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Cantonese Society in Hong Kong and SingaporeGender, Religion, Medicine and Money$

Marjorie Topley and Jean DeBernardi

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9789888028146

Published to Hong Kong Scholarship Online: September 2011

DOI: 10.5790/hongkong/9789888028146.001.0001

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The Great Way of Former Heaven: A Group of Chinese Secret Religious Sects

The Great Way of Former Heaven: A Group of Chinese Secret Religious Sects


(p.203) Chapter 9 The Great Way of Former Heaven: A Group of Chinese Secret Religious Sects
Cantonese Society in Hong Kong and Singapore

Marjorie Topley

, Jean DeBernardi
Hong Kong University Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter discusses certain aspects of an esoteric, secretly organized, religion in China called Hsien-t'ien Ta-tao [Xiantian Dadao] (or Hsient'ien Tao [Xiantian Dao]) “The Great Way of Former Heaven” (or “The Way of Former Heaven”). It is based mainly on material discovered in Singapore during 1954–1955. The name Hsien-t'ien Tao has been recorded elsewhere as that of a Chinese “sect.” Evidence suggested that it might have links with several other groupings but the exact nature of connexion is obscure. This chapter shows that the Great Way of Former Heaven is in fact a name used by a number of schismatic sects for the religious system from which they have ramified. These sects themselves have a number of different names, some using Hsien-t'ien Men (“door” or sect) as an alternative.

Keywords:   religion, China, Hsien-t'ien Ta-tao, Xiantian Dadao, Great Way of Former Heaven, Singapore, schismatic sects, Hsien-t'ien Men


This paper discusses certain aspects of an esoteric, secretly organized, religion in China called Hsien-t’ien Ta-tao [Xiantian Dadao] (or Hsient’ien Tao [Xiantian Dao])1 “The Great Way of Former Heaven” (or “The Way of Former Heaven”). It is based mainly on material discovered in Singapore during 1954–55.

The name Hsien-t’ien Tao has been recorded elsewhere as that of a Chinese “sect”. Evidence suggested that it might have links with several other groupings but the exact nature of connexion was obscure.2 I will show that the Great Way of Former Heaven (which I will refer to as the Great Way) is in fact a name used by a number of schismatic sects for the religious system from which they have ramified. These sects themselves have a number of different names, some using Hsien-t’ien Men (“door” or sect) as an alternative. Great Way is also the term used by them for describing the ideology which they share and which, although syncretic, is independent of any of the traditional Chinese ideologies in its development, and has some unique features.

The material does not enable me to give a complete description of the system in all its aspects. The sects from which I gathered material still operate partly in secret overseas, and the documents to which I had access are incomplete. Nevertheless despite gaps the new facts obtained do, I (p.204) think, cast some light on the ideological and structural connexions of a number of Chinese esoteric groupings.

First I will describe the descent of a group of Great Way sects with which I had personal contact. Second, I will discuss the ideology of the religion, and then describe the organization of the group of sects contacted which share a common form. Finally I will examine how far, in the light of the material, we can now identify some other groups which have had some features described in the literature on Chinese sectarianism, as offshoots of the Great Way system.

Sources of Material

I first made contact with Great Way religion while making an anthropological study in Singapore of chai-t’ang [zhaitang]: “vegetarian halls”. These are residential religious establishments in which inmates practise sexual abstinence and follow a vegetarian diet. They are occupied and run largely by Chinese unattached immigrant women and my main interest was in the social satisfactions they provided for them. This meant an investigation of the relationship of the halls to the wider religious organization of the overseas Chinese.3 I discovered that while some were part of the Buddhist part of this organization, the majority were attached to groupings which claimed to be “the only true followers” of Great Way religion.4

The material on esoteric religions in China is very uneven and systematic first-hand investigation of them presented a number of difficulties. Not only were such religions usually organized wholly or partly in secret, but contact with them was hampered by their illegal status. 5 They have continually been subject to suppression partly on account of their unorthodoxy and partly because they have tended to be politically militant. To-day such suppression is particularly intense and it (p.205) is unlikely that much new material will be forthcoming on esoteric groups from China itself.6

Many of China’s secret religions, like the Great Way sects, have been taken to South-east Asia by Chinese immigrants and continue to flourish there, although in modified form. South-east Asian governments have not been interested in Chinese religious orthodoxy. Within overseas Chinese communities, moreover, there has been nothing resembling the Confucian elite of the homeland to lead public opinion against them (most overseas Chinese are of peasant or artisan background). Consequently, it is often possible to uncover new information not only on their overseas operation but also, from their documents, and informants who are immigrants, how they were organized and sometimes how they operated in the homeland.

My original sources for this paper consisted of a number of sectarian documents and statements of informants. Informants included several leaders and officials of the sects in Singapore, and in one case in Malaya. Most of them had joined their organizations in China. Some of the documents on historical descent were hand-written records, others were copies made for my benefit (and from which some details may have been omitted). Several private sectarian publications were used: handbooks for religious administration, critical works on ideology and orthodox leadership used in campaigns to draw members away from rival sects, and religious texts used in proselytizing.7

The halls providing material for this paper belonged to four independent vegetarian (chai [zhai]) sects: that is, to groupings in which those aspiring to high rank have to take vows of sexual abstinence and vegetarianism. They were four subdivisions, each called P’u-tu Men [Pudu Men] “Salvation Sect”8 (also known as Hsien t’ien Men 9).

Information was also provided by its local leader on another vegetarian sect, Kuei-ken Men [Guigen Men] “Sect of Reverting to the (p.206) Root (of Things)”,10 found in Malaya but not yet established in Singapore. He provided additional information on a further, non-vegetarian, sect in Singapore going under the name of “Nanyang Sacred Union”. It is in fact the T’ung-shan She “Fellowship of Goodness” [Tongshan She].11 Before joining the Kuei-ken Men, its leader had been in the T’ung-shan She in China and Singapore and had in fact brought it to Singapore and established it there. I made little personal contact with this sect largely because its lodges are not open for public worship as are the halls of vegetarian sects.12 I lived for short periods in two vegetarian halls, each belonging to a different P’u-tu sect.

All the above groupings regard themselves as Inner sects of the Great Way because they have a similar form of organization. They claim to be related to other independent Inner sects in China which have no overseas branches.13 Other Great Way groupings are regarded by them as Outer sects. The leader of Kuei-ken Men was at the time of this study conducting a reamalgamation campaign among Inner sects.

Patriarchal Descent and Division into Some of the Inner Sects

Sects in Malaya and Singapore keep records of past leaders of their divisions. The original system of leadership of the religion was by tsu [zu], which might be translated as “patriarchs”. They are said to hold office by virtue of Heaven’s Mandate14 obtained directly from the religion’s highest deity.15 They pass on office personally to their successors, or they are supposed to do so, and succession is determined in accordance with certain cosmological factors which will be discussed below. Orthodoxy depends principally on a sect having the “correct” leader. Only one man (p.207) (or occasionally two working together) may hold the Heavenly Mandate at one time.16

I have combined information in the patriarchal records and other documents on descent made available to me and from it have constructed Charts 13.17 The information recorded gives some idea of the possible length of existence of the religion. The names of past leaders may also aid investigation of further esoteric groupings and provide a means of identification with the Great Way.

Comments on the charts

1. Leadership up to the nineteenth century

The records of most Inner sects begin with the names of two men said to have held office jointly.18 They are reckoned seventh in line because sects believe Great Way derives from the Ch’an [Chan] school of Buddhism and that their descent follows on directly from the sixth Ch’an patriarch in (p.208)

The Great Way of Former Heaven: A Group of Chinese Secret Religious Sects(1963)*

Chart 1. To Early Nineteenth Century

China, Hui Neng.19 Ch’an, it is claimed, became unorthodox when it failed to recognize the seventh patriarchal office.20 Several sects record (p.209)
The Great Way of Former Heaven: A Group of Chinese Secret Religious Sects(1963)*

Chart 2. Division into T’ung-shan She and Kuei-ken Men

that: “after the sixth patriarch, the Great Way passed to those dwelling in the fire (huo-chu, clergy living in their own homes). Buddhism closed.”

The two patriarchs reorganized the religion. At this time membership consisted of individuals living in their own homes and meeting for worship either in each other’s houses or in non-residential vegetarian halls. The religion was entirely vegetarian.

The eighth patriarch, Lo Wei-ch’un, is already known in the literature on Chinese sectarianism as a founder of sects.21 He has a special place in (p.210)

The Great Way of Former Heaven: A Group of Chinese Secret Religious Sects(1963)*

Chart 3. Nineteenth Century and After: Division into P’u-tu Sects

the religion and is said to have been a great reformer. He is supposed to have written a Mahayana sutra in which he laid down new principles for religious organization. 22 The religion was to have two sections: a department of lay helpers (hu-tao [hudao]) known as the “outer” department, and a department of rank-holders who take religious degrees, known as the “inner” department.

Lay members were to be entitled to one-third of the merit accumulated by rank-holders through their esoteric work for spiritual (p.211) progress.23 Lo also changed the existing system of ranks, “abolishing five major titles” called the “Five Lords” (Wu-kung [Wugong]). 24 This information from the sects themselves is paralleled by a Buddhist tradition: that after the Yuan Dynasty there was an offshoot of the White Lotus called the Wu-kung Tao [Wugong Dao] “Way of the Five Lords”, which “wanted to rebel” and which was organized into five sections each under a leader. This Buddhist account also claims that Lo Wei-ch’un was a religious leader who broke away from the White Lotus sect.25 The leader of one P’u-tu sect writes that Lo was eventually tortured to death for writing his Mahayana sutra which incited people to rebellion.26

The sectarian records state that many sects appeared after Lo Weich’un. The ninth patriarch is said to have named the religion Great Way of Former Heaven. Only sects descended from him are considered “true” Great Way sects.

It appears then that Great Way religion possibly derived from the Wu-kung Tao offshoot of the White Lotus; that it stems from a reform movement started by Lo Wei-ch’un, being itself an offshoot of Lo’s religion founded by the leader recorded as ninth patriarch.27 Later I will show that in certain circumstances some Great Way sects take the name “White Lotus” secretly.28

2. The nineteenth century period of leadership

The nineteenth century is said to have been a period of great fragmentation of sects, a result of vigorous campaigns of suppression.29 To check division an attempt was made to strengthen leadership and five senior dignitaries met in Han-yang to reorganize administration.30 One was made fourteenth patriarch and new rules for membership were fixed.

(p.212) T’ung-shan She, or the sect from which it developed, did not accept these innovations and split off at this point.31 The Kuei-ken Men group would not accept the fourteenth patriarch’s acting successor. 32 The remaining body was led by the sole surviving member of the Han-yang meeting who they accepted as fifteenth patriarch. He built a vegetarian hall in which he lived and from which he directed affairs.33 After his death dissension led to the formation of further sects including the group known as P’u-tu Men [Pudu Men].34 The name P’u-tu is taken from a type of religious work being performed at the time of division.35

From records and other information it appears that there have been at least eight independent groupings calling themselves P’u-tu Men.36 These divisions are numbered on Chart 3: I A-B, II, III A-B-C-D, IV.

