I-Kuan Tao

I-Kuan Tao

I-Kuan Tao, also Yi Guan Dao, or usually initialized as IKT (一貫道, translated as the "The pervasive Truth") is a new religious movement that originated in twentieth-century China. It incorporates much older 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 or syncretic sect, along with other similar religions in the Way of Former Heaven (Xian Tian Dao) family.

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 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, in El Monte, California.

The name

*"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" or "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 the 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 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.
*Guan Yin, (觀世音菩薩) the Bodhisattva of Mercy. In I-Kuan Tao, she is referred as "The Ancient Buddha of the South Sea" (南海古佛)
*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, 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.
*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 Tian Ran (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 passing.
*Sun Su Zhen (孫素真), the I-Kuan Tao 18th matriarch and the wife in name to Zhang Tian Ran. She was believed to be the incarnation of Yue Hui Bodhisattva and became the Holy Mother of the Chinese after her passing.


Within the broad category of Chinese religion we may distinguish between folk practices which neither expect clear membership commitments nor make clear demands; and on the other hand, various sectarian movements which 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 passed on certain influences to 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."

Official history

The official history from I-Kuan Tao stated that I-Kuan Tao or Tao can be divided into 3 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 Shen Nong, Huang Di (Yellow Emperor), Laozi the author of the "Dao De Jing", Confucius, and the last is Mencius. Then it is said because of the turmoil period in China, Laozi brought Tao to India and initiated Sakyamuni Buddha.

The second lineage called the twenty-eight western lineage begins. This followed the Buddhist "Ch'an" or Zen lineage from Sakyamuni to Mahakasyapa, and finally Bodhidharma. It is said that Bodhidharma brought the Tao back to China to begin the Later eighteen eastern lineages. Following the Zen lineage from Bodhidharma to the sixth and officially last patriarch of Chinese Ch'an, Huineng. The lineage then continues with sectarian figures.

See [http://www.white-sun.com/golden_thread.htm The I-Kuan tao Lineage according to its believers.]

Research pointed that it stemmed from "Xiantiandao" (先天道) or the Way of Former Heaven. 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 religious teaching; "Sanjiao Yiguan Zhizhi" (Unity of 3 Religions) in the 1850s.

However, I-Kuan Tao started to flourish in China during the leadership of Zhang Tian Ran. During the leadership of Zhang Tian Ran, I-Kuan Tao 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 Su Zhen (孫素真) succeeded him as matriarch of I-Kuan Tao.

However, 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. In order 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 and Taiwan. In 1951, I-Kuan Tao was banned in the PRC and many of the followers and leaders were persecuted. Sun Su Zhen 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 De until her death in 1975.

The present

Zhang Pei-Cheng, the current director of I-Kuan Tao, 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, with objective to help save all human 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 (as in Chinese Buddhism)
*Initiation of new member into "Tao" (analogous to Buddha nature in Ch'an).
*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.


Unlike other faiths, I-Kuan Tao does not have a single organization. This is because after the death of Zhang Tian Ran and the escape from communism in China, many of the followers found their own way to Hong Kong and Taiwan. 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 Tian Ran 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 Tian Ran, 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.


There are many western studies on this movement the first comprehensive study is by David K. Jordan and described in his book "The Flying Phoenix". Recent studies include Philip Clart. And a thesis by Jo Swinnen (in Dutch) from Katholieke Universiteit Leuven in Belgium. A book by Meir Shahar on Ji Gong titled "Crazy Ji" also has a section on I-Kuan Tao.

see also:

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

External links

* [http://www.with.org/ World I-Kuan Tao Headquarters]
* [http://www.taoism.net/ikuantao/home.htm From the Los Angeles hall]
* [http://www.iktfoa.org/english/ I-Kuan Tao Foundation of America in San Francisco]
* [http://philtar.ucsm.ac.uk/encyclopedia/china/hsien.html History of Hsien Tien Dao, by Philip Clart]
* [http://www.geocities.com/yikuantao/ikt.htm Bibliography on I Kuan Tao]
* [http://www.gio.gov.tw/taiwan-website/5-gp/brief/info04_19.html A Brief Introduction to Taiwan: Religion]
* [http://english.www.gov.tw/Yearbook/index.jsp?categid=29&recordid=52740 Taiwan Yearbook article in Yi Guan Dao]
* [http://www.amnesty.org/ailib/intcam/china/china96/wom8.htm Amnesty International: People's Republic of China] (includes report on Yi Guan Dao)

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