The Course on Caodai: https://anchor.fm/caodai
FUNDAMENTALS OF CAODAI PRACTICE
Practice one or more of the Five Ways of the Dao
Exoterism- The Prayers
Observance of Love and Justice
The Triple Fold Path- The Triple Endeavors
Practice of Plant-based Diet
Understanding the Purpose of Life and the End of Life- Reincarnation
1- Understand the Five Ways of the Dao and the Practice of One or More of the five Ways.
2- Know the aspects of the exoteric or ritual practice.
3- Know the esoteric practice i.e. turning to our inner self with meditation.
4- Know the Observance of Love and Justice.
5- Learn the Triple Fold Path and the Triple Endeavors.
6- Know the practice of the plant-based diet.
7- Understand the Purpose of Life, the End of Life, Karma and Reincarnation
I- PRACTICE ONE OR MORE OF THE FIVE WAYS OF THE DAO.
As seen earlier The Five Ways of the Dao as described in CaoDai scriptures consist of:
* The Way of Humanity, which teaches the fulfillment of secular life with personal, family, and community responsibilities. This way helps the person to lead a harmonious life with himself, his family and the community.
* The Way of Local Spirits, with the worshipping of wise spirits. It is believed that virtuous persons and heroes, after their death, would come in spirit to help the living.
* The Way of Saints (Abrahamic religions: Judaism, Christianity, Islam), in which service and sacrifice lead our life. Service, taught in all traditions, is expressed in its highest manifestation in the way of Saints.
Attesting to this are the widespread mission works of Christianity in particular. (The best- known example is Mother Teresa.)
* The Way of Immortals is that of respect for the natural order, meditation for purification. The person in this way looks into leading a life conforming with the natural enfoldment of events and with attention to cultivation of personal virtues.
* The Way of Buddhas with eradication of superfluous human emotions, and meditation to discover our divine nature. The person strives to shed the multitude of adverse emotions due to the ego and desires, in the goal of attaining absolute calmness and unfolding their Buddha nature hidden behind worldly turmoil.
The person while fulfilling his duty to himself, his family, the community, the country and the whole human world (the way of humanity) may also practice the way of local spirits, the way of Saints (Abrahamic religions) with love and service to others or the way of Immortals and Buddhas by respecting the natural order, practicing compassion and loving-kindness,and turning to the inner self with meditation. CaoDai respects all religions and encourages us to learn from all scriptures. This means we can practice one or more from the five Ways. As Caodaists, Hum and Hong, the authors feel very comfortable to worship God either in a church, a temple, a mosque, a synagogue, or a Holy House...God is at all places and all times.
II- EXOTERISM- THE PRAYERS.
CaoDai clearly offers two paths of worship: exoterism and esoterism. However, the two paths are perceived by an appreciable and increasing number of CaoDai disciples as complementary and needing to be performed together for a smooth, effective spiritual evolution. This is known by the principle expressed in the two phrases: “Nhơn đạo thái bình,” or,the human Tao is peace;and “Thiên đạo giải thoát,” or the divine Tao is liberation;and in the short phrase, “Phước Huệ Song Tu,” or service and wisdom, dual paths.
Humans are dealing every day with two aspects--the secular and the spiritual--of life. Exoterism constitutes the regular ritualistic religious practice which is to help form a more structured and happy secular life; and each religion has its special rituals. Here, the following major aspects of CaoDai exoterism will be explained:
1 - How does the CaoDai disciple dress for a performing ceremony?
2 - How is the altar arranged and what are its symbols?
3 - How are daily worship services performed at the altar?
4 – Prayers
5 - Observance of Tứ Đại Điều Qui or the four great rules.
6- Observance of Ngũ Giới Cấm or the five precepts
7 - Service to humanity
1 - How does the CaoDai disciple dress for a performing ceremony?
Most regular CaoDai disciples dress in white áo dài (national Vietnamese long dress), the white color representing purity. Because CaoDai disciples are still involved with secular life, the male wears black headdress, with the black color representing the secular aspect of life. The dignitaries dress colorfully, with yellow symbolizing the way of Buddhas, blue the way of Immortals and red the way of Saints.
2 - How is the altar arranged and what are its symbols?
The Divine Eye at the central point of the altar. Below it, is a light placed at the center, symbolizing the Universal Monad (the Universal Oneness of The All That Is) Who is God; it is kept continually lit.
There are two candles on the altar: The left one represents the positive logos Yang (active principle, male, sunlight, etc.) It is lit first at the beginning of each ceremony. The right candle, representing the negative logos Yin (receptive principle, female, moonlight, etc.) is lit next. Together they represent the two complementary forces involved in the universe's formation.
In the middle and between the two candles, the five sticks of incense in a vase represent the five aspects to spiritual development:
5. Karmic liberation;
Purification is a stage of self-cultivation consisting of maintaining the physical body and mind uninvolved with immoral actions, emotions and thoughts. Vegetarian diet is encouraged because it is both an act of love and kindness toward living beings and the environment, as well as a healthy regime for the physical body and for the meditator. Physical exercise helps the person remain in both physical and mental good health.The person follows the five precepts and the four great rules in dealing with others without any adverse emotions or thoughts. In the evening, prior to retiring, we should think back over our day, and if we have done anything harmful to others we should repent.
Concentration is important in preventing wandering thoughts. Once our mind is not occupied with diverse secular matters, it becomes progressively still.This stillness will lead to a naturally blissful status.
Clarity, wisdom and karmic liberation are the final stages of enlightenment. Clarity Indicates That the mind becomes clear and bright, as it is free from the cluttered thoughts.Wisdom corresponds to a state of understanding the matters in the universe. Karmic liberation, the final step, refers to complete detachment from secular strings and attainment of permanent enlightenment.
The five sticks of incense also represent the five principal elements: Earth, fire, water, metal and wood. In the West, these elements are known as: Earth, fire, water, air, and spirit.
Flowers and fruits represent “Tinh” (reproductive cells), the basic elements for the formation of the physical body, the vital matter of human beings.
The three glasses of wine represent “Khí” (the Chi, the vital energy), manifested under the form of human emotions. Number three represents the three levels in the universe, Heaven, Earth, and Human Being.
The two cups of water represent “Thần” (the spirit given by the Supreme Being). The cup on the Yang side contains pure water, and represents pure spirit from God, genuinely good. The cup on the Yin side contains tea, and represents the spirit covered by secular emotions (not pure).
