Since Cao Đài Religion / Đại Đạo Tam Kỳ Phổ Độ (大道三期普度, Third Amnesty of God in the East, The Great Way of Third Universal Salvation) was founded, God established Pháp Chánh Truyền (法正傳 , The Religious Constitution of Caodaism) and guided the high dignitaries to form the Tân Luật (新律, The New Canonical Codes), and Thế Luật (世律 , Secular Rules/Laws On The Secular Life of the Faithful) in order to govern the religious administration and maintain truth and justice in the Religion.
In 1926 God (Đức Cao Đài, The Supreme Being) indicated that the Religion was to have three branches/boards: the Bát Quái Ðài, the Hiệp Thiên Ðài and the Cửu Trùng Ðài. In order to operate the Religion the three branches/boards must act in concert.
1) The Bát Quái Ðài (the Council of the Great Spirits which heads the Eight States of Soul, the Eight-sided Palace of God's presence, the Eight Trigrams Palace, 八卦臺)
The Bát Quái Ðài is Supreme Holy Body, directs all activities of the universe under the leadership of God and Holy Spirits. The Bát Quái Ðài is the invisible part, made up of the Divine Beings. This group represents the Spiritual or the Soul of the New Religion.
2) The Hiệp Thiên Ðài (The Temple of the Divine Alliance, The Heavenly-Union Palace, 協天臺)
The Hiệp Thiên Ðài is the Legislative Body which has the duty of communicating with the occult/esoteric power to receive divine messages, to preserve the religious laws and listen to the complaints of the unhappy, in order to symbolize equality in the Religion. " Hiệp Thiên Ðài is the mystical place where the Giáo-Tông (Pope) comes and places himself in spiritual communication with the Thirty-Six Heavens, the Three Thousand Worlds, the Sixty- Seven other Earths and the Lords of Karma so that he can pray for the salvation of Humanity". "The Hiệp Thiên Ðài is placed under the authority of the Hộ-Pháp (Head of the Legislative Affairs). He is assisted by the Thượng-Phẩm (Head of the Spiritual Realm/Religious Affairs) and the Thượng-Sanh (Head of the Temporal Realm/Secular Affairs). The Ho Phap is concerned with the Laws and Justice."
- Hộ-Pháp / 護法 (The head of Legislative 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 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 Genies, Saints, Immortals and Buddhas. He has control over four Lords of the Zodiac, namely Tiếp-Pháp (接法, Juridical Legislator), Khai-Pháp (開法, Juridical Reformer), Hiến-Pháp (憲法, Juridical Renovator) and Bảo-Pháp (保法, Juridical Conservator).
- Thượng-Phẩm /上品 (The head of the 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 mission. 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. Under his command he has four Lords of the Zodiac, namely Tiếp-Đạo (接道, Religious Legislator), Khai-Đạo (開道 , Religious Reformer), Hiến-Đạo (獻 道 , Religious Renovator), and Bảo-Đạo (保道, Religious Conservator).
- 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 Abyss of Suffering. 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. Under his command he has four Lords of the Zodiac, namely Tiếp-Thế (接世, Temporal Legislator), Khai-Thế (開世, Temporal Reformer), Hiến-Thế (獻世 Temporal Renovator), and Bảo-Thế (保世, Temporal Conservator).
+ The second unit in the Hiệp Thiên Ðài is comprised of under-officers, cadres of the second rank. These are: Tiếp Dẫn Đạo Nhơn (Instructor, 接引道人), Chưởng Ấn (Chancellor, 掌印), Cải Trạng (Lawyer, 改狀), Giám Đạo (Judicial Inspector, 監道), Thừa Sử (Justice Commissioner / Administrator of Justice, Historian, 承使), Truyền Trạng (Clerk of Court /Greffier/Investigator, 傳狀), Sĩ Tải (Archivist/Archival Secretary, 士載) and Luật Sự (Student of Law, 律事, Agent judiciaire).
