Worshipping Guanyin Bodhisattva (觀音), the revered Goddess of Mercy, is a deeply rooted tradition spanning across diverse regions. From the bustling coastal provinces of Fujian and Zhejiang in China, the serene monasteries of Tibet, to the tranquil temples of Taiwan, Singapore, and Hong Kong – her divine presence resonates profoundly.
Three lunar dates hold immense significance for her followers – 19th February, marking Guanyin’s birth; 19th June, celebrating her enlightenment; and 19th September, honoring her bold decision to leave her home for a monastic life.
These are the days when devotion reaches its zenith, as followers engage in various acts of worship. But, do you know the correct chants when honoring Guanyin Bodhisattva? And what are the essential considerations when offering incense to the esteemed Bodhisattva?
Join us as we delve into these questions and illuminate the path to proper worship of Guanyin Bodhisattva.
Table of Contents
Who is Goddess of Mercy, Guanyin Bodhisattva?
Goddess of Mercy, often known as Guanyin Bodhisattva, is a prominent figure in Mahayana Buddhism, one of the major branches of Buddhism practiced worldwide.
Guanyin is revered for her compassion, and her name translates to “Observing the Sounds (or Cries) of the World,” reflecting her vow to assist sentient beings to achieve enlightenment and liberation from suffering.
Origins of Guanyin Bodhisattva
The origins of Guanyin can be traced back to India where she was initially depicted as the male Bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara. With Buddhism’s spread to China, Avalokiteśvara underwent a gradual gender transformation and took on a distinctly feminine form known today as Guanyin.
Over time, her gentle and merciful nature won the hearts of devotees, and she became one of the most beloved deities in Buddhist culture.
Forms and Representations of Guanyin
There are multiple representations of Guanyin, each form showcasing unique attributes and symbolizing different aspects of her compassion.
The most common is the White Robed Guanyin, often depicted in a white flowing robe, a willow branch in her right hand, and a jar of pure water in her left.
There’s also the Thousand Arms Guanyin, symbolizing her ability to reach out to all those who need her help.
Regional Depictions of Guanyin
Guanyin’s representation varies across different countries and regions, influenced by local culture and folklore:
- China: Guanyin is widely worshipped in China, with a strong presence in the coastal provinces. She is usually depicted as a kind and elegant woman dressed in white.
- Taiwan & Hong Kong: Guanyin is one of the most worshipped deities in both regions. She is often seen carrying a baby in some Taiwanese temples, symbolizing a giver of children to childless couples.
- Thailand & Vietnam: Guanyin, known as Kuan Eim in Thailand and Quan Âm in Vietnam, is often depicted in a slightly more masculine form, a tribute to her origins as Avalokiteśvara.
- Singapore & Malaysia: Guanyin holds a significant place in the hearts of the local Chinese community. Temples like the Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple in Singapore are popular pilgrimage sites.
In each of these regions, the core essence of Guanyin as the epitome of compassion, mercy, and kindness remains, illustrating her universal appeal and the far-reaching influence of her benevolence.
What Do People Usually Ask Guanyin for?
People typically seek Guanyin’s divine intervention for a range of reasons. Here are some common ones:
- Peace and Harmony: Many pray to Guanyin to bless their families with peace, harmony, and mutual understanding.
- Health and Healing: People often ask for Guanyin’s aid in overcoming health issues or for the recovery of loved ones who are sick.
- Protection: As Guanyin is seen as a protector, individuals may pray for her protection from physical or spiritual harm.
- Guidance: Those facing difficult situations or decisions might ask for Guanyin’s guidance to find the right path.
- Fertility: Guanyin is often sought out by couples who are having difficulty conceiving a child, as she is known as the “Goddess of Fertility”.
- Compassion: Individuals may ask for Guanyin’s help in cultivating a more compassionate and understanding heart towards others.
- Success and Prosperity: Some people pray to Guanyin for success in their business or personal endeavors and for prosperity in their lives.
What to Recite When Worshipping Guanyin Bodhisattva
Guanyin Bodhisattva, a revered spiritual figure, is still widely worshipped today. A common saying goes, “Men worship Guanyin, women believe in Buddha”.
Known for her thousand hands and eyes, Guanyin Bodhisattva signifies salvation from suffering, blessings of offspring, peace, protection, and disaster aversion.
