Being Caodaïst (Tôi là người Cao Đài)

French version


We, the Caodaïsts, we must know to perfect ourselves. It is not essential for us to fast and call upon Buddha by prayers or to enter a pagoda in order to be able to attain perfection. We have the possibility of attaining it if we always have in us the three following qualities: Love, Wisdom and Will.

At birth, we already had kindness. This is why, our Ancestors were accustomed to saying:

Nhân chi sơ, tính bản thiện. Mankind is naturally good at birth.

But because of the hazards of life, the unjustified competitions and the immoderate desires which continue to monopolize us sempiternally, we thus became dishonest people, perfidious, egoistic, which makes us lose the kindness that we acquired at birth. All the Wise ones of Antiquity had had these three qualities evoked above.

To have an idea on what the individual has or not in terms of kindness, it is enough for us to observe his behavior towards his close relations. It is by this observation that we are able to know him, which had said the Chinese philosopher Jou Mencius.

Love is a quality necessary to the perfection but it cannot be complete because we need wisdom to distinguish truth from falsehood, right from wrong, good from evil. There are plenty of generous people who, in spite of their gifts offered to the construction of the pagodas in a considerable way, continue to be entangled in an inauspicious behavior because they do not manage to distinguish right from wrong. It happens that they may be badly considered sometimes compared to those who never have the occasion to take part in this generous contribution.

In Vietnam, the Lý dynasty was famous for its irreproachable enthusiasm towards Buddhism by the bias of a great number of constructions of pagodas. That unrelentingly led the people to misery because of the too high taxes and ineluctably caused the popular discontent which was the principal cause of its fall.

Whatever his educational level, man always has in him Wisdom because when we act badly or not, we will know it thanks to our own conscience. For example, when one tries to lie, one feels ashamed towards oneself although the person to whom one lied does not know it. It is the wisdom which helps us make this distinction. The French philosopher Blaise Pascal had the occasion to stress that man is a thinking reed.

To continue to lie or act badly or not, we need Will. It is easy to evoke this quality but it appears difficult for us to have it because we are obliged to go sometimes against our own interests or to be losers at times also. Sometimes it happens to us not to have a safe life. I refer to some Chinese or Vietnamese historical facts with an aim of enabling us to be together to reflect and respectfully admire the people whom I regard as knowing how to perfect themselves because they had the three qualities evoked above. They became famous characters in the history of China and Vietnam.

Initially, it was the case of Zhuge Liang ( or Gia Cát Lượng in Vietnamese). He was at the same time Prime Minister and adviser to Liu Bei, the last survivor of the Han dynasty ( Lưu Hoài Ðức ) in China. The Barbarians coming from the steppes of the North of China and directed by Manh Hoạch often liked to raid the territory of his kingdom. Zhuge Liang managed to capture Manh Hoạch 7 times but this latter was released immediately on the order of Zhuge Liang at each capture. He was very generous. He was equipped with an extraordinary wisdom because he found that it was necessary to convince Manh Hoach by the means of love and feelings. If Manh Hoạch had been killed, there would be probably another Manh Hoạch. That obliged him to frequently assemble punitive expeditions and did not allow him to have the free hand to restore the Han dynasty and to bring back peace and happiness to its citizens.

It was why he continued to release impassively Manh Hoach at the time of each capture. He had an incommensurable will because he knew that to prevent Manh Hoach from betraying later, he was to waste much time, to forget the personal interests and to give himself many concerns with his rather advanced age. It would be less tiring for him if he decided to kill Manh Hoach because he was not obliged to assemble up to 7 times the punitive expedition. At the time of the last capture, when he was about to usually release Manh Hoach, this latter started to cry and to surrender definitively. Zhuge Liang had these three qualities evoked above. Although he is not a monk, we can affirm that with the three qualities found in him ( Love, Wisdom and Will ), he knew how to perfect himself and he was already regarded as a Wise one at the time of the Three Kingdoms.

In Vietnam, there are also kings whom we can regard as the Wise ones. It is the case of king Lý Thánh Tôn which had these 3 qualities quoted above. This is why he was known in the history of Vietnam as an intelligent king, distinguished, charitable and valiant. The revolt of the king of Champa, Chế Cũ obliged him to assemble a punitive expedition while leaving regency to his concubine Ỷ Lan. Faced with the determination of Chế Cũ, he was not able to capture him after several months of expedition. Disappointed, he was obliged to return to the country. On his return, he learned that his people did not cease praising the talent of his concubine Ỷ Lan in the art of governing the country. He felt ashamed and decided to return to the front. When he succeeded to capture Chế Cũ, he could have killed this one to alleviate his anger but he preferred to let him return to his country.

