Phap-chanh-truyen (1): The religious constitution of Caodaism

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Religious Constitutional Laws explained and annotated by
His Holiness Ho-Phap Pham Cong Tac, head of the Hiep-Thien-Dai



Translated from French to English by Lucy Davey

With Foreword by Professor Eric J. Sharpe

Introduction to English translation by Professor Garry W Trompf





Acknowledgments and Note Concerning this English Translation

Foreword – Introduction - Preface

Power of Cuu-Trung-Dai / Executive Body
Religious Vestments of the Dignitaries of the College of Men of Cuu-Trung-Dai
Dignitaries of the College of Women
Law for the Election of the Dignitaries of the Cuu-Trung-Dai
Powers of the Hiep-Thien-Dai / Legislative Body
Ceremonial Dress of the Dignitaries of the Hiep-Thien-Dai





The English Translation of the Phap-Chanh-Truyen, made and published in 1992, was largely based on the French translation, originally published in 1953. It was judged timely to make the English translation available in an electronic version on the Internet, as this allows those with a serious interest in Caodaism to have access to a basic text and thus achieve a deeper understanding of this Religion, particularly of the true organisation of Caodaism.


This electronic version required the valuable contributions of many people. It would have been difficult to complete this without their assistance.


I wish to express my sincere thanks to the Cao-Dai Temple of New South Wales, and to many other fellow Caodaists around the world. From them I gained the inspiration for this project.


I wish to express my sincere gratitude to Emeritus Professor Eric J. Sharpe (Foundation Professor) and Garry W. Trompf (Professor in the History of Ideas), School of Studies in Religion, University of Sydney for their kindness, support and encouragement.


I am most grateful to Lucy Davey not just for the understanding and knowledge of religions she demonstrated in the translation but also for her patience and continuous support.


Special thanks for the understanding and considerable support of Hien-Huynh/Brother Tran Quang Canh, and Hien Tai Nguyen Thanh Nghiep.


Finally, I bow in silence and humbly dedicate this work to all Divine Beings, especially to the Spiritual Pope Li T'ai Pai and His Holiness Ho-Phap Pham-Cong-Tac. I believe that They continually guide me in this project.


May the Dai-Dao Tam-Ky Pho-Do be proclaimed widely.


Sydney University 08/November/1996




Due to the present special circumstances in Viet-Nam, an official approval from the Sacerdotal Council (Hoi-Thanh), of the Tay-Ninh Holy See cannot be obtained. However, while this is not an official translation, we expect approval to be granted when circumstances permit in the future.


For better understanding and practical application of this work, please see the text of Phap-Chanh-Truyen in Vietnamese, as well other Cao-Dai texts.


Errors are unavoidable, therefore suggestions or comments are always welcome and greatly appreciated.



(by Eric J. Sharpe, Foundation Professor of Religious Studies,

School of Studies in Religion, University of Sydney)

December 28, 1989 was the day Australia's biggest earthquake in recent years struck Newcastle - at 10:28 am., to be precise. My diary tells me that I did not notice it, being immersed at that time in my first fascinating encounter with Caodaism.


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 Cao Dai 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




EDEN is not so far
Rest and Recreation make peace
Instead to make world war
Communion is what we are in need

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



Part One


(The Nine Degrees of the Episcopal Hierarchy/Executive Body)





Divine text : The Pope is the Eldest of My children.


Commentary : The Pope represents God to watch over the preservation of His Religion in this world. Whatever his age, the Eldest acts as a guide for the children of God. The Spiritual Power has decided that this is so.


The Sacerdotal Council (Hoi Thanh) is divided into two Bodies: the Cuu-Trung-Dai and the Hiep-Thien-Dai (Divine alliance entrusted with Legislative Power). But the Ho-Phap himself, head of the Hiep-Thien-Dai, is considered in the temporal sphere as the younger brother of the Pope, although in the spiritual sphere he may be his equal.


Divine Text : He (the Pope) has the right to represent ME to guide My children in the Spiritual Way (Dao) and in the Temporal Way (Doi).


Commentary : The Pope has the same powers as God to teach Virtue to all His Disciples. He is concerned with each one of them, he guides each one and takes care to ensure that each one does not transgress the Divine Law (Thien Dieu). He obliges all disciples of God to make themselves conform strictly to the prescriptions of the New Code (Tan Luat). Thus any disciple, whatever his rank in the Episcopal Hierarchy, in the case of wrong behaviour, ought not to benefit from the leniency or mercy of the Pope. Protection of a guilty disciple makes him lose his blood in the Empyrean Realm (Thien Vi), provokes jealousy among the faithful, and lessens the good reputation of the Holy Doctrine.


