I did not know what to expect when I went to Women's College on the campus of the University of Sydney on that Thursday morning. I was, though, enchanted by the white robes, impressed by the intensity, bewildered by the language and charmed by the friendliness of the Caodaist community. At lunch, an elderly brother wrote this on a torn-off piece of yellow paper (I still have it in my diary); he called it RETURN TO EDEN:
I hope that he reads it now, in my pages.
One of the privileges of being, so to speak, a Religious Studies professional is that of having the opportunity to make so many unexpected friends belonging to so many and diverse religions, cultures and nations. A couple of days before the 5th Caodaist Convention in Australia, in 1989 I had celebrated Christmas with Korean Christians. A week before I had been lecturing to a mainly Indian audience on Pandit Nehru. A couple of weeks later I was aboard a visiting Swedish navy ship (not that that has anything to do with religious studies) on the Harbour. In March my wife and I were celebrating a festival with Sydney's Zoroastrians...
And yet - for so many people in our troubled world, not least here in Australia.- what we call multi-culturalism is less an adventure that a threat. Perhaps the explanation is fairly simple: what is unfamiliar is always more or less frightening, and to most Australians, whatever politicians may believe and say about multi-culturalism, the multiple cultures that surround them (especially in the cities) are strange and potentially a little threatening. What we fear, we tend to keep away from. What has never been introduced to us we have no way of understanding.
The answer is not merely bigger and better and fiercer programmes of anti-racism. Anti-racism does not often improve understanding between peoples and religions and cultures: all it does is to condemn and punish racists when it can identify them. It considers itself to have succeeded when no windows are broken, when no offensive graffiti are scrawled on walls, and when no chargeable offences are committed. Certainly this is an improvement upon open conflict. But how much better it is to shift the emphasis from condemnation and punishment to mutual understanding--how much better, but how much more difficult and demanding!
I have long thought that the divine commandment most frequently broken is that which says, "Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour." We do it all the time. We spread rumours and gossip, even when we do not know whether what we are saying is true or false. Often we are prepared to believe the worst, even of those we call our friends. Concerning those we hardly know at all - not to mention those who we regard as our enemies - falsehood and fear often rule.
The only way out of this is the way of knowledge and understanding, of mutual respect and love for one another in all our great diversity. It will not do to lay down conditions ("We will respect you if you will play the game by our rules!"). Nor may we assume that the way will always be a smooth and trouble-free one. Merely to avoid open conflict is a poor substitute for the way of dialogue.
It is a very necessary step along the way toward dialogue that I am pleased to commend this publication, with very real satisfaction that the School of Studies in Religion of the University of Sydney has been permitted to share in its production.
Eric J. Sharpe
Foundation Professor of Religious Studies
School of Studies in Religion
University of Sydney
Outside the French-speaking world, unfortunately, Cao Dai's religious profile has generally been misrepresented. In American and Anglophone literature it has been viewed more as a special political force in recent Vietnamese history. We usually learn about the raising of a Caodaist Army in 1943 to help protect Vietnam against the Japanese invaders, and how certain Caodaist leaders - including Trần Quang Vinh as Minister of Vietnam's armed forces - were prominent during the declining years of French overlordship in Indo-china. After France's withdrawal from the region, it is often mentioned, Caodaists resisted the repressive policies of Ngo Dinh Diem, only to have their army disbanded (1955-6) and their Pope, His Holiness Phạm Công Tắc, sent into exile. These facts are not without interest, as is their intense opposition to Communism even beyond the end of the Vietnam War (mid-1975), but the time has come for Cao Đài Religion to be properly understood as a religious faith.
Upon Vietnam's recent reunification the number of Caodaists approached four million strong, and though facing victimization and considerable dispersal their following has increased to almost a fifth of the population we have in Australia, where this present publication has been prepared. Most followers remain in southwestern and central Vietnam, always the strongest constituency for Caodaism, but there are now large communities in the United States, Canada, France, Germany and Australia, as well as in southeast Asian refugee camps. The beliefs and religious institutions of such a populous movement demand a much wider recognition than hitherto granted them.
