A Forgotten Nation Leader

Updated: Jul 4, 2021

Except for Cao Đài adepts, the name Phạm Công Tắc has surely slipped from the minds of modern Vietnamese both inside and outside Vietnam. Contemporary regimes have succeeded in distorting history to elevate themselves and hide their hideousness. For once, they almost successfully wiped out the new religion after the delusionally or cunningly purported 'liberation' of the country. Their schemes to erase its original physiognomy have born poisonous fruit which is the current false Holy See leaders, but as long as true Cao Dai adepts still exist, embers of its holy past still glow in different corners of the world.

Phạm Công Tắc became aware of his national plights and duties much early in his life (Huynh, 16). Despite being baptized a Catholic and being educated at the largest French standard college, he could not help witnessing injustices and oppression of his people on a regular basis, especially when working in the colonial ruling system. During his college days, he already took part in various patriotic movements and activities, including particularly penmanship. Like many writers at the time, using pseudonyms helped insulate them from the scour and arrest by the authority. Known as Ai Dan, he gathered other well-known patriots to form poet societies that strived for humanist and national ideals by fusing both Eastern and Western essences (Huynh, 18).

A famous underground movement emerged at this time under the name 'Dong Du' which selected the best students for overseas study in Japan so that they would learn to preserve Asian ways in the face of colonial assimilation and brainwash. As a member of the fourth wave, his hope was dashed by the Secret Police's raid on their headquarter in Saigon. This mishap did not sway him. (Tran, 4)

He continued to write for different papers such as Cong Luan, Luc Tinh Tan Van, La Voix Libre, and La Cloche Fêlée to advocate for the rights of the indigenous. Public debates, op-eds, and journalism became his means of non-violent resistance to the unscrupulous government. While working as an official, he was assigned to different locations in the South and Center. He was able to elevate local morale and life quality through education, welfare, talent nurture, penmanship, call for unity, independence, freedom, social justice, etc. (Huynh, 21)

When all efforts and uprisings were quickly quelled, he and his friends found consolation in communication with the spiritual world. Little did they know that God had a very miraculous plan in wait for which they would sacrifice everything until their last breath and beyond. Many may say that the establishment of the Cao Dai Religion is his only remarkable legacy. Nothing is further from the truth; they are falling victims to brainwash by deceptive regimes. While undertaking strenuous roles in the faith organization, he never forgot his duties to his people.

"There is no need to describe this physical body. Bần Đạo knows that Buddhism calls this animal a ‘Kỵ-Vật’, that is, an animal which we ride. The philosophy of Buddhism features examples of this – the Từ-Hàng Bodhisattva (Avalokitesvara) riding Kim Mao-Hẩu (a yellow holy lion), and the Địa-Tạng Bodhisattva (Kṣitigarbha) riding Đề-Thính. They thus liberate their souls in glory. This animal makes us responsible for its life, and thus makes us ask it to pay back. How can it pay back? Well, it must depend on this visible world for its life. In so doing, it creates karma. It then depends on society and on this planet to pay off its debt. When it can attain a lofty philosophy, it will no longer depend on society for a living. It decides to be a servant for society and this planet to pay off its debt. As long as it refuses to be a servant for this visible world, the debt remains. The noblest philosophy is the life in which we do not live for ourselves but for society." (His Holiness Ho Phap, 46)

The first group of mediums
The first group of mediums

How did the Divine Horseman serve his nation?

He knew that Vietnam lost its independence because of past karma. To resolve it, someone or some group had to take the consequences upon themselves. In tandem with religious work, Cao Dai leaders remained ardent supporters of prince Cuong De who resided in Japan to build ties with the exemplary model of Eastern civilization while the last monarch had been ridden of all power and gone aloof (Tran, 18). Upon discovering confidential documents of such support, French troops raided the Holy See and temples to capture its leaders. Their motive actually rooted in their growing fear of Cao Dai's influence and ability to rally the people. Six dignitaries were then exiled far away in Madagascar for five years.

"On the 27th July 1941, I was exiled abroad. As Head of the Holy Body, I admitted to myself that I had not fulfilled my duties to society and the Faith. In my heart, I hoped that by giving in to the exile, I would shoulder the misery of the country. Out of satisfaction with such an idea, I was overjoyed: only one person suffers, but the entire country will rejoice." (His Holiness Ho Phap, 50)

Although his thoughts were completely rational, the karma of Vietnam was too serious to be redeemed (Quang Minh, 1985). Instead of regaining peace, the country faced an even harsher crackdown by the French army and fell prey to invasions by multiple forces such as Japanese Nazi, Communist block, etc. (Tran, 18; Le, 1992) On his return, His Holiness witnessed an even more appalling tragedy than before.

