Elena Kovalenko, born circa 1924 in China, grew up in Shanghai inside the Japanese Concession and worked for a British company in the city until she was 21 years old when she left China, was introduced to me by Bryon Mok of San Francisco in the early 1980s. I visited with her when she was in the hospital. During my visits, one of her best friends, an Eskimo lady originally from Siberia would also come visit her. They spoke Russian. Elena Kovalenko was the daughter of Shanghai Jews of Russian ancestry. After leaving China, she served God as a Catholic nun in Caracas, Venezuela, for 33 years. When I met her, she gave me a very precious manuscript that she had written in English and in Spanish. After keeping it for three decades without finding an appropriate outlet for publication, I am finally able to fulfill my responsibility to realize her wish.
Here is her story and here are her stories.
Flower of Oriental Legends by Elena Kovalenko
I was born in China, and I remained there until I was twenty-one years old. I am used to thinking like the Chinese and a little like the Japanese, especially about the inherent nature of human beings, about their customs, and about reincarnation.
Everything in my childhood seemed to have happened as a dream, as if in another world. As an adult, I spent many years in Caracas, Venezuela, and now I am here in San Francisco. Many friends of mine have encouraged me to write these stories and let other people know about old Chinese legends. I am very grateful to them, because those who have heard these legends as they are written have liked them. Some are absolutely true, others I know from hearsay, and still others are fantasies of my imagination.
Thinking that perhaps readers could learn a lot from these legends, I proceeded with their publication in a book, thanks to the cooperation of a group of loyal friends who have made this possible. I am pleased to leave testimony here of my profound appreciation for and recognition of their help.
Do you know why the legends you are about to read are like that?
I lost my parents since the age of three, so I had to transmute a lot of suffering into happiness, and to learn to think and act in this world as if we were all brothers and sisters endowed with valuable and vital abilities. I lack nothing in life, and all the children I see are like my own. Like the sun that shines for everyone, I believe that we all belong to each other. To feel reality in all its fullness and transform with mind and heart its negative aspects so that there will be well-being where there used to be bitterness is a fascinating process that these Chinese legends show with such eloquent simplicity. Let us free our imagination and enter into this world of make believe, whose symbols strengthen the soul as we live our life on earth.
Iron, silver, gold and other minerals do not mix, but each can be polished.
Flower of Oriental Legends by Elena Kovalenko
Since a very long time ago up to the 1940s, many Chinese families like the ones in Shanghai at the end of that decade lacked financial resources and could not feed their families. Sometimes the newly born were wrapped in newspapers, their feet tied with wire so the wrapping would not come loose and make the baby cry, and then placed on the streets. Sometimes a person would take a baby home, but otherwise, they would be picked up in the morning by the men who carried the dead to be burned. On occasion, the babies would still be alive. Many of the children were weak and anemic because of a lack of proper nourishment. But the Chinese were very religious and thought it was better for them not to suffer. They believed in the winds, in the spirits, and in the sun. If they placed a child on the street, it meant that they were delivering it to the spirits of the winds.*
The Chinese venerate Buddha, who holds five children close to his body. They represent the five senses. The monks would put on masks to perform rites during meditation. The masks have many expressions. Each one meant something to help awaken the senses that mortals could use in their daily lives.
*According to notes in her manuscript, these cases occurred in 1946.
Invisible Little Friends
In the south of China, thousands of years ago, there lived a very happy couple. They lacked nothing. They owned a small house and a small market. They lived happily, but people made fun of them because they had no children.
One day, the husband told his wife: “We are going to pick up an abandoned child so that people will have nothing to say.” He further told his wife: “Go to the street and find a child, look at his eyes, see that they are good and see that he is a strong male.”
The woman went to the streets in searach of a son. She was walking and searching among the children wrapped in paper. She approached a package where there was a baby who could hardly cry. Slowly, she opened the package. She saw that the baby had both arms and legs tied up.** The woman took a knife from her small bag and cut the wire. The child moved his arms and legs, yet he seemed to have been tied up for a long time. He was completely naked. As he tried to grab his feet, the woman looked at him in wonder, because what the baby was doing was very unusual. He was only about six or seven months old, and he laughed a lot. She took the small child in her arms and straightened up. She then brushed the hair away from his face. The baby had awakened love in her.
