How does Caodaism live in the religious life?

Caodaism is the short name of an indigenous religion in Vietnam, whose full name is Dai Dao Tam Ky Pho Do. 

The name Cao Dai literally means a high place, figuratively the highest place where God resides. To show respect, some Cao Dai followers often call their religion Dao Troi.

Cao Dai religion was born in 1926 in the Southern part, the person who founded and became the first follower of the religion was Mr. Ngo Minh Chieu.

Not only developed in the South, but followers of Cao Dao also have traveled to all regions of the country to spread and form centers for worship and spiritual activities.

cao dai temple in tay ninh
A famous Cao Dai Temple in Vietnam.

Caodaism symbol

Cao Dai worships God with the image of the left eye, called Thien Nhan – Heaven Eye, which becomes the symbol of this religion.

Heaven Eye is the manifestation of the monitoring and controlling power of the universe, the supreme power is God.

Thien Nhan also signifies sympathy between humans and the universe, which has a very important meaning for Cao Dai followers, reminding believers that every gesture and action is always under the scrutiny of God.

It is said that the God of Cao Dai is the heaven god, forming in the eye to look at the universe.

The saying: “Heaven has eyes” is to indicate that God, clearly sees all the good and evil deeds of all sentient beings, whether revealed to the outside or hidden inside. An opening eye always reminds us of whatever we do, God can see it clearly, it can’t be hidden.

Worshiping Thien Nhan (a heaven eye) has the meaning of Dai Dong (all in one). Any group or nation knows how to draw the eye to worship, and drawing the eye image is not racist, so it has a general feature, that is all in one.

eye symbol in Cao Dai
An Eye is symbol of Caodaism. Photo: Yumi Ohashi 🇯🇵

What does Caodaism worship?

Cao Dai worships Heaven God with the image of the left eye, called Thien Nhan. Besides, Cao Dai also worships the cardinals of other religions.

On the altar of Cao Dai religion, under Thien Nhan (heaven eye) are Thich Ca, Lao Tzu, Confucius (Three Religions), Quan Am, Ly Thai Bach, Quan Thanh (Three Tran), Jesus Christ, and Khuong Thai Cong, all including 08 people.

The alter of Cao Dai is called Thien Ban (Heaven Alter). The placement of Thien Ban may be the same as the worshiper’s ancestral altar. Or it can be placed in a separate, dignified place in each family.

The Cao Dai altar is usually made of wood and built into two floors. There must be 9 – 11 main dishes and things on the table and arranged in 3 horizontal rows.

altar in cao dai temple
The altar in Cao Dai Temple. @kekeke_622

The layout diagram of the Cao Dai altar with the basics as below:

cao dai altar layout
Cao Dai Altar Layout For Reference
  • 1. One eye statue
  • 2. Tai Chi lamp/light
  • 3. Fruits
  • 4. Flowers
  • 5. Teacup (to the right side is Yin).
  • 6 – 7 – 8. Three glasses of wine
  • 9. Water cup (to the left side be Yang).
  • 10 and 12. Two light/candle
  • 11. Incense burner

Why is only one eye, not two?

Worshipping one eye, not two shows that 1 is the initial number of the universe, which starts creating every number and everything.

Therefore, the number 1 is the foundation, the number is Yang. And, the supreme being is the owner of the Yang light (light of the sun).

Why is the left eye, not the right?

The left eye belongs to Yang, the right side belongs to Yin. It means the wish is to develop strongly, lightening a good way for the public.

So, when entering the caodaist temple, the male people kneel on the left of God (the eye and global), and the female kneel on the right. This shows the Yin – Yang (Male left, Female right), not distinguish gender as many people think.

caodaist ceremony
A ceremony in Cao Dai Temple. @kekeke_622

Cao dai beliefs

Cao Dai followers believe that God is the founder of religions and the whole universe. All teachings, symbolic systems, and organizations are directly designated by the heaven god.

And, Cao Dai’s religion is directly enlightened by Heaven God for believers with the task of Dai Dao Tam Ky Pho Do, which means the great way to save suffering for the third period. 

When the god enlightens followers, a ceremony called “Cơ bút” is the ritual of praying for and writing, which is a foundation of Cao Dai religion. And, this method is said to have given birth and is a means of propagating this religion. 

The three levels of creating the religion of Heaven God are as follows:

  • The first period of the beginning: This was the first period when major religions were formed, namely Buddhism, Confucianism, Jainism, and Taoism. Heaven God entrusted his first disciples to preach to the people.
  • The second universal period: This duration revives all religions present in the world. After the beginning of the development of universal salvation, the teachings did not properly teach the principles that God desired. Therefore, Heaven God once again taught his disciples all over the world and formed Mahayana Buddhism, Hinayana Buddhism, and others. Thanks to that, religions in this period were revived and developed very strongly, overcoming the barriers of regions and countries.
  • The third period of universality: In this period, all religions present in the world were united by God into a single religion. And the Heaven God who will directly run and govern. This is also the reason that many Caodist followers call their present theory “Dao Troi” or “Dao Thay”. The intention implies that they are those who receive direct instruction from God. And, the believers believe the Dao Cao religion is set up in the third level.

In general, believers in the religion follow the basic rules of the religion such as living honestly, not killing, praying and worshiping ancestors and grandparents.

