Guan yin, the Goddess of Mercy, is highly venerated by the Chinese in the East. She is revered by believers of both Buddhism and Taoism (Daoism) for her unconditional love, compassion and mercy.
In Chinese Buddhism, Guan yin is synonymous with the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, who is known for compassion and mercy.
However, in Taoist mythology, Guan yin originated as Princess Miao Shan (妙善), who later became an Immortal.
What Buddhism and Taoism have in common about Guan yin is that Guan yin is the personification of compassion, mercy and kindness.
This bodhisattva or immortal is commonly known to the Chinese as Guanshiyin Pusa (观世音菩萨) or Guanyin (观音) in short. Guanshiyin means “Observing the sounds or cries of the world” and Pusa stands for bodhisattva.
In some Taoist scriptures, she is also known as Guanyin Dashi (观音大士) or Guanyin Fozu.
The belief in the Goddess’ compassion is so deeply rooted that an event has arisen on the 26th day of the Chinese New Year (正月二十六). The event is known as “Guan yin Opens Treasury” (观音开库), whereby the believers symbolically “borrow” from Guan yin (观音借库). The gesture signifies asking the Goddess for blessings and prosperity in the coming year.
Legends of Guan yin Opens Treasury
There are many legends regarding the Goddess of Mercy. Below are two well-known folk tales about Guan yin opening treasury to help the needy poor:
(1) Guan yin at Xiqiao Mountain
Xiqiao Mountain (西樵山) is located in Nanhai, southern Guangdong, China. It is one of the four famous mountains of Guangdong Province. The folk tale of Guan yin Opens Treasury at Xiqiao Mountain dated a thousand years ago.
Once upon a time, there was a serious drought at Xiqiao Mountain. There was almost no harvest and the people were dying from cold and hunger.
On the 26th day of the Lunar New Year, a pretty girl came to Xiqiao Mountain. She was carrying a small rice sack and money bag. House to house she went distributing the rice and money. Upon completion of the task, it was already evening time. Suddenly, a beautiful rainbow appeared in the sky and shone on earth. The girl transformed into Guanyin Pusa.
Since then, it was said that every year Guan yin will open treasury at Xiqiao Mountain on the 26th day of the Lunar New Year. On this day, the people will pray for peace and prosperity. Some of the devotees will “borrow” from Guan yin’s Treasury, hoping to have a good and prosperous year.
(2) Guan yin at Mount Putuo
According to ancient scriptures, Guan yin had attained buddhahood and was at the threshold to Nirvana when she heard the cries of pain and pleas of the people. Moved by their sufferings, she chose to remain as a bodhisattva and vowed to answer the cries and pleas of all beings and to liberate them from their own karmic woes.
She returned to Earth and stayed on the Mount Putuo island (普陀山). Being infinitely merciful and compassionate, she responded to all prayers for aid. There is a popular Chinese sayings regarding the compassion of the Goddess of Mercy: “千处祈求千处应, 苦海常作渡人舟”. The wordings mean “thousands pleas, thousands answered, a saviour boat in the sea of sufferings”. Mount Putuo became a renowned worship site, the bodhisattva dojo (普萨道场).
Five hundred luohans (arhats) wanted to test Guan yin’s spiritual powers. They transformed into monks and went to Pu Ji Zi, the biggest temple on Mount Putuo. They demanded food from the Chief Monk, who could not cope with their insatiate appetite.
Guan yin, knowing the real intention of the “monks”, transformed herself into an ugly monk in charge of the kitchen. With her spiritual powers, she produced so much food that the 500 luohans could not finish eating even after three days and nights of continuous feasting. The luohans were totally convinced of Guan yin’s great spiritual powers.
As for the tremendous balance of food, Guan yin had them distributed to the people on Mount Putuo and nearby villages. From that time onwards, the people hold annual prayer ceremony for the bodhisattva on the 26th day of the Chinese New Year, which is the day of the above event.
This age-old tradition gradually evolved into a “Guan yin Opens Treasury” event. On this day, devotees believe that the Goddess of Mercy will be opening the treasury to help the poor. By “borrowing” from Guan yin, they will have good money luck for the rest of the year. At the end of the year, they will have to “repay” what they borrowed.
(a) Items required
· 2 red candles
· 3 longevity joss-sticks
· 3 sandalwood joss-sticks
· A set of prayer papers that include Guan yin attire, noble-men from four directions charms, changing luck basin, powerful noble-man charm, da bai jie charm, mock money, etc.
· 5 kinds of fruits, such as apple, crystal pear, banana, grapes, orange, pineapple and kumquat.
· A mixed vegetable dish known as Luohan Zhai.
· 3 cups of tea
· 3 cups of water
· 3 pairs of chopsticks
(b) Procedure of worship
· Display all the above offerings in front of the Goddess.
· Recite your name, address, and date of birth.
· Burn the candles, bow thrice, and insert them in the incense burner.
· Do the same for the longevity joss-sticks.
· Pray to the Goddess and express your wish. If you know how to recite the Heart Sutra or the six-syllabled mantra (Om mani padme hum), that would even be better.
· From the set of prayer papers, put aside some of the mock money to bring home. Put them at the altar or at an auspicious spot in the house. Burn the rest of the prayer papers while reciting mantras 18 times or 108 times.
· Sincerely offer incense and pledge to repay the “loan” in the form of offerings at year-end.
· Strike a gong three times to signify that Guanyin has heard the prayers.
· Proceed to the “Gold & Silver Treasury” to pick a red packet, which symbolizes a loan.
(Note: Temples in different regions have varied practices regarding this red packet. Some temples will insert a few cents in the red packet while some will simply write an amount (in terms of million dollars or even billions) on a piece of red paper and insert into the red packet.)
· Next, collect a red packet that contains peanuts, sweet lotus seeds, etc. and eat them.
· Before leaving the temple, reiterate your promise to return to the temple at the end of the year to thank the Goddess, as well as to repay the loan.
· The “borrowed loan” should be kept in your wallet or handbag. At year-end, this red packet, together with the mock money that was brought home, will be burned with “Returning to Treasury” prayer papers, symbolically of returning the money to the Treasury.
(Note: The “old loan” must be repaid before you can borrow again at the beginning of the following new year.
There might be some variations in the offerings' items and worship process in different countries.)
Opening hours for the event
Most Guan Yin temples will have extended opening hours, from 11.00 pm on 25th day until 8.00 pm on the 26th day of the Chinese New Year. Do not be late; otherwise you will have to wait another year for the next Guan yin Treasury Opening Day.
Do’s and don’ts
· Be on vegetarian diet before the event.
· Bathe before going to the temple.
· Wash hands before offering joss-sticks.
· Do be contented with whatever amount you have picked for the “loan”.
· After having benefited financially from the “Guan yin’s loan”, do support the Three Treasures of Buddhism (Buddha, Dharma & Sangha), as well as donate to charitable causes.
· Do remember to “repay loan” before the next Guan yin Treasury Opening Day.
· Do not use wine or meat as offerings.
· Do not ask for winnings in lottery.
· Do not be angry or unhappy in the event of picking a red packet that has only a small amount written in it.
· Do not use unethical means to make money, thinking that the Goddess has given you blessings. Only those who are good, kind and honest will be blessed.
Chinese folk beliefs are quite often considered as superstitions. However, behind the superstitious veil, there may be some positive psychological effects. For the above practice, it gives the poor people some hopes of better times ahead. This, in turn, can help lift their spirit and confidence.
© 2012 pinkytoky
Koten on September 17, 2014:
Link to YouTube Video of Kwan Yin Festival in Lytton B.C. Canada on June 22, 2014: