Holy City Lost

On a rainy day shielded from the watch of detectives, 247 Cao Ðài disciples convened to draft the Declaration of the Cao Đài Religion. God did not require them to undertake this task because His Religion did not need any advance notice to or permission from any earthly authority. The leading disciples simply would like to inform the colonial governor and avoid sudden troubles. (Tran, 31). Below are excerpts from this document:

​There have been in Indochina three Religions - Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism. Our ancestors practiced religiously those three doctrines and lived happily by strictly following the beautiful precepts laid down by the founders of those religions. During that ancient time, people were so carefree that they could sleep without having to close their doors. People disdained even picking up unclaimed objects on the street. Alas! That beautiful time no longer exists... Fortunately for humanity, the Supreme Being has come under the name of NGỌC-HOÀNG THƯỢNG-ĐẾ (The Jade Emperor) and Cao-Đài ("The Very High/ The Almighty God"). The name "ĐẠI-ĐẠO TAM KỲ PHỔ-ĐỘ", which refers to the Third Great Amnesty of God, has been given by the Supreme Being who has come to help us found this new religion... Our mission is to lead humanity to peace and harmony like that of the former times. Humanity will thus be led towards a new era so happy that no words can describe.

The full declaration can be found here: http://online.anyflip.com/uisu/sctv/mobile/

The Establishment and Recognition of the Holy City

After the inaugural ceremony in 1926, the faith leaders were instructed by the Divine to find a location for the Holy See. The Divine Pope Li Po pinpointed a plot of land which was both auspicious and holy. His message went as follows:

"I will now explain why it is Holy. Three hundred meters underground flow six rivers that intersect at the very center of the land like six dragons facing each other. They meet each other in the shape of a mountain top called six dragons waiting on a royal seal..."

(Tran, 61)

Cao Đài Holy See in 1948
The Holy See in 1948

Tran further explained that the land is surrounded on all sides by rivers and streams. Each water source flows through a trigram of the Bagua. Moreover, they appear to reach their destination at the mountain range in the North which has an arrow shape called the dragon jaw. These characteristics constitute highly auspicious topography according to ancient wisdom.

Upon this land now stands the Cao Đài Holy See as we know it today. The Holy See is situated within the Holy City which remains almost unknown to the world outside it. After the construction of the Holy See was completed, more temples were built in the City including a monastery, a meditation house for females, a meditation house for males, a temple for national heroes, and many other works scattered across the entire area. More sanctuaries were still being planned such as the Divine Mother temple, the Temple of Thunder, epitomes of the Divine Realm, etc. The City is still in its infancy.

Being aware of this development, the last monarch of Vietnam (His Majesty Bảo Đại) and its first Prime Minister (His Excellency Bửu Lộc) issued a decree to recognize the City as well as the sovereignty of the Cao Đài Religion. The decree which came into effect in 1954 contained the following passages:

The National Government of Vietnam

Sai Gon, 6 June 1954

​The Cao Đài Religion or the Great Faith is built upon the basis of universal fraternity. It has made a great contribution to the independence of Vietnam. Its Holy City has been established in Tay Ninh. For these reasons, the Prime Minister and the Government of Vietnam decided to issue the following decree.

​First article: Sovereignty over the established City is granted to the Cao Ðài Religion whose Holy See is situated in the same area.

​Second article: Its sovereignty shall be inalienable and can be recognized internationally.

​Third article: All provinces (of Vietnam) shall follow this decree.

According to an archived document (attached below), the City covered the following area:

The area had the Holy See at its center. Its size was measured based on this center.

  • 21,000 m to the East of the Holy See

  • 3,000 m to the West of the Holy See

  • 12,000 m to the South of the Holy See

  • 12,000 m to the North of the Holy See

The total area was measured at 1,600,000,000 m2. Its map can be found attached below.

Sovereignty over the City was announced internationally to the United Nations and the Member States. It was recognized as an independent neutral state like the Vatican.

Invasion by the Diem's Administration

Wishing to turn Vietnam into a Catholic State, the Kennedy-backed Diem's Administration, which succeeded the Monarch's abdication, persecuted all other religions to prevent its power from being diminished (SORO, 1966). The Cao Đài Faith was no exception. Disturbed by the mounting unrest, the wicked schemes, and the increasing tyranny, Cao Đài leaders petitioned the former king to change the government structure so that democracy would be instituted. Support for Diem by foreign officials caused the monarch to ignore the petition. Sensing threats to their power, the Diems decided to deal a heavy blow to the faith. (SORO, 1966)

Notwithstanding all the prior domestic and international support from Cao Đài leaders, the Diems and their followers formed a purging squad to besiege the Holy See, capturing female disciples and torturing them to make them fabricate slanders as well as witnesses against His Holiness Ho Phap (Head of the Legislative Body). During their reign, around 3,200 Cao Đài disciples were imprisoned while 2,700 were killed. (Huynh, 19-20)

By slandering His Holiness Ho Phap - the faith leader - on public media, the Diems fabricated an effective case against him and the faith organization. Based on such false crime, they sent an army again to arrest His Holiness and keep the Holy See under siege. Although His Holiness could seek asylum in another country, the persecutions went on during Diem's tenure. (Le, 91-152) Its sovereignty was therefore violated and lost.

Demolition by the Contemporary Government

The several decades after Diem's assassination brought relative stability to the City area. It lasted until the last days of the Southern Republic. Early in 1975, a Cao Đài delegation which participated in World Peace Congress in New Delhi presented Cao Đài teachings as well as the City map to the convention. They knew it could be the last time for them to speak to the world.