Sect II amalgamated with I after a period of independent leadership but divided again later. No dates are given by I and II for their patriarchs since division but from the number of leaders recorded it would appear that the terms of office of many must have been short.

Sect III was a group which took the brother of the fifteenth patriarch as their sixteenth in line. After his death, unlike the other P’u-tu groups, it replaced the patriarchal system with a system of leadership by three men responsible for certain religious work and known as the “Three Flowers”.37 They selected five men to take charge after their death. One was to be leader, Chia-chang [jiazhang] “Family Head”, and was to establish a vegetarian hall. The second was to live with him in this hall and eventually become his successor. The other three were to succeed the Three Flowers in directing spiritual work, and were known as the “Latter Three Flowers”. They were also each placed directly in charge of a (p.213) territorial division for which they were ultimately responsible to the Chiachang.38

The Latter Three Flowers eventually broke away to form independent subsects. Each was named P’u-tu Men like its parent body but took as alternative title the name of the vegetarian hall from which its founder had directed divisional affairs before breaking away. The rest of the original group administered by the successor to the Chia-chang was also known alternatively by the name of its founding vegetarian hall. T’ang [Tang] is in fact the term used when referring to a P’u-tu subdivision in group III.39

Sect IV broke away after the death of the sixteenth patriarch of sect III and was founded by two of his female disciples.40 Again, it operated through founding vegetarian halls (all hall names are given in the chart) and became entirely female in membership.

Ideology of Great Way Religion41

Before the existence of the Universe there was air (ch’i [qi]) which filled a Void. There was also energy consisting of two opposing forces, Yin and Yang, by whose friction air became condensed into matter. From matter, all worlds of the Universe, its heavens and everything in them were made. Air is continually being turned into matter, while matter continually dissolves into air and “Returns to the Void”.

Tao, the Way, or Ta-tao, the Great Way as it is termed by the sects, is Order, by which the Universe is governed. It includes natural laws governing physical processes, laws governing the relations between Heaven and Earth (made of the same cosmic materials, they are intimately connected), and True Moral Order, known as Ultimate Truth. Ultimate Truth should be the basis of government for men in their relations with each other, the physical world, and Heaven. If mankind could grasp this (p.214) Truth and act in accordance with it, harmony of all things would be achieved. The process by which matter is eternally created and recreated could be checked and all things could Return to the Void, or Root (Kueiken [Guigen]).42

Great Way religion attempts to rediscover the Truth which has been lost, and teach it. Part of its religious work is teaching individuals how to achieve personal harmony with the Moral Order. Personal instruction is given only to members who have proved their ability to understand it. All members of the religion regardless of ability may benefit from this teaching, however, for the self-cultivation (hsiu-hsing [xiuxing]) of the chosen few creates merit, which spreads its influence to all men, helping to open their eyes, so that eventually they too may learn Truth. This indirect method of spreading Truth is a lengthy process but there is a series of short cuts. In certain ages great spiritual teachers and divine beings are born who are able to save people directly.

The Void appears in human form to make Truth known among men and takes the form of a female known as “Mother”,43 who is the highest deity of the religion. Mother has many other titles of address which change as a result of her instructions and in order to prevent unorthodox sects petitioning her aid.44 The materials created by friction of Yin and Yang were shaped into the Universe and its worlds by P’an-ku 45 at Mother’s orders. Ta-tao, brought into existence at this time, has in certain periods been known perfectly and taught by great men who did not need organized religion to support them. Only after they Returned to the Void were religions organized. Such bodies teach but distorted versions of Truth and their very presence is a sign of corruption.46

(p.215) Since Truth has become distorted Great Way religion must search widely for it and embrace its elements wherever they are found to-day. Hence it must be a syncretic faith.

Cycles of earthly development and spiritual teaching

There are cyclical periods in which Truth is first taught and then becomes distorted. There are three major cycles and many minor cycles, each dominated by different divine and semi-divine teachers. The phases in each cycle coincide with phases of world-development.47

1. Major cycles

Each of the major cycles of Truth-teaching is dominated by important Buddhas who are of the Past, Present, and Future. The Past cycle was dominated by Dipamkara (Jan-teng Fo [Randeng Fo]): “Buddha of the Burning Lamp”.48 He was assisted by various Chinese deities and was reincarnated in China as Fu-hsi, inventor of the Eight Diagrams system of divination. The second cycle was dominated by Shakyamuni, the historical Buddha. He was reincarnated in China in the form of numbers of popular deities. The third and last cycle is dominated by Maitreya, “the Buddha to Come” and chief salvatory figure of the religion. In this final cycle all men will be saved if they join the correct Great Way sect.

Each major Truth cycle divides into three phases for teaching Truth. First comes an advent: various wise men predict the imminent appearance of the Buddha and teach some of the general ideas he will propound. Then the Buddha himself appears and teaches. Afterwards teaching is handed on to sages, Truth gradually becomes distorted, and organized religions appear based on the Buddha’s teaching.

The major Truth cycles are fitted to major creational cycles as follows: the whole period in which our world is created and will eventually be destroyed unless men accept Truth is seen as a major aeon (maka-kalpa). A Buddha cycle conjures up physical energy and three phases of physical development are distinguished which coincide with the three phases of Truth. They are Formation, Existence, and Destruction. Thus Formation (p.216) coincides with advent, Existence with Buddha teaching, and Destruction with truth-distortion. This whole cycle is a kalpa.

At the end of each cycle there is a catastrophe (chieh [jie]) which comes as a punishment from Mother because Truth has been allowed to disappear from the world. There are three kinds of catastrophe which follow each other: first a Deluge, after the Dipamkara cycle; a Fire, after the Sakyamuni cycle; and after the Maitreya cycle, if teaching reaches the point of distortion, there will be a Wind which will destroy the world.

2. Minor cycles

Each of the three major cycles of teaching-cum-world-development subdivide into minor cycles in which minor Buddhas and divine beings, and teachers who have some of their characteristics,49 preach a version of Truth. Like major cycles, they divide into phases of world development and have their advents, periods of teaching, and periods of distortion. They are minor kalpa and end in catastrophes which are not, like those of major cycles, on a world scale, but confined to the locality in which the teacher is operating. For example a flood or fire, or a typhoon in a particular province of China might be taken as an indication that teaching of a minor divine in the area has been repressed, or distorted as a result of local corruption.One of the tasks of members of Great Way sects is to protect divine teachers of Truth of both major and minor cycles when they appear, and prevent Truth from becoming distorted thus preventing catastrophes. Members of the faith say they are able to avoid catastrophes that do take place by retiring to a magical “cloud city” (yun-ch’eng [yun cheng]) conjured up with incantations and use of paper charms.50

Kuei-ken sect believes the third major cycle, that of Maitreya, has already begun and that its own present patriarch is Maitreya incarnate. Furthermore, it believes that soon now, unless there is a change in spiritual outlook, the world will end with the Wind Catastrophe in the form of a hydrogen bomb. To avoid this, the patriarch must be given opportunity for reaching the masses to teach them Truth. This can be achieved only if there is a return to the dynastic system and the patriarch sits on the Dragon Throne as emperor.51 The political implications of this belief are obvious. Presently I will consider the possibility of connexion between Great Way sects and other politically militant groups.52

(p.217) 3. Cyclical names and colour symbolism

Three openly used and most popular names for the three major cycles are: Hsien-t’ien [Xiantian]“Former Heaven”, Chung-t’ien “Middle Heaven”, and Hou-t’ien [Houtian]“Latter Heaven”. The religion is named after the first cycle for this is when Truth came into existence.53 Other names which are used secretly to describe both the three major cycles and minor cycles (which progress in series of three) are Hsiang [Xiang] or Yang “Good Omen” periods (using the characterThe Great Way of Former Heaven: A Group of Chinese Secret Religious Sects(1963)*),Lung-hua [Longhua] “Dragon Flower” periods, and Lien [Lian] “Lotus” periods. These are alternative names which only some sects use. The P’u-tu sects for example use only the secret name of Lung-hua.

Each cycle or period is associated with a particular colour. The colours are Ch’ing [Qing] “Azure,” Hung [Hong] “Red,” and Pai [Bai] “White” following one another in that order. Sometimes Hwang [Huang] “Yellow” is used additionally to describe the period of catastrophe following each cycle. Thus then, the cycles in sequence are known as Ch’ing Yang Ch’i ([Qi], Period), Hung Yang Ch’i, and Pai Yang Ch’i; Ch’ing Lien Ch’i, Hung Lien Ch’i, and Pai Lien Ch’i. “White Lotus”, then, is one of the terms for the cycle of Maitreya.

The term lung-hua is taken from the name of the bodhi tree of Maitreya whose flowers are said to resemble dragons’ heads. Buddhists believe he will hold three meetings (lung-hua hui) under this tree, at which he will save all sentient beings. Great Way sectarians believe that each of the major Buddhas holds three meetings during his Truth cycle, and they use the term lung-hua hui [longhua hui] for all such meetings. Among those saved so far at the meetings of Dipamkara and Sakyamuni are a number of beings termed yuan-tsu [yuanzu] “original elements”. They are spiritual beings sent down by Mother in the Hsien-t’ien period to teach Truth. There were 9,000,000 of them, including most of the heroes of Chinese popular mythology. They became corrupted by men and could not return to the Void.54 But some have already been saved.55

(p.218) 4. The cycles and number symbolism

Each Buddha teaching on earth is linked symbolically to the colour scheme of his cycle and to a certain number. Buddhas are visualized as sitting on “Lotus Thrones” and the number to which each is linked is determined by the number of petals of his throne. Thus Dipamkara (and his incarnations including beings with one of his characteristics incarnate in them) sits on a three-petalled Azure Lotus, Sakyamuni on a five-petalled Red Lotus, and Maitreya on a nine-petalled White Lotus.

These numbers have further significance in the sects. Besides the three lung-hua hui of the Buddhas there are the lung-hua hui of the sects. Three lung-hua hui take place annually at which major religious policy is decided. All Inner sects and perhaps others, hold them on the same days. The first is on the fifteenth of the third lunar month, the others on the fifteenth of the fifth and ninth lunar months. The fifteenth is the day of the full moon and therefore propitious. The months are determined by the number of petals of the lotus thrones of the three major Buddhas. Earthly meetings are paralleled by heavenly ones each conducted by one of the three Buddhas.56 At the earthly meetings messages are obtained from the heavenly ones by use of the planchette. These may give instructions on sectarian affairs for the coming session. Attempts are also made to discover when Maitreya will arrive on earth and how he should be recognized. Policy meetings are held at headquarters, and branch and sub-branch lodges or vegetarian halls hold religious services at the same time.57 On the day of the first meeting, halls and lodges (also business premises of lay-members) are given a thorough spring-cleaning. Images in the shrines are washed.58 The Han-yang meeting to reorganize the religion and select a fourteenth patriarch, as recorded in the history of the sects, was in fact a lung-hua meeting.