“Tinh”, “Khí”, and “Thần'' are the three gems of human beings involved in the process of self-cultivation. Further details are developed under ‘Caodai meditation’later in this chapter.
The arrangement of the altar is referred to as a map, which guides human beings in their self-cultivation. This underscores the close relationship between “Ngoại Giáo” and “Nội Giáo”, or between the secular life and the purification life. This symbolic arrangement expresses the relation between the physical elements and their spiritual significance.
The careful rituals of placing the arranged flowers and fruits, of lighting the candles, filling the cups of water, tea and wine to a certain level, of preparing the five incense sticks constitute a prelude for the mind to embrace quietness and be ready for sincere prayers.
Schemas of the arrangements on the altar and of religious representatives of the Ways of the Dao are provided hereafter.
Elements on the altar
3 - How are daily worship services performed at the altar?
Traditionally, CaoDaists put their two hands together: the left hand represents the active principle with its thumb pointing at the base of the left ring finger (corresponding to the year of the mouse, the time of the creation of the sky), and the other fingers wrapping around the thumb. The right hand, representing the receptive principle, supports and wraps around the left hand, with the right thumb pointing at the base of the left index finger (corresponding to the year of the tiger, the time of creation of man). The two hands joined together in this way symbolize the interaction between active (Yang) and receptive (Yin) principles which together have formed the universe and all its beings.
A regular traditional service follows this pattern:
Followers aligned on two sides of the sanctuary, male on the Yang side and female on the Yin side, show their mutual respect by saluting one another with one bow.
Followers face the altar and bow three times with hands joined together as described above moving from forehead (representing respect to Cao Dai) to knees (respect to Earth or Goddess) and resting at the chest (respect to Humanity) at the end of each bow.
Now kneeling, followers bring their joined hands to the forehead, left temple and right temple, while saying respectively Nam Mô Phật, Nam Mô Pháp, Nam Mô Tăng, to symbolically show their commitment to God, the Holy Teachings, and Humanity. This follows a pattern of original Buddhist teachings (respect to Buddha, Dharma, Sangha).
4 - Prayers
Prayers are sung for up to approximately forty-five minutes, praising the Supreme Being and various Great Religions of the world. The prayers are written in sophisticated verses that have been received during sessions of spiritual contact.
CaoDai prayers were granted by Superior Spirits. The daily prayers were received via spiritism by the Chinese Minh groups, who later immigrated to Vietnam as refugees. The Minh Lý group (Way of Enlightened Reason) was ordered to keep the prayers at the Tam Tông Miếu (Temple of the Three Philosophies) in Saigon to be offered to the CaoDai faith in due time. Indeed, the very first CaoDai disciples were ordered by the Supreme Being to come to the TamTông Miếu to receive the daily prayers and the repentance prayers. Until 1935, new prayers were granted via spiritism, including prayers for funerals, weddings and other secular prayers.
Besides the daily prayers, the true Di Lặc (The Maitreya Buddha) prayer, the prayer for the relief of sufferings,and the repentance prayer are to be recited on the new moon and full moon days. Prayers for the funerals, weddings, and holy shower are for those special occasions. Secular prayers are for secular occasions, such as convening and adjourning prayers (before and after meetings), prayer before class, before sleep and upon waking up, the voyager’s prayer and upon his return to home, prayers before and after meal. Prayers should be recited with all sincerity. Reciting prayers with sincerity is to concentrate body, mind and spirit to every word of the prayer, and may be considered as a form of mindful meditation.
The authors particularly resonate with the short, deeply meaningful prayers before and after meals and are offering them here to their dear reader:
Prayer before Meal
Foremost to the multitude of living beings,
To eat is the most necessary of things.
Cereals, the Creator has brought to this need.
Our deep thanks go to Sen Nong King
Who taught in the ways of plant upbringing.
Gratefully, I vow to borrow this body of man
In use for the quest of Eternal Land.
The prayer teaches that we eat as a need to nourish our body of man, and we are to use plants for our feed.
And our body acts as a vessel to carry us through spiritual evolution for the quest of Eternity.
Prayer after Meal
Each time I partake of Your bounty,
I bear gratitude to those who toil
To bring rice to my table and bread tomy lips.
By their leave do I take my own talents
Out into the world to share,
I pray for good physical health
In order to help shape the world
According to the Divine law
And convey Divine love to all beings.
Gratitude to the persons who toil for our meals, promise to use health and talents to contribute to the world’s evolvement, respecting the Divine law above, and the Divine love to all, form the prayer after meal.
While the Supreme Being is called Đức Chí Tôn or Đức Cao Đài, the mantra to address the Supreme Being is: Nam Mô Cao Đài Tiên Ông Đại Bồ Tát Ma Ha Tát, in which Cao Đài indicates Confucian name, Tiên Ông, Taoist name, and Đại Bồ Tát Ma Ha Tát, Buddhist name of God.(Nam Mô equates to the Hindu post-mantra term of Namaha, “Salutations in your Holy Name”). The mantra can be recited in a shorter version: Nam Mô Cao Đài Tiên Ông, while in meditation.
See prayers in the book “CaoDai Essence and Prayers” translated by Hum Dac Bui, M.D. Hong Dang Bui, M.D., Ngasha Beck-Huy, Create Space, 2016 (CDEP, 2016).
5 - “Tứ đại điều qui”or the Four Great Rules and “Ngũ giới cấm”or the Five Precepts guide CaoDaists in his/her daily life interactions.
The CaoDaists must cultivate themselves and honor Four Great Rules:
1/ Obedience: They should follow the teachings of superiors andbe open to the suggestions of subordinates. Use civility as the basis for living in harmony with others. Recognize one’s own mistakes and repent.
2/ Modesty: Do not be arrogant. Always devote one’s life to help people. Do not seek revenge.
3/ Honesty: Account clearly for income and expenses. Do not borrow things without returning them.
4/ Respect: Be always considerate to both superiors and subordinates in teaching and/or counseling. Respect people even in their absence. Reconcile people in quarrel. Do not use public properties for one’s own interest. Do not neglect public services for one’s own services. Obey the community laws. Do not abuse one’s own authority to obstruct talented people.
