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Summary of Cao Daiism

Cao Dai (Cao Đài)

Cao Đài, a relatively new, syncretist, monotheistic religion, was officially established in the city of Tây Ninh, southern Vietnam, in 1926. Đạo Cao Đài is it's shortened name. The full name is Đại Đạo Tam Kỳ Phổ Độ (Great Religion [of The] Third Period [of] Revelation [and] Salvation). Cao Đài literally means "high place." Figuratively, it means that highest place that God reigns. Caodaiists frequently use the term Đức Cao Đài (Venerable Cao Dai) as an abbreviated name for God, who is the creator of the universe, whose full title is Cao Đài Tiên Ông Đại Bồ Tát Ma-ha-tát (translation: Cao Dai the Ancient Sage and Great Bodhisattva Mahasattva). According to Caodaiists, the full title was chosen by God because within it are representations of Three Teachings: Saint, Sage and Buddha.

Caodaiists always credit God as the religion's founder. They believe all the teachings, symbolism and organization are communicated directly from God. Even construction of the Tây Ninh Holy See is claimed to have had guidance from God. Cao Đài's first disciples were Ngô Văn Chiêu, Cao Quỳnh Cư, Phạm Công Tắc and Cao Hoài Sang. They claimed to have received direct communications from God, giving them instructions for establishing a religion that would commence the Third Era of Religious Amnesty.

Compare how members of Cao Daiism view God, and Christians view God by taking a Bible quiz.

Followers engage in practices such as prayer, veneration of ancestors, nonviolence, and vegetarianism with the goal of rejoining God the in Heaven and also the goal of freedom from the cycle of birth and death. Estimates of the number of Cao Đài followers in Vietnam vary, but most sources say 2 to 3 million. However, some are as high as 8 million. In additional, 30,000 (numbers may vary) (primarily ethnic Vietnamese) live in the United States, Europe, and Australia.

Cao Dai Tay Ninh Holy See

Origin of God and the Universe

According to Cao Dai, before God existed, there Tao, a nameless, formless, unchanging, eternal source referenced in Tao Te Ching. Later, a Big Bang occurred, and God was born (emanationism). The universe couldn't yet be formed and to do so, God created the yin and yang. He then took control of yang and shed a part of himself, becoming the Goddess presiding over yin. Through presence of yin and yang, the universe was materialized. The Goddess is the literal mother of the myriad of things in the Universe. Therefore, Caodaiists worship not only God, but also the Goddess, literally refered to as Mother Buddha. God's importance and role however is higher than that of the Mother Buddha. Also, Mother Buddha, is a part of Yang, and therefore, is male. Yin is the female side, and the Mother Buddha only oversees Yin, and is not a part of Yin.

Heaven consists of 32 levels and 72 planets containing intelligent life, with number one being closest to heaven and 72 closest to Hell. Earth happens to be number 68. It is said that the lowest citizen on planet 67 would never trade place with a even a king on 68 and so forth.


The Tây Ninh Holy See recognizes three main scriptures:

  1. Thánh Ngôn Hiệp Tuyển
  2. Pháp Chánh Truyền (The Religious Constitution of Caodaiism)
  3. Kinh Thiên Đạo Và Thế Đạo

The Three Teachings

In the order of most difficult to least, the Three Teachings within Caodaiism are:

  1. Buddha
  2. Sage (Wise old man)
  3. Saint

These Three Teachings represent levels of spiritual attainment, with buddha as the highest. Caodaiism's stages of spiritual development from human on up are: Thần (angel), Thánh (saint), Tiên (sage), and Phật (buddha). Angels, saints and sages may have, extremely long lives in the realms of heaven, but only buddhas are free from birth and death.

Three Periods of Revelation and Salvation

First Period

  1. The Teachings of Buddhas – Dipankara buddha
  2. The Teachings of Sages
  3. The Teachings of Saints
Cao Dai Tay Ninh Holy See
Cao Dai Divine Eye Sphere

Second Period

  1. The Teachings of Buddhas – Shakyamuni buddha
  2. The Teachings of Sages – Laozi
  3. The Teachings of Saints – Confucius and Jesus

Third Period

God is at the helm. Jesus is believed to be a Buddha and true Son of God, shed directly from God.

Religious Constitution and Organization

Caodaiism's structure resembles that of many governments of democracies. Caodaiism's governing body has three branches that are functionally equivalent to the U.S.'s legislative, executive and judicial branches: Cửu Trùng Đài, Hiệp Thiên Đài and Bát Quái Đài.

At the head of the Executive Branch is the "Giáo Tông", meaning the leader or head of a philosophical or religious organization. Because of similarities between the hierarchy of Caodaiism's dignitaries and those of the Catholic Church it has led translators to borrow terminologies such as pope, cardinals, bishops, priests, etc. Caodaiism has more ranks and titles of which there are no official English translation as of yet. The Vietnamese term for Pope, as in the Catholic Pope, is "Giáo Hoàng."

Caodaiism stresses the equality of men and women in society. However, ordained women may not attain the highest positions: Legislative Cardinal and Pope. The church claims this to be ordered by God, who declared that because Yang represents male and Yin corresponds to female, Yin cannot have power over Yang spiritually or else chaos would occur.

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