Monday, May 24, 20213:42 PM(View: 8285)


Hum Dac Bui,M.D. and Hong Dang Bui,M.D.

The Course on Caodai:



I- Cosmology ( Chapter III).

II- Determinism and Free Will

III- Unity in CaoDai (Religions from Diversity to Pluralism to Unity)

IV- Understanding the Purpose of Life and the End of Life- Reincarnation (Chapter V)

V- The Relationship of the Individual with God


      1- Know that CaoDai is a Compatibilist Faith, honoring both Determinism and Free Will.

      2- Understand that CaoDai proposes Religious Unity in its Diversity and Pluralism.

      3- Understand that the Individual can communicate directly with the Divine.

      4- Understand that All Religions spring from One Divine Origin and that All Humans receive a Spark of the Divine Spirit, the basis of our Union with God and of our fundamental Oneness.

I- COSMOLOGY- Please see Chapter III.


This section is written with Victoria-Phi Sheahan-Nguyen, M.Div.


Before dissertation on free will in CaoDai, the following terms: free will, determinism, compatibilism, incompatibilism, and libertarianism are clarified.


Albert Einstein defined free will as the ability to choose between different courses of action. Also known as freedom of choice, free will is the power of acting without the constraint of necessity or fate, the ability to act at one’s own discretion (Internet Dictionary, accessed 5/9/20). From the Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, it is: - voluntary choice or decision; - freedom of humans to make choices that are not determined by prior causes or by divine intervention.


Free will is opposed to determinism,which describes that humans are predestined by fate. For every event, there are predetermined causes. The past and the present dictate the future, based on rigid natural laws.


Compatibilism refers to the philosophical notion that determinism and free will can coexist. The future is determined by the past and the laws of nature. The choices we have now depend on the choices in the past.


Incompatibilists do not believe that determinism and free will can coexist. 


Libertarianism says that determinism does not exist. All is free will. Our present results from our past actions and shapes our future. So libertarianists are incompatibilists.


Let us now examine where CaoDai stands, based on the messages recorded in

The Collection of Selected CaoDai Holy Messages, translated by Hum Dac Bui, M.D. and Hong Dang Bui, M.D., Create Space 2015 (CSCDHM, 2015).


Page 28 reads:” Tr.., you have a mission, I will be with you and within you, wherever you go…you have to be flexible.”We notice in this phrase both determinism, as God is with and within disciple Tr…, and free will, as Tr… is told to be flexible, which means Tr… has a choice.


Page 29 asserts:” I (God) have been telling you that I have prepared everything in your heart: whatever you have in your mind was already predetermined. You need not worry. The Way is reserved for predetermined people.” Determinism is explicitly conveyed here with the words ‘prepared,’ and ‘predetermined.’


Free will is expressed in these passages from pages 43 and 45: “…Thus, those living beings who do not wish to spiritually improve themselves and who will subsequently be punished in Hell, will not deny their crimes and will not have any basis to blame Me, by claiming that Buddha did not teach. You must know that if you do not take the opportunity of the Third Universal Salvation to improve yourself spiritually, you will have no more hope to be saved.”

“ You too, could return to Nirvana if you cultivate yourself spiritually”.


Then, determinism together with free will come back on page 75: “All difficulties come from the Karma of living beings. It is difficult to purify your body from the stain of all accumulated sins, with only one cup of water.” This is typical of how Karma works. Your present results from your past deeds, but you can also modify your Karma by deciding to clean up your sins, by persistently cultivating good deeds.


Following is a most clear message for the CaoDaist to exercise his free will, by the Supreme Being/God saying: “If you yourself choose not to walk, I would not carry you through your life.”( p. 152).This teaching is readily repeated in CaoDaist circles. Make yourself into your own light!


The above teachings go back and forth between determinism and free will. Therefore, CaoDai is a compatibilist faith, very similar to Buddhism. Much of what you experience now in life, hardship or comfort, is predetermined by your previous life. But you are to conscientiously cultivate yourself to shape your future.