+ The third unit in the Hiệp Thiên Ðài is a group of Thập Nhị Bảo Quân ( 十二保君 ) /12 Skilled Academicians (Advisory) who may be asked for advice by the High Dignitaries of Hiệp Thiên Ðài. The Thập Nhị Bảo Quân are: Bảo Huyền Linh Quân (in charge of Theosophy), Bảo Tinh Quân (in charge of Astronomy), Bảo Cơ Quân (in charge of Orphanage), Bảo Văn Pháp Quân (in charge of Culture/Arts, 保文法君), Bảo Học Quân (in charge of Education), Bảo Y Quân (in charge of Health), Bảo Vật Quân (in charge of Science and Industries), Bảo Sĩ Quân (in charge of Literature), Bảo Sanh Quân (in charge of Social/Welfare, 保生君), Bảo Nông Quân (in charge of Agriculture), Bảo Công Quân (in charge of Public Works), and Bảo Thương Quân (in charge of Economics).
The role of the members of the Hiệp Thiên Ðài is to act as mediums (đồng tử), and as legislators who protect the sacred laws, and see that all the dignitaries in the Administrative Branch / Cửu Trùng Ðài correctly fulfil their tasks. Indeed "the dignitaries of the Hiệp Thiên Ðài are entrusted with the maintenance and application of the religious Rules and Laws so that they can watch over the good progress of the adepts in the Way of God, transforming the Cycle of Destruction into the Cycle of Renewal/Conservation, to assist Humanity to bring to reality the Era of Peace and Escape from the Era of Destruction".
3) The Cửu Trùng Ðài (The Temple of Nine Degrees of Evolution, Nine Spheres Palace, 九重臺).
The Cửu Trùng Ðài literally means the nine-sphere palace. In the Great Divine Temple / Đền Thánh the Cửu Trùng Ðài is symbolized by the central nave of the Temple (building), the place where the worshippers kneel, pray and offer themselves to God (The Supreme Being), between the Bát Quái Ðài (God's Altar) and the Hiệp Thiên Ðài. 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 / Executive Body 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 make themselves conform strictly to the prescriptions of the New Code (Tân Luật). Thus any disciple, whatever his rank in the Episcopal Hierarchy, in the case of wrong behaviour, ought not to benefit from leniency or mercy from the Giao Tong (Pope). Protection of a guilty disciple makes him lose his spiritual position (Thiên Vị), provokes jealousy among the faithful, and lessens the good reputation of the Holy Doctrine. The Giáo-Tông (Pope) must protect, uphold or console adepts who are crushed by the miseries of life, and dignitaries who as members of the Sacerdotal Council (Hội Thánh) are overwhelmed by the weight of their abstinence. 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)."
The Cửu Trùng Ðài / Executive Body is responsible for the administrative tasks, such as training of adherents, organising various programs, and controlling the total Church program. For dignitaries in the College of Men, the Executive actually has three branches corresponding to the three main Religions, each of these three branches also has a name and a colour [Buddhism / Phái Thái (yellow), Taoism / Phái Thượng (blue), and Confucianism / Phái Ngọc (red)]. The Cửu Trùng Ðài's hierarchy is ranked in nine levels; and the number of dignitaries in the College of Men is limited.
o - Giáo-Tông (教宗) / Pope - There is only one Giáo-Tông / Pope who is the Leader of the Cửu Trùng Đài/Executive Body
o - Chưởng-Pháp (掌法) / Legislative Cardinal - There are three Chưởng-Pháp / Legislative Cardinals. The three Legislative Cardinals / Chưởng-Pháp belong to the three branches: Nho (Confucianist), Thích (Buddhist) and Đạo (Taoist); one for each branch. The Legislative Cardinals / Chưởng-Pháp have the right to examine the religious laws before their promulgation, whether they come from the Pope (Giáo-Tông), or proposed by the Cardinals (Đầu-Sư).
o - Đầu-Sư (掌法) / Cardinal - There are three Đầu-Sư/Cardinals, one for each branch. "The Cardinals / Đầu-Sư have the right to direct the Disciples of God, spiritually and temporally". "They have the right to enact laws, but they must submit them for the approval of the Pope".
o - Phối-Sư (掌法) / Archbishop - There are 36 Phối-Sư / Archbishops, 12 for each branch. Among these thirty-six, there are three Principal Archbishops/ Chánh Phối-Sư / 正配師. "These three dignitaries are not only the heads of the thirty-three Archbishops / Phối-Sư, but they are also the representatives of Cardinals / Đầu-Sư, with the same powers as the Cardinals". "Since they are the representatives of the Faithful, the Principal Archbishops / Chánh Phối-Sư have the duty to obey the laws. They can however ask the Cardinals / Đầu-Sư for certain improvements in the laws, but they do not have the power to propose new ones". "The three Principal Archbishops / Chánh Phối-Sư cannot ask for repeal of the Laws".
