As a representative of the
Hiệp Thiên Đài I would like to read the biography of HH Hộ Pháp, who was a great
dignitary, a heavenly appointed one, a man who has made a great contribution to
the Caodaist Religion. If we read about him we read about his great spiritual
contributions, his great building works, that is, the construction of both the
concrete and spiritual forms of our religion, forms which make the reputation of
our faith resound throughout the world. If without the grace of HH Hộ Pháp Phạm
Công Tắc, he who exhausted himself both with his heart and with his thoughts, at
this moment Vietnam would not yet have a Great Way which is this Great Way for the
Third Universal Amnesty (Đại-Đạo Tam-Kỳ Phổ-Độ / 大道三期普度). This religion now has more than 2 million believers,
its majestic and solemn Great Divine Temple and other
magnificent buildings both in the urban areas of Tây Ninh and the outlying parts
of the Holy See constitute a significant part of
Tây Ninh Province.
Although the biography of
HH Hộ Pháp has been published as book at the Holy See on 24 June 1955, I thought
we should at least mention once more the brief summary of his role in
establishing this religion so that believers can remember his deeds and keep in
the depths of their hearts his sublime and supra-earthly example. He was an
extraordinary Being who dedicated his entire life to the service of humanity.
HH Hộ Pháp was born into
the Phạm family on the 5th day of the fifth lunar month year of the Tiger (1890)
at An Hòa village in the Trảng Bàng District of Tây Ninh Province. He attended
the college of Chasseloup-Laubat, which is
often referred to as our national school.
During his 20s he worked
for the Customs Department; with intelligence, honesty and an uncorrupt
character. He shouldered many important responsibilities, however, he was not
like other government officers who used their positions in order to threaten and
press the common folk for bribes and favours . His purpose was not to take
advantage of officialdom in order to create happiness for himself alone, or to
glorify his name or for the advancement of his family, rather, his intent was to
seek out like-minded spirits around him and make close friendships. He sought to
reveal his soul to his friends in discussions that went far into the quiet of
the night. In sharing these friendship, Phạm Công Tắc and his companions worried
about the destiny of their nation and of the people who were then under the
oppression of the autocratic government ruling over them at that time.
They witnessed first hand
how the French colonial authorities were rapidly increasing their power, alas,
the Vietnamese intelligentsia were still trapped within a cycle of gaining
benefiting from selling their good name.
Phạm Công Tắc and his
comrades felt hopeless and together they deeply resented the state of the
nation. They shared each others sorrows, complaints and lamentations.
During this time he tried
to find oblivion in the elevated pastimes of the cultural life, sometimes he
joined his friends in playing music, or reciting poetry or sometimes just
conversation and drinking.
Money was not plentiful,
but he was always generous and chivalrous to those who were poor, in fact he
gave succor to anyone who was made miserable by earthly concerns or beset by
misfortune or the general hardships of life. To these people Phạm Công Tắc and
his comrades would always try to find a way to offer help.
In his simple life, he was
always a great admirer of nature, and would delight in a cool breeze, a bright
moon, the scenery of the mountains and rivers, a stroll in the countryside, or
just wandering about contemplating his dreams, despite these joys he always
carried in his heart concerns for the future of his country. One night he said
to his two close friends,
“A life where you are
focused on money makes you obsessed with the smell of material things. We must
look for temples and sek to practice the Way. We must do this in order to avoid
seeing again and again these stories that break our hearts with a pain so
intense that we forever wish to turn our eyes from such injustices.”
In about June 1925, after
a discussion with close friends with whom he had intellectual discussions and
played music, there was one companion who told the group about a number of
intellectuals in Phnom Penh who, at that time, were regularly experimenting with
table tipping (séance). They invited the spirits of those who had passed away to
come and speak with them. This person also explained how one should use a
three-legged table and he showed them the methods of communicating with the
spirits in the invisible realm.
HH Hộ Pháp and his friends
tried to remember this method and after a few weeks they began experimenting.
This was done together with Mr Cao Quỳnh Cư, Mr Cao Quỳnh Diêu, Mr Võ Văn Nguyên,
and Mr Cao Hòai Sang. They began to practice table tipping at the house in
Darras Street near the Thái Bình Market (Saigon).
The first time they tried,
a single spirit entered into the séance and transmitted a (Đường Luật) poem.
This first spirit was quite senior – it was that of Cao Quỳnh Tuân who was the
father of HH Cao Thượng Phẩm. The Hộ Pháp was very happy with this result.