Caodaism is fascinating for its interweaving of ethical and spiritual threads from a diversity of religions. In its quest for a religious unity it is reminiscent of attempts to synthesize different traditions in the ancient world (most obviously Manicheanism), but its apparent eclecticism is also comparable to such modern developments as Theosophy and the Bahai faith. Considering its Vietnamese origins, it is perhaps to be expected that the three great and 'saintly' sages Lao-tze, Confucius and the Buddha, are evoked in worship as the master teachers of virtue. These three reflect the divine Light, which is Cao Đài, the Supreme Master of the Universe. To this understanding of the three saints is added both Christ's religion of love and kindness and the expectations in ancient Vietnamese and Chinese tradition to 'honour the dead' and 'venerate the family'. Western-looking inclusions of note are the naming of high-ranking Caodaist dignitaries as Pope and Cardinals (and feminists should note the appointment of a female cardinal!); the notions of Cao Đài Religion as a secret tabernacle and as manifesting a feminine aspect that recall Jewish Cabbalism; and the description of Caodaism as a 'super-Theosophy' to bring harmony to all spiritual beliefs and philosophies.
The origins of the Caodaist tradition, actually, lie with practices which link East with West. The "first disciple", Ngo Van Chieu, first received knowledge of the name Cao Đài when evoking the great spirits (Cầu-Tiên) with Taoist mediums in 1919 and then seven years later in more Western-style seances (using the ouidja board, table rapping, and the automatic spirit-writing know in French as corbeille a bec). It was in during and after the Great War that spiritualism was very much in vogue in the West; so many senseless deaths in the trenches led thousands of Western Europeans to find solace in gatherings to contact those on 'the Other Side'. These were the decades in which Conan Doyle, creator of England's Sherlock Holmes mysteries, and the French savant Theodore Flournoy wrote their histories of spiritualism, and when the German novelist Thomas Mann brilliantly conjured up the mystery of the modern seance at the tuberculosis sanatorium he called Der Zauberberg ('The Magic Mountain'). How remarkable it was that Western and Eastern concerns with access to the departed and the spirit world ran together in Chieu's discoveries. A new religion was born which had roots in the almost universal, primal preoccupation with the spirits, yet which could claim the direct revelation of God (in fact the "Third Amnesty of God in the Orient"), the instituting of a new spiritual hierarchy (from Cao Đài's first Acting Pope, Lê Văn Trung), and the arrival at a true harmony of religions (which had been 'de-natured' by the later followers).
The translation which follows opens a window on the extraordinary qualities of this new force among the world's religions, and we welcome its publication with enthusiasm.
Garry W. Trompf
Professor in the History of Ideas
School of Studies in Religion
University of Sydney
The world at present is in darkness; the era of destruction is approaching. The Virtue of God seems shaken, universal hatreds gather poisons, and world war becomes daily more probable. Is it inevitable?
Who in the presence of the helplessness, of the fears and misery of contemporary humanity can continue to deny the need of a New Doctrine, finally capable of bringing Peace and Harmony to all races on earth?
Caodaism, founded in 1926 by the Supreme Being, the Omnipotent God of the Universe, fixes its roots in the most fully proved traditions and in the purest revelations of Buddhism.
As a religious synthesis, which in Spirit and Truth aims to harmonise all human beings with the only Spiritual Laws of the Unique Creator, Caodaism constitutes a sincere and fraternal invitation to good will between the various belief systems, religious, philosophical, mystical, exoteric or esoteric.
Fruits of a single tree, flowers of a single garden, human beings are the beloved children of a Single Father whose name is Love. So each person must love light at whatever horizon it appears. Each one must seek out the truth from whatever spring it comes.
Throughout time, the Envoys of God have borne on behalf of the people all sorts of torments and sufferings, but Divine Power is always in the end beyond human Strength.
Moses, who was considered as a murderer for having struck an Egyptian to prevent an act of violence, was loathed and hated in the highest degree. Yet this was the man who was able to free a great nation from the chains of slavery, making that people happy, bringing them out of Egypt, and finally leading them to the Holy Land! to the promised land.
