the Wanderling

In China Kuan-yin (Avalokitesvara) came to be most frequently worshipped in female form as the Goddess of Mercy. This transformation from an originally male deity into a female one seems to have occurred sometime during the Northern Sung dynasty (960-1126) and is reflected in Kuan-yin's miraculous appearance in human form in the legend of Miao-shan.

The cult to Miao-shan at Fragrant Mountain Monastery (Hsiang-shan ssu) was first made public in an inscription written by Chiang Chih-ch'i (1031-1104) in 1100. Before then this monastery had been known for its splendid statue of Kuan-yin as the Great Compassionate One (Ta-pei) with a thousand arms and a thousand eyes. The legend recorded by Chiang identifies the Fragrant Mountain Monastery as the location of Kuan-yin's manifestation, where she revealed herself in her Great Compassionate form with a thousand arms and eyes, neatly joining the Miao-shan legend with the image of Kuan-yin enshrined in the monastery. It went on to claim that the relics of Kuan-yin were enshrined in a stupa, thus making Fragrant Mountain Monastery a popular pilgrimage center. An inscription of 1185, commemorating the restoration of the Fragrant Mountain Monastery, noted that since around 1100, "the abbots of this monastery successively built it up on a magnificent scale and with increasing extravagance. Because the bodhisattva's relics were there in the stupa and many miracles were wrought, every spring in the second lunar month people from all parts would come, regardless of distance. The worshippers must have numbered tens of thousands, and they made donations according to their means. The monks of the monastery had no need to go begging to meet their annual budget. They had more than enough to eat."

The oldest extant version of the legend is preserved in a chronicle of Buddhism in China, the Lung-hsing fo-chiao pien-nien t'ung-lun, written in 1164 by Tsu-hsiu. The story, as adapted from the translation by Glen Dudbridge (pp. 25-34), goes as follows:

Tao-hsüan (596-667) once asked a divine spirit about the history of the bodhisattva Kuan-yin. The spirit replied:

In the past there was a king whose name was [Miao]-chuang-yen. His lady was named Pao-ying. She bore three daughters, the eldest Miao-yen, the second Miao-yin, and the youngest Miao-shan.

At the time of Miao-shan's conception the queen dreamed that she swallowed the moon. When the time came for the child to be born, the whole earth quaked, and wonderful fragrance and heavenly flowers were spread near and far. The people of that country were astounded. At birth she was clean and fresh without being washed. Her holy marks were noble and majestic, her body was covered over with many-colored clouds. The people said that these were signs of the incarnation of a holy person. Although the parents thought this extraordinary, their hearts were corrupt, and so they detested her.

As she grew up the bodhisattva became naturally kind and gentle. She dressed plainly and ate only once a day. In the palace she was known as "the maiden with the heart of a Buddha." By her good grace the ladies in waiting were converted; all turned to the good life and renounced their desires. The king took some exception to this and prepared to find her a husband. Miao-shan, with integrity and wisdom, said: "Riches and honor are not there for ever, glory and splendor are like mere bubbles or illusions. Even if you force me to do base menial work, I will never repent [of my resolve to remain chaste]."

When the king and his lady sent for her and tried to coax her, she said: "I will obey your august command if it will prevent three misfortunes."

The king asked: "What do you mean by 'three misfortunes'?"

She said: "The first is this: when the men of this world are young, their face is as fair as the jade-like moon, but when they grow old, their hair turns white and their face is wrinkled; in motion or repose they are in every way worse off than when they were young. The second is this: a man's limbs may be lusty and vigorous, he may step as lithely as if flying through the air, but when suddenly an illness befalls him, he lies in bed without a single pleasure in life. The third is this: a man may have a great assembly of relatives, may be surrounded by his nearest and dearest, but suddenly one day it all comes to an end [with his death]; although father and son are close kin they cannot take one another's place. If it can prevent these three misfortunes, then you will win my consent to a marriage. If not, I prefer to retire to pursue a life of religion. When one gains full understanding of the original mind, all misfortunes of their own accord cease to exist."

The king was angry. He forced her to work at gardening and reduced her food and drink. Even her two sisters went privately to make her change her mind, but Miao-shan held firm and would not turn back. When the queen personally admonished her, Miao-shan said: "In all the emotional entanglements of this world there is no term of spiritual release. If close kin are united, they must inevitably be sundered and scattered. Rest at ease, mother. Luckily you have my two sisters to care for you. Do not be concerned about Miao-shan."

The queen and the two sisters therefore asked the king to release her to follow a religious calling. The king was angry. He called for the nuns [at White Sparrow monastery, Po-ch'üeh ssu] and charged them to treat her so harshly that she would change her mind. The nuns were intimidated and gave her the heaviest tasks to do--fetching wood and water, working with pestle and mortar, and running the kitchen garden. In response to her, the vegetables flourished even in winter, and a spring welled up beside the kitchen.

Much time went by, and Miao-shan still held firm to her purpose. When the king heard about the miracles of the vegetables and the spring of water, he was furious. He sent soldiers to bring back her head and to kill the nuns. As they were arriving, mountains of cloud and fog suddenly appeared, totally obscuring everything. When it cleared, Miao-shan was the one person they could not find. She had been borne off by a spirit to a crag in another place, there to live. The spirit then said: "The land here is too barren to sustain existence." He moved her altogether three times before they reached the present Fragrant Mountain (Hsiang-shan). Miao-shan dwelt there, eating from the trees, drinking from the streams.

Time went by, and the king contracted jaundice. His whole body was corrupt and suppurating, and he could no longer sleep or eat. None of the doctors could cure him. He was about to die when a monk appeared, saying he was well able to cure him, but would need the arms and eyes of one free from anger. The king found this proposal extremely difficult to meet. The monk said: "On Fragrant Mountain, in the south-west of your majesty's dominion, there is a bodhisattva engaged in religious practices. If you send a messenger to present your request to her you can count on obtaining the two things."

The king had no choice but to command a palace equerry to go and convey his message. Miao-shan said: "My father showed disrespect to the Three Treasures, he persecuted the suppressed the True Doctrine, he executed innocent nuns. This called for retribution." Then she gladly cut out her eyes and severed her arms. Giving them to the envoy, she added instructions to exhort the king to turn towards the good, no longer to be deluded by false doctrines.

When the two things were submitted to him, the monk made them up into medicine. The king took it and instantly recovered. He generously rewarded the monk-physician. But the monk said: "Why thank me? You should be thanking the one who provided the arms and eyes." Suddenly he was gone. The king was startled by this divine intervention. Ordering a coach, he went with his lady and two daughters to the hills to thank the bodhisattva.

They met, and before words were spoken the queen already recognized her--it was Miao-shan. They found themselves choking with tears. Miao-shan said: "Does my lady remember Miao-shan? Mindful of my father's love, I have repaid him with my arms and eyes." Hearing her words, the king and queen embraced her, bitterly weeping. The queen was about to lick the eyes with her tongue, but before she could do so, auspicious clouds enclosed all around, divine musicians began to play, the earth shook, and flowers rained down. And then the holy manifestation of the Thousand Arms and Thousand Eyes was revealed, hovering majestically in the air. Attendants numbered tens of thousands, voices celebrating [the bodhisattva's] compassion resounded to shake the mountains and valleys. In a moment, the bodhisattva reverted to her former person, then with great solemnity departed. The king, the queen, and the two sisters made a funeral pyre, preserved the holy relics, and on that same mountain built a stupa.

Tao-hsüan again asked: "The bodhisattva can take mortal form in any place and surely ought not to be present solely at Fragrant Mountain." The spirit replied: "Of all sites at present within the bounds of China, Fragrant Mountain is pre-eminent. The mountain lies two hundred leagues to the south of Mount Sung. It is the same as the Fragrant Mountain in present day Ju-chou."[1]










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Bodhidharma, Hui'ko, Hui Shen, Hui Neng, Shih-t'ou Hsi-ch'ien, Zhaozhou, Moshan Liaoran, Mugai Nyodai,
Nagarjuna, Ganapati Muni, Kuan Yin, Tung-Shan, Lin Chi, Te Shan, Dogen



Footnote [1]



"It is believed that Kuan Yin frequently appears in the sky or on the waves to save those who call upon her when in danger. Personal stories can be heard in Taiwan, for instance, from those who report that during World War II when the United States bombed the Japanese-occupied Taiwan, she appeared in the sky as a young maiden, catching the bombs and covering them with her white garments so they would not explode."

QUAN YIN: Compassionate Saviouress

As impossible or improbable as Kuan Yin appearing in the sky catching and covering bombs with her white garments so they would not explode may sound to some, for me it was quite different. Not long after the war, when I was a young boy in the fourth or fifth grade or so, and many, many years before I came to know of Kuan Yin or of the bombing of Taiwan on an intellectual or learned level, I met an elderly (to me) Chinese man who related the story to me, he having personally been caught in one of the bombing raids --- and not only an actual on the ground eyewitness to the Kuan Yin event, but his life being saved because of it.

During those grammar school days when the Chinese man told me of his experience, a couple of my buddies and I used to pull a Radio Flyer through the alleys around our neighborhood a few days a week collecting pop and beer bottles for the deposit. After we collected a wagon load we would turn them in various places around of which one was a bar. In the process of pounding on the back door to get someone to trade the bottles in for cash I got to know the dishwasher at the bar, an elderly Chinese man.

As a young boy without a lot of experience in the matter --- and never with my buddies --- I used to go by the bar and meditate in the alley with the old man even without the necessity of turning in soda or beer bottles for the deposit. Sitting in the shade on the back steps amongst the garbage cans and flies behind the bar one afternoon, while drinking hot tea out of tiny little cups with no handles in a near ritual-like tea ceremony he insisted on, the elderly Chinese man told me a story about the bombing of Japanese occupied Taiwan by B-29 Superfortresses of the United States Army Air Force during World War II.


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He said from ancient times there was a "girl Buddha" whose followers believed that reciting the mantra Om Mani Padme Hum would, because of her compassion, deliver them from harm. He said even though he himself had not practiced or invoked the mantra, while seeking refuge in the midst of the attack he inadvertently ended up amongst a group of believers who were also running to find shelter from the explosions. Then, while within the group, most of whom were verbally repeating the mantra, overhead, pure white and almost cloud-like the "girl Buddha" appeared in the sky above them actually deflecting the trajectory of the bombs away from their exposed path until they reached safety and out of harms way.

In July 1944, a B-29 pilot who was a close friend of my uncle, and who I had met, was killed on a bombing run from India over the Himalayas into China then onto Japan when his Superfortress crashed. Please see:




The mantra came up because of a 1940s comic book superhero called The Green Lama that used the Om Mani Padme Hum mantra much like Billy Batson used Shazam to become Captain Marvel --- to invoke superpowers --- and, in the Green Lama's case, like Captain Marvel, gaining super strength, invulnerability, the ability to fly, and even being impervious to bullets to the point of being bulletproof. The old dishwasher had six or eight copies of the Green Lama, all in like-new mint condition, of which, for whatever reason, he gave to me.

During those back alley sessions, if the Chinese man used any names relative to the "girl Buddha" I don't recall them. Anything I know about her other than his description of the protection she provided, I have garnered later in life. Basically the "girl Buddha," or more respectfully, female Buddha, is known as Kuan Yin (also known as Quan Shi Yin and Kwan Yin), a Chinese female incarnation of Chenrezig (Avalokiteshvara) the Bodhisattva of Compassion. A bodhisattva is an Enlightened being who has decided to "stay in the world" rather than becoming a fully Enlightened Buddha and living a compassionate life for the sake of all beings. With the mantra, Om Mani Padme Hum, Kuan Yin tirelessly attempts to deliver all beings from suffering. The following, relative to Shambhala and Kuan Yin, is found in Kuan Lin link previously cited. The complete book in PDF, free with no sign ups, is available below through a click through link:

"In the book SHAMBHALA: Oasis of Light, by Andrew Tomas (1977) the author, who spent many years studying the myths and legends of the Far East, writes that the Kunlun Mountains of the Tibetan Plateau in Qinghai Province holds a very important place in Chinese mythology. It is in the Kunlun range that the Immortals are believed to be, living in a mysterious hermitage said to exist somewhere beyond time in a remote area known under a variety of names such as Gyanganj, Shambhala or Shangri-La and, according to Tomas in his book, ruled by Hsi Wang Mu, the Queen Mother of the West. Hsi Wang Mu, is also known as Kuan Yin, the goddess of mercy and compassion."


In modern times, located in the U.S. desert southwest half a world away from the Green Lama's Himalayas, in one of the fabled Seven Cities of Cibola, more specifically the ancient Zuni pueblo site known by the name Kyaki:Ma, there was said to have been discovered amongst the ruins, a sandstone slab inscribed with Tibetan script, one of which was clearly "Om Mani Padme Hum."

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