6 - The Five Precepts are expressions of love and justice
1/ Do not kill: The Parable of the hunter and the deer
A king took his court out to the forest to hunt. He shot an arrow which hit a mother deer. She ran away bleeding and in pain. Pursuing her, the king found her hiding in a bush, crying, wounded, yet still feeding her baby. Later she died. The king, realizing the harm he had done, picked up the baby deer and raised it in that forest, which he transformed into a park under his reign, calling it “Mother Deer Park.” From then on, the king abandoned hunting and did not kill animals anymore.
Do not kill sentient beings, human nor animal. Animals themselves manifest love for their offspring. Not eating meat (being vegetarian) is a way to manifest the love for life. An argument to this is that we also harm plants in consuming them. However, harvesting of fruits does not kill the mother tree; harvesting of grains and beans comes at the end of the cycle of life of the mother plants; still other vegetables would regenerate even stronger after being cut.
2/ Do not steal:“The moon is watching”
Once in a village, there was a poor family which often stole vegetables from their neighbor’s garden. One night, the father took his young son to the neighbor’s garden to steal some carrots. The little boy, standing by his father, suddenly whispered to him, “Daddy, someone is looking at us.” The father startled, scared, looked around and seeing nobody, asked: “Who? Where?” The little boy pointed to the moon and said, “The moon is watching us, Daddy.” The father felt ashamed and thereafter did not steal anymore.
We own things that belong to ourselves. So do others. We may share our belongings with others, and others may share theirs with us, but we cannot take things of others without permission.
3/ Do not commit adultery or sexual misconduct, as this may break the love and happiness of your family or of others’, as well as creating discordance in the community.
4/ Do not get drunk or high on drugs:. Intoxication by alcohol and drugs leads to confusion and erratic behaviors which can be very dangerous to self and others.
5/ Do not lie or sin by words: Do not cheat, manipulate, insult people, use obscene language, or lie. Do not defame people. Do not break one’s promises. This corresponds to the Lập Ngôn or cultivation for right speech. A kind, compassionate, sincere person shows these attributes in his speech which is mild, loving, with integrity followed by according actions.
7- Service to humanity
Service to humanity is regarded by CaoDaists as the prerequisite task for spiritual self-cultivation. It is one of the three prongs of the Tam Công – The Triple Fold Path. Please see Chapter II- The Goals of CaoDai.
III- ESOTERISM- MEDITATION
Esoterism consists of returning to our inner self, keeping our mind calm and unaffected by outside secular thoughts. In this status of silence and emptiness, one may discover the true self and become united with the divine essence, thereby realizing enlightenment. Esoterism foregoes the pompous physical rituals which differ from one faith tradition to the other. As one enters that level of spirituality, differences fade among religions. Practitioners of esoterism from any faith tradition converge in their spiritual experience inasmuch- as our inner spirit is the same. The more we connect with esoterism, the less there will be religious conflict, and the nearer is harmony and unity. This way of practice leads to peace within and without, the ultimate, final goal of everyone. It constitutes the authors’ main practice. And we recommend it to be part of spiritual learning.
Esoteric practice was taught initially by the Supreme Being to the first CaoDai disciple, Mr. Ngô Văn Chiêu, at the beginning of the founding of CaoDai. Mr. Ngô Văn Chiêu later developed the esoteric path, the Chiếu Minh Vô Vi. This path remains secretive and limited to a small number of devoted CaoDaists. It involves stringent demands on personal commitment. There are other more practical ones.
Other major methods of esoterism exist in CaoDai, namely:
* A Taoist technique taught by Đông Phương Lão Tổ through the spiritual séance by the Cơ Quan Phổ Thông Giáo Lý (Organization of Spreading the Teachings of the Great Way) in 1966. This technique is an “emptiness”meditation.
* Technique of cultivation of the Body, Mind and Spirit taught by the eighth female Buddha by spiritualism session from Tay Ninh CaoDai organization in 1979. This method consists of:
- “Luyện Tinh Hoá Khí,” transformation of the physical energy into the vital Chi
- “Luyện Khí Hoá Thần,” transformation of the Vital Chi into spiritual energy realizing the oneness of Body, Mind and Spirit.
- “Luyện Thần Huờn Hư,” transformation of the spirit into the status of absolute quietness.
- “Luyện Hư Huờn Vô,” transformation of quietness into the status of “nothingness.”
With CaoDai techniques, the person directs the Chi flow through chakras of the body to open the third eye center or the “Huyền Quan Khiếu,” realizing the unification with the divine or enlightenment.
Regarding specific meditational practices,we have found that three approaches performed at the same time work best for us: harmonizing the body, harmonizing the breath, and harmonizing the mind.
Harmonizing the Body
The lotus position is the one classically taught for quieting the body. This is a cross-legged sitting position originating in the meditative practices of ancient India, in which the feet are placed on opposite thighs. Although the lotus position does quiet the body, it proves difficult for some of us. In this case, we can adopt the semi-lotus position, in which only one foot is placed on the opposite thigh and the other foot stays on the floor. We can also do a regular, cross-legged position, or we can sit on a chair or lie down.
All muscles must be relaxed and comfortable, paying particular attention to muscles of the face. A practical approach is to relax gradually, beginning with the head and then moving to the trunk and to the extremities. While doing so, send positive thoughts to all the cells of the body, greeting them with love. Keeping the spine straight will help the flow of chi, which Eastern philosophy recognizes as the vital life force that flows through the body and has the role of harmonizing the function of many bodily organs (this teaching is the foundation of acupuncture practice). Many texts insist on the straight position of the spine.
With your eyes semi-closed, direct your focus to a certain object—in the CaoDai faith, usually a light, a statue, or the Divine Eye. One Can also use sound, focusing on prayers or mantras, such as Om (thought to be the vibrational sound of the creative cosmos); Om Shanti, Shanti, Shanti (the Sanskrit Peace Mantra); Nam Mô A Di Đà Phật (Commitment to the Buddha of Immeasurable Life and Light); Om Ma Ni Pad Me Hum (literally, “Praise to the Jewel in the Lotus,”) having to do with the purification of all vices and the achievement of all perfections. “Nam Mô Cao Đài Tiên Ông Đại Bồ Tát Ma Ha Tát,” as described already, is the CaoDai mantra, or just “Nam Mô Cao Đài Tiên Ông”.