Worship is more than just burning incense. There are specific steps to follow:
- Start by kneeling on both knees, lifting your hands above your head.
- Silently chant “Namo Great Compassionate, Great Merciful, Saviour from Suffering and Hardship, Guanyin Bodhisattva (南无大慈大悲救苦救难观世音菩萨)” along with your personal wishes.
- Bow down in respect to the Bodhisattva.
- End by completely laying flat on the ground, also known as full bowing.
How to Offer Incense to the Bodhisattva
Here’s what you need to be aware of:
- Wash your hands: Regardless of the region, clean hands are a prerequisite for worship. From a Buddhist perspective, hands, being most exposed to worldly dust, must be washed before offering incense.
- Incense burning method: Use three incense sticks. Do not break them. Light the incense and extinguish any flame by waving it (never blow it out). Facing the deity, raise the incense with both hands (level with your forehead), and bow.
- Asking for blessings and making wishes: After worship, step back slightly, ask for blessings, and express your wishes. This is considered a common courtesy.
Correct Method of Full Bowing During Buddha Worship
Follow these steps for a proper full bow:
- Stand straight with hands together. Feet should form an outward ‘eight’ shape, with heels about two inches apart, and toes about eight inches apart. Your eyes should focus on the tips of your middle fingers.
- Lower your right hand first while the left remains in the prayer position. Gradually bend at the waist, extending your right arm forward, pressing the right palm down in the center of the worship pad (or in front of your right knee). The left palm remains raised without moving, followed by kneeling down.
- After kneeling, extend your left palm down, pressing it on the left side of the worship pad’s center, beyond half a palm of the right hand. Do not move or flip your toes while worshipping Buddha.
- Move your right palm half a palm forward from the center of the worship pad, keeping it level with the left palm, about six inches apart. Place your forehead flat on the ground.
- Hold your palms in a hollow fist, flip them over, open your palms, and lay them back on the ground with the palms facing up. This is known as ‘head and face foot worship’. It’s the forehead, not the ‘top of the head’, that should touch the ground.
- When getting up, flip your fists over, open your palms facing down, touching the ground. Lift your head off the ground or the worship pad and return your right hand to the center of the worship pad.
- Lift your left palm back to your chest. Use your right palm to support your body as you stand up straight. Finish standing upright with your hands together.
Understanding the Meaning Behind Worshipping Buddha
Worshipping Buddha carries profound meanings. It’s a practice of repentance, self-reflection, cultivation of mindfulness, and expressing gratitude.
It embodies our respect and appreciation towards the Three Jewels of Buddhism: Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. By doing so, we not only elevate our character but also find tranquility in our mind and body.
Experience of Visiting a Temple
When you enter a temple, the serene surroundings invoke a deep sense of peace and tranquility. This quietude naturally urges you to enter the main hall and pay your respects to Buddha and other Bodhisattvas.
The soft, slow, and peaceful act of bowing down instills a sense of humility and stability in the devotee.
Buddha Worship: Not Superstition but Devotion
To those unfamiliar with Buddhism, worshipping Buddha may seem like superstition or idol worship. However, this act symbolizes our reverence and gratitude towards the Three Jewels.
It also provides an opportunity for us to express remorse for any negative karma we may have created. Therefore, it’s an essential religious practice that every Buddhist should learn.
The Gesture of Worship
Worshipping Buddha involves sincerely placing your hands together, bowing your head, bending your waist, and submitting oneself in reverence. As you kneel, your elbows, knees, and forehead touch the ground.
This act of ultimate respect signifies humility, an acknowledgment of one’s lack of merit and wisdom. The entire body connecting with the earth symbolizes our gratitude towards the nurturing planet and all beings it supports.
The Meaning and Layers of Worship
The act of worshipping Buddha reminds us that a heart full of respect, gratitude, and repentance bows in humility, akin to a stalk of ripe rice that bends from the weight of its grains.
Looking deeper, worshipping Buddha carries four distinct layers of meaning:
- Responsive Worship: Seeking blessings from Buddha and Bodhisattvas for good fortune, protection, guidance, and expressing gratitude.
- Respectful Worship: Revering the Three Jewels or expressing admiration and gratitude sincerely from the heart.