(p.219) Organization of Inner Sects

1. Rank and its functions

(a) Qualifications for rank

Instruction in self-cultivation for spiritual progress is given within a system of grades or ranks. These ranks, their Chinese names and English equivalents, are set out in Chart 4 which is compiled from information given me by leaders of various sects. The information on T’ung-shan She comes from the leader of Kuei-ken Men.

To reach each rank the candidate must pass an examination which shows he has reached the appropriate degree of self-cultivation. He may then continue his training to the next stage. The highest ranks are open to male members only and examinations for these used to be taken at the headquarters of the sects in China. Now some headquarters are in Hong Kong and overseas members either travel there to take examinations or wait until the head of the sect visits their branch. Examinations for lower ranks, up to Pao-en [Baoen], may be taken in local halls and lodges of the sects. A fee is chargeable for each rank conferred and the successful candidate is expected to give an elaborate dinner to all of equal and higher grades. In the vegetarian sects sexual abstinence and a permanent vegetarian diet are required of all those aspiring to ranks above T’ien-en [Tianen]. Married members are eligible for higher ranks providing they terminate sexual relations. The T’ien-en is expected to spend occasional periods of residence in a vegetarian hall, when he applies himself intensively to the self-cultivation work of his grade. Today, those with higher ranks in sect branches overseas are required to live permanently in a vegetarian hall. Usually such persons are unmarried or are separated from their marriage partners.

It is said that at one time Great Way religion was entirely vegetarian and that sexual and dietary restrictions were abandoned by new sects appearing late in the nineteenth century, including T’ung-shan She, as part of a programme of modernization. The aim was to attract a different type of member: those of social prominence and education who might reinvigorate the organization, which appears from my limited information to have been based mainly on peasant and artisan membership until late in the nineteenth century. It was felt that sexual restrictions might be offensive to a Confucian trained scholar because of the value placed on the family in Confucian ideology. Vegetarianism also, would be inconvenient in the everyday life of a man busy in public affairs. (p.220)

The Great Way of Former Heaven: A Group of Chinese Secret Religious Sects(1963)*

Chart 4. The Hierarchy of Inner Sects

(b) Rank and spiritual work

Laymen, as we saw, are entitled to one-third of the merit accumulated by rank-holders. In return they are expected to make donations and help the organization in any way possible through their employment or social standing.59

(p.221) The first work for spiritual development begins at the lay level, and is to “develop the soul”, referred to in Taoist fashion as the “Heavenly Foetus”. It begins as the first breath taken by the new-born infant which is believed to be retained in the body. The layman is taught to circulate the breath by means of breath control exercises. Later he is taught meditation in order to realize his “Buddha Nature”.60

At death the soul can become a Buddha if it leaves by the space between the eyes, called the Hsuan-kuan [Xuanguan] “Dark Pass”. If it leaves by other openings of the body it is destined for rebirth; the type of being it will occupy is determined by the opening from which it escapes. Concentration on the Dark Pass, known as “Guarding”, enables the soul to be familiar with its location. Initiation into a sect includes dotting the “Dark Pass” with Chinese ink.61

For the lower ranks, reading of various esoteric sutras is important.62 Above the Ting-hang [Dinghang] rank, repetition of sutras becomes less important and greater attention is paid to meditation and Taoist hygiene.

Part of the work associated with the rank of Shih-ti [Shidi] 63 is concerned with achieving longevity. Even greater rewards are offered (p.222) those attaining the rank of Wu-kung (or Wu-hsing [Wuxing]). The five men holding this rank can achieve great supernatural powers: they can fly like Taoist sages of ancient times,64 and it is they who can build the “Cloud Cities” as refuges from catastrophes following the major and minor Buddha cycles. More important, they can become incarnate Buddhas or gods (shen), or acquire some characteristic (fen-hsing) of a divine being. For example one might have the eyes of Kuan-yin, the speech of Maitreya, the ears of Dipamkara. When they are incarnate Buddhas or gods, these rank-holders are said to be hua-shen: to have the “Transformation Body” of such beings. In Great Way ideology the Transformation Body, a concept borrowed from Buddhism, is that in which the Buddha manifests himself to sentient beings. When one of the Wu-kung becomes a spiritual being during his lifetime this is achieved, I am told, by absorption of merit from the being of his choice. “Absorption” is said to take place by contemplation of the being desired to be “absorbed”, repetition of certain mantra (magical formulae), and performance of mudra (hand movements) associated with the particular being.65 I was unable to obtain further details on the process of becoming a divine being but was told that some individuals can change their “incarnate” status, becoming first one Buddha and then another.

The rank of Wu-kung (or hsing) was reintroduced by the twelfth patriarch, after, as we saw, being abandoned earlier by the eighth, Lo Wei-ch’un.66 I was told that the rank had been abandoned by Lo because there had been “too many incarnate Buddhas” in the religion. However, this does not appear consistent with the historical records. Several patriarchs between the eighth and twelfth are recorded as having had incarnate status.67 It is said that claims of incarnate status by persons of Wu-kung rank had been one of the main causes of political suppression of the religion, since such claims gave these rank-holders too great a (p.223) personal power. The P’u-tu sects abandoned the rank after division and those subdivisions still headed by patriarchs no longer believe them to have been divine.

(c) Rank and administration

1. The Wu-kung (or Wu-hsing) and the patriarch

An ancient Chinese theory states that there are five basic elements (hsing [xing]): wood, earth, metal, water, and fire. In early Chinese history the elements were popularly believed to have controlled different dynasties.68 They were also associated with five directions: water with centre, earth with north, wood with east, metal with west, and fire with south.

In the sects retaining this rank, men holding it are known and addressed as Wood, Earth, Metal, Water, or Fire “ Lord” (kung). One of them normally becomes the patriarch. As the various elements governed different dynasties, so also are they believed to govern various ruling periods for the religion. The choice of patriarch for any period should ideally by determined by the element believed to be dominating the religion at the time. If for example water is dominant, the most suitable successor as patriarch, other things being equal, is the man with the title and rank of Water Lord. The man chosen as fourteenth patriarch at the Han-yang meeting was the Water Lord, as water was believed to be dominant at the time.

In sects retaining the Wu-kung rank, China was divided into five major sections for administration. These sections were the five directions over which the various elements are thought to dominate. Theoretically the rank-holder corresponding in title to the element dominating a particular direction was in charge of affairs there. The seat of the patriarch then, was determined by the element he represented. The patriarch is human representative of Mother, the Void. It was from her that Yin and Yang originated. The work under the patriarch’s direct supervision is likewise divided into “Yin and Yang affairs”. The nature of these kinds of work is somewhat obscure but they take place concurrently and one kind divides into three major categories which are given special secret names. When there is a joint office, each patriarch conducts one type of work, either Yin or Yang. I wilI discuss these work categories in a later section.

Although theoretically each of the Wu-kung was in charge of one major section of China, not every sect covered the whole country. It (p.224) sometimes happened that in one of the five areas many branches existed, and in another, no branches were found. In that case in accordance with the theory of administration, one Lord would have a great deal to do and another very little. I am told that when this happened a sect might appoint four or even less Lords, each of those appointed then being responsible for a wider region. Imprisonment and banishment of Lords also complicated the administration. It sometimes resulted in a man of lower rank being left in charge of the area of a former Lord.69

The five departments of the sects were each governed from a vegetarian hall in the vegetarian sects and from a (non-residential) lodge in the non-vegetarian bodies. In each of the five regions the sects had an alternative name which was, as I have shown, the name of the administrative hall in vegetarian sects, and the name of the lodge in the others. T’ung-shan She for example was called Ta-jen Hsiang [Daren Xiang] “Great Virtue Omen” in Kwangtung, and in Kwangsi, Ta-i Hsiang [Da-i Xiang] “Great Righteousness Omen”.

2. The Shih-ti

The Shih-ti were each in charge of daily administration in a half of one area governed by a Lord. The system of Five Lords and Ten Places (Wuhsing, Shih-ti) was known as the “Ten Leaves and Five Petals”. It is said to have been the original system of religious administration. In Kuei-ken Men and T’ung-shan She the system continues. In P’u-tu sects with patriarchs, the total area of administration is divided into ten regions each under a Shih-ti and the patriarch himself holds this rank. In subdivisions operating under Chia-chang “Family Heads”, this type of leader also has Shih-ti rank. Again administration by Shih-ti in all sects is carried out through vegetarian halls or lodges and the sects in the sub-sectors are known alternatively by the name of these establishments. The term of address for those of Shih-ti rank is T’ai Lao-shih [Tai Laoshi] “Great Venerable Teacher”.70

3. The Ting-hang

This is a rank said to have heen introduced into the hierarchy by the two thirteenth patriarchs. These 54 men are each in charge of a division within (p.225) the territory governed by a Shih-ti. Each again operates through branch halls and lodges whose names again give an alternative name for the religion in the area. Ting-hang are addressed as Lao-shih “Venerable Teacher”.

4. Szu-pa [Siba]

This rank introduced into the hierarchy of Kuei-ken Men is said to be named after the 48 patriarchs the sect recognizes: it numbers them from the first patriarch in the Indian line of Ch’an Buddhism. I have no information on their appointment or title of address.

Appointments for those holding the above ranks are automatic on assumption of rank. Below them different rank-holders are appointed to various posts according to ability and the scale on which the sect is operating.

5. Pao-enT’ien-en

Pao-en is the highest rank attainable by women in the Inner sects, and female halls in vegetarian sects are normally in charge of women of this rank or of Yin-en. I have no information on how ranks below Ting-hang relate to territorial appointment in T’ung-shan She. Minor male vegetarian halls may also be in charge of holders of Pao-en and Yin-en rank of male sex. In some areas the sect might be particularly active, operating through large numbers of halls (as in Singapore). There might not then be sufficient numbers of higher rank-holders to manage them directly. In this case lower rank-holders, even T’ien-en, might be put in charge of the day-to-day administration. They will then be subject to supervision, particularly in religious affairs, by higher rank-holders who visit them periodically.71

Besides management of minor halls, those of rank from Pao-en to T’ien-en might alternatively be put in charge of one department of administration within a major hall and might officiate at certain rituals. Those of Chih-shih rank in Kuei-ken Men have clerical duties in halls of that sect.

