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I-Kuan Tao, also Yīguàn Dào, or usually initialized as IKT (一貫道, translated as "the pervasive truth" or "the consistent path") is a new religious movement that originated in twentieth-century China. It incorporates elements from Confucianism, Taoism, and Chinese Buddhism, and recognizes the validity of non-Chinese religious traditions such as Christianity and Islam as well. For this reason it is often classified as a syncretistic sect, along with other similar religions in the Way of Former Heaven (Xian Tian Dao) family.
Originating from mainland China, I-Kuan Tao flourished in Taiwan starting in the 1970s. Currently, it is the third most popular faith in Taiwan (after Buddhism and Taoism). It claims approximately two million members, and in overseas Chinese communities around the world. A survey in 2002 showed that there were 845,000 followers with over 3,100 temples. In the People's Republic of China, I-Kuan Tao and the other four Way of Former Heaven religious groups remain banned as illegal secret societies, as was the case in Taiwan until 1987.
The World I-Kuan Tao Headquarters was established in 1996, and is situated in the United States.
- I-kuan (Yiguan, 一貫 ) means something like "penetrating with one", "consistency" or "one unity." This term is derived from a passage of Analects (4.15) where Confucius said that his way is that of "an all-pervading truth" (吾道一以貫之 wu dao yi yi guan zhi).
- Tao (Dao, 道 ) has many meanings, including "way", "path" and "truth". When used next to the name of some Chinese religions, it means "religion." For example, Tai Ping Tao (太平道), a renegade religious group in ancient China which had directly led to the decline of the Eastern Han Dynasty. The same word Tao has been used by the Taoist and Confucian traditions to describe the broad patterns of the universe, life, and humanity as well as ritual or religious manifestation.
Because of the name, I-Kuan Tao is often assumed to be Taoist, and Taoism does indeed form part of its heritage. However its history, teachings, practices, and leadership are different from those of either the "elite" forms of Taoist religion (the Celestial Masters or Complete Purity schools) or Chinese folk religion of the masses. In the same way, I-Kuan Tao differs from, and yet also resembles, Confucianism and Chinese Buddhism.
Because the group was banned in Taiwan in the 70s and 80s, it manifested in different names such as The Confucius-Mencius Society, The Morality Society, etc. They also called themselves Zhenli Tiandao (真理天道 The True Celestial Tao).
Deities and teachers
- Ming Ming Shang Ti (明明上帝), "Clear (Luminous) Emperor on High" — analogous to the Islamic and Judeo-Christian God. Also referred to as Wuji Laomu (無極老母), the "Ancient Mother of Limitless Heaven". She (or he) is the high being who transcends all the lesser gods of the Chinese pantheon. The roughly translated full name of this deity is The Bright Illustrious Almighty Eternal Pure Tranquil Void Utmost Sacred and Revered, The Lord of all beings in the entire Universe.
- Maitreya (彌勒佛), the next Buddha to succeed the historical Sakyamuni Buddha and who has come already according to I-Kuan Tao; Maitreya was reincarnated as Lu Zhong Yi.
- Ji Gong, (濟公活佛), known as Living Buddha Ji Gong (Huofo Shizun) a Zen Buddhist monk revered as a reincarnation of an Arhat.
- Zhang Tian Ran, the founder of I-Kuan Tao, is believed to be the reincarnation.
- Yue Hui, (月慧菩薩) is the Moon Wisdom Bodhisattva who was reincarnated as Sun Su Zhen, the matriarch of I-Kuan Tao. Often confused with Guan Yin, who shares exactly the same image.
- Guan Yu (關聖帝君) (also called Guan Gong or Guan Ti), an apotheosized Chinese general from the Romance of the Three Kingdoms who is commonly worshipped in Chinese temples, both Buddhist and Taoist. He is a Heavenly Guardian against evil. I-Kuan Tao honors him as the commander of the precepts together with Lü Dongbin, Zhang Fei (Three Kingdoms) and Yue Fei.
- Lu Dongbin (呂洞賓) is a Chinese deity/Immortal. Lǚ Dòngbīn is the most widely known of the group of deities known as the Eight Immortals.
- Lu Zhong Yi (路中一), the 17th Patriarch of I-Kuan Tao. He was believed to be the incarnation of Maitreya. He attained the title in 1905 when God mandated him to continue the Tao lineage.