Harmonizing the Breath
In- order to quiet the mind of its incessant chatter, we need to find something on which
to focus—it could be an object or a sound, as previously mentioned, or even a good,
peaceful thought—such as that of a quiet lake at twilight or of sending compassion to another. One of the most convenient focuses consists in following our breath: inhaling gently and deeply, and then exhaling slowly and completely.
While inhaling, imagine the flow of breath moving from the mouth or nose down to the heart, the abdomen, and the pelvis. Hold the breath for a couple of seconds while imagining the breath dropping to the end of the spine and then exhale, bringing the breath up the spine until you reach the third eye—located between the two physical eyes—and allow your thought and your breath to be concentrated there. This corresponds to the transformation of physical energy to the vital chi, and the transformation of vital energy to spiritual energy (Luyện tinh hoá khí, luyện khí hoá thần). And repeat…until ‘automatic’ breathings bring about stillness of the mind: transformation of spirit into the absolute quietness (Luyện thần hườn hư). The Chi flow continues without us being aware.
When one harmonizes the breath in this way, the mind starts to clear. At first, thoughts will often arise. Should thoughts arise—such as about what to make for dinner, the need to put gas in the car, or the need to call a friend—we just acknowledge the thoughts and let them pass by. The very nature of thoughts is that they will arise, persist, and then pass away. We do not become upset about the intervening thoughts or try to chase them out, as this would arouse more disturbances. We simply let the thoughts drift away. In our experience, we minimize intervening thoughts by addressing the preoccupying matters before the meditation session, writing them down on paper, an act which helps the mind to rest.
Harmonizing the Mind
Harmonizing the mind is the ultimate, final goal of meditation. It is more- or- less easy to attain, depending on the state of the breath and the body. If the breath is harmonized and the body is relaxed, harmonizing the mind is facilitated. The minds of most, if not all, tend to wander and even race around. It is expressed in Eastern culture as “the monkey’s mind” or “the horse’s mind,” meaning that it chatters incessantly like a monkey and moves uncontrollably like a wild horse. If, during meditation, you find your mind thinking of different issues, recognize that it is wandering, but do not get upset or resist. Instead, simply return your focus from the thought, either to your breathing, to your visual object, or to your chosen sound (mantra) or prayer.
Maintaining an undisturbed body, regular rhythmic breathing, and total concentration on an object or a repeated mantra will all help the mind attain quietness. In this state, a person will not recall the past, or worry about the future, or even the present.
The ears may hear charming voices and melodious music, but the mind should remain undisturbed. The eyes may see beautiful things, but the mind remains indifferent.
The person learns to detach from worldly desires and illusionary phenomena, and the mind progresses toward Equanimity. The Divine Self is unveiled in serene stillness, and the person is embraced in total peace.
The Five Steps of Evolvement in Meditation
The ultimate, final goal of meditation is to reach union with God. The regular practice of meditation leads to spiritual evolvement toward this goal in five discernable steps:
Giới, the way of self-purification, is the first step, in that a person eventually needs to reach a godly state of purity in- order- to become unified with the Divine. Purification should address the six sense organs of our body: ears, eyes, nose, tongue, body, and mind. We should listen to right (true and uplifting) words, look at right (pure, beautiful) things, smell the right (fresh and pleasant) odor, speak the right (just and respectful) language, engage in right (virtuous and healthful) activities, contemplate right (sober and compassionate) thoughts. Right means not harming any being. Literally meaning, “restriction,” giới is a Vietnamese word that refers in part to “observing the precepts.” It corresponds with the Christian concept of commandments, having to do with prohibitions against killing, stealing, committing adultery, becoming intoxicated, and sinning with words. The prohibition against killing is an essential teaching of all traditions, especially stressed in Buddhism, Hinduism, and CaoDai. Its corollary resides in the observation of a vegetarian diet. The commandments against stealing and adultery constitute aspects of the Golden Rule: do not do to others what you don’t want others to do to you. The edict against becoming intoxicated preserves the health and purity of our physical and mental aspects and thus the clarity of our spiritual body. To avoid sinning with words—lying; using harsh, impure language; slandering others—is a primary virtue, leading to harmony in the society.
When one wants to see good changes in life, one must start with disciplining the self in accordance with these precepts. One restrains from harming others, realizes peace inside oneself and builds a peaceful community. As mentioned above, one needs to control one’s desires, greed, and negative emotions in- order to realize love and peace in the community.
The self-purifying practice of giới enhances meditation, and, in return, meditation enhances giới, since meditation aids in the detachment from secular desires and adverse emotions and so facilitates following the precepts. If we have mastered the giới,we have accomplished a major step.
Định, “Concentration,” is the second step in evolving through meditation; it means to remain concentrated on our inner self so as not to be disturbed by worldly matters. When our mind is not wandering around—not attached to any thought—we will be in a state of equanimity and become closer to the Divine.
Huệ, “Clarity” is the third step, in which our mind will become clear and bright; we attain clarity of everyday thought, and act in more relevant ways. Although devotion of time for meditation appears as a waste of time, the clarity and relevance of thought assists us experiencing a more pleasant, joyful life, and the effective use of time.
Tri kiến, “Wisdom,” the fourth step, is the state in which we will reach a universal knowledge.
Giải thoát, “Liberation,” the fifth and final step, is that in which we will be united with the Divine Principle, liberated from karmic attachments. This state is known as Nirvana in Buddhism and Mukti in Hinduism.
In these five steps, then, meditation leads us to detachment from the turmoil of everyday life to a state of silence, referred to as ‘bliss’ by some faith traditions, in which the Divine Principle will surface.
“When your outer world becomes tranquil, the most sacred heart may be reached.
One can then discern the true and the false even among ten thousand things.
When one realizes that nothing is true or false, one has no more attachment.
Then one rejoins the Master at the White Pearl Palace.”
(Chí Tín, Vấn Đề Tịnh Luyện Đối Với Môn Sinh Cao Đài,
IV- OBSERVANCE OF LOVE AND JUSTICE
Love and Justice constitute two of the essential principles of All Religions including CaoDai ( Please see Chapter II and IV).
“As I (the Supreme Being)taught, just aspire to be able to love one another following my Holy Example. Love is the key to the thirty-six heavens, to Nirvana or the White Jade Palace. Whoever denies love would never be able to escape reincarnation. And moreover, I will take care of all your difficulties, while I just ask for your love of each other and for your effort in serving humanity for its liberation.”
