Death and dying in Cao Dai

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Death and dying in Cao DaiCao Dai or Caodaism is a spiritist religion, and everything in the religion such as doctrine, philosophy, prayers, rituals, music, organization, management of the religion, comes from spiritist messages either from God, from the Holy Mother Goddess, from Jesus Christ, from Buddha or from many other Divinities. In this regard, there are many messages related to death and dying, mostly prayers and rituals. We have :

-Prayer for the sick

-Prayer for guiding the dying soul
- Prayer after one’s death
- Prayer for the for the ascension of the spirit
- Prayer for placing the body in the coffin
- Prayer for the burial procession
- Prayer for the interment of the coffin

- Prayers for Postmortem rituals

In the Cao Dai tradition the mourning period extends to 581 days from the date a person dies. Within this mourning period, family mourners are required to hold ceremonies at home or at the Cao Dai temple to seek for the ascension of the soul, such as :

- The TUAN CUU (performing eremonies nine times, once every nine days / nine-day period, counting after the date of the death).

- The TIEU TUONG (performing this Small Ceremony in the Middle of Mourning Period (200 days after the Ninth requiem or 9th CUU). Thus, the Tieu Tuong ceremony is commemorated 281 days after the date of death.

- The DAI TUONG (performing this Great Ceremony at the End of Mourning Period (300 days after the Tieu Tuong). Thus, the Dai Tuong Ceremony is held 581 days after the date of death.

Thus in Cao Dai rituals, after death, there are 11 requiems held to pray for guiding the soul onto its progress to salvation.

Details for Last Rites and Services for the Dead

When someone is dying or just dead, one must organise an official ceremony at the nearest Cao Dai temple before chanting for the dead or dying. Only after this ceremony is completed, then one can chant the Prayer for the dying soul for the Cao Dai believer.

The ritual for the last rite is as follows : The Prayer for guiding the dying person (at the point of death) is chanted three times. When the chanting is complete, one must bow and recite the name of the Cao Dai Divine Master three times.

After the person is dead, the ritual is as follows: The Cao Dai Congregation dignitary who leads the ceremony, must stand directly in front of the the head of the dead person and, with serious concentration, calls the name of the dead person and says: "I follow the order of the Cao Dai Supreme Being to come and pray for you (note: when praying for dignitaries one should call the holy name or "elder brother"/ "elder sister"). I pray for your soul to be easily emancipated and rise towards Nirvana. Contemplate and listen and pray to the Cao Dai Supreme Being to give you many blessings."

Then everyone at the scene can chant the Prayer for the dead three times.

Prayer for Placing the Body in the Coffin

The ritual here is the same for praying for the recently departed. First a ceremony must be organized at the local Cao Dai temple or at the home altar to pray to the Cao Dai God. Then the Caodai Congregation dignitary needs to come to the home or funeral place where the deceased person has been laid-out. The Prayer for Placing the Body in the Coffin is then chanted three times.

Prayer for the Salvation of the Soul

Set-up for the death ritual ceremony: an altar with a photo of the deceased put in front of the coffin, the religious law requires that the head of the deceased must be put on the front of the altar.

A banner cloth with the Divine Eye must be spread over the coffin.

The Prayer for the Dead is chanted 3 times.

The Prayer for the family mourners (husband remembering wife, wife remembering husband, son or daughter remembering parent, brother and sister remembering each other, student remembering teacher, etc...) is chanted depending on the situation.

Ceremony for the Procession of the Boat Hearse

One must first pray to the Cao Dai Divine Master. Then a ceremony is held with the following prayers: Prayer to the Ancestors and Prayer to the sufferings.

What follows is the ceremony for carrying the coffin to the hearse Prajna Paramitta Boat (called Thuyen Bat Nha – Dragon Boat of Cao Dai). The meaning of this boat is to transport the soul over the sea of deliverance in order to reach Nirvana. This ceremony should be processed as follows:

The burial team then enters and bows to the coffin. When the coffin departs the religious choir chant the Prayer for the burial procession. This chanting continues until reaching the grave.

The funeral procession must be in this following order:

  1. The banner of the religion bearing the name DAI DAO TAM KY PHO DO.

  2. If the deceased is either a Cao Dai adept or holds the rank to student priest, the banner of the Thượng-Sanh (Leader of the Temporal Realm) follows. If the deceased has the rank of Priest or higher, then the banner of the Thượng-Phẩm (Leader of the Spiritual Realm) follows.

  3. Flowers, bouquets, funeral wreath, banner

  4. The choir and the religious musical band

  5. Then comes the Hearse boat (Prajna Paramitta boat).

  6. The chief mourner and family mourners.

  7. Then Dignitaries, co-religionists, friends and family

(Note : Please see the following photos of a funeral procession)

Ceremony for Interment of the Coffin

When the coffin arrives at the grave site, the leader of the ceremony and the choir stand at the head of the grave and chant three times the Prayer for the interment of the coffin. At the end of each prayer, the name of the Cao Dai Divine Master is invoked three times.

Ceremony to offer Prayers for Souls not belonging to the Cao Dai religion

For those souls who are not converted into Caodaism, even for those who are already converted but left for different reasons, and for those who only recently repented and found belief in Cao Dai, they are all accepted to be buried with the Cao Dai ritual death ceremony, if the family of the deceased requests it.

The most essential requirement is that the entire mourning family must keep to a total vegetarian diet during the time that the coffin rests at home or at the funeral place. This is vital to the praying for the salvation of the soul.


Cremation is not considered yet as a normal burial process in Viet Nam. There are very few crematoria in the whole country. Thus burial in a cemetery is a norm. Cao Dai has a private cemetery called “CUC LAC THAI BINH” (Paradise of Peace) where all Cao Dai dignitaries and adepts are buried there for free.

Death ritual ceremonies for dignitaries in the rank of Priest, Bishop, Archbishop, Cardinal and Pope are performed in a more detailed and strict procedure than the above rituals for an adept.

From adept to Archbishop, people can choose between burial and cremation. But, the normal current death process is burial, i.e put the dead body in a normal coffin or casket, then bury into the ground.

From the rank of Cardinal, Censor-Cardinal and Pope, the funeral process is a little different : the dead body of this high dignitary is wrapped in a sitting position with white cloth like a mummy, then put in a special octagonal coffin, sealed very tight.

This special octagonal coffin is then placed above ground in an octagonal tomb (please see following photos of an octagonal coffin and octagonal tombs).

These octagonal tombs are reserved only for the 3 high dignitaries of the Hiep Thien Dai (Legislative and Judicial Branch), who are the HO PHAP, THUONG PHAM and THUONG SANH, the 7 high dignitaries of the Cuu Trung Dai (Executive Branch), who are the GIAO TONG, 3 CENSOR-CARDINALS and 3 CARDINALS (of 3 branches : Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism), and last, the FEMALE CARDINAL.

For the funeral procession of these high dignitaries, the octagonal coffin must be carried on a dragon-horse hearse, different from a normal boat hearse for an adept or medium rank dignitaries. The purpose of the dragon-horse hearse is to transport the soul of this high dignitary who already reaches the rank of the Pure (Immortal, Buddha) straight to Heaven. (Please see following photos of a dragon-horse hearse carrying the octagonal coffin of His Holiness Ho-Phap Pham Cong Tac)

Since the octagonal tomb can only hold one coffin, this coffin must be removed and then cremated to make place for a new coffin of a new high dignitary who just died. The ashes of the cremation of the old coffin are stored in a special urn to be put on the altar inside the crypt built beneath the Divine Eye in the cathedral of the Cao Dai Holy See.

In summary, rituals for the death in Cao Dai are provided meticulously and explained in details by Divinities through spiritist messages, such as prayers, religious ceremonies, funeral processing, interment, coffin and octagonal tomb construction, the purpose of which is to assist the soul in its progress and elevation. As Allan Kardec explained about the purpose of life : “To be born, to die, to be born again and to progress constantly, such is the law of God.”

By Rev. Canh Tran