Subsequently, every night they held meetings and carried out table tipping for
entertainment. Over time more people came into the group such as Mr Nguyễn Trung
Hậu, Mr Trương Hữu Đức, Mr Trần Duy Nghĩa, Mr Trương Văn Tràng, and Mr Lê Thế
Vĩnh. Amongst the Beings who descended and transmitted poems, there was one
Being who did not want to present his name but was recongised only by [the first
three vowels of Vietnamese] A, A, A. This Being offered to come every night and
teach the group about various religious writings and doctrine and to speak about
many things beyond the knowledge of those present. This made Hộ Pháp and his
friends display a very special respect for this “voice.”
On the night of the 24
December 1925 the Venerable “A Ă Â” came to reveal to us all that He was no
other than the Supreme Being who had now come to Vietnam to establish the
foundation of the Great Way, and that this Way would liberate humanity during
the Third Amnesty. He undertook the holy name of Cao Đài Tiên Ông Đại Bồ Tát Ma
Ha Tát. Since that time HH Phạm Công Tắc, together with his friends, showed the
deepest respect, worshipping the Supreme Being, Jade Emperor of Heaven. It was
in this manner that they became believers in the Caodaist Religion.
Not long after this night
in 1927 Phạm Công Tắc was appointed Hộ Pháp by Heaven, head of the Hiệp Thiên
Đài. Directly under his authority were the Thượng Phẩm (Leader of the Spiritual
realm) and Thượng Sanh (Leader of the Temporal Realm). He was the first person
appointed by Heavenly Command. After this, many of his friends in the séance
group were also given Heavenly appointments in the Hierarchy of the 12 Zodiacal
Lords of the Hiệp Thiên Đài of the Great Way for the Third Universal Amnesty.
His Holiness is the one
who unveils the Mystery of the Invisible and is the maintainer of the rules and
laws of the New Religion. He is the one who pronounces judgments on dignitaries
and disciples alike. He elevates the dignity of the fervent through their merit
and brings sanctions against those who have committed faults. In order to keep
the dignitaries and adepts free of the sufferings inflicted by the laws of
karma, he keeps an impartial heart in order to propagate the Way. He used the
mysterious and secret dharma to guide all the evolved souls towards entering
the Bát Quái Đài [the Council of the Great Spirits which heads the Eight States
of Soul, the Eight-sided Palace of God's presence, the Eight Trigrams Palace] to
unite there with the Genies, Saints, Immortals and Buddhas.
In the year 1934, the
Acting Pope Lê Văn Trung discarnated and returned to the immortal realm. After
the memorial service that celebrated the Đại Tường / (greater mourning period -
581 days after the date of death) for the deceased Acting Pope, a great meeting
of all believers was held and additionally a Sacerdotal Council was convened.
This was called to resolve business left outstanding from the Acting Pope’s
death and was held on the 8th November 1935 [other source cited : 6th
day -11th lunar month – year of the Dog / Giáp Tuất (12th
-Dec-1934). The whole meeting with one voice elected His Holiness to hold the
unified religious powers [of the Religion] until the Cardinals were officially
appointed. From this time HH remained in charge of the two powers of the faith –
the leadership of the Cửu Trùng Đài and the leadership of the Hiệp Thiên Đài.
With his whole heart he now worked even more intensely for the Way.
The point to which we
should pay most attention is the way this venerable soul has offered every part
of his profound heart and all of his goodwill. He has overcome many difficulties
because of his love for humanity. He carried the Divine Will for the world and
so the world will now be blessed by the Supreme Being. Alas, he was unable to
escape the disasters that would follow. And he would come across so many
horrible ordeals that to hear them recounted once more makes our tears gush.
Because the French
Colonial forces were in doubt about the aims of the Caodaist Religion, and
because they suspected that His Holiness was seeking to build another country
within the larger nation, and, also, because they suspected he intended to
liberate the Vietnamese people, His Holiness and a number of the hierarchy of
the Sacerdotal Council were arrested on the 4 June 1941, the year of the Snake (Canh
Tỵ), and on the 27th July 1941 they were exiled to the island of Madagascar.
They were forced into exile from their homeland for a period of five years and
This test was so onerous
that whoever was placed in a similar situation would find their strength and
their determination flee from them. Even the will of a great hero would falter.
But because His Holiness could communicate with the Divine Beings through the
agency of automatic writing, though his body was tortured and maltreated, his
spirit nevertheless overflowed with an incomprehensible belief. His brain and
his nerves remained bright and clear and he kept all his faith in the Supreme
Being. For a Vietnamese man Madagascar was beyond the horizons, a place where
the water was like poison and the forests impenetrable, often death hung close
by. But with the power and protection of the Divine Beings His Holiness avoided
all sorts of misfortunes.
