Monday, February 28, 2011

Guanyin Opens the Repository

Guanyin - the Bodhisattva of Compassion
Fish () is a symbol of prosperity because it is a homonym for abundance ()
(Image: Painting by Dharma Master Yilin 依林法師繪)

According to popular folk religious tradition in southern China, the 26th day of the first Chinese lunar month is the day that Guanyin Opens the Repository (觀音開庫 Guanyin Kaiku). It is also known as Guanyin Lends from the Repository (觀音借庫 Guanyin Jieku). On this day, many followers of popular Taoism and folk religion visit temples to “borrow money” from Guanyin. It is believed that if one prays with sincerity, Guanyin will bestow wealth in accordance with one’s karma and personal needs. It is also said that the “wealth” given by Guanyin is not necessarily in the form of money, but can be in the form of health, happiness, and safety too. But of course, the motivation of the people who participate in this ritual is generally all about money!

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.

Participants of the Guanyin Opens the Repository ritual generally offer incense, candles, and joss papers. Then they should pray sincerely to Guanyin and ask for wealth that is befitting of their karma. One should not be motivated by greed, and one’s request should not be unrealistic. If Guanyin actually grants a favor, it is always done out of compassionate assistance, and never in a random or indiscriminate manner. If money is going to do more harm than good, it would certainly not be forthcoming. Gamblers, swindlers, and greedy people should forget about it. After one completes one’s prayers, one may get from the temple some items of auspicious well wishes, such as blessed foods; coins wrapped in red paper with a large sum written on the outside of the paper (i.e. three hundred million, etc.) to symbolize great wealth and riches; and other types of lucky souvenir gifts. Worshippers bring these items home and place them in the family shrine, lucky feng-shui spots, or they can carry them on their person. At the end of the year, those that prayed to Guanyin for “wealth” should return to the same temple and offer thanks.

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]

Lucky coins wrapped in red paper that reads Good Physical Health

Auspicious gifts from the temple:
Imperial tablet paper replica that reads Wealth Star Salutes & Illuminates; red chopsticks;
coins wrapped in red paper envelope with Nine million [dollars] written on it;
bowl of blessed peanuts and candies with lucky red packets
(Image: Oriental Daily News 東方日報)

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.

But whatever the case may be, the ritual and tradition brings a lot of hope and joy to its followers, and that is the most important purpose of any religious celebration or custom.

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

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