With the help of a supernatural power, Jesus Christ fulfilled the ancient Mosaic law and reformed widespread customs. He gave to Humanity the good news of Universal Peace and he established, by his teachings, the principles and foundations of worldwide happiness, for the entire human race.
He was crucified by the very ones who had followed him! And this Divine Being, in his suffering, announced: “This Sun is going to shed its rays, this Light will shine, my Grace will surround the world, and all my enemies will be confounded.” His prophecy has come true. All the kings of the earth have been unable to destroy His Work, their banners have been torn to shreds, while the banner of the “Oppressed” was carried to its height!
The Religion of God must be the Unique Religion and all the Prophets have taught it, but it is alive and growing, not inert and unchangeable. The teaching of Moses is the bud; Christ's is the flower, and Cao Đài's is the fruit. The flower does not destroy the bud, nor the fruit the flower. There is no destruction but fulfillment. The sepals of the bud must fall so that the flower can open, and the petals of the flower must fall so that the fruit can form and ripen. Were the sepals and petals useless? Should they be discarded? No, both elements in their time were not merely adequate but also necessary. Without them there would be no fruit! It is the same with the different teaching or prophetic revelations. Their exterior form changes form one age to another, but each Revelation is the fulfillment of the preceding ones. they are not separated from each other, and they do not clash, but they form different stages of the history of the development of the Unique Religion which has been revealed successively as a seed, a bud, a flower, and which now enters into the period of fruitfulness.
Holy words drawn from the Caodai Gospel prove the common origin of all the children of God:
A new Doctrine is needed capable of supporting Humanity in the love of creatures. On this earth where people suffer all sorts of difficulties, I am coming, just as Christ has come among you, to fight Heresy and to give good news to the world. Whatever your race, children of the Earth, you all have the one Father, God who governs your destinies. Why do you keep yourselves separated from each other depending on the way you think? for you are all called to suffer and undergo your Purgatory in this world.
To convince you and remind you that I am in fact the Jehovah of the Hebrews, the God of the Israelite Armies, the Unknown God of the Jews and the True Father of Jesus Christ. Pray to Me under the symbolic name of “Cao
Đài” and your wishes will be granted.
Did I not say that Spiritism was a future Religion? So be united by My Will and preach Peace and Harmony to the world.
To convince you and remind you that I am in fact the Jehovah of the Hebrews, the God of the Israelite Armies, the Unknown God of the Jews and the True Father of Jesus Christ. Pray to Me under the symbolic name of “Cao Đài” and your wishes will be granted.
Did I not say that Spiritism was a future Religion? So be united by My Will and preach Peace and Harmony to the world.
The aim of each of the Manifestations of God is to bring a change, a transformation into the whole world, into public and private life, both within and without. For if the affairs of the world did not change, the appearance of these Universal Manifestations would be useless.
God is the Unique infallible authority, and the prophets are infallible because their messages are messages from God, transmitted to the world through them as mediums.
So to find the Truth, we need to renounce our prejudices, the limitations of our own opinions. The chief thing is to have an open, clear spirit. As long as these prejudices and limited opinions are not abolished, humankind will not be able to find their rest.
The book, The History and Philosophy of Caodaism, by Gabriel Gobron, our late Instructor in France, has given a wide understanding of the Third Alliance of God in the East, to all those who love Love and Peace, to the true citizens of the world.
Today, to offer an even wider knowledge to neophytes, and to our brothers in the West, we are publishing this new book which contains the translation of the CONSTITUTIONAL LAWS or HOLY WRITINGS which form the charter of the New Religion. It must be spread across the world to hasten the march of Humanity towards the Great Way, the way of Universal Fraternity.
We are certain, because of a steadily increasing experience, that human beings can find their happiness and their salvation, if they live the true life of the soul, and not just the life of the body.
We are at present in the Bronze Cycle, during which we are all called to set out on the Path of Suffering, with a similar impulsion from fear. Why are there misunderstandings? Why are there disagreements?
