Cao Dai FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) Part I

Mise à jour 2012-07-07 18:43:54

Our theory of Cosmos-genesis has been mirrored by what the scientists call the “Big Bang” theory.
The theory of the “Big Bang” when the Universe was created billion years ago was confirmed in our religion. Spirited messages told us that when the Big Bang happened, a Male element spun out (called the YIN element in Chinese), which was God Himself. He then spun Himself out to create a Female element (called the YAN element in Chinese). With these two elements, He spun out more and more to create planets, galaxies, stars, i.e everything in the universe. He then populated these planets with life, beginining with plants, animals, and then humans.
Humans then progress to become divinities as angels, saints, immortals, buddhas. The purpose of these progressions is to return to God, to reach Nirvana as some people called it. Thus, everything that we see and know is the work of God, the Creator. Also, according to our teachings, there are 72 planets like ours in the Universe, and our planet Earth is ranked number 68. Our spirits would move from planet to planet, depending on the level of advancement and purification of the spirit, from 68, 67, 66, 65, etc...
A human being is composed of a spirit, a material body and a perispirit, which is a link between the spirit and the body. The material body dies but the spirit lives forever. There are two kinds of spirit, according to the Cao Dai teachings:
Original spirit”, created directly by God Himself. In the beginning of time, God created only 100 million spirits to send to our planet Earth.
Transformed spirit”, i.e plant, animal spirit reaching certain level of advancement to be transformed to human spirit.
The purpose of the human creation is to populate life on the planets. Each planet has different kind of population, some more advanced than ours, some less advanced. God has created all spirits in a state of simplicity and ignorance, that is to say, without knowledge. He has given to each of them a mission, with a view to enlighten them and to make them gradually achieve perfection through the knowledge of the truth, and thus to bring them nearer and nearer to Himself. This perfection is, for them, the condition of eternal happiness, escaping the cycle of reincarnation. Spirits acquire knowledge by passing through the trials imposed on them by God.  From these trials, spirits can become good or evil by their own free-will.  It depends on the spirits themselves to hasten their progress towards perfection.
A spirit comes to Earth with one of the 3 following purposes :
  1. To repay his/her debts from previous life, i.e law of Karma or reincarnation law applies here.
  2. To study more in order to attain a higher degree of perfection, to pass the trials imposed by God.
  3. To fulfill a mission assigned by God or higher divine spirits, for example mission to assist in the advancement of humanity or to assist other spirits to reach his/her goals.
The ultimate goal of a spirit is to return to live near God, to attain the highest degree of purification.
How are we best to achieve that purpose ?
To best achieve that purpose, there is only one way : LOVE and PEACE (easy to say but hard to practice). Per our CAO DAI ‘s message: “Love is the key to open God’s kingdom” 
Per our teachings, our material body dies but our spirit returns to the spirit-world, and is eternal. When your spirit returns to the spirit-world, you will meet all your friends and relatives of the life that you have just quit, as well as of all of your previous lives. You will be judged by the Tribunal of Conscience to determine your accomplishments and your sins and decide on your level of advancement or degree of purification. The consequences are either you would move up in the hierarchy of the spirit world, or you would stay put in  your current degree, or you will require to return to Earth to pay your debts (i.e to be subject to reincarnation).
That its truth lies not only in direct communication with God, but also in the truths collected from all the religions which Caodaism celebrates as part of its tradition. This century there has been a growth of syncretistic religions - Baha’i, Theosophy, Anthroposophy...  all these are part of a great new Universal movement which has been revealed to Caodaism as the “Third Religious Amnesty.” Caodaism is privileged with this knowledge.
Furthermore, what privileges Caodaism as compared to the above syncretic religions is that Caodaism has inherited directly the genius of four thousand years of unbroken Chinese religious thought. Those four thousand years have been marked by a growing ability to tolerate and combine religious traditions. It is a shame we cannot say the same about the history of the West. This point leads us to your next question.
I understand Caodaism to be a syncretistic religion. What are the primary  similarities or differences between Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, and Christianity.