Members with ranks discussed above are for all religious purposes addressed as follows: (p.226)


Term of address



T’ai-lao Hsien-sheng [Tailao Xiansheng]

Great Venerable Sir


Ku-t’ai [Gutai]

Greatest Lady



Lao Hsien-sheng [Lao Xiansheng]

Venerable Sir


Lao T’ai-ku [Lao Taigu]

Venerable Great Lady



Ta Hsien-sheng [Da Xiansheng]

Great Sir


Ta-ku [Dagu]

Great Lady



Hsien-sheng [Xiansheng]



Ku-niang [Guniang]


I have no information on the term of address for those of Chih-shih rank.

(d) Rank and proselytization

Holders of the rank Ting-hang may be given the duty of spreading the sect’s organization to new areas. Expanding sectarian organization is known as li Lung-hua k’ai-chih [li Longhua kaiji] “laying the foundations of the Lung-hua (salvation meetings of the Buddhas)”. In a work printed in the Ch’ing Dynasty giving instructions on sect expansion, attention is drawn to the dangers of this work:72

“ When you go away to spread the doctrine, remember if you are to attract members you must be virtuous, alert, brave, meticulous, and able to protect yourself. Then only can you live long in another place. Do not tell anything to anybody who is not absolutely trustworthy. You should stay a half to one year in a place before opening up the doctrine and choose only good people on whom to bestow T’ien-en. Then if it is a good area for the Tao, you may return. Do not grab converts because you are (p.227) greedy for the master’s praise. A person who just gives out his name and does not bother to conceal himself, loses his few bits of silver. You must amass good contacts.”

Holders of the three ranks of Pao-en, Yin-en, and Cheng-En also have a function at the initiation of candidates for rank of T’ien-en. The Pao-en guarantees the integrity of the candidate; the Yin-en introduces him at the ceremony, and the Cheng-en produces evidence of his eligibility. Any holder of these ranks who knows the candidate may perform these duties.

Persons of Yin-en and higher ranks are expected to work at the conversion of new members in their area but all rank-holders are encouraged to seek for candidates. The book quoted above has this to say on conversion:

“All who try to save the masses do good work. However…you must distinguish between genuine and false people. When you talk to them listen to what they say and study their actions and behaviour. It is important to get the right people.

“All who have not started to practise vegetarianism but have made themselves open to doctrine should first be told to read the scriptures, to settle all differences (of opinion), pay attention to the exposition of doctrine, eat vegetarian food, and practise sexual abstinence for several months, If they are in earnest and of no harm to the Buddha, pick an auspicious day and ask them to be initiated. However this must be discussed first with a [person of] Yin-en [rank]. Then their three masters Cheng-en, Yin-en, and Pao-en may be decided [for the initiation ceremony] and you may explain the doctrine or get an educated person to do so [a reflexion on the intellectual status of rank-holders, perhaps]. Some people dare not expose the doctrine for fear of something [bad] happening after death, but you can simply give a general idea. If the person learning should be very keen for you to reveal doctrine you must pass this duty to the Yin-en and this will prevent envy arising in the hall.…”

(e) Rank and naming principles

An additional and alternative religious name is given recruits each time they obtain a new rank in the sect. It is for this reason that patriarchs often have so many alternative names. Ideally the new names should be given to recruits by the patriarch. They may be used in address only by those of higher or equal rank. Sometimes the names of all holders of a particular rank make up a quotation. For example the names given to members of (p.228) one group of Wu-kung in the mid-nineteenth century were: (1)The Great Way of Former Heaven: A Group of Chinese Secret Religious Sects(1963)*, (2)The Great Way of Former Heaven: A Group of Chinese Secret Religious Sects(1963)*, (3)The Great Way of Former Heaven: A Group of Chinese Secret Religious Sects(1963)*, (4)The Great Way of Former Heaven: A Group of Chinese Secret Religious Sects(1963)*, (5)The Great Way of Former Heaven: A Group of Chinese Secret Religious Sects(1963)*.73 When put together in the order (3), (2), (l), (4), (5), the sentence reads: “When the Way has been perfected it becomes a secret method”.

There is a further method of naming used by some sects. The P’u-tu sects give additional middle names to all male members taking rank above T’ien-en. They are: Tao (The Great Way of Former Heaven: A Group of Chinese Secret Religious Sects(1963)*) for Shih-ti; Yun (The Great Way of Former Heaven: A Group of Chinese Secret Religious Sects(1963)*) for Ting-hang; Yung (The Great Way of Former Heaven: A Group of Chinese Secret Religious Sects(1963)*) for Pao-en; Ch’ang (The Great Way of Former Heaven: A Group of Chinese Secret Religious Sects(1963)*) for Yin-en; and Ming (The Great Way of Former Heaven: A Group of Chinese Secret Religious Sects(1963)*) for Cheng-en. It is said by the P’u-tu sects that originally all sects gave these rank-names. It may be noted, from the record of patriarchal descent that the Wu-kung attending the Han-yang meeting all have the middle name of I (The Great Way of Former Heaven: A Group of Chinese Secret Religious Sects(1963)*).74 It may be then, that I was originally the name for persons of this rank.

2. Pseudo-kinship as an organizational principle

This system of organization cuts across the system of rank and has a somewhat different purpose from it. It is a less formal method of grouping and concerned mainly with bringing members together for a number of social and ceremonial purposes which are not specifically sectarian but rather part of the general traditional ceremonial life of the Chinese. The system is particularly important to inmates of vegetarian halls.75

We saw above that members of Great Way sects are initiated into the religion through three “masters” holding certain ranks. The first person to convert the new member, however, providing he has some rank, remains his most intimate contact with the religion. All members converted by a particular master (shih-fu [shifu]) are then grouped according to their relationship to him and he is regarded as spiritual father to his “family” of disciples. Such groups trace descent back to ancestor-masters and keep genealogies (not to be confused with patriarchal genealogies). The bonds between members are expressed in kinship terms. Thus, other masters are (paternal) “uncles”. Disciples of uncles are reckoned as “brothers”, as are sons of paternal uncles in the Chinese kinship system. The Chinese kinship term is used in each case prefaced by the term shih, from shih-fu. Females are given male terms of address, probably because there is no difference in roles of males and females in this system.

(p.229) The “kinship” group also makes use of the generation-name system of Chinese kinship organization. Each member of a generation of disciples is given an identical character for one of his names: or more rarely, an identical radical is used for one of the names of each member. It is usually the first personal name, which comes of course after the surname in Chinese. This name distinguishes disciples from members of the senior generation, that is from their own master, his fellow-disciples, and disciples of the master’s own “uncles” on the one hand, and from members of the junior generation, that is from their own disciples and those converted by their own fellow-disciples on the other.

The generation-name series is kept in the form of a quotation (like rank-names) sometimes taken from a sectarian sutra or text. Thus a master gives his own disciples one character. They in turn give their disciples the next character, and so on, until the quotation is completed. At this point the most senior disciple in the generation (this is the first converted by a master in a group of masters who are fellow-disciples) selects a new quotation to continue the line. A disciple might break with the series if he wishes to start his own “descent group”; if, for example, he moves to another territory, or if after internal division within his sect he chooses to join an offshoot not favoured by other members of his “kin-group”.

Members are also given a new personal name by their personal master on entry into the sect. As we have seen when they take rank they are given new personal names by the patriarch. Sometimes the personal names given to a group of disciples by their master on initiation make up a further quotation. Alternatively the most senior disciple of a generation is given as his personal name the next character in the generation series.

A result of this dual system of organization — rank and “kinship” — is that halls become grouped together in two ways. Firstly they are grouped within a sect round senior halls in various localities. Secondly within this grouping, they are further grouped round halls of religious masters. Members of different halls come together according to the former type of grouping for sectarian religious ceremonies. Members of halls come together according to the latter type of grouping for social celebrations, for example anniversaries of birth and death of “family” members, and sometimes to render each other economic assistance.

3. Residential and non-residential vegetarian halls

Several writers on Chinese sectarianism have mentioned the existence of vegetarian halls or what appear to have been vegetarian halls in the organization of esoteric groups. In discussing the Lung-hua sect in Fukien Province de Groot writes: “…for their religious meetings…, the sectaries (p.230) use the principal apartment or hall…in ordinary dwelling-houses…. Such places they call at Amoy ts’ai-tng…‘vegetarian halls’…”.76 One might assume that if the hall was part of an ordinary dwelling-house it was probably not residential.77 De Groot also writes of the leader of the Lunghua sect living in a special institution: “…his abode may be something like a Buddhist convent…. But its real character has remained a mystery to me.”78 It is probable that this was a residenital vegetarian hall. A writer on the Yao-ch’ih sect, which later I will show was a Great Way sect, writes that members had vegetarian halls where men and women were found in constant residence.79

My information from leaders of sects is that originally all members of the religion lived in their own homes. This included ordinary laymen and also the priesthood, the huo-chu which has been mentioned earlier. Members met for a vegetarian meal and for ritual practices in each other’s homes, and a local branch of a sect had a “t’ang” name: it was called such and such a chai-t’ang, although in fact it had no permanent premises. There is nothing unusual in a Chinese organization having a t’ang name without any permanent t’ang. Various non-residential Chinese associations overseas, including ad hoc associations for raising money for festivals, give themselves a t’ang name. But in its emphasis on sexual abstinence and vegetarianism for rank, the religion already contained seeds of monasticism. Members must have found it difficult to practise asceticism in their own homes. In fact these abstinences were borrowed from Buddhism, a monastic religion. According to the records of patriarchal descent, by the late nineteenth century some sects were beginning to establish residential vegetarian halls. Inmates consisted of those of high rank who lived in permanently, those of lower rank who went in for occasional residence, and numbers of the laity who were destitute or who had no one to care for them in old age. In one sect in China which can be identified as Great Way, some halls became homes for destitute and unattached seamen.80

The residential halls were built in remote mountainous regions where they could pass themselves off as retreats of Taoist or Buddhist recluses. I (p.231) have seen photographs of such places and they appear extremely isolated and difficult of access. This no doubt helped to protect them from campaigns against unorthodox religions. In urban areas, I am told, a proportion of halls were non-residential and passed themselves off as Buddhist shrines. Others were residential and passed as Buddhist vegetarian halls: Buddhist laymen were beginning to establish such halls for the practice of self-cultivation at this time.81

Identification of Other Groupings with Great Way Religion

De Groot in his general index lists 55 names of religious communities, but he believed the sects of China were in fact few: only their names were many.82 I also think it probable that their religious affiliations were few. We have already seen that one Great Way Inner sect might have a number of names according to the territory in which it was operating. It is possible that many unorthodox groupings ramified in different periods from the Great Way system, or the system from which it derives. In this section I will examine various types of evidence which suggest relationship between certain groupings and the Great Way.

1. Additional alternative names of Great Way sects and religious work

(a) “Work-names”

Great Way sects use a number of alternative “work-names”. I spoke earlier of certain kinds of work called Yin and Yang affairs and said that one of these kinds of work (I have no information on which kind it is) divides into three major categories. Each of the three categories is known by two names: one which is secret and changes from time to time, and another which is used openly and which remains constant.

