietnam, in 1926. Đạo Cao Đài is the religion’s shortened name, the full name is Đại Đạo Tam Kỳ Phổ Độ (Great Religion of The Third Period of Revelation and Salvation). Concerning the term Cao Đài, literally, Cao means “high” and Đài means “ a platform raised above the surrounding level to give prominence to the person on it.” Figuratively, it means that highest spiritual place where God reigns. According to Caodai disciple , the full title was purposefully chosen by God because within it are representations of the Three Teachings: Saint, Sage and Buddha.
Formation of Cao Dai:
In 1920s , Vietnam country endured in very unstable and unsecured political circumstance. French strongly suppressed any patriotic group or movement against their authority and gained for independent. However local anti-French movements were gradually formed and developed throughout the country. Some elite Vietnamese who worked for French administration found Cao Dai religion and the founder was Ngo Minh Chieu (also known as Ngo Van Chieu; born 1878), a civil servant who once served as district chief of Phú Quốc Island. Ngo Minh Chieu was well adapted ed in both Eastern and Western religious philosophies. He was also known to be an active participant in seances (cầu cơ), at which it was said his presence greatly improved communication with the spirit world.
In 1919, during a seance, He began to receive a series of revelations from God, Saint and Sage. In 1926. in South Vietnam’s Tây Ninh Province, Cao Daism was officially proclaimed a religion and the temple known as the “Holy See” was built.
Cao Dai Phylosophy:
The first period began when God’s truth was revealed to humanity through power of nature such as Ocean, Mountain, River
The second period of revelation came through Buddha, Lao Tze, Confucius, Jesus and Mohammed. The Cao Dai believe God’s messages were delivered in specific period in time and the area the messengers lived in. Because God’s messages were corrupted because of human division, partition,war, dictatorship, greedy, zealousness, mindless. These characters of course have made the world and people under endless suffering for war, natural disaster, sickness, poverty and sin. Each area understood God’s message differently for the sake of their beneficiary
The Third period: Cao Dai sees itself as the product of the “Third Alliance Between God and Man”, the third and also the final revelation will bring all religions together and sit on the same platform (Đài). The Third period will be concluded in the unknown day in which only selected people will be able to enter. The final day called “Long Hoa Hội” literally means Convention of Dragon and Flower. On that day, the truly Peace would come to this world and people will live in endless happiness.
Cao Dai doctrine
The doctrine of Cao Daism is based on the Buddhist belief in self-development through life’s cycle of reincarnation. “The ultimate goal of the disciples of Cao Daism is to escape the cycle of reincarnation”. Much like Buddhism, Cao Dai ethics profess this goal may only be reached be the good person who follows the practice against killing, stealing, sensuality and luxurious living. Cao Dai priests practice vegetarianism, while followers practice vegetarianism only six days a month as a cleansing process.
The Cao Dai consider vegetarianism to be of service to human kind because it does not involve harming fellow beings during the process of their spiritual evolution. Other practices of the Cao Dai include maintenance of the cult of ancestors, reverence of the dead and self-cultivation through meditation.
Cao Dai religious structure:
The Temple is placed under authority of “Hộ Pháp” means head of legislative affair and concerned with Law and Justice. “Thượng Phẩm” is head of religious affair and concerned with spiritual power. “Thượng Sanh” is head of secular affair and concerned with human nature and problems
Members of the clergy dress in different colors, which is determined by the branch of faith concerned. “The Confucius branch wear red robes; the symbol of authority. The Taoists wear green; the symbol of universal. The Buddhists wear saffron yellow robes; the symbol of benevolence.
Women are welcome in all even at the highest 9 levels of the clergy. However, female officers wear white color only : the symbol of virtue
Structure and symbol of Cao Dai temple.
The Supreme Being “God” is symbolized by a large eye seeing through radiant light and is seen on the front of all Cao Dai Temples.
