By Derek Lin
一貫道 I-Kuan Tao
In the Pinyin romanization system, I-Kuan Tao is written as Yi Guan Dao. This matches the way it is actually pronounced in Chinese. Yi means one, Guan means through, and Dao means the path. Together, I-Kuan Tao is the spiritual path focusing on the one true Tao that unites (goes through) all things.
明明上帝 Ming Ming Shang Di
Ming means clarity. Repeating the character twice emphasizes and amplifies its meaning from clarity to enlightenment. Shang means the utmost, the ultimate, or the highest. Di means ruler. Together, Ming Ming Shang Di can be translated as the Highest Ruler of Enlightenment. This is a reference to the Tao being the natural laws of the universe and the ultimate principle governing everything.
老母 Lao Mu
Lao means ancient. Mu is the Chinese character for mother turned sideways, indicating the Universal Female Essence that gave birth to the totality of existence as the supreme miracle of creation. Together, Lao Mu is another name for the Tao, focusing on its nurturing and life-giving aspects as the ultimate source of everything. The terms Ming Ming Shang Di, Lao Mu and the Tao are synonymous with one another.
三曹 Three Realms
The Three Realms are: Heaven, inhabited by divine beings; the material world, inhabited by mortals; Hell, inhabited by ghosts. The ideal of I-Kuan Tao is to spread the spiritual teaching and salvation of the Tao to all sentient beings whether they are in Heaven, Hell, or the material world between the two.
五教 Five Religions
The Five Religions are often misunderstood as Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, Christianity and Islam. In actuality, "Five" in this context means multitude rather than a literal count of five. Thus, Five Religions point to the most significant traditions of the world that uplift and inspire people.
師尊 Shi Zuen
Shi means teacher and Zuen means reverence. Together, this term denotes I-Kuan Tao's most revered teacher, Zhang Tian Ran (張天然, 1889-1947), who along with Shi Mu served as spiritual leaders of the I-Kuan Tao movement in the modern era, as well as the Eighteenth Patriarch of the Zen tradition that began with Bodhidharma. I-Kuan Tao followers recognize him as the reincarnation of the Ji Gong Living Buddha, and also know him by the name of Tian Ran Ancient Buddha.
Shi means teacher and Mu means mother. Together, this term refers to Sun Su Zhen (孫素真, 1895-1975), the great teacher of I-Kuan Tao who not only taught her followers the spiritual path, but also nurtured them as a maternal presence. Today, she is also known to I-Kuan Tao followers as the Divine Mother of China and the Yueh Huei Bodhisattva.
道長 Tao Zhang
Several advanced Tao cultivators assisted Shi Zuen and Shi Mu when they began their work decades ago. These individuals were all the more remarkable because the teachings of I-Kuan Tao were not at all well known back then. They achieved mastery of the Tao, and are known as the Tao Zhang collectively.
老前人 Lao Chien Ren
Within a division in I-Kuan Tao, Lao Chien Ren holds the highest position of spiritual leadership. This position, like other positions in I-Kuan Tao, may be occupied by either a man or a woman.
前人 Chien Ren
Chien Ren is the position below Lao Chien Ren and above the Lao Dien Chuan Shi.
老點傳師 Lao Dien Chuan Shi
Lao Dien Chuan Shi is the position below Chien Ren and above the Master.
This is known as Dien Chuan Shi in Chinese. Dien means to point, as in pointing to the Great Truth. Chuan means to transmit, as in transmitting the Great Tao. Shi means teacher. Together, these three characters denote an ordained Master of I-Kuan Tao who has been charged with the Heavenly Decree (天命) to spread the message of the Tao far and wide.
An Introducer is a Tao practitioner who introduces a Seeker of spirituality to I-Kuan Tao, and leads him or her into initiation.
A Guarantor is a Tao practitioner who guarantees the good character of someone who seeks initiation into I-Kuan Tao.
功德費 Token of Merit
The typical I-Kuan Tao temple never engages in regular solicitations of donations. Masters often support temples financially instead of drawing salary as ordained clergy often do in most traditions. They are able to sustain this long-term because they have mastered positive karma, so that the more they give, the more abundantly they receive. The requirement to collect the Token of Merit in the Initiation Ritual is a way to introduce new followers to the same karmic mechanism, which may seem inexplicable, but is quite real and has the power to benefit everyone.
壇主 Shrine Owner
A high-level cultivator of the Tao may decide to take the step to become the owner of an I-Kuan Tao shrine (母壇). This ownership comes with the responsibility to serve as an example to others, and is therefore charged with two requirements not imposed on the typical Tao cultivator. The first is the total willingness to practice the rituals every day as specified in the handbook of rituals. The second requirement is the Cleansing Ritual (清口) where one takes a vow to become a vegetarian and to refrain from telling untruths. The discipline of Shrine Owners makes them respected and important figures within the Tao Community.
母燈 Mu Light
Mu in this context is the same character as the one in Lao Mu. Also known as the Buddha Light (佛燈), this is the central and most important element of the I-Kuan Tao shrine. Because the Tao is the ultimate force and principle rather than a human-like deity, it should be depicted with the energy of a flame rather than any human likeness. The Mu Light is backed by a metal plate inscribed with the characters Wu Ji (無極), meaning without boundary or unbounded. When the Mu Light is lit, it shines through these characters, representing the way reality itself reflects the brilliance of light shining from the Tao.
道場 Tao Community
A community of the Tao exists whenever two or more Tao cultivators come together in a spirit of harmony and mutual respect. This can range from the formal setting of a temple to a small group of individuals working together informally to share the teachings of the Tao with the world.