An ancient story of Kwun - Let compassion be our guide…

Kwan Yin

Perhaps the most important reason for “lamenting” is that it helps us to realize our oneness with all things, to know that all things are our relatives.
- Black Elk

A saint (is one) who does not know how it is possible not to love, not to help, not to be sensitive to the anxiety of others.
- Abraham Heschel

This story is so old we don’t know who told it or who it’s about, except that it speaks to all of us. We no longer know if it was a “he” or “she” at the center of the story. No doubt the story has grown for every telling. But for this telling, let’s call our central character Kwun and let her be a heroine.

One day Kwun crossed a valley and stumbled on a bloody scene. An entire village was laid to waste, the people torn apart. Walking among the bodies, her heart was breaking open, enlarging for coming upon the suffering. She was drawn, almost compelled to look inside their bodies and at the same time repulsed by the violence that had opened them. There was an eerie silence steaming along the ground. It looked like the fierce work of a warring clan. Suddenly, Kwun heard a terrible cry from the middle of the scene. She had to pull a dead man aside to find a woman barely breathing, clinging to her little boy who was bleeding from the head. Kwun fell to her knees and without thinking embraced them both, their blood coating her. The cry of the dying mother was as much from her own pain as from her powerlessness to help her son. When she saw Kwun, her cries grew worse. It was clear she was asking Kwun to take her boy. At first, Kwun shook her head, unprepared for any of this. The dying mother clutched Kwun’s hand and fell away. The boy was unconscious, still bleeding from the head. Wherever Kwun was going before stumbling into the valley, that life, that plan, that dream was gone. It was too late to close her heart and walk away.

She lifted the little, bloody boy and, though he was unconscious, Kwun covered his eyes as she walked over the rest of the bodies, leaving the village. Carrying the boy, she began to cry, feeling for the mother who had watched her man die and her son be bloodied, and feeling for the boy who, if he woke at all, would be all alone. She began to moan as she walked, keeping the cry of the mother alive.

By the end of the day, Kwun managed to climb out of the valley and, exhausted from the tasks of surviving, fell asleep at the mouth of a cave. When Kwun woke, the bloodied little boy had died in her arms. She didn’t know what to do, though there was nothing to do. She held him for a long time, then opened his little eyes, wanting to see what was left within him. And looking there, she began to feel the cries of the world, long-gone and long-coming. It overwhelmed her as she felt a pain that almost stopped her breathing. But she kept rocking the little one, certain the world would end if she put him down. Without her knowing, she began to hold the broken that would fill eternity, long before they would suffer: the stillborn, the betrayed, the sickly, the murdered, the thousands left to mourn. Letting them move through her began to open her heart like a lotus flower. And the cries of the world, though she couldn’t name a one, made her stronger. At last, she fell asleep again. While she slept, Kwun became a source of healing. When she woke, she spent her days touching the wounded, holding the dying, and keeping the cries of the world alive. The cries became a song she didn’t understand, other than to know that, as the wind can lift the snow off a branch, the cries altogether can somehow lift the sadness off a broken heart.

Wherever We Go
Kwun may be an ancestor of the Buddhist bodhisattva of compassion, Avalokiteshvara, also known as Kuan-yin, whose name means hearing the cries of the world. We’ll never know, but like rivers joining in the sea, stories coalesce and merge over time into the one story that remains, the one we each wake to, surprised it is ours.

- Excerpted from Mark Nepo's upcoming book Endless Practice, with permission of the author

Image: painting by Zeng Hao


Thank you Blue Dottie - What a wonderful description of that spiritual grief  experienced by those who chose a path of service


Compassion Brings an Abundance of Happiness

This is a beautiful story of compassion. Realizing the oneness with all things has guided my path for years, and created an abundance of happiness around me. As well as break the limits of my capabilities, just like Kwun did. Thank you for sharing.

Best regards, Rafael from Brazil.