How Great is the Glory of Kwannon
by L. Adams Beck
A JAPANESE STORY
(O Lovely One-O thou Flower! With Thy beautiful face, with Thy beautiful
eyes, pour light upon the world! Adoration to Kwannon.)
In Japan in the days of the remote Ancestors, near the little village of
Shiobara, the river ran through rocks of a very strange blue colour, and
the bed of the river was also composed of these rocks, so that the clear
water ran blue as turquoise gems to the sea.
The great forests murmured beside it, and through their swaying boughs was
breathed the song of Eternity. Those who listen may hear if their ears are
open. To others it is but the idle sighing of the wind.
Now because of all this beauty there stood in these forests a roughly
built palace of unbarked wood, and here the great Emperor would come from
City-Royal to seek rest for his doubtful thoughts and the cares of state,
turning aside often to see the moonlight in Shiobara. He sought also the
free air and the sound of falling water, yet dearer to him than the
plucked strings of sho and biwa. For he said;
"Where and how shall We find peace even for a moment, and afford Our heart
refreshment even for a single second?"
And it seemed to him that he found such moments at Shiobara.
Only one of his great nobles would His Majesty bring with him—the
Dainagon, and him be chose because he was a worthy and honorable person
and very simple of heart.
There was yet another reason why the Son of Heaven inclined to the little
Shiobara. It had reached the Emperor that a Recluse of the utmost sanctity
dwelt in that forest. His name was Semimaru. He had made himself a small
hut in the deep woods, much as a decrepit silkworm might spin his last
Cocoon and there had the Peace found him.
It had also reached His Majesty that, although blind, he was exceedingly
skilled in the art of playing the biwa, both in the Flowing Fount manner
and the Woodpecker manner, and that, especially on nights when the moon
was full, this aged man made such music as transported the soul. This
music His Majesty desired very greatly to hear.
Never had Semimaru left his hut save to gather wood or seek food until the
Divine Emperor commanded his attendance that he might soothe his august
heart with music.
Now on this night of nights the moon was full and the snow heavy on the
pines, and the earth was white also, and when the moon shone through the
boughs it made a cold light like dawn, and the shadows of the trees were
black upon it.
The attendants of His Majesty long since slept for sheer weariness, for
the night was far spent, but the Emperor and the Dainagon still sat with
their eyes fixed on the venerable Semimaru. For many hours he had played,
drawing strange music from his biwa. Sometimes it had been like rain
blowing over the plains of Adzuma, sometimes like the winds roaring down
the passes of the Yoshino Mountains, and yet again like the voice of far
cities. For many hours they listened without weariness, and thought that
all the stories of the ancients might flow past them in the weird music
that seemed to have neither beginning nor end.
"It is as the river that changes and changes not, and is ever and ever the
same," said the Emperor in his own soul.
And certainly had a voice announced to His Augustness that centuries were
drifting by as he listened, he could have felt no surprise.
Before them, as they sat upon the silken floor cushions, was a small
shrine with a Buddha shelf, and a hanging picture of the Amida Buddha
within it—the expression one of rapt peace. Figures of Fugen and
Fudo were placed before the curtain doors of the shrine, looking up in
adoration to the Blessed One. A small and aged pine tree was in a pot of
grey porcelain from Chosen—the only ornament in the chamber.
Suddenly His Majesty became aware that the Dainagon also had fallen asleep
from weariness, and that the recluse was no longer playing, but was
speaking in a still voice like a deeply flowing stream. The Emperor had
observed no change from music to speech, nor could he recall when the
music had ceased, so that it altogether resembled a dream.
"When I first came here"—the Venerable one continued—"it was
not my intention to stay long in the forest. As each day dawned, I said;
'In seven days I go.' And again—'In seven.' Yet have I not gone. The
days glided by and here have I attained to look on the beginnings of
peace. Then wherefore should I go?—for all life is within the soul.
Shall the fish weary of his pool? And I, who through my blind eyes feel
the moon illuming my forest by night and the sun by day, abide in peace,
so that even the wild beasts press round to hear my music. I have come by
a path overblown by autumn leaves. But I have come."
Then said the Divine Emperor as if unconsciously;
"Would that I also might come! But the august duties cannot easily be laid
aside. And I have no wife—no son."
