History and philosophy of Caodaism (2)

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The Origins of Vietnamese Spiritualism

Rev. Stainton Moses undertook a six-month’s retreat at Mount Athos in which he studied theology, confronting various contradictory theses. An excellent exercise which recalls the spirit, always prone to be doctrinaire, dogmatic, intolerant, to greater humility, wisdom, and truth. He was then named to a little pastorate on the Isle of Man where he never lacked for leisure: Nature, reading, prayer, meditation, silence and mystic contemplation made him a poignant orator: The Imperator Spirit had already seized him, and intended never to release him, no more than his demon would release Socrates.Imperator led Rev. Stainton Moses to Oxford University, but above all, made of him one of the most precious instruments of the “New Revelation”, one of the most sublimely inspired mediums of our age.

It was in the same solitude, the same calm meditative retreat, that Cao-Đài found his first Caodaist, no temple more beautiful than that nature, no book more divine than the book of life. Jesus retired to the Garden of Gethsemane, even to the desert; St. Francis of Assiz spoke to his little sister the rain, to his little brother the wind, to the silent stars, to the talkative swallows, and he stroked the jaws of the wolf of Gubbio and brought it home like a pet dog.The Swedish naturalist Bengt Berg nestled in his hand the wildest bird of Lapland.


Where the holy is, nature rises above itself.

The Holy rises in man.It is man above himself.

The Holy rises within man above the level of mankind in communing with the Spirit.

Thus, on the threshold of this book, we must listen to the voice, which says:

From the height of the roofless tower where Ecstasy had carried me, I regarded the world, sad and cold, black and shaken.

From the height of the roofless tower where Faith had raised me, I saw afar the sea, guarding its blue quietness like a veiled Virgin.

From the height of the roofless tower where faith had led me, I saw the dawn of an eveless morning and an infinite day.

From the height of the roofless tower where love had placed me, I beheld the sun lighten the earth.

The sad cold world turned red and warm.

Black became white, and white was changed into black.Peace and harmony reigned in the world.

From the height of the roofless tower, my heart wept for joy, my soul saw ecstasy, and my body broke with pain.

From the height of the roofless tower, I saw the shadow ship crossing the sea of light, and wondering, I contemplated the Mover of stars, the Ordainer of worlds.

I saw the elements, the seasons, and the months obey the Watcher.

The great and watching Eye.

From the height of the roofless tower, I saw in Him, by Him, for Him.


It was early in the year Bính-Dần (1926) that Caodaism was founded.Nevertheless, for six years, one man had been worshipping the Great Master Cao-Đài.Mr. Ngô-Văn-Chiêu, who was at that time in the service of the criminal investigation department of the Cochinchina government.

As an administrative delegate in 1919, at a post called Phú-Quốc, an island in the Gulf of Siam, Mr. Ngô-Văn-Chiêu led a life of great wisdom, conforming to the stern rules of Taoism.From time to time, in this isolated place so favorable to the religious life, he gave himself, with the help of young mediums from 12 to 15 years of age, to evoking the great Spirits (Cầu-Tiên) from whom he received the necessary instruction for his spiritual growth.Among the communicating spirits, he discovered one named Cao-Đài, in whom he became particularly interested.

From the first, this name caused general astonishment among those present, for to their knowledge, no religious work had ever made mention of it, Chiêu, nevertheless, whose wisdom was admired by all, by means of his revelations and philosophical studies, believed he recognized a surname of God.

Having asked Cao-Đài for permission to worship him in tangible form, he was ordered to make representation in the form of a symbolic eye.


Eye of God

Thou art the gold and the crystal of heaven.

Ethereal essence of all essence of all things, Thou seest in all.

Bodiless spirit expressed in a look (the wise never confuse the symbol with that which it represents).Thy vision is infinite.

Total intelligence, penetrating, enveloping: Zodiacal.

Life:Principle of life, life of all principles, which the regard of the sun develops and multiplies in the Gold of Heaven.

Night’s repose in the light of the moon:

Crystal of heaven.

Sidereal light.

Solar light.

Lunar light.

Unique light in the eye of God.

Unique light of the eye of God.

Thou Three-in-One of the One-Look.

Eye of God

Bathe my spirit in the light of crystal and gold.

- Amen –

Such was the conversion of the first Caodaist, to the new religion, that it was able, six years later, to plant itself in Saigon.Soon, Mr. Chiêu’s administrative duties recalled him to the capital, where he made several proselytes to the new faith.However, let us leave for the moment these first converts, to show the reader the manner in which the Great Master recruited his mediums.

