If living beings encounter weariness or peril,
immeasurable suffering pressing them down.
the power of the Perceiver of Sounds’ wonderful wisdom
can save them from the sufferings of the world.
[via mindfulness of her]
– Lotus Sutra
There once was a king who had three daughters. The youngest was named Miao Shan, meaning ‘wonderful virtue.’ At the moment of her birth, the earth shook, the sky rained down flowers, and a delicate scent filled the air around her. Many people said these signs indicated a most sacred incarnation. But the king and queen cared little about this – they were both greedy. The only thing they wanted was to acquire as much material wealth as possible, and they found it difficult to understand this little girl, who was pure of heart and focused exclusively on virtuous deeds. When Miao Shan grew up, her father expected her to marry. But she resisted his decision and said she would only be married if it would help her to free humanity from suffering. If this was not to be, her aim was to continue her spiritual practice and use it to help all sentient beings, both humans and animals. When the king learned that his daughter refused to marry, he was furious, and he tried to punish her by making her perform menial tasks. Her sisters and her mother had to persuade her to bow to her father’s wishes, but in vain. Finally, the king threw up his hands and sent Miao Shan to live in a monastery. He ordered the nuns there to make his daughter perform only the most difficult and backbreaking tasks and to treat her so poorly that she would change her mind and submit to his will. The girl was forced to carry wood and water and build a garden in barren soil. Thanks to the devoted efforts of the young nun, the land turned into a paradise. Miao Shan lovingly tended all the plants so well that the garden became lush and even retained its splendor during winter. Apparently from nowhere, a spring emerged – very close to the kitchen. And the animals began to assist Miao Shan in carrying out her labors.
When the king heard about these miracles, he flew into a rage; he wanted to kill Miao Shan. He had told the nuns to force her to her knees, and in that they burn down the monastery, including all its occupants. But when Miao Shan saw that the building was on fire, she pierced her tongue with a hairpin – soon blood began to shoot from it. This summoned storm clouds, and it started to rain. The fire was extinguished, and the nuns were saved. The king refused to give up, and to get rid of his daughter once and for all he decided to have Miao Shan executed. But no weapon could kill her: she was protected by the celestial Jade Emperor [Sakra] himself, the ruler of a heaven. Sword after sword, arrow after arrow broke before they could touch her body. Then, suddenly, the air became very still, and a huge white tiger appeared. He grasped Miao Shan and then bounded away with a single giant leap. It was in this way that Miao Shan reached the intermediate words and met Yama, the ruler of the hell realms. He led her to their chambers, which were filled with the suffering cries of all beings. Miao Shan sent her deepest compassion to the crying ones. One by one they were liberated by her empathy, and the hells filled with light, music, and wonderful scents. Yama had to send Miao Shan away, as powers like hers had no place in the hells. As she was leaving, he gave her a peach of longevity as a gift. Miao Shan now flew through the air and reached the island of Putuo Shan, where she remained in deep meditation for many years. During this period she lived only on the dew of grasses and the scent of flowers. Then one day when she was deep in meditation for many years, she saw the image of her father in the last stages of severe illness. The doctors were helpless: her father could neither sleep nor eat – he would die.
Suddenly, a monk appeared at the king’s court and promised to heal him. To achieve this, however, he would have to prepare a special medicine from the eyes and arms of a human who had experienced neither anger nor hatred. This type of being, the monk said, a bodhisattva who would joyously fulfill his request, lived on the island of Putuo Shan. The king sent a messenger, who soon found the bodhisattva. Miao Shan was happy to give her arms and eyes; they were prepared into medicine that instantly brought about the king’s recovery. The king tried to thank the monk, but the monk told him that only the being who had selflessly given of its own body deserved the king’s gratitude. Then he disappeared as suddenly as he had come. The king decided to travel with his wife to Putuo Shan to bring a wonderful gift to the mysterious, life-saving donor. When the king and queen found the cave where the bodhisattva dwelled, they discovered that this miraculous being was their daughter, Miao Shan. At the moment of recognition the air became filled with a delicate scent, and flowers rained down from the ceiling. The cave was bathed in brilliant light as Miao Shan transformed into her sacred manifestation with a thousand eyes and arms and then floated away. She had become the embodiment of the purest unconditional compassion [Guanyin Bodhisattva; Perceiver of Sounds]. Humbled and in gratitude, her parents began their own spiritual practice and meditation. They built a shrine in lace where they had reunited with their daughter. Today it is known as Fragrant Mountain.