And Semimaru, playing very softly on the strings of his biwa made no other
answer, and His Majesty, collecting his thoughts, which had become, as it
were, frozen with the cold and the quiet and the strange music, spoke
thus, as if in a waking dream;
"Why have I not wedded? Because I have desired a bride beyond the women of
earth, and of none such as I desire has the rumor reached me. Consider
that Ancestor who wedded Her Shining Majesty! Evil and lovely was she, and
the passions were loud about her. And so it is with women. Trouble and
vexation of spirit, or instead a great weariness. But if the Blessed One
would vouchsafe to my prayers a maiden of blossom and dew, with a heart
calm as moonlight, her would I wed. O, honorable One, whose wisdom surveys
the world, is there in any place near or far—in heaven or in earth,
such a one that I may seek and find?"
And Semimaru, still making a very low music on his biwa, said this;
"Supreme Master, where the Shiobara River breaks away through the gorges
to the sea, dwelt a poor couple—the husband a wood-cutter. They had
no children to aid in their toil, and daily the woman addressed her
prayers for a son to the Bodhisattwa Kwannon, the Lady of Pity who looketh
down for ever upon the sound of prayer. Very fervently she prayed, with
such offerings as her poverty allowed, and on a certain night she dreamed
this dream. At the shrine of the Senju Kwannon she knelt as was her
custom, and that Great Lady, sitting enthroned upon the Lotos of Purity,
opened Her eyes slowly from Her divine contemplation and heard the prayer
of the wood-cutter's wife. Then stooping like a blown willow branch, she
gathered a bud from the golden lotos plant that stood upon her altar, and
breathing upon it it became pure white and living, and it exhaled a
perfume like the flowers of Paradise, This flower the Lady of Pity flung
into the bosom of her petitioner, and closing Her eyes returned into Her
divine dream, whilst the woman awoke, weeping for joy.
"But when she sought in her bosom for the Lotos it was gone. Of all this
she boasted loudly to her folk and kin, and the more so, when in due time
she perceived herself to be with child, for, from that august favour she
looked for nothing less than a son, radiant with the Five Ornaments of
riches, health, longevity, beauty, and success. Yet, when her hour was
come, a girl was born, and blind."
"Was she welcomed?" asked the dreaming voice of the Emperor.
"Augustness, but as a household drudge. For her food was cruelty and her
drink tears. And the shrine of the Senju Kwannon was neglected by her
parents because of the disappointment and shame of the unwanted gift. And
they believed that, lost in Her divine contemplation, the Great Lady would
not perceive this neglect. The Gods however are known by their great
"Majesty, Tsuyu-Morning Dew. And like the morning dew she shines in
stillness. She has repaid good for evil to her evil parents, serving them
with unwearied service."
"What distinguishes her from others?"
"Augustness, a very great peace. Doubtless the shadow of the dream of the
Holy Kwannon. She works, she moves, she smiles as one who has tasted of
"Has she beauty?"
"Supreme Master, am I not blind? But it is said that she has no beauty
that men should desire her. Her face is flat and round, and her eyes
"And yet content?"
"Philosophers might envy her calm. And her blindness is without doubt a
grace from the excelling Pity, for could she see her own exceeding
ugliness she must weep for shame. But she sees not. Her sight is inward,
and she is well content."
"Where does she dwell?"
"Supreme Majesty, far from here—where in the heart of the woods the
river breaks through the rocks."
"Venerable One, why have you told me this? I asked for a royal maiden wise
and beautiful, calm as the dawn, and you have told me of a wood-cutter's
drudge, blind and ugly."
And now Semimaru did not answer, but the tones of the biwa grew louder and
clearer, and they rang like a song of triumph, and the Emperor could hear
these words in the voice of the strings.
"She is beautiful as the night, crowned with moon and stars for him who
has eyes to see. Princess Splendour was dim beside her; Prince Fireshine,
gloom! Her Shining Majesty was but a darkened glory before this maid. All
beauty shines within her hidden eyes."
And having uttered this the music became wordless once more, but it still
flowed on more and more softly like a river that flows into the far
The Emperor stared at the mats, musing—the light of the lamp was
burning low. His heart said within him;
"This maiden, cast like a flower from the hand of Kwannon Sama, will I
And as he said this the music had faded away into a thread-like smallness,
and when after long thought he raised his august head, he was alone save
for the Dainagon, sleeping on the mats behind him, and the chamber was in
darkness. Semimaru had departed in silence, and His Majesty, looking forth
into the broad moonlight, could see the track of his feet upon the shining
snow, and the music came back very thinly like spring rain in the trees.
Once more he looked at the whiteness of the night, and then, stretching
his august person on the mats, he slept amid dreams of sweet sound.
The next day, forbidding any to follow save the Dainagon, His Majesty went
forth upon the frozen snow where the sun shone in a blinding whiteness.
