Dao Cao Dai (Caodaism in English) is the third largest religion in Viet Nam (after Buddhism and Roman Catholicism). “Cao” means “high”; “Dai” means “palace”. Caodai refers to the supreme palace where God reigns. The word is also used as God’s symbolic name.
Caodaism is a syncretistic religion which combines elements from many of the world’s main religions, including Buddhism, Confucianism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Taoism, as well as Geniism, an indigenous religion of Viet Nam.
Their main centre is in Tay Ninh, about 60 miles (100 km) North West of Saigon. They currently have 7 to 8 million followers in Viet Nam and about 30,000 members elsewhere, primarily in Asia, Australia, Canada, Europe and the United States.
They regard the history of religion as being divided into three periods of revelation. The first was circa 2500 BCE, when God inspired selected religious leaders to found Judaism in the Middle East, Hinduism in India and Yi king (philosophy of transformation) in China. A few thousand years later, God led the Buddha to found Buddhism, Lao Tse to create Taoism, Confucius to start Confucianism, and Jesus Christ to found Christianity.
They believe that, due to the frailty of those religious leaders, the truth became distorted. A number of religions were formed, but most flourished only in or near their countries of origin. Religions became adapted to the needs of individual cultures. Limitations in communication and transportation prevented the formation of a single, true universal religion which all of humanity could embrace. Followers of Caodaism believe that God was concerned that the multiplicity of religions prevented people from living together in harmony. God decided to initiate a third revelation, in which he communicated Caodaism by spiritist means.
Ngo Van Chieu, a civil servant of the Cochinchina government began to receive messages from a spirit called Duc Cao Dai (pronounced: Duk Kow Dye), whom he believed to be God. After three years of studying and worshipping God, he shared his spiritual discoveries with others in Saigon. At the end of the year At Suu (1926 CE), Cao Dai instructed a small group of mediums to found a new religion. One of the mediums, Le Van Trung was named by God to be acting Giao Tong (Pope). Caodaism was formally founded on 1926-SEP-26 by a group of 247 disciples.
Spiritism (called Spiritualism in England) is the method that God chose to transmit this new religion to humanity. A mechanical device is commonly used as a means of communication between spirit beings and humans. e.g.:
a small movable platform on a Ouija board which is lightly touched by two or more mediums. During a séance, the platform is seen to move around the board and point to various letters, numbers and words.
a small table which the mediums touch lightly. During a séance, the table is observed to tip and tap on the floor. The number of taps would indicate a specific letter
a Ngoc co (basket with a beak), which consists of a wicker basket with a radiating stick about 26 inches long; a pen is attached near the end of the stick. In use, two mediums hold the basket; the apparatus moves and its pen writes out messages which are interpreted by a third person and written down by a secretary. This is a very efficient method of communication, because words are directly written. It is the preferred method used in Caodaism.
With the unification of Viet Nam in 1975, the Caodaists’ activities have been restricted by the Communist government. Their Cuu Trung Dai (executive body) and Hiep Thien Dai (legislative body) have been abolished and replaced with a Governing Council under the direct control of the government. Rituals and ceremonies continue, however.
In the beginning was God, formless, nameless, unchangeable and all powerful. God divided His spirit into many parts, and created the universe, world, and its plants, animals and material components; each contains a part of God’s spirit.
Animals and humans have two components:
a visible, physical body and
an invisible component which is composed of:
a spirit (conscience) which is part of God’s spirit, and
a soul (or perispirit) which is responsible for emotions and personality
They believe in reincarnation where a person experiences a series of lives. One can break free of the reincarnation cycle by “cultivating self and finding God in self”.
They believe in Karma in which one’s future lives are dependent upon deeds practiced in this life.
If a person accumulates excessive Karma they will live another life after their death. Large amount of Karma debt will cause them to be reincarnated onto another planet which is much colder, darker and miserable. If they have purified themselves spiritually, and fulfilled all of their duties, they may reincarnate to another, happier life on earth. Or they might attain Heaven or Nirvana.
Members are instructed in their responsibilities to self, family, society and all of humanity. Separation from honors, riches and luxury are promoted.
Caodaists worship and adore God, venerate Superior spirits and worship ancestors.
Within Caodaism, there are two sects:
Exoterism: in which one’s duties (while conducting a normal family life) are to:
practice good and avoid evil
show kindness to humans, other species, plants and nature
follow the Confucian:
three duties: (between king and citizen, father and child, husband and wife), and
five virtues (humanity, obligation, civility, knowledge, reliability)
Esoterism, practiced by the Chieu-Minh Vo Vi sect which:
practice “eradication of the inferior self” and develop the divine element
At their altar, they worship:
God as symbolized by the Divine Eye
Sakyamuni who represents Buddha
Lao Tse who represents Taoism
Jesus Christ who represents Christianity
Confucius who represents Confucianism
Khuong Thai Cong who represents Geniism
They venerate statues of Li Tai Pe, (representing Taoism), Quan Am Bo Tat (representing Buddhism) and Quan Thanh De Quan (representing Confucianism). These are the three Lords of the Earth
They recognize three saints:
Sun-Yat-Sen (1866-1925), leader of the Chinese Revolution of 1911
Victor Hugo (1802-1885), French poet
Trang Trinh (1492-1587), Vietnamese poet and prophet
Followers are expected to follow three rules:
pray at least once per day, at 6 AM, noon, 6 PM, and/or midnight.
eat a vegetarian diet at least ten days each month
observe five interdictions:
Do not kill living beings
Do not be dishonest
Do not commit adultery
Do not get drunk
Do not sin by word
Caodaism recognizes 9 ranks: Pope, Censor Cardinal, Cardinal, Archbishop Bishop, Priest, Student Priest, Subdignitaries and Followers. Women are limited to the level of Cardinal and below.
An American contact group is the CAO DAI Association of Washington DC Metro Area, 14611 Country Creek Lane, North Potomac MD, 20878. Telephone is (301)424-3326
The Sydney Centre for Studies in Caodaism maintains a home page at:
Hum Dac Bui, “Caodaism, A Novel Religion”, Hum Dac Bui, Redlands CA (1992)
Tourism Service of the Tayninh Holy See, “An Outline of Caodaism”, Chan Tam, Redlands CA (1994)
Last updated: September 2, 2014 at 10:17 am
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