It was why Viet-Nam knew a period of peace, prosperity and happiness. He was very charitable because he let the one who had humiliated him in front of his people leave. He lost much time in order to be able to capture him. Are we capable of acting as he did if we were in his place? One fine day, during one period when the winter was hard, he addressed his mandarins in the following terms:

By dressing myself in this manner, I continue to be stiff with cold. How do people manage to resist this rigorous cold especially the poor when it is known that they do not have enough money to feed themselves?. It is necessary to give them as of now additional food and clothes.

Another time, while holding company with his daughter, the princess Ðông Thiên, at the time of an audience, he turned to his mandarins in saying to them:

I have a deep love for my people as that which I always have for my daughter. Unfortunately, the people is so little informed that it does not cease to make mistakes. It is for that that I have so much pity for it. I kindly request you to decrease the punishments and the pains inflicted.

His wisdom was incommensurable. To conquer Champa, he knew that it was necessary to convince and calm Chế Cũ although he was humiliated and upset to compare what he had undergone to what his concubine had done, a woman coming from a rural environment, Y? Lan for his people during his absence. He could kill Chế Cũ to alleviate his anger and to wash this momentary insult. But he was a courageous man who could put the interests of his people before his personal interests. He was really the person having the three evoked qualities.

Whatever the situation we are in, we, Caodaïsts, we must try to improve ourselves. That sometimes happened to me to want to continue this step. It is necessary to recognize that it is not easy to concretize it. I do not hide either that I had also the daily difficulties but I feel relieved enormously when I succeeded in concretizing it a little. I am delighted because I realize that I start to improve myself even if that appears negligible.


A young Caodaïst

That reminds me of the sentence that Ung Giả Vi wrote in the Conversations of Wise Confucius:

Nhân viên hồ tai! Ngã dục nhân, Tư Nhân chi hỷ!
Nhân có xa đâu! Ta muốn nhân thì nhân đến vậy!

The virtue is not far! One will be able to have it if one really wants it.

that enables me to be convinced that GOOD or EVIL exists well in each one of us. I understand that it is not necessary to go to the pagoda or the church to be able to improve oneself. I am able to do it if I do not forget what God in the bible of the Caodaïsts said that I had the occasion to read:

If you want to be a true Caodaïst, it is necessary that you have Love and the moral principle. It is absolutely necessary for you to improve yourself.

You merit to thus wear this white tunic, symbol of purity. You feel more than ever proud to be a Caodaïst.

Quê Hương (My country)


 Version française


Quê Hương,

these are the first words that we learned from our teacher at the school. We have to love Quê Hương, that is what our teacher repeated everyday. This sometimes puzzled us when we were still attending school. Why do we have to love Quê Hương? It has nothing extraordinary. It has only a name. We do not see it. We do not even manage to feel its presence in Vietnam. Sometimes, we would like to deny it because it identifies poverty and misery. However it is like our mother, unique to each of us. It is live and irreplaceable. It is our raison d’être. We cannot grow if we do not think about Quê Hương. Even when we live overseas or in a remote corner of the planet, the shadow of Quê Hương keeps on grabbing us with tenderness and regret. If we have the opportunity to spend a sleepless night, we will notice how long the night would be. If we have the opportunity to leave Viêtnam, we realize we miss Quê Hương.

Poet Ðỗ Trung Quân managed to describe it through the poem entitled “Bài Học đầu tiên cho con (First lesson for my child) that the late composer Anh Bằng will succeed in putting latter into a song. Quê Hương is a bunch of sweet star fruits which my child gathered every day. Quê Hương is the road to school flooded with dried yellow butterflies my child took every day at the time of the return. Quê Hương is the kite of glaucous color which my child had the practice to make to fly away over the meadow . Quê Hương is the small boat that advanced gently along the river. Quê Hương is the small bamboo bridge which our mother had the practice to take at the time of the return with her conical hat inclined to protect her from the sun…

Bao năm xa cách Quê Hương
Nỗi sầu viễn xứ biết dường nào nguôi
Mai nầy vĩnh biệt chôn vùi
Đất người thể xác ngậm ngùi nghìn thu.

