CaoDai, a faith of unity

This week, the Faith Column explores CaoDai. Hum D. Bui starts the series with a look at its history

In order to relieve humankind’s religious crisis, in 1926, via spiritism, the Supreme Being founded an innovative faith called CaoDai in Vietnam, with the principle that all religions are one, have the same origin and principle, and are just different manifestations of the same truth.

Because of human conflict, God has come to offer a way to bring people and religions together in harmony. CaoDai the Supreme Being said: "Formerly, people lacked transportation, and therefore did not know each other. Thus, I founded at different epochs and in different areas, five branches of the Great Way: the way of humanism, the way of Genii (or of Angels), the way of Saints, the way of Immortals, and the way of Buddhas, each based on the customs of the race. Today, transportation has been improved, and people have come to know each other better. But people do not always live in harmony because of the very multiplicity of these religions. This is why I have decided to unite all these religions into one to bring them to the primordial unity.”

In 1920, CaoDai revealed Himself to Ngo Van Chieu, the then-governor of PhuQuoc, a beautiful island in the Gulf of Siam. CaoDai informed Ngo that all the world’s religions should return to the One from which they originally sprang. This message was to be delivered to the world. Ngo asked CaoDai for permission to worship Him under a visible form. He then had a vision of the All-Seeing Eye and was subsequently ordered to use it as the symbol of CaoDai.

In mid 1925, three minor civil officials in Saigon – CaoQuynhCu, PhamCongTac, and CaoHoaiSang – were practising spiritism. One spirit contacted was unique for His outstanding virtue and knowledge. He introduced Himself as AAA. On Christmas Eve of 1925, AAA revealed that He was the Supreme Being, coming under the name of CaoDai, to teach the Way. He said: “Rejoice this day, it is the anniversary of My coming to the West to teach the Way (God came to the Middle East in the form of Yeshua - Jesus – Christ to found Christianity). This house will be filled with blessings. You will see more miracles which will lead you to further belief. For some time now, I have used the symbol AAA to lead you to religious life. You are soon to found a unique religion under My instructions.”
CaoDai structure consists of spiritual and earthly powers.

The spiritual power is the Bat Quai Dai (Eight Trigram Palace), headed by CaoDai the Supreme Being who gives orders and messages to the earth via spiritism.

The earthly power is the Cuu Trung Dai (The Nine Sphere Palace), the executive body which consists of nine ranks:
1- One Giao Tong (Pope)
2- Three Chuong Phap (Legislative Cardinals)
3- Three Dau Su (Cardinals)
4- Thirty six Phoi Su (Archbishops)
5- Seventy two Giao Su (Bishops)
6- Three thousand Giao Huu (Priests)
7- Le Sanh (Student priests)
8- Chuc Viec (Sub- Dignitaries)
9- Disciples

Besides, the Hiep Thien Dai (Heavenly Union Palace), or the legislative body has the role of mediumship communicating the Spiritual Power and the Cuu Trung Dai. It consists of:
The Ho Phap (Law Protector), head of the Hiep Thien Dai
The Thuong Pham (Head of Religious Affairs)
The Thuong Sanh (Head of Secular Affairs)

Under each of them there are four Zodiac Dignitaries for the total of 12 Zodiacal Dignitaries who can all have the ability of mediumship in the spiritism seances.

The Hiep Thien Dai is the sacred place where the Supreme Being manifests to give spiritual direction to the Cuu Trung Dai, and is also a place where the Giao Tong communicates with the Superior Spirits to ask for the salvation of humanity, and is entrusted with the maintenance and application of religious rules and laws.

Hum D. Bui, M.D. was born in Vietnam in 1943. He is a CaoDai scholar working with CaoDai Overseas that is in charge of spreading the faith.
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"We repealed, then forgot": the long shadow of Section 28 homophobia

Why are deeply conservative views about the "promotion" of homosexuality still being reiterated to Scottish school pupils? 

Grim stories of LGBTI children being bullied in school are all too common. But one which emerged over the weekend garnered particular attention - because of the echoes of the infamous Section 28, nearly two decades after it was scrapped.

