Historically, Guan Yu was a legendary military general (160-219 CE), loyal to Emperor Liu Bei. Also known as the “Lord with the Magnificent Beard,” he is usually depicted with a red face (symbolizing extreme courage and loyalty) and holding a long-handled sword known as a “guandao.” He is regarded as a Taoist saint and god of war and martial arts. After he died he sought refuge with a Buddhist master and quickly obtained liberation whereupon he became a protector of the Dharma.
The couplets on the pavilion of the Dharma Protecting Deity at Hua Zang Si in San Francisco express the profound dharma expounded by H. H. Dorje Chang Buddha III. The first line of the couplets is “Yu quan shan zhong li miao tang di jun gui fo men.” This explains that Guan Yu took refuge in Master Zhiyi at Yuquan Hill. He then manifested great supernatural power and constructed the Yuquan Temple overnight on a barren lot, where he resolved to become a protector of Buddhism. The other line of the couplet is “Guan sheng ting quian yao qian yun ling gan shi guo yin.” Even before the statue of Guan Yu was installed at Hua Zang Si, it has manifested great efficacious power. It is for these reasons that it is most auspicious to have this pavilion and statue in the temple garden. Every year Hua Zang Si and other temples celebrate the holy birthday of the Dharma Protecting Deity, Guan Yu to pray that disasters will be minimized, evil eradicated, and good promoted so as to bring harmony to families and happiness to our life and to safeguard the country. Guan Yu Bodhisattva watches over worldly matters while Skanda Bodhisattva watches over dharma affairs.
It is a tradition in Buddhist temples that Guan Yu Bodhisattva is asked for advice. Followers will shake a collection of sticks. Each stick has a unique number that corresponds to certain insights and words of advice. The Holy Vajrasana Temple has a small shrine for Guan Yu and the collection of his advice in English for anyone seeking it.
Click for news article on the installation of the Guan Yu statue at Hua Zang Si in San Francisco.