Sects either perform only one major category of work during a particular period, or divide into three sections, each performing one category. In the P’u-tu sect which abandoned patriarchs, the “Three Flowers” who reorganized the group were three men each in charge of one category of work, the sect being divided into three sections for work purposes.

(p.232) Originally when performing a particular type of work Great Way sects took as alternative names both the secret and open names for that category of work. When they divided into three sections for work management, each section took two names, open and secret, for that type of work.83

Mother is said to have changed the secret work-names after every schism in the religion. Only work having the correct name is valid and the name-change prevents the work of unorthodox sects from being successful.

(b) Secret work-names

Each of the three work categories is under the direction of one of the Buddhas of the three major cycles. That is, they are directed by Dipamkara, Sakyamuni, and Maitreya. For this reason the secret work-names are those of the three cycles of Truth. They are either Azure, Red, and White Hsiang (or Yang) Affairs, Azure, Red, and White Lung-hua Affairs, or Azure, Red and White Lien (Lotus) Affairs, according to the terms dictated by Mother. The work to be performed is determined by which Buddha, or minor divine being with characteristics of one of the three Buddhas, is teaching Truth at the time. Sometimes yellow is the colour applied to special work performed during a catastrophe.84 Another set of terms used by some sects for secret work-names is, according to informants, Azure, Red, and White Yang (The Great Way of Former Heaven: A Group of Chinese Secret Religious Sects(1963)*) Affairs.

There might then be at any time a number of Great Way sects operating under various secret alternative names. That is there might be several White, Red, or Azure Lotus, Hsiang (Yang), Lung, or Yang sects, or divisions of sects, operating under such names.

De Groot records a “society” in north-east Hupeh [Hubei] in the early nineteenth century which was divided into Red, White, and Blue (ch’ing) Lotus sections. Its leader was an incarnate Maitreya.85 He also records in south Hupeh about the same time, a headman of a Blue Lotus “society” who was a disciple of one P’eng I-fa. 86 This was the name of the fourteenth patriarch of the Inner sects. Again de Groot describes how from confessions of sectaries arrested in Shensi [Shaanxi] it was discovered that Yuen Chi-khien (Yuan Chih-ch’ien) living in Kweichow (p.233) [Guizhou] was their religious master in a Blue Lotus sect; and that this man, hearing that persecutions had broken out in Szechuan [Sichuan] against the sect and that one Yang Sheu-yih (Yang Shou-i) had been arrested, escaped to Hankow [Hankou].87 Yuan, as we saw, is recorded as twelfth patriarch by the Inner sects, and Yang as one of the two holding office as thirteenth. It appears then that Great Way religion in the line from which the Inner sects descend, was at that time using the Lotus terms for religious work.

De Groot also records a White Dragon (Lung) sect,88 a White Yang (The Great Way of Former Heaven: A Group of Chinese Secret Religious Sects(1963)*) society,89 and a Red Yang society.90 Again he records a set of sects called Red, Blue, and White Yang, using the character The Great Way of Former Heaven: A Group of Chinese Secret Religious Sects(1963)* “Ocean” for Yang.91 Evidence in de Groot suggests that “Ocean” might also have been used as a work-name by a Great Way sect. In a passage referring to a religious leader named Lin Ts’ing he says this man “consulted the stars” and learnt there were three religions of Maitreya: blue, red, and white ocean, and at that time the sect of the White Ocean “would prosper”.92 It may be that “ocean” was used as a substitute for the other character pronounced “yang”, for de Groot further shows that in a state decree the names White Yang (The Great Way of Former Heaven: A Group of Chinese Secret Religious Sects(1963)*) and White Yang (The Great Way of Former Heaven: A Group of Chinese Secret Religious Sects(1963)*) are given for a single sect.93 He also states that Lin Ts’ing belonged to the White Yang sect but in a rebellion in 1813 of which he appeared to be the leading light, he also drew the Red Yang into activities. This suggests that the two “sects” may have been sections of a single sect performing different kinds of religious work. Lin was known significantly as the incarnation of the patriarch of Sien-t’ien (Hsien-t’ien), and was therefore also called Hou-t’ien patriarch.94

Another sect recorded by de Groot is the Yellow Lotus religion. Members arrested were found to have papers bearing drawings of the “three epochs”,95 which as we saw are important in Great Way ideology. De Groot also suggests the possibility that the White Yang religion was the same as the White Lotus religion. His sources were a Ming historian and a decree of 1772 but he does not state the evidence on which this supposed connexion is based.96

(p.234) (c) Great Way religion and its possible relation to the White Lotus society

The existence of the sect or society of the White Lotus and its role in Chinese rebellions has long been known. Whether or not this organization is structurally related to Great Way religion and if so in precisely what manner may never be known for certain, for there is little information on its organization and development to compare with that on the Great Way. However, such a connexion now seems very probable. We know that in both religions Maitreya plays an important role and is symbolically connected with a White Lotus. We also know that leaders of both kinds of group have sometimes laid claim to be incarnations of this Buddha.

From what has been said about Great Way religion so far it appears that the White Lotus sect or society, and Great Way religion might be related in one of three possible ways. Firstly White Lotus might be a name for the religion from which Great Way itself ramified. This was suggested earlier. The second possibility is that the White Lotus is not one organization but consists of many independent groups: that White Lotus sects are Great Way sects performing the third category of “work” and using the name “White Lotus” either as an alternative (secret) name for the whole sect, or of one section specializing in this work. The third possibility is that both may be true: White Lotus “ sects” consist of organizations related to Great Way religion in both ways. Firstly there may be one body permanently called White Lotus and ramifying in the early days of the religion. Secondly, and side by side with this body (itself, perhaps, splintered into many divisions and branches), may then be the other type of White Lotus sects: Great Way sects operating at certain periods under the secret work-name of White Lotus.

Further evidence suggests that Great Way sects using the White Lotus work-name have been identical with White Lotus sects of recorded history. Whenever we hear of White Lotus, we hear also of its association with an incarnate Maitreya, and also usually hear that it is engaged in rebellion. Firstly, in the Great Way sects, the third kind of work they perform may only be started when Maitreya or a being with one of his characteristics, is incarnate among men: his arrival is the signal to begin the third work. Secondly, there is a strong suggestion that this third type of work implies a very militant attitude to social affairs and possibly involves actual rebellion. Although I was unable to obtain a detailed description of the three kinds of work, I was told this about the coming of Maitreya: Maitreya has the task of teaching Truth to all men. To make this possible certain conditions are necessary in the world. One is that all mankind must be converted to Great Way religion, all sectarian must be sorted out and various bodies within the fold must be amalgamated. Maitreya will (p.235) head the orthodox sect and therefore this is the only way he can reach all people. Another is that complete harmony between heaven and earth must be established. Men cannot learn Truth if they are in physical misery, and Truth cannot reach the people moreover, if the head of state does not hold Heaven’s Mandate to rule. Ideally Maitreya himself should head the earthly State as the Buddhas did in Tibet. Then he could easily reach all people.

The open names for the three categories of work seem to provide further evidence that the third type of work, when Maitreya comes, might involve changing the leadership of the country.

(d) Open work-names

The thirteenth patriarch is said to have abandoned the use of secret work-names because they became “too notorious”. Inner sects to-day use only open work-names therefore. These names are P’u-tu, Shou-yuan, and Fuming, in that order. P’u-tu, as we saw in connexion with the sect of that name, means “salvation”. The P’u-tu sects get their name from this work which was being performed by the religion when they divided off. The term for a convert in the sects is tu-jen. P’u-tu work, then, which is equivalent to Azure Lotus work, might be an all-out campaign to get new recruits for the religion. Shou-yuan in the sects means to “gather to completion”: to bring everybody to the state where they might learn the Truth and enter the Void. This work, which is equivalent to Red Lotus, might then be a campaign to consolidate the religion: to bring all the sects together. Fu-ming means to “restore the Mandate”. This work, equivalent to White Lotus, might be restoring the orthodox line of patriarchal descent: getting all other sects to accept the same leadership. It might also mean, however, to restore the Heavenly Mandate to the “rightful” leader of the country if disharmonious physical and social conditions indicate that the present leader does not possess such a Mandate. The rightful leader might be conceived of as being the leader of a sect, if he is Maitreya incarnate. We saw that this was so in the case of Kuei-ken Men.

These open names appear as sect names in certain records. The Kuei-ken sect records that in 1865 it was itself called the Shou-yuan sect; in 1908 it was called Fu-ming sect. The leader of the sect in Malaya claims that T’ung-shan She is now performing P’u-tu and Shou-yuan work simultaneously. De Groot records a Sheu-yuen (Shou-yuan) sect.97

(p.236) 2. Other evidence of group-connexions with Great Way

1. A sect clearly related to the system is I-kwan Tao “The Way of Pervading Unity”.98 No published information on this group existed prior to 1948. The fullest account now available to the West seems to be by Kubo Noritada The Great Way of Former Heaven: A Group of Chinese Secret Religious Sects(1963)*.99 Its cosmology is identical with that of the Inner sects in most respects but its ideology is more expansive, including elements from Islam and Christianity. The sect uses the terms Azure, Red, and White Yang (The Great Way of Former Heaven: A Group of Chinese Secret Religious Sects(1963)*)to describe the three major cycles, and claims the White Yang period started in the 1920s. It worships Mother. The sect follows the same line of patriarchs as the Inner sects up to the thirteenth and records the mythological period also.100 The sect is said to have been anti-Japanese and pro-Chiang Kai-shek during the Sino-Japanese War, and in 1943 a few members were arrested by the Japanese as spies. No details of the organization of this sect are recorded by Kubo although it is said to be non-vegetarian.

2. The Yao-ch’ih Men “Sect of the Yao Pool” has been mentioned. Its name already suggests possibility of connexion with Great Way for as we saw Yao-chih Chin-mu is a term for Mother used by the P’u-tu sects.101 From details given by the writer on this sect102 it appears to be not only related to Great Way but in fact an Inner sect of the religion. Its titles of rank are nearly all the same as those of the P’u-tu sects. The only exceptions are that the rank Shih-ti is given the characters The Great Way of Former Heaven: A Group of Chinese Secret Religious Sects(1963)* and Tinghang becomes Ting-k’ang The Great Way of Former Heaven: A Group of Chinese Secret Religious Sects(1963)* . This gives the two ranks a more aggressive meaning: “Authentic Register”, and “Chief Register”. This may indicate the greater militancy of the sect. Its leader was reported to have been in prison when information on this sect was recorded. Yao-ch’ih sect (p.237) is vegetarian and follows the same line of descent as the P’u-tu sects up to the fifteenth after which it had had two independent leaders when the information on it was written down.

