Updated 2022-08-08 07:57:50

(California August 2022)
Mohammad Jahangir Alam (born 1977), is an Associate Professor of World Religions and Culture at the University of Dhaka. He earned his MPhil and PhD in World Religions Culture from the same university. As a part of his PhD research fieldwork funded by Cao Dai Overseas Missionary, USA, he studied Vietnamese language and culture at the University of Social Sciences and Humanities, Vietnam from 2012- 2013. An expert on Baha’i Faith, and Cao Dai culture, he authored The Concept of Unity in Baha’i Faith and Caodaism: A Comparative Study in 2010. He was awarded his doctorate in 2020 for “Dao Cao Dai: A Socio-historical Analysis of  a Syncretic Vietnamese Religion and Its Relationship with Other Religions”. His current research interest includes the realization of common aspects of truth in religion for the quest of new dynamics of peace and harmony, and exploring social integration of New Religious Movements (NRMs) through the lens of acculturation. He is a member of United Religions Initiative, Bangladesh CC and Treasurer, International Association for Religious Freedom (IARF) Bangladesh Chapter. Dr. Alam served as the Founding President of Bangladesh Youth Association for Religion and Peace (2001-2003).
On October 3, 2021, Prof. Dr. Mohammad Jahangir Alam, Associate Professor and Principal Lecturer of the ‘Tradition of Cao Dai Religion’ course, was promoted to take the post of the Chairman of the Department of World Religions and Culture (DWRC) at the University of Dhaka, Bangladesh, for a 3-year term from October 2021 to October 2024.
Professor Dr, Jahangir Alam, born in 1977, started to study Caodaism in 2003 and got a grant from the Cao Dai Overseas Missionary to do his MPhil on Caodaism in 2009. Then, as part of his PhD Research Fieldwork funded by the Cao Dai Overseas Missionary, California, USA, he studied Vietnamese language and culture at the HCM University of Social Sciences and Humanities between 2012 and 2013 and has just been awarded a Doctorate in 2020.
Following are 3 papers written by Dr. Alam about CAO DAI :
  3. CAODAI COSMOLOGY BY DR. MOHAMMAD JAHANGIR ALAM (A Critical Analysis of Creation Theory: Cao Dai Perspective)
(A Critical Analysis of Creation Theory: Cao Dai Perspective)

A Critical Analysis of Creation Theory: Cao Dai Perspective

Mohammad Jahangir Alam, Associate Professor

Department of World Religions and Culture

University of Dhaka



Dao of Absolute Truth (Spirit of Supreme Being) is the primordial essence of the creation of this universe. This is the ante-creation position of Dao in Cao Dai cosmology. After the whole celestial bodies and finally the earth are fixed in their respective positions, Monad, the ultimate stuff of creation or a single primordial cell (combination of two cells from the inside) appears from nothingness. Dao, being the cosmic essence, started to influence the Monad and at a certain stage of cosmic time, caused it to be divided into Am (Yin-female/negative) and Duong (Yang-male/positive) principles or energies or properties. This is how the harmony of two opposites came into existence and under the cosmic essence guided by divine order formed the origin of all creation. This is the function and post-creation position of Dao in Cao Dai cosmology.   

Key Words

Cosmology, Dao, Am and Duong, Monad, Nihility, Ether, True-Self, Spiritism, Trigrams  



Every religion has an essential cognitive aspect (reasoning and judgment). Religion, actually, shapes what the adherents know about the world i.e., the cosmos (the world or universe considered as an ordered system). This cosmic (relating to the whole universe) knowledge organizes the individual’s perceptions of the universe and serves as a basis for further curiosity1 to know more of this unknown universe. For religion it is reasonably clear that there is a cosmic force behind the creation of this universe and that force is totally controlled by a Supreme Being who appears out of nothing (ex nihilo). In fact, the aspect of religion that deals with cosmology is highly abstract and overly theoretical. Religion develops cosmological concepts without material form or substance that is incompatible with scientific investigations about the cosmos. For scientists it is the Big Bang that happened ten or twenty billion years ago that began our universe. But why and how it happened is still the greatest mystery.2 Is there any consistency of religious interpretations about the origin of the universe with the Big Bang? The answer is very simple: Not comparable. Each of the religions has its creation stories and behind such stories develops theories regarding the origin of this universe. However, the main concern of this paper is to deal with the theories of creation proposed by Dao Cao Dai (Caodaism in English) in search of the cosmic design. One important point needs to be mentioned in connection with the current topic. Historically speaking, Cao Dai religion comes into existence as a confluence, a synthesis of three great teachings (Taoism, Confucianism and Buddhism) without losing the best of its Vietnamese spiritism in the first quarter of the 20th century in South Viet Nam. As a consequence, all major doctrines and theories relating to the creation of this universe developed by this religion mostly pertain to the doctrines and theories of the older traditions. Thus, in order to deal with Cao Dai creation theory it is essential to take Taoist, Confucian and Buddhist concepts into serious consideration. And in this paper the method to be followed is analytical where the facts are to be analyzed with evaluation and criticism.


