Myths and Legends of China

Page: 112

“What is this cursed place where I am now?” asked Miao Shan.

“This is the lower world, Hell,” he replied. “Your refusal to marry, and the magnanimity with which you chose an ignominious death rather than break your resolutions, deserve the recognition of Yü Huang, and the ten gods of the lower regions, impressed and pleased at your eminent virtue, have sent me to you. Fear nothing and follow me.”

Thus Miao Shan began her visit to all the infernal regions. The Gods of the Ten Hells came to congratulate her. Page 268

“Who am I,” asked Miao Shan, “that you should deign to take the trouble to show me such respect?”

“We have heard,” they replied, “that when you recite your prayers all evil disappears as if by magic. We should like to hear you pray.”

“I consent,” replied Miao Shan, “on condition that all the condemned ones in the ten infernal regions be released from their chains in order to listen to me.”

At the appointed time the condemned were led in by Niu T’ou (‘Ox-head’) and Ma Mien (‘Horse-face’), the two chief constables of Hell, and Miao Shan began her prayers. No sooner had she finished than Hell was suddenly transformed into a paradise of joy, and the instruments of torture into lotus-flowers.

Hell a Paradise

P’an Kuan, the keeper of the Register of the Living and the Dead, presented a memorial to Yen Wang stating that since Miao Shan’s arrival there was no more pain in Hell; and all the condemned were beside themselves with happiness. “Since it has always been decreed,” he added, “that, in justice, there must be both a Heaven and a Hell, if you do not send this saint back to earth, there will no longer be any Hell, but only a Heaven.”

“Since that is so,” said Yen Wang, “let forty-eight flag-bearers escort her across the Styx Bridge [Nai-ho Ch’iao], that she may be taken to the pine-forest to reenter her body, and resume her life in the upper world.”

The King of the Hells having paid his respects to her, the youth in blue conducted her soul back to her body, which she found lying under a pine-tree. Having reentered it, Miao Shan found herself alive again. A bitter sigh escaped from her lips. “I remember,” she Page 269said, “all that I saw and heard in Hell. I sigh for the moment which will find me free of all impediments, and yet my soul has re-entered my body. Here, without any lonely mountain on which to give myself up to the pursuit of perfection, what will become of me?” Great tears welled from her eyes.

A Test of Virtue

Just then Ju Lai Buddha appeared. “Why have you come to this place?” he asked. Miao Shan explained why the King had put her to death, and how after her descent into Hell her soul had re-entered her body. “I greatly pity your misfortune,” Ju Lai said, “but there is no one to help you. I also am alone. Why should we not marry? We could build ourselves a hut, and pass our days in peace. What say you?” “Sir,” she replied, “you must not make impossible suggestions. I died and came to life again. How can you speak so lightly? Do me the pleasure of withdrawing from my presence.”