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The Xiantiandao Chinese: 先天道; pinyin: Xiāntiān Dào; literally: "Way of Former Heaven", or "Way of the Primordial"; Vietnamese: Tiên Thiên Đạo, Japanese: Sentendō, also simply Tiandao Chinese: 天道; pinyin: Tiāndào; literally: "Way of Heaven"; Vietnamese: Thiên Đạo, Japanese: Tendō is one of the most productive currents of Chinese folk religious sects, characterised by representing the principle of divinity as feminine and by a concern for salvation moral completion of mankind

Xiantiandao was founded in Jiangxi in the 17th century Qing dynasty as an offshoot of the Venerable Officials' teaching of fasting 老官齋教 Lǎoguān zhāijiào, a branch of the Dacheng 大乘 "Great Vehicle" or Yuandun 圆顿 "Sudden Stillness" eastern proliferation of Luoism12 It has also been traced to the earlier Wugongdao 五公道 "Way of the Five Lords", a Yuan dynasty offshoot of the White Lotus tradition34

The Xiantiandao religions were considered heterodox and suppressed throughout the history of China; they are still mostly forbidden in China, yet they thrive in Taiwan where at least 7% of the population adheres to some sect derived from the Xiantiandao

The Xiantiandao movement is not limited only to Chinese-speaking countries, with at least one sect, the Tendō 天道, "Way of Heaven", active in Japan5 In Vietnam, "Tiên Thiên Đạo" doctrines ultimately influenced the rise of the Minh Đạo sects since the 17th century and subsequently of Caodaism in the 20th century6

Sects that are or have been considered as part of the Xiantiandao stream are:2

  • Guigendao 归根道 "Way of the Return to the Root"
  • Guiyidao 皈依道, "Way of the Return to the One", best known by its corporate name of School of the Way of the Return to the One or simply School of the Way 道院 Dàoyuàn
  • Shengdao 圣道 "Holy Way", best known by its incorporate name of Tongshanshe 同善社 "Community of the Goodness"
  • Tiandi teachings 天帝教 "Heavenly Deity"
  • Yaochidao 瑤池道 "Way of the Jasper Lake"
  • Yiguandao 一貫道 "Complete Way"
    • Haizidao 亥子道 "Way of the Children"
    • Miledadao 弥勒大道 "Great Way of Maitreya"
  • Yixin Tiandao Longhua Hui 一心天道龙华会 "Dragon Flower Church of the Heart-bound Heavenly Way"
  • Yuanmingdao 圆明道 "Way of the Bright Circle"


  • 1 History
  • 2 Common themes
  • 3 Theological and practical differences
  • 4 See also
  • 5 References
  • 6 Sources
  • 7 External links


The sect can be traced back to the Yuan dynasty 1271-1368 It has been associated to the White Lotus tradition, a rebellious sect of that time, especially by anti-sect political centers and religious antagonists

The differentiation of the Xiantiandao subtradition out of the general field of Chinese popular sects is commonly attributed to the so-called ninth patriarch Huang Dehui 1684-1750 The Yiguandao and the Tongshanshe sects legitimize themselves by tracing their patriarchal lines through Huang Dehui to the mythical patriarchs of early Chinese history

The patriarchal lines of these two sects are largely identical down to the thirteenth patriarch Yang Shouyi 1796-1828, after whom the lines split and ultimately lead to the development of the Yiguandao and the Tongshanshe as separate sects The other groups maintain a different model of linear patriarchal succession7

Tianyuangong, a temple of Yiguandao in Tamsui District, New Taipei City, Taiwan

Common themesedit

Xiantiandao doctrine holds that the origin of the universe is Wusheng Laomu Chinese: 無生老母; pinyin: Wúshēng Lǎomǔ; literally: "Unborn Ancient Mother", creatrix of all living beings These children went astray and ended up in the earthly world where they forgot their divine origin The wheel of reincarnation started and the return to Heaven was no longer possible

For this reason, the Mother sent a range of enlightened beings to bring Her children back to Heaven The Dīpankara Buddha 燃燈佛 Rándēng Fó was the first salvage Gautama Buddha afterwards was the second enlightened The remaining beings will be saved by the Buddha of the future, Maitreya

The individual Xiantiandao sects all see themselves as carrying out the Mother's intentions by converting people and guiding them on a path of cultivation and reform that will ultimately lead them back to Heaven The cultivation urged on members is divided into "inner" and "outer" work nèigōng, wàigōng, that is, meditation and good deeds, so as to accumulate merits and purify the mind

As the focus is on a primordial deity superior to all other gods, Xiantiandao sects claim to represent a Way Dào that transcends, comes before, and thus overcomes all existing religions Consequently, a syncretism of features is noticeable in some groups Most Xiantiandao groups rely heavily on automatic writing as a means of communicating with the Mother and lower-ranking deities

Theological and practical differencesedit

Along with the written works of the founding patriarchs, spirit-writing provides a distinct corpus of scriptures for each individual sect, that develops the shared themes in different directions and serves to differentiate the individual group from related sects The variations on the central theme are many: for example, different sects use different names for the supreme deity, the Yiguandao and the Tongshanshe calling her "Venerable Mother of Limitless Pole" Wuji Laomu and the Yaochidao the "Mother of the Jasper Lake" Yaochimu

The Daoyuan diverges from the common maternal pattern by describing the supreme deity as male, naming him "Holiest Venerable Patriarch of the Primordial Heaven" Zhisheng Xiantian Laozu Despite these and many other differences in liturgy, organization, and doctrine, ultimately each Xiantiandao sect represents a variation on a central theme Other movements have significantly departed: the Tiandi teachings movements have shifted to a focus on the Tian, while Caodaism gives centrality to the Cao Đài "Highest Power"

See alsoedit

  • White Lotus
  • Mother goddess
  • Chinese folk religion
  • Chinese salvationist religions


  1. ^ Ma 2011, p 173-175
  2. ^ a b Palmer 2011, p 4
  3. ^ Topley, 2011 p 211
  4. ^ Ter Harr, 1999 pp 16-59
  5. ^ Tendo official website
  6. ^ Goossaert, Palmer, 2011 pp 100-102
  7. ^ Tiandi official website - 天德教前期歷史探討permanent dead link


  • Ma, Xisha; Huiying Meng 2011 Popular Religion and Shamanism Brill ISBN 9004174559 
  • Palmer, David 2011 "Redemptive Societies in Cultural and Historical Context" Journal of Chinese Theatre, Ritual and Folklore / Minsu Quyi 173: 1–12 
  • B J ter Harr The White Lotus Teachings in Chinese Religious History University of Hawaii Press, 1999 ISBN 0824822188
  • David A Palmer Les mutations du discours sur les sectes en Chine moderne, in Archives de sciences sociales des religions, 2008 Online
  • Marjorie Topley Cantonese Society in Hong Kong and Singapore: Gender, Religion, Medicine and Money Hong Kong University Press, 2011 ISBN 9888028146
  • Vincent Goossaert, David A Palmer The Religious Question in Modern China University of Chicago Press, 2011 ISBN 022600533X

External linksedit

  • Way of Former Heaven


Xiantiandao Information about


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