|Kuan Ti -- e Protector of Buddhism|
In the year 162 A.D. during the period of the warring states of
the ree Kingdoms, a child was born to a humble family in
Shansi who grew up to become China's most il ustrious and out-
standing son, a great hero, and was later deified to become one of
the most popular Gods of the Chinese people. His admirers and
devotees ranged from Emperors to the common people and his
popularity never waned over the long period of time. ousands
of temples and shrines have been erected in his honour and can
be seen in all parts of the country. His images and portraits
adorn home shrines or wal s of countless homes whether they be
Taoist, Confucianist or Buddhist.
In a country strifed with wars and rebel ions throughout its his-
tory of the various Dynasties, great heroes have emerged and
distinguished themselves in every way to deserve veneration and
rememberance but none has ever equal ed Kuan Ti to gain eleva-
tion into the ranks of Gods or enjoy worship by different classes
of people as their patron saints. To the Taoists and others, Kuan
Ti was their God of War, while the Buddhists confer upon him
the great honour as their Protector.
Born as Kuan Yu he led a simple life and made his living as a
young man by sel ing bean-curd which provided the excuse for
the bean-curd sel ers to respect him as their patron saint today.
He also devoted much time to serious studies and on one occa-
sion, displayed his excel ent memory power by reciting word for
word, the entire volume of the Classics after reading it but once.
Kuan Yu's other name is Yun-Chang.
rough his great love for justice and fair-play, Kuan Yu soon
got himself into deep trouble when he slayed the licentious and
corrupt magistrate who forced a poor girl to become his concu-
bine. is made him into a criminal and Kuan Yu had to flee for
his life into the mountains. As he was trying to cross over to the
neighbouring province he chanced to stop by a stream to have a
wash; when to his surprise he noticed a great change to his ap-
pearance! His facial complexion had changed from white to a
reddish tint which saved him the trouble to disguise himself so
that he was able to walk through the sentries who were guarding
the mountain pass without the least of problem.
Upon reaching Chu-Chou of the Szechuan Province he soon
befriended two others who shared his noble ideals and virtues
and they ended up as "sworn brothers" in a ceremony which has
been recorded in the history as the "Brotherhood at the Peach
Orchard". Chang-fei, a butcher, became the youngest brother.
He was a man of fiery temper who had an unyielding sense of
justice and was well known for his immense appetite both for
food and adventure. He also had a black face which was full of
whiskers and together with his formidable frame of some seven
feet high, very few would dare cross his path. His great love and
loyalty to Kuan Yu has won him a place of honour so that he is
always seen standing behind Kuan Ti in all depictions. Liu Pei,
the elder brother who came from a distinguished but impov-
erished family with Imperial linkage, was known to be a man
of honour. He was later to distinguish himself by founding the
Later Han Dynasty. Kuan Yu, a powerful figure of more than
eight feet tal , possessed an enigmatic personality and integrity
which won him respect of all whom he met.
Together these three newly sworn brothers set out and became
involved in military pursuits, Kuan Ti once serving under the
crafty and famous Ts'ao Ts'ao. ey displayed great military
prowess and fought many bat les which can be read in ful details
in the famous novels of "e Romance of the ree Kingdoms".
Kuan Yu proved himself worthy of the honour and affection of
those who fought with him for he was brave and generous and
was never known to turn aside from danger. He also proved his
fidelity on the occasion when he was taken prisoner together
with the wife and concubines of Liu Pei, and having been al o-
cated a common sleeping quarters with the ladies, he preserved
their reputation and his own trustworthiness by sit ing all night
through, outside their door, reading a book under the bright
light of a candle. ere is also another version of this account
which stated that he stood through the night at the door of the
ladies' room with a lighted lantern in his hand.
In the recorded history of his life Kuan Yu had many occasions
to display his nobility, uprightness, integrity, loyalty and bravery.
He lived at a time of great distress and chaos when the virtue
of the Han Dynasty, set up in 202 B.C., began to decline and
uprising, warring, dissatisfactions and rebel ions were rampant.
