Caodaism and Spiritism

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Caodaism is the first religious community so far that enables its adepts to have direct communication with the transcendental world via institutionalised spiritist seances. We believe that their doctrine provides the synthesis of all great teachings of the past. The full name of Cao Dai religion is “The Great Way of the Third Era of Salvation”. The words “Cao Dai” mean “High Palace”, referring to the heavenly palace where the Supreme Being dwells...

The Third Era of Salvation is the highest form of religious revelation as the humans are granted an opportunity to communicate with the transcendental world directly via mediums.The Sacred Sayings, Thanh Ngon, Caodaist canonical scripture, is the key revelation of the new religion. It is a collection of spirits' messages, which became the cornerstone of Caodaist doctrine and its cult.

The practice of spiritism is one of the central element of Caodaism, both doctrinally and organizationally. According to Caodaism, this world is “a school for spirits”. Therefore the mediumism is believed to be the instrument for establishing the new religion. Caodaists believe that spirits can communicate with mediums through the latter' hands, ears, eyes, or directly penetrate their thoughts. The mediums can deliver messages verbally. Caodaists initially used different forms of mediumism, including pneumatographie, or written messages on the previously blank paper in the envelope. On occasion, Caodaist mediums gave their messages orally. Later the Smaller and Larger Planchette, the Beaked Basket or Corbeille-a-Bec were applied. The Smaller Planchette consists of a sheet of paper with 25 letters of the Vietnamese alphabet. The Larger Planchette is the instrument 26 inches long, 8 inches wide, 5 inches high. The mediums held the end decorated with phoenix head, while the writing device was on the other end.

Every Caodaist seance involved at least five individuals. The leader, who cleanses the temple; the two mediums; the official interpreter, stood to the side of and read the message aloud so the secretary could hear and transcribe into a book. Caodaists used the Smaller and Larger Planchette, the Beaked Basket or Corbeille-à-bec. Spiritist messages were received from Jeanne d'Arc, La Fontaine, Shakespeare, and Aristide Briand. In total more than 70 different spirits have been acknowledged as sending communications to Caodaist groups, including Leo Tolstoi, Descartes, Pasteur, Mencius, Marcus Aurelius and Clemenceau. Most of the early dignitaries of the religion who facilitated its revelation were fluent in the French language and nearly all were working, had worked, or been closely associated with the colonial regime. They were ardent readers of medium writings of Kardec, Victor Hugo and Flammarion.

Because of the frequent seance appearances to the Caodaist mediums in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Victor Hugo was named the chief spirit of foreign missions. The first Caodaist disciples published “Le revue Caodaiste”, which highlighted “Golden Words”, quotations from Allan Kardec, Annie Besant and “plus haut Mme Blavatsky”. Moreover, the spiritist messages from the spirit of Leon Denis were also published. One of the first Caodaist messages in French stated that the advent of Cao Dai was designed to propagate the new doctrine to the world.

On October 27-28, 1926 two more messages were delivered in French: “Humanity was suffering from all kinds of vicissitudes. I sent Allen Kardec. I sent Flammarion, as I had sent Elijah and John the Baptist, precursors of the advent of Jesus Christ. They were persecuted and killed. Who did it? Humanity. ... Now I must make use of spiritual means to convince you...”.

(October 27, 1926 - “La vertu de Dieu est détruite; la haine universelle s'envenime; la guerre mondiale est inevitable ... L'humanite souffre de toutes sortes de vicissitudes. J'ai envoyé Allan Kardec; j'ai envoyé Flammarion comme j'ai envoyé Elie et Saint-Jean-Baptiste, précurseurs de l'avènement de Jesus Christ. Je voulais causer avec vous en une seul fois au temps de Moise sur le Mont Sinai, vous ne pouviez me comprendre... Il faut que je me serve moi-même maintenant d'un moyen plus spirituel pour vous convaincre ... cette doctrine sera universelle” - Thanh Ngon, 1964, p.50). The messages in French heralded a sublime appearance by listing the prophets predicting the advent of the future revelation, Caodaism.

The message of November 12, 1926 said that Confucianism was predicted by Chou Gun, Buddhism by Dipankara and Brahma, Christianity by Moses, Eliah, Jeremiah, and St.John the Baptist. Furthermore, spiritist doctrines were described as a religion of the future. Gabriel Gobron, or “Frere Gago”, believed that Caodaism was born by the spiritism.

Gabriel Gobron (1895-1941), French author of several mystic novels and translator of German and Italian spiritist writers, joined Caodaism because he believed that the new religion brought a message of “true spirituality” into the world. Gobron or “Frère Gago” was the first philosopher and historian of Caodaism.

“Frère Gago” received the title “Instructor” in the Hiep Thien Dai (Legislative and Judiciary Body) branch. Following are excerpts from his book “History and Philosophy of Caodaism” (1949, Edition Dervy, France ):


Caodaism was represented at various International Congresses:

• International Spiritualistic Congress of Barcelona (1934)

Gabriel Gobron, instructor in France of Caodaism (or Vietnamese spiritism), attended the 5th International Spiritualistic Congress held at Barcelona (1st to 10th of September, 1934)

• International Spiritualistic Congress of Glasgow (1937).

The newspaper, L'Annam Nouveau (November 14, 1937) published this echo: “At the proposal of Mr. Gabriel Gobron, Instructor in France of Caodaism or Vietnamese Spiritualism, the 6th International Spiritualistic Congress meeting in Glasgow (September 3, 1937), after the fifth Spiritualistic Congress of Barcelona, hopes that the Vietnamese Spiritualists may enjoy in all the countries of the Indochinese Union the same liberties of conscience and worship as Protestant and Catholic Vietnamese, be they subjects, proteùgeùs, Eurasians or foreigners”.

“The wish expressed by the International Spiritualistic Congress of Barcelona has already inaugurated a more liberal period for the Caodaists or Vietnamese Spiritualists”.

That wish presented and discussed on the Philosophical Section of the Congress, was then adopted by acclamation at the popular meeting held at Mc Lellan Galleries of the 9th of September 1937.

• Third Congress of the Worlwide Spiritual Counsel, Lausanne (Switzerland ), 1948

Mr. Henry Regnault presented the first edition of Gobron's book on Caodaism to the delegates to the 3rd Congress of the Worldwide Spiritual Counsel, gathered at Lausanne (Switzerland) in August, 1948.

“None of the delegates knew Caodaism. All were interested to learn that Caodaism has for its ideal the uniting of all religions and bringing of peace here below, which we also pursue”.

Mr. Henry Regnault was charged by the Congress to enter into relations with the Chiefs of Caodaism asking them to join the Worldwide Spiritual Counsel.

Sergei Blagov
(Moscow January 2004)