Upon the fall of Sai Gon, the communists immediately raided the Holy See and the former City. First, they froze all religious activities and arrested high-profile leaders who had either international ties or involvement in the republic government. Then, they took steps to disband and 're-educate' the entire religion. Many dignitaries were condemned to either death, life sentences, or imprisonment. The former faith leaders were defamed and vilified in many places as exploiters and deceivers, despite the non-violent resistance and protest of most faith members. To exert more control, they banned all communication with the Divine, replacing with commands from the central atheist government. In 1979, the Sacerdotal Council was officially replaced by a management council which was later dissolved. (Lap Chuc, 12-14) These moves were supposedly enough to tear apart the religious organization, reducing it to a semi-secular group under the control of an atheist regime. The will of devout members, on the contrary, has never been bent. (BPSOS, 2018; Lap Chuc, 2020)

From 1975 to 1980, the government confiscated almost all the properties of the religion, including (Huynh, 15-16)

  • Temples, buildings, schools, hospitals, publishing houses, etc.

  • Agricultural lands, real estates, production facilities, etc.

  • Education system: all schools and universities were dismantled; teachers, professors, and students were deprived of their basic human rights.

  • Music and art centers

  • Library, scriptures, books, materials, etc. were all destroyed.

  • Above all, the entire City and its religious life were mostly erased and turned into a base environment governed by those who hardly deserved to be called humans.

From 1997 to Now

Cao Đài disciples continued striving for the restoration of the original faith organization. Many attempts were made to call for help from international institutions. International pressures forced the Vietnamese government to take action. Its initial strategy no longer worked: to "encircle the Cao Dai Religion and restrict it to Tay Ninh locality until its eventual death." In 1997, a new strategy was employed to put in place a false sect to deceive international agencies. The sect whose key members were hand-picked by the government from among State officials operated on the Holy See like a religious organization. In fact, it neither was formed by nor followed the original Cao Đài Codes. (BPSOS, 4)

"We will neither let this religion develop nor restore the original faith organization nor unify their different sects. We only control the dignitaries so that both they and their followers will obey our commands." (Lap Chuc, 15)

The key differences between the former and the current faith organization are summarized below by Lap Chuc (17):

The Holy See has also been repurposed for tourism and recreation (Hoskin, 200). The former pilgrimage site has become a Disney-like playground for tourists and children. The current management council operates itself through the use of power play and questionable integrity (Jammes, 13-14; Lap Chuc, 31-34).

State Strategy to Curb Dissension

According to a senior official in the religious committee of the Vietnamese government, it employed the following strategy to stamp down on dissension or efforts to restore the former faith organization: (Lap Chuc, 25)

  • Establishment of a state-owned faith organization, i.e. the management council. This council destroys the former organization from inside the Holy See. It consists of policemen, government officials, and their underlings who dress up like religious members.

  • Establishment of a gangster army that stays undercover and represses dissension from outside of the Holy See. These groups help the government achieve its goals against religious dissidents and free them from being prosecuted by international bodies. They also set up scenes to look like conflicts among religious members rather than suppression by secular forces.

These forces have committed severe human rights violations which can be classified into these types: (BPSOS, 7)

  • (1) taking over Cao Dai temples by force or coercion;

  • (2) interfering with religious activities of Cao Dai followers in their private homes; (3) desecrating the funerals and burials of Cao Dai followers.

  • These violations can be seen in the video below from BPSOS: The Cao Dai Tay Ninh 1997 Sect Dossier.

Final Comments

Since 1997, the Cao Đài Religion or God's Great Way has been demolished, devoured, and cloned by a secular regime that has been outwitting the entire world. According to the Divine Messages, God's Great Way and Amnesty are His Holy merciful gift to His children the world over, rather than a trivial toy of the profane and heretical. No secular power can take possession of or dominate it. Although the Vietnamese people were chosen first to receive the Holy gift (before 1975), only a minority have followed the call during almost a century. Among this minority, only true Cao Đài disciples may lead the Cao Ðài Way and its Holy City. God's messages also stated clearly that His children and disciples are not restricted to only one nation.

Despite repeated entreaties by disciples over the decades, governments and institutions continue to ignore, harbor or even shake hands with the transgressors. They have inadvertently become accomplices in the crime against heaven and humanity. Whoever goes against God's will follows the will of His enemy. Their karma will reap due consequences in the end. Meanwhile, unless His children resurrect and exalt the true gift, they will hardly have any hope of uniting with Him.

Questions for Contemplation

  • Why does a world yearning for justice allow such injustices to go on?

  • How should the Cao Đài Holy City and the Sacerdotal Council be re-established? Who should be elected into the Council and the City?

  • What implications does it have for our world?

  • When and How can we unite with God? Who should rule over our world - mortals or the Divine or the secular and profane?

  • Why cannot we find good and effective solutions to many world issues of today? Why do we keep rejecting God's gift and solution?


BPSOS Religious Freedom Project. The 1997 Sect: Non-state actor with a long record of human rights violations against the Cao Dai Religion. BPSOS, 2018.

Hoskin, Janet. Caodai Exile and Redemption: A New Vietnamese Religion’s Struggle for Identity. The CCRC Conference on Religion, Immigration and Social Justice, Anthropology Department, University of Southern California, 2005.

Huynh, Tam. Cao Dai duoi che do ngo dinh diem. Institute of Cao Đài history, 1990.

Huynh, Tam. Cao Dai duoi che do cong san. Institute of Cao Đài history, 1994.

Jammes, Jérémy. Caodaism and its global networks: An Ethnological Analysis of a Vietnamese Religious Movement in Vietnam and abroad. Moussons, 13-14 |