As we saw the last time, Longnü made her first appearance in a Buddhist Sutra, the Lotus Flower. In that text, she was transformed by the Buddha into a man to become a Bodhisattva; the irony of this tale being that her own associated Bodhisattva, Avalokateshvara, had already been culturally transformed into a female, now known as Guānyīn .
The first folklore tale of Longnü occurs in the Complete Tale of Avalokiteśvara and the Southern Seas (Nánhǎi Guānyīn Quánzhuàn); here she plays a subtle part, rescuing her brother from certain death.
Her brother, Sudhana, had gone swimming, and taken the form of a fish, a carp to be precise. In this form he was caught by a fisherman, and being on land, was unable to transform back into his dragon form.
The fisherman took Sudhana to the market to be butchered. However, given his true nature, he refused to die. The fact that the carp continued to live, hours after he was caught, drew the attention of the local villagers, who soon became convinced that he might be the secret to immortality.
A bidding war for the magical carp soon started.
Sudhana cried, and Avalokateshvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion, heard his pleas. She gave his sister, Longnü, all of her money (yes, Bodhisattvas carry cash).
Unfortunately, this wasn’t enough to save Sudhana; all of the locals wanted to feast on the immortal carp, and they were willing to spend any amount of money for it.
Longnü begged for her brother’s life, which only drew the scorn of the villagers.
Desperate, in tears, Longnü didn’t know what to do.
That was when Guānyīn (Avalokateshvara) spoke.
Maybe, bellowed is a better word.
From out of the sea, came her voice:
“A life should definitely belong to one who tries to save it, not one who tries to take it”.
Realizing they had violated a Bodhisattva, the crowd dispersed, and Longnü took her brother home.
Her father, in gratitude, offered the Bodhisattva a precious pearl, known as the “Pearl of Light”. Longnü delivered it and stayed on to become one of Avalokateshvara’s disciples.
The next tale portrays a different, though humorous, side of Longnü’s relationship with Sudhana. This comes from the Precious Scroll of Sudhana and Longnü, written between the eighteenth/nineteenth century, and has Daoist influences.
Once upon a time, Sudhana was walking through a forest, going to visit his father. As he moved through the woods, he heard a voice.
“Please, help me!”
Sudhana stopped, and found a snake trapped in a bottle.
“I’ve been here for eighteen years…have mercy, let me out.” implored the snake.
Sudhana did the right thing; he uncorked the bottle.
Let No Good Deed Go Unpunished.
Released from the bottle, Longnü took on her true form, that of a ferocious dragon.
She then told poor Sudhana that she intended to eat him.
Once Again, Let No Good Deed Go Unpunished.
Sudhana complained. However, she responded by saying:
“All kind acts are repaid with a feud. That, my dear boy, is the how the world works.”
“The world is also judged. Let my case be heard.”
The dragon king’s daughter agreed: three judges would hear his case.
The first judge was the Golden Water Buffalo Star, who immediately sided with the Dragon. He had been driven from the gates of heaven by a Bodhisattva, who had sent him to Earth, face long, to help humans. However, the Bodhisattva had sworn that if humans didn’t repay the Buffalo’s work, his eyes would fall out.
After years of toiling for humans, the Buffalo was repaid by being butchered.
And indeed, the Bodhisattva’s eyes fell out. They turned into snails, which Buffaloes happily trample in the fields.
Strike one against Sudhana
The second judge was no kinder. In this case, it was a Daoist priest.
He also had a bad time with humans, only in his case, it was because of necromancy.
He had resurrected a skeleton; however, the revived skeleton wasn’t grateful.
Instead, he took the priest to court, and charged him with stealing all of his money.
Apparently, the skeleton won…
Sudhana lost. Strike two.
The third, and final judge, was a young girl.
She asked Longnü how a mighty, large dragon, could possibly fit into a tiny bottle.
Boastfully, the dragon showed her: she turned back into a snake, and slithered into the bottle…
At which point, the little girl recorked the serpent.
The girl, in question, turned out to be Avalokateshvara/Guānyīn.
Sudhana ended up being her disciple, as did Longnü (though it took her awhile; seven years of cleansing her venom, after which she produced a pearl that she then gave to the Bodhisattva).
What’s the takeaway?
Maybe it’s this:
Pearls of Wisdom are sometimes born from mercy…
Sometimes born from pain.
Either way, Guānyīn smiles down on us…