This beautiful statue of the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy lies in Daxiangguo Temple in Kaifeng, Henan, China. Gold-plated, it is a memorial to both propriety and filial piety, two of the great Chinese Confucian virtues. The story below is a combination of the story told by the tour guide and some local conversationalists who were happy to relate the story to me.
Many centuries ago,
An old emperor of China grew very, very ill and saw that his country was suffering as well. Realizing that the country was troubled and needed heavenly assistance, the worried king called out to Buddha and asked for guidance on how to appease the heavens and reclaim the blessings from above.
Buddha responded that the country and its king had done some very wicked things in the past and that now a sacrifice would be required to repair the damage. Buddha asked that the Emperor offer up to the heavens one arm and one eye from someone within his family. If he did so, Buddhas said, the country and emperor would be healed and would live in peace once more.
The Emperor was very saddened and worried, because the only family he had left were his three young daughters. The Princesses though were very concerned about their father and finally convinced him to share what Buddha commanded. Upon hearing of the sacrifice required, the sisters were quite upset.
The eldest daughter went to her father ~ “My king, although I love you and would do anything else that you asked of me, I cannot do this for you. I am a new mother, my baby is still nursing. If I only have one arm and one eye, how could I possibly care for my baby the way a good mother is supposed to?”
The middle daughter went to her father ~ “My lord, although I too love you and would do anything else that you asked of me, I cannot do this for you. I am a new bride, my husband and I have not been married for even a year. If I only have one arm and one eye, how could I possibly care for my husband the way a good wife is supposed to? How would I cook his meals, mend his clothes, and help him carry out the king’s commands?”
Finally, the youngest daughter cam to her father ~ “My dear king and father, you know that I love you more than anything else in the world and there is nothing that I would not do for you. I am a very young girl. I have not lived very long and have no one relying upon me. I have no husband, no children, no household to suffer my loss. But the whole country would mourn and stagger under this heavy burden if you are lost to us and the heavens left unappeased. So please, allow me to do this one small favor for you. Let me give up my arm and my eye for your use. Let my life be worthy if only in this way.”
Heartbroken, but unable to find an alternative, the old emperor finally accepted his youngest child’s offer and removed her arm and eye. Giving them up in sacrifice, he once against asked that Buddha intervene on behalf of him and his country.
Touched by the young girls’ sacrifice, love, and piety, Buddha declared that he was extremely impressed. Not only would he intervene, heal the emperor, and claim the blessings for China once again. He would also return to the princess both her hand and her eye.
In turn, he commanded that a statue be built commemorating the princess and showing how she had been given both her hand and her eye. However, the builders became somewhat confused. The Chinese word for “both” can also mean “one thousand” if interpreted different. So instead of giving the princess “Both” her hand and eye, they gave her one thousand hands with one thousand eyes. Each hand has an eye in the center.
Of course, legend says that this too was a message from Buddha. If you obey the commands of the heavens; if you show filial piety, loyalty, honor, and uphold the virtues ~ Buddha will return such blessing upon you as you can only imagine.