Temptations of acquiring wealth, fame and power did not deter
him from remaining faithful to the oath that he had taken with
his brothers at the peach orchard: "...to be loyal to each other in
life and united in death..." And of his ability to bear pain un-
flinchingly, there was an occasion when he was wounded by a
poisoned arrow which required the arrow and the poison to be
removed. He calmly submit ed himself to the terrible ordeal and
al owed his arm to be cut opened and scratched to the bone by
his physician while he concentrated his at ention on a game of
chess, without showing the least sign of pain.
In the year 219 A.D. he was captured by Sun Chuan and put to
death. It was recorded that on the night of his death, his spirit
appeared to a Buddhist monk, to seek for instruction on the
According to the Buddhist account, Kuan Yu manifested him-
self before the Tripitaka Master Chi Tsai, the founder of Tien
Tai Buddhism, with a retinue of spiritual beings. e Master
was then in deep meditation at the Yu Chien Mountain when
he was distracted by Kuan Yu's presence. After receiving the
teachings Kuan Yu requested for the Five Precepts and became a
Buddhist practitioner. He then vowed that he would henceforth
be a guardian for the Buddha-dharma and thus, for more than
a thousand years, Kuan Ti has been worshipped as a Guardian
or Dharma Protector in the Buddhist temples. e Pure Land
Buddhists also respected him as the Sentinel to the Western
Paradise of Amitabha Buddha. For these reasons Kuan Ti has
earned a place in the Chinese Pantheon of Deities; his statues
are normal y found in the first hall of most temples and incense
should be offered to him as a mark of respect.
honours and tributes that the succeeding Emperors of the
various Dynasties conferred upon him marked him as the great-
est military hero that ever lived. Kuan Yu earned the rank of
`TI' meaning "God" or "Emperor" and has ever since received
worship as Kuan Ti or Wu Ti. Here are the other main awards
which he had subsequently earned, elevating him to the ranks of
Duke, Prince and then Emperor:
1. In 1120 the Sung Emperor ennobled him as the "Faithful and
Loyal Duke". Eight years later he again conferred him an-
other title, that of "e Magnificent Prince and Pacificator".
2. In 1330 Emperor Wen of the Yuan Dynasty honoured him
with the title of "Warrior Prince and Civilizer".
3. In 1594 Emperor Wan Li of the Ming Dynasty conferred on
him the title of "Faithful and Loyal Great Ti, Supporter of
Heaven and Protector of the Kingdom". In his honour thou-
sands of temples were built across the land so that people
could honour and worship him, thus making him one of the
most popular Gods of China.
4. In 1813 the Ching Emperor added the appel ation "Military
Emperor" and Kuan Ti was regarded as the Patron of the
5. In 1856 during the bat le between the Imperialists and the
rebels, Kuan Ti was said to have appeared in the heavens which
helped to turn the tide of the bat le in the Emperor's favour.
After the victory, Emperor Hsein Feng quickly elevated him
to the position of reverence similar to that of Confucius, the
great Sage of China.
All these awards have helped the people to remember and wor-
ship Kuan Ti not only as a God of War but also as their God of
Chivalry and Prosperity. He is also regarded as the Guardian of
the Brave, Loyal and Righteous, and so on. However it must be
mentioned here that the manner of worship of Kuan Ti at his
temples are not necessarily a Buddhist practice, although he has
earned a place into the Chinese Pantheon. Buddhism may accept
and even encourages its fol owers to revere the Gods for their
virtues or pray to them for some protection or worldly boons, but
they must always be aware that Enlightenment cannot be won
by such practices and that their refuge should be sought in the
ree Jewels only.
As a Buddhist deity, Kuan Ti stands alone but as a Taoist deity
he is usual y accompanied by two other companions. A young
looking man is always protrayed beside him holding his seal
while Chang Fei can be seen with his halberd which according
to tradition, the edge of it facing towards the direction of the
suspected danger from evil influence. For this reason he is often
depicted as standing behind Kuan Ti's right so that his halberd
may face the other direction, if so required.
Kuan Ti's anniversaries fall on the 13th day of the 2nd moon
and the 13th day of the 5th moon in Malaysia and Singapore
while Hong Kong celebrates it on the 24th day of the 6th moon.
It is also customary for the Chinese to make their way to Kuan
Ti temples at the start of the Chinese New Year to offer prayers
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