Many people go to the Kwan Im Hood Cho Temple ( 观音堂佛祖庙) at Waterloo Street to pray for spiritual guidance and 平安 (ping an) meaning safety in English. Every year on the lunar 26th of the 1st month (正月二十六日), there would be distribution of the hong bao (red packet), filled with coins, and that will be on the 16th March 2015, Monday this year.
Kwan Im Pu Sa or Guan Yin Pu Sa (in Chinese), is known as Goddess of Mercy who was revered by believers of both Buddhism and Taoism for her unconditional love, compassion, and mercy.
The belief in her compassion was so deeply rooted that as 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, the Goddess would offer her blessings and prosperity in the coming year to us.
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:
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.
Long ago, 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.
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.
As a general guideline, after offering your prayers, proceed to the ‘collecting ang pow’ area to pick a red packet, which symbolizes a loan. One person is limited to collect maximum 4 ang pows. The ‘borrowed loan’ should be kept in a wallet or handbag. At year end, one has to return back this red packet, together with another red packet filled with money in your discretion, and put it back into ‘returning hong bao’ area.
Chinese folk beliefs are often considered as superstitions. Behind the superstitious veil, there may be some positive psychological effects. For the above practice, it gives people some hope of better times ahead. This, in turn, can help lift their spirit and confidence.
Best of luck to all in the Year of the Goat! HUAT AH!!!