Monday, September 05, 2005

THE Guan Yin(Goddess of Mercy) Temple

Location: on a hilly slope along Jalan Maharajalela (across the road from the Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall)

Accessibility: Monorail(Jalan Maharajalela)-elevalated transit station right next door.

THE Guan Yin Temple is one of the few temples in Kuala Lumpur that are more than a century old. It is the oldest Guan Yin Temple in Kuala Lumpur.

Entering the worship hall, one finds the central feature – a statue of Sakyamuni Buddha in a sitting posture.Alongside this is a statue of a thousand-armed and thousand-eyed Guan Yin and statues of the three Fa Zhu Gung brothers. According to a visiting devotee who wished to be known only as Allen, the Sakyamuni Buddha represents the highest level of enlightenment and is thus the main worshipping altar.

“Guan Yin is the goddess of mercy who will help those who are suffering while the Fa Zhu Gung brothers are guardian deities who guard the peace,” he said.

Pedestrians on the sidewalk along Jalan Maharajalela might also have noticed a pair of ominous-looking black stone lions guarding the small entrance at the bottom of the stairs.

The temple has an interesting history, dating back to the time of early Chinese immigrants in Malaysia and has survived turbulent periods such as the Japanese Occupation, the Communist insurgency, as well as two fires. According to records, the Guan Yin Temple started out as a small and simple structure in 1898 as a place of worship for the Hokkien Chinese.At that time, there was a Chinese cemetery on the site that Stadium Merdeka stands today.

It was surmised that the temple was originally built to serve as a spiritual comfort zone for visitors to the cemetery then. It was not until 1911 that a monk, known only as Kwang Tung, arrived from the city of Fuzhou in China to bless the temple and designate it a holy place.

On March 28, 1919, the ruling British government officially confirmed the temple as a place of worship to be cared for by the Selangor Hokkien Association.

The primary statues inside the temple today were apparently the result of the arrival in 1938 of a monk called Tak Chen from China’s Fujian province. With money collected from a fundraiser, the temple carried out extensive renovations with the primary statues installed inside.

On Dec 24, 1963, it suffered minor damage when fire from a nearby building spread to it but was repaired later by the Selangor Hokkien Association.

However, worse was to come when on Feb 13, 1989, a conflagration broke out in two neighbouring buildings and spread to the temple.This time, it suffered extensive damages with sections of the building caving in and, subsequently, the authorities declared it off-limits to the public.

Again, the temple was repaired and reopened nine months later. In April the following year, renovation work began and was completed a year later at an estimated cost of RM300,000.
Current temple caretaker Hooi Ming Hung, 55, told Star Metro that not one primary statue was damaged during the two fires.

“It is strange but that is what happened,” he chuckled before saying that the temple nowadays was usually a quiet place unless there were celebrations such as the New Moon Day and Full Moon Day when free vegetarian lunch was served to the public.

Admission is free .


There are many legends about the origin of Kuan Yin, but this in one of the most popular. In 7th century China, a king had three daughters, the youngest named Miao-Shan. At the time of Miao-Shan's birth, the earth trembled and a wonderful fragrance and flower blossoms sprang up around the land.

Many of the local people said they saw the signs of a holy incarnation on her body. While the king and queen were amazed by this blessing. Unfortunately, they were corrupt and saw little value in a child who appeared pure and kind. When Miao-Shan got older, the king wanted to find a husband for her. She told her father she would only marry if by so doing she would be able to help alleviate the suffering of all mankind. The king became enraged when he heard of her devotion to helping others, and forced her to slave away at menial tasks. Her mother, the queen, and her two sisters admonished her, all to no avail.

In desperation, the king decided to let her pursue her religious calling at a monastery, but ordered the nuns there to treat her so badly she would change her mind. She was forced to collect wood and water, and tend a garden for the kitchen. They thought this would be impossible, since the land around the monastery was barren. To everyone's amazement, the garden flourished, even in winter, and a spring welled up out of nowhere next to the kitchen. When the king heard about these miracles, he decided that he was going to kill Miao-Shan. After all, the nuns who were supposed to have tormented her. But as his henchmen arrived at the monastery, a spirit came out of a fog of clouds and carried her away to safety on a remote island. She lived there on her own for many years, pursuing a life of of religious dedication.

Several years later, her father became seriously ill. He was unable to sleep or eat; his doctors believed he would certainly die soon. As he was about to pass, a monk came to visit the king. The monk told the king he could cure the monarch, but he would have to grind up the arms and eyes of one free from hatred to make the medicine. The king thought this was impossible, but the monk assured him that there was a Bodhisattva living in the king's domain who would gladly surrender those items if asked. The king sent an envoy to find this unknown bodhisattva.

When the envoy made the request, Miao-Shan gladly cut out her eyes and severed her arms. The envoy returned and the monk made the medicine. The king instantly recovered. When the king thanked the monk; he chastised the king by saying, "You should thank the one who gave her eyes and arms." Suddenly, the monk disappeared. The king believed this was divine intervention and after ordering a coach prepared headed off with his family to find and thank the unknown bodhisattva. When the royal family arrived they realized it is was their daughter, Miao-Shan, who had made the sacrifice.

Miao-Shan spoke up, "Mindful of my father's love, I have repaid him with my eyes and arms." With eyes full of tears and hearts full of shame, the family gathered to hug Miao-Shan. As they did so auspicious clouds formed around Miao-Shan. The earth trembled, flowers rained down, and a holy manifestation of the Thousand Eyes and Thousand Arms appeared hovering in the air. And then, the bodhisattva was gone. To honor Miao-Shan the royal family built a shrine on the spot, which is known as Fragrant Mountain.

*BODHISATTVA (also spelled Boddhisattva): Literally means "enlightened being"; a soul who, through compassion and altruism, has earned the right to leave this world of suffering and enter nirvana, but has chosen instead to stay on Earth to instruct others to until all beings are enlightened. A Bodhisattva acts as the key figure in Mahayana Buddhism.*

By Wendy


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