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A Legend of Kwannon

Save me this life, O Kwannon the Merciful.”

Turning, he beheld a dappled hind lying on the snow, newly dead of the cold. He bowed his head. “Poor gentle creature,” he said, “never more shalt thou run in the hills, and nibble the grass and the sweet flowers.” And he stroked the hind’s soft flank, sorrowing.

“Poor deer, I would not eat thy flesh. Is it not forbidden by the Law of the Blessed One? Is it not forbidden by the word of Kwannon the Merciful?” Thus he mused. But even as he mused he seemed to hear a voice that spoke to him, and the voice said:

“Alas, Saion Zenji, if thou die of hunger and cold, what shall become of my people, the poor folk of the valleys? Shall they not be comforted any more by the Sutras of the Tathagata? Break the law to keep the law, beloved, thou that countest the world well lost for a divine song.”

Then presently Saion Zenji took a knife, and cut him a piece of flesh from the side of the dappled hind. And he gathered fir cones and made a little fire and cooked the deer’s flesh in an iron pot. When it was ready he ate half of it. And his strength came to him again, and he opened his lips and sang praises to the Tathagata, and the very embers of the dying fire leapt up in flame to hear him.

“Howbeit I must bury the poor deer,” said Saion Zenji. So he went to the door of his hut. But look where he might no deer nor dappled hind did he see, nor yet the mark of one in the deep snow.

“It is passing strange,” he said, and wondered.

As soon as might be, up came the poor folk from the valley to see how their hermit had fared through the snow and the stormy weather. “The gods send he be not dead of cold or hunger,” they said one to another. But they found him chanting in his hut, and he told them how he had eaten of the flesh of a dappled hind and was satisfied.

“I cut but a hand’s breadth of the meat,” he said, “and half of it is yet in the iron pot.”

But when they came to look in the pot, they found there no flesh of deer, but a piece of cedar wood gilded upon the one side.

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