 This free will is important for us to realize, as culturally, Vietnamese children are traditionally taught to obey parents and elders, and not to argue. Nevertheless, free will forms the basis of the CaoDai’s Triple-Fold Path, discussed in chapter two, which consists of service to humanity and the Universe, self-cultivation, and turning to the inner self with meditation. All three prongs of the path demand a will, a decision to fulfill. And yet, the CaoDaist may still think of God as an omnipresent, omnipotent, omniscient power who can determine your life. So, compatibilism forms a characteristic of the CaoDai faith:

There is God and there is You.




In the seventeenth century, with the arrival of the Mayflower and immigrants from England and Europe, America’s Colonial religious landscape was fairly uniform, with Anglican Christianity and Catholicism subjugating the Continent’s original Native American spirituality. “In God We Trust” constituted a norm of religious reference. Jesus carried the torch of authority and security.


In 1965, President Lyndon Baines Johnson signed the Immigration Act opening America to a new wave of immigrants mostly from Europe and Asia. America was newly exposed to a diversity of ethnic backgrounds from German and French, to Polish, Dutch and Italian—and also from Indian, Malaysian, and Indonesian, to the Chinese, Korean and Japanese… These people brought along with them their particular faiths. Christian Orthodox, Judaism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Baha’i, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Sikhism appeared in the community. Buddhism showed its variety with Mahayana and Theravada (Hinayana), the Greater and Lesser Vehicles; Hindu and Sikh temples rose amidst churches, synagogues, and mosques. To that array of newly encountered, if not to say strange, ethnic, cultural, and religious diversity, professor Diana Eck from Harvard University proposed in her book “A New Religious America,” in 2001 the term “Pluralism” as an invitation to all to experience each other’s uniqueness and accept each other in fellowship. We see the emergence of a rush of interfaith activities. When confronted with the fear of diversity, the interfaith gatherings helped, to a greater or lesser degree according to region and the people’s characters, the acceptance of that diversity. The outer differences became a more or less familiar view: the Buddhist monk’s shaven head and saffron robe, the Amish and Mennonite Christians’ black outfits and bearded faces, the Sikh turban and beard, Islamic head scarves, etc. To this, by the mid 1970s, the white áo dài of CaoDai joined the landscape. However, the distinction from one another appeared, it brought with it an insular, protective attitude in favor of one’s own faith and appearances. 


Our socioeconomic and environmental conditions raise us to depart from each other. Imagine two twins being separated at birth, one growing up in Pakistan, the other in India. They receive at birth the same grace from the Divine, the same spark of the Divine Spirit. Years later, the Pakistani twin has become a devout Muslim and the Indian twin, a devoted Hindu. Dressed differently, they display differing cultural characteristics, and speak different secular languages as well as one praying in Arabic, the other in Sanskrit. Yet, if they could learn to connect at a higher spiritual realm, they would come into unison, they would converge into higher unity as siblings. At the Spirit level, we speak to each other the same language.


What CaoDai proposes is to look beyond and above any physical, secular and religious differences to identify and merge with each other as siblings with our common sublime origin: All of us inherit an identical fundamental spark from the Divine Spirit. At this level of the soul, we are all similar, if not indeed twins. We see in each other a precious child of the One Parent. So, if we elevate ourselves above the diverse exoteric rituals to the Oneness of spiritual esoteric practices, namely meditation we shall feel no separation from our friends, brothers and sisters of all faiths. This awareness, this realization of the common cosmic origin paves the way to unity. 

Upon this realization, from Pluralism we progress to Unity. 