3. Other groupings which have been recorded are shown to have worshipped a Mother goddess, and to have used as a title of address for her one of those in use during some period of the religion’s history. Thus, the Pa-k’ua “Eight Diagrams” worshipped Wu-sheng Lao-mu “Unbegotten Mother”.103 De Groot in fact suggests that this sect was identical with the White Yang. 104 The Wu-wei “Sect of Inactivity” (a Taoist term) worshipped a Chin-mu “Golden Mother”. 105 De Groot identifies this sect with the Hsien-t’ien sect he himself describes.106 Kuei-i Tao “The Way of Following the One” worshipped a “Mother of No-birth” and claims to be an offshoot of Hsien-t’ien Tao, founded between 1640 and 1660. Its history is described as “vague”.107 The Chin-tan Chiao “Golden Pill Religion”, according to de Groot, worshipped an Unbegotten Mother.108

4. Several religious groups have claimed to be founded by, or have shown a relationship with, Lo Wei-ch’un, the eighth patriarch. Among them are Lung-hua and Hsien-t’ien sects described by de Groot and already referred to.109 Another sect, Lo-chiao “Lo Religion”, is named after the eighth patriarch. It is described in some detail by Suzuki Chusei The Great Way of Former Heaven: A Group of Chinese Secret Religious Sects(1963)*.110 The sect worships an image of Lo, its cosmology is similar to the Inner sects, and it is vegetarian.111

5. Another sect possibly connected with Great Way is Tso-kung Tao “The Way of Sitting and Practising” mentioned in a sociological study of a district in North China. 112 The author writes that the group held meetings in its leader’s home on the fifteenth of the first, fifth, and ninth (p.238) months. We saw that these are dates of the lung-hua meetings of Great Way sects.

6. The Ta-cheng “Mahayana” sect, found to-day in Hong Kong, is according to the leader of the Kuei-ken sect, an Outer sect of the Great Way, ramifying after Lo Wei-ch’un. It has been mentioned by de Groot.113

7. De Groot mentions also a Lao-mu Chiao “Venerable Mother Religion”. The name suggests strong possibility of connexion with the Great Way.114

Great Way Sects in China To-day

From accounts in the Chinese mainland press in the mid-fifties it appears that a campaign was then being waged against sectarian organizations by the Communist government. As in former centuries, the accusations against them were: unorthodoxy, spreading political unrest, and planning rebellious activities. Two Great Way sects mentioned in the press were Ikuan Tao and T’ung-shan She, both of which also appear to have had political interests in this century prior to the Communist period.115 In an article in Tsu-kuo “China Weekly” reports in the Hankow-Yangtze Daily, 17 July 1954, are discussed.116 I-kuan Tao is said to have been involved in “anti-flood” campaigns in Hankow and the surrounding districts. While flood-fighting was in progress, it is said, leaders spread “propaganda of three stages of the world’s end”. This is consistent with what we now know of Great Way cosmology.117 In the same article 20 secret meetings were reported to have been held by members of the same sect in Hankow. Two major shrines operated in the city and had four branches which they ran openly. From there, it is said, they “scattered their influences to the villages”. Further activities of I-kuan Tao are mentioned in another issue (p.239) of Tsu-kuo,118 and in the Peking People’s Daily, 7 July 1955. The former deals with matters in Szechuan and is based on the Szechuan Daily, 15 December 1954. I-kuan Tao is accused of sending a leader to Chengtu to start a “reactionary organization training class” and of gathering people together for “anti-Communist education”. After training, it was reported, they were sent back to various places to engage in “anti-Communist work”. It also says the leaders tried to bring remaining “heads” of the Tao together for reorganization, changed names, destroyed all documents, and abandoned the “orthodox way” of setting up public shrines. They also changed rank-titles. All leaders, it was said, combined together, and important ones hid in the mountains directing counter-revolutionary work. Another article in the same edition of Tsu-kuo, based on the Chungking Daily, 21 January 1955, mentions a public trial in Chungking of two leaders of T’ung-shan She. It said one of them made use of the sect to try to set up counter-revolutionary armed forces and later joined with another leader to organize an anti-revolutionary army in four counties of Szechuan.

These events took place comparatively recently. How long will the sects of China continue to exist in the face of what appears to be the most rigorous campaign against them yet? In the past, attempts at suppression resulted in internal division, changes in organization of the hierarchy and in names, just as to-day. But instead of being wiped out, in the nineteenth century the sects spread into the very areas to which leaders were exiled Kweichow, for example. But another question is, how long will there continue to be individuals in China who see social disharmonies in terms of a religious ideology, who seek metaphysical explanations for physical catastrophes and cosmological justifications for reformation of a political system they do not favour? How long will individuals exist who look for rank and status in an esoteric religion, and for the magical powers which such religions claim to offer, as substitutes for rank and power in secular society which they are denied? There are still such individuals living overseas to-day, but they are mostly elderly men steeped in the cultural values of old China and elderly unattached women. In Malaya to-day would-be leaders of society pattern their ideas of virtue and ideal government mainly on modern Western philosophies. It seems unlikely that in China the restless and potentially rebellious members of the younger generation will look to religious sects as a refuge from frustration or a weapon for gaining new political ends. (p.240)

Chinese Glossary


The Great Way of Former Heaven: A Group of Chinese Secret Religious Sects(1963)*


The Great Way of Former Heaven: A Group of Chinese Secret Religious Sects(1963)*


The Great Way of Former Heaven: A Group of Chinese Secret Religious Sects(1963)*


The Great Way of Former Heaven: A Group of Chinese Secret Religious Sects(1963)*


The Great Way of Former Heaven: A Group of Chinese Secret Religious Sects(1963)*

Hsien-t’ien Ta-tao

The Great Way of Former Heaven: A Group of Chinese Secret Religious Sects(1963)*

Chin-tan Chiao

The Great Way of Former Heaven: A Group of Chinese Secret Religious Sects(1963)*


The Great Way of Former Heaven: A Group of Chinese Secret Religious Sects(1963)*


The Great Way of Former Heaven: A Group of Chinese Secret Religious Sects(1963)*


The Great Way of Former Heaven: A Group of Chinese Secret Religious Sects(1963)*


The Great Way of Former Heaven: A Group of Chinese Secret Religious Sects(1963)*


The Great Way of Former Heaven: A Group of Chinese Secret Religious Sects(1963)*


The Great Way of Former Heaven: A Group of Chinese Secret Religious Sects(1963)*


The Great Way of Former Heaven: A Group of Chinese Secret Religious Sects(1963)*


The Great Way of Former Heaven: A Group of Chinese Secret Religious Sects(1963)*

Ta-i Hsiang

The Great Way of Former Heaven: A Group of Chinese Secret Religious Sects(1963)*

I-kuan Tao

The Great Way of Former Heaven: A Group of Chinese Secret Religious Sects(1963)*

Ta-jen Hsiang

The Great Way of Former Heaven: A Group of Chinese Secret Religious Sects(1963)*

Jan-teng Fo

The Great Way of Former Heaven: A Group of Chinese Secret Religious Sects(1963)*

Tso-kung Tao

The Great Way of Former Heaven: A Group of Chinese Secret Religious Sects(1963)*

Kuei-I Tao

The Great Way of Former Heaven: A Group of Chinese Secret Religious Sects(1963)*


The Great Way of Former Heaven: A Group of Chinese Secret Religious Sects(1963)*

Kuei-ken Men

The Great Way of Former Heaven: A Group of Chinese Secret Religious Sects(1963)*


The Great Way of Former Heaven: A Group of Chinese Secret Religious Sects(1963)*


The Great Way of Former Heaven: A Group of Chinese Secret Religious Sects(1963)*

T’ung-shan She

The Great Way of Former Heaven: A Group of Chinese Secret Religious Sects(1963)*

Lao-mu Chiao

The Great Way of Former Heaven: A Group of Chinese Secret Religious Sects(1963)*

Wu-chih Sheng-mu

The Great Way of Former Heaven: A Group of Chinese Secret Religious Sects(1963)*

Lao-sheng Mu

The Great Way of Former Heaven: A Group of Chinese Secret Religious Sects(1963)*

Wu-kung Tao

The Great Way of Former Heaven: A Group of Chinese Secret Religious Sects(1963)*

li Lung-hua k’ai-chih

The Great Way of Former Heaven: A Group of Chinese Secret Religious Sects(1963)*

Wu-sheng Lao-mu

The Great Way of Former Heaven: A Group of Chinese Secret Religious Sects(1963)*


The Great Way of Former Heaven: A Group of Chinese Secret Religious Sects(1963)*


The Great Way of Former Heaven: A Group of Chinese Secret Religious Sects(1963)*

Lung-hua Men

The Great Way of Former Heaven: A Group of Chinese Secret Religious Sects(1963)*

Yao-chi’ih Chin-mu

The Great Way of Former Heaven: A Group of Chinese Secret Religious Sects(1963)*


The Great Way of Former Heaven: A Group of Chinese Secret Religious Sects(1963)*

Yao-chi’ih Men

The Great Way of Former Heaven: A Group of Chinese Secret Religious Sects(1963)*

P’u-tu Men

The Great Way of Former Heaven: A Group of Chinese Secret Religious Sects(1963)*


The Great Way of Former Heaven: A Group of Chinese Secret Religious Sects(1963)*


The Great Way of Former Heaven: A Group of Chinese Secret Religious Sects(1963)*


The Great Way of Former Heaven: A Group of Chinese Secret Religious Sects(1963)*


The Great Way of Former Heaven: A Group of Chinese Secret Religious Sects(1963)*


(*) First published in Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, 26(2): 362–92. Reprinted by permission of the Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London and Cambridge University Press.

(1) . Chinese characters are incorporated into the text only when they are book-titles, connected with the argument, or when romanization makes for ambiguity. Other characters for terms which may be unfamiliar, are given in a list at the end.

(2) . See J. J. M. de Groot, Sectarianism and Religious Persecution in China, 2 vols., Vol. I, pp. 195 ff., 197, 199. Amsterdam, 1903–04.

(3) . The results of this study appear in an unpublished Ph.D. thesis: The Organization and Social Function of Chinese Women’s Chai-t’ang in Singapore. London: University of London, 1958.

(4) . A preliminary investigation in 1952 led me to believe that all vegetarian halls in Singapore were Buddhist. See my “Chinese Women’s Vegetarian Houses in Singapore”, Journal of the Malayan Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 27(1)(1954). The external appearance of both Buddhist and sectarian halls is similar and at this stage of contact members did not reveal their true affiliations.

(5) . The experience of de Groot provides a notable exception. The heightened campaign against sects in Fukien actually aided him in documentary investigation. A leader of one sect gave him documents for safe-keeping at this time having previously denied that any such material existed; op. cit., Vol. I, p. 173.

(6) . With the exception of newspaper reports. See below, pp. 238–39.

(7) . These are cited as relevant. All interviews were conducted by me in Cantonese and translations from documents are my own.