The world, or rather life in this material world is basically no more than a worthless dream, and our body is no more than dust! The Divine Breath alone is eternal, and Eternity exists only in the world of Lofty Souls: the Invisible World. Outside that, all goes back into nothingness, everything is wiped out and is changed. That is the way the Law is made!
I have undertaken the translation of the Religious Constitution of Caodaism as a duty. As often happens, the duty brings with it its own reward, and I find a great joy because I wrote these pages for our friends in the West.
It is clear to me that this publication is opportune, because this constitution, as you will see, reveals the beautiful hierarchy of values even within predestinations, in conformity with the harmonious necessity of order, for without order there is no beauty, no justice, no progress.
No language could be more suitable than French to assure the lasting clarity of a text which is considered sacred, and thus intended as a source of universal enlightenment. Clarity in order, order in Love, the Essential both contained and containing, a living image of all, the actual image of the One.
The required hierarchy of values like the no less evident hierarchy of predestinations, which these Constitutions make clear, confirm and demonstrate, is by itself a valuable and self-sufficient message.
Its value lies in its contribution to creating peace and harmony among spirits which seek each other, but too often are in conflict through misunderstanding, and fight with each other almost always because of ignorance. Once they understand each other they will love one another. I am trying to bring a small measure of love by providing a great measure of understanding.
The message is self-sufficient because the fact that a message can contribute to better fraternal understanding is justification in itself, and by itself, so that there is not need of reason or justification for what it is: a gesture of love. This is the explanation of my duty, and the basis for my joy.
I have spoken of love, order and progress. I have done this because these terms are developed through one another, in a fruitful harmony, and the terms are, so to speak, imposed on my pen, since sympathy has been so strongly expressed from different sides by a great number of those who are positivists. I am making this translation in the language of the man who said: “Let us hold love as a principle, progress as an aim, and order as basic”.
Can we not say that these three luminous terms translate the triangle which is simultaneously Gaze and Light in its origin, in the present and in its definitiveness?
On the other hand, this Constitution is a witness which confirms what the sages have very rightly and prophetically proclaimed, both in certain negatives aspects and in its most positive proclamations:
“Shame to anyone who fails to do what he teaches others.”
“The right to command others is justified only through example.”
“The leader's role is to make justice rule over the community, for the prosperity of each.”
This prosperity is not concerned only with the material side of life, but in a particular way, with the Constitution which is our concern, with the loftiest spirituality.
In every case a doctrine is not worthwhile for its newness unless its deep wisdom gives, by itself, proofs of truth, proofs of perennial relevance, proofs which link to the unique and primordial source of all the truths, of every Truth, whatever its expression in speech or writing of its contemporary and ever present manifestation.
A new doctrine can be no more than a contemporary adaptation of an old doctrine, and as far as a mystical and religious doctrine is concerned, can only be the translation into words of the one unique doctrine which is beyond time and space, and elevated above human phonetic expression, just as thought is elevated above the words which strive to express it.
Eternal, Omnipresent, Unique and True - we could make endless efforts to define what is incapable of definition: the infinitely ONE BEING, which does not allow anything or anyone to contain it, the One which contains in itself everything and all those who are in whatever form, intensity and greatness they may be, simply capable of a good thought, of a word of peace, a gesture of love. In this One are grouped all the beings who are offspring of the same BEING. In this One is the entire truth, and what we manage to express of this can be no more than a tentative babbling.
This is not a reason to say nothing, but an invitation to speak, and that is why, as much through a sense of duty as through profound joy, I have recorded the lines of this work, to try to translate through words the lofty voice, incommunicable in its absoluteness, which deigns to inspire me.
With my eyes dazzled, and my heart dilated, uplifted by the secret enthusiasm of fervent periods in solitude, I contemplate the points of the thousand diversities which form as they move apart and approach each other, an ideal and cosmic circumference. All these points, which are ordered just as the heavenly spheres are ordered, or the finest dust, give rise to the straight lines of every good will and of brotherly intentions.
