.:  Presentation on CaoDai of Professor Dr. Janet Hoskins  

Professor Doctor Janet Hoskins presents on CaoDai at Universal Temple, Pomona

Dear friends,

On 12-12-2004, at Pomona temple in California, Professor Dr. Janet Hoskins of USC gave a presentation on CaoDai after more than a year of research on CaoDai both in VietNam and in the US.

The presentation of Professor Hoskins gathered about sixty CaoDai disciples from many CaoDai organizations in Southern California among which about thirty of them belong to young generation including students of university and secondary schools.

Professor Hoskins gave the following conclusions:

All CaoDai disciples in Vietnam as well as outside of Vietnam have energetic efforts to make CaoDai known to all human beings. The Caodaists who had spent times in Communist education camps have more interests in CaoDai than before going to camps.

There are two groups of younger disciples one group with lesser interests in religion because of complicated rituals and particularly too busy for earning their life, while many others are still loyal and work actively at many CaoDai centers.

She answered to many questions mostly from young CaoDai about the needs (what to do) of CaoDai outside of Vietnam. From her point of view, CaoDai is a unique faith at this time that attracts most human beings who are looking for an ideal faith that could bring peace and happiness to the world.

The uniqueness of CaoDai is that it is a universal faith that embrace all other religions and could empower human beings ways to communicate and to be unified with God. CaoDai dignitaries do not have to renounce secular (ie. they may have a family life at the same time when they serve religion) to become a monk or a nun like in Buddhism. Secondly, people are interested in CaoDai spiritism that could be used as a way to have guide and teaching directly from the superior spirits.
In order for CaoDai to meet the needs of human beings, CaoDai has to have more information in English, to establish meditation centers, and CaoDai centers where foreign people may come to study CaoDai teachings.

In brief, there is good hope that Caodaists fulfill the great mission of the religion in bringing peace to humanity both within and without.

Following is a summary of Professor Janet's presentation:

Trip to Vietnam --- Presentation with Pictures for the Universal Temple Pomona
Professor Dr. Janet Hoskins. USC. December 12, 2004.

I want to start by thanking members of the Universal Temple in Pomona and Dr. Bui in particular for all their help in preparing us for this trip, contacting people in Vietnam who welcomed us, and teaching us about Caodai. We really appreciate your assistance and feel that it was your efforts before the trip which allowed us to make good use of our time and learn as much as possible about the religion today in Vietnam in a relatively short time.

Our goals were to visit a number of the Holy Sees (Toa Thanh), especially the Great Temple in Tay Ninh but also the Holy Sees of Ban Chinh Dao and Tien Thien in Ben Tre, and the Holy See of Chon Ly in My Tho.

We also wanted to talk to a number of Caodaist leaders and teachers from various churches or denominations. Most of these interviews were set up by several people at Co Quan Pho Thong Giao Ly, who also provided us with a guide, Mr. Phu, who came with us to visit the three Holy Sees in the Mekong Delta.

First set of images: We visited the Great Temple in Tay Ninh on the first day of the lunar month, but were not able to spend the night so we did not see the midnight ceremony. These slides were taken during the day. Tay Ninh is the "mother church" of Cao Dai and was originally founded at Tu Lam pagoda on November 19 1926.

Second set: Meeting with a number of teachers and the officer of CQPTGL in Saigon. We were told by the Caodai historian Chau Hue Nhan that this center for teaching and popularizing the religion was in fact built on the site of the first spirit séances held in Saigon by the Pho Loan group in 1924.

Third set: Trip to the Mekong Delta

Tien Thien----called "the Jerusalem of Cao Dai" because it was a center for prophecies about the new religion before it actually emerged. The name "Earlier Heaven" may refer to those prophecies, or also the primordial condition of the universe before yin-yang interactions. It was founded in 1927 and its Holy See was built in the 1950s, but damaged during the American War.

Ban Chinh Dao ---the second largest denomination of Cao Dai, founded in 1934 by Nguyen Ngoc Tuong. This sect renounced spiritism in 1927 and became separate from Tay Ninh in 1934, and called itself the "corrected religion". We visited both the Holy See and a nearby meditation center where the highest ranking dignitaries were living. This Holy See also had bombing damage from the American War but has been restored.

Chon Ly (once Minh Chon Ly) -means the "illumination of truth" or simply "the true church". Founded in 1930, this church received a new series of spirit messages in the late 1930s which gave it a new doctrine, and changed the usual symbol of the Divine Eye to an Eye in a Heart. Its most important festival is on Christmas Day, and its temple features crosses and holy water, kept in a special container at the entrance where people kneel and bless themselves with the water doing a sign of the cross. The costumes of Chon Ly are differently designed from other Cao Dai groups, but still use the saffron color for Buddhism, turquoise for Taoism and cardinal red for Confucianism and/or Catholicism. We stayed for a prayer service there.

We also visited the Tay Ninh temple in Saigon, where we videotaped the First Moon Ceremony (on CD) and interviewed Nguyen Van Tho (LS. Thai Tho Thanh).