- Zhang Tianran (張天然), made the name I-Kuan Tao official, was the 18th patriarch. He was believed to be the incarnation of Ji Gong, and became Tianran Ancient Buddha after his death.
- Sun Su Zhen (孫素真), the I-Kuan Tao 18th matriarch and the wife in name to Zhang Tianran. She was believed to be the incarnation of Yue Hui Bodhisattva and became the Holy Mother of the Chinese after her death.
Within the broad category of Chinese religion we may distinguish between folk practices that neither expect clear membership commitments nor make clear demands and, on the other hand, various sectarian movements that enjoy a clearer identity and, at the same time, a weaker influence over the wider society. The folk religious practices are absorbed almost unconsciously, from childhood. Sectarian religious identity must be voluntarily chosen. Such sectarian identity might be Buddhist, Christian, or any of the religious movements that originated within the Chinese cultural sphere.
Some sectarian religious movements, such as Chan Buddhism (Japanese Zen) may endure for centuries and become regulated by the state. Others are more ephemeral, such as the family of Buddhist movements lumped together under the name of White Lotus. These were loosely inspired by the vegetarian, millennarian, syncretistic religion of Manichaeism, which survived in China — and assimilated to Chinese culture — a full thousand years after it had disappeared in the West. The White Lotus sects tended to be suppressed by the state, but it influenced later groups such as the Hsien Tien sects.
Philip Clart (link below) gave this following summary of I-Kuan Tao's history:
- "Also called T'ien-tao ("Way of Heaven"). Founded in 1930 by the "eighteenth patriarch" Chang T'ien-jan (1889-1947) in the city of Chi-nan, the capital of Shantung province, the sect in 1934 moved its centre of activity to T'ien-chin and from there spread rapidly all over mainland China. After Chang T'ien-jan's death in 1947, the sect's nominal leadership passed into the hands of the Matriarch Madame Sun Hui-ming. Effectively, however, the sect split up into a number of separate branches (usually said to be eighteen) that continued to develop more or less independently. There thus exists today no independent leadership for the sect, which has become a family of closely related yet autonomous branch associations."
The official history from I-Kuan Tao stated that I-Kuan Tao or Tao can be divided into three periods. The first is the early 18 Eastern line, originated from the mythical figure Fu Xi, the creator of the Bagua. This is followed by other mythical and historical figures such as Shennong, Huangdi (Yellow Emperor), Laozi the author of the Tao Te Ching, Confucius, and the last is Mencius. Then it is said, because of the turmoil in China, Laozi brought Tao to India and initiated Sakyamuni Buddha.
The second lineage, called the 28th western lineage (implying the lineage beginning in India), begins. This followed the Buddhist Chan or Zen lineage from Shakyamuni to Mahakasyapa, and finally to Bodhidharma. It is said that Bodhidharma brought the Tao back to China to begin the Later 18 Eastern Lineages, following the Zen lineage from Bodhidharma to the sixth and last Chan Patriarch Huineng. The lineage then continues with other sectarian figures.
Research pointed that it stemmed from Xiantiandao (先天道). The founder of Xiantiandao is Huang Dehui (黃德輝, 1624–1690). The I-Kuan Tao and the Xiantiandao considered him as the ninth patriarch. Findings from the Ching dynasty documents mentioned that Wang Jueyi (王覺一, 1821–1884), the fifteenth patriarch, propagated another syncretic teaching; Sanjiao Yiguan Zhizhi (Unity of Three Religions) in the 1850s.
However, I-Kuan Tao started to flourish in China during the leadership of Zhang Tianran. During Zhang's tenure as leader, the I-Kuan Tao faith spread from Shandong to many cities in North, Central and Southern China. Zhang died shortly during the Civil War in 1947. After Zhang's death, Madame Sun Suzhen (孫素真) succeeded him as matriarch of I-Kuan Tao.
According to I-Kuan Tao believers, Madame Sun was not really Zhang's wife. At a chaotic time in China, coupled with the traditional thinking common among Chinese communities at that period, it was inappropriate for a man and a woman who had no family connection to travel together. To silence the critics and misconceptions of the public, they declared that they were married to each another. They were married in name but were never a real husband and wife.