"Returning after tasting the miseries, I thought it was enough to prove to human beings the true nature of our Faith which is a symbol of altruism. On the contrary, the tragedy has befallen us once more - independence lost and countless lives destroyed. War and death have ravaged the entire country, rendering deep losses and miseries for all." (His Holiness Ho Phap, 16)

"Ban Dao (this poor monk) will describe the situation in a figurative way. Try to seek and understand. In a family, the father has kept a loan paper for a long time, but cannot demand payment. The family is poor; the children and grandchildren are sad. A debt collector called Ho comes and coaxes that he can claim the money back. He then brings the loan paper away with him. The family head is thinking of giving him such authority and then goes away. The collector can hardly claim the money back, while the family loses their hard-earned money. When the family head plans to come back, the collector cajoles the family into his scheme. He says to the family head: "Just ask your entire family. If they acknowledge your authority, I'll return it." But to the family, he says: "Watch out, he may come back and claim it for his own." (His Holiness Ho Phap, 48)

"There exists among the Vietnamese people those who form a group with a mark of the intelligentsia, but who wish to kill their own people for dictatorship." (His Holiness Ho Phap, 45)

Disgusted by the atrocity, slyness, and violence of the collector and the gang, the quiet leader had to find a solution to the nation's dilemma. Seeking help from the rightful monarch would be a step in the right direction because he seemed willing to put the people's common interests first. (Tran, 21-22) After a devastating world war, the French governor had learned to respect His Holiness's wisdom and Cao Dai's Way. Peaceful negotiations focusing on democracy and justice soon proved an effective approach to independence. (His Holiness Ho Phap, 49) His Holiness became closely involved in the Southern government to restore peace and welfare to the free land, while maintaining peace talks with the North for the sake of the people. This calm period did not last for long.

His Holiness and the last monarch
His Holiness and the last monarch

A Severed Nation and a Sorrowful Ending

At the international conference in Geneva, the Vietnam country was placed on the table for dissection by multiple parties, including colonialists, communists, observers, etc. What he did not want was unavoidable: a divided country. The most unexpected was lurking in the background - the rise of a new face and a new coalition. Shortly after the transfer of power to the new Prime Minister of the South, Diem with his claimed devotion to Catholicism and the shady manipulation of the U.S. advisor(s) persecuted all other religions and factions. The tyrant employed public relations schemes to blaspheme against and smear His Holiness's name, and eventually to eliminate him. To save Vietnam from treading into the Jewish path, he decided to seek asylum in Cambodia. His efforts to unite and pacify the Vietnamese people carried on until his disincarnation in 1959. (Le, 91-152)

"Communists and capitalists are now in conflict. Both promise to create a better life for humanity. We can see clearly that none of them really bring peace nor happiness. Mankind remains divided because the conflicts continue without end. They express concerns about how the world will end up. As both sides invent mass destruction weapons, won't it lead to our extinction? Co-habitation has been experimented in Asian countries such as China, Korea, and Vietnam. It does not yield the desired results but only ephemeral peace. Tension is rising and causing the worst suffering to these countries. All responsibilities fall on leaders of these governments, if you persist in pushing mankind towards extermination. Instead, we have to follow the call of the Divine to cultivate ourselves and understand that only love, compassion, harmony, unity, and justice can bring peace and harmony...

To the people of Vietnam and leaders of both the North and South, Ban Dao would like to ask you to set an outstanding example of unity to mankind who is mired in jeopardy. We know that unity restores vitality. Your responsibilities are particularly heavy in these moments. If you obstinately pursue international ideological wars which are fueled by sheer ambitions and political schism, you will be sinning against the nation and people of Vietnam. You must not forget that the happiness of the Vietnamese people results from love, unity, harmony, and justice. These have been national ideals passed down by our ancestors since the ancient past, rather than the products of political fights and factions." (His Holiness Ho Phap, 1954; Le, 91-93)

After different failed assassination attempts by both the Communists and Diem's administration, His Holiness passed away due to an unknown cause (Huynh).

Below is a poem he delivered after disincarnation:

"Three years have passed in a foreign land

My exile in exchange for the blessing of joy

Who fully knows how God disposes

Seventy years of age seem enough

Pity that my strength could still go on

How sad to watch the holy boat flounder

Who will come man the oar of Dharma

To glorify this land of Tao and beauty." (Huynh, 123)

Further comments: By the law of karma, these events were succeeded by the tragic deaths of the Diem brothers and the assassination of Kennedy. Far more tragically, the Southern Vietnamese had to flee en masse upon the fall of Saigon - one of the largest exoduses in human history. Since then, the Vietnamese people in Vietnam and people in many countries have been subdued and succumbed to enslavement, brainwash, temptation, contamination, etc. by both communism and capitalism.

To be continued on a special day...


Le, Tan Q. Tieu su Duc Ho Phap Pham Cong Tac. Center for Studies in Caodaism, 1992.

Tran, Van M. Vietnam's Caodaism, independence, and peace: the life and work of Pham Cong Tac. University of South Australia, 2000.

Huynh, Tam. Tieu su Duc Ho Phap Pham Cong Tac. Institute of Cao Dai History, 2017.

Cao Dai Sacerdotal Council. Collection of sermons by His Holiness Ho Phap. Cao Dai Holy See, 1970.