Effectively, Quê Hương is our past, our youth, our identity, our memories. We can never grow if we have no attachment to our past. Because of the the hazards of the life,we may forget Quê Hương momentarily but we do not lose it forever.

Being student (Đạo nghĩa làm người học trò)

French version

In memory of my teachers,
the Brothers of Jean Baptiste de la Salle.


Being student in Vietnam

No Vietnamese can remain impassible when it comes to recall the years of study spent at school with their teacher. The image of their school keeps on being intimately carved in their memories.

That is the way composer Phạm Trọng Cầu felt in his song Trường Làng Tôi ( My village school ). How could they forget what has contributed in giving them their education, teaching them, and putting them on the road of apprenticeship in life? For them, one word taught by or one day of study with their teacher is enough to justify the obligation toward him.

Trường Làng Tôi ( My village school )

That is why it was repeated time and again when they were young that

Nhất nhật vi sư
Bán tự vi sư

Học một ngày cũng thầy
Học nữa chữ cũng thầy

The one who teaches us for one day or even half a word is worth being our teacher. Without the teacher, they cannot become who they are today. They owe him part of their life, their success and above all their education because it is him that gave them not only knowledge but also taught him the wisdom and apprenticeship of life. The following famous remark : Không thầy đố mầy làm nên ( Without the teacher you cannot succeed ) continues to occupy their mind and justify their behavior, their deep feelings toward their teacher. They give him such a crucial role that they do not hesitate to use the word « teacher » ( or Thầy in Vietnamese ). Thầy is sometimes used to address the father because it is he that gave them the first lesson in education. That is why the teacher remains the second person to be respected in the unchanging following Confucian trilogy: Quân, Sư, Phụ.

Whichever their age, position and level of education, they continue to remain the little pupil, the young disciple of their teacher.

They are not willing to neglect their respect toward their teacher even in moments the most perilous in their life. This was shown by emperor Hàm Nghi toward his teacher before the colonial authorities who were not able to identify Hàm Nghi physically when he was captured. The only person who could identify him was his teacher; therefore the latter was brought by force before the young Hàm Nghi. For the respect of his old teacher, he could not let him kneel down. He was obliged to prevent his teacher from executing this gesture. Because of this inopportune attitude, he was thus identified by the colonial authorities. He preferred to die instead of making an irreparable mistake toward the one who had taught him not only dignity and courage but also the duty toward his people and country. It was also the case of emperor Duy Tân with is tutor Eberhard in charge of supervising and reporting all his activities to the colonial authorities. Instead of being hated, he became one of the people that Duy Tân continued to respect during his reigning years. It was a habit to say in Vietnamese:

Kính thầy mới được làm thầy.
We should respect our teacher before becoming a teacher later.

It is in this Confucian spirit that young Vietnamese students were raised. They always try to listen to their teacher. They sometimes adopt an ambiguous attitude so as not to vex or bother their teacher even though when they are not entirely in agreement with him. It is the respect that emperor Gia Long knew how to maintain toward his tutor and spiritual guide, the bishop of Adran, His Highness Pigneau de Behaine during his reigning years. Age is not a factor in the behavior of a student toward his teacher who in several occasions was younger than him. It is shocking and moving to see sometimes an old student crossing arms in front of a young teacher but that never contradicts the intimate sentiments, the profound and sincere attachment he continues to keep for his teacher the way he does for his mother and his country. He knows what his teacher expects from him. He tries to keep up with this expectation, which sometimes puts him in a delicate and aberrant situation where he is himself in competition with his teacher.

It was the case of Phạm Duy Tri with his teacher Nguyễn Khắc Kínhduring a royal examination that took place in 1562 under the Mac dynasty. Issue of a very poor family and orphan of father at very early age, he was raised by his mother who did not hesitate to offer the teacher the only buffalo she possessed in order for the latter known for his years of experience in teaching in the village, to accept her son as his disciple. Moved by this mother’s sacrifice, teacher Nguyễn Khắc Kính agreed to take him as his student. A few years later, thanks to his assiduity and intelligence, he ended usentiments the latter always reserved for him, he did not want his student, because of the respect he had toward him, to be penalized and wop in surpassing his teacher, which the latter saw during the provincial and general exams where he was himself a candidate. Knowing perfectly well his student’s state of mind and his profound uld not put all his weights and ardor in the royal examination. For that, he told his student:

If you do not want to be brilliant in that exam, I would understand your behavior, your feelings. But you have to remember that this examination is reserved for the one who deserves to be chosen to serve the country. You must take into account the interest of the nation before any personal considerations. You should not betray your ideals and your country.