Therefore, we can discuss how unity is possible and important. Realization of the state of oneness through our common sublime source will lead to harmony and long-lasting peace between us. In practice, we can and need to work to attain that state – through service, unconditional love, observation of the Golden Rule and self-cultivation or taming of our endless worldly emotions (anger, fear, disappointment, jealousy, hatred) and desires, and last but not least through disciplined meditation to reach our higher self. Making it a point to perform persistent attention to the service of our fellow humans helps to develop and express our compassion. In the midst of realizing compassion, we learn to understand our fellow human beings. As we understand our mutual physical, emotional, and spiritual needs, we approach each other more closely and appreciate our common human condition, our common journey as we traverse this blue marble of Earth. Spiritually, we attain communion. The “I-Me-Mine” and the “You-Yours-Others” will yield to “All of Us.” At that time, oneness and unity will embrace us all in a harmonious, loving space of immense peace. That space of peace is also the realm of light, a light we all possess and share. That space of peace is timeless.


As we have stated, part of the method to reach that state of light is disciplined cultivation of our attitudes, dispositions, and cultivation of our emotional reactions. At the basis of this self-improvement is the principle of Love and Justice, held within the Golden Rule. This cultivation leads us to being a calmer, contented, joyful, receptive, helpful, pleasant person. But Meditation is certainly the ultimate process we can use to reach that space of peace and light.


On the ultimate importance of meditation: Moments of silence for our body, mind and spirit turn us into a person with more compassion, wisdom, and understanding, along with many health benefits from the relaxation itself. Above all, turning deep inside ourselves leads to the connection with the Divine. As stated earlier, at this level of spiritual clarity, we will attain the same language of communication with each other. Physical outer differences are bypassed to yield to spiritual communion. Coming back to our sublime nature by consistent quieting of our emotional worldly noise will undoubtedly lead us to vibrate in closer synchrony with our neighbor, leading us to fraternity. As we enter into that space, positive energy will radiate from us to all in the universe. Ultimately, the world of duality will yield to the world of unity. 

Duality is that rudimentary state where we see “you and I,” where we distinguish between tall and small, beautiful and ugly, right and wrong, kindness and hatred. Duality is where divisive, judgmental thought dominates, where the ego still hovers around. Once we transcend duality to merge into the higher spiritual self, we will commune with each other in an ocean of loving fellowship, in unity. “You and I” does finally become “We All.”


The realm of light illuminates our love,a spontaneous love to all, from humans to animals, to plants and inanimate objects. To reach that love, we need to give daily exercise for it, reminding ourselves of our journey to a higher spiritual state. 

We need to practice love as we go about living, as we come in contact with all and everyone and everything. As we recognize our common sublime origin, love blossoms freely in our heart. This spontaneous love for our fellow humans will bring down all barriers. Intercommunication will find its beauty in mutual understanding. Then we naturally will want for our neighbors what we want for ourselves; the “Golden Rule” of “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” becomes the natural norm.  Come, let us celebrate the success of our neighbors. Let us spend time in recognizing our neighbors’ efforts, supporting them in their endeavors, as we would want others to recognize and support us. The community can raise its vibration.


Once we leave the world of duality and enter the realm of unity, we’ll feel the bliss of oneness. Hồng, my wife and I, Hùm sincerely wish you the experience of that state.



As mentioned elsewhere, I was around ten years of age when I was confronted with the iconic sentence in CSCDHM 2015, p 58:

             “Thầy là các con; các con là Thầy”

            “I am you, My children; and children, you are Me”

 The affirmation made no sense to me, but at the same time, it struck me with a “mysterious intriguing beauty” in my young developing mind.

Time went by; I learned that world religions can be grouped in five ways, which manifested in the first revelation, 5000 years ago, and in the second revelation 2500 years ago. The five ways are comprised of:

             -The way of Humanity, in which the person learns to be a good human being, fulfilling responsibilities in the family and the community. King Phuc Hsi and Confucius led this way, respectively, in the first and second revelations.

            -The way of Local Spirits, in which tribes and local people worship the souls of nature and benefactors of the region. Shintoism is an example.