There are many surface differences, different teachings, personalities, but in fact there are no differences between the “Tam Giao” or three teachings of China. They all attempt to reveal the Way (or eternal mystery). They are three windows that ultimately face the same view. This is proved by the fact that millions of followers throughout Asia have no difficulty in calling themselves Buddhists, Taoists and Confucianists in the same breath! and have no difficulties in living under these three teachings. Confucianism is a philosophy of daily living and social cohesion. Buddhism directs the inner mind to the liberation of the self (moksha) from the karmic cycle through meditation. And Taoism unveils the mysteries of The Way through internal spiritual alchemy and the balancing of the three treasures (our soul, our spirit and our body).
It is true that it becomes difficult to reconcile the details of exclusivity that the clerics of Western religion have dictated. But if you survey the history of the Judeo-Christian tradition you see that there is an intense interrelationship between Egyptian religions and the religion of Israel, between Persian Zoroastrianism and Christianity, and also between Christianity and Islam. So here too we have religious traditions, that like the traditions of China, build on and rely on one another. The problem with the West and Middle East is that there is a refusal to admit to these interrelationships and a need to erase the connections. This is often with dire and tragic consequences. Caodaism brings Eastern tolerance to the West with the pious hope that many eyes will be opened.
Worship of The Supreme (as you say) is completely necessary. However “recommended” was a carefully chosen word to highlight a number of significant problems. Confucius, Buddha and Lao Tzu (the founder of Taoism) choose to remain circumspect about the other world. The Buddha’s teachings say little about Nirvana. It is said that the greatest explanation the Buddha ever gave of his teachings was to hold up a flower. Lao Tzu suggests those who speak don’t know and those who know don’t speak when he says in the Tao Te Ching: “The way that can be spoken of is not the constant way.” And in Confucius we find the following:
Chi-lu asked how the spirits of the dead and the gods should be served.
The Master said, ‘You are not able even to serve man, How can you serve the spirits?’
‘May I ask about death?’
‘You do not understand even life. How can you understand death?’
(Confucius The Analects Book XI Chpt 12)
So, taking these example, if there are Caodaists who choose to concentrate on the Confucian, Buddhist or Taoist ideals before they look to heaven and “God,” Caodaism will not censor them.
Caodaism “recommends” the adoration of God. It is the most essential way, but our religion also recognizes that each soul needs to seek its own truths. Certain paths will be less effective than others, but it is always the individual’s choice.
Ultimately Caodaism is a religion for all. It has to accommodate all souls, whatever their spiritual development from the apathetic to struggling atheists to souls nearing enlightenment. All these souls have contact with The Supreme in their lives but in varying forms of intensity. We “recommend” the adoration of God, but some souls cannot be forced or hurried and must be encouraged to use whatever paths they can to aid their spiritual development.
A message came to us to tell us that the Third Amnesty - that is where all religions would come together at last - would last 700,000 years, so there is no rush to convert the world, but there is a great deal of pressure on us to do it properly. Currently one could say that Caodaism is in a Confucian mode where we stress to adept the need to live a correct life so that when ones familial and social duties are completed each soul can slowly remove him/herself from the world and dedicate their lives to the Great Way.
We cannot speak for the United States except to say that the Caodaists community is spread very thinly throughout the fifty states. In Australia there has been a concentration of Caodaists in Sydney. This has developed a very strong community. So strong that the first Caodaist Temple outside of Asia is built and inaugurated in November 2000. This building in a Vietnamese style is, as you can imagine, very strikingly set against a suburban Sydney background. Already a number of Vietnamese-Australian members have heeded the call and joined. We hold out great hope for missionary activity in Australia because many Australians are very open minded about Asian thoughts and practices.
And although Caodaism is Universal, it did start in Asia and we have to deal practically with this fact. The Baha’i faith and Theosophy have been welcomed in Australia with great enthusiasm, and as the Sydney Caodaists continue to breach the gap of understanding, we expect that enthusiasm will also be directed at ourselves.
No. We look at the Buddha’s life, Lao Tzu’s, Christ’s, we study their lives and listen intently to the words of enlightened monks and saints alive today. We rejoice in any soul’s enlightenment. This is proved by the front of each Caodaist Temple. On each of the two towers that flank the front of every Caodaist Temple there is the representation of flowers falling into the ocean at sunrise. This refers to an age-old dream in which an Emperor saw this vision. He asked his venerable council what the dream might mean. The council replied, ‘Majesty, the flowers represent the quintessence of life, and the dawn represents the coming of the Way - thus a new religion will soon come to our land.’ And, of course the council was proved true when soon after Lao Tzu was born. However on our towers the flowers are pictured as forever falling. They never land. This suggests that there will always be new approaches to the Way opening up, and Caodaism will now be there to build upon all traditions. Thus Caodaism is not the “only way” but because it (essentializes and) combines all religious traditions as they develop, it is the most effective way.