With my eyes dazzled but clear, my heart dilated but beating in time with wisdom, uplifted by enthusiasm but involved in the weighing of what is evident, I see that each of the lines which emerges from a point to go the Point - I see that each of these lines formed a zone which, with great precision, is in opposition to the zone which prolongs it beyond the Point which is at once both symbolic and real. From this apparent opposition is born the balance of the centre One, of this centre One which attracts as much as it projects: infinitely.
Each point conserves its opposition to the point which is opposed to it. This contradiction assures the actual harmonious balance of the whole: Cohesion, gravity, weight, dynamism, all the great laws discovered by man and which are endlessly discoverable, the great natural laws of the great geometry of the worlds, a geometry which orders, propels, harmonises the planets, the galaxies formed from eternity as He commands, propels, harmonises, vitalises, transforms, raises the smallest of the smallest human souls. Small, small but capable of unimaginable greatness, since it is of necessity a particle of the infinite, and so the Infinite itself, which is not divided.
The Master Programmer of the worlds sets up universal rhythms according to laws which are his own, since they are His thought The Master Programmer of the Universes makes the galaxies expand in time with the pulsing of his harmonising love.
The Geometrician of the worlds has hurled his infinite prism, which reveals thousands of unknown colours, as such incapable of translation into the weighable universe where our incarnation evolves.
We should not be astonished by the different coloration of the truth about our neighbour in space or our neighbour in time. The difference in appearance which divides that neighbour from us can only be the assurance of that person's actual personality, which lives in the Ephemeral but is destined to dissolve into the whiteness of the “final and primordial Aim-Centre”.
The Truth is that at present for human beings daily life is too much darkened by the opacity of matter to allow a guess, a sense, a sight, a manifestation of The light of lights which is in it.
The positive may appear in too exclusively materialistic a sense, and then it becomes pejorative for the spirit, for it loses in what is visible all the luminous values of the religious, I mean the mystical values which are divine and human.
When the positive dominates and overwhelms the speculative, the mystical is overwhelmed, the ideal is ridiculed, the religious is downgraded and judged out of date, old-fashioned, second rate. However the values are what they are: ordered, organised, ranked, attuned, living, witnesses of the One-value.
Of course there are modulations to be protected in everyday life, of course there are degrees of resonance which are rightly restored to silence, of course there are messages to be proclaimed in difference, and words to be expressed in Unity.
From this point of view our Constitution once translated will be, as I have said, both a message and a gesture.
A Constitution can be compared to one of those huge dams which are built almost everywhere on our planet - on the planet. It is just like a dam which gathers and raises the level of the untrammelled waters of the individual fast-flowing streams to form them into a power which is effective because it is measured, ordered, directed.
In the same way, the psycho-mystical forces which are built up and stored, spread out and increased by a religious community gain in effectiveness in direct proportion to the harmony which exists among the members of the community, a harmony which is allowed to develop precisely because of the rules of the Constitution.
I think, I hope that I will be clearly understood by our brothers in the West. This is the reason not just for the translation which I am presenting today but particularly for this introduction which finds its justification in its call to new, fraternal understanding.
Here there are signs of brotherhood, both three-sided and circular. Here there are ceremonial forms which have been familiar for generations to all peoples, even though we may have little experience of being within such a tradition. I am hopeful that all readers who meet such a fraternal term may experience in themselves a sense of intellectual excitement, of course, but at the same time a feeling which disturbs and initiates to some degree. This sense is intended to create understanding among spirits which are formed for brotherhood, made to understand each other.
Let us free ourselves, as far as is possible, from ready-made ideas, from our internal contradictions which essentially form obstacles to the understanding which is desired among all the great religious movements.
Let us cease judging religious matters only by externals. Let us make the attempt to discover in them, even better, to feel in them what may be the essential element in their inner value. In the West, did not Plato and Seneca often reason about the Essential, just like Saint Augustine and Thomas Aquinas? What educated person does not find them* in Lao-Tsu and Confucius?
Into the secret centre of souls enlightened by the one necessary light converge all differences to be harmonised in a single conscious responsible will.
Into the secret centre of the temple constructions of the highest idealism extend from the lines of understanding which go from North to South, from East to West, and from the Zenith to the Nadir.
