Stories from Ancient China: A Stubborn Water Bottle

An Allegory of Cultivation

Once upon a time, there was a vase like ornament in paradise that was used by Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara (or Guan Yin) to contain the elixir and a willow twig. The vase had accompanied Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara in paradise for thousands of years and always thought that it was very important to Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara. However, one day Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara suddenly picked up the vase and said, “Vase, you have become filthy and may no longer stay in this realm. You must now leave for a different realm appropriate to your level.” The vase said anxiously, “Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, I am not filthy! I am as clean and shiny as ever! I am not filthy or tarnished at all!” Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara explained with a smile, “Yes, your appearance is as shiny and clean as ever, but your nature has deteriorated. You no longer meet the standard of this realm!” The vase started to beg, “Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, I have been staying beside you for such a long time. Could you make an exception for the old time’s sake?” Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara smiled again and said, “Vase, think about what you have just said and try to compare you with yourself thousands of years ago. Do you feel you still meet the standard of this realm?” The vase then became upset and defencive. It told Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, “If I am no longer welcome here, I’d rather descend to the human realm and find a human being who will value the treasure that I am!” It took a leap and descended to the secular world.

As soon as the vase landed in the human realm, it found itself inside a luxurious mansion. It was very pleased with its new home. Looking around the room, the vase found itself surrounded by a valuable collection of antique vases from different Chinese dynasties on the display shelves. It took a look at itself and thought, “I am a divine vase from heaven. These ordinary vases are naturally no match to me!” Indeed, the owner of the mansion took special care of the vase. In fact, he would polish the vase with incensed lotion every day. The vase was most pleased with the special treatment. He wanted to tell the man, “What an eye for the genuine treasure! I have made a right decision to come down here after all!”

One day, a man in a shabby outfit visited the mansion, but the owner of the mansion was surprisingly courteous to him. He even entertained the poor guest with a luxurious banquet. The vase wondered, “Why is the owner treating the poor man as the guest of honour?” After the banquet, the owner picked up the vase and said to the guest, “Mr. Zhang, this is a treasure that I have recently acquired. Feast your eyes! This is a most valuable treasure!” Next he said, “If you had not rescued me in time from the water, I would surely have died! I could never fully return your favour, but I would like to present this valuable vase as a small token of my appreciation!” Then he passed the vase to the guest.

Feeling astonished and furious, the vase began to resent the owner of the mansion. “So I am nothing to you but a present to somebody after all! And to a man of his stature, too!” The vase detected the stench of fish from the guest, and felt he was going to retch if he could! Although the shabby guest tried to decline the present, the owner insisted on giving him the present. He said, “If you should refuse my sincere gift, I would break this valuable vase into pieces right away!” The guest had no choice but to accept the gift and bade the owner farewell.

Carried by its new owner, the vase travelled on a rugged and bumpy road and finally arrived at a shabby house full of the stench of fish. The vase could hardly believe that it had to face a new life in a fisherman’s rundown shack. As soon as the man entered the house, he shouted, “Honey, I have brought home a vase! Fill the vase with wine at once! I am carrying it with me when I go fishing tomorrow!” Then a plump woman appeared from the kitchen, grabbed the vase, and left the house. Grasped by the woman’s rough and greasy hand, the vase felt very uncomfortable. Soon, it felt its body filled with cheap wine. The vase felt unbearably painful like it was suffocating! It used to contain Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara’s elixir in paradise, but now it was filled with cheap wine in the human realm!

After a long time, the vase was covered with grease and dirt. It also had nicks and cracks all over its body. But as time went on, it got used to the smell of the cheap wine and began to see how people in the human world love to drink it. On the days when it was not filled with cheap wine, it felt painful and ached for the taste of the cheap wine it once had detested. On a windy day, the fisherman carried it on a fishing trip again. When he picked up the vase and was about to drink from it, a powerful tide hit the boat and caused the fisherman to drop the vase. The vase fell into the sea and lost all of wine. It was forced to drink lots of seawater, which it found quite repulsive. After drifting in the ocean for a long time, the vase thought of Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara. It started to blame all of its misery on Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, and began to hate Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara. Just as the vase started to hate Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, a stout wind directed tides to smash the vase against a rock near the shore. A part of the lid broke off upon impact. The tide kept on churning, and more and more parts of the vase broke off. Each time a piece broke off, the vase’s hatred for Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara would grow. It also started to hate the owner of the mansion and the destitute fisherman. In fact, it hated everyone and everything. Little by little, the vase was covered with sand. It could no longer see the light of the day because it was falling slowly to the bottom of the ocean. Eventually it landed on the bottom of the ocean where it was completely dark, quiet and still. It was so still and quiet that it seemed time had stopped. The vase became terrified, but it was completely helpless. The sand kept landing on the vase. First it covered the opening of the vase and eventually the rest of its body. The vase felt the weight of the sand. It wanted to struggle and get free, but it was completely helpless.

Surrounded by deadly calmness and covered by thick layers of sand in the bottom of the ocean, the vase started to miss the days when it was sitting next to Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, listening to her lectures on Buddha Law. While the vase was missing the good old days in paradise, it suddenly remembered the heartlessness of Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, the owner of the luxurious mansion and the fisherman. Then it decided to blame and hate them again and soon the vase found it was slowly losing its thoughts. It was terrified of this feeling of losing its thoughts. Eventually, it lost all of its ability to think. What remains was a dirty broken ordinary vase buried in the rotten mud in the bottom of the ocean.

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