In was about five thirty in the afternoon when she reached her house, and it was already dark. The husband waited at the door.
“Where did you find this child?” he asked.
“About five blocks from the Pagoda,” she answered.
“And why didn’t you look somewhere else?” he asked her.
“Because the wind was blowing very hard on his face,” she answered.
“Then, this child has been sent to us by the spirits of the winds. Let’s thank them so that they will guide us,” the man answered.
They went outside their house and placed sticks of incense around it. Then they lit them, and putting the palms of their hands together, they gave thanks many times.
When they went back into the house, the baby was already asleep. The woman showed her love for the child by silently starting to work, preparing milk, warming water, and cleaning the house, and she felt her strength was increasing. The husband left to open his market.
And so many years went by without anyone knowing that the child had been picked up in the streets. When he celebrated his sixth birthday, the mother noticed that he was not sleeping well, and upon asking him what was the matter, he replied: “Mother, when you retire to go to sleep, a man enters the house.”
The mother said nothing to her husband, but afraid, took her son to a psychiatrist. She explained to the doctor that her son was seeing things that did not exist, that he was crazy. After examining the boy, the doctor said to the child: “When you see a man in your dream, you should know that he is your friend and you should not be afraid. When he comes to you and speaks, you should know that he is going to help you, and if he does not come, he will send another friend…. Do not fear them.” The boy was very happy, and the doctor turned to the mother and said: “There are children who see things that adults cannot see, in the same manner that babies laugh to themselves.” When she heard this, the mother remembered how she had seen her son laugh a lot, then she asked the doctor what she could do.
“Please go in peace, woman, and leave the boy in peace. Ask him: ‘Those men that you see, what are they doing? He will tell you everything. If he does not answer, do not pay attention, but make sure not to tell anyone about this. The boy should keep his invisible little friends.'”
Thus years went by, and the mother kept the child’s secret. She did not let him go out so that no one would find out.
One day, the father fell ill and died, and the mother had to go to the market alone to sell vegetables which she herself planted, and the boy helped her. A short time later, the mother also died, as she could not bear the grief of losing her husband. By then, the son was eighteen years old. He built a small house and left a window open so that the spirits of his parents could go in and out. This was a custom of the people in China after their parents died. One day, the boy returned home, sat down and began asking himself:
“What am I going to do now?”
“Should I keep from going out?” He told himself that he had everything at home, but little by little, the food ran out.
When he went to bed, an invisible friend came to him and said: “You should write.”
“But I do not know how to write,” the young man answered, and the invisible friend told him: “Learn.”
The boy remained silently in bed, thinking. After a while, another friend appeared and slowly, the room was filled with many invisible friends.
The young man did not want to talk to anyone. He asked to be left alone. But an invisible friend replied:
“You never asked us who we are and what we want of you, but you should know that when you were small and were abandoned by your real parents, this friend of yours, Lord of the Winds, guided your stepmother, and I always accompanied you in your dreams. My name is Earth. Look at the one who has the cross on his forehead. He always played with you. He owns the spirits of the waters and the winds. Look at the face of that one. Observe the symbol of fire on her forehead. It signifies that one lives only while the candle of life lasts; and the symbol of water on the hands means that one has to study with one’s mind; the symbols of two horns represent the strength of knowledge; her closed eyes mean one must sleep well; her large ears mean one must listen and hear everything; her small mouth means one must not speak until one can speak no evil. Her name is Wind of the Night.
Look at my five eyes. They represent my five senses: smell, taste, touch, hearing and sight. I am the Spirit of Earth. My five senses perceive everything on Earth. This flame around me protects me from all evil. My pointed ears are my antennae.
There were many little friends. The Earth friend told him that he wanted to teach him to write, and asked him what he wanted to write about, whether about Earth, Water or Fire.
The young man asked his Earth friend, “But how am I going to learn to write?”
His friend replied: “It is very easy. I shall guide your hand and you will follow my movement.”