A 16-year-old pupil of a West Lothian school, who does not wish to be named, told Pink News that staff asked him to remove his small rainbow pride badge because, though they had "no problem" with his sexuality, it was not appropriate to "promote it" in school. It's a blast from the past - the rules against "promoting" homosexuality were repealed in 2000 in Scotland, but the long legacy of Section 28 seems hard to shake off. 

The local authority responsible said in a statement that non-school related badges are not permitted on uniforms, and says it is "committed to equal rights for LGBT people". 

The small badge depicted a rainbow-striped heart, which the pupil said he had brought back from the Edinburgh Pride march the previous weekend. He reportedly "no longer feels comfortable going to school", and said homophobia from staff members felt "much more scar[y] than when I encountered the same from other pupils". 

At a time when four Scottish party leaders are gay, and the new Westminster parliament included a record number of LGBTQ MPs, the political world is making progress in promoting equality. But education, it seems, has not kept up. According to research from LGBT rights campaigners Stonewall, 40 per cent of LGBT pupils across the UK reported being taught nothing about LGBT issues at school. Among trans students, 44 per cent said school staff didn’t know what "trans" even means.

The need for teacher training and curriculum reform is at the top of campaigners' agendas. "We're disappointed but not surprised by this example," says Jordan Daly, the co-founder of Time for Inclusive Education [TIE]. His grassroots campaign focuses on making politicians and wider society aware of the reality LGBTI school students in Scotland face. "We're in schools on a monthly basis, so we know this is by no means an isolated incident." 

Studies have repeatedly shown a startling level of self-harm and mental illness reported by LGBTI school students. Trans students are particularly at risk. In 2015, Daly and colleagues began a tour of schools. Shocking stories included one in which a teacher singled out a trans pupils for ridicule in front of the class. More commonly, though, staff told them the same story: we just don't know what we're allowed to say about gay relationships. 

This is the point, according to Daly - retraining, or rather the lack of it. For some of those teachers trained during the 1980s and 1990s, when Section 28 prevented local authorities from "promoting homosexuality", confusion still reigns about what they can and cannot teach - or even mention in front of their pupils. 

The infamous clause was specific in its homophobia: the "acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship" could not be mentioned in schools. But it's been 17 years since the clause was repealed in Scotland - indeed, it was one of the very first acts of the new Scottish Parliament (the rest of the UK followed suit three years later). Why are we still hearing this archaic language? 

"We repealed, we clapped and cheered, and then we just forgot," Daly says. After the bitter campaign in Scotland, in which an alliance of churches led by millionaire businessman Brian Souter poured money into "Keeping the Clause", the government was pleased with its victory, which seemed to establish Holyrood as a progressive political space early on in the life of the parliament. But without updating the curriculum or retraining teaching staff, Daly argues, it left a "massive vacuum" of uncertainty. 

The Stonewall research suggests a similar confusion is likely across the UK. Daly doesn't believe the situation in Scotland is notably worse than in England, and disputes the oft-cited allegation that the issue is somehow worse in Scotland's denominational schools. Homophobia may be "wrapped up in the language of religious belief" in certain schools, he says, but it's "just as much of a problem elsewhere. The TIE campaign doesn't have different strategies for different schools." 

After initial disappointments - their thousands-strong petition to change the curriculum was thrown out by parliament in 2016 - the campaign has won the support of leaders such as Nicola Sturgeon and Kezia Dugdale, and recently, the backing of a majority of MSPs. The Scottish government has set up a working group, and promised a national strategy. 

But for Daly, who himself struggled at a young age with his sexuality and society's failure to accept it, the matter remains an urgent one.  At just 21, he can reel off countless painful stories of young LGBTI students - some of which end in tragedy. One of the saddest elements of the story from St Kentigern's is that the pupil claimed his school was the safest place he had to express his identity, because he was not out at home. Perhaps for a gay pupil in ten years time, that will be a guarantee. 

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