(CSCDHM 2015, p. 209)
If one extends love unconditionally to our fellow humans as well as to animals, plants, and inanimate objects—if one respects them, cares for them, and gives without discrimination, without waiting for return—one will realize an essential step in self-cultivation, which brings harmony and peace to all. CaoDai so insistently emphasizes this love that it is expressed in the first precept: “Do not kill.” CaoDaists believe that everything in the universe—materials, plants, animals, and humans—emanate from God. Therefore, all lives need to be respected. CaoDaists try to minimize the need for killing; hence, vegetarianism is strongly recommended. Of course, plants will be sacrificed, but many plants can just grow back after being cut or are harvested at the end of their life cycles (such as corn and grains); and plants are much simpler organisms than animals.
Justice represents the second arm of the treaty between God and humanity. Justice in CaoDai corresponds to the Golden Rule in Christianity: Do not do to others what you don’t want others to do to you. The teaching of “you reap what you sow” permeates throughout the scriptures and is also the Hindu-Buddhist law of karma: “Any right or wrong acts are recorded by Angels and Saints for the final judgment.” And again:“But one cannot avoid the Divine Law which I Myself must respect. You have committed your own crimes and therefore will exact your own punishment.” The scripture also related that “Mr. Hạng Tráng was so pure as to even pay the spring for his horse to drink water. He was blessed and met with good fortune”; “People who deal with others with sincerity will receive respect in return”; and “I want you to teach your family correct values, treat people with pure conscience even for petty matters. Try to read and explain My Holy Teachings to people. Justice and Sincerity are My favorite virtues.”(For the Rhythm of our Journey- The Way of Life in CaoDai- FROJ- WLCD, 2019, p.127).
V- THE TRIPLE-FOLD PATH
Please see Chapter II- The Goals of CaoDai in the section “The Human Tao is Peace”
To assist the disciple in attaining peace in this life and liberation afterwards, CaoDai faith offers the Triple-Fold Path which consists of Công Quả or service to humanity, Công Trình or self-cultivation, and Công Phu or return to the Inner Self by meditation. This Triple-Fold Path professed by CaoDai is very realizable by all of us, young and old, whether religious or non religious.
We, the authors derive so much fulfillment with this Triple-fold Path, we expressly encourage our reader to embrace this approach, combining service with self-cultivation and reflection in meditation. It gives tangible satisfaction in our relations with our fellow humans, and at the same time gives us a sense of meaningful growth in our relations with the Cosmos.
a- Công quả: Service to humanity and to all (see Chapter II)
“To provide service to all living beings means to use body, mind, and spirit— Whether money, properties, physical needs, food, or clothing—Without expecting gratitude,or recognition from above, or being paid.It means to act simply out of kindheartedness, Expecting neither blessings, nor recognition from on high,Nor boasting of self-sacrifice; But to do it just with spontaneity, with true loving-kindness”.
In summary, service to all living beings is the basis for our spiritual development. That service CaoDai clearly offers two paths of worship: exoterism and esoterism. However, the two paths are perceived by an appreciable and increasing number of CaoDai disciples as complementary and needing to be performed together for a smooth, effective spiritual evolvement. This is known by the principle expressed in the two phrases: “Nhơn đạo thái bình,” or,the human Tao is peace;and “Thiên đạo giải thoát,” or the divine Tao is liberation;and in the short phrase, “Phước Huệ Song Tu,” or service and wisdom, dual paths.
b-Công Trình: Self-cultivation (see Chapter II)
Self-cultivation serves to improve and lighten our emotions and to control our desires in a way that leads to purity, peace, joy, and freedom. Spiritual traditions and sages all teach us to cultivate ourselves in- order- to discover our pure conscience hidden beneath our secular desires.
In CaoDai, an imperative phase for reaching a meaningful life is to cultivate the self (Vietnamese Tu). This means to nurture our virtues, to open our heart to the love and compassion of living beings, and to build up courage, perseverance, and resilience to surmount difficulties.
This continuous effort of improving ourselves is captured in the “Tam Lập'', another triple endeavors, also well-known among the CaoDaists.
Tam Lập is particularly mentioned in the sermons of the Hộ Pháp Phạm Công Tắc and in the CDTLHS (The Miraculous Path to Eternal Life). It assembles Lập Công, Lập Đức and Lập Ngôn. Lập Công (right deeds) is mostly seen under service to humanity. This service spans from daily needs to special events such as marriage, and particularly in the events of death and mourning. Lập đức (right virtues) and lập ngôn (right speech) also constitute major steps. We train ourselves continually to improve ourselves, as a lifestyle, so that we do service to others spontaneously from our heart without the intervention of reasoning. Self-cultivation is a self discipline in controlling our secular emotions arising from desires, hatred, jealousy, anger, fear... We remind ourselves every day of improving our demeanor, our behavior, and our attitude so as to promote love and harmony. Self-cultivation lends perseverance to our acts of service to humanity and our effort in returning to our inner self through meditation. Self-cultivation is that determination that gives us strength to surmount difficulties while we grow toward the calm of our meditation. It is a necessary discipline for the success of the other two parts of the Triple Fold Path.
In summary, self-cultivation constitutes the basis for developing a virtuous life and guiding us in selfless service to others. At each moment of our life, wherever we may be and whatever we may do, we remind ourselves that we are following the Tao. We are cultivating our inner being to realize peace in this life as well as the perfection of the Divine and salvation after this life.
c-Công phu: Return to Inner Self.
Our goal in our spiritual journey is to return to our divine origin. Meditation constitutes a necessary exercise to find the divine Essence within ourselves. We all inherit a spark of the Divine’s Spirit. In order to unveil that spiritual spark, we need to silence our secular attachments and their noisy emotions. “Phàm tâm lặng lẻ, Thánh tâm sanh” or “when the Human Heart is quieted down, the Divine Heart will surface.” Even if we practice service to humanity and self-cultivation, without the return to the bliss of our inner self, we shall miss the joyful discovery of our sublime nature, of our divine origin.
The ways of practice of meditation may be different, even in the same religion, but the principle is the same, which is to elevate the human spirit to become one with the divine Spirit.
Please see section III Esoterism in this Chapter V.
VI- PRACTICE OF PLANT-BASED DIET
“Nothing will benefit human health and increase the chances for survival of life on Earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet”.
In the moment that I, Hong, felt connected to the universe, I began to vibrate vividly with the life of all plants—from the grass, to the little wildflowers, to the taller and taller trees. My husband, Hum, and I both sense the invisible energy in plants: how silently and continuously the roots absorb minerals, nitrogen, and water from the soil and pump nutrients up to feed all the leaves that can be dozens of feet higher. And despite natural disasters and the hand of humankind, plants regenerate and strive again. And we admire how tiny plants with tiny vibrant colors strive from a crack in the cement or by the walkway, although usually unnoticed by the passerby. We feel that they are immortal and that the Divine Principle truly exists in them as well as in other living beings. As British author and activist Russell Brand says, “It's difficult to believe in yourself because the idea of self is an artificial construction. You are, in fact, part of the glorious oneness of the universe. Everything beautiful in the world is within you.”
We will describe the many benefits of following a plant-based diet by adapting from FROJ-WLCD (For the Rhythm of our Journey- The Way of Life in CaoDai), 2019, 169-179.
*It expresses universal love; it fulfills the teaching, “Do not kill”; and it extends compassion to all animals.
*It enhances our sense of well-being and our connection to the world.
*It promotes health and decreases the risk for heart disease, diabetes, and even cancer.
*It is environmentally friendly in that it decreases the demand for factory farming.
The Expression of Universal Love
Vegetarianism as an expression of universal love is addressed by diverse religions.
Genesis 1: 28–30 states, “And God blessed them and told them: ‘Multiply and fill the earth and subdue it; you are masters of the fish and birds and all animals.
And look! I have given you the seed-bearing plants throughout the earth, and the fruit trees for your food. And I’ve given all the grass and plants to the animals and birds for their food.’”
And in Genesis 2: 18–20 we hear: “And the Lord God said, ‘It isn’t good for man to be alone; I will make a companion for him, a helper suited to his needs . . . so the Lord formed from the soil every kind of animal and bird, and brought them to the man.’”
These biblical messages signify that we are given the plants for our food and the animals for our companions.
In Islam, the prophet Mohammad forbade the people to treat animals without compassion or to let them hunger, thirst, or be overburdened.
Sikhism helps reduce negative consequences of a meat diet by encouraging their followers to embrace a plant-based diet and conserve other forms of creation. The faith ensures that its followers do not kill or consume animals, as the creatures, too, have a soul, which the followers ought to respect
Buddhism teaches vegetarianism as a way of being compassionate and mindful of other animals. When we avoid subjecting other people or organisms to pain, we become able to avoid pain and suffering as well.
Hinduism also encourages people to consume a vegetarian diet. Proper treatment of animals, according to Mahatma Gandhi, can be used as a measure of moral progress and a nation’s greatness. Thus, the Hindu religion highly recommends vegetarianism and the consumption of plant-based products as a way of conserving God’s creatures.
CaoDai teaches that, as all living creatures are infused with the Divine, one should avoid harming any of them, for doing so amounts to an attempt to harm God Himself. God CaoDai says:
“I have told you that when there was nothing in this universe, the cosmic ether gave birth only to Me, and My throne is the universal monad. I divided the monad into the dyad which is Yin and Yang, and then into the tetrad and then into the eight trigrams. The latter changes continuously to form the universe. I then divided My spirit to create ten thousand things, from elements to finally living beings: plants, insects, animals, and humans.
You should understand that everything emanates out of My spirit; wherever there is life, there am I. I am the progenitor of life. My love of life is unfathomable.
Life is given freely to all living beings out of My Being. I distribute life everywhere in the universe... Each life has its own Karmic plan. . . Its life on this earth is divinely appointed. If you kill any living being, you shall be punished; no one knows whether a living being may have been an Immortal or a Buddha reincarnating to Earth. As I have said, all life is Me. To destroy life is to attempt to destroy Me. And it is not easy to destroy Me. Teach that to human beings”.
(CSCDHM, p. 234).
From the quantum point of view, Erwin Schrodinger confirms the concept of oneness in saying,“Quantum physics thus reveals a basic oneness of the universe.”
And, as Eckhart Tolle puts it, “In the stillness of your presence, you can feel your own formless and timeless reality as the un-manifested life that animates your physical form. You can then feel the same life deep within every other human and every other creature. You look beyond the veil of form and separation. This is the realization of oneness. This is love.”
The best acknowledgment of this sense of oneness with the universe is to respect the life of all living beings in following a plant-based diet. Thus, a vegetarian or—even more so—a vegan diet forms the basis of a CaoDaist’s life. For beginners, six days of a vegetarian diet per month is recommended during the period of adjustment. Disciples may keep this schedule for life, but it is preferable to progress to ten days a month of vegetarianism and then fully to every day.
CaoDai believes that a vegetarian diet helps to purify both the physical and the spiritual body. Such purification is indispensable for meditation and communication with superior spirits. People on a vegetarian diet have more love for other living beings and fewer adverse emotions, and their energy may be purer—as pure as the energy of superior spirits.
One may argue that, by eating plants, vegetarians do not avoid killing. However, in many instances plants (wheat, rice, corn) are harvested when their life cycle is at an end; and fruits and seeds are harvested without killing the trees. On the evolutionary ladder, plants are much simpler beings than animals. Being harvested, they have fulfilled their duty to serve.
In following a vegetarian diet, we also pay attention to not overindulging in foods; the goal is to eat sufficiently but not abundantly. A full vegetarian diet allows for the clearest mind and is observed by CaoDaists who practice esoterism. The disciples, with
pure energy may be chosen as mediums in spiritualism sessions.
The Enhancement of Well-Being and Connection to the World
Fasting from meat, poultry, and sea foods—and, for the vegans, dairy products and eggs as well— enhances discipline and resilience; it diminishes the impulses for negative thoughts, violence, and doing harm and encourages compassion and loving-kindness. Thus, fasting leads to a feeling of lightness and purity. Your body feels physically more energetic, and your mind is purer, more generous, and gentler. This sense of well-being comes from the avoidance of killing animals, leading to the decrease of suffering and the increase of joyful lives, which in turn decreases our karmic debt. It has been observed that people who follow plant-based diets generally are of milder character, less impatient, less easily angered, and more prone to loving-kindness.