  1. An Analytical Evaluation on Cao Dai Cosmology


The Caodaist concept of cosmology developed on the principle of immaterial reason. In Cao Dai theology, God is considered as the Supreme Spirit and the originator of this universe. As God is immaterial3 and the reason of the universe, the CaoDaists argue that God brings about the whole harmonious cosmos through his true nature-the divine force that is considered as the Dao of Absolute Truth.4 According to Cao Dai cosmology, the world derived from Dao through an evolutionary process. What is that process? In the beginning, as the primordial force, Dao transformed into the Monad (single cell),5 then two opposite entities or energies and lastly the universe. Addressing the Cao Dai adherents, God declares: “Oh my dear children! Dao (Tao) is the Principle of the immortal Nihility. Dao determines Am (Yin), The Feminine Passive Cosmic Principle; Duong (Yang); the Active Cosmic Primary Principle, changes to establish the universe, Dao creates and nourishes prosperously”.6 In terms of such evolutionary scheme, as the Caodaist scholars argue that the divine force becomes different in nature and in due course of time it gives rise to vegetable as well as mineral worlds. Here it is worth mentioning that in his book, The Path of a Cao Dai Disciple, Nguyen Long Thanh, a Cao Dai scholar, quotes His Holiness Ho Phap Pham Cong Tac (one of the pioneers of Cao Dai religion and the defender of religion) as saying: “The Divine Mechanism of Creation and Evolution involves two secrets: the form (Visible) and the non (Invisible)…The non and the form must be in accord to be suited to the Divine Mechanism of Creation and Evolution…In material there exist the substance and the essence…the formation of everything in the universe occurs by the accord between the substance and the essence. Due to the differences in the level of evolution among the essence or the soul of minerals, vegetables, animals, mankind…each category takes a different form…the form and the spirit all are different”.7

What do actually two secrets refer to? Do the visible refer to the Monad that is called substance while the invisible refer to Dao that called essence? Ho Phap might have viewed the visible as substance and the invisible as essence. According to him, every living being or thing appears as a result of the agreement of the substance and essence. As Ho Phap views that spiritual and temporal bodies are two essential organs for human life, according to natural law they both have equivalent value, the body which loses the spirit will be crazy, the spirit which loses the body will be strange.8

However, the whole cosmos, in accordance with Cao Dai cosmology, moved and animated by the divine force through which the whole cosmos was passed. Indeed, for the CaoDaists, Dao as the auxiliary force of Cao Dai God, it is the principle of divine reason and creative order of the universe. Therefore, Dao may be considered to be the first step of the creation of this universe as God prepared the way for His creation with the Dao. Now questions may arise: Did God first create such a unique and unparalleled supernatural force that would manifest the Absolute Truth? Did God first use this auxiliary divine force that spontaneously worked in creating the sky, the earth and all creatures? This is how the doctrine of the creation of the universe and all living things relates life in Cao Dai cosmology. For the Cao Dai scholars as well as the faithful, Dao extends over two cosmic periods such as the pre creation Dao and the Post creation Dao.