             -The way of Saints, including Moses, Jesus, and Mohammed as messengers of the Abrahamic religions – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

             -The way of Immortals, or Taoism, with Thái Thượng Đạo Quân and Lao Tse observing the natural order and meditation as a practice.

            -The way of Buddhas: Hinduism, Dipankara Buddha, and Gautama Buddha teaching detachment from the physical realm through self-cultivation and meditation.

The First and Second Revelations illustrate “From One, emanate Many”, the Third Revelation is “ The Many return to One”.

The Third Revelation, contemporary, sees the unification of the five ways, in the 19th century with ecumenical churches and in the 20th century with the advent of the “Third Universal Salvation of the Great Dao” or CaoDai. I learned that CaoDai unites the five ways--that anyone could practice one or more of the five ways: At the same time of fulfilling our responsibilities in the family and the community, we can practice the respect of nature spirits, serve humanity as the Way of Saints professes, live according to Taoist’s natural order and meditate as Taoism and Buddhism teach. I started to have a glimpse of the Oneness, Oneness of God and human beings. This Oneness became a truth to me when I realized it in meditation, and learned from CaoDai scriptures that God emanates His Spirit to grant a spark of His Spirit to all in the universe. Ah! There it is:

        “I, your Teacher, am you, My children; and children, you are Me.”The first part of this quote means to me that God has given to all a spark of His Divine Spirit. The second part teaches us that we can be united with God through our cultivation.

This fundamental sublime origin of the human conveys a reassuring hope with the knowledge of our unity and of our potential of reunion with God. And so, our relationship with the Supreme Being is one of a child to its father, its teacher, as the word ‘Thầy” in Vietnamese is used to address both a father or a teacher. It is a direct, gentle, reassuring communication with the Divine. We receive guidance in silence and through tenderness, protectiveness, encouragement. We grow towards goodness, kindness, compassion, and acceptance, steering away from worldly desires and sufferings. It is also in that silent reflection that we recognize our misdeeds, repent, and are restored. 

Endowed with that knowledge of our common sublime origin, my wife and I tread with an immense love into any gathering, faith based or secular alike. Physical barriers become nonexistent. When we encounter our fellow neighbors, we see in them the face of Jesus, of Buddha, of God, and a spontaneous harmony blesses our meeting. We would like for everyone to experience that blissful state. 

“Thất là diệu diệu, huyền huyền,

Trời người có một chẳng riêng khác gì”


“Ii is indeed miraculous and mysterious,

How God and Man are not different”

        (DTCG, 1984, p. 65).

But on the other hand, God also says that He cannot carry us to Heaven. “If you yourself choose not to walk, I would not carry you through your life” was a message received from the Divine on April 15, 1927 (CSCDHM, 2015, p. 152). The CaoDaist believes in God’s guidance, in God’s grace, but also takes active responsibility in self-cultivation. One has to discipline oneself, tame our adverse emotions which are being generated by our desires through our senses of vision, hearing, smelling, tasting, and touching, and our mind’s restless wanderings. Thus, if we learn to control our yearnings, to calm down our emotional reactions, then the deep-seated, pure spiritual gem inside of us will begin to shine.

 For the CaoDaists, God is alternately a personal, fatherly God, a Teacher, and an invisible, omnipotent, omniscient energy. Viewing God as a Father, a Teacher, they feel

comfortable to communicate directly with God in their daily secular life as well as in their inner cultivation. This relationship brings a warm, respectful, reassuring state. On the other hand, God viewed as an invisible, omnipotent, omniscient Supreme Being gives to the CaoDaists a miraculous, mystical perception of God, who can supernaturally come to our rescue or our reprimand. 

CaoDai can be viewed as a monotheistic, as well as pantheistic faith, as God is one for all and in all. The CaoDaist thus respects all in the Universe, from materials, to plants, to animals and humans. They try to live in harmony with all. 

