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Caodaism - A Brief Description

Inside Cao Dai Temple Vietnam

Background and Modern Developments
  • “Way of the Highest Power,” or ‘Dao Cao Dai,’ is a modern religion of Vietnam. It is an indigenous religion of Vietnam and alongside Buddhism and Christianity it is the most popular religion in the country. A vast majority of practitioners are found in Vietnam but there are several thousand that practice abroad in places like the United States and Canada. Caodaism believes that it is the culmination of religious practice as it has been revealed since the beginning of time. The first major revelation was Judaism in the ancient Mediterranean world around five thousand years ago. The next major revelation, according to the history of the Dao Cao Dai, came with the Buddha and his belief system around 2,500 years ago. Other religions are also incorporated into the history of Caodaism, like Confucianism, Daoism, and Christianity.
  • However, as God attempted to reveal his divine plans and true nature to the founders of these religions, the message became distorted and corrupted.
  • As such, Caodaism is the last and most complete truth and can only be taught by spirit mediums who transmit the message from the world of the Divine into the human world where it is often misunderstood or corrupted. Nevertheless, well-trained spirit mediums are the only way to even begin to understand the Divine.
  • Caodaism as a religion is very new. A civil servant named Ngo Van Chieu in the early 20th century began to communicate with a spirit named Duc Cao Dai and slowly began sharing his revelations with others. In time, he trained other mediums in the methods to communicate with God and the religion of Caodaism was born. Caodaism as taught by the spirit mediums believes in a single powerful God with a divided spirit. The divided spirit inhabits natural things in the world such as plants and animals.
  • Caodaism is dualistic in that in teaches that a person (and also indeed animals) have both a physical body and a spiritual soul. In addition to the traditional view of a body and soul dialectic, Caodaism teaches that a conscious spirit also resides within the living body and is directly connected to the Divine. Because of this Godly spirit inside each living being, Caodaism also teaches reincarnation.
  • Like Buddhism and Hinduism, which also teach variations of reincarnation, Caodaism believes that reincarnation is a bad thing and the goal of life is to not be reincarnated back into the world. Instead, a soul strives to integrate itself with the spirit to bring about union with the Divine. Also like Buddhism and Hinduism, Caodaists believe in karma and that this karma directly affects the pattern of reincarnation. One method of reducing the amount of karma one creates and retains is to renounce luxury and indulgences.
  • Like most religions, Caodaism emphasizes harmony with nature, good deeds, and the practice of duty. Meditation for many is a method of erasing impurities and eliminating the ‘inferior’ parts of ourselves to be replaced with the great Divinity.

Cao Dai Temple Vietnam

Sexuality and Marriage
  • Caodaism is an institutionalized religion whereby women are only allowed to achieve a certain level of advancement within the institution. The ranking system of the religion proper aligns closely with the Catholic Church. On top is a Pope and then there are Cardinals, Bishops, Priests, Sub-dignitaries, and Followers. Women may only achieve the institutional position of cardinal. Similarly, even though women are allowed to attain high levels within the order, they are frequently disallowed from being leaders. 
  • In worship and in ceremonies, women also have a different walking pattern within the temple. Women walk clockwise around the hall and congregate to the left. Meanwhile, men enter from the right and walk counterclockwise. These symbolic differences of practice within the temple may be representative of the actual spiritual potentials of men and women within the Caodai religion. 
  • Marriage is often arranged because marriage is permanent until one of the spouses dies. There is no divorce and therefore it is of the utmost importance to have a well-chosen spouse. If spouses are not suitable, a marriage is unlikely to produce children or, at the very least, unlikely to produce children that possess a stable family environment. Such an environment would not be desirable since a major belief within Caodaism is that a family is sincere and prosperous when all of the relationships are synthesized together as a cohesive unit. Moreover, problems within the household can lead one to stray from the core tenents of Caodai religion, such as eating as a vegetarian at least ten times a month or praying once a day.

Cao Dai Temple Vietnam