The term Cao Đài literally means "High Tower or Palace", that is, the place where God reigns over the Universe. "Cao Đài" refers to God the Father (The Supreme Being, the Creator, the Ultimate Reality of the Universe). The followers of Đức Cao Đài are thus called Caodaists (Đức means venerable).
The Cao Đài Religion's (or Caodaism's) official name is Đại Đạo Tam Kỳ Phổ Độ. Translated directly it means: The Third Great Universal Religious Amnesty. (Đại Đạo - "Great Way", Tam Kỳ - "Third Period", Phổ -"to announce" and Độ - "to save"). It will be a period of intense religious activity that will see God and Humanity united in ways not yet imagined. The Third Amnesty establishes a new Great Way for salvation. And the fundamental objective of the Third Amnesty is the unity of all religions.
Throughout human history God the Father has revealed His Truth many times. His Divine Message has been translated through the mouths of many great prophets, but always these messages have relied on human frailty. The Age has now come where He speaks to humanity directly.
The previous two Religious Amnesties saw the rise of Hinduism, Judaism, Confucianism, Buddhism, Taoism, Christianity, Islam etc. Caodaism as the embodiment of The Third Amnesty comes to unite the traditions of these Two Periods. It does so guided directly by Đức Cao Đài (God the Father) and the Divine Beings.
One of the early messages received from Him went as follows,
In the nineteenth century Spiritism re-awoke the religious life of Europe. Great souls such as Madam Blavatsky, Alan Kardec and Victor Hugo opened new vistas of religious possibility. In Vietnam the age-old traditions of Asian divination and Taoist mediumship began to mix with the new traditions of European Spiritism. This meeting of Eastern and Western traditions caused an evolutionary leap in humanity's spiritual quest. Thus a strong communication link was established between Heaven and Earth. It was through this special link that God granted His Third Amnesty directly. Though it was announced to the humble and grateful nation of Vietnam, The Third Amnesty is a gift to all.
Emphasising this objective of unity, inside every Cao Đài Temple, is a representation of the Divine Contract of The Third Amnesty (The Third Alliance). This contract 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 to guide humanity into the way of the Third Amnesty. The contract is written in French: Dieu et Humanité Amour et Justice; and in Chinese: Tian Shang Tian Xia Bo Ai Gong Ping. This translates into English as: "God and Humanity [for] Love and Justice."
From 1921 His Venerableness Ngô Văn Chiêu, a district head of the French administration in Cochinchina, was the first disciple to worship and receive messages from Đức Cao Dai. He received a vision of the Divine Eye which is now the symbol for Đức Cao Đài as well as the focus for worship on all Cao Đài altars. The Eye is a universally potent symbol of the Divine. For each Caodaist the eye represents our spiritual heart. Thus emanating from the eye is the light of the universe. This light is our spirit, a part of God.
On Christmas Eve 1925 God identified Himself to the first group of Caodaist mediums which included their Highnesses Phạm Công Tắc, Cao Quỳnh Cư, Cao Hoài Sang. These great souls were to play an essential role in the growing religion.
On 7 Oct 1926 His Excellency 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 declaration also contained a list of 247 believers.
On Thursday 18 November 1926 (14th day of 10th month of the Year Bính Dần/Year of the Tiger/Shengxiao) an inauguration ceremony took place at Từ Lâm Pagoda, Gò Kén (Tây Ninh Province, South Vietnam). The ceremony was planned for three days, but the arrival of an overwhelming number of people who responded to the call of the New Religion, caused the ceremony to last for three months.
From this auspicious beginning, Caodaism expanded and was welcomed with much ardour by the people of Vietnam. In the first four years, the Religion attracted half a million people. This demonstrated that the world was ready to receive The Third Amnesty into their hearts.
Communication with the Spiritual Realm is made possible by special seances held in the Great Divine Temple. Such techniques as ouija-board and corbeille-à-bec (spiritualist writing instrument) are operated by a number of especially selected mediums and together they convey the words of the Divine World to the Religion.
Today Caodaist communities are spread across Asia (Cambodia, Japan), North America, Europe, and Australia . . . . Believers now number about five million.
The Pháp Chánh Truyền (The Religious Constitution of Caodaism) was delivered to the Religion as a series of Divine Messages. The Tân-Luật (The New Canonical Codes), was corrected and approved by the Spiritual Realm. These are the guiding texts of the Religion's organisation. Caodaism is organised into three powers. The first power is the Bát Quái Đài. This is the heavenly council, that is, the Spirit and Soul of the new religion. This Council is directed by Đức Cao Đài (God the Father). The Hiệp Thiên Đài is the medium's branch of the religion and the Legislative Body. Headed by the Hộ-Pháp (protector of the laws and of justice), this section communicates with the spiritual realm directly in order to receive Divine Messages. It also deals with the complaints of the disaffected in order to ensure justice in the Religion. The third, or Executive Body, is called the Cửu Trùng Đài which takes charge of the administration of the Religion and its missionary activities. This branch is headed by the Giáo Tông or Pope.
