Thursday, March 07, 2013

Kwan Im Temple - Open Treasury Day (Borrowed Hong Bao)

This morning, PY messaged me and said that today people go to Kwan Im Temple in Bugis to pray for 平安 (read: ping an) or in English means safety, and there would be distribution of the hong bao (red packet), filled with coin. Since I had nothing particular to do and I think it’s time to pray, after a quick lunch at Cafetaria, I took my bag and left to the temple by bus and walk.

When reached the area, I was amazed to see a very long queue and people were standing there with their incense burned and flowers on their hands, waiting for their turn to enter the temple.

Long queue to enter Kwan Im Temple at Bugis
There were barriers to ensure that the temple wouldn’t be overcrowded and everyone would be able to enter and pray safely, in a good flow. There were 2 queue directions to enter and exit.

Entrance of Kwan Im Temple in Bugis
“R!” suddenly I heard someone calling me. I looked to the source of the voice and found someone familiar, which was my colleague. She was standing up with someone and selling the flowers, and she was taking leave today. She asked me if I was going to pray. I said, “Initially yes, but after looking at the crowd, most probably, I would just pray from the outside.” Then she said, “It would only take about 15 minutes and the other queue was much faster,” she pointed out at the other direction. So, I followed her advice and headed into the other direction.

Queue from another side
Perhaps it was fated ba! As what my colleague said, the other queue was much shorter. So I bought the incense right away, burned it, and also bought a stick of lotus flower, then joined the queue. After waiting for about 3 minutes, I could go in already. Yayyy!!! :)

It’s like usual. I did my prayer, offered the lotus flower to the altar table, and handed in donation money into the donation box provided. The difference was, on the way out, there were places where you could collect hong bao (filled with coins), drop in hong bao (those collected from last year), and collect oranges (meaning 'good luck’).

One person was limited to collect maximum 4 hong bao. As this if my first time, I collected 4 lor… hehehe… Then I was unsure what to do with the hong bao and I was wondering why people returned the hong bao. So I went to ask one of the aunties, who looked like more experience in dealing with this hong bao.

She explained that inside the hong bao, there was a 10 cent coins. She asked me to take the 10 cents out, and put 20 cents back into the hong bao. Keep the hong bao and prepare another hong bao with money (at any amount to your discretion), and return it back the year after. That was how the ‘drop in’ hong bao worked.  Another person who overheard our conversation told me that we could use the coin to buy some sweet. Other said we could keep the hong bao inside our wallet. Some said, I could return the hong bao anytime before the next year.  And so on. There was no exact answers given on how, why, what, and when, even after asking few friends around. So I did some research and below is the story that explains the thing.

Kwan Im or Goddess of Mercy Statue
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, the Goddess would offer her blessings and prosperity in the coming year to us, and this was based on some legends believed by Chinese folks.

First, was legend of Guan Yin in Xi Qiao Mountain, one of the famous mountain of Guang Dong provinces, located in Nai Hai, China. Due to the serious drought, many people suffered and dying from cold and hunger. On the 26th of Lunar New Year, a pretty girl came to the mountain and distributed a small sack of rice and money from house to house. Upon completing her task, it was already evening time and suddenly a beautiful rainbow appeared in the sky and was said that the girl has transformed into Kwan Im Pu Sa. So on that day, people would pray for peace, safety, and prosperity.

Second, was legend from Mount Pu Tuo. Kwan Im had attained Buddhahood, but she returned back to earth due to her compassionate and merciful to all being, and stayed at Mount Pu Tuo. There were 500 Arhats (Luo Han) who wanted to test the Kwan Im’s spiritual powers. They transformed into monks and went into the biggest temple in Mount Putuo, then demanded food from the Chief Monk, who couldn’t cope with their insatiate appetite.

Kwan Im knew the intention of the monks and had transformed herself into a monk in charge of the kitchen. With her spiritual powers, she produced food that the 500 Arhats could not finish even after three days and nights of continuous feasting. The Luo Hans were convinced of her power. As the balance of the food, Kwan Im had distributed it to the people on the mountain and nearby villages. From that time onwards, people would hold annual prayer ceremony for her on the 26th of Chinese Lunar New Year.

So, it was how the Guan Yin Open Treasury Day coming from.

As a general guideline, after prayer in the temple, proceed to the ‘collecting hong bao’ area to pick a red packet, which symbolizes a loan. The ‘borrowed loan’ should be kept in a wallet or handbag. At year end, we have 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. More or less it was similar with what the aunty said.

Hehe.. It’s good to learn new thing. At least, I can understand why there was such an event held and for what purpose. Because it was brought from one generation to another and not all country apply this. Even if they do apply, I might not know about it.

As for the hong bao, I passed one to PY, as she was the one who informed me about the event. If she hadn’t messaged me this morning, I wouldn’t know there is such an event called Guan Yin Open Treasury Day. Hope it can bring luck for her too this year and the other year to come!! Huat ahhh!!! :)

P.S. The return of Hong bao for year 2015 falls on 16 March 2015.

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