Is There Religious Fundamentalism in Chinese Culture? The Case of the i-kuan Tao in Taiwan Jen-Chieh Ting

Cultural Fundamentalism in the I-Kuan Tao

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4. Cultural Fundamentalism in the I-Kuan Tao

4.1. The Scriptures Appropriated and Studied in the Fa-Yi -Chong-De Division

As the group that claims to be exclusively connected to the Tao Lineage, the I-Kuan Tao has extreme respect for Chinese classical scriptures. It established hierarchical levels of studies on the classical scriptures and generated various programs, even competitions, to promote the learning and recitation of scriptures. It takes the literal meanings of classical scriptures seriously, for they are the guidelines for self-cultivation, personal interaction, political management, and so forth. In this sense, the I-Kuan Tao does take a stance very close to fundamentalism, which presumes an eternal truth behind the specific scriptures and wants to engage in reintegrating current social and political situations by these perennial philosophies and moral precepts.

However, at the same time, we see that the I-Kuan Tao continually generates new scriptures and even sometime alters the sequences and words of classical scriptures. How do we perceive this discrepancy in the I-Kuan Tao’s attitude toward classical scriptures? And to what extent can we still say that the I-Kuan Tao belongs to one member of the fundamentalist family of the modern world?

Before a further analysis, we should have a primary review on the scriptures of the I-Kuan Tao. Under limited space, we only concentrate on one division, the Fa-YiChong-De, however, the practices and core texts of all divisions basically are derived from the same sources, of Eighteenth Patriarch Zhang Tian Ran’s design, and there are no large differences among them. The only differences come from the newly revealed texts generated by spirit writing. More about this issue later.

The scriptures in the Fa-Yi-Chong-De can be used both as reading materials and as some of the sacred items appearing in the ritual settings.

First, we will look at the ritual settings. The ceremonies in the Fa-Yi-Chong-De include daily and monthly rites, initiation rites, rites for special memorial days, and so forth.

For these ritual occasions, several scriptures appear, either as icons for worship or as manuals for procedure instruction. The first is the Temporary Tao Etiquette and Questions (by Eighteenth Patriarch Zhang), which regulates the procedures and occasions of all rites and ceremonies in the I-Kuan Tao. As for the second and third, within the worship hall, by the two sides of the main alter, on each side wall hangs a framed short scripture facing out into the room. One is the I-Kuan Tao’s self-generated scripture, The Purpose of Tao, which totals only 108 Chinese characters; the other is the classic The Age of Grand Commonality (Li Yun Da Tong Pian 禮運大同篇) , which totals only 107 Chinese characters. The former is a short text coming from Master Zhang’s book Answers on I-Kuan Tao, which summarizes how Tao followers should behave. The latter is a passage from the classics the Record of Rites (Liji 禮記). The Age of Grand Commonality is one of the most celebrated texts in Confucian literature and has traditionally been taken as representing Confucius’ highest ideal for a harmonious social order. The idealized social order, the Grand Commonality (Datong 大同), is the age in which the world was shared by all people (tianxia wei gong 天下為公; see de Bary & Bloom 1999:342-343).

Another two short scriptures, which are well bound in hardcover, are placed on each side of the altar. One the right side is an elaborated version (see below) of The Purpose of Tao, and on the left side is a scripture from folk tradition, the True Scripture of the Peach Garden Holy Emperor Kuan Who Illuminates the Sacred (Tao Yuan Ming Sheng Jing 桃園明聖經). Both of them were generated by spirit writing.

The former text was generated between 1985 and 1992, collected from 28 occasions of the spirit-writing ceremony. The spirit-writing texts in the I-Kuan Tao are called xunwen (訓文), which literally means “instruction texts,” or “revelational texts.” The later xunwen version of The Purpose of Tao has 21,148 Chinese characters, in which is embedded the original ext of The Purpose of Tao. This kind of “text embedded in text” in I-Kuan Tao has been called xunzhongxun (訓中訓), or “revelation embedded in revelation.”