It was the middle of the year Ất-Sửu (1925).A little group of Vietnamese secretaries belonging to various branches of the administration in Saigon amused themselves evenings by dabbling in spiritism.They made use of a “ouidja board”.Their first attempts were mediocre.Nevertheless, through patience and practise, they finally obtained results.Their questions put to the spirit, sometimes in verse, sometimes in prose, received surprising answers.Their dead parents and friends showed themselves to talk of family affairs and give counsel.These sensational revelations taught them of the existence of an occult world.

One of the communicating spirits became particularly noticeable by his high level of moral and philosophic teachings.The spirit who signed himself under the pseudonym “AĂ”, which is the first three letters of the Vietnamese alphabet, did not wish to reveal himself, in spite of the entreaties of his hearers.Soon, other secretaries came to swell the little group of amateur spiritist.The meetings became more serious and regular.As the ouidja board was no longer convenient, this spirit replaced it by the “corbeille à bec”.With this apparatus, which permitted direct writing, the communications became more rapid and less fatiguing for the apprentice-mediums.

On Christmas Eve, the 24th of December, 1925, the guiding spirit, who, until then had obstinately guarded his anonymity, revealed himself at last as the “Supreme Being”, coming under the name of Cao-Đài to teach truth to Vietnam.Speaking in Vietnamese, he said in substance:

“Rejoice this day.It is the anniversary of my coming to Europe to teach my doctrine.I am happy to see you, O my disciples full of respect and love to me.This house will have all my blessings.Manifestations of my power will inspire even greater respect and love in my regard.”

From that day forth, the Great Master initiated his disciples in the new doctrine.

Such was the calling of the first mediums charged with the reception of the divine messages.

I asked the Great Master, who from the nearby Beyond made answer.

I asked the Great Master, saying, “Venerated Lord, what is the earth?”

The Spirit replied:

The earth is a vessel, which rocks in an ocean of light.

This light is time and space.

Time is invisible light.

Space is visible light.

Thus time envelops space as spirit envelops all.

Time hovers above, within and without.

Space abides beneath, without and within.

Of invisible space is time

Of the passing of time is space.

The earth is a vessel that rocks in an ocean of light.

The earth is time condensed.The weighting of spirit in matter.

Consulting the magazine l’Inde Illustrée, which undertook a series of articles on various religious manifestations in British India, Siam, China, Japan, The Philippines, etc., we find in No. 2 dated March, 1933, a study on Caodaism in Vietnam (South). We read concerning its origins:

“Of recent date (1929) Caodaism has grown rapidly and spread through all Cochinchina.”

Origin -Early in 1926, some young Vietnamese scholars, all Buddhists, gathered in a compartment in the middle of Saigon. They had the habit of “table tipping”, and giving themselves to spiritist experiments.

After a period of groping about, they finally obtained some “surprising” results, they said, by means of some of their number who possessed a powerful “fluid”.

They were at first in spirit communication with one of the Chinese sage of antiquity, Lý-Thái-Bạch, more commonly known as Li-tai-Pe, the Chinese Homer, author of a literary revival under the 13th Tang dynasty (713-742), a fervent Taoist.


Thus again, we seem justified in our sub-title: Caodaism, or Vietnamese Spiritism.


It is that of Mr. Jean Roos, writing in le Colon francais of Hải-Phòng, on the origin of Caodaism:

1926 ! The year is just beginning!

In a few days comes the Vietnamese Tết.Not far from the Central Market, in a block of shop-houses of modest appearance, occupied for the most part by employees of the administration and large business firms.In one of them, since many long months, young clerks from Customs, Public Works, the Railroad, and various business houses find themselves from evening to evening playing with the table – tipping it, making it talk. They are all Buddhists. How did it all begin? One of them had heard of spiritualism, of the most important tables, in his office, where one of the bosses, a Cochinchinese, is a convinced spiritualist, member of one of the most important spiritist societies of France.He, in turn, had spoken of it to friends, and one day, they found themselves, four of them, seated about a table.

“We’ll see if this works! We’ll see if there’s anything to it!” They said.The beginnings were not very brilliant, but, little by little, elimination those who did not possess the “fluid”, replacing them by more gifted friends, they marked up extraordinary results. They never failed to receive answers to their questions put to the table. They asked if they were truly in communication with a spirit. The answer was affirmative.