Without Judy, we traveled to Dalat, Hue, Danang and Hanoi, where we visited Cao Dai temples briefly.

In August, we went to Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where we visited the grave of Pham Cong Tac, and saw the (re-built) Tay Ninh style temple and Mother Goddess temple.

There are now about 2000 Caodaists in Cambodia, most of them Vietnamese.

Many people told us about how the religion had survived a difficult time but is now building new temples and renovating old ones. Interest in religion is increasing all over Vietnam, and tourism has also helped CaoDai because the great temple in Tay Ninh is the second largest tourist attraction in South Vietnam (after the War Remnants Museum). Some Caodaists like Thanh Tung (the daughter of Thien Vuong Tinh of CQPTGL) are now working in tourism, managing a hotel and volunteering to take western visitors on tours of Tay Ninh and other Caodai temples.

On the negative side, spiritism is illegal and recent regulations which took effect on November 12, 2004 make it illegal for people to discuss religion on the internet, so Caodaists in Vietnam can no longer post their writings about religion on web sites in the west.

We interviewed four people at CQPTGL (its former director Thien Vuong Tinh, the historian Chau Hue Nhan, the writer Le Anh Dung and Thanh Tung) as well as people at the Ban Chinh Dao temple Do Thanh (Mr. Day, interviewed near Saigon) and the Tien Thien temple Minh Kien Dai (Mr. Buu Lang, a Giao Su who uses charts and drawings to teach about prophecy, apocalypse and "why the Caodai worship the left eye of God".

USC College - News - 2005 - january - Caodai

On her trip to Vietnam last summer, Hoskins met with Nguyen Van Tho, head priest of the Caodai temple in Saigon. Photo credit: Vy-Uyen Judy Cao

Finding a New Religion

A College professor and student trace the roots of a global religion from suburban Pomona to the outskirts of Saigon

By Eva Emerson January 2005

In many ways, the little known religion of Caodai seems the ultimate product of California’s New Age movement: In a painting of the official pantheon, Buddha hovers over Lao Tse, Jesus Christ, Confucius, with the Chinese goddess of mercy, Quan Am, sitting to the left. Caodai espouses vegetarianism, meditation, gender equality and tolerance of all the world’s religions. Its teachings come from divine messages, often written in verse, received in séances by spiritual mediums.

But this inclusive religion is actually a product of a completely different cultural and historical milieu—that of 1920s French Indochina. And while Caodai wasn’t born in California, like the Vietnamese immigrants who first brought its teachings to the U.S., it is starting to prosper.

USC College’s Janet Hoskins, a professor of anthropology and South East Asian scholar, and her former student Vy-Uyen “Judy” Cao (’04) have studied Caodai, its growth in California and the contrasts in how it’s practiced here and in Vietnam. The research project has literally has taken them around the world, from suburban Pomona and the Silicon Valley to southern Vietnam.

From its inception, Caodai has envisioned itself as a global religion, says Hoskins. Created in 1926, Caodai seeks to unite East and West in a universal faith. Its tenets blend the Asian philosophies and religious traditions of Buddhism, Daoism and Confucianism with Roman Catholicism, humanism and other European ideals. Among the best-known saints are Chinese leader Sun Yat-sen, Vietnamese poet and prophet Trang Trinh and French author and humanist Victor Hugo.

“In some ways it was a concept ahead of its time,” says Hoskins. “Now the leaders believe the world may be more receptive to their message of unity.”

Caodai in California There are now 26 Caodai temples in California, with the largest congregations in Orange County and near San Jose. The community has started building a replica of Caodai’s most important temple in Riverside, and has hopes to build meditation and study centers to attract more interest from the English-speaking community.

Hoskins discovered the resurgence of the Caodai movement in California by chance. She saw what looked like a small temple in a converted suburban house in Pomona, about “five minutes from the house I grew up in,” she says.

Hoskins approached Cao, then a senior psychology major, to take part in her new study because she needed someone who could speak and translate Vietnamese to help with her interviews of Caodaists.

Through interviews, Hoskins and Cao began to gather a better view of the religion from its own followers, including temple elders, younger members and a few American converts, most notably a Vietnam War Veteran.

“We’re trying to come up with a personal view of a religion that has been in America for more than 20 years now, but that few know about outside of the Vietnamese community,” says Cao.

Journey to Vietnam

In July of last year, Hoskins and Cao flew to Saigon, now called Ho Chi Minh City, to visit the major temples of Caodai. Despite repression by the Vietnamese socialist government, Caodai is the third largest religion in the country, with an estimated 5 million followers and some 1,300 temples in south Vietnam alone.

From Saigon, they traveled to Tay Ninh, the town where Caodai was founded and home of the largest and most important Caodai temple. Brightly painted—called “the kind of temple Walt Disney might have built for Fantasyland” by The Lonely Planet Guide to Vietnam and “a congregation of kitsch” by journalist Ron Gluckman—and a growing tourist attraction, the Tay Ninh temple is comparable to the Vatican in its importance to followers.