Thus the lines are signs and countersigns, and the understanding of communions.
Brother in Europe, if the free time is given to me by the one who organises time, I will attempt one day to gather together the opinions of the Sages and the Saints, of the philosophers and political theorists of the diverse mystical traditions both ancient and contemporary, so as to make clear the images which in every region of the world, are familiar as perfect and exact images, to all those who know through the Spirit. It is not a presumptuous or empty boast to claim that in this way I can contribute to the spiritual reunification of those who are made as much to discover themselves as to recover themselves.
This is a message of friendship through which hearts may come to know each other and value each other. Here there is no need of a word, the sign is enough. From the Zenith to the Nadir, the vertical line is drawn.
Is this the paradox of Equality? that the greatest is the servant of the least, and the least can hope for the first place is the Spirit speaks.
This explains the saying that “the secret brother is placed between two kings”.
The synthesis resolves the dilemma, individuals manifest the absolute in their consciousness, while the involutionary source of social regressions and the evolutionary technical gushing forth of progress find their harmony in the Hierarchical.
You can all say that you are each an every one the chosen of the invisible. His essence is to be Lord of the clouds, absolute monarch whose Triangle transfers supreme power above the illusions which belong to earth.
Those whose task it is to keep watch ought to keep careful watch in accordance with the touchstone of the Constitutions, today's constitutions which confront freely but secretly the abiding constitutions.
Let us set ourselves up in a pure, sweet brotherhood and we will discover that there are spheres, plans, degrees, according to the different expression of each one, so that it is good to assure ourselves and each other: “What a beautiful place this is! How happy we are to live here!” Sceptics will say that these are ephemeral, ecstatic moments. Those who know will answer that they are true and eternal. This knowledge will be absolute only for those who look and think with the heart.
Those whose task it is to keep watch ought to keep careful watch. Our security is not absolute, but the hierarchical formation of the grades will restore confidence in the justice of spiritual retribution.
A person who considers that the power to be overcome is too great, and that the intention of friends and his own resolutions are too feeble.
People from Asia, from Ancient Egypt, from Europe and the Americas, have been summoned by the Spirit, and we all wait for the words which will come in due time, the words which are always of their time, since the Word is eternal.
With the Constitution in my hand, I take my stand in the arched entrance to the temple, to give a sign to those capable of recognising It, those who like me have decided not to hoard just for themselves the favours that the invisible Lord intends for everyone.
Knowledge is not necessarily Wisdom, and Learning when linked with pride can be swollen by vanity. There are ways of measuring intelligence, but what is more important is the measure of the heart.
Some people will understand me better, others will listen to me without perhaps understanding. However I address this message of recognition to one and all, as a message to unveil the necessary hierarchy of the temple, in every age, in every order, for without this hierarchy nothing lasting can be.
The Message of Peace will necessarily be the message of justice which is Order. May those who know the value of sacred words answer: Profound Peace!
Brothers from the West, I address you particularly today, to give this introductory message to the translation of the Constitution. This Constitution puts a seal on the foundation stone of the living spiritual temple in our visible world.
During my last visit to Europe (May-July, 1951) I travelled through your countries: France, Italy, Switzerland, Belgium, Holland, Luxemburg, and England. The journey was far to rapid for my liking, for I wished to fathom your values. Nevertheless I could recognise in some among you people chosen by the Invisible, capable of uniting their thoughts to our thoughts, in a psycho-cosmic current of lofty spirituality.
The Fountain which can quench our thirst has been discovered with the understanding of the Sign.
Today a fraternal thought-form has been launched from the Zenith of Tây-Ninh for psychic and cosmic transmission to the Zenith of Paris. Let these lines be the graphic condensation of this thought, which I wish to be fully hierarchised in its egalitarian harmony. It will be clear that this image does not convey any insoluble contradiction.
I speak to clearsighted priests of human progress, to priestesses capable of universal fraternity. Let us each have a deep knowledge of ourselves, and all of us together will build the beauty of the impressive form which is meant to contain the outpouring of the energy of the unnameable One.