The young man was very happy and said that he wanted to write about the waters. Then the friend of the waters got up, saying that his time to work had arrived. He would be in charge of dictating, and the Spirit of Earth would teach him to write. At the door remained a little friend who was the Spirit of Fire. He was guarding the door with a staff in his hand while the Spirit of the Winds stood guard close to the wall with his eyes closed.
The Spirit of Earth told him how to grind and mix different gravel to make inks. Later he told him how to wet and rapidly dry tree bark to make paper.
Little by little, the young man wrote forty-eight books, and realized that his friends did not come back anymore. A voice within told him: “Your friends did not exist. It was your own conscience because you were always good and you never had bad thoughts. Your conscience helped you. It was your own mind that had a wonderful fantasy.” When he realized that it was all an illusion, he did not see his invisible friends again.
The young man took his forty-eight books and entered into business to sell them. People were surprised to see those books with foreign names in some of them. Other books of animal fantasies were very well liked. One book dealt with giants that talked about earth before it was covered by water. People sought him [out] to ask him questions.
One day, he was talking to a group of people when an enormous submarine surfaced from the bottom of the sea, and a sphere left it and descended on the young man. He walked into the sphere and was transported ot the submarine — then it went back into the sea.
People ran frightened towards the ocean, but the submarine had already disappeared. There were questions asked among the people: “Who was that young man?” Another replied: “Gen.” (This means man in Chinese.) Farther away a voice was heard that said: “It is strange, but I had read one of the books in which he spoke of something exactly like what has happened.”
** According to notes in her manuscript, this was a real incident that occurred in 1936.
You and I
There was once a very poor family. The wife used to say to her husband: “I want to live well; I am tired of poverty; we always lack something.” The husband felt very sad because he was born in a very poor family, and as a Chinese proverb says: “He who is born poor, shall be poor, as he who is born of a foolish family shall be a fool.”
The man left his house in search of riches to remedy his situation. He walked for many days without food. He felt an inner voice asking: “What is it that you want? To which he responded: “Money!” The voice ordered him: “Return to your house. Work. Little by little you will earn money. I shall help you. I will tell you how you have to work. Do you want to listen to me? Let’s go! Do what I tell you and things will go well for you!” The man refused to listen and told the voice to leave him alone. He continued walking until he found a group of people who were in a camp. He approached them and they invited him to eat and drink. The man drank so much that he felt dizzy and had to be taken to a house where there were many mirrors. The man asked the owner of the house: “Why are there so many mirrors? The owner told him that the mirrors were there to guard against evil spirits. When a person sells his soul to an evil spirit, that person cannot see himself in the mirrors. If you have seen yourself in the mirrors, you are good. Everyone can see you as they can see me. There are some people who walk by and cannot see themselves in the mirrors.”
The owner called on the evil spirits and they emerged from the mirrors. The spirits taught the poor man how to earn money easily, how to steal and how to deceive. The man learned all the bad tricks, and the voice that spoke to him before disappeared.
The spirits took him to places near roads where he could easily rob people. He walked and almost flew: he did not have to run because the spirits would lift him up. He drank some wine and looked into the mirrors again, and he saw that his face was not the same. He became frightened.
The Chinese people used to make drawings on mirrors, especially to guard against those possessed by evil spirits. When such spirits see the mirrors, they disappear. The lure of the evil spirits becomes irresistable if there are no mirrors to protect people. Those possessed by evil spirits are regarded as animals. The mirrors are protectors against all bad spirits and evil men.
Several years passed. The man with a great fear of mirrors ran from one city to another, where no one would know him. On day he was running down a street and fell into a hole. At that moment, lightning struck from the sky right into the hole where the man had fallen. Then the same voice that had once spoken to him said, “You chose your way and did not want to listen to me at that time, but in spite of that, I have come to help you.” To which the man replied: “I’ll do everything you tell me to,” and he asked the voice to forgive him. The voice then called for help, and people came to lift the man out of the hole. “You are in bad shape. What can you offer to other people and other unknown worlds? What knowledge have you gained in this world?”