On the trip, they interviewed 20 Caodaists. Hoskins says that many people told them that Caodai had survived a difficult time since the fall of Saigon in 1975, but that now new temples are being built and the older ones renovated. “Interest in religion is increasing all over Vietnam, and tourism has helped Caodai because the Tay Ninh temple is the second largest tourist attraction in South Vietnam,” she says.

“One of the most interesting things was to see the different sects of Caodai, which had branched off from the original over the last 80 years,” says Hoskins. “The California community is so much smaller, that they tend to emphasize the similarities between the branches. In Vietnam, the differences are much clearer.”

On the negative side, in Vietnam spiritism and séances are illegal and new regulations that took effect last November make it illegal for people to discuss religion on the Internet, Hoskins says.

Hoskins, Cao and USC sophomore Bao-Viet Nguyen, who is now working with Hoskins, are preparing a paper on their work for a February conference on Religion, Immigration and Social Justice organized by USC’s Center for Civic and Religious Culture. In April, they will present at a UC Riverside conference marking 30 years since the fall of Saigon. To use the Tao to save the world. Minh Ly Thanh Hoi the 9th day of the 10th month of the year of the Rooster (November 15, 1969) at 6 p.m. Verse: Helping humanity in order to save the world One should be able to tell the difference between false and true in life, Should cultivate self in this life to become saints In order to return to the Nirvana later. Master Van Hanh. I greet all disciples. I return today to give you some opinion regarding the Tao. O dear disciples! Last time I brought up the issue of using the Tao to save the world. I would like to discuss more details on it. As I said earlier, to save the world, the more important aspect is not the physical but the spiritual one. Since humanity was created, God had many times come to save the world, not following any unique way, but according to the spiritual level of humans, God had framed His teachings to the practical daily life in order to wake them up and lead them from the darkness to the light, from crimes to honesty, from debaucheries to purity, from destructive animosity to conserving love. Dharma is although an unlimited teaching, but it’s not practical to use any randomly technique for any situation or any spiritual level. Many times, certain teaching could not be spoken to certain person, not because that God wanted to hide the truth, but because that person could not understand. For the same reason, in the antiquity, the founders of religions could not express all his/her knowledge to their disciples, and they misunderstood that the teachings were secret and should be limited to certain disciples, and then did not dare to publish widely to the public. It’s not the way to understand the divine will. God has never wished to hide the truth from humans. Eventhough the truth has been widely spread to humanity, they have not yet understood it enough, and able to practice the Tao. Now a day, you should alwaystry to spread all your knowledge to people to realize the principle “Teach Self and Teach Others.” Before to spread the Tao to others do not forget your immediate family who are your spouse, your children, your siblings, and friends. You have chosen the Tao for yourself, you have to train the next generation to continue the Tao, because your lifespan is limited. The most practical to train the next generation is to train your own children, who inherit the good seed from you. In bringing this issue up, you have to establish a procedure to make it come true. There have not been any parents who took time to educate their children well. You have to have a clear procedure, a clear sustem, and a continuous program for each range of age. This is a way to use the Tao to save the world. In a country like Vietnam where there have been many religions from the East to the West, if each religion has such a procedure for training the next generations, in the future there would be no more pagans. If in the social, educational, political, governmental activities, there are people with religious background who know to serve humanity and the country with impartiality, this country will not be far from having peace and happiness. Talking about using the Tao to save the world, one should not omit love, the true love without discrimination. An example of a good physician with conscience, he would take care of patients with all his capability without discrimination, without taking in account whether the patient is a good or bad, cruel or gentle, debauched, homeless or belonging to gangs person. Otherwise he would not be a professional physician. It’s the same for a virtuous person. Love should be coming spontaneously from the heart without any personal profit. For example, in the disciples if there is a person with a bad karma, beside the fact that he should accept courageously the karma, the co-disciples should love and support him, finding all ways to comfort, to cousel, to encourage him. This would be a true love. It’s the same way when we wish to convert new people, we have to maintain the faith of co-disciples. It’s more important to maintain the faith of one co-disciple than converting five or ten new persons . The love is not limited to the ones who love us, but has to extend to the ones who hate us so that we can lead them to the right path. Verse: Love is for all without discrimination, Whether people are rich or poor, belonging to low or high classes; One should always imitate the examples of Superior Spirits, In trying to cultivate self. Disciples! Duty and love are the same on earth and in Nivana. Remember to use the Tao to deal with any thing in any situation. It’s not like a child who refuses to eat when he is angry; because he would be the only one who will be hungry. I encourage you to faithfully cultivate yourself. There are two ways on this earth: a bad and a good, a decadent and an enlightening ways. Good persons will belong to the enlightening way, and bad persons will belong to the decadent way. I wish your cultivation will progress every day to decrease crimes of humanity. Keep enjoying your cultivation, do not be discouraged by any physical or spiritual challenges. My teachings since previous sessions are the remedy for all complications of your life of cultivation. Wish you joy. Will see you at another time. Ascension.


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