- Repentance Worship: Worship as a form of expressing remorse. Those who can genuinely perform this act are humble or learning to be humble. This form of worship can improve a person’s character, making them more honest, gentle, and modest.
- Formless Worship: This type of worship doesn’t seek anything in return. It consists of three stages. Initially, you are aware of your act of worship and experience each movement consciously. In the second stage, you are aware of the act and experience it, but the controlling mind is no longer present. In the final stage, you are neither controlling nor experiencing but are clearly aware that you are worshipping.
The Correct Approach to Worship
When worshipping Buddha, each movement should be slow, clear, relaxed, and natural. You should take time to experience every motion and the feelings that accompany it.
Rushing through the process can lead to panic and confusion, thereby losing the sense of peace and stability.
As you bow, let your forehead gently touch the ground, keep your back straight, and your body relaxed. After standing up, be mindful of your hands and feet’ movements and sensations. Feel every subtle part.
If worship is done mindlessly and without sincerity, it will have little impact on personal growth and character building.
You don’t need to be in a temple to worship Buddha. You can also do it at home or any spacious, bright place. Use this act of worship as a way to express your repentance and gratitude.
What to Avoid When Worshipping Guanyin
Here are a few additional items that are generally considered inappropriate to offer when worshiping Guanyin Bodhisattva or the Goddess of Mercy, based on Buddhist principles and customs:
- Alcohol: As alcohol is viewed as a substance that can cloud the mind and impede spiritual progress, it is typically not offered to Guanyin Bodhisattva.
- Onion, Garlic, Leek, Chives, and Shallots: These five pungent vegetables, also known as “Wu Hun” in Chinese, are typically avoided in the Buddhist cuisine as they are believed to excite the senses. As such, they are usually not used in offerings to Guanyin Bodhisattva.
- Durian and Other Smelly Fruits: Durian, along with other fruits that have a strong, pungent smell, might not be considered suitable. This is because the smell could be perceived as overpowering and might disturb the tranquility of the temple or shrine.
- Blemished or Spoiled Fruits: Only fresh and good quality fruits should be offered. Any fruit that is rotten, overripe, or has significant blemishes is generally not suitable for offerings. This principle of offering the best you have extends to the state of the fruit.
Interpreting the Meaning of Burning Your Hand with Incense Ash
If you’ve burned your hand with incense ash during a ritual, it might carry different implications based on the circumstances surrounding the event.
- Incorrect Ritual Practices: The burn might signify improper execution of the rituals of burning incense and paper offerings. It could be due to incorrect timing, a mistake in the written statement, or other inaccuracies that might displease the gods. In such situations, reach out to your spiritual guide or master to understand the underlying cause. They can provide advice and solutions based on the specific details of your burn. This type of burn often happens when you don’t follow proper guidance during worship.
- Divine Warning about Your Spiritual Guide: If you can rule out the first situation, the burn might indicate a divine message warning you about your current spiritual guide. It implies that your guide may not be leading you along the right path. This often happens if your altar is improperly set up due to misguided advice. If this is the case, you should seek guidance from a different, more reliable spiritual master to correct the setup.
- Unsuccessful House Cleansing or Exorcism: A more complex scenario happens during house cleansing or exorcism rituals. If you’re burnt during these rituals, it might mean the cleansing wasn’t successful, or the evil spirits are resisting departure. This situation is serious, and you should consult a trusted spiritual guide without delay. In such cases, it’s believed that the spirits have lost their rationality and refuse to accept the offerings.
- Predicting a Calamity or Highlighting Disruptive Behaviour: If a devotee who has been worshipping at a temple altar for many years suddenly gets burnt, it may suggest a forthcoming calamity at home. It should be addressed immediately. Alternatively, if a disciple disrupts harmony within the temple, the divine master might signal this by causing a burn during incense lighting. If a descendant is burnt while visiting their ancestors’ grave, it may imply that they’ve committed wrongdoings or spoken ill words, displeasing the ancestors. In these instances, an immediate apology is required. You can use sacrificial wine on the burn as a remedial measure.
- Divine Acceptance and Blessing: The rarest and most extraordinary situation is when the burn signifies divine acceptance of your offerings and assistance in overcoming obstacles. It’s akin to the scar that a monk receives during ordination, symbolizing divine blessing. Such burns are painless and may even bring joy, reinforcing your faith. If positive changes follow the burn, like a cured illness, repaid debt, smooth affairs, or receiving help from a benefactor, it’s a divine hint suggesting, “It’s time for you to have faith in me.”
