THE STRUCTURE OF CAODAI TEACHINGS
(Some preliminary sketches)
LÊ ANH DŨNG
Part of the talk at the Organ for Universalizing Daidao Teachings
Saigon, VN, 9.00 am, Monday 21 July 1986
1. The two attributes of Caodai teachings
Caodaism is simultaneously interested in dealing with the two reciprocal aspects of human activities, namely the spiritual life and the materialistic life which is also called the human or the social life. Thus, Caodai teachings bear two attributes as follows:
- The first attribute. Caodai teachings guide and help man so that he can achieve his final end of liberating himself from being confined to samsara. This is the heavenly way target, and spirituality is the key object of thinking and acting. With their heavenly way target, Caodai teachings are just Dao learning (esotericism) whose empirical method is meditation practice.
- The second attribute. Caodai teachings guide and help man so that he can lead his social life righteously, performing his complete status of a good citizen, fulfilling his responsibilities and obligations to his compatriots, motherland, and mankind. This is the worldly way target, and humanity (humanness) is the key object of an individual’s daily activities in his three relations:
(a) between the individual and himself;
(b) between the individual and another person;
(c) between the individual and his family, community, society, nation, and the world.
Universal harmony is the final end which Caodaism expects this world to achieve. With its worldly way target, Caodai teachings are just a philosophy (the exoteric teachings) with their own categories.
2. Why are Caodai teachings not merely esoteric or merely exoteric?
Caodaism is esoteric or exoteric, this depends on which aspect the teachings are viewed at. Esoteric and exoteric attributes are on the whole only the two sides of one teaching system. If the esoteric constituent were lacking, the liberating ability would be unavailable. If this transcendental component were missing, Caodai teachings would be no longer integral, since it would be purely and merely a philosophical system. Thus, it would fail to deal with the spiritual issue of man.
Caodai teachings guide and help man in his self-cultivation so that he can achieve the power to bring about the utmost salvation to all living creatures. When conceiving all living creatures in its broad sense, which does not refer to man only, one can ask how a philosophical system can satisfy the need of the utmost salvation required by the Third Universalism of Daidao (i.e. Caodaism).
On the contrary, if the philosophical side were missing, there would be no systematic thoughts to beacon and support a human’s daily life full of routine ties.
Caodai teachings never mislead man to deviation from reality. They consistently guide man and help him confront life, dealing with all ups and downs in a serene attitude, with a striving will, in an unceasingly self-controlling and self-strengthening spirit so that he can fulfill his being-man mission in this world.
In other words, Caodai teachings lead man to self-cultivation so that he can become a divinity; however, foremost and fundamentally, they guide and help man in his self-perfection so that he can deserve his position as a man.
Thus, the esoteric teachings are essential but the exoteric ones are not less indispensable. With both attributes, Caodai teachings provide man with their guidelines for his religious and secular paths. Caodaism is a humanistic religion; Caodai humanism pervades the whole Caodai teaching system, permeating both the heavenly and the worldly ways. Hence, these two attributes are always mutually supportive, instead of eliminating each other.
3. The reciprocal relation between the two attributes
For one who by his faith selects a belief on his own and taps the door of Caodaism to become a Caodaist, he is required to be fully aware of the interaction between the heavenly and the worldly way targets.
From a Caodaist point of view, one should not be biased towards only worldly interests, neglecting spiritual ones and vice versa. Spiritual Pope Lư Thái Bạch says, “Đạo và đời phải tương hiệp. Tâm linh và nhân sinh không tách rời nhau được. – Religious and secular concerns must be in harmony with each other. Spirituality and humanity cannot be taken apart.” (Ngọc Minh Đài temple, 15-4 Kỷ Dậu, 30-5-1969)
During his lifetime in this world, due to his circumstances, age, background, willingness, and so on, a Caodaist may follow the worldly path at first, but later on, he should follow the heavenly one. Nevertheless, the ideal is that he should take both at the same time.
Expressing that ideal, Caodaists often mention a righteous and religious life. This term completely bears Caodai humanistic nature. Leading a righteous and religious life means simultaneously following both esoteric and exoteric ways.
Caodai teachings are the foundation of a righteous and religious life. On the contrary, in leading this ideal life, Caodaists demonstrate that Caodai teachings, whether being viewed at the esoteric aspect or the exoteric one, are never illusory or impracticable. In other words, a righteous and religious life proves that Caodai teachings are really close to man and true to the social and daily life. Living such a life, Caodaists manifest the oneness of Caodai teachings as a system of double attributes.
The following chart generally illustrates the structure of Caodai teachings, which is also the foundation of a righteous, religious life.
all living creatures: chúng sinh
being-man mission: sứ mạng làm người (sứ mạng vi nhân)
Caodai humanism: nhân bản luận Cao Đài
Caodai teachings: giáo lư Cao Đài
Caodaism: đạo Cao Đài, Cao Đài giáo (short for the Third Universalism of Daidao)
Daidao (i.e. the Great Way): Đại đạo
Daidao teachings: giáo lư Đại đạo
Dao (i.e. the Way): Đạo
Dao learning: đạo học, đạo pháp
esotericism (i.e. the esoteric teachings): h́nh nhi thượng học; nội giáo tâm truyền
exoteric teachings (the): h́nh nhi hạ học; ngoại giáo công truyền
heavenly way (the): thiên đạo
human life (the): cuộc sống nhân sinh
humanistic religion: tôn giáo nhân bản
humanity (or humanness): nhân sinh
leading a righteous and religious life: sống đạo
liberation: giải thoát
Organ for Universalizing Daidao teachings (the): Cơ quan Phổ thông Giáo lư Đại đạo
religious and secular paths: đường đạo và đường đời
samsara: luân hồi sanh tử
self-cultivation: tu hành; tu luyện
social life (the): cuộc sống xă hội
spiritual life (the): cuộc sống tâm linh
Spiritual Pope: Giáo tông Vô vi
spirituality: tâm linh
Third Universalism of Daidao (the): Đại đạo Tam kỳ Phổ độ
universal harmony: đại đồng
universalism (i.e. universal salvation): phổ độ
utmost salvation (the): tận độ
worldly way (the): thế đạo
(The writer appreciates all constructive comments on this article.)
LÊ ANH DŨNG
Thiên-Lư Bửu-Ṭa, 12695 Sycamore Ave, San Martin, CA 95046 - USA. Tel: (408) 683-0674