“Seance” is a method where humans communicate directly with Spirits. There are people in our community who have witnessed the might, majesty and terror of a seance. The seance, or direct communication with the spiritual realm is, as it were, the latest in “religious technology” (a crude way of phrasing it, excuse me) and Caodaists are proud that their religion is structured directly by seance messages, mostly communicate with God and other Divine Spirits. However there are many problems with seance, or should I say with us. Humanity (including the members of our religion) are still too young to grasp the full complexity of seance messages as they are handed down. It is possible that messages can be corrupted by darker forces. What is remarkable is that Caodaism is utilizing this “technology” and building a tradition of development and sensitivity to the messages that will one day be of great use to humanity.
The opening of the Third Amnesty was well prepared. The spiritist tradition of the Nineteenth Century in Europe gave new life to the religious pursuits of the West. Spiritism then made its way to Vietnam through the French colonial influence. In Vietnam it combined with traditions of divination that can be traced back through the Shang dynasty and into the mists of the last ice-age. These two traditions which seemed to develop so differently combined and meshed in Vietnam. And being aware of the two traditions, the early adepts of Caodai, were able to use these traditions and the special sensitivity they had developed to deliver the message from God that had been for so long waiting to be heard.
The 3 colors of the banner represent the Cao Dai doctrine. Yellow represents Buddhism, Blue represents Taoism and Red represents Confucianism. The chinese characters on top is the true name of the religion : Third Universal Amnesty of God (CAO DAI is the calling name of God in Vietnamese). The Divine Eye represents God. Under the Eye, there are 3 symbols representing Buddhism (a bowl), Taoism (a feather duster) and Confucianism (a book).
Yes, not only Cao Dai but any religion teaches no killing to anybody. It does not mean that you sit there and wait for someone to come and kill you. One of the reason that we had an army was that we must defend ourselves in order to survive and save our religion from extermination from the colonialist French and the Vietnamese Communists. On the other hand, all Caodaists are first Vietnamese, thus they have a duty towards their country, which is to seek independence to the nation from the colonial French. The Cao Dai army was disbanded in 1955 right after independence has been declared to Viet Nam. The Cao Dai army was not created during the Vietnam war, as you know and understand, which is the war between 1964-1975.
Cao Dai philosophy is “All religions are One”. There is only One GOD, venerated under different names, so indirectly we are all brothers and sisters. Cao Dai spreads Unity, Harmony, Peace. A Cao Dai disciple accepts all religions, no discrimination whatsoever.
Yes, all of our books are “holy books” because they are all written by God and divine Spirits through spiritist messages . Our Constitution, our Religious Laws, the building of our main Holy See in Tay Ninh, Viet Nam, everything was created through divine messages received by our founders/leaders.
What is the meaning of life? Why are we on Earth ?
The meaning of life ? This is a broad subject. To Cao Dai, life on earth has 3 different meanings for 3 different kind of people or spirit :
  1. People who come to Earth to repay their debts from their previous life, i.e law of Karma or reincarnation law applies here.
  2. People who come to Earth to study more in order to attain a higher degree when they return to the spirit world, the goal is to join God or to reach Heaven, and escape from the reincarnation cycle.
  3. People who come to Earth for a mission assigned by God or divine spirits representing God, fullfill that mission (such as bringing advancement in scientific or medical fields) and return to where they come from in the spirit world.
Remember : your material body dies but your spirit lives forever.
The 2 religions closest to Cao Dai are : Buddhism and Christianity.
No, we don’t use any sport to assist in the meditation. In order to be accepted in the meditation hall, a Cao Dai adept must fulfill his/her obligations towards his/her family, country and society before being approved by the Cao Dai Sacerdotal Council.
I’ve heard that Cao Dai consisted of many different sects. How come?