That is shown through fasting and reciting religious teachings every day. All want to bring prosperity and happiness to all species. The ultimate goal is to bring all things out of the cycle of reincarnation to the heavenly realm.

caodist temple tay ninh
Cao Dai Temple

Cao Dai Origin

Cao Dai is said to be a new religion, it brings together many elements from all major religions in Vietnam, including Buddhism.

According to belief, every religion cannot cover all aspects of life, there are good sides and not right sides. Therefore, the Cao Dai religion was born with the purpose of merging many good points of religion to create this unique one.

At the beginning of the 20th century, in 1926, a special religion was born called Dai Dao Tam Ky Pho Do (translated: Great Religion in the Third Period to Save the Public), short name Cao Dai.

The original land where the Cao Dai religion originated was in the southern region of Vietnam, and the first main temple is located in Tay Ninh Province.

The Main Cao Dai Temple

As the largest holy site of Cao Dai religion, Tay Ninh Temple attracts millions of visitors and pilgrims every year.

Tay Ninh temple was started construction in 1933 and officially inaugurated in 1955.

cao dai temple tay ninh
The main Cao Dai Temple in Tay Ninh

This building has a unique architectural design, combining East-West philosophical views, showing the synthesis of many spiritual factors in a harmonious way.

The first impression for visitors when coming here is the image of Thien Nhan (Heaven Eye) right in front of the main temple, which is a glowing eye, a sacred symbol of the Cao Dai religion.

Experiencing many ups and downs during nearly one century, the Tay Ninh Temple has become a pilgrimage site for about 5 million followers around Vietnam and an attractive spiritual tourist attraction for many people.

Many foreign architectural magazines have written articles to introduce and praise the Cao Dai Temple in Tay Ninh. Also, Tay Ninh people consider the temple as the pride of their locality.

Does Caodaism have sacred texts or the bible?

Laws, rituals, and practices of the Caodai religion express faith, guide worship, and practice.

The rules of Cao Dai were formed along with the birth process, both influenced by the laws and rituals of the Three Religions (Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism), and also influenced by the customs of the traditional culture of the South.

The laws and rituals of Cao Dai religion are presented in the textbooks, considered as its bible: Dai Thua Chan Giao, Ngoc De Chan Truyen, Tan Luat, Phap Chanh Truyen, Thanh Ngon Hiep Tuyen…

  • Thanh Ngon Hiep Tuyen is a collection of religious teachings of the Jade Emperor God, Buddha, Fairy, Saint, God through the medium of Co pen (Old Pen).
  • Phap Chanh Truyen carries the constitutional nature of the religion, defining the mechanism of law-making of the religion, law enforcement, religious practice, and management of believers. This bible gives the duties, powers, and principles of selection.
  • Tan Luat book (The new law book) is a code of religion promulgated in 1927, consisting of three main parts: the part of the law that regulates the organization of the religion, rules of conduct, teaching, and discipline; the part of the law regulates the behavior of believers with daily life such as family and social relations…; Tinh Do (the pure house) section stipulates the conditions for entering the Pure House and the principles of living in the temple.
cao dai tay ninh temple
A beautiful corner look of Cao Dai Temple in Tay Ninh. Photo: laquocthinh

Some famous Cao Dai Temples in Vietnam:

Cao Dai spreads all around Vietnam; however, we do not have much information bout this religion in the world.

Buildings of Cao Dai have beautiful designs, and below are popular ones:

  • Cao Dai Temple in Tay Ninh, built in 1926, Address: Pham Ho Phap Street, Hoa Thanh Town, Hoa Thanh District, Tay Ninh Province, Vietnam
  • Chon Ly Temple, built 1928, Address: My Phong Commune, My Tho Province, 
  • Ben Tre Temple, 1934, Address: 100 Truong Dinh Street, Ward 6, Ben Tre Town.
  • Chau Minh Temple, built in 1937 – 1956, Tien Thuy Commune, Chau Thanh District, Ben Tre Province
  • Ngoc Sac Temple, built in 1933-1946, Phong Thanh Tay Commune, Gia Rai District, Bac Lieu Province
  • Ngoc Kinh Temple, built in 1958, Address: Mong Tho B Commune, Chau Thanh District, Kien Giang Province.
  • Chieu Minh Long Chau Temple, built in 1956, Address: Tan Phu Thanh Commune, Chau Thanh District, Can Tho Province.
  • Cau Kho Temple, built in 1959 and rebuilt in 2007, Address: Tam Quan Commune, Hoai Nhon District, Binh Dinh Province.
  • Trung Hung Buu Temple, built in 1956, 63 Hai Phong Street, Da Nang City, Vietnam.

>>> You may want to see the best ancient temples in Vietnam.

How do you pronounce Caodaism?

Caodaism is “Đạo Cao Đài” in Vietnamese, pronouncing like “doun – kou – dai”.

Is Cao Dai monotheistic or polytheistic?

Cao Dai is considered a monotheistic religion. The devotees worship a god, the Heaven God.

This god who transforms into a single eye is depicted on the globe. An eye is the revelation of the mystery, the manifestation of the monitoring and controlling power of the universe.

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    About the author

    The editorial staff of Vietnamdrive is a team of travel experts managed by Mr. Thom who has worked in tourism for 14 years. Trusted by thousands of tourists from all over the world.