I-Kuan Tao (pronounced "yee guan dao") is one
of the most significant spiritual movements in
Taiwan. Its name can be literally translated as
"The Tao that unifies all with the one."
The basis of I-Kuan Tao is rooted in Chinese
traditions, with teachings emphasizing
traditional values such as family, honor,
respect and moderation. It is no exaggeration to
call I-Kuan Tao the definitive and authentic
Chinese form of spirituality.
The appeal of I-Kuan Tao is not limited to
the Chinese. The movement is open to everyone
regardless of ethnicity. Many people in the West
have already experienced the warmth and
acceptance of Tao practitioners. They have also
discovered, within I-Kuan Tao, progressive
teachings that resonate with the Western mind.
Foundation of I-Kuan Tao
The Tao aspect of the I-Kuan Tao heritage is
by far the oldest, going back at least to the
time of Huang-ti, the legendary emperor who
lived over 4,500 years ago.
About two thousand years after this ancient
beginning, Lao Tzu came along to summarize
Taoist beliefs and concepts into the classic Tao
Te Ching. Another sage, Chuang Tzu, expanded
upon these beliefs and concepts with stories,
metaphors and a unique sense of humor.
Today, 2,500 years later, the teachings about
the Tao have become the central tenets of I-Kuan
Tao. These teachings describe the Tao as the
ultimate principle beyond all principles and the
ultimate power beyond all powers.
I-Kuan Tao asserts that the Tao is the
essence and the spiritual truth behind all
religions, philosophies, and schools of thought.
It is also the source of everything, the driving
mechanism of evolution, and the life force of
the universe. The specialized name for this
concept is Lao Mu, the personified
manifestation of the nurturing, life-affirming,
and creative power of the universe.
At about the same time as Lao Tzu and Chuang
Tzu, other sages were also developing their own
perspectives on life and spirituality. Confucius
became renowned as a great teacher and scholar
as he codified social customs and ethics. To the
south of China, the Buddha taught his followers
the path toward enlightenment.
Confucian teachings and Buddhist thoughts
both had profound impact on Chinese culture. I-Kuan
Tao recognizes their value, and integrates their
teachings into the core of the belief system.
It is the nature of I-Kuan Tao to be open and
receptive to different perspectives. The Tao
goes beyond superficial, stylistic differences,
and great wisdom should be treasured and
cherished regardless of its source. By seeking
commonalities among different traditions, I-Kuan
Tao can move closer to the true essence, and
perhaps avoid inflexible dogma.
Five hundred years after the time of Lao Tzu,
another remarkable teacher came into the world.
His name was Jesus. He left a legacy that would
come to serve as the foremost foundation of
spirituality in the West.
With the same openness and receptivity that
it has for all beliefs, I-Kuan Tao embraces and
incorporates Christian teachings. Many Tao
practitioners respect and study the Bible, again
seeking the common thread of truth and wisdom
that can bring the different beliefs closer to
In terms of formal lineage, I-Kuan Tao traces
back to Bodhidharma, the Indian monk who visited
China and originated Zen Buddhism. I-Kuan Tao
reveres Bodhidharma as the first patriarch, or
The lineage founded by Bodhidharma passed
down through the generations to Hui Neng, the
sixth patriarch of Zen Buddhism. Hui Neng's deep
insights and powerful intuition, as recorded in
The Platform Sutra, became central elements of
The lineage continued on after Hui Neng,
generation after generation. The last patriarch
of the lineage was the eighteenth. This final
position was shared by two individuals that Tao
practitioners call Shi Zueng (literally
"teacher-reverend") and Shi Mu (literally
In 1930, Shi Zueng and Shi Mu started their
practice of I-Kuan Tao in Chi Nan City, Shang-Dong
Province. Their work spread by word of mouth,
and by 1946 I-Kuan Tao became prevalent among 36
provinces of China.
At the end of the Civil War in 1949, many I-Kuan
Tao followers in China found their beliefs
incompatible with Communist doctrines. They
followed Shi Zueng and Shi Mu out of China, and
established themselves in Taiwan.
I-Kuan Tao thrived and spread in Taiwan,
despite initial attempts by the government to
suppress it. Soon there were millions of
followers, hundreds of temples, and tens of
thousands of family shrines. This popularity was
partly because I-Kuan Tao offered new thinking
that changed the religious landscape.
Previous to the influence of I-Kuan Tao, the
vegetarian lifestyle was thought to be the sole
domain of monks and nuns. I-Kuan Tao questioned
this commonly accepted convention, and advocated
vegetarianism for all Tao cultivators.
Because of this, vegetarianism became much
more widespread. It used to be difficult to find
vegetarian restaurants in Taiwan. Today anyone
can find several within walking distance. This
change would not have taken place without I-Kuan
I-Kuan Tao insisted on having meetings where
the learned can share their spiritual insights
with others. This was quite different from the
old paradigm, where monks and nuns studied
scriptures but did not necessarily discuss them
with the lay public in regularly scheduled
Over time, people gradually became aware of
the I-Kuan Tao approach. They started to
understand that the focus should not be on
building temples or collecting donations.
Spiritual teachings should take center stage.
One by one, religious institutions adapted to
this new awareness. Today, seminars and public
forums on spiritual topics have become
commonplace in Taiwan. The people benefit.
Not everyone is aware of the pivotal role
that I-Kuan Tao has played in the above. This is
because Tao cultivators refrain from trumpeting
their own accomplishments. They prefer to do the
work, achieve the result, and then quietly exit,
hopefully without drawing any attention.
In this way, I-Kuan Tao adheres to the
ancient teachings about the Tao. Like water, the
Tao nourishes all, gives birth of all things,
and then moves on to the next task without any
expectations of recognition or rewards.
By seeking the commonality of all faiths and
bringing everyone, regardless of religion,
closer to the spiritual essence, I-Kuan Tao
lives up to its name. It is truly the ideal of
harmonious connections - the Tao that unifies
all with the one.