Understanding Dao


Our temple belongs to a loose association of temples in the 一貫道 Yi-Guan Dao (天道 Tian Dao or simply 道 Dao) tradition. The followers of Dao practice the moral ethics and philosophies of Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism. But Yi-Guan Dao should not to be confused with any of these religious practices. The cultivation (or practice) of Dao is similar in so much as it incorporates the morals and philosophies of these religions. However, Dao is actually the source, origin, and root of all the major world religions (including Taoism, Confucianism, Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam). Therefore, the true essence of the teachings of these religions stems from Dao. From this perspective, one can understand why the practice of Dao appears to follow aspects of the various religions.

Dao is the origin of everything, including the universe. The prevailing scientific theory holds that there was a Big Bang that created the universe. So what was there before the Big Bang? Clearly, for there to be such an explosion, there must have been an infinite energy source. This source is Dao. Besides this infinite energy source, there also existed the absolute principle from which the principles of nature (laws of nature) were derived. Science has come a long way in discovering and understanding these principles of nature, yet these are just derivations of the one true principle of Dao. The derived principles define not only the physical world, but also all living things. Therefore, plants have the growth principle (or nature) which allows a seemingly lifeless seed to sprout and grow given the right conditions. Animals have not only the growth nature but also the sense nature which allows them to sense and feel (thus they are also sentient beings). Humans have not only the growth and sense natures but also the human nature. The human nature and mind allows us to think, create, imagine, etc. Humans also have a conscience. From this conscience arises our virtues (filial piety, brotherhood/brotherly love, loyalty, trust/trustworthiness, propriety, righteousness, integrity/honesty, sense of shame/regret, modesty/humbleness, compassion, wisdom, faith, tolerance, forgiveness, etc.). So practically speaking, when we follow our conscience, we are acting in accordance with Dao and our True Nature.

All religions teach people to be good human beings, to follow their conscience. But it is important to understand the difference between religions and Dao. What really distinguishes Dao from religions is something we call Heaven's Mandate. The Heaven's Mandate is what makes Dao so special—it is the authority given by Heaven that enables the continuing practice and propagation of Dao throughout the world today. Anyone interested in practicing Dao must go through an initiation ceremony (the "transmission" of Dao) in which one is made aware of (or awakened to) one's True Nature, and this is made possible only by authority of the Heaven's Mandate. Once having "received" this transmission of Dao, a person must cultivate his/her True Nature and can attain enlightenment and transcend the cycle of birth and death in a single lifetime (attaining nirvana or liberation from suffering just as Buddha had attained).

The true Dao is difficult to put into words, because it is formless and void, yet all forms are contained within it. But we can talk about Dao in practice and the purpose of Dao in this world. To understand the practice of Dao, one must understand the basic concepts of Dao. Once these concepts are understood then one can put into practice the philosophy of Dao. Whether or not one has been practicing Dao, as long as one is ready and willing, one can receive the transmission of Dao (discovering one's True Nature). Once you have discovered your True Nature, the path of enlightenment still depends on a lifetime of cultivation. There is no easy path to transcendence from the world of suffering. We must make an effort to achieve this goal. So learning about Dao and understanding Dao are just the beginning even though they are a lifelong process. The practice or cultivation of Dao is also a lifelong process of constant refinements to our character to perfect our virtues and to eliminate our shortcomings and temper. With this goal in mind, we must have an aspiration to achieve what all Buddhas have achieved, to let go of the egotistical self, to embrace all living beings and the whole of Nature as a part of our own being. Only in this way can we hope to realize the true meaning of Dao.

To gain a better understanding of what it means to practice (or cultivate) Dao, please read the following topics:

  1. Purpose of Dao

  2. Basic Concepts of Dao

  3. Philosophy and Practice of Dao

  4. Discovering Your True Nature