At that moment, a voice was heard coming from the sky saying: “He is not prepared.” The man breathed deeply, stood up without feeling any pain, and returned to his house, all the time trying to listen to the voice and thinking how he could improve himself. He started to work and help others. People laughed at him, but he forgave them because the evil spirits had left him.
The Lost Boat
Once upon a time, a thousand years ago, there was a city in China on the shores of the North Sea. Because of a great earthquake, the city began to sink. Only a small piece of land of the city remained above the sea. The rest was covered by sea water. A pagoda stood on that piece of land, and floating close to the pagoda was a wedding boat. The people of China soon began to settle on the small island, and they built their small houses there. They lived among sea birds and pigeons that nested near the pagoda.
A girl was born to one of those Chinese families on the small island. Her mother was Chinese, but people soon found out that her father was not Chinese. The mother suffered for this very much and soon died. The little girl was left alone and went from home to home. As she grew older, she would always remember the small wedding boat that could be seen from the pagoda.
She would go to the pagoda where she had seen the wedding boat for the first time and watch it for hours. When she went to the seashore, she would watch how the little birds made their nests and raised their little families in the boat. The girl imagined herself being the boat when she went about her daily chores.
One early morning, she got up at sunrise to prepare some bouquets of flowers. She saw the boat anchored there. It looked so beautiful, she thought. So she said to the boat: “From this day on, you are going to be my brother. I have to carry many things and do many chores. My burden is very heavy. When people do not do it, I will have to offer myself, help them carry things to the city as the road is very long. Did you hear me?” the girl asked the boat. It moved in the water and the girl remembered that moment well. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon when the people placed on her shoulders bags full of vegetables. She called her brother boat and she felt relieved. She always talked to the boat, but the boat would never answer her.
And so years went by, and when the girl was grown up, people called her “Lanle.”. She ran everywhere to give help. She did not see the boat anymore, but she felt that she was a boat. She carried everything that was placed on her shoulders, and she felt very happy. People saw that she was different, but no one knew that she was a boat. She floated around the world and enjoyed herself, but she never said anything.
One day there was a storm and the boat was damaged somewhat. Lanle felt that she could no longer carry people on her back anymore. She felt that she was damaged; that she was a broken boat on the shores of an island, waiting to be repaired. And while the other boats were repaired, Lanle decided to rest, eat better, and work differently, as she knew she was a damaged boat.
And so, she allowed herself to be carried by the current. She went ot other places where she was used for other things. She kept feeling happy. People started calling her “Goddess of the Waters.” The people also called her to the fields, because on the spot where she stood, water and many fish would appear.
Lanle told the people that the water and the fish were brought to the fields by the boat, but people did not want to listen to her, and no one paid any attention to her story. Sometimes she helped people who lived on barges and in houseboats on the shores of the Vampu River. One day she was taken to a field by some peasants, but she did not know what for. In the center of the field there was no water. She asked the peasants what was it that they wanted from her. The people told her that they wanted water. Lanle remembered where the boat was, and immediately water started flowing from her fingers. Tthe peasants started to jump with joy and called her “Goddess of the Waters.” They brought pails with seeds and started to grow plants.
When Lanle left, no one saw her and the people soon forgot about her. Not long afterwards, Lanle returned to the site of the pagoda and the lost boat. No one knew that she could transport herself with her imagination, but every time she thought about the boat, she would float through the skies and go anywhere she wanted.
One day, Lanle asked herself why she was always thinking about the boat. She walked to the vessel, climbed in and disappeared. All the people on the shore saw how the boat rose up into the sky and vanished among the clouds. And they called her “Goddess of the Waters.”
The Tiger and the King
In Shanghai, China, the tiger is regarded as a sacred animal. The people believe that it can protect them from evil spirits. That is why they would draw its face on mirrors. In almost all Chinese houses, there used to be a round mirror with a tiger’s face painted on it and placed above the front entrance.
Almost all believers would place three bottles on the roof. The mouths of the bottles would be pointed towards the East, where the sun came up. The bottles would be empty and they would be placed in such a way that not even the rains could move them. These were for the good spirits to rest, while the tiger guarded against all the evil spirits. Such were their beliefs, customs and superstition.