Animals raised in concentrated animal feeding operations suffer from inhumane conditions; they are squeezed into sheds where they cannot move, with their feces around, and forced to live in the dark in some instances. They can no longer roam freely, as they once did on traditional farms. By avoiding eating animals, most of which have been raised so inhumanely before being slaughtered, vegans/vegetarians feel more connected to their surroundings and indirectly promote a general sense of well-being by not promoting the destructive effect of factory farming.
Also, combining a plant-based diet with our spiritual journey will speed our upward evolution, because we are lightening our karma.
The Promotion of Health
Research from the Loma Linda University School of Public Health shows a gradual weight decrease as one shifts progressively from a non-vegetarian diet to a total vegetarian one. For instance, fifty-three-year-old male and female vegans weigh about thirty pounds less than non -vegetarians of similar height. The same trend was also apparent in levels of cholesterol, diabetes, high-blood pressure, and metabolic syndrome.
The evidence is convincing that vegetarians have a lower rate of coronary heart disease, largely explained by a low level of LDL cholesterol; probable lower rates of hypertension; lower rates of diabetes mellitus (since legumes, beans, and nuts have a lower glycemic index); and a lower prevalence of obesity
Regarding meat consumption and cancer risk, the World Health Organization has determined that dietary factors account for at least 30 percent of all cancers in Western countries and up to 20 percent in developing countries. Consumption of red meat and processed meats heightens the risk of colorectal cancer by 30 to 50 percent.Further, countries with higher fat intake—especially animal fats—have a higher incidence of breast cancer.
The Beneficial Effects of a Plant-Based Diet on the Environment
Not only does a plant-based diet offer us a more energetic life, a healthy life, and a protection against many deadly diseases, it also saves the environment. How?
In- order to raise cattle for meat production, one needs fields to raise them, fields to grow corn and soy to feed them, and water for their consumption. Statistics have showed that 80 percent of rain forests in the Amazon have been destroyed to convert into cattle pasture ( www.chooseveg.com/environment, accessed May 26, 2017).
In Canada, 70 percent of the grain that is grown is fed to farmed animals—including cattle, chickens, goats, and pigs, etc. A full 30 percent of the earth’s land mass is used to raise such animals for human consumption (Simmons, The Happy Vegan, p.106).
To produce one pound of animal protein versus one pound of soy protein, we need twelve times as much land, thirteen times as much fossil fuel, and fifteen times as much water. To make one pound of beef requires thirteen pounds of grains to feed the cow.
Thus, to nourish one meat eater requires fourteen times the resources needed to nourish one vegan eater. In other words, instead of nourishing one meat eater, we could nourish fourteen people following a vegan diet.
It is not an exaggeration to state that following a plant-based diet would not only save the individual from physical ailments and from negative karma, it would also benefit our planet and hence other people as well. Most people eat a piece of meat without realizing the harm wrought by raising and killing animals. This includes the harm not only to the animals themselves in the horrible conditions of the concentrated feeding operations (where they are raised next to each other in a space so narrow that they cannot move) but also the harm to the environment through the well-known “greenhouse effect” of methane emissions that cause global warming. If one were well informed, one would choose to forego eating meat.
A common concern is: Does the vegetarian get enough nutrients?
We will discuss according to the provision of nutrients with proteins, carbohydrates, fats and oligoelements.
Proteins are essential to the function of organs in the body. The base molecules for the production of proteins are called amino-acids (AA). Twenty AA are available for the production of proteins. Among these, eleven can be manufactured by our body, and nine must be provided by foods. These nine, called essential AA include histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan and valine.
A “complete protein” contains all nine essential AA. Meat, dairy products, eggs are complete protein sources“. Incomplete proteins” contain some of the nine essential AA. Plant-based foods are sources of incomplete proteins, however if the grains group is used together with the beans group, they complement each other and provide all nine essential AA. So rice, bread, pasta need to be consumed with tofu, beans, nuts, seeds.
So, consuming plant-based foods wisely (grains and beans, nuts together) amply provides the essential AA needed. And beans offer a very healthy nutrient profile when compared to meat.
Carbohydrates bring to the body the main source of fuel –glucose—necessary for physical activity, brain function and operation of organs. They are mostly plant derived: rice, corn, wheat, barley, oates.... So there is no concern with provision of carbohydrates from vegetarian diets.
Fats are the roadblocks for the synthesis of certain hormones, the storage of energy and the vehicle for fat soluble vitamins (Vitamins A, D, E, K). Fats are present in meats, dairy products and oils. Oils – olive oil, palm oil, soybean oil, canola oil, corn oil, peanut oil – have a high content of mono-unsaturated and poly-unsaturated fatty acids. These unsaturated fatty acids do not form plaques in arteries like the saturated fats of animal products. Coconut oil has also saturated fatty acids, however, these are mostly medium-chain triglycerides readily absorbed. Oils, especially olive oil have been found to be greatly beneficial for our body.
Vitamins come with plant-derived foods except for vitamin B12. The vegan followers may obtain vitamin B12 from B12 added foods like fortified cereals, fortified soy or from oral supplements.
Good sources of calcium and iron come from dark green leafy vegetables.
A benefit of plant-based diet over animal-based diet is in the fibers. Fibers play a fundamental role in digestion since they help move foods through the gut. They also help to lower cholesterol and glucose.
VII- UNDERSTANDING THE PURPOSE OF LIFE AND THE END OF LIFE- REINCARNATION
“Baby,sleep well. Tomorrow we both go to school, you to the school of literature and your mom to the school of life.”(Vietnamese lullaby)
The Supreme being gave this message:“When there was nothing in this universe, the cosmic ether gave birth only to Me , and My throne is the universal monad. I divided the monad into the dyad which is Yin and Yang….”
(CSCDHM, 2015, p. 234).
When the Supreme Being created Yin and Yang energies, the Mother Goddess emerges as the Master of Yin energy. Using Yin and Yang components, she creates everything visible in the universe, and she is the mother of the visible physical world.
“The Mother Goddess in uniting Yin and Yang energies, created a big explosion with the formation of the universe with all visible worlds.”
The above scripture excerpt from The CaoDai Grand Cycle of Esoteric Teaching, describing the big explosion, was dated in 1935 and appears to match with what science calls the Big Bang, which theory is dated later in 1954.
“Then in uniting the spirit of God with the physical body, the Mother Goddess created all beings from materials, plants, animals and human beings. Everything has a spark of God’s spirit and therefore has a life. ”(True Prayer to the Mother Goddess. p. 28).