The Pope must protect, uphold or console adepts who are crushed by the miseries of life, and dignitaries who as members of the Sacerdotal Council (Hoi Thanh) are overwhelmed by the weight of their abstinence. Since the Pope has full powers to replace God he must try to transform the life of suffering into an existence marked by happiness.


This is the Exalted Task of the Pope.


Divine text : He has control over bodies, but no control over souls.


Commentary : The reference to the body is a reference to the material part. The material part of men is their Temporal Way (Doi).


The reference to the soul is a reference to the spiritual part and the spiritual part is their Spiritual Way (Dao).


Earlier God has said : He has the right to guide in the Spiritual Way (Dao) and in the Temporal Way (Doi). Thus God has indicated clearly that it is a question of guiding His children in the way of Virtue, a way which God himself has outlined, and also in the temporal way which Virtue has produced. But there is no question of control over the totality of the spiritual and temporal parts. We must make clear the difference in meaning between the words Way and Part, and make every effort to understand and not confuse these two words.


Here are the Holy Words of God, when Ho-Phap asked him about the powers of the Pope :


Ho-Phap's question : According to the Gospel of Christianity which the Master has decreed, the Pope has full powers over souls and bodies. Because of these extensive powers, Christianity has gained great material influence. Today, the Master reduces the powers of our Pope in relation to the psychic part, so that I am fearful that he may not have enough authority to preach the good news to men and convert them.


God's answer (given with a laugh) : It was a mistake on My part. I was rigged out in a sensual body, which resulted in an Incarnate being having the same powers as I have over souls. He mounted My throne, took hold of the Supreme Powers and abused them to make men slaves of the sensual body. In addition, the precious powers which, for love of humanity, I had bestowed on you, formed a two-edged weapon, which encouraged you to create anarchy among yourselves.


I am not coming today to take these powers from you, but rather to destroy their deadly effect. The best way to deal with the evil is to separate these powers into two, so that there will be no dictator.


A person who controls the Temporal and the Divine simultaneously usually does not fail to take hold of legislative and executive powers. Once such powers are within the control of a single person, it is rare for humanity to escape from oppression.


If I granted the Pope (Giao-Tong) full powers over bodies and souls (that is, over the Temporal and the Spiritual), what good would the Hiep-Thien-Dai be? The Cuu-Trung-Dai is the Temporal and the Hiep-Thien-Dai is the Spiritual. Without the Spiritual, the Temporal has no right and without the Temporal, the Spiritual has no strength. Strength and right must unite to recreate the world. This is the good way for you so that you will unite, and help one another and ensure that My Divine Doctrine does not degenerate into Profane Teaching.


Divine text : He has the right to communicate spiritually with the Thirty-Six Heavens, the Three Thousand Worlds, the Sixty-Seven Planets, and the Ten Tribunals of Hell to beg for the sanctification of your souls.


Commentary : When God says : "beg for the sanctification"He means to indicate that the Pope only has the right to beg. It is the role of the Bat-Quai-Dai (Council of the Gods) to bestow this sanctification or not.


How can the Pope communicate with the Thirty-Six Heavens, the Three Thousand Worlds, the Sixty-Seven Planets, and the Ten Tribunals of Hell?


He must go to the sanctuary of the Hiep-Thien-Dai (Divine Alliance) to entreat the miraculous powers of Spiritism. There is a passage of the Holy Scriptures (Phap-Chanh-Truyen) about the Hiep-Thien-Dai on this very point :


“Besides the Hiep-Thien-Dai is the place where the Pope communicates with the Thirty-Six Heavens, the Three Thousand Worlds, the Sixty-Seven Planets, and the Ten Tribunals of Hell to beg for the sanctification of the souls of humankind.”


Thus from an esoteric point of view (Dao), the Pope has no power. Even his requests addressed to the Bat-Quai-Dai (Council of the Gods) must go through the Hiep-Thien-Dai.


The Hiep-Thien-Dai is then the intermediary between the Pope and the Higher Spirits : Than (Genies); Thanh (Saints); Tien (Immortals); Phat (Buddhas).


(to be continued)


The Sacerdotal Council