Joseph Campbell’s tale of Kuan-yin

“I have a wonderful story about Kuan-yin, one of the personifications of the great Mahayana Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, the embodiment of compassion.

It seems that Kuan-yin realized that in a certain part of China, out in the rural areas, nobody had ever heard of enlightenment. They were all interested in horse racing and all this macho stuff. So she turns herself into a gloriously beautiful girl, comes into town with fresh fish from the river to sell, and when her basket is empty, she disappears. Early this next day, this beautiful fishselling girl is there again, and then once again, she disappears. This daily pattern continues, and soon all of the men have become enchanted by her.

One morning, when she appears, about ten or twenty of them surround her and say, “You have to marry one of us.” “Well,” she says, “I cannot marry twenty men, but tomorrow morning, if one of you can recite by heart the Sutra of the Compassionate Kuan-yin, I will marry that man.” The next morening, a dozen men know the entire sutra by heart, so she says, “Well, I cannot marry all of you, but I will marry the one who can interpret this sutra to me tomorrow.”

The next day, there are four men who can interpret the sutra, so now she says, “I am only one woman, and I can’t marry four men, but if one of you has experienced the meaning of this sutra three days from now, then I will marry that man.”

Three days later, there is but one man waiting for her. Now she says, “My little house is down by the bend in the river. Come there this evening and you will be my husband.”

So that evening, he goes to where the shore bends and comes to a little house. An old couple is standing outside, and the old man says, “Oh, we’ve been waiting a long, long time for you. Our daughter is inside.” BUt when goes into the room, it’s empty. She isn’t there. So he looks out the window and sees footprints, which he follows down to the river, where he finds a little pair of shoes at the water’s edge, but no girl.

Then, as he’s standing there, with the reeds blowing and so forth, he realizes that all the reeds and everything else is she. Through her allure and charm, which is what the female figure represents in these Mahayana images, he realizes the nirvanic grace of beauty in the universe. Having understood the sutra, he knew what he was experiencing, and he received illumination”.    Joseph Campbell, Reflections on the Art of Living

~ by R.M. McGrath on 07/23/2012.

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