Retuning home in 1946 His
Holiness had to face numerous and almost-unsolvable problems. These included
those believers who were terrorised in goal. Moreover the Colonial French were
taking advantage of the presence of the British Army and sought to use these
forces to reclaim Vietnam for themselves. The
nationalist parties were divided in the face of their enemies and the resistance
movement was burning for action. These divisions were at the time hidden, but
thankfully with his prestige and his brilliant thinking His Holiness was able to
calm the nationalist parties and reorganise the Caodai army. He did this so that
it could protect the Holy lands and reclaim some sense of certainty and
happiness for all the believers of the religion.
His work led to the
building of the Great Divine Temple. This has become
a significant modern work. He did this not only to make foreign visitors praise
this complex, but also for architects who now admire it so much. Such a great
work! But His Holiness used only the contribution of the believers in the
religion to build it. The financial means and the building materials were very
hard to come by. It is thanks to the kindness of the Spiritual Pope, Lý Thái
Bạch (Li Tai Pei), who through séance, gave step-by-step instructions and models
from the start through to the time of the building’s completion.
The foundation had been
laid in 1933, and up to 1936 the construction had begun. In 1941 the external
construction was completed but the Great
Divine Temple was not
decorated by the time His Holiness was exiled. The work came to a halt.
In 1946 His Holiness
returned to Vietnam and continued to
prepare the construction according to his wishes. The
Temple was open in 1947 but it was not until 1954 that the last works on the
building were completed. Finally the inauguration ceremony was held in the first
month of the year “Ất Mùi” (Year of the Goat) / 1955.
The length of the Great
Divine Temple is 145 metres
long, its width is 40 metres, and its height at the Hiệp Thiên Đài is 36 metres.
At the Cửu Trùng Đài the height is 30 metres. The Great
Divine Temple faces the West
and shows the charm and beauty of the emblems of the Three Religions and the
Five Levels (of spiritual attainment). Such a great construction! But His
Holiness was very modest in speaking of it. He said that he only obeyed the
instructions of the Supreme Being and the Great Immortal (Chinese Poet) Li Po /
Li Tai Pei, but that He himself made no contribution to the building whatsoever.
There was a friend of his
who is a dignitary of the Hiệp Thiên Đài. He wrote a poem in honour of His
Holiness. The Hộ Pháp exchanged poems with this man with a very modest tone.
Your piety is drenched through with the dyes of
divine nature - brilliant colourings,
Celebrated or hated for your good deeds or bad
- their judgments are earth-bound.
Banishment cannot effect your dignity
Wealth and reputation would only make you laugh
Your life has galloped down such treacherous
But battered by tail winds, carried by head
winds the crane still flies on.
Although you wish to repay all the debts you
owe to your nation
Just try paying one – and forget about the
This poem was also translated
by Từ Chơn :
I’m still as pious as
Celebrated or hated for
my good deeds or bad - their judgements are earth-bound
affect my dignity
I wouldn’t care whether
I am respected or not
I have experienced lots
of risky situations
So I am familiar with
them like the cane to flying against too strong headwind
I only hope to pay part
of the debts I owe to my nation
That’s just a few
payments to a huge debt
In the hope of spreading
the Way overseas, His Holiness worked very hard to devise a plan for achieving
this goal. This depended on his diplomacy, his skills and his fondness for good
and talented people. Because of his efforts, today the Caodaist Religion has
worthy representatives, especially at international conferences regarding
religion and theology, for example Mr Gabriel Gabron has been appointed as an
Instructor of the faith (Tiếp Dẫn Đạo Nhơn). He has represented the Caodaist
Religion firstly at the International Spiritualistic Congress of Barcelona in
1934, secondly at the World Congress of Religions, London, 1936, thirdly at the
International Spiritualistic Congress of Glasgow, 1937, and at the World
Congress of Beliefs in Paris, 1939. In this way the Holy Name of the Caodaist
Religion has spread all around the world.
After the inauguration
ceremony of the Great Divine Temple (1955), His
Holiness Hộ Pháp needed to develop and alter the internal affairs of of the
religion. The most pressing area was to develop the Charity Body (Phước Thiện)
to give it a more organised form and then help this organisation become stable
and independent and, finally, to serve the charity affairs of not only the
religion, but also society at large. Another great work of his, one that we
should recognise, was his efforts in building the Long Hoa market. Disregarding
the difficulties and the hard labour, every day he appeared at the building site
to personally direct those who were contributing to this construction. This
work remained on schedule until changes were made that left the construction
incomplete. These events made the hierarchy and the believers bitter.
