Legacy of a Female Religious Leader

Updated: Jul 4, 2021

The Cardinal Statues
The Cardinal Statues

His Holiness Hộ Pháp (Head of the Divine Alliance Body/ the Guardian of Dharma) preached about Her Holiness Lâm Hương Thanh in 1949 as follows:

"Tonight, let us commemorate the Shakyamuni Buddha and our Eldest Sister - the Female Cardinal Lâm Hương Thanh. It is uncertain whether it is by chance or through fate that Her disincarnation coincided with the Buddha's Day. As far as Bần Đạo (this poor monk) is concerned, we can say that among devout Buddhists the Cardinal was the most faithful. She told Bần Đạo that before the Supreme Being founded our faith, She only followed Buddhism. She had devoted her whole heart to Buddhism since childhood. Probably thanks to the miraculous power of the Supreme Being, every time they chanted the Buddhist mantra, the Supreme Being was considered the Lord Buddha of the Universe of Three Thousand Worlds. For that reason, she loved Him deeply. The Cao Đài Religion founded by the Supreme Being is also reformed Buddhism.

Today, in commemoration of the Shakya Buddha and our Sister, we should pray with our heart to His spirit and Hers. We all know the secret that She came from the spirit of Longnu. Who is Longnu? She is a disciple of the Guan Yin Bodhisattva. Bần Đạo learned that the Guan Yin Bodhisattva has undertaken the critical duty assigned by the Maitreya Buddha to steer the Prajna boat. Therefore, Her Holiness Guan Yin cannot be reincarnated. As Her disciple, Longnu was reincarnated in Her place to unite with spirits from other realms and Hộ Pháp (the Guardian of Dharma) in their mission to build the Great Faith of the Supreme Being. They share the common mission of saving all living beings and establish this salvation organization."

The Story of Longnu

Guan Yin and Longnu
Guan Yin and Longnu

Her story can be found in the famous Lotus Sutra. Below is an according excerpt from the sutra based on the translation by the Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research (199):

(Mañjuśrī said:) "There is the daughter of the nāga king Sāgara who is only eight years old. She is wise; her faculties are sharp; and she also well knows all the faculties and deeds of sentient beings. She has attained the power of recollection. She preserves all the profound secret treasures taught by the buddhas, enters deep meditation, and is well capable of discerning all dharmas. She instantly produced the thought of enlightenment and attained the stage of non-retrogression. She has unhindered eloquence and thinks of sentient beings with as much compassion as if they were her own children. Her virtues are perfect. Her thoughts and explanations are subtle and extensive, merciful, and compassionate. She has a harmonious mind and has attained enlightenment”...

At that time Śāriputra spoke to the daughter of the nāga king, saying: “You say that you will soon attain the highest path. This is difficult to believe..."

The daughter said: “Through your transcendent powers watch me become a buddha even more quickly than that!”

Then the assembly there all saw the daughter of the nāga king instantly transform into a human, perfect the bodhisattva practices, go to the vimalā world in the south, sit on a jeweled lotus lower, and attain highest, complete enlightenment, become endowed with the thirty-two marks and eighty excellent characteristics, and expound the True Dharma universally for the sake of all sentient beings in the ten directions... On hearing the Dharma, incalculable numbers of sentient beings became enlightened and attained the stage of non-retrogression."

Biography of Her Holiness Lâm Hương Thanh (Quang Minh)

The Female Cardinal Office
The Female Cardinal Office

Her Holiness Lâm Hương Thanh was born into a Buddhist family in the Mekong Delta area in Vietnam. Generations of her family had been devout Buddhists, which was evidenced by a pagoda they built in their neighborhood for the faith community in its surroundings and beyond. The Cao Đài Apostles received an instruction of the Supreme Buddha/ Đức Cao Đài/ God to break the news to her and her husband. They were allowed to communicate with Him through spiritist seances so that they both wholeheartedly became His disciples.

Their pagoda soon turned into a temple for Cao Đài initiates and disciples to perform their religious observances. Scriptures were given away for free, while the poor and needy were also helped with their religious vestments. She then joined hands with other sisters to spread the new faith across the South of Vietnam, especially among female believers.

To prepare for the grand inaugural ceremony of the Cao Đài faith, she liaised with her Buddhist teacher in Tay Ninh (a Western province in the South of Vietnam) to use his pagoda for the purpose. Due to devilish interference and manipulation by the French colonialists, her teacher later refused to let them stay. Her family used their fortune to buy a large plot of land, following the guidance of the Divine Pope on where to locate and build the Holy City.

In conjunction with the Sacerdotal Council, she also took charge of dealing with the French governor to avert their persecutions. Due to skepticism and fear, the governor arrested Cao Đài followers and closed down their temples. The eldest sister confronted them in their office, convincing them that the Cao Đài Religion is reformed Buddhism whose disciples only served religious purposes and cultivation by practicing compassion, good deeds, vegetarianism, and no killing. Thanks to her effort, the temples and disciples were released to continue their practices.