He reminded him the sentence that any school teacher would repeat to his student:

Bất nhượng ư sư
Không nên nhường thầy.

Do not concede to your teacher what you deserve.

Moved by the advice, Phạm Duy Tri nodded his head and kept what his teacher had told him. He passed the royal exam and acquired the title of Trạng Nguyên ( 1st doctor ). As for his teacher, he was classified second and received the title of Bảng Nhãn ( or 2nd doctor ).

The feelings that a Vietnamese has for his teacher never fade with the time, which was shown by lord Nguyễn Phúc Nguyên toward his spiritual teacher and counselor Ðào Duy Từ. To thank him, lord Nguyễn Phúc Nguyên did not hesitate to grant him a vibrant homage by giving to one of his fortifications located in central Vietnam the name « Lũy Thầy » (fortification of the Teacher ). This fortification was built to counter the Trinh from the north. Thanks to this naming, he was successful in giving gratitude a wide range through history and the entire nation. Today the fortification is still known by this name.

On the other hand those feelings become as the time goes by a kind of cement that link a Vietnamese a little more to his school, his village and his native country. They are also a gift of affection and respect that Vietnamese love to give their teacher in the Confucian spirit.

Être élève (Đạo nghĩa làm người học trò)

English version

À la mémoire de mes professeurs,

les Frères de Jean-Baptiste de la Salle.


Être élève au Vietnam

Aucun Vietnamien ne peut rester impassible lorsqu’on a l’occasion de lui rappeler les années d’étude qu’il a passées à l’école avec ses maîtres. L’image de son école continue à être gravée intimement dans sa mémoire. C’est ce qu’a ressenti le compositeur Phạm Trọng Cầu à travers la chanson « Trường làng tôi » (L’école de mon village) . Comment pourrait-il oublier tous ceux qui ont contribué à lui donner une éducation, à lui apprendre le savoir et à le mettre sur le chemin d’apprentissage de la vie? Pour lui, un mot, une journée d’étude à recevoir d’eux, sont suffisants pour justifier cette reconnaissance.


Trường làng tôi » (L’école de mon village)

C’est aussi ce qu’on ne cessa pas de lui répéter lorsqu’il était encore un jeune enfant:

Nhất nhật vi sư Bán tự vi sư

Học một ngày cũng thầy Học nữa chữ cũng thầy

Une journée d’étude que quelqu’un t’a donnée te suffit pour l’appeler maître. Même un demi-mot le justifie également . Sans maître, il ne peut pas devenir celui qu’il est aujourd’hui. Il doit pour une large part son existence, sa réussite et surtout son éducation à son maître car c’est lui qui lui a appris non seulement le savoir mais aussi la sagesse et l’apprentissage de la vie. La remarque célèbre suivante : Không thầy đố mầy làm nên (Sans maître, tu ne peux pas réussir) continue à envahir son esprit et à justifier son comportement, ses sentiments profonds à l’égard de son maître. Il accorde à celui-ci un rôle si crucial qu’il n’hésite pas à se servir du mot « maître » (ou Thầy en vietnamien ) pour appeler quelquefois son père car ce dernier était la première personne qui lui a donné la première leçon d’éducation. C’est pourquoi le maître reste le deuxième personnage à respecter dans la trilogie confucéenne immuable suivante: Quân, Sư, Phụ.

Quel que soit son âge, sa fonction, son niveau d’instruction, il continue à rester toujours le petit élève, le jeune disciple de son maître. Il ne consent pas à négliger son respect envers son maître même dans les moments périlleux de sa vie. C’est ce qu’a montré l’empereur Hàm Nghi à l’égard de son maître Nguyễn Thuận devant les autorités coloniales. Celles-ci étaient incapables de reconnaître physiquement Hàm Nghi lors de sa capture. La seule personne capable de l’identifier était son maître. C’était pourquoi ce dernier fut emmené de force devant le jeune Hàm Nghi. Pour le respect de son maître âgé, il ne pouvait pas laisser celui-ci s’agenouiller devant lui. Il fut obligé d’empêcher son maître d’effectuer ce geste. À cause de cette attitude inopportune, il fut identifié ainsi par les autorités coloniales. Il préféra mourir au lieu de commettre une faute irréparable envers celui qui lui a appris non seulement la dignité et le courage mais aussi le devoir envers son peuple et son pays. C’était aussi le cas de l’empereur Duy Tân avec son précepteur Eberhard chargé de le surveiller et de rapporter toutes ses activités aux autorités coloniales. Au lieu d’être haï, il devint ainsi l’un des personnages que Duy Tan continuait à respecter durant ses années de règne. On a l’habitude de dire en vietnamien :

Kính thầy mới được làm thầy
Il faut respecter le maître avant de pouvoir devenir maître plus tard.