Thousands of years ago, the Chinese people were seeking a way to get rid of mice. People were very afraid of them because in the cities the mice would attack the children and nibble their ears and noses.
They were also looking for a remedy against aging.
Upon reaching the age of 19, the Chinese would begin to practice meditation in their gardens, on balconies and terraces and even in the streets. They would meditate for long periods. They would get up before the sun was up, and begin their meditation by standing on one foot for an hour. They would open and close their palms and stretch their fingers while holding their arms up in front of them. This was healthy because it would calm them and strengthen their minds.
On day, the Chinese decided to seek help from the King against old age and the mice, since the duty of the King was to give to his people whatever they asked for. When the people went to see the King, he was meditating. He was called upon, and in loud voices they requested: “We need to be saved from mice and old age!” Upon hearing them, the King stood on one foot and with his arms lifted towards the sky and the stars, he told them:
“Look what humanity asks of me. I am only a man!”
At that moment, lightning struck from the sky over the forest and farther away. The King interpreted this as meaning that he must go into the forest to seek help, so he sent his servants to prepare his palankeen. When it was ready, he climbed upon it and sat in it comfortably. His servants carried him to the forest and upon entering, he ordered them to wait at the edge of the forest, and told his guards to set up camp at the same place.
The King looked up and saw a star in the sky that showed him the way. He followed the star and took his shoes off to walk on the soft floor of the forest.
Following the star, the King came to a place where a tiger was chewing a shrub with small white flowers on it. Then suddenly, the shrub seemed to take on a red hue. and from it a voice was heard: “I am the King here. What do you want from me?”
The King replied: “I am also a King and my subjects have asked for my help to fight against old age and mice.” “I have come here to find the solutions. Since you say that you are a King, I want you to help me. I will respect you and look upon you as a protector of my kingdom, and if I can, I shall also help you.”
The tiger said: “Because you have come in search of answers and have asked me, I will grant you your wish, because we are here to help each other. Look at the plant I am eating. It rejuvenates me and it will rejuvenate all those who eat it. It is called GINSENG, which means: Man of China. Its heads are the flowers, and its seeds are for propagation. I plant the seeds so more ginseng will grow. There are both male and female seeds. The male is stronger. You pick it from this root.”
Then the tiger told him how to prepare a liquor with honey and alcohol and how it should be drunk in small cups.
“Drink one cup a week to become strong and young.” Then he gave the king this advice:
“You should know that there are always tigers where these plants grow. The tigers protect the ginseng roots for me. I watch over them in guarding the roots and I plant the seeds. I do my duty well and I work hard.”
Then with its paws the tiger king removed some soil from the ground, and took out several roots from the earth. The tiger mixed the roots and soil with drops of blood to make a small ball. Suddenly, several gusts of wind blew across the little balls of soil and ginseng roots. They blew very strongly from his nostrils. Soon, the little ball split into two, and they started to move, slowly forming two small kittens.
The tiger then said: “These will help you to get rid of the mice. I am too big to catch them, but these are my little brothers who will do the job for me. My command is for you to take care of them and respect them.”
“Thank you,” said the King. He took the ginseng roots and the kittens. As the King left the forest, his guards were waiting. He sat in his palankeen and returned to his kingdom.
After he returned home, he waited for the kittens to grow up and bear more kittens. Then he gave the kittens to his people.
He also sent his servants to look for the roots of the ginseng plant. If a tiger attacked them, they would kill it.
They followed the rules of the tiger kingdom where tiger thieves who ate the ginseng plants without the Tiger King’s permission would be killed because they did not respect the law.
Following the king’s advice, the people felt young and grew strong and healthy. And through the years, they built many houses for their numerous children.
This is why many people still paint images of the tiger on their mirrors. But after many years, they forgot the laws of nature and began to kill animals for food, and many wars broke out.
In some parts of China there still are laws and secrets of nature that saved the people in ancient times.
Obey the laws and you will be happy.
In the south of China there was once a family that had five children. They were all male. One of them had always wanted to go fishing since childhood. His father took only him because he liked the way the child helped him. The boy would fix the nets, get the worms for bait, and when they caught some rare types of fish, the kid would prepare them and hang them on the wall of his room. He collected all kinds of fish specimen and spent hours watching them.
