The Qielan Hall

(This article was published in the Shenzhen Daily on July 4, 2016.)

Guanyu/Qielan in three forms, Nangshan Cishou Temple, Putian, Fujian

We have talked before of the popular Daoist figure Guanyu, who has his own temples (one is located in Shenzhen's Xin'an Old City). We mentioned there that Buddhists know him as "Qielan." Here's his story.

The Master Zhiyi, founder of the Tiantai sect of Buddhism, was seated in deep meditation near Dangyang, in western Hubei Province. His thoughts were troubled, though, by an insistent spirit--the ghost of Guanyu. He had been executed centuries before not too far from that spot, and he had been beheaded. His head was buried "with full honors," the chroniclers note, in Luoyang, to the north. His body, however, lay in Dangyang, not far from Zhiyi's seat.

The troubled spirit, then, appeared to the Master and asked him for Buddhist instruction. The Master was more than happy to comply. After instruction, Guanyu received the Triple Gem--the initiation ceremony into Buddhism--followed by the Five Precepts, another level of initiation.

But the Master's gift was not without strings. The place where he was seated was Yuquan Mountain, and he wanted to build Yuquan Temple there. He asked Guanyu's help, who gladly gave it--and cleared the site in just one night!

Hidden in this ghostly tale is a more mundane meaning: Zhiyi may have appropriated a local Daoist god in order to justify his establishment of a Buddhist institution on the site.

And so Guanyu became Qielan, a minor bodhisattva whose task is to guard temples. You may find him near the front gate, in the Main Hall, or in some temples in a hall of his own.

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