In the beginning, the main temple in the Holy City was built with wood and timber from the adjacent forest. It was quickly consumed by termite. The Divine Pope instructed Hộ Pháp (the Head of the Divine Alliance Body) to build a new Hole See based on His design. Again, her family used their fortune to finance the construction which started in 1933 but faced many obstacles and interruptions. During the economic crisis, her family business went downhill, but her effort hardly wavered. She did not hesitate to give up her valuable belongings to complete the construction. After a court hearing, she finally disincarnated in 1937 on the Buddha's Day. The Supreme Being sanctified her as the first female Cardinal of the Cao Đài Religion on account of her bright Holy example for all female disciples.

Before disincarnation, she confided to other sisters as follows:

"My secular encumberments did not do any good for the soul. That is why I did not hesitate to give them up. Had I still craved for earthly materials, when would I be able to return to my Heavenly Home? As a result, I knelt before the altar praying that I offered myself to the Great Faith to follow the Sacerdotal Council and guide living beings to the path of virtue."

Below is an example of her teachings to other sisters: (Quang Minh)

The Tao is immense like the sky and the sea. No amount of scripture can capture all that it is. Our short gathering can by no means achieve such a purpose. Therefore, I would like to convey several key points as follows:

Why is it called Tao?

The Tao is formless, imageless, silent, and breathless. On a macro scale, it encapsulates all the sky and earth; even the entire universe follows its principles. On a micro scale, a thread of hair, a breath of humans, and animals of all species exist in accordance with its principles. The Tao is not only extremely large, deep, and broad, but also everflowing, discreet, and miraculous. No places are devoid of it; neither is any incidence. Still, its image is nowhere to be found. It 'be' in both heaven and earth. As humans do not know what the being's name is, we call it the Tao to be simple. As the scripture goes, "when no name is known, the best name is Tao."

The Heavenly Tao

The day is shone by the sun, the night by the moon and stars. The Cơ star signifies wind activity, the Tất star rain activity, and the Vân Hán star drought. Each has its own function. A year has four seasons: spring corresponds to the wood element which gives rise to blooming flowers; summer to the fire element which gives rise to heat; autumn to the metal element which cools off; winter to the water element which brings in coldness. The cycle goes on every year in exactly the same pattern as the righteous Tao.

The Earthly Tao

The mountain is high, the river deep, the sea vast. Flatlands are inhabited by humans, plants, animals, and insects. Although there are four directions of east, west, south, and north, shapes and creatures everywhere resemble each other thanks to the constant Tao.

Between Heaven and Earth is Humans

The Way/ Tao of humans is clear and easy to understand. For example, parents should be kind, children pious, spouses harmonious, the elder loving, the younger respectful. Friends should be reliable, relatives loving and supportive. To the senior, we need to show respect; to the poor or ignorant, show love and guidance. Do not flatter the rich, or despise the lowly.

In a family, all manners should follow rules; those among relatives also must be prudent and just.

Males who shoulder national duties must be completely righteous and sincere; commoners must pay taxes and not violate country laws. Females must preserve themselves and their chastity, as well as the three obediences and the four virtues.

The three obediences include that to her father as a maiden daughter, that to her husband as a chaste wife, and that to her sons as a widow.

The four virtues include kindness in character, correctness in speech, skillfulness in housework, and neatness in appearance. They function as a mirror for the women and need to be polished carefully.

To sum up, males must fulfill their public duties, while females their housework. It is the basics of the Tao of humans. Only when our human duties are fulfilled can we follow the footsteps of the Divine of old. A long journey must start at your doorstep. A climb to the treetop must start at its root. Those are the different levels of cultivation. Unless we fulfill those duties before learning the Way of Buddhas, Immortals, and Saints, it will be no different than refusing to climb low mounds to reach the mountain top, or to go to the pier to reach the high sea...

I advise disciples to uphold earnestness first and foremost. Cultivation must take root in both your words and your heart. Religious laws and rules must be abided by from the beginning till the very end. Even though others are not aware, we must pledge earnestness when facing our own conscience. As the first line of our daily chanting goes, "Faith roots in earnestness and truthfulness..."

Now I will talk about the three religions - Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism. The daily chanting goes: "Three branches have the same root." Why is that? Because the Tao exists even before Heaven and Earth in the Supreme Ultimate (Taiji) and Infinity (Wuji). After Monad gave birth to Yin and Yang, Heaven, Earth and Humans came into being. The Great Divine Beings then were reincarnated to teach the Tao to humans. His Holiness Laozi, His Holiness Confucius, and His Holiness Shakya all based on the same root to found their religions. Although each has a different name, their mottos do not differ.

Confucianism says: preserve the heart and nurture the character,

Taoism says: cultivate the heart and mold the character,