C’est dans cet esprit confucéen que le jeune élève vietnamien était formé. Il essaie d’être toujours à l’écoute de son maître. Il adopte quelquefois une attitude ambiguë pour ne pas vexer ou gêner son maître bien qu’il ne soit pas entièrement d’accord avec lui. C’est ce respect que l’empereur Gia Long a su maintenir envers son tuteur, son guide spirituel, l’évêque d’Adran, Monseigneur Pigneau de Béhaine durant ses années de règne. L’âge n’influe pas sur le comportement de l’élève à l’égard de son maître qui est bien des fois plus jeune que lui. Il est choquant et émouvant de voir quelquefois un vieil élève, les bras croisés devant un jeune maître mais cela ne contredit jamais les sentiments intimes, l’attachement profond et sincère qu’il continue à garder pour son maître comme pour sa mère et pour son pays. Il sait ce que le maître attend de lui. Il essaie d’être à la hauteur de cette attente, ce qui le met quelquefois dans des situations délicates et aberrantes où il est lui-même en compétition avec son maître. C’était le cas de Phạm Duy Trĩ avec son maître Nguyên Khắc Kính lors d’un concours royal qui eut lieu en 1562 sous la dynastie des Mac. Issu d’une famille très pauvre et orphelin de père très jeune, il était élevé par sa mère qui n’hésita pas à proposer à son maître le seul buffle qu’elle possédait afin que ce dernier connu pour ses années d’expérience en matière d’enseignement dans son village, acceptât de prendre son fils comme disciple. Ému par le sacrifice de sa mère, le maître Nguyễn Khắc Kính consentît à le prendre comme élève. Quelques années plus tard, grâce à à son assiduité et à son intelligence, il parvint à surpasser son maître, ce que ce dernier eut constaté lors des concours provincial et général où il fut aussi candidat. En connaissant parfaitement l’état d’esprit de son élève et les sentiments profonds que celui-ci continuait à lui réserver, il ne voulait pas qu’à cause du respect à son égard, son élève fût pénalisé et ne mit pas tout son poids et toute son ardeur dans ce concours royal. C’était pour cela qu’il lui dit:
Si tu ne veux pas être brillant à ce concours, j’arriverai à comprendre ton comportement, tes sentiments. Mais tu dois rappeler que ce concours est réservé pour celui qui mérite d’être choisi pour servir le pays. Tu dois prendre en compte les intérêts de la nation avant les considérations personnelles. Il ne faut pas trahir ton idéal et ton pays.
Il lui rappela la phrase que tout maître d’école aimait répéter souvent à son élève:

Bất nhượng ư sư
Không nên nhường thầy.
Ne concède pas ce que tu mérites pour ton maître.

Ému par ces conseils, Phạm Duy Trĩ acquiesça de la tête et retint ce que son maître lui avait dit. Il réussit à ce concours royal et obtint le titre de Trạng nguyên ( 1er docteur ). Quant à son maître, il fut classé second et reçut le titre de Bảng Nhãn ( ou 2è docteur ).
Les sentiments que le Vietnamien a pour son maître ne s’effacent jamais avec le temps, ce qu’a montré le seigneur Nguyễn Phúc Nguyên à l’égard de son maître spirituel et son conseiller Ðào Duy Từ . Pour le remercier, le seigneur Nguyễn Phúc Nguyên n’hésita pas à lui rendre un vibrant hommage en donnant à l’une de ses fortifications se trouvant dans le centre du Vietnam le nom « Lũy Thầy (fortification du maître). Celle-ci a été construite dans le but de contrer les Trịnh au Nord Viêt-Nam. Grâce à cette appellation, il réussît à donner une grande portée à sa reconnaissance à travers l’histoire et la nation entière. Cette fortification continue à être connue encore aujourd’hui avec ce nom.

Par contre ces sentiments deviennent au fil des années une sorte de ciment qui lie un peu plus le Vietnamien à son école, à son village et à sa terre natale. Ils sont aussi un gage d’affection et de respect que le Vietnamien aime donner à son maître dans son esprit confucéen.