Cao Dai Holy see was built in Tay Ninh in 1919. the temple is said designed by God through spiritual communication. Two towers are bell and drum tower looks likely Catholic Church and the main part is much like Buddhist temple. Separate entrances for male and female, left for male and right for female. Nine columns in side with multicolored dragons curled around them, support a giant dome above the sphere in representation of thirty six heavens, the three thousand worlds and sixty seven earths.
The great temple is built on nine levels, which represent the nine steps to heaven. At the front entry hall depicts the three signatories of The Third Alliance Between God and Man: Sun Yat Sen, Nguyen Binh Khiem, Victor Hugo.
Saints of Cao Dai:
The Chinese revolutionary leader Sun Yat-sen holds an ink stone Vietnamese poet Nguyen Binh Khiem and French poet Victor Hugo write ‘God and Humanity’ and ‘Love and Justice’ in Chinese and French”. They are represented for mixed culture of Eastern and Western and Vietnam.
The prominent figures of great Teachers on the top are Buddha, Confucius, Jesus Christ, Taoist
Windows are decorated with figures of divined eye, Yin and Yang, elements of universal mainly explain formation of world.
Prayers are conducted at 6 am, noon; 6 pm and midnight of each day. Following the Taoist duality of Yin and Yang, there are two principal deities, the Mother Goddess, who is female, and God, who is male. There is an ongoing debate among the Cao Dai as to which deity was the source of creation.
Development of Religion:
Within one year, Cao Daism had over 26,000 followers by 1990 there were an estimated three million Cao Dai followers. As Vietnam history, Cao Dai couldn’t stay out side of political crisis. French only accepted this religion not early than 1932 when saw it strongly grew among Vietnamese peasants. French accepted because they had been beneficial in control the followers. South Vietnamese Government did the same although always aware of it neural role during the war. After the war, some important practice has been forbidden because considered as superstitious such as seances, however, the temple is able to open everyday for follower and visitor. In 1990s, Cao Dai has been officially recognized as one of main religion in Vietnam as Catholic and Buddhism
Throughout the history of Vietnam, the Vietnamese people have been able to take the best aspects of other culture and combine them with aspects with their own culture. This ability has enable the Vietnamese people to grow culturally where other countries have failed. The Cao Dai religious sect is a good example of this ability. While other countries arold the world wage wars based on differences of religious belief, the Cao Dai have successfully combined religious philosophies from around the world to create a colorful new religion. A religion built on the strengths and beliefs of both Eastern and Western philosophies. The Cao Dai efforts to bring differences together, to create one strong whole based on pieces of all, is the culmination of the Vietnamese ability to accomplish the unexpected.
Terminology of Cao Dai Religion:
Ba mươi sáu cõi trời: Thirty six heavens
Bát Quái Đài: Octagonal Palace, Eight Trigram
Bộ nhạc: Department of music
Bửu tháp: Precious tower:
Cầu cơ: Evocation of superior spirits, Seance
Chức Sắc: Dignitary
Chức Việc: Sub-dignitary
Chúng sanh: Living being
Cô hồn: Wandering soul
Cửu Huyền Thất Tổ: Nine generations of genealogical line and Seven generations of Ancestors.
Đại hội Long Hoa: Dragon and flower convention, final judgment
Đầu Sư: Cardinal
Giáo sĩ: Priest
Giáo Tông: Pope
Gươm huệ: Sword of wisdom
Hiệp Thiên Đài: Heavenly Union Palace
Khăn đóng: Turban
Khương Thái Công: Spiritual title of Khương Tử Nha
Khương Tử Nha: Jiang Taigong, Khương Tử Nha
Kinh cầu siêu: Prayer for the salvation of the soul
Kinh giải oan: Prayer for the liberation of karma
Lão Tử: Lao-Tse
Phát nguyện: Make a vow
Quan Thánh Đế Quân: Kwan Kung or Guan Yu
Tam giáo tòa: Three religions court
Tín đồ: Disciple
Trả nợ tiền khiên, trả nghiệp: Pay back karma debt
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