At the beginning of the 8th
Month, Year of the Goat, 1955, the head of the Caodaist Army, who had himself
been appointed by His Holiness, was caught up in the nationalisation process of
all military forces. He turned against the hierarchy and formed a committee that
was dedicated to purging the Religion. By his actions many co-believers ended up
in gaol. Some female co-believers were also imprisoned for a number of months.
His Holiness was placed under house arrest in the Hộ Pháp Đường (the Hộ Pháp’s
office). The army surrounded the Hộ Pháp Đường from 20th day of the
Eight Month, Year of the Goat (1955) to the 5th day of the First
Month, Year of the Monkey, (16 February 1956). With this unbearably sad
situation between believers fighting each other, His Holiness together with his
entourage left the Holy See at 3AM on the morning of this last day. He traveled
directly to the capital of Cambodia.
His Holiness had left
behind the original temple of Caodaist Religion.
He carried in his heart so much bitterness and anguish because he had left
behind so many of the dignitary and all of the believers who were now abandoned
and helpless as if they were birds lost from their flock. The chicks had lost
their mother, the brutal storm had come, there was nothing left to do but
Nevertheless this sublime
man remained virtuous whether advancing or retreating. Seeing that he had not
done anything wrong, His Holiness, to relieve the sorrow in his heart gave over
both the bad and the good to the Supreme Being and he hope that He would direct
His will where He might. Phnom Penh was a place where Hộ Pháp had already been for a number of years to
spread the Way. From that initial introduction His Holiness continued to serve
humanity and to concern himself with the building of a
Temple to guide and serve both dignitaries and believers. He tried to keep
silent and waited for the political situation in
Vietnam to change so that he may be able to
return and undertake once more the mission entrusted to him by the Supreme
He was an eagle that had
flown up through many levels of clouds, over many years he had come upon many
brutal storms, now was the time for him to rest his wings. His Holiness was
living in a strange land. Although he was cared for by believers with the utmost
diligence, and although he did take some rest and although he did take care of
his health, nevertheless, with his heart full of love and yet replete with
homesickness he turned, at last, toward his homeland. He worried about his
country’s troubles, he worried about the people living in misery. His soul could
not avoid being stirred. His heart was always full of past concerns, it could
not avoid overflowing with sadness.
This state of being
careworn could only continue to grow in a person who had such a clear and
patriotic vision. Perhaps the Supreme Being would like to return him to his
divine position. It would be easier for him to develop and change the Dao in
that place than in his earthly realm. Soon he was confined to his bed because of
sickness then he departed the earth for good returning to the immortal realms at
His Holiness disincarnated
on the 10th Day of the Fourth Month Year of the Pig (17th
May 1959). By the grace of heaven he lived until his 70th year.
He has left a written will
which can be summarised as following:
Whenever Vietnam attains independence, and the
country achieves a united existence then the Believers will move His lotus-flower coffin
back to the Holy See.
How sad - the moon over the Palace of the Dao
The fog obscures the heights of Mount Tuy
The sound of the bejeweled flute abruptly stops
Wisdom has returned to the void.
The area of the Holy Land was established by his mind and his thinking, now we will no longer see
His Holiness returning to guide the children of the Supreme Being on the Holy
Path of Virtue. Normally the situation of death and parting is the focus of the
most suffering in our lives. But in terms of the Đạo (Way / Tao) His Holiness
is an advanced Spiritual Being who has obeyed the order of Heaven to come down
to the earth to establish a Religion that will now last 700, 000 years.
Therefore the disincarnation of His Holiness is a spiritual or heavenly reward
for a soul who has completed the responsibilities he was given. Now he returns
and presents his report to the Supreme Being after having carried out his orders.
The legacy that he left
behind was a series of very extraordinary works. He is an example for the
dignitaries and his beloved believers about the patience and sacrifice of a
great person. One who spent his whole life not caring for himself, but who
instead entered many times into the circle of life and death in order to
complete his mission to religion and to humanity.
Remember his gracious
example! All of us dignitaries must make our minds more noble and follow the
example of His Holiness more honestly, that is, we must practice altruism in
order to enrich the great common work of the Đạo (Tao / Religion) and make it
durable and everlasting. This is because we are standing among the Holy Body of
the Supreme Being entrusted to us by His Holiness.
May the Divine Beings
grant us their grace and bless all the faithful.