The thing became serious. At each session, they asked the name of the spirit who spoke to them. Most frequently, Lý-Thái-Bạch, or Quan-Thánh Đế-Quân, or sometimes a person unknown. Thus, that which, at the beginning, had been only an amusement with a touch of that mysticism which nearly always flourishes in the Vietnamese soul, became a privileged conversation with the superior spirits of the occult world of whom they asked counsel.

No doubts were raised concerning the nature of the conversations, first, because it was equally new to all, it was impossible to suspect one another of connivance, and later, because certain communications from the correspondent of the occult world revealed such lofty sentiments, scientific knowledge, and depth of philosophy that none among them was capable of being the author.

But the use of the tipping table to correspond with the occult world was not very practical!So much time was required for receiving the shortest sentence!

It was at the time of which I speak, that is, shortly before the Vietnamese Tết of 1926 that they made known their complaint to the spirit.

It answered that they should make use of the corbeille.

And since they asked what that was – (those more or less versed in spiritism or having attended but one seance will see what novices they still were) – the spirit told them to address their compatriot, the Phủ-Chiêu, one very deep in spiritism, for it would be too difficult for himself, to make them understand by means of a table what he was talking about.

Thus, Caodaism was about to be born, or rather was about to enter the stage of its popularity, since, for many years as we shall see, one man had been worshipping Cao-Đài.

The man, who followed the holy doctrine of Gautama Buddha, was none other than the Phủ-Chiêu. Besides the moral teachings of Buddha and those of Confucius whom he venerated as emanations of the divine, he believed in the existence of a Supreme Being, All-powerful, Sovereign Master of the Universe, called Cao-Đài. He believed also in the spirits with whom he claimed to have been in relation for years.The dignity of life of this first Caodaist, to whom the young men were sent, was exemplary. His compatriots unanimously considered him a holy man.He taught the clerks the use of the corbeille à bec, to which I shall return later, which greatly facilitated their spiritualistic seances.He participated with them, happy to make use of mediums particulary apt, gifted, and possessed of unusually powerful fluid.

After having entered into relations with the Phủ-Chiêu, it was under the same conditions at the invitation of the same spirit, that they went to find another of their compatriots, a former Cochinchinese mandarin, a member of the government counsel, Lê-Văn-Trung, who was given from time to time to spiritualist seances.Lê-Văn-Trung, whose name the young clerks did not know until the spirit told them, had not always led a life of exemplary wisdom.He, on the contrary, had gotten the most out of life to the point that, now that the young men were sent to him, he had nearly ruined all his fortune.

Having already passed the half-century mark, Lê-Văn-Trung who seemed in everyone’s eyes an impenitent materialist, in his amateur spiritist hours, considered as a warning from the Supreme Being the fact the he, with the Phủ-Chiêu whom he had long known, had been chosen to show the way to the young spiritists.He resolved from that day to lead an exemplary life and to show himself worthy of the mission to which he had been called by Cao-Đài. He immediately ceased smoking opium without the slightest inconvenience (which proves, say the Caodaists, how much he was strengthened by the Supreme Being, for without help, he could never have cured himself so easily), he abstained from alcohol, from the eating of meat, became, in a word, a sincere Buddhist priest.

This miraculous conversion attracted to him the first group of adherents, in general members of well-to-do families, or well-placed government officials, among which was Phủ-Tương, in the provincial administration of Cholon, who was, like his colleague Chiêu, a man of superior morals, practicing on every occasion.The humanitarian virtues dear to Confucius, the Đốc-Phủ Lê-Bá-Trang the honorary Huyện Nguyễn-Ngọc-Thơ and his wife, the former Mrs. Monnier, a very rich Cochinchinese, who had long used a part of his income for works of benevolence and charity.

The Phủ-Chiêu who had first been designated to fulfil the functions of supreme Chief of the religion, the pope of Caodaism, however, he later decided to retire.Therefore, the Pope position was replaced by Lê-Văn-Trung.

Upon asking one of the principal dignitaries for the cause of Mr. Chiêu’s attitude, I was told that since he had been the first caodaist of Cochinchina, he would normally have been called to fulfil the functions of supreme leader of that religion, but that he had shown himself incapable of overcoming a temptation which God had assigned him as he imposes to all superior beings before raising them, from low degree, to a scale the top of which is perfection and he was, therefore, obliged to redeem this weakness of which he had given proof before taking back the place to which his past seemed to give right.

Source: english.caodai.net (June 28th, 2012 )