Omens Associated With Being Burnt by Incense
- The emergence of karmic obstructions: This indicates that the person offering the incense is facing complex karmic hindrances that cannot be resolved merely by burning incense. It’s recommended that the person not only needs to repent and correct their mistakes but also seeks guidance from a trusted spiritual teacher as soon as possible. This is not something that should be postponed or delayed. It is time to confront and resolve the issue.
- Evil spirits or negative entities affecting the person: This suggests that the person offering incense is plagued by negative forces that are powerful enough to freely enter and exit temples and shrines. This isn’t something an ordinary person can handle. Likewise, it indicates that the person offering the incense is deeply entangled in negative karma. Otherwise, they wouldn’t attract such powerful negative entities while burning incense.
- Neglect or oversight of duties: This means that the person offering the incense may have forgotten to perform a certain task after entering the temple, failed to fulfill a vow, or did something inappropriate, such as taking something they shouldn’t have. The person should make up for these oversights as soon as possible after being reminded. If they can’t do so immediately, they should repent on the spot.
- Offensive or disrespectful actions: This refers to the person offering incense having spoken out of turn, committed a taboo, or acted disrespectfully. Such behavior is typically evidenced in misguided fanaticism, misleading others within the temple, showing off personal spiritual progress, or going against traditional teachings.
- Unfulfilled wishes or desires: This indicates that the person’s wishes or desires are unattainable, unrealistic, or are potentially harmful to others. Such wishes or desires would not be granted by the divine, and the resulting burn may cause a particularly painful sting.
- Fulfilled wishes or desires: This is the complete opposite of the previous point. It means that the wishes or desires of the person offering incense will be granted swiftly. The burn in this scenario is different, it doesn’t hurt and heals surprisingly quickly, symbolizing a completely different meaning.
- Divine blessing and empowerment: This typically happens to practitioners of spiritual disciplines. Such a burn is akin to a spiritual mark, like burning a finger as an offering to Buddha. It signifies divine blessings to the devotees, urging them to make more diligent spiritual progress. The burn pain at this moment is refreshing and enlightening, acting as a beacon in the sea of suffering.
- A reminder to maintain discipline in spiritual practice: This suggests that the person offering incense has breached some sort of spiritual conduct. The minor punishment of a burn serves as a warning. Devotees must accept this humbly, maintain humility, acknowledge their mistakes, follow the spiritual path correctly, and progress wisely.
- Deliberate disaster mitigation: This shows that the divine entities manifest their powers and help the person offering incense avoid calamities, reducing major issues into minor ones, and resolving small issues entirely. The person may not realize it at the moment, but within a few days, they may notice they have dodged a major catastrophe, further deepening their faith in the divine power.
- Spiritual connection and enlightenment: This implies that the person offering incense has made progress in their spiritual practice. At the moment of the burn, they may achieve deeper understanding and enlightenment – something that is envied by other spiritual practitioners. It’s not just about personal advancement but also serves as a model for others, encouraging collective spiritual growth and understanding.
Decoding Incense Burn Omens
- Karmic Obstructions: A burn can indicate that the person offering the incense is facing complex karmic hindrances. These cannot be resolved merely by burning incense. It’s suggested that one must repent, correct their mistakes, and seek advice from a trusted spiritual teacher promptly. This is a situation that should not be deferred but faced and resolved.
- Influence of Negative Entities: This suggests that negative forces might be affecting the person. These forces can even freely enter temples and shrines, signifying deep entanglement in negative karma. This is a situation that requires immediate spiritual guidance and intervention.
- Oversight of Duties: If the person offering incense has neglected certain tasks, failed to fulfill a vow, or acted improperly, a burn can act as a reminder. It’s advised that one should rectify these oversights promptly or express immediate repentance.
- Disrespectful Actions: A burn can indicate that the person offering incense has behaved disrespectfully, possibly through misguided fanaticism, misleading others, showing off personal spiritual progress, or going against traditional teachings.
- Unfulfilled or Harmful Desires: The burn might hint that a person’s wishes or desires are unattainable, unrealistic, or harmful. The divine wouldn’t grant such wishes, and the resulting burn may be notably painful.
