In Chinese, this is known as the Qiu Dao rite. Qiu (pronounced like chio) means request, and Dao is simply the Pinyin transliteration of Tao. Together, these characters denote a ritual where the seeker requests the Tao, which is then transmitted by the ordained Master of I-Kuan Tao. The ordained Master (Dian Chuan Shi), is someone who has received the Heavenly Decree (Tian Ming) to perform this ritual and carry out the sacred task of Tao transmission.
Q: Are there any vows associated with joining I-Kuan Tao?
A: In the initiation ritual, you have to affirm that you seek the Tao of your own sincere free will ¡ª i.e. you are not being forced into it, have not been brainwashed into it, and you are not harboring deception or hidden agenda. You also affirm your intention to be respectful of the teachings and the avatars of the Tao (Buddhas, Taoist immortals, etc.).
Q: What are the further instructions initiates receive and how do they receive them?
A: They receive the Three Treasures of I-Kuan Tao during the initiation ritual. These are powerful tools to help you with your own spiritual cultivation. The ordained Master performs the ritual of transmission of these Treasures, then either the Master or a lecturer will explain their meaning and help you practice them a few times so you can start applying them in your life immediately.
Q: Are there prerequisites and/or period of time an initiate must complete before initiation into I-Kuan Tao?
A: The short answer is no. The long answer is that it all depends on yuan, the Chinese term for karmic affinity. If you have this affinity with the Tao and the temple, then you will sense a positive energy associated with the ritual and yourself. When that is the case, you should go with the flow and ask for the ritual. It can be conducted for you right away. There is no waiting period necessary.
What if you wish to go through initiation but you are far away from the temple? If you have a powerful affinity to the Tao, you will find yourself at the temple one way or another. If you cannot go to the temple in the immediate future, it may be that the time isn’t right yet. Keep your eyes open to watch for the right time. An opportunity may present itself sooner than you expect.
Q: What is the Tao?
A: When you go through the initiation ritual, you are said to have received the Tao. But what does that mean? What exactly is this Tao that you have received? The word “Tao” can have many different meanings, depending on context. In one particular sense, the Tao is already a part of you, just as it is in everything, so it isn’t something you can receive.
In yet another context, the Tao is a path of spiritual cultivation. It is a never-ending process and a journey of discovery. In that sense, the Tao that you have received from the Initiation Ritual is a direction. It is a path that has been illuminated for you.
What are some of the other meanings of Tao? We can speak of the Tao as the source of everything that exists. In that sense, the Tao can be seen as the creator of the universe, also known as God.
The Tao can also be the unifying force that underlies all forces, or the ultimate principle that give rise to all natural laws. Or, we can say that it is the progressive power that drives the march of time, the proliferation of life, the progress of evolution, and the cosmic movement of celestial bodies.
From a spiritual perspective, perhaps we can describe it as the totality of all the souls in the metaphysical realm where we are all connected at a fundamental level. Or, we can call it the ultimate spiritual truth that gives rise to all the religions of mankind.
The most important concept in I-Kuan Tao is that all of the above are in fact one and the same. This realization is what gives I-Kuan Tao its name – the Tao that unifies everything as one.
Q: What is the meaning of the I-Kuan Tao shrine?
A: The meaning of the shrine starts with the recognition of oneness. The idea is that we human beings may have many different names for the divine, but all these names are ultimately varying descriptions of the same thing – the one great spiritual truth – that which we cannot comprehend fully, and yet makes us resonate so powerfully in the deepest core of our being.
The most important thing in the altar is the flame. It can be called Buddha Light or Mu Light. Either way, it’s a representation of the Tao. Because the Tao is the ultimate force or principle rather than a father-figure supreme being, I-Kuan Tao represents it with fire instead of some human visage. No human likeness or material symbol can capture the essence of the Tao. Fire, the ethereal manifestation of energy, is a far better symbol than anything human beings can craft.
There is a small metal plate behind the flame, inscribed with the Chinese characters wuji, which literally means “without boundary” or “without limit.” We can translate it as “infinity.” When the flame is lit, it casts a shadow through this inscription, thus reminding us that the infinite variations of creation are but myriad reflections of the Tao.
The central text in Chinese behind the flame can be roughly translated like as:
The Clear and Brilliant God
Unlimited and Tranquil
The Ultimate divinity of the Utmost Reverence
True Ruler of the Universe and All Living Things
In a typical I-Kuan Tao shrine, there are also figurines arrayed in front of the Mu Light. The Maitreya Buddha is always in the center position. He may be accompanied by Jigong, the Living Buddha; Guan Yin, the Bodhisattva / Buddhist Goddess of Mercy; Guan Gong, the God of War.
The Mu Light is the central focus and the most essential part. Indeed, senior masters of I-Kuan Tao have remarked that when it is not possible to create the shrine completely, the Mu Light alone is sufficient to serve as the representation of Lao Mu / God / the Tao.