Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Bell of Chongfu Temple (Fujian)

Which is more important--the cost of a gift or the spirit in which it was given? It might be very well said that there are instances in which a small gift, seemingly one without much value, may prove to be as worthy as a grand offering.

In the old trading city of Quanzhou stands Chongfu Temple, and it was here, several hundreds of years ago, a small incident took place.

The abbot of Chongfu Temple was a very famous man. He undertook a mission to raise money to purchase a huge bell for the temple, a bell for which all the monks and the residents of Quanzhou City could be proud. With begging bowl in hand, he personally set out to garner contributions from the faithful so that the temple could possess a bell which would be unlike any other. He left behind a little shami, a young novice monk, to look after the temple in his absence.

An old woman, her body gnarled like the branches of a banyan tree, hobbled into the temple courtyard one afternoon.

"Shifu, " she respectively addressed the young monk, "where is the abbot?"

"He is out gathering contributions for the huge bell we hope to cast for our temple" was the reply.

"Oh, but purchasing a bell is a good thing!" Her eyes brightened for a moment as she fumbled in her bag for something. "I too would like to make a small contribution. Unfortunately, I am now old and without much money. Please accept this small silver coin as a token of my devotion."

She then handed the young monk a silver coin.

The shami looked at the coin and smirked. "I don't think you fully realize the undertaking in which our abbot has involved himself. He is not soliciting for a mere toy bell. Our temple intends to purchase the biggest bell ever cast in our province. It's best for you to hold onto this coin. It certainly won't do us any good."

Three times did the woman attempt to donate her coin, and three times was she rebuffed. Finally, she took her coin and slowly made her way out of the temple courtyard. The shami then went about his business.

In time a sufficient amount of contributions was raised to pay for the casting of the huge bell. Strangely enough, once the bell had been cast, a defect was discovered. Along the rim of the bell, a gap about the size of a common coin was clearly seen. The inexplicable gap was then mended. However, when the bell was rung for the first time, the chunk that had filled the gap fell from the bell. No matter what steps were taken to repair the bell, the telltale gap remained. And so it remains to this day.

A coincidence, you say? The faithful feel that the gap was caused by the Goddess of Mercy, Guanyin, to teach the haughty shami a lesson: Don't ever look down upon someone's gift from the heart, no matter how humble it is.


from Legends and Riddles of Fujian by Zhi Nong; Taipei: the Oriental Cultural Service, 1956; pp. 91-93.

Guanyin, the Goddess of Mercy, is also known as Kuan-yin as well as her Japanese name, Kannon.

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