All Caodaists are able to be involved in the priesthood and executive of the Religion. This includes both men and women who are of a virtuous and upstanding nature. The process of election to these positions is based on democratic procedures which have to be sanctified by the Spiritual Realm.
Ninety kilometres north-west of Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) in Tây Ninh Province is the Caodaist Holy See. This Great City of God is an incredible demonstration of Universal Love. 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.
There are also many splendid local temples throughout Vietnam and around the world.
From a moral point of view Caodaism reminds people of their duties towards themselves, their family, their society (our broader family), and humanity (the universal family).
From an ethical point of view Caodaism encourages us to renounce our attachment to the material world, while still maintaining a balance between our duties to humanity and the planet, and the following of the Way.
From a spiritual point of view, Caodaism confirms, in harmony with all religions, the existence of our souls and the spirit world. Furthermore Caodaism offers a step-by-step path that leads to full spiritual completeness.
Caodaists worship God the Father 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 6:00, Midday, 18:00 and Midnight either at the temple or in front of the home altar. More important ceremonies are held at the beginning and middle of each lunar month. There are special aniversary ceremonies for: God the Father (Đức Chí Tôn, Đức Cao Đai), Universal Mother (Đức Phật Mẫu), the founders of the world's faiths and the original dignitaries of the Religion.
Ceremonial prescriptions such as actions, dress and music were organised 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.
Caodaism does not encourage its adepts to renounce the world, rather it suggests that, in parallel with their religious obligations, they discharge their familial and social duties before they dedicate themselves completely to the faith. At the most fundamental level, adepts are asked to follow the basic values of all world religions as summed up in the five interdictions: do not kill living beings, do not be dishonest, do not commit adultery, do not over-indulge - especially in alcohol, and do not deal in falsehoods. Adepts must observe a vegetarian diet of six days a month (for the first six months after becoming a believer) and thereafter for ten days a month. Those in the more elevated sections of the Religion (Thượng-Thừa) must practice vegetarianism at all times
In addition to the above interdictions Caodaism encourages social harmony through the ancient Confucian values: Ren/Nhân a highly regarded Confucian term meaning benevolence, where one must understand his or her position in life and pay respect to one's fellow beings, Yi/Nghĩa that is, the upholding of righteousness and honesty in all that we do in both business and affairs of a personal nature, Li/Lễ which refers to the revered rituals of politeness and respect that encourages social harmony, Zhi/Trí that is, moral knowledge where one must know right from wrong, and Xin/Tín which is faithfulness - where we must all be faithful to our promises and to our filial and social duties.
To translate these ideals into reality, Caodaists are asked to contribute their good works to the Religion and its charity organisations (Lập Công), spread the word of the Third Amnesty (Lập Ngôn), and uphold the Religion's virtues (Lập Đức).
Ultimately bringing all these principles into balance, as a guide for a fulfilling religious life, allows the adept to move onto the next phase of spiritual, or esoteric, development. This esoteric stage allows each adept to seek unity of purpose, through meditation, in the Three Treasures ( San Bao / Tam Bửu) of our nature. These are elements of our selves: our body (vitality, the root of essence and life/ching/tinh), our energy (mind, life-force, the gateway of life and death/chi/khí), and our soul (spirit , director of our life/shen/thần). When all these treasures of our nature are unified, the adept can then break through the cycles of karma and reincarnation, and be united with the Divine.
· Pháp Chánh Truyền (The Religious Constitution of Caodaism) - Contains information on the election of officials, their powers and ritual dress.
· Tân Luật (The New Canonical Codes) - These are the laws regulating religious, secular and monastic life.
· Thánh Ngôn Hiệp Tuyển (Compilation of Divine Messages)
· The Sermons of His Holiness Hộ Pháp Phạm Công Tắc
- Caodaism is organised and administered on both Divine and Democratic principles.
- Men and Women play an essential part in both the administration and priesthood of the Religion.
- Caodaism preaches world unity. It spreads the offer of peace made by God through the Third Alliance.
- Caodaism presents the world with a real chance for Unity and understanding between the Great Cultures of East and West.
- By offering a way of life that concentrates on the harmony of all religions, Caodaism can also offer harmony to a troubled world, providing spiritual solutions for significant world problems such as racism, intolerance and ignorance.
-As a Great House of Faith, Caodaism combines the teachings of all the great religious traditions and opens before us the Great Way to paradise.
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