  1. Pre-creation Dao: An Appraisal


As Dao represents the “Absolute Truth” of the Absolute Reality it existed before the creation of this universe. Thus, Cao Dai cosmology holds that Dao is the first cause of all creation. The following Holy message quoted by Truong Van Trang, suggests that the existence of the Dao is conditional on the purpose of the creation: “Before the existence of the sky and the earth, the nothingness (the void) gave birth to the Master and the Master presided the Monad (Tai Chi) and divided it into Diad (multiplicity is equal to 2), the Diad into Tetrad (multiplicity is equal to 4), and the Tetrad into Eight Trigrams (multiplicity is equal to 8). The Eight Trigrams transformed to create the universe.”9 The evolutionary process of creation, contained by this message, corresponds to a geometric sequence, as every geometric sequence has a common ratio between consecutive terms. Examples include: 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64… and infinity. This is how the multiplicity in the creation of this universe might have happened. Thus, for Caodaists, not fire or water nor earth or air is the primordial stuff of creation. Process alone is the Spirit of God and best symbolized by the Dao in action. There may be an abiding cosmic order in the ever dynamic Dao. Hence, Dao may be the ever-changing entity that works behind the whole process of creation of the universe and maintains the order and harmony of this universe under the command of such Ultimate Reality.       

In the very beginning, according to Cao Dai cosmology, God let the Dao force control and maintain the Monad. This is a singular metaphysical entity from which two opposites (Am and Duong) are said to have derived. Thereafter, those opposites reacted with each other to create the universe. This is how the universe is becoming with the origin of all creation through the unity of opposites.10 Here this point reminds Heraclitus (535-475 B.C.) view of the harmony of opposites. According to Heraclitus, every existent-thing is a harmony of opposites such as the opposites of hot and cold, day and night etc.11

In Cao Dai theology the position of God is very clear. According to Cao Dai theological description, God alone is real, eternal and indestructible whose appearance still remains as a great mystery to human beings. But the universe consists of manyness and change that happens to be the appearance of the Permanence (God) through his Dao force (Spirit). According to Cao Dai theology, God creates everything from his own Spirit while the Spirit is assumed to be the Dao. Therefore, Cao Dai cosmology comes in agreement with Taoist cosmology where the legend is identified as Dao. It is worth mentioning that Dao as the mysterious force formed as the legend of the Pre-creation Eight Trigrams. Thus, Dao as the legend of the pre-creation Eight Trigrams has been cosmic essence of the evolutionary process of the creation. Regarding the current issue, the following messages, quoted from the Tao Te Ching, resemble Cao Dai concept of creation: “The nameless is the beginning of the heaven and the earth”.12 In order to specify the nameless and the significant position of Dao, the Caodaists quote another message that states: “Something mysteriously formed, born before heaven and the legend of the Pre-Creation Eight Trigrams”.13

In Confucian cosmology, the Monad refers to the nothingness (Tai Chi) and corresponds to ex nihilo (out of nothing). The opposition and combination of the universe's two basic principles of Yin and Yang comes out of this nothingness (the Monad). Here, Confucian cosmology considers the Monad as the ultimate stuff of creation that does not corresponds to the evolutionary process of creation held by Cao Dai cosmology. But certainly Cao Dai cosmology adopted this Confucian idea of Monad and thereby developed its own idea on this particular matter.  

In addition, Dao corresponds to Buddhist concept of the True-Self. In Buddhism, the True-Self is considered as the fundamental nature of the universe, that is neither born, nor destroyed, that is not confined to times. Here the concept of the Dao comes in agreement with the Buddhist concept of the True-Self. It is because the Dao is considered in Cao Dai cosmology as the true essence of the universe. Thus, being silent and active the Dao appears to be the creative force of God and the nurture of ten thousand things (creatures). For Buddhism the cosmic ether, the fifth and highest element after air and earth and fire and water is believed to be the substance composing all heavenly bodies. This cosmic ether14 in case of Cao Dai cosmology seems to be derived from the Dao cosmic essence. Therefore, alternatively the Dao is considered to be the form of the formless, the image of the imageless. And certainly it is because of the Dao the appearance (the manyness and changes of the universe) of the Permanence (Supreme Being) is comprehended through the diversity in creation.

  1. Post-creation Dao: An Appraisal


The Dao role in Cao Dai cosmology is everlasting. It continues its function behind creation process after the sky and the earth are fixed in their position. It is the Dao force that let Am and Duong continue to transform between chaos and harmony creating all ten thousand things. The following message addresses the issue very apparently: “...After the creation of the universe, I then divided My spirit to create ten thousand things, forming elements, and finally living beings: plants, insects, animals and humans. You should understand that everything emanates out of My spirit; wherever there is life, there am I. I am the progenitor of life. My love of life is unfathomable”. 15