Cao Dai has currently a dozen sects in existence, like any other religions. Nevertheless, per God’s message, we will be united as One in a very near future. It will be difficult to explain in details here to you why we have different sects. The only difference between these sects is in the organization and the way to practice Cao Dai (such as some meditate, some don’t).  
The answer can be found in the Cao Dai Constitution (PHAP CHANH TRUYEN) . To clearly understand why,  you must understand first the notion of YIN and YANG, and second the theory of the BIG BANG and the creation of the Universe.
“Heaven and Earth possess two constitutive Elements : The YIN and the YANG. If the YANG dominates, everything lives. If the YIN rules, everything dies. Thanks to the preponderance of the YANG, the whole Universe survives, and living beings develop. If a day came when the YANG disappeared and the YIN reigned, on that day, the Universe would fall into decay and would be destroyed ! The Sun is the image of the YANG, and the Moon the image of the YIN. Men represent the YANG, and women, the YIN. If I allow the College of Women to hold the power of the Pope in its hands, I will be sanctioning the triumph of the YIN over the YANG, so that the Holy Doctrine will be brought to nothing.” (Message by the Divine Master to the Ho Phap Pham Cong Tac).
GOD is considered as a Male element from the above theories. The GIAO TONG or POPE represents GOD in some circumstances, thus Cao Dai does not want a female in charge of the religion because it would change everything from the Yin and Yang notion. The GODDESS MOTHER (called DUC PHAT MAU) represents the Female element, and according to our teachings, the Goddess Mother receives instructions from God or Duc Cao Dai, but not equal to Him.
With this same YIN and YANG theory, men and women are standing separated at ceremonies to show that each gender has also its own organization and authority. Nevertheless, they are equal in ranks and hierarchy. “The dignitaries, whether masculine or feminine who are on the same levels have the same powers. The Priests of the College of Men must be placed under the orders of the Bishops of The College of Women, just as the Bishops of the College of Women must obey the Archbishops of the College of Men. Equality is for all, but powers differ according to the dignitaries of the Sacerdotal Council.”
The Hiep Thien Dai is called a Legislative Body because it enacts and controls the laws of the religion. It is a mystical place because the mediums come from this body. When the Giao Tong or Pope needs to have contact with God or Divine Spirits, he has to come to the Hiep Thien Dai, which acts as an intermediary.  In this prospect, Duc Nguyet-Tam Chon Nhon (Victor Hugo) translated Hiep Thien Dai as “College des Mediums” (College of Mediums).   
“DORMANT” officially. Yes, because of the communist regime policy on religion, not only seance, but most of the religious activities are banned or controlled by the government. This is why, for the past 43 years (from 1976 to 2019) , since the Communist government took over Viet Nam, there are no seance organized by the Cao Dai Sacerdotal Council. As you are aware, the Cao Dai dignitaries are called “heavenly-appointed dignitaries” (versus humanly appointed), they are appointed through a very elaborate process, and at the end their names must be submitted to GOD through an official seance at the Holy See for approval and promotion. But the Cao Dai adepts do not worry about this situation, for all the past and current events have been predicted beforehand
Nevertheless, the Cao Dai Sacerdotal Council has different ways to promote its dignitaries to manage the religion. 
No, if you look closely at the Holy See or study in depth our doctrine, you can see that  Caodaists do also worship Jesus Christ. According to our teachings, we have 3 main religions (Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism) and 5 main branches of these religions:
  1. The doctrine of the Buddhas, which include Brahmanism and Buddhism.
  2. The doctrine of the Seraphims, which include Taoism.
  3. The doctrine of the Saints, which include Christianity, Catholicism, Protestantism and Islam.
  4. The doctrine of the Genies, which include the Chinese, Greek and Egyptian Mythologies.
  5. The doctrine of the Sages, which include Confucius, Mencius. 
Western and Eastern religions are part of the total religious structure created by God from the First Revelation period to the Second, and now to the Third.
Death is regarded as the emancipation of the soul and the spirit from the corporal body. Life after death is the real life.  To Cao Dai teaching, there is no longer a place called Hell, instead all the spirits will go through a long process (going through “9 grades of Heaven”) where they will be judged based on their acts on Earth, and at the end, they can stay for repentance, can reincarnate, can go to higher realms or can go to Heaven or Nirvana.
