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Folklore and miracle stories

A vast collection of folklore exists about the bodhisattva of compassion and her power and kindness. Many of the colorful stories from China and Japan, including accounts of seeming "miracles," describe events that many people witnessed. Whether or not we take these stories literally, they demonstrates the popular impact of the figure of Avalokiteshvara. They also show the range of the beneficial deeds attributed to this bodhisattva and are encouragement to cultivate calm, clear caring for others, and ourselves, in our own hearts and minds. 

The horse chestnut tree

An early ninth-century Japanese story tells of a monk who was hiking on beautiful Mount Yoshino, a sacred mountain inhabited by practitioners from ancient times. A horse-chestnut tree had once been cut down there. It was intended as wood for carved images of the bodhisattvas but had been abandoned soon after work began, and now the large log was laid over a stream as a bridge.

As the monk started to cross the bridge, he heard a voice from below him saying, "Ouch. Don't step on me." Perplexed, the monk looked around until he went under the log and was awestruck to see the bodhisattva images that had begun to be carved in it. The monk had the wood carved into finished images of Kannon Bodhisattva and Amida and Maitreya Buddha.

This story suggests that, upon the initial dedication of this tree to the bodhisattva figures, the very fiber of the wood took on this commitment to its enlightening role in a way that could not be deterred. At its heart, bodhisattva compassion is not limited to the human realm. But this story is also about a monk who was open and sensitive enough to hear cries of compassion, even from an old, dead tree.

One-leaf Kannon

Samurai Kannon

Such willingness to be guided and to change one's life because of someone else's dream may seem like extreme gullibility, but it also expresses an aspect of compassion that trusts in hearing when the world calls to us and that responds without hesitation. The samurai had come to the town for healing, and he was able to receive the healing gift that was offered him, relinquishing his previous idea of his identity. Intercession and guidance from bodhisattva figures often is said to occur through visions in dreams.

When devotees place themselves in an open space of mind, whether through meditation, chanting, prostration, or other practices, an energetic resonance with the environment can be created. In this context of openness and trust, the cosmic bodhisattvas (whether understood as internal or external) may be able to intervene and help alleviate suffering.