(8) . The name of this sect has been recorded. For example, de Groot, op. cit., Vol. II, p. 563. There is an additional P’u-tu sect in Singapore which I contacted but it provided no information relevant to this paper.

(9) . They are differently organized from the sect of this name described by de Groot,op. cit., Vol. I, pp. 176–96. There is another vegetarian sect of the religion in Singapore which provided no material for this paper. It is named after its nineteenth-century founder, Ch’en Tso-mien and claims to be reformed. It has abandoned ranks and degrees, while still retaining administrative positions and titles of address originally going with these ranks. Those positions and titles of address are used by other sects in Singapore which retain ranks.

(10) . Karl Ludvig Reichelt gives the name of this sect in Religion in Chinese Garment, trans. by Joseph Tetlie, p. 165. New York, 1951.

(11) . This sect has been described for China by John C. De Korne in a privately published full-length work, The Fellowship of Goodness (T’ung Shan She): A Study of Contemporary Chinese Religion (mimeo.). Michigan: Grand Rapids, 1941. He regarded it as a new religion and was unaware of certain structural and ideological details which now enable identification with the Great Way.

(12) . Another sect said by informants to exist in Singapore is Lung-hua Men “Dragon Flower Sect”. Unlike the sect of this name described by de Groot, it is said to be non-vegetarian. De Groot, op. cit., Vol. I, pp. 196–241.

(13) . See below, p. 236, for evidence on one China sect supporting this claim.

(14) . See below, pp. 234–35.

(15) . See below, p. 214.

(16) . Some sects abandoned the patriarchal system after division. See below, p. 211.

(17) . Patriarchal records are kept in head vegetarian halls of sect branches in Singapore. My sources on P’u-tu sects were either these original records or copies of them. Generally copies had less details than original records: for example, they did not give alternative names of leaders, their fate (original records show that many came to a violent end), and the divine status which some were believed to have had (see below, pp. 221–22). I have in all cases included the fullest material. Leaders with divine status are listed in a later note. Considerable time-gaps exist between some patriarchs. It may be in some areas campaigns against sects were stronger and some records were kept verbally for periods during which details were forgotten, or that minor leaders have been omitted. I am told that some leaders’ names were struck from records because they engaged in activities disapproved by the sects. It is possible some newly formed groups of independent origin wished later to claim connexion with Great Way and faked records of descent omitting some leaders through lack of information. My main source on descent of Kuei-ken Men and T’ung-shan She was a book written by the leader of the former sect, Ts’ai Chao-yün (writing under the name of Ts’ai Fei), San Lung chih lupei (The Great Way of Former Heaven: A Group of Chinese Secret Religious Sects(1963)* “Three Dragon [Flowers] point out the road”. Penang, reprint 1951). The title relates to Great Way cosmology, see below, p. 217. The book was written in connexion with the campaign of reamalgamation of inner sects he was conducting at the time of the study.

(18) . Kuei-ken sect also records a mythological line of descent up to the Ch’an patriarchs in China. Teaching, like that of traditional Chinese systems of thought, is traced through a line of sage-kings. A deluge is then recorded after which teaching temporarily stops. This is the Hsien-Tien “Former Heaven” period. Teaching resumes again with the Chung-t’ien “Middle Heaven” period, and continues through a line of philosophers down to Mencius. It ends temporarily in China. Meanwhile, the records state, it had been taught in India by a line of Buddhas and afterwards passed to the Ch’an school. It was brought back to China by Bodhidarma. See below, p. 217, for meaning of terms Former and Middle Heavens in the religion.

(19) . T’ung-shan She is the only Inner sect claiming no connexion with Ch’an. It gives another name for the seventh patriarch, recording Pai-ma [Baima]“White Horse” as the name of a religious establishment with which he is supposedly connected. This is of course the name of the Loyang monastery said to have housed sutras brought from India on the back of a white horse.

(20) . The two seventh patriarchs are identified with a layman and monk mentioned in the Hui Neng sutra. Hui Neng is supposed to have said that seventy years after his death they would preach contemporaneously, transmitting doctrine to numerous “prominent successors”. See Wong Mou-lam, The sutra of Wei Lang (or Hui Neng), rev. and ed. by Christmas Humphreys, p. 119. London, 1953. The sects say Pai, the layman, received the insignia from Hui Neng when he saved his life.

(21) . Details of his life are given by de Groot, op. cit., Vol. I, pp. 179 ff., and Vol. II, pp. 193 ff., also by J. Edkins, Chinese Buddhism, Chapter XXIII. London, 1890.

(22) . The sutra is referred to in a work of criticism written by a P’u-tu sect leader in Singapore, T’ung teng chueh lu The Great Way of Former Heaven: A Group of Chinese Secret Religious Sects(1963)* “Advancing together on the road to perception”. He writes under the pseudonym Chung-ho T’ang (this in fact is the name of a branch Triad society but it may be coincidence). The book was privately published in Singapore, 1953, and privately circulated. I have not seen the Mahayana sutra.

(23) . See below, p. 220.

(24) . See below, pp. 221–24, for discussion of Wu-kung rank which was later reintroduced.

(25) . Yung-hsi, Ko-t’eng chi The Great Way of Former Heaven: A Group of Chinese Secret Religious Sects(1963)* “Collected problems”. Singapore, 1955. His sources are not disclosed.

(26) . Chung-ho T’ang, op. cit.

(27) . The gap between dates for the eighth and ninth patriarchs is explained in terms of Lo’simmortality. When he left earth he is said to have made frequent visits and continued to head the religion from above until a suitable successor was found.

(28) . See below p. 232.

(29) . Internal division was largely a result of the state’s vigorous attempt to destroy unorthodox religions and capture their leaders. Leadership problems arose as a result of capture of head men and those in line for office, and quarrels among contenders for position. It is believed that at the same time a battle over leadership took place among divine beings in heaven (affairs of heaven and earth are believed to parallel each other: a disturbance on one plane affects events on the other).

(30) . Wu-kung rank had by now been reintroduced.

(31) . T’ung-shan She is said to have been founded in Peking [Bejing] in 1917; De Korne, op. cit. It based its teaching on that of a Szechuanese named P’eng. According to Ts’ai Chao-yun, Kuei-ken sect’s leader in Malaya, P’eng is recognized as sixteenth (and present) patriarch of T’ung-shan She. It may be that P’eng was originally head of another group which merged with, and perhaps became overshadowed by T’ung-shan She. P’eng is hardly mentioned by De Korne and was not among the list of main organizers he gives. The man thought by De Korne to be main organizer is Yao Chitsang. Ts’ai Chao-yun names this man as one of the five top rank-holders (Wu-kung) in the sect at present. There is a further possibility. P’eng claimed incarnate Buddha status. It may be that he was in fact an important organizer but owing to his divinity he kept in the background for safety.

(32) . Its present patriarch is said to be “somewhere in China”.

(33) . See below, pp. 229–30, for discussion of vegetarian halls in administration.

(34) . One appears to have been Yao-ch’ih Men. See Below, pp. 236–37.

(35) . See below, p. 235.

(36) . Information on P’u-tu sub-sects without branches overseas comes from Ts’ai Chao-yun, op. cit. and in interview.

(37) . See also p. 231.

(38) . The Three Flowers were in charge of administration in:

  1. ((i)) Yunnan and Kweichow;

  2. ((ii)) Kiangsu and Kiangsi;

  3. ((iii)) Chekiang and Szechuan.

The Latter Three Flowers worked in:

  1. ((i)) Szechuan, Kansi, and Shensi;

  2. ((ii)) Kiangsu, Kiangsi, Chekiang, Hunan, Kwangsi, Kwangtung;

  3. ((iii)) Yunnan, Kweichow.

The sect then appears to have operated on a fairly wide scale.

(39) . Not to be confused with the “tongs” [t’ang] of secret societies of the Triad type.

(40) . The master-disciple system is discussed on pp. 228–29.

(41) . Obtained partly from Ts’ai Chao-yun, op. cit., and partly in interviews with various sect leaders.

(42) . Kuei-ken sect takes its name from the concept of “Returning to the Void”.

(43) . It might be noted that in Taoism, Tao “the Way” is sometimes referred to as “Mother”. See, for example, Tao Te Ching, Chapter XX, in Arthur Waley, The Way and Its Power, p. 169. London, 1949.

(44) . Petitions asking for instructions must be correctly addressed or they cannot reach Mother. Each sect claims its rivals’ activities are in vain because they use wrong titles. The name change thus prevents unorthodox sects from drawing on Mother’s power. According to Ts’ai Chao-yun, Mother was originally simply called Lao-mu “Venerable Mother”; after the twelfth patriarch her title changed to Lao-sheng Mu “Venerable Sainted Mother”; after the thirteenth, to Yao-ch’ih Chin-mu [Yaochi Jinmu] “Golden Mother of the Yao Pool”. P’u-tu sects still use this name. After the fourteenth, Kuei-ken sect says, she became Wu-sheng Lao-mu “Unbegotten Venerable Mother”. This sect also claims its own fifteenth patriarch received a message to change the name to Wu-chih Sheng mu “Sainted Mother of the Void”, the title it uses today.

(45) . The legendary Chinese hero is given this role also in popular mythology.

(46) . Compare with a Taoist theory that rules only came into existence when men lost “the Way”, in A. C. Graham, The book of Lieh-tzü, p. 4. London, 1961; the sects say that Ch’an only came into existence as “organized” Buddhism, when Sakyamuni left the earth and Truth became distorted. See below, pp. 215–16.

(47) . Great Way theory of teaching-cum-world-development periods is based on a synchronization of two Mahayana Buddhist concepts: cycles of teachings, and kalpa. A convenient reference for the Buddhist theories is W. E. Soothill and L. Hodous, The Dictionary of Buddhist Terms. London, 1937.

(48) . Not to be confused with Amitabha: the Light Buddha.

(49) . See below, pp. 221–22.

(50) . Those who have developed strong magical powers can build their own Cloud Cities rather as Buddhas in Pure Land Buddhism built their own Pure Lands.

(51) . Told to me by the leader of the sect in Malaya, in interviews.

(52) . See pp. 234–35, below.

(53) . The Great Way concepts of Former, Middle, and Latter Heavens, then, differ from the traditional concepts which are connected with the divinations of Fu-hsi, Shen Nung, and the Yellow Emperor. See Kan Pao in his “Commentary on the Chou Li” The Great Way of Former Heaven: A Group of Chinese Secret Religious Sects(1963)*.

(54) . There is a similar myth of Buddhist derivation. Cf. “Devas repeople the Earth”. In Buddhist Texts Through the Ages, ed. by Edward Conze and others, pp. 283–85. Oxford,1954.

(55) . Dipamkara is said to have saved 200,000 in the first cycle; Sakyamuni saved another 200,000. Maitreya will save the rest.

