Ti: The Protector of Buddhism
the year 162 A.D. during the period of the warring states
of the Three Kingdoms, a child was born to a humble
family in Shansi who grew up to become China's most
illustrious and outstanding 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. Thousands
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 walls of countless
homes whether they be Taoist, Confucianist or Buddhist.
a country with wars and rebellions throughout its history
of the various Dynasties, great heroes have emerged
and distinguished themselves in every way to deserve
veneration and remembrance but none has ever equalled
Kuan Ti to gain elevation 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.
as Kuan Yu he led a simple life and made his living
as a young man by selling bean-curds, which provided
the excuse for the bean-curd sellers to respect him
as their patron saint today. He also devoted much time
to serious studies and on one occasion displayed his
excellent 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.
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 concubine. This 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 appearance!
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
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 impoverished family with Imperial
lineage was known to be a man of honour. He later distinguished
himself by founding the Later Han Dynasty. Kuan Yu,
a powerful figure of more than eight feet tall, possessed
an enigmatic personality and integrity, which won him
respect of all whom he met.
these three newly sworned brothers set out and became
involved in military pursuits, Kuan Ti once serving
under the crafty and famous Ts'ao Ts'ao. They displayed
great military prowess and fought many battles, which
can be read in full details in the famous novels of
"The Romance of the Three Kingdoms".
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 allocated a common sleeping quarters
with the ladies, he preserved their reputation and his
own trustworthiness by sitting all night through, outside
their door, reading a book under the bright light of
a candle There 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
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 rebellions 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 unflinchingly, there was an occasion when
he was wounded by a poisoned arrow, which required the
arrow and the poison to be removed. He calmly submitted
himself to the terrible ordeal and allowed his arm to
be cut opened and scratched to the bone by his physician
while he concentrated his attention on a game of chess,
without showing the least sign of pain.
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 consciousness appeared to a Buddhist monk seeking
instruction on the Buddha's teachings.
to the Buddhist account, Kuan Yu manifested himself
before the Tripitaka Master Chi Tsai, the founder of
Tien Tai Buddhism, with a retinue of spiritual beings.
The 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 the
Five Precepts and became a Buddhist practitioner. He
then vowed that he would from then on 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 Buddhist temples. The 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 normally found in the first
hall of most temples and incense is 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 greatest military hero whoever 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
In 1120 the Sung Emperor ennobled him as the "Faithful
and Loyal Duke". Eight years later he again conferred
him another title, that of "The Magnificent Prince
In 1330 Emperor Wen of the Yuan Dynasty honoured him
with the title of "Warrior Prince and Civilizer".
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 thousands 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.
In 1813 the Ching Emperor added the appellation "Military
Emperor" and Kuan Ti was regarded as the Patron
of the Manchu Dynasty.
In 1856 during the battle between the Imperialists and
the rebels, Kuan Ti was said to have appeared in the
heavens, which helped to turn the tide of the battle
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.
these awards have helped the people to remember and
worship 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 manners
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 followers 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 Three Jewels.
a Buddhist deity, Kuan Ti stands alone but as a Taoist
deity two other companions usually accompany him. A
young looking man is always portrayed 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.
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 ways to Kuan Ti temples at the start of the Chinese
New Year to offer prayers of gratitude for favours rendered
and to seek his continued protection for the coming