Scriptures teach that during this contemporary Third Universal Salvation of the Great Dao-Đại Đaọ Tam Kỳ Phổ Độ or Cao Đài– all may be saved. Therefore, our hearts go out to the un-awakened,to help ignite in them the light that they too are granted but are unaware of. We simply must share our perspective of the One Light with those not yet opened unto its perception and encourage them to see that they are endowed with a higher self of which they presently may not be aware, and how that can be unveiled by shedding the heavy layers of materiality, worldly activities and emotions. Functioning as an igniting agent is part of our relationship with God.   

How can one’s spirit be ignited? 

Toward this goal, we offer the Three A’s:  Awareness, Awakening, Alliance.

First: Awareness of our tripartite constitution:

 1) the visible physical body, 2) the semi-visible Chơn Thần which is rendered in the mind together with the emotions, and 3) the invisible spark of spirit, the Tiểu Linh Quang (Little Sacred Light) inherited from God Đại Linh Quang (Great Sacred Light). The invisible, pure spirit guides the mind, the emotions and the physical body. But in order for the spirit to unveil itself, the person first needs to become aware of its existence, and to know how to control the emotions and the desires of the physical body. 

Second: Awakening to the Divine presence:

Awakening proceeds from self-cultivation. In my personal experience, I was in awe when I thought about the supreme order of the Universe: how the sun, the earth, the moon, and all the planets remained in equilibrium with each other, moving faithfully in space and time. The seasons fascinated me as they rotated in their turn without fail. The waves from the ocean came in and went out continuously from the shores, without invading the ground nearby. Then, picking up the starfish, the shells on the beach, they just aroused in me a surety that there must be a force at the origin of all these beautiful, intricate, orderly details. The little plants with tiny yellow flowers by the sidewalk, silently emerge from the cracks in the cement, thriving on their own, getting their nutrients from the environment beneath and above, not caring about being noticed or not. They grew up seemingly without external intervention of any kind, and even lifted their little heads up again after being trod on. Life is in them! That awakening to God’s presence brings about a blissful sense of miracle. Of course, I was not the first person to be spiritually enthralled by such Natural occurrences, nor to be assured that God provides for our very functioning through His Nature; in The Sermon on the Mount, Jesus promises the care of God for all beings:

“Why are you anxious? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; neither do they toil nor spin.” (Matthew 6:28) 

Third: Alliance with God

And so, as I contemplated the Creation, I felt waves and waves of vibrations informing me of a Divine source. And those vibrations led, as I meditated, to a blissful state of oneness with the Invisible Energy. This personal spiritual experience was reinforced by the reading of scriptures of the many faiths.

 Hồng, my wife, was similarly impacted profoundly and perceived God’s presence as she marveled in the study of embryology in medical school. How can one cell at the beginning become multiple layers in the embryo, which then differentiate into organ systems from digestive to musculoskeletal, to nervous, reproductive, circulatory, respiratory…systems. This miraculous, mysterious phenomenon aroused in her a deep sense of connection to the invisible source of life: God.

 In summary, we all receive a spark of the Divine Spirit. With Spirit’s guidance and grace, and with concurrent self-cultivation, the follower is led to a sense of worldly peace and to an ultimate union with God. We sincerely wish the reader the realization of his/her Spiritual Journey and discovery of his/her Inner Light.




Nam mô nhứt nguyện Đại Đạo hoằng khai

Nhì nguyện phổ độ chúng sanh

Tam nguyện xá tội đệ tử

Tứ nguyện thiên hạ thái bình

Ngũ nguyện thánh thất an ninh

Nam Mô Cao Đài Tiên Ông Đại Bồ Tát Ma HaTát

First we pray for the spreading of the Great Dao 

Second for the Salvation of all Humanity

Third for the Forgiveness of all

Fourth for the Peace of all Humanity

Fifth for the Safety of all Houses of Worship.

Nam Mô Cao Đài Tiên Ông Đại Bồ Tát Ma HaTát


Hum Dac Bui,M.D.(1943-2019) and  Hong Dang Bui,M.D (She/her). 

May 2021

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