Archbishops work under the Principal Archbishops. They have the same authority of the Principal Archbishops when they execute a mission assigned by the Principal Archbishop.
o - Giáo-Sư (掌法) / Bishop - "There are 72 Giáo-Sư / Bishops, divided into 3 branches of 24 each. They are responsible for the spiritual and temporal education of the disciples. They are to care for the adepts the way the Elder Brothers care for Younger ones"
o - Giáo-Hữu (掌法) / Priest - "There are 3000 Giáo-Hữu / Priests, a thousand for each Branch. This number must be neither increased nor decreased. They preside over ritual ceremonies in the province temples. The Priests have the Mission of propagating the Religion"
o - Lễ-Sanh (掌法) / Student Priest - The number of Lễ-Sanh /Student Priests is unlimited. The Student Priests are drawn from the most virtuous of the Sub-dignitaries. The Student Priests must always visit the adepts, and preside over the "ceremony of the installation of the Altar" at their homes. They take the place the Priests for the teaching of the rites.
o - Chức Việc / (Chánh-Trị-Sự, Phó-Trị-Sự, Thông-Sự / 正治事 - 副治事 - 通事) / Minor Office-Bearers /Sub- dignitaries or Religious Village Administrators - The number of Minor Office-Bearers is unlimited. The Minor Office-Bearers should look after the adepts in the villages. They should consider the adepts as their younger sisters/brothers. They should follow the orders of the Priests and Student Priests who are the chiefs of the parishes.
o - Tín-Đồ (掌法) / Adepts - The number of adepts is unlimited.
Female dignitaries reach the rank of Cardinal only. The number of dignitaries in the College of Women is unlimited. There is no branch for female dignitaries. The Dignitaries of the College of Women are formed by the Spiritual Pope Li Tai Pai (Lý Thái Bạch). The Supreme Being/God said "I wanted to suppress the College of Women, but you are all my children, so I make no distinction between you". For this reason at the point when the Rules and Religious Laws were created, women were admitted to investiture with priestly functions.
Three councils govern the Holy See:
If there is a disagreement, i.e. the three Councils are not at one, the plans must be submitted to God through a medium for a final decision.
At the Holy See, the three Cardinals / Đầu-Sư of the Executive Body control the administration of the Religion. They are assisted by three Principal Archbishops / Chánh-Phối-Sư. There are nine separate religious ministries / Cửu Viện in the Executive Body. Each religious ministry has its own personnel, operational system, and offices in the administrative building. Each of the three Principal Archbishops / Chánh-Phối-Sư directs three of these religious ministries:
The administrative network which functions throughout Vietnam consists of:
As mentioned above, the original organisation and hierarchical structure of Caodaism involved three branches: the Bát Quái Ðài (Spiritual), Hiệp Thiên Ðài (Legislative), and Cửu Trùng Ðài (Executive). "The dignitaries of the Cửu Trùng Ðài and of the Hiệp Thiên Ðài merely form organisations to assist the Supreme Being and the Great Spirits to found the New Religion to guide Humanity in the True Way of God".
Besides the above Bodies, there are:
It is also noted that under the Secular Affairs of Hiệp Thiên Ðài , there is a Ban Thế Đạo / Lay Committee. The Lay Committee / Ban Thế Đạo is a body consisting of professional specialists among adepts.They serve the Religion and the society with their professional ability. It is their duty to support the Religion as effectively as possible within their capacity. The four titles for dignitaries of Ban Thế Đạo are: Hiền Tài (Virtuous and talented man., 賢才) Quốc Sĩ (Eminent scholar of a country, 國士), Đại Phu and Phu Tử (夫子, A master).