The other scripture positioned on the alter, the True Scripture of the Peach Garden Holy Emperor Kuan Who Illuminates the Sacred, is a folk spirit-writing text already popular before the formation of the I-Kuan Tao. The contents of the scripture propagate those Confucian moral precepts such as filial piety, loyalty, respecting elders, and so forth. Due to the fact that the Fa-Yi division’s founder, Grand Senior Elder Han was cured by merits accumulated through patronizing the publishing of this scripture, this scripture was elevated to be the core scripture worshiped by all Fa-Yi followers.

Besides being used in these ritual settings, the scriptures are used for studying most of the Fa-Yi-Cong-De’s collective activities. As mentioned before, there is a series of training sessions from bottom level to advanced level. The learning of scripture is a main part of these courses. The scriptures come from several sources: (1) the classical scriptures from Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism; (2) scriptures generated by patriarchs and senior elders of the I-Kuan Tao; and (3) new scriptures generated by spirit writing or channeling.

The core texts in the list of the classical scriptures of the I-Kuan Tao can be seen from the recent I-Kuan Tao Scripture Reciting Competition. This contest was held in 2005 by all main I-Kuan Tao divisions together, in commemorating the I-Kuan Tao’s 100th anniversary. It took place in Taipei in the form of an international platform for a scripture reciting competition, with a total participation of more than 50,000 people, coming from all over the world.

In the reading list for this contest, in the reading list, there are both required and optional scriptures for reciting. The required scriptures are all very short texts, including: (1). ThePpurpose of Tao by the I-Kuan Tao’s own patriarch; (2) The Age of Grand Commonality, from the Record of Rites, a Confucian text ; (3) the Heart Sutra, a Buddhist text; (4) Scripture in which the Supreme Lord Lao Explains Perpetual Purity and Serenity (太上老君清靜經) , from Taoism; and (5) The True Scripture of Maitreya’s Relieving the Distressed.(彌勒救苦真經), which is a short text generated spirit writing in the I-Kuan tao in 1926, totals 514 characters, and represents the folk myth of the Three Eschatological Periods in a simplified form. Each of these five scriptures is just under 1,000 Chinese characters.

Optional texts for this scriptures-reciting competition (a competitor could choose either one or two texts with which to enter the contest) are the Confucian Four Books----the Analects (Lun Yu論語), the Book of Mencius (Meng Zi孟子), the Great Learning (Da Xue大學), and the Doctrine of the Mean (Zhong Yong中庸----the Taoist Tao De Jing (道德經), and two Buddhist texts--the Diamond Sutra and the Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch.

Here we should emphasize that, within the Four Books used by the I-Kuan Tao, the versions of the Great Learning and the Doctrine of the Mean, are not the commonly known Zhu Xi (朱熹) versions; rather, they are versions generated by spirit writing, entitled, respectively, Testimony and Interpretation of the Great Learning (Da Xue Zheng Shi大學證釋)and Testimony and Interpretation of the Doctrine of the Mean (Zhong Yong Zheng Shi 中庸證釋).

According to Zhong (2000:17-21), the Testimony and Interpretation of the Great Learning and Testimony and Interpretation of the Doctrine of the Mean were generated by spirit writing in a religious sect called the New Salvation Sect (救世新教) around the 1920s. The spirits descending to produce these two texts included Confucius, Mencius, Yan Hui (顏回), Zeng Zi (曾子), Zi Si(子思) , Lu Dong Bin (呂洞賓), and so forth. The spirit-writing versions of the Great Learning and the Doctrine of the Mean alter the structures, words sequences, and contents of the versions once edited by Zhu Xi. The spirit-writing version of the Great Learning now has 11 chapters instead of Zhu Xi’s 10 chapters. The new version of the Doctrine of the Mean now has 9 paragraphs and no chapters, unlike Zhu Xi version with 33 chapters.

Due to the limitation of space, we do not have the chance to list all of the differences between the Zhu Xi version and the spirit-writing version. But it is extremely interesting to notice that for any changes appearing in the newer version of the texts deities or saint-spirits have descended to explain the changes and they sometimes have even expressed their regrets for mistakes appearing in the previous version.

