The Divine Path to Eternal Life
Con Đường Thiêng Liêng Hằng Sống
by His Holiness Hộ-Pháp Phạm Công Tắc
Translated from the Vietnamese by:
Delivered in the Tây Ninh Holy See on the 16 September 1948
(Lunar Calendar 13th Day of the 8th month, year of the Mouse)
Tonight Bần Đạo (The Hộ Pháp refers to himself throughout as 'Bần Đạo' or 'poor monk') comes to preach to you, so please sit and try to listen.
From tonight I would like to speak to you about the most important of topics. I need to address this issue over several nights in order to explain it comprehensively. Therefore, every fourth night I will come here and talk on this subject. I am doing this to make an essential and precious gift for the children of Đức Cao Đài (the Supreme Being)- a cherished secret for them to keep at hand. With this you may, one day, find out how to attain the Way.
Tonight’s topic is: the Divine Path to Eternal Life (Con Đường Thiêng Liêng Hằng Sống).
What is this “Divine Path”? If our understanding is based on the true dharma of Đức Cao Đài, the “Divine Path to Eternal Life” is that path reserved for true souls to travel after they have left their physical bodies. By this path they make their way back towards the “Ultimate.” These true souls shall return to their spiritual domain, rising higher, or falling lower as their previous life’s merit dictates. If we wish to understand this path according to the Way of the Buddha, then the Divine Path to Eternal Life is known as the path of reincarnation (samsara).
This is a very difficult topic to speak about. If all the Children of Đức Cao Đài were to understand this path completely, a massive book would need to be written. Such a tome would comprise several thousand pages!
Therefore, Children of the Ultimate Being, you must try to listen. You must come here, pray, and make offerings (ie at the Great Divine Temple) then afterwards come and listen to these words. In the future you will not regret that you came. Nor should you complain in the future that I did not let you know in advance of the revelations of Đạo Cao Đài. Only in Caodaism can the profoundest and loftiest of all the philosophies be unveiled. (It is by the special grace of Đức Cao Đài, for our religion today, that there are a few young men available who have tried to learn shorthand so that they can write down these words as they are being preached).
Remember! These words are not the words of a Phạm Công Tắc, they are the words of the Hộ Pháp (Protector of the Dharma). The Hộ Pháp is speaking on behalf of Đức Cao Đài, so this is a message that the children of God must hear. That is why these words are so very precious.
I am extremely fortunate to have been selected by Đức Cao Đài as his Ngự Mã Quân (Translators note - "Ngự Mã Quân" was one official who accompanied the Emperor - it has relevance to Confucian Philosophy). On behalf of Him, I am working to form the True Religion - this Caodaist Religion - the religion that will replace all the religions that have ever been. Because the religions of today are no longer adequate in terms of human thought and consciousness, in other words their paths of progress have been closed off.
Do you remember some time ago when the Supreme Being (Đức Chí Tôn, literally 'the most high' another term for ‘Đức Cao Đài’) selected Bần Đạo for the position of Hộ Pháp? He taught Bần Đạo how to be a medium and how to develop automatic writing (chấp bút), especially the "chấp bút." With the "chấp bút" Bần Đạo was taught by the Supreme Being how to meditate. This higher meditation was slowly revealed to me (nhập tịnh or mystic meditation , internal alchemy) [Chinese: nei tan]. This mystical meditation is not easy - a simple mistake or omission can ruin your whole life. To under-practise "nhập tịnh" could leave you sleepy and nodding, to over practise could leave you mentally disturbed. When you practise correctly you need the Divine Beings on hand to help open your celestial eye (huệ quang khiếu/crown chakra, wisdom light chakra/pineal eye). When this happens your perispirit can exit its physical domain (xuất hồn). The path upon which your spirit returns home to the Supreme Being - this is the 'Divine Path of Eternal Life'. Bần Đạo's Celestial Eye was opened by the Supreme Being, this allows me to meet with the Supreme Being and learn many secret and essential things from Heaven.
Today Bần Đạo is preaching about the Divine Path of Eternal Life, I would like to guide all the souls of the children of God back to Him by the very form of the teaching you are now listening to.
The Path that takes you back to heaven is not an easy path to travel, and your return will not be instant. As we desire to travel home to Đức Cao Đài, we must pass through many temples, many palaces. In each temple we will be confronted by strange things. In each palace we will face a different mystery. Yet we must struggle to understand them and pass beyond them. Only by desiring spiritual evolution can we progress along this Path to the Eternal - and return home to the Supreme Being! There is no happiness equal to this.