There was a dialogue between our Pope Ho Phap Pham Cong Tac and Victor Hugo, in which Hugo explained how a spirit must go through before attaining the Divine level. There are 8 stages that a spirit must go through, from the lowest to the highest : Matter, Vegetable, Animal, Human, Sage, Saint, Seraphim (or Immortal) and Buddha.
As everyone agrees, there is only One God, The Supreme Being, The Master of the Universe. God is called by different names by different religions. Thus, whatever a tribal religion worships and whatever its God is called, this God is no different from our God, Duc Cao Dai.
To my knowledge, I don’t think that the “Divine Eye” appeared in Viet Nam before Caodaism. But I know that this "“Divine Eye” has surfaced in other countries (Europe, Africa, America) outside Viet Nam as a religious symbol before Caodaism.
You can find the list of different sects in Victor Oliver’s book. There are no fundamental differences between these sects, since they are ONE in the beginning, and because of the human nature (greed, fame, conflict of interest), some dignitaries split up and created their own organizations. All the sects use the same doctrine and philosophy given by Duc Cao Dai from the beginning, only their practice are different (the esoteric way or the exoteric way).
Presently, the sects are greatly diminished, most of them return to join the Tay Ninh Holy See organization.There are about a dozen sects still in existence with adepts, but under the Communist regime, spiritism, i.e contact and communication with spirits, is officially banned.
No. According to the divine messages, Caodaism is the religion of the world. God’s message: “When time comes, I will send Holy Spirits to come and assist in the preaching of the religion to other countries”. 
Currently we have many people, like yourself, interested in the study and research of this new religion. For this reason, more books in English are being published. Remember Caodaism is still new, only 94 years old, and compare to other religions, it will take time for Caodaism to be spread and recognized by the world.
Yes and No. The “Compilation of Divine Messages” book is not yet translated. The two other main documents “PHAP CHANH TRUYEN or Religious Constitution” and “THE NEW CANONICAL CODE” are in English and can be found on the internet.
No. The “9 Grades of Heaven” is to teach us about what happen to your spirit after your death, i.e “Is there life after death?”, or “If you believe that you have a spirit, where does your spirit go when you die?”. In Caodai prayer’s book, there are prayers dedicated for that purpose, prayers which assist the spirit to go through each level or stage of Heaven (each stage has a purpose and meaning). After passing the “9 Grades”, the spirit will have the opportunity to get an audience with GOD.
The “8 Stages of Spirit” is to explain the evolution of your spirit. In Cao Dai teachings, there are 2 kinds of spirit : the original spirit and the transformed spirit. The original spirit is a spirit created by GOD to become directly a human being, a Saint or a Buddha. In the contrary, a transformed spirit, although coming also from God, but starts as mattter, then goes through an evolution to become vegetable, then more evolution to become animal, then more and more evolution to become human being.  So, a transformed spirit must go through millions of years of reincarnation in order to become a human being. It’s like you go to school or college. In order to graduate, i.e to become a Saint or a Buddha, to reach Heaven or Nirvana, you must study and pass an exam every year, i.e after becoming a human being, you want to reach the next level, which is to become a Sage or Genie, then a Saint, then a Seraphim or Immortal, and then a Buddha. Saints, Seraphims and Buddhas assist God in the administration of the Universe.
According to Cao Dai teaching, there are 72 earth Planets, of which our Planet Earth is numbered 68. It’s like a promotion. If your acts on Earth are excellent, i.e you are doing many good deeds in your life, you will not reincarnate back here, instead you will reincarnate to live on Planet 67, there you study again, then you will be promoted to 66, 65, etc... The “9 Grades of Heaven” are above the 72 earth Planets. Your spirit, after your death, will go directly to the First Grade of Heaven. It is the same for a spirit living, say on Earth Planet number 34 or number 5, this spirit goes also through these 9 Grades of Heaven. Living conditions on each earth Planet are different. God’s message:”A king living on Planet 68 is not equal to a normal citizen on Planet 67 .”
Yes, you can pray for everything. In Cao Dai, miracle does happen and it happens often. As I explained before, one of the reasons that we got  many adherents in the first stage of the religion development was that the seance provided many miracles, such as providing cure to ill people with holy water. God’s message: “The Tay Ninh Holy See will become a second Lourdes”. (The church at Lourdes in south of France is known to receive miracle from the Holy Mother from time to time).

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