- Fulfilled Desires: Conversely, a painless burn that heals quickly could suggest that the wishes of the person offering incense will be swiftly granted.
- Divine Blessing and Empowerment: Sometimes, a burn can serve as a spiritual mark, akin to an offering to Buddha. It symbolizes divine blessings encouraging devotees towards diligent spiritual progress. The burn may feel refreshingly enlightening, acting as guidance amidst life’s challenges.
- Reminder of Spiritual Discipline: A burn can be a warning against breaching spiritual conduct. It’s a gentle reminder for devotees to humbly acknowledge their mistakes, follow the correct spiritual path, and progress wisely.
- Disaster Mitigation: A burn could also indicate divine intervention to help avoid major calamities, reducing significant issues to minor ones, or even eliminating smaller problems. This realization can deepen one’s faith in the divine.
- Spiritual Connection and Enlightenment: Lastly, a burn might suggest spiritual progress. It can lead to a deeper understanding and enlightenment that inspires others and encourages collective spiritual growth and understanding.
Towards Correct Worship of Guanyin Bodhisattva, the Goddess of Mercy
Throughout this article, we’ve explored various situations in which incense burns might occur during the worship of Guanyin Bodhisattva, and what they could potentially signify.
From karmic obstructions to divine blessings, these signs give us guidance on how to enhance our spiritual practice.
This knowledge is invaluable as we strive towards the correct worship of Guanyin Bodhisattva, the Goddess of Mercy. Understanding and responding to these signs could align our practices better with the divine will, bringing us closer to the true essence of Guanyin Bodhisattva’s teachings.
As we conclude, it’s important to reflect – are we paying heed to these signals during our worship? Are we conducting our practices with the right intent and respect, adhering to the correct path as shown by Guanyin Bodhisattva?
May this understanding guide us in our spiritual journey, leading us towards more authentic and respectful worship of Guanyin Bodhisattva, fostering a deeper spiritual connection, and ultimately, attaining peace and enlightenment.
Who is Guanyin Bodhisattva or the Goddess of Mercy?
Guanyin Bodhisattva, also known as the Goddess of Mercy, is a prominent figure in Buddhism, known for her compassion. She is considered a bodhisattva, a being who has vowed to attain enlightenment to help all sentient beings.
Why do people worship Guanyin Bodhisattva or the Goddess of Mercy?
People worship Guanyin Bodhisattva for her compassion and her promise to assist those in distress. She is believed to aid in a variety of issues including health, relationships, and personal growth.
How often should one worship Guanyin Bodhisattva?
The frequency of worship is a personal choice. Some people may choose to pray daily, while others might do so weekly or on specific occasions. The emphasis is more on the sincerity and mindfulness of the worship, rather than the frequency.
When is Guanyin’s birthday in 2023?
Guanyin, the Bodhisattva of Compassion, is traditionally celebrated three times a year in the Chinese lunar calendar. The birthdays fall on the 19th day of the 2nd, 6th, and 9th lunar months. In 2023, these dates translate to 10th March, 5th August and 2nd November on the Gregorian calendar.
Can anyone worship Guanyin Bodhisattva or the Goddess of Mercy?
Yes, anyone can worship Guanyin Bodhisattva. She represents universal compassion, and her worship is open to all regardless of their background or belief system.
What offerings are needed to worship Guanyin Bodhisattva or the Goddess of Mercy?
The offerings to Guanyin Bodhisattva typically include fresh fruits, flowers, incense, and clean water. Sometimes, devotees also offer vegetarian food as a symbol of compassion towards all sentient beings. It’s important to remember that the intention behind the offering matters more than the offering itself.
What are the fruits or food that should not be used to worship Guanyin Bodhisattva or the Goddess of Mercy?
As a symbol of compassion, it is generally advised to avoid offering any meat or fish products when worshipping Guanyin Bodhisattva. In terms of fruits, while traditions may vary, it’s common to avoid fruits like lemons and limes which are considered sour, symbolizing a difficult or ‘sour’ life. However, these guidelines can vary based on personal belief and local customs.
Is it necessary to visit a temple to worship Guanyin Bodhisattva?
While visiting a temple can be a profound experience, it is not a necessity. One can create a simple altar at home or find a peaceful, clean space to worship Guanyin Bodhisattva.