Even after a lifetime of cultivating the way, there is no guarantee that a soul will return. Over ten thousand years and a thousand lives if a soul never cultivates the Way it can never return. Brothers and Sisters, you must try to remember this. What is cultivation? The Cao-Đài Religion has already explained cultivation to you. Bần Đạo has already spoken of it a great deal. You must uphold the virtues (Lập Đức), do good works (Lập Công) and speak the words of the Great Way (Lập Ngôn).
Now I return to the topic of how we can, by desiring spiritual evolution, progress along the Divine Path to Eternal Life. A little while ago I mentioned that, by the special grace of the Supreme Being, I was granted the favour of an audience with Đức Cao Đài. Before this audience I was able to meet the Divine Beings in the realm of Eternal Life.
From tonight Bần Đạo is not really teaching you, I am only recounting what I have seen, heard and learnt when meeting the Divine Beings in the Spiritual Realm. Telling you this is also a way of allowing the children of the Supreme Being to visualise the spiritual realm in advance. This will save your soul from confusion in the event of your return.
As Bần Đạo talks, the Children of God must listen and imagine that you have a guide. Where ever you go the guide will explain the scene to you. For example when a foreigner comes to Vietnam, the visitor is provided with a guide to help explain the scenery.
Each soul on this planet, when leaving the physical body, must gather here at this Great Divine Temple, you must go from inside this building in order to reach other realms. Why must you enter this Great Divine Temple and not other temples? This Great Temple is a great examination centre. Just as every year the Government holds the baccalaureat, the location of your soul's elevation has already been decided. You must come here if you want to be qualified or valued. It is this Great Divine Temple that Đức Cao Đài has made for His children to "lập công", "lập đức," "lập ngôn" and prove worthy of their return.
To enter the Great Divine Temple means entering the Hiệp Thiên Đài and moving from there to the Cung Đạo. In order to reach the Cung Đạo you must make your way along the Cửu Trùng Đài. At each of the nine levels of the Cửu Trùng Đài your soul will be confronted and tested by the Divine Beings. Also, on each step, one of the Nine Female Buddhas (Cửu Vị Nữ Phật) will appear to offer mercy and guide the soul who begs for salvation. If you are not sure, Children of the Supreme Being, read again the prayers from the Đệ Nhứt Cửu Prayer (chanted nine days after death) then read all the prayers until the Đệ Cửu Cửu Prayer (the last prayer in a cycle of nine prayer days which take place once every nine days), and Tiểu Tường Prayer (said 281 days after death) to Đại Tuờng Prayers (said 581 days after death).
In the Cao-Đài Religion there are three methods of returning to the Supreme Being, and gaining a position in the spiritual hierarchy.
The first method - is for the soul to manifest inside a physical body that must follow the ranking of the Cửu Thiên Khai Hóa (the nine masters of the nine heavens), - or following the Sacerdotal Council or the Cửu Trùng Đài. This method requires you to use your talents and abilities to contribute to the Religion (and thus to humanity) as a path for attaining the Way. This path leads from a normal believer (Đạo-Hữu), to Student -Priest (Lễ Sanh), and from Priest (Giáo Hữu) to Bishop (Giáo Sư) and so on… On this path you must serve from tiểu thừa (novitiate) to trung thừa (intermediate) and then to đại thừa (superior), these categories include practising vegetarianism from six days a month to ten days a month and then full time respectively. One must cultivate the way firstly within oneself, then within the family and the country, and finally for all humanity. When you follow the ranking of Cửu Thiên Khai Hóa your soul must have confidence in it's own spiritual direction so that you can lead others towards their salvation. This is what makes the Cao-Đài Religion different from others. You must save yourself, your family, people outside your family, only then you can save all humanity. One must study in order to understand the Way. When you understand you must teach your family, but not just your family, you must teach the whole of humanity. One studies in order to understand the Way and this is lập đức, to teach the Way to one's family this is lập công, to save the whole of humanity, this is lập ngôn. These three duties must be fulfilled in order for one to return to the Supreme Being along the path of the Cửu Thiên Khai Hóa (the nine masters of the nine heavens).
The second method - To gain a ranking in the spiritual hierarchy by following the Thập Nhị Đẳng Cấp Thiêng Liêng / Twelve Spiritual Levels means that you must follow the Hội Thánh Phước Thiện / Charity Body. Here, besides practising a vegetarian diet, following the religious laws, and also the true teachings of God the Father, one must use virtue to rise to a position.
