Yiguandao / I-Kuan Tao (traditional Chinese: 一貫道; simplified Chinese: 一贯道; pinyin: Yīguàn Dào; Wade–Giles: I1-Kuan4 Tao4),[lower-greek 1] meaning the Consistent Way or Persistent Way, is a Chinese salvationist religious sect that emerged in the late 19th century, in Shandong, to become China’s most important redemptive society in the 1930s and 1940s, especially during the Japanese invasion. In the 1930s Yiguandao spread rapidly throughout China led by Zhang Tianran, who is the eighteenth patriarch of the Latter Far East Tao Lineage, and Sun Suzhen, the first matriarch of the Lineage.
Yiguandao started off with a few thousand followers in Shandong in the 1930s, but under the Patriarch and Matriarch’s leadership and with missionary work the group grew to become the biggest movement in China in the 1940s with millions of followers. In 1949, Yiguandao was proscribed in mainland China as an illegal secret society and heretical cult as part of the greater antireligious campaign that took place. Yiguandao has since flourished in Taiwan, despite decades of persecution by the Kuomintang that officially ended in 1987 with the legalization of Yiguandao and a government apology. Yiguandao is still not able to be officially promoted in the mainland, but there are many members who live and practice there.
According to Dr. Sebastien Billioud, Yiguandao can be viewed as an updated version of the tradition unity of the three teachings of Confucianism, Daoism, and Buddhism. In Yiguandao’s case it also incorporated Christianity and Islam becoming a unity of the five teachings.
Yiguandao is characterised by an eschatological and soteriological doctrine, presenting itself as a way to salvation. It also encourages adherents to engage in missionary activity. Yiguandao is the worship of the source of the universal reality personified as the Eternal Venerable Mother, or the Splendid Highest Deity (Chinese: 明明上帝; pinyin: Míngmíng Shàngdì). The highest deity is the primordial energy of the universe, identified in Yiguandao thought with the Tao in the wuji or “unlimited” state and with fire. The name used in contemporary Yiguandao scriptures is the “Infinite Mother” (Chinese: 無極母; pinyin: Wújímǔ) and the “lantern of the Mother” (Chinese: 母灯; pinyin: mǔdēng)—a flame representing the Mother—is the central focus of Yiguandao shrines.
Yiguandao focuses on the worship of the Infinite Mother (Wujimu), also known as the Eternal Venerable Mother (Wusheng Laomu), which is also a feature of other Chinese folk religions. The source of things, It is neither male nor female, though it is called “Mother” or “Heavenly Mater”. It is the primordial force of the universe, the fire, that animates all things. It is the Tao, as Yiguandao doctrines explain.
In the 16th century the Eternal Mother began to take the place of the Holy Patriarch. A mythology surrounding the Mother began to form, integrating the beliefs about Maitreya, which had been widespread since the Yuan dynasty. The Maitreya belief is millenarian, claiming that the world would come to an end soon and Maitreya would incarnate himself in the physical plane to save humanity.
In the Mother belief, the Maitreya is one of the three enlightened beings sent by the Mother herself to bring salvation. Further myths explained the creation of the world and mankind: the Eternal Venerable Mother gave birth to yin and yang and two children, Fuxi and Nüwa, who begot auspicius stars and all sentient beings. The human beings were sent to the east and lost their memory of the Mother. The myth of Fuxi and Nüwa is found also in orthodox Chinese mythology.
The figure of the Eternal Mother derives from that of Xiwangmu, the “Queen Mother of the West”, the ancient mother goddess of China, related to the mythical Kunlun, the axis mundi, and thus to the Hundun. The Infinite Mother is thought as omnipotent, and regarded by Yiguandao followers as merciful, worried by her sons and daughters who lost their true nature, and for this reason trying to bring them back to the original heaven. Through its development, the Eternal Mother belief has shown the qualities of the three goddesses Xiwangmu, Nüwa and Guanyin.