Lord Lu's Daughter

An important figure in Chinese Buddhism is Guanyin, the Bodhisattva of mercy and compassion. A bodhisattva is an enlightened being who remains in the world to help others. Although originally male, Guanyin is usually represented in Chinese culture as a young woman who carries a vase of holy water in one hand and a willow branch in the other. She is said to reside in the South Sea or Mount Putuo, an island in the south of China.

Zhang Yudan of Zhaoyuan, who was wild and uninhibited by nature, was studying in a Buddhist temple. At that time the county magistrate was Lord Lu, a Korean, who had a daughter fond of hunting. Zhang happened upon her in the countryside and saw she was graceful and charming. Wearing an embroidered fur coat and straddling a small black colt, she was as elegant as a painting. Returning and recalling her features, he was filled with admiration for her. Later he heard the girl had suddenly died and he mourned her grievously.

   As he was far from home, Lu entrusted his daughter’s coffin to the temple where Zhang was studying. Zhang worshipped her like a deity, being sure in the morning to light incense and when he ate to make an offering. Each time he would pour a libation and pray, “Having seen half your face, my dreaming soul was forever bound. I never imagined, fair lady, that you would suddenly pass away. Now to be so close at hand, yet as remote as mountains and rivers, how great is my regret! However, in life there are restrictions, while in death there are no restraints. If your spirit is there in the nether world, then come at your leisure and relieve my adoration.”

   Night and day he prayed to her, for almost half a month. One evening, as he was studying at night by lamplight, he suddenly raised his head and the girl was standing there beneath the light with a smile. Zhang hastily rose and greeted her. The girl said, “Touched by your love, I can’t help myself, and so I don’t shrink from the shame of eloping.”

   Zhang was delighted, and so they took pleasure in each other. From then on there were no empty nights. She told him, “In life I was skilled at hunting on horseback and used to shoot deer for fun. My sins are grave and in death I have no home to return to. If you truly love me, please recite the Diamond Sutra for me five thousand times and I won’t forget it for many generations.”

   Zhang respectfully accepted her instruction and every night would rise to hold his rosary and chant aloud before her coffin. At the time of the festival, he wished to return home with her. The girl was worried her legs were too weak and she wouldn’t be able to hobble far. Zhang offered to carry her on the journey and the girl agreed with a smile. It was like carrying a baby – she was barely any weight. So this became their habit.

   At exams he also brought her together with him, but they had to travel at night. When he was about to attend the autumn exams, she said, “Your blessings are slight. Though you try your hardest, your efforts are in vain.” So he listened to her advice and didn’t go.

   After four or five years, Lu left his post and, unable to afford the transportation of his daughter’s coffin, had to make do with burying her there, but struggled to find a burial spot. So Zhang himself proposed, “I have a small plot of land near the temple where I’m willing for the young lady to be buried.”

   Lord Lu was delighted. Zhang also made great efforts in arranging the burial. Lu commended his virtue, but didn’t know the reason for it. When Lu had left, the two of them remained as deeply attached as before.

   One night, resting in Zhang’s embrace, she shed teardrops as big as beans and said, “Five years of happiness today must end! The kindness I have received from you, several lifetimes would not be enough to repay.”

   Zhang questioned her in shock and she said, “Thanks to your help for this tortured soul, the incantation of the scripture is complete and today I will be reborn into the home of Minister of Revenue Lu of Hebei. If you don’t forget this day, fifteen years from now, on the sixteenth day of the eighth month, please go there to meet me.”

   Weeping, Zhang said, “I’m already more than thirty years old; in another fifteen years I’ll be ready for my coffin. What would we meet for?”

   Also weeping, the girl said, “I’m willing to be your slave to repay you.” After a short while, she added, “Will you see me off a couple of miles? From here there are many thistles and thorns and in my long dress it is difficult.”

   So she hung onto Zhang’s neck and he took her to the thoroughfare, where they saw a phalanx of horses and carriages. On each horse there were one or two people, in each carriage three or four or even a dozen people. There was one carriage alone decorated with gold and a vermilion canopy with embroidered tassels, and only one old woman within. When she saw the girl arrive, she called out, “Are you coming?”

   “I’m coming,” the girl replied. Then she turned to face Zhang and said, “This is the end. Go now, and don’t forget what I have said.”

   Zhang promised. The girl walked up to the carriage, the old woman took her hand to lift her up, the wheels began to turn and horses and carriages rumbled away. Zhang dejectedly returned home and recorded the time and date on the wall.

   Thinking on the effect of chanting scripture, he continued to recite all the more devoutly. He dreamt a celestial being told him, “Your will is commendable, but you must go to the South Sea.”

   He asked, “How far is the South Sea?”

   “As close as your heart.”

   Awaking and understanding the purport, his thoughts were enlightened and he redoubled the cultivation of his conduct. Three years later, his second son Ming and his eldest son Zheng in succession were promoted to high positions. Though Zhang was suddenly noble, he didn’t slacken his virtuous conduct. At night he dreamt a person in black invited him to a palace where he saw someone seated in the form of the Bodhisattva, who welcomed him, saying, “Your virtue is gratifying. It’s a pity your years are not long. Fortunately I have made a request to the Lord on High.”

   Zhang prostrated himself on the ground and kowtowed. He was called to rise and granted a seat; the tea he drank was as fragrant as orchid. Then a boy was ordered to lead him away and let him bathe in the pool. The pool water was pure and clear, and the fish swimming there could be counted. Entering the water, it was warm and when he scooped it up, it had a scent of lotus leaves. After a moment, he gradually entered the depths, where he lost his footing and sank, the waters submerging his head. Waking with a start, he was amazed.

   From then on his body grew stronger and his eyes brighter. When he stroked his beard, the white hairs all fell rustling down, and after a while the black ones fell too. His wrinkles also gradually smoothed until several months later his chin was bald and his face boyish, just like when he was fifteen or sixteen. At the same time he often enjoyed playing games, also like a child. He would overdress with accessories and his two sons always had to correct him.

   Before long, his wife died of old age and illness. His sons wanted to find a new spouse for him from a wealthy family. Zhang said, “Wait until I have been to Hebei. When I come back I’ll remarry.”

   Counting on his fingers, he found it was already the appointed time, so he took a servant and horse to Hebei. Enquiries revealed there really was a Minister of Revenue named Lu.

   Prior to this, Minister Lu had sired a daughter who could speak from birth and became ever more intelligent and beautiful as she grew. Her parents doted on her most of all. When noble families sent engagement gifts, the girl was always unwilling. Surprised, her parents questioned this and she described the pact from her previous life. Together calculating the years, they laughed out loud and said, “Silly girl! Master Zhang this year would already be half a century old. With the vicissitudes of human life, his bones may already be rotten; even if he still exists, his head will be bald and his teeth missing.”

   The girl wouldn’t listen. Seeing her will was unbending, her mother conspired with Minister Lu to warn the gatekeeper not to admit any visitors in order to end her hopes by passing the date. Before long, Zhang arrived and the gatekeeper refused him entry. Retiring back to his hotel disappointed, Zhang had no idea what to do. Roaming around the outskirts, he procrastinated and secretly made enquiries.

   Believing that Zhang had broken his promise, in tears the girl refused to eat. Her mother said, “He hasn’t come – he must have already passed away. Even if not, the blame for going back on the agreement doesn’t fall on you.”

   The girl didn’t speak, but just lay there the whole day. Troubled by this and also wishing to see what sort of man Zhang was, Lu found an excuse to go out for a stroll and came upon Zhang in the countryside. Looking at him, he was astonished to find he was a youth. Sitting on the grass for a brief talk, he proved quite outstanding. Delighted, Lu invited him to his home.

   Just as Zhang began to make cautious enquiries, Lu abruptly got up and, urging his guest to sit by himself for the time being, hurriedly entered the inner rooms to notify his daughter. Overjoyed, the girl dragged herself up to take a peek. Seeing that his appearance didn’t tally, she turned back, shedding tears and blaming her father for deceiving her. Lu vigorously declared it was him. The girl had nothing to say, but just cried without end.

   Lu emerged in a state of despondency, not offering a shred of hospitality to his guest. Zhang asked, “Does your noble clan possess a Minister of Revenue?”

   Lu replied to him casually whilst looking elsewhere, seemingly paying his guest no attention. Finding him rude, Zhang took his leave.

   The girl wept for several days and died. At night Zhang dreamt the girl came and said, “Was the visitor really you? Your age and appearance are so contrary, seeing your face caused our separation. I’ve already died of indignation. Please hurry and summon my soul at the shrine of the land god and I can be brought to life. Delay and it will be too late.”

   When he awoke, Zhang hurriedly visited the Lu household and indeed the girl had been dead for two days. In deep sorrow, Zhang entered to mourn in her room and, having done that, told his dream to Lu. Lu did as he said and had the soul summoned back. They lifted her quilt, stroked her body and called to her with blessings. Soon they heard a gurgling sound in her throat; suddenly her cherry lips abruptly opened and out fell a lump of phlegm like ice.

   They lifted her onto the couch and gradually she began to groan once more. Overjoyed, Lu respectfully led the guest out and organized a banquet. As Zhang laid out his rank and status in detail, Lu realized his was a mighty family and he was all the more pleased. They chose an auspicious day to complete their nuptials and after half a month Zhang took the girl back to his home. Lu accompanied them to their home and half a year later left.

   Husband and wife lived in their house, just like a young couple. Many of those who didn’t know mistook the sons and their wives for the couple’s parents. Minister Lu died the following year. His son, being very young, was maligned by bullies and the family property was almost exhausted. Zhang undertook to adopt him, and so they became a family.