In order to lap duc one must start and serve from Minh Đức, Tân Dân, Thính Thiện, Hành Thiện, Giáo Thiện, Chí Thiện . . . . etc . . . . (Translators note: there are twelve ranks within the Charity Body).
What is Lập Đức? It is using love in order to save humanity, as God said "love is the key that opens the door of the Jade Palace/ Bach Ngoc Kinh."
Souls incarnate through life on this planet over the turbulent waves of the suffering that Buddha spoke of in the Four Noble Truths. In order to escape from suffering one must first endure suffering. By enduring suffering one can triumph over suffering. One who follows the Thập Nhị Đẳng Cấp Thiêng Liêng / Twelve Spiritual Levels shows others how to endure suffering in order to triumph over suffering. To show people how to endure suffering, firstly we must endure suffering ourself. When you want to endure suffering there is nothing better than by using the virtue of love: therefore the first level of the twelve spiritual levels is Minh Đức (“Minh Đức” is literally “Bright Virtue”).
Love enables one to endure suffering, loving your parents means that you must suffer as you serve and protect them in their old age. Loving your children means that you must work hard to take care of them as they grow. Loving the disabled and the destitute means trying to find a way to help them, finding this way also means suffering.
To endure suffering allows you to overcome it; but not just for one day, you must do this right to the end. For example you must look after your parents throughout their old age, and your children until they grow up. Yet these two things are easy when compared with the task of helping the whole community. When you look after the whole community suffering never stops, when you are finished taking care of one person, there are always others that you must deal with, this continues until the end of your life. By doing this, one can overcome suffering, and in doing this you will be able to return to the Supreme Being by way of the Thập Nhị Đẳng Cấp Thiêng Liêng / Twelve Spiritual Levels.
The third method - Tu Chơn or Tịnh Luyện styles of meditation comprise the third method. Those who have followed the path of Cửu Phẩm Thần Tiên (the nine spiritual levels) or the path of Thập Nhị Đẳng Cấp Thiêng Liêng / Twelve Spiritual Levels and feel that they have fulfilled lập đức, lập công, lập ngôn, or feel that they have already endured and overcome suffering, and still feel able to progress in their spiritual quest, can enter a meditation centre for the practise of mystical meditation. At the mediation centre adepts will learn the method of transforming matter (tinh) into energy (khí) and energy into spirit (thần). This is the unity of the three treasures (tinh khí thần hiệp nhất, that is a returning to the void).
Now we return back to our discussion of the Divine Path to Eternal Life. When we pass through the Cửu Trùng Đài and enter the Cung Đạo suddenly we look up, we will no longer see the Bát Quái Đài, but the vast sea, which is so great, it is unimaginable. At this point we begin to walk the Divine Path to Eternal Life.
If you follow the path of Cửu Thiên Khai Hóa or the Thập Nhị Đẳng Cấp Thiêng Liêng you will wait to the end of your life before returning to God the Father and return with both your perispirit and your soul. However today we can travel back to the Supreme Being by the perispirit (chơn thần) for by a special favour of Đức Cao Đài, Bần Đạo has been permitted to travel by this shorter way.
We look up to see a vast sea, but in fact this is the sky of the universe, and there in the distance, sometimes visible, sometimes not, you can see a magnificent and beautiful palace. The moment you see it you want to rush toward it. But you realise that you don't know how to move, it is then that you realise that your astral body (Pháp-Thân/Dharmnakaya) is attracted to this palace by an incredible force. You do not propel youself yet you come, you move fast as though flying in an aeroplane.
When you arrive you see innumerable beings, human beings, coming and going, there are too many to count. The crowd is silent, very ordered and secure. This palace is called the Cung Thánh, that is, the place where souls leave the spiritual realm (to journey back for reincarnation), it is also the place where souls are welcomed back after they have left their physical body.
It looks like an airport or a railway station, people are coming and going at an uncountable rate, leaving is sad, coming home is joyful, but the face of each soul, whether they are coming or going, carries the strain of a common worry. Those going down are worried, wondering if they can carry out the duties of the assignment given to them by Đức Cao Đài. Those coming home are also worried because they do not know if they have retained or lost their position in the hierarchy of the spiritual realm. They worry too much, so much worry, everybody is worried.
Next time, Bần Đạo will preach on the subjects of the Cung Thánh and the Cung Thừa-Thiên Hành-Hóa.
To be continued - Other sermons will be available soon.