They followed the track of Semimaru's feet far under the pine trees so
heavy with their load of snow that they were bowed as if with fruit. And
the track led on and the air was so still that the cracking of a bough was
like the blow of a hammer, and the sliding of a load of snow from a branch
like the fall of an avalanche. Nor did they speak as they went. They
listened, nor could they say for what.
Then, when they had gone a very great way, the track ceased suddenly, as
if cut off, and at this spot, under the pines furred with snow, His
Majesty became aware of a perfume so sweet that it was as though all the
flowers of the earth haunted the place with their presence, and a music
like the biwa of Semimaru was heard in the tree tops. This sounded far off
like the whispering of rain when it falls in very small leaves, and
presently it died away, and a voice followed after, singing, alone in the
woods, so that the silence appeared to have been created that such a music
might possess the world. So the Emperor stopped instantly, and the
Dainagon behind him and he heard these words.
"In me the Heavenly Lotos grew,
The fibres ran from head to feet,
And my heart was the august Blossom.
Therefore the sweetness flowed through the veins of my flesh,
And I breathed peace upon all the world,
And about me was my fragrance shed
That the souls of men should desire me."
Now, as he listened, there came through the wood a maiden, bare—footed,
save for grass sandals, and clad in coarse clothing, and she came up and
passed them, still singing.
And when she was past, His Majesty put up his hand to his eyes, like one
dreaming, and said;
"What have you seen?"
And the Dainagon answered;
"Augustness, a country wench, flat—faced, ugly and blind, and with a
voice like a crow. Has not your Majesty seen this?"
The Emperor, still shading his eyes, replied;
"I saw a maiden so beautiful that her Shining Majesty would be a black
blot beside her. As she went, the Spring and all its sweetness blew from
her garments. Her robe was green with small gold flowers. Her eyes were
closed, but she resembled a cherry tree, snowy with bloom and dew. Her
voice was like the singing flowers of Paradise."
The Dainagon looked at him with fear and compassion;
"Augustness, how should such a lady carry in her arms a bundle of
"She bore in her hands three lotos flowers, and where each foot fell I saw
a lotos bloom and vanish."
They retraced their steps through the wood; His Majesty radiant as Prince
Fireshine with the joy that filled his soul; the Dainagon darkened as
Prince Firefade with fear, believing that the strange music of Semimaru
had bewitched His Majesty, or that the maiden herself might possibly have
the power of the fox in shape-changing and bewildering the senses.
Very sorrowful and careful was his heart for he loved his Master.
That night His Majesty dreamed that he stood before the kakemono of the
Amida Buddha, and that as he raised his eyes in adoration to the Blessed
Face, he beheld the images of Fugen and Fudo, rise up and bow down before
that One Who Is. Then, gliding in, before these Holinesses stood a figure,
and it was the wood-cutter's daughter homely and blinded. She stretched
her hands upward as though invoking the supreme Buddha, and then turning
to His Majesty she smiled upon him, her eyes closed as in bliss
unutterable. And he said aloud.
"Would that I might see her eyes!" and so saying awoke in a great
stillness of snow and moonlight.
Having waked, he said within himself
"This marvel will I wed and she shall be my Empress were she lower than
the Eta, and whether her face be lovely or homely. For she is certainly a
flower dropped from the hand of the Divine."
So when the sun was high His Majesty, again followed by the Dainagon, went
through the forest swiftly, and like a man that sees his goal, and when
they reached the place where the maiden went by, His Majesty straitly
commanded the Dainagon that he should draw apart, and leave him to speak
with the maiden; yet that he should watch what befell.
So the Dainagon watched, and again he saw her come, very poorly clad, and
with bare feet that shrank from the snow in her grass sandals, bowed
beneath a heavy load of wood upon her shoulders, and her face flat and
homely like a girl of the people, and her eyes blind and shut.
And as she came she sang this.
"The Eternal way lies before him,
The way that is made manifest in the Wise.
The Heart that loves reveals itself to man.
For now he draws nigh to the Source.
The night advances fast,
And lo! the moon shines bright."
And to the Dainagon it seemed a harsh crying nor could he distinguish any
words at all.
