Over the course of his travels in Asia, the Buddhist scholar John Blofeld (1913-1987) became an expert on Avalokiteshvara. During a sojourn in China in the mid-1930s, Blofeld encountered an old Chinese nun living in an abandoned monastery. After protesting that he would have nothing to learn from an unlettered old woman such as herself, she finally consented to tell her story and to instruct him in her method of visualizing Kuan Yin.

Talkative like many old people, she embarked upon a rambling story of her youth, mentioning the name and appearance of her native village, the number and characteristics of her brothers and sisters, and a great many other things

. . . As a young girl she had been betrothed; the boy had been killed in a local squabble and she had come to Canton to earn her living as a servant. Nothing notable had happened to her until she was well into her fifties when her current mistress, blaming her for the loss of a jade bracelet, had given her a beating and driven her from the house. After that, Ah Cheng, as she was called, had wandered about looking for work somewhere too far from Canton for the unjust charge of stealing to catch up with her. One night she had taken shelter in a temple dedicated to Kuan Yin where two nuns resided. In the middle of the night she had crept into the shrine-hall and addressed to the Bodhisattva a prayer in which despair was mixed with peasant cunning.

“Holy Kuan Yin, I’m done. No money for the boat tomorrow, no strength to walk to the next town, no money to stay here. Nothing. People say you help. I am not sure I believe them, so just show me it’s true!”

While she was earning her breakfast by sweeping out the courtyard and doing various odd jobs the following morning, an irate-looking merchant came running in, shouting to no one in particular: “Those rascals have left without me! Their mothers! Now who’s going to look after this little minx? Gets in the way all day long. I’d leave her here if one of you would take the price of her keep and a bit over to look after her till I come back. Any of you old black gowns willing, eh?”

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