Guanyin - the Bodhisattva of Compassion
Fish (魚) is a symbol of prosperity because it is a homonym for abundance (餘)
(Image: Painting by Dharma Master Yilin 依林法師繪)
According to popular folk religious tradition in southern
A girl prepares to request wealth on the day of Guanyin Opens the Repository
(Image: Oriental Daily News 東方日報)
It should be noted that this ritual is not observed in traditional mainstream Buddhism, which some people may find surprising. This interesting southern Chinese folk tradition exists outside of the orthodox Buddhist sphere. Even though Guanyin was originally a Buddhist deity (in Mahayana Buddhism, she is a fully enlightened Buddha that manifests as a great bodhisattva), she has become a much beloved figure of compassion and salvation in the Chinese mind and she is the subject of many folk tales and legends in Chinese culture. Guanyin is no longer only a great bodhisattva of the Buddhist tradition, but has also become a popular “goddess” in the Taoist and popular folk religious traditions as well. The popularity of Guanyin is reflected in the traditional Chinese saying:
Amitabha [is venerated] in every family;
Guanshiyin (Guanyin) [is venerated] in every household.
Incense and joss papers to be used in the Guanyin Opens the Repository ritual(Image: Oriental Daily News 東方日報)
Lucky coins wrapped in red paper that reads
Three hundred million [dollars] and Ninety million [dollars](Image: Dao.org.hk)
Lucky coins wrapped in red paper that reads Good Physical Health(Image: Dao.org.hk)
In popular folk religion, there are several legends about the origin of Guanyin Opens the Repository. A popular one says that five hundred arhats/arahants (羅漢 luohan) (Buddhist cultivators that have transcended worldly desire and attachment and have escaped cyclic existence) descended to the world to test the spiritual practice of Guanyin who was still a human at that time. They manifested themselves in the forms of ordinary monks and asked Guanyin to give them food. Guanyin opened her repository and distributed delicious vegetarian food to all the arhats-in-disguise. Afterwards, she distributed the remainder of her supply to all the common people as well. Later, the symbolism of Guanyin’s food offering was transformed into the idea of wealth and money instead. Thus began the yearly tradition of asking Guanyin to distribute wealth from her repository. An alternate theory is that a similar ritual was originally practiced with the Wealth God, but over time, the Wealth God was somehow conflated with Guanyin.
A happy man shows his lucky coins wrapped in red paper
that reads One hundred eighty million [dollars](Image: Apple Daily 蘋果日報)
May Guanyin also “lend” everyone lots of wealth, good health, and joy!
Text © 2011 Harry Leong