God first created the universe and then he created all living beings or things between the heaven and the earth. But certainly all creatures appear as a result of the harmony of the opposites and this process, therefore, never comes to an end. The message also suggests that Cao Dai God is Immanent, because the whole universe, including finite minds, is nothing but God’s manifestation. This characteristic of God is consistent with pantheism. The word, pantheism, literally means ‘all is God and God is all’. Every object is part and parcel of God, and every event a divine operation, an exercise of divine will, or a manifestation of divine energy.16 Here the Dao role may be characterized by such a divine operation, an exercise of divine will, and finally, a manifestation of divine energy. A manifestation of divine energy means that the harmony of the opposite energies (Am and Duong) adopted from Chinese supposition of Yin and Yang) stemmed from the Monad while the Monad stemmed from the cosmic force, the Dao.




Finally, certainly Dao appears to be a basic and fundamental fact to understand Cao Dai cosmology. Dao is characterized as the Spirit of Cao Dai God, the sole essence of the creation of this universe and everything. It is considered to be the invisible principle or principle of change having cosmic impact on the vital energy (Monad) that causes it to form two pre-creation trigrams Am with female properties, and trigram Duong with male properties. This is how number one becomes two, two becomes four, and four becomes eight…This creation process is presided by the invisible principle Dao. At the same time, two opposite properties of vital energy are also assumed to be equally balanced by such invisible principle. This concept of vital energy is found comparable to a hypothetical force (not physical or chemical) as once thought by Henri Bergson (1859-1941), a French philosopher, to cause the evolution and development of organisms. He viewed in his book Creative Evolution: “A single cell (the result of the combination of two cells-male and female), accomplishes this work by dividing. Every day, before our eyes, the highest forms of life are springing from a very elementary form.” 17 Indeed, this view of Bergson comes in accord with the fundamental feature and function of the Monad presented by Cao Dai theory of creation i.e., ten thousand things (species) transform and evolve so rapidly following the elementary form through a miraculous cycle of creation that always goes beyond human senses.

Notes and References

  1. McGuire, Meredith B. Religion, The Social Context, (Washington: Wadsworth Publishing Company, 1997), 15.
  2. Sagan, Carl, Cosmos, (New York: Ballantine Books, 1980), 200-201.
  3. Though God is immaterial Spiritual body of God completely transmits His Spirit that symbolizes the pure Soul of Dao. For details, see The Central Holy See of Tam Quan, The Book of Three Vehicles of Caodaism Doctrine, (Ha Noi: Religious Publishing House, ND) 183.
  4. Ibid. 29.
  5. Monad is an invisible, impenetrable unit of substance that is viewed as the basic constituent element of physical reality in the metaphysics of Leibniz. In Biology, the monad is a single celled microorganism, especially a flagellate protozoan formerly classified in the taxonomic (relating to taxonomy- the scientific study of living organism) group Monadina. In the pantheistic philosophy of Giordano Bruno, it is defined as a fundamental metaphysical unit that is spatially (with regard to space) extended and psychically aware. In chemistry, it is called an atom (having a valence of one), ion, or radical with valency of one. See 27/05/2017.
  6. The Central Holy See of Tam Quan, op. cit. 21.
  7. Thanh, Nguyen Long, The Path of A Cao Dai Disciple, (Ho Chi Minh City: Phuong Dong Publishing House, 1970), 86-87.
  8. ibid. 91. 
  9. Trang, Truong Van, ed. The Teachings of The Great Way, (The Tay Ninh Holy See: The Sacerdotal Council, 1959), 96.
  10. Gobron, Gabriel (trans. by Pham-xuan-Thai), History and Philosophy of Caodaism, (LaVergne: Wildside Press, 2010), 134.
  11. Masih, Y. A Critical History of Western Philosophy, (Delhi: Motilal Banarasidass, 1994), 18.
  12. The Tao Te Ching: Chapter one                                   
  13.  ibid: Chapter twenty-five
  14. Dao is the principle of Immortal Nihility, the Cosmic Ether or Nihility or One Absolute Principle. For a critical treatment, see The Book of Three Vehicles of Caodaism Doctrine.   
  15.  Trang, op. cit. p.99                                                                                                
  16. Matin, Abdul, An Outline of Philosophy, (Dhaka: Adhuna Prakashan, 2006), 296.
  17. Bergson, Henri, Creative Evolution, (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1911),24.


Dhaka, Bangladesh - Sep. 2017