Thus, all in the universe possess a physical, visible body received from Mother Goddess, and an invisible spiritual part granted by Father God.
THE CONCEPTIONS OF LIFE AND DEATH IN CAODAI
· The conceptions of life and death rely on CaoDai’s view of the human constitution as being of three parts:
The visible, physical, anatomical body
The semi-visible mind and emotions corresponding to the peri-spirit
The invisible spirit inherited as a spark from the divine spirit
Each living being has a physical body, which consists of innumerable living units called cells. The cells grow constantly, and at the same time, old cells die. Science has demonstrated different life spans of different kinds of cells. The life span is 4 days for intestinal lining cells, four months for red blood cells, a few days for white blood cells…. We may say that the physical body is continually in the process of dying when we are living.
The visible physical body changes with time and space. We owe it to our biological parents and at a higher level to the Mother Goddess’ creation from Yin and Yang elements. It gives us the five sense organs: eyes, nose, ears, tongue, and skin which lead to vision, smell, hearing, tasting and touch. These five senses together with the mind form the six sources for our emotions, bad or pleasing: unwanted or pleasant visual objects; foul or fragrant- scents; harsh or melodious sounds; bitter or sweet tastes; rough or velvety touch. The mind exposed to these senses experiences joy, pleasure, craving, or on the other hand sadness, jealousy, anger, regret...
The spirit or conscience dominating these daily experiences urges us to cultivate self to rid ourselves of secular attachments which derive from the emotions, which burden our spirit and make it heavy and dark. This would pull back the evolution of the spirit to higher realms.
However, we cannot spiritually progress without the physical body acting as a vessel, a boat carrying our peri-spirit and spirit forward.
· Life is considered as an opportunity to learn. Life is a school.
Physically, from the newborn state to adulthood, we learn to sit, crawl, stand up, walk, then run, climb, dance. We learn fine movements of painting, knitting, carving, creating with our hands and mind.
Emotionally, we learn to tame our crude reactions, to choose between disturbing emotions and uplifting ones. We continually learn to improve our relations with ourselves, the family and the community.
A spiritual message from Victor Hugo, the famous French novelist,reflected well and acted as a mandate for the CaoDaist that life is a school:
“On this globe, each of us has a place:
All worlds, all lives are but classrooms,
The universe is therefore a school for our spirits,
Who attend it for erudite study.
Those who fail their courses,
Must repeat them, and study the lessons again.
All spirits hope to read the eternal book
That holds the wisdom that should make them immortal
The goal is to accomplish the task before us which takes time and effort on our parts
From the material world to divine purity is the road leading into eternity.”
Victor Hugo (FROJ-WLCD, 2019, p. 91)
We both go through life, learning humbly and reflecting. We witness that pain and sufferings uncover our deep-seated gem that our spirit offers to the relief of misfortunes. As we sharpen our sensibilities, we get closer to the cosmic consciousness, a closeness which is also nourished by experiencing the immense gifts of nature. To us, life’s lesson is to learn to know God.
Scriptures remind incessantly to practice compassion, loving-kindness, and justice; to tame unwanted emotions such as fear, anger, jealousy, desires … We realize we are part of all and our behaviors from speech to actions mold our happiness or distress. And perhaps the main lesson we are to master is that we are interdependent in secular activities and that we may find our sublime nature and approach gradually to the divine essence. CaoDai scriptures read:
“You are a Spiritual Being on earth;
Sharing with Me My Spiritual Light Essence.
Thus, you are given the key to the Kingdom
So, you can be in the mundane plane, or in the Celestial Kingdom at will.”
(Thánh Gíao Sưu Tập, 1966-1967,36.)
The above teaching lets us know that we already have the key and we have the freedom to choose to stay on this mundane plane or to use the key to open the door of knowledge and find out how to reach Nirvana. That key is Love.
I read, nodding with agreement, the following teaching of the Supreme Being, recorded on April 15, 1927:
“If you yourself choose not to walk, I would not carry you through life. Doing for yourself is therefore your concern. The Tao is founded in Justice and is already therefore a great blessing. If instead I carry you through this temporal world, you would not want to labor for the Tao…If you do not fulfill your duty, you are not worthy. I advise you just to cultivate your heart, your virtue, to keep the Tao in order, and all difficulty would be surmounted.” (CSCDHM, 2015, 152).
· Death, karma and reincarnation
Death is the liberation of the spirit from the decaying physical body, and is the prelude to cessation of the cycle of rebirth, or, more likely, to reincarnation.
“You must abandon your physical body for your spiritual seed to multiply. It is the principle of the Tao.” (CSCDHM, 2015, p. 58).
The physical body allows us to learn from life’s lessons. It plays a crucial role in our evolution if we realize that our purpose in this life is to progress toward perfection.
CaoDai believes in Karma and Reincarnation.
Karma is the law of Justice. We reap what we sow. If we plant good seeds in our garden, we’ll have a good harvest. Thus, kind, compassionate thoughts will enlighten our mind, heart, behavior and lead us to a joyful, happy relationship. Our spirit will be lifted.
As we shed our physical visible body, the lightness of our mind and emotions help our spirit to evolve to lighter dimensions. In this case, we either remain in the Spiritual Realm, or will reincarnate to a higher spiritual life, according to the level of our cultivation/purification.
Spirits that stay in the Spiritual Realm may continue to serve the physical world by sending positive energy to help people in their progress. Or they may choose to reincarnate in the world to serve as
what is called Bodhisattvas in Buddhism (Bồ Tát in Vietnamese), leading a life of sacrifice in the relief of sufferings of humans.
On the contrary, if we lead a wicked life, our next life will be that of misery, of sufferings.
In the steps of involvement, the Little Sacred Light granted by God, grows in strength and purity from materials, to plants, to animals, to humans, local spirits, saints, immortals, buddhas. A regression to a hardship in human life is usual if we lead a dark life. Regression to animals, plants is possible but unusual. Progression upward comes with sincere service, cultivation and meditation.
The fundamentals of the practice in CaoDai include:
The practice of one or more of the five Ways of the Dao.
The practice of exoterism and/or esoterism path (s) of CaoDai
mostly a combination of the two paths, known as Phước Huệ
Song Tu or Concurrent Service and Wisdom Dual Path.
The observance of Love and Justice.
The practice of vegetarianism.
Understanding the learning purpose of life, karma and reincarnation.