When life closes a window, God opens a door

(No.11, Vol.4,Dec 2014 Vietnam Heritage Magazine)

A Bodhisattva sanctuary inside On Lang Pagoda

The god of mercy is also the god of money

Quan Am, or Quan The Am, is the Chinese translation of the Sanskrit name Aval okitesvara, which means ‘watching the cries of humanity in the world.’ It’s the name of a Bodhisattva who has infinite power, especially when it comes to relieving mankind’s suffering.
Besides worshiping Quan Am as a misery-relieving Bodhisattva, the Chinese community also worships Quan Am as a God of wealth. On the 26th day of the first lunar month every year, the On Lang Pagoda at 12 Lao Tu Street, District 5, Ho Chi Minh City, organizes a ‘Quan Am opening storage’ event. There are many legends regarding this custom, but the most popular ones are the following:
1. While he was a Great Priest, 500 Faith Defenders wanted to try his power. They were disguised as mendicant monks and came to his temple to beg for food. Being a charitable and righteous man, Quan Am immediately opened his storage and gave them everything they asked for. After eating, they distributed the food to the poor. Since then, this day (26th of the first lunar month) became the day ‘Quan Am opens the storage’.
2. A young man went up the mountain to worship Quan Am, but the temple was so crowded that he could not get in. He took a rest on a hillside and had a dream in which the Bodhisattva lent him money to do business and he grew very rich. He woke up at midnight. Back home, his business really prospered; the money flowed in like water. The good news went so far that people took the day he dreamt (26th of the first lunar month) to celebrate the day ‘Quan Am opens the storage’.
3. Once upon a time, there was a great drought, and famine spread widely. Suddenly, on the 26th day of the first lunar month, a young lady appeared and brought a bag of rice and a bag of money to distribute to people. Strangely, rice and money were given to everyone in the village, yet the two bags remained full. Her job done, she waved to everybody and vanished into thin air. Then, a Bodhisattva appeared in the sky, smiling at the people. Now they realized that the young girl was the embodiment of Quan Am, sent to relieve their suffering. Since then, on the 26th of the first lunar month each year, people pour to Quan Am temples to celebrate the event in which ‘Quan Am opens the storage’.
From the midnight of the 25th until the midnight of the 26th of the first lunar month, hundreds of thousands of people come here to ‘borrow money’ or to ‘pay their debts’. Ancient Chinese records describe this custom as follows:
On the day ‘Quan Am opens the storage’, those who want to ask for wealth would come, clean and neat, before sunrise, and quietly wait for their turn to burn incense. Then, one of them reaches into Quan Am’s lending chamber to take a wad of notes, on which an amount is written. The capital lent by Quan Am is believed to bring wealth and prosperity to the person. What is borrowed will have to be repaid. The next year, the person has to come and get a ‘check’ and put it into another chamber, and makes an offering.
The offerings should include incense, candles, a votive Quan Am dress, votive money, tea, water, and five fruits: banana (wealth), grape (riches and honour), orange (wishes to come true), pineapple (prosperity), tangerine (good luck) or other fruits. After kowtowing, one brings out the offerings and chants a sutra 18 or 108 times to beg for protection, health, easy flow of money and luck in buying and selling.
Thus, Quan Am is worshiped, not only among the Buddhist world, but also in the folklore of the Chinese migrants in Vietnam. To them, Quan Am is a god of fortune in everyday life, in business and in secret aspirations for a prosperous life. It is all expressed in the veneration, the legends and the customs that have been passed down to today’s generation.

Text and photo by Nguyen Thai Hoa
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