For example, the first paragraph of the Zhu Xi-edited version of the Great Learning is: “What the Great Learning teaches, is---to illustrate illustrious virtue; to renovate the people; and to rest in the highest excellence.” (大學之道, 在明明德, 在親民, 在止於至善, see translation in Legge 1960 1:356-357). Now, the spirit-writing version is: “What the Great Learning teaches, is---to illustrate illustrious virtue; to treat relatives with affection [emphasis mine]; to renovate the people; and to rest in the highest excellence.” (大學之道, 在明明德, 在親親, 在新民, 在止於至善).

After this change, the spirit of Confucius soon descended and said:
So the Tao of the Great Learning now is completed. The Confucian doctrines transmitted by saints are also completed now. It is very important for us to know this. Later generations missed out the character qin [ “familiarity”] and the two characters “to renovate the people” [zai xin 在新]. Although Zhu Xi cited the Kang Gao [康誥, a classical history book] “to renovate the people.” to interpret the word qin [familiarity] as xin [to renovate] is quite inspiring and creative, yet it misses out the real meaning of “treating the people with affection” and thus cannot make Confucianism complete. (Testimony and Interpretation of the Great Leaning 2002 : 37)

Any real fundamentalists certainly may be amazed by the above paragraph’s idea that even the classical scriptures could be revised by descending spirits.

In the preface of the spirit-writing version of the the Great Learning, Yan Hui descends and says:

Confucius this time comes to testify and interpret the Great Learning. Mistakes should be corrected. These mistakes have been wrongly followed for a long time; people have already failed to understand the real meaning behind [them]. Confucius takes serious this problem, and wants to correct it, as well as to expound it in more detail. The previous version and current version will be compared side by side. Thus the true meaning can be clarified (Testimony and Interpretation of the Great Learning 2002: 28)

In the postscript of the spirit-writing version of the Great Learning, the spirit of Zhu Xi even comes down and says:
I was foolish before. Now I come down together with the spirit of Confucius. Once [I] listened to his teaching, I was enlightened. This moment was so great and never happened before. Those who have a chance to learn the lesson admire it very much, as well as are inspired. When I was alive in the human realm, I studied scriptures and looked for teachers. Yet many things in the Classics I couldn’t understand. Even though I worked very hard, there was still a gap between the saints and me. Many years passed, [but] I still did not catch it [the essence of Tao]. Now in the current magnificent gathering, saints instruct me. I get the chance to know saints’ real intents behind the scriptures….In the past, I exerted myself to explain those things I did not understand, thus missing out on all the essences. Now thinking about these things, I so regret and feel deeply guilt about my past. (Testimony and Interpretation of the Great Learning 2002: 220)

Therefore, this is to say that Zhu Xi admitted his annotation of the Great Learning was not accurate at all, either in the interpretation or in the way of paragraph division. His version of the Great Learning cannot shed light on the real intents of the saints. Now only the spirit-writing version the Great Learning appropriated by the I-Kuan Tao, can reveal the truth approved by all these great saints.

Besides the scriptures coming from the classical in Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism, in the I-Kuan Tao there remains another vast category of scriptures, the spirit-writing texts, or the revelation texts, the so-called xunwen (訓文). Revelation texts usually are generated during the important collective rites, in which deities descend to give lessons for the rites’ participants. Mediums can produce the spirit writing through either oral or written communication.

In the Fa-Yi -Chong-De division, parts of the revealed texts coming from Ji Gong, also the eighteenth patriarch’s incarnated deity, have been collected into a series of pamphlets collectively called the Bright Wisdom (光明的智慧). This text has become the most updated scriptures for the Fa-Yi -Chong-De. The contents of the Bright Wisdom cover issues about ways of self-cultivation, life philosophy, emotion management, and so forth. During the training sessions, the Bright Wisdom texts are part of the core reading for followers.

One form of the revealed texts, the xunzhongxun mentioned above are something like crossword puzzles in which intersecting sentences are hidden within the revealed article. Because the revealed texts are generated spontaneously, it seems impossible to consciously insert such meaningful phrases or sentences within the texts. The result thus embodies the true magical effects coming from deities. The above-mentioned main scripture of the Fa-Yi division, the elaborated version of The Purpose of Tao, was generated in a form of xunzhongxun, in which 108 Chinese characters are embedded in a longer article totaling 21,148 characters. In the long process of creating this version of The Purpose of Tao, 3 years, 15 locations, 28 settings of collective rituals, and 13 deities were involved.

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