Long ago in a far-away land there was a fair princess by the name of Miao Shan. Her father, the King, a selfish and greedy man, tried to marry off the beautiful and brilliant Miao to a horrible, wealthy man three times her age who lusted after her, so that he could secure more wealth and power for himself. When Miao refused, the King banished her to a remote island off the coast of China to live in a monastery.
Miao embraced her banishment, even though the island was barren and the nuns were starving, entirely cutoff from the rest of the world. But for little Miao, it meant freedom. Now she was free to be her radiant, loving self every day, Miao taught the nuns how to garden and plant, and soon what was barren became an island paradise. When the King learned that his punishment was not working, he ordered his guards to burn down the monastery along with all the food and flowers Miao had helped grow. But just as the guards set the monastery ablaze, Miao pricked the tip of her tongue with a hairpin, causing a torrential downpour of rain to put out the fire.
The King was so infuriated that he ordered the execution of his lovely daughter. The King's executioner shattered every sword in the process of beheading the lovely princess before succeeding. Before her last breath, however, she forgave the executioner with such mercy that he fell to his knees and became her first devotee.
After death, Miao traveled to the underworld where she experienced the terrible suffering of all the people around her there. Her heart went out as she listened to each person, acknowledging their pain as their witness. This act of mercy and kindness freed all the people, liberating each soul, gradually turning hell into heaven. Ruler of the underworld Yama became so desperate that he expelled Miao from hell, sending her back to the world of the living with a parting gift of longevity.
Upon her return, Miao lived in a cave, as so many female saints have always done, meditating everyday in peace for many years. She became known as a great healer through her acts of mercy, an energy that doesn't seek to fix or change anything, that never judges or shames, but rather just sees, accepts, and remains; a simple compassion that changes everything by mirroring back to the one who is suffering that at last their voice has been heard.
News of this great healer reached her father, the King, who was deathly ill. The King was told by his advisors that the only way for the King to live is to receive the eyes and the arms of a person who no longer experienced anger. Miao immediately sacrificed her eyes and arms to save her father. The King is restored to good health and for the first time in his life, he is grateful. Out of his gratitude he became curious about and wanted to meet who is was exactly that saved his life with their sacrifice.
The King was taken to meet a hermit living in a remote cave so that he could honor her for her profound selflessness. The cave was a place of remarkable beauty, filled with a radiance and flowers of every kind. When the King saw that the person who saved his life was his own daughter Miao, he collapsed to his knees, transfixed by the magnitude of her mercy. At that moment, Miao transformed into her true form – the thousand-armed incarnation of compassion, the goddess of mercy, Quan Yin.
Each character of every story is played by each of us. We may each be Miao, the executioner, and the King. The lesson here is that the level of mercy we show allows the universe to give back to its giver a thousandfold. All of life is an exchange. “Giving-is-Receiving” is the energetic frequency upon which the universe is aligned. It is when we give of ourselves, especially when it is really hard to give, when it hurts to give, that we receive the most in the exchange.
We forget that anything we might have to give is never really ours, only an illusion of ownership. What Miao gave to her father had very little to do with him; it was about setting her true self free. Her generosity and forgiveness unbound her from any further identification with the illusion of the physical world. Forgiving the King allowed her to realign with the law of the universe – the law of giving-is-receiving.
Mercy is the embodiment of Compassion. It may be difficult at times to show mercy and compassion to those who may have done harm to us or to others. It may be hard to overcome anger at another. But anger, even if righteous, erects some serious walls in the heart. Anger doesn't hurt the person we are angry with, but blocks us from the natural flow of the universe, disconnecting us from what it means to be truly alive and to give and receive love.
Mercy is at the heart of the prayer of the heart - Kyrie Eleison – Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have Mercy on Me - because mercy is what returns to our own heart when we show mercy to another. It is a power that isn't a power over others, but a power in exchange; mercy is the perpetual exchange of power and is at the heart of how the entire universe works. Only when we forget ourselves for the sake of someone else, may we be instantly filled beyond whatever we may have asked for.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.