But what His Majesty beheld was this. The evening had come on and the moon
was rising. The snow had gone. It was the full glory of spring, and the
flowers sprang thick as stars upon the grass, and among them lotos
flowers, great as the wheel of a chariot, white and shining with the
luminance of the pearl, and upon each one of these was seated an incarnate
Holiness, looking upward with joined hands. In the trees were the voices
of the mystic Birds that are the utterance of the Blessed One, proclaiming
in harmony the Five Virtues, The Five Powers, the Seven Steps ascending to
perfect Illumination, the Noble Eightfold Path, and all the Law. And,
bearing, in the heart of the Son of Heaven awoke the Three Remembrances—the
Remembrance of Him who is Blessed, Remembrance of the Law, and Remembrance
of the Communion of the Assembly.
So, looking upward to the heavens, he beheld the Infinite Buddha, high and
lifted up in a great raying glory. About Him were the exalted
Bodhisattwas, the mighty Disciples, great Arhats all, and all the
countless Angelhood. And these rose high into the infinite until they
could be seen but as a point of fire against the moon. With this golden
multitude beyond all numbering was He.
Then, as His Majesty had seen in the dream of the night, the wood-cutter's
daughter, moving through the flowers like one blind that gropes his way,
advanced before the Blessed Feet, and uplifting her hands, did adoration,
and her face he could not see, but his heart went with her, adoring also
the infinite Buddha seated in the calms of boundless Light.
Then enlightenment entered at his eyes, as a man that wakes from sleep,
and suddenly he beheld the Maiden crowned and robed and terrible in
beauty, and her feet were stayed upon an open lotos, and his soul knew the
Senju Kwannon Herself, myriad-armed for the helping of mankind.
And turning, she smiled as in the vision, but his eyes being now clear her
blinded eyes were opened, and that glory who shall tell as those living
founts of Wisdom rayed upon him their ineffable light? In that ocean was
his being drowned, and so, bowed before the Infinite Buddha, he received
the Greater Illumination.
How great is the Glory of Kwannon!
When the radiance and the vision were withdrawn and only the moon looked
over the trees, His Majesty rose upon his feet, and standing on the snow,
surrounded with calm, he called to the Dainagon, and asked this;
"What have you seen?"
"Augustness, nothing but the country wench and moon and snow."
"Augustness, nothing but the harsh voice of the wood-cutter's daughter."
"Augustness, nothing but the bone-piercing cold." So His Majesty adored
that which cannot be uttered, saying;
"So Wisdom, so Glory encompass us about, and we see them not for we are
blinded with illusion. Yet every stone is a jewel and every clod is spirit
and to the hems of the Infinite Buddha all cling. Through the compassion
of the Supernal Mercy that walks the earth as the Bodhisattwa Kwannon, am
I admitted to wisdom and given sight and hearing. And what is all the
world to that happy one who has beheld Her eyes!"
And His Majesty returned through the forest.
When, the next day, he sent for the venerable Semimaru that holy recluse
had departed and none knew where. But still when the moon is full a
strange music moves in the tree tops of Shiobara.
Then His sacred Majesty returned to City-Royal, having determined to
retire into the quiet life, and there, abandoning the throne to a kinsman
wise in greatness, he became a dweller in the deserted hut of Semimaru.
His life, like a descending moon approaching the hill that should hide it,
was passed in meditation on that Incarnate Love and Compassion whose glory
had augustly been made known to him, and having cast aside all save the
image of the Divine from his soul, His Majesty became even as that man who
desired enlightenment of the Blessed One.
For he, desiring instruction, gathered precious flowers, and journeyed to
present them as an offering to the Guatama Buddha. Standing before Him, he
stretched forth both his hands holding the flowers.
Then said the Holy One, looking upon his petitioner's right hand;
"Loose your hold of these."
And the man dropped the flowers from his right hand. And the Holy One
looking upon his left hand, said;
"Loose your hold of these."
And, sorrowing, he dropped the flowers from his left hand. And again the
"Loose your hold of that which is neither in the right nor in the left."
And the disciple said very pitifully;
"Lord, of what should I loose my hold for I have nothing left?"
And He looked upon him steadfastly.
Therefore at last understanding he emptied his soul of all desire, and of
fear that is the shadow of desire, and being enlightened relinquished all
So was it also with His Majesty. In peace he dwelt, and becoming a great
Arhat, in peace he departed to that Uttermost Joy where is the Blessed One
made manifest in Pure Light.
As for the parents of the maiden, they entered after sore troubles into
peace, having been remembered by the Infinite. For it is certain that the
enemies also of the Supreme Buddha go to salvation by thinking on Him,
even though it be against Him.
And he who tells this truth makes this prayer to the Lady of Pity;
"Grant me, I pray,
One dewdrop from Thy willow spray,
And in the double Lotos keep
My hidden heart asleep."
How great is the Glory of Kwannon!