(56) . Dipamkara presides at the first, assisted by T’ai-shang Lao-chun [Taishang Laojun], a Taoist deity; at the second Sakyamuni is assisted by Amitabha; at the third Maitreya is assisted by Confucius. Maitreya is chief organizer of all meetings.

(57) . A lung-hua meeting I attended in a female hall in Singapore consisted of a mass for the dead held in the Mother shrine-room. Cooked rice was offered up and secret sutras were read silently by certain rank-holders. Members came up in turn to place incense sticks in a bowl on the altar. Each member of the Great Way pantheon (which apart from Mother consists of a number of generally popular Chinese deities, Buddhas, and Bodhisattva) is worshipped in the sects with a particular number of incense sticks.

(58) . In the sixth century A.D. Buddhist monasteries in China apparently also washed images and formed “lung-hua congregations” to prognosticate the advent and birth of Maitreya. The dates for holding these congregations differed from those of the lung-hua meetings of the sects. Cf. de Groot, op. cit., Vol. I, p. 108.

(59) . When a new member wants to join a sect a petition is burnt to Mother informing her of the name, age, sex, and place of birth of the candidate. In T’ung-shan She two pieces of paper are placed on the altar for the candidate to choose from. One is blank and “permission” is written on the other. Selection of the blank paper means permission to join is refused. The candidate gets another chance at a later date. The paper must be selected with the left hand.

(60) . An idea from Ch’an Buddhism.

(61) . The preliminary methods for soul-cultivation described for the “Golden elixir of Life religion” (Chin-tan Chiao “Golden Pill Sect”) by Richard Wilhelm and C. G. Jung appear to be similar in important respects to those for members of Inner sects. See The Secret of the Golden Flower, trans. by Cary F. Baynes, pp. 34 ff. London, 1947. See also below, p. 237.

(62) . Some of the sutras studied and used in worship are of Buddhist and Taoist origin. Among the esoteric sutras, those held in common by Inner sects are “Golden Mother sutra”, “Mahayana sutra”, and another whose name I do not know which lists all spiritual beings attending heavenly lung-hua meetings. Additionally sects have their own independent sutras. Kuei-ken sect has “Ten Commandments”, “The Patriarch and the Common People are One”, “Return to Rurality”, and the “Secret True Occult”. The latter is written in a code style in which parts of characters have to be removed in reading to reveal a hidden meaning. The “Occult” is said to give all names of patriarchs of the past and future. Since so many characters are surnames, different interpretations of this work are possible. It is said to have been written by Bodhidarma and “made public” to members by the twelfth patriarch. It also contains some code poems by the fourteenth patriarch. Other sects are said to have their own versions of the “Occult” but I have seen only that of Kuei-ken Men. Other works which may be held in common and are certainly used by Kuei-ken Men are “The Thousand Lotuses of the Same Origin” (by the twelfth patriarch), “The Revelation of Ch’ien Lung”, “The Orthodox Doctrine”, “The North Pole’s Occultness”, “The Sutra Cycle” (written by one of the patriarchs) and “Patriarch Liu’s Instructions”. I have copies of some of these sutras published by Kuei-ken sect. They are mostly in very esoteric language and still await translation.

(63) . The rank-name Shih-ti derives from Buddhism in which it refers to one of the sets of ten stages of progress of the Bodhisattva (bhumi).

(64) . The Malayan leader of the Kuei-ken claimed this ability but did not demonstrate.

(65) . This might be compared with the method of the Esoteric Sect of Buddhism in which a special connexion may be established between an individual and a particular Bodhisattva resulting in temporary identification. See, for example, John Blofeld, The Jewel in the Lotus, pp. 154 ff. London, 1948.

(66) . Above, p. 211.

(67) . Patriarchs recorded as having incarnate status are: the tenth, incarnation of the Bushel Mother (a Taoist deity); Yang Shou-I, one of the thirteenth patriarchs, incarnation of Kuan-yin; Hsu Chi-nan, the other thirteenth patriarch, incarnation of Maitreya; Chou Ilun, who was struck from the records for starting a rebellion, incarnation of Maitreya; T’ung-shan She’s sixteenth patriarch, incarnation of Dipamkara; Kuei-ken sect’s sixteenth possessed an element of Maitreya; its seventeenth possessed an element of Dipamkara. Its present patriarch as we saw is incarnate Maitreya.

(68) . An account of the five elements and their relation to history is given in Fung Yu-lan, A History of Chinese Philosophy: The Period of Philosophers (From the Beginnings to circa 100 B.C.), trans. by Derk Bodde, pp. 159 ff. Peiping, 1937.

(69) . Kuei-ken sect has incorporated South-east Asia into its administration. It has not fitted it under the administration of the Fire Lord of the South but under that of the Water Lord of the Centre. The man with this rank is living in Malaya and it was apparently more convenient that administration there should come under his control. With arrests and exiling of leaders, it is unlikely that the theory of Elements and their areas of control worked very effectively.

(70) . De Korne in discussing rank in T’ung-shan She confuses it with titles of address, giving only the latter; op. cit.

(71) . This happens in P’u-tu sects in Malaya and to an even greater degree in Borneo which comes under supervision from Singapore. Restrictions on travel to Malaya and in some cases a complete break in communications with the head of the sect has meant few high ranks have been bestowed in recent years overseas. Many halls, therefore, are run by persons of lower rank, even those of T’ien-en.

(72) . Kuang Yeh lao-jen, Kuei-yuan pao-fa The Great Way of Former Heaven: A Group of Chinese Secret Religious Sects(1963)* “Reverting to the precious raft”. First published in the 1860s.

(73) . See Chart 2, n. 1.

(74) . See Chart 2, n. 1. It will also be noted that the organizers of P’u-tu sect III (Chart 3) all had the middle name of Tao.

(75) . This principle in Chinese religious organization is referred to also in my “The Emergence and Social Function of Chinese Religious Associations in Singapore”, Comparative Studies in Society and History, III(3)(1961): 289–314. [See Chapter 8 in this book.]

(76) . Op. cit., Vol. I, p. 200.

(77) . It might be noted, however, that in urban Singapore and Hong Kong vegetarian halls which are residential sometimes consist of rooms in private residential-type accommodation or even a section of a private house. Members rent premises from the owner who is often also a member. It is possible that sometimes this was also done at Amoy.

(78) . Op. cit., Vol. I, p. 201.

(79) . George Miles, “Vegetarian Sects”, Chinese Recorder, XXXIII(1902): 1–10.

(80) . Lo Religion. See below. In Singapore and Malaya many female halls take in outsiders who are destitute or elderly. I am told this would not have happened in China owing to the risk that outsiders might inform on the sects.

(81) . In Malaya and Singapore, where there is no suppression of religions, all halls are residential.

(82) . Op. cit., Vol. II, p. 308.

(83) . Work to be performed at any time and its secret name are both decided by Mother who reveals it to the patriarch either during his meditations or in seances conducted with a planchette (characters are drawn in sand spread out in a tray), at lung-hua meetings.

(84) . See above, p. 217.

(85) . Op. cit., Vol. II, p. 472.

(86) . Ibid., p. 540.

(87) . Ibid., p. 504.

(88) . Ibid., p. 507.

(89) . Ibid., p. 443.

(90) . See general index, Ibid., pp. 586 ff.

(91) . Ibid., p. 419.

(92) . Ibid., p. 541.

(93) . Ibid., p. 443.

(94) . Ibid., p. 419.

(95) . Ibid., p. 541.

(96) . Ibid., p. 290.

(97) . In 1748; Ibid., p. 285.

(98) . The term I-kwan is probably taken from the Confucian Analects, Book IV, no. 15: Wu tao I. I-kwan chih “My doctrine is that of all-pervading unity.” All-pervading unity being, in the religion, syncretism.

(99) . “I-kwan-tao ni tsuite” The Great Way of Former Heaven: A Group of Chinese Secret Religious Sects(1963)* Toyo Bunka Kenkyujo Kiyo (Tokyo), 4(1953): 173–249. I-kwan Tao here, is referred to as a secret society. The terms “sect” and “society” are often used interchangeably in the literature. I think it less confusing if the term sect is reserved for groupings which attempt their own ideological synthesis, which are oriented directly to spiritual ends (although they may have intermediary ends which are secular), and have their own priesthood, and the term society is reserved for other types of groupings which may use religious elements, but do not attempt a new synthesis of ideas, have no priesthood, and are not directly orientated to religious ends. These differences are brought out clearly if we compare the Triad society with Great Way sects.

(100) . It worships Mother, using the term Wu-sheng Lao-mu. We saw (see f.n. 44) that this is the term said by Kuei-ken Men to have been introduced after the fourteenth patriarch.

(101) . See p. 214, n. 44, on the names of Mother.

(102) . George Miles, op. cit.

(103) . See D. H. Porter, “ Secret Sects in Shantung”, Chinese Recorder, XVII(I)(1886): 3.

(104) . Op. cit., Vol. II, p. 419.

(105) . Described in part by Edkins and romanized by him as Kin-mu; Chinese Buddhism, pp. 377 ff.

(106) . Op. cit., Vol. I, p. 184. See also pp. 192–95.

(107) . See Wing-tsit Chan, Religious Trends in Modern China, pp. 158–61. New York, 1953.

(108) . Op. cit., Vol. II, p. 543.

(109) . The former had an elaborate system of ranks different from that of the Inner sects I have described. The latter, according to de Groot, was a domestic religion with no rank hierarchy. It claimed to be reformed but had teachers referred to as Hsien-sheng. There is no mention in de Groot’s description of these two sects of any “Mother” worship.

(110) . In “Rakyo ni tsuite” The Great Way of Former Heaven: A Group of Chinese Secret Religious Sects(1963)* Toyo Bunka Kenkyujo Kiyo (Tokyo), 1(1943):441–501.

(111) . It does not appear to worship Mother.

(112) . See Sidney Gamble, “Ting Hsien”, A North China Rural Community, pp. 414, 416 ff. New York, 1954.

(113) . Op. cit., Vol. I, p. 153; Vol. II, p. 475. He identifies it with the White Lotus, White Yang, Pure Tea, and other sects.

(114) . Op. cit., Vol. II, p. 386. It had an incarnate Maitreya.

(115) . see p. 236above, on I-kwan Tao. De Korne sees a possible link between the emergence of T’ung-shan She and the rise to political power of Tuan Ch’i-jui after the brief period in 1917 when the Manchus were reinstated. T’ung-shan She was opposed to Kuomintang ideals. It was proscribed in 1927 and went underground after the Nationalists moved north in 1926–28. De Korne, op. cit., pp. 18 ff., 73 ff. Now the Communists are in power, the Singapore branch of T’ung-shan She is pro-Kuomintang and anti-Communist in its homeland political interests.

(116) . Tsu-kuo, 106(9)(2) (in Chinese).

(117) . See above, p. 216.

(118) . Tsu-kuo, 117(9)(13).