When communism took over in China, many I-Kuan Tao followers and leaders departed to Hong Kong, Taiwan, and the United States. In 1951, I-Kuan Tao was banned in the PRC and many of the followers and leaders were persecuted: "Thousands of Yiguandao believers were sent to labor camps in the 1950s and forced to confess publicly that the practices were meant to deceive the populace. The group was also charged with treason--complicity with Japanese occupiers during the war--and within a few years was largely destroyed on mainland China." Sun Suzhen and other I-Kuan Tao leaders left China, and arrived in Hong Kong. Sun then moved to Taiwan in 1954, where she lived as a virtual recluse under the care of followers such as Wang Hao-te until her death in 1975.
Zhang Pei-Cheng, director of I-Kuan Tao movement until his death in 2010, was one of many who brought the faith's teachings to Taiwan in 1947. Today, the sect claims 50,000 worship groups (30,000 in Taiwan) and supports several schools including Sung Nien University (Taiwan). Its members operate many of Taiwan's vegetarian restaurants. One of its high profile members is Chang Yung-fa, the president and founder of the Evergreen Marine Corporation or Evergreen Group who is also the chief leader of a Xingyi sub-division. The company is a well known proponent of I-Kuan Tao.
I-Kuan Tao represents a moralistic society derived from Confucian ethics, with the main objective to deliver humanity from the last calamity. The members are encouraged to follow morality practices such as:
- The "five ethics" and "eight virtues" (from Confucianism)
- Vegetarianism, and abstinence from alcohol and tobacco (from traditional Chinese Buddhism)
- Initiation of new member into "Tao" (analogous to Buddha nature in Chan).
- Daily prayer (2~3 times)
- Attending religious classes, ceremony or Moralistic Lecture, which also include Ceremony of Offerings, Prayers, etc.
- Chanting scriptures (as in all Chinese religious movements and faiths)
Followers of I-Kuan Tao are encouraged to help bring and initiate new members, practice vegetarianism and open temples or shrines at their homes.
Members will invite like-minded individuals who have an affinity for their beliefs to take part in an initiation ritual in which one "receives the tao." Although all members have received the Tao, only an enlightened master may pass on the Tao to new members.
During this ritual, three treasures are revealed to the initiate.
Initiates vow not to discuss these three treasures with non-members. Therefore, more precise details are available only to those who are initiated.
- The Third Eye Opened (The Heavenly Door)- The 'Master' performs a ritual with incense in front of the alter, then unlocks the third eye of the initiate.
- The Sacred Mantra- These sacred words are not to be discussed outside of the alter space.
- The Heavenly Seal- A basic hand seal with the two hands held over the heart during chants or placed on the prayer mat.
Used together, the Taoist believes that Buddha will come to your aid, therefore they should only be used together in times of great peril.
Structure and schisms
I-Kuan Tao does not have a single organization. This is because after the death of Zhang and the escape from China following the end of the Civil War and the Cultural Revolution, many of the followers found their own way to Hong Kong, Taiwan, and the United States. They established their own groups, mainly following their ancestral temples' names from China, spreading the teachings of I-Kuan Tao. There is a consensus from the followers of Zhang Tianran and Sun to form the I-Kuan Tao headquarters, recognizing the so-called "eighteen groups".
Apart from these eighteen, there is an independent group started by the wife and the son of Zhang Tianran, Madame Liu and Mr. Zhang Yingyu, which does not have many followers. A large splinter group, also recognized by the government of Taiwan but not acknowledged by I-Kuan Tao, is that founded by Wang Hao De, former aide to Sun, who established his own sect called the "Great Tao of Maitreya".
- Johnson, Ian. Wild Grass. New York: Pantheon Books, 2004. p. 201
- According to the True Tao organization
- Robin Munro: "Syncretic Sects and Secret Societies – Revival in the 1980s." In: Chinese Sociology and Anthropology (M.E. Sharpe, Armonk, N.Y.) Summer 1989/Vol. 21, No. 4
- Song Guangyu 宋光宇: Tiandao Gouchen (天道钩沉), 2. Ed. Taipei 1983
- Thomas Weyrauch: Yiguan Dao – Chinas Volksreligion im Untergrund. Heuchelheim (Longtai) 2006. ISBN 3-938946-02-4
- World I-Kuan Tao Headquarters
- From the Los Angeles hall
- I-Kuan Tao Foundation of America in San Francisco, CA, USA
- History of Hsien Tien Dao, by Philip Clart
- Bibliography on I Kuan Tao
- A Brief Introduction to Taiwan: Religion
- Taiwan Yearbook article in Yi Guan Dao
- Amnesty International: People's Republic of China (includes report on Yi Guan Dao)