When the boy turned sixteen, he dedicated more of his time to thoroughly study the life of the fish. He read all the books he could about fish. His father would always give him money after he helped prepare the catch, and he would spend the money on useful things and on books to learn more about the fish and the sea and gain more knowledge. His brothers, however, would spend their money on candy or games that brought them no benefit.
And so the years passed, and the young boy used all of his free time to continue studying fish and all other creatures that lived in water. On his 19th birthday, the boy had a dream. He dreamt that he went to the seaside and saw an old man sitting on some rocks by the shore. A fish hung from his fishing pole. It was a very sad dream.
The boy related the dream to his father. His father then gave him some money and told him to go to Peking to look for that old man and to find out what the old fisherman could tell him.
“Yes, father,” the boy answered. So he sailed for Peking in a small boat. As soon as he reached his destination, he went to live in a small house.
The next morning, he got up early to go to the sea shore where there were many rocks, and there he sat comfortably to fish. Not long afterwards, he turned his head and saw an old man fishing also, and to his surprise, the old man was the same one in his dream. The young man stood up and walked towards the old man. As the boy approached, the old man said to the boy:
— “Do you want to ask me something?”
— “Yes. I saw you in my dream, but I do not know you.”
The old man replied: “I am a fisherman and everybody knows me.” “You have already studied the fish, and everything that is under the sea, but I am going to tell you one important thing, and the true nature of a fisherman:
“A fisherman catches fish for food.”
“The fish die because they are curious and they take the bait. They do not see what they eat. As you are studying this, I am going to teach you other things that no one will teach you.”
At that moment, two fish were swimming near the shore.
The old man said: “Let’s go inside them.” So he led the boy’s soul into the fish, leaving their human bodies on the shore, and went to the bottom of the sea.
The old man said: “Since we know something about them, they will not devour us.” They saw, through the eyes of the fish, things similar to those above the water.”
The old fish then said: “Let’s ask for permission to talk to the king of the sea.” But a guardian fish answered that it was not time yet and that they should wait.
While they waited, they saw different colors coming out of huge oysters, and there was incredible music of beautiful harmony. There were astonishing stars, shining and changing colors as they danced in the depths of the ocean.
The guardian fish then told them that they could now have their audience with the king of the sea.
Upon entering the chambers of the king of the sea, they saw among some rocks a fish that looked like a man with very large teeth.
The king of the sea then greeted them and asked them what they wanted. The old fish answered: “Permission to study people.”
The King said: “It is very dangerous because those animals kill everything. Do you know anything abou them?”
— “Yes, we have basically finished studying them already.”
— “Well, then come in through here.”
The King showed them a cavern in the walls. Hanging from the walls were skeletons of men, women and children. There were also some bodies in human form lying on the sea floor and schools of small fish were sworming around them. The old fish asked: “What are those small fish doing?”
The King replied: “They are removing the fat to feed the ill and taking out the flesh to give to the working fish. The other parts are planted at the bottom of the sea to grow good sea grasses.”
And so they spent hours talking.
— “How can they catch a man?” The old fish then asked.
— “It’s very easy to fish the curious. Here in the laboratory we have a kind of grease. We put it on rocks so people will slip and fall down. We have cold ocean currents that give people cramps and secret whirlpools where a curious man might fall in and be pulled to the bottom. Sometimes we would give people a chance to survive and let him swim to the surface again. When a person of grace falls in, we always return him or her to the surface because they are few and they understand us well.”
They understand the language we speak and we understand theirs. They give us useful things for our growth and we provide them with food.”
Then, the King made them change into other fish that only ate sea weed. They could then hide among the leaves of the sea weeds and avoid being eaten by other fish.
The old fish wanted to learn more, so he asked the King: “How is it up there?”
The King answered: “Put on these wings and let us go to take a look, but beware of the birds that swoop down from the sky over the surface of the water. Observe everything closely and then let me know.”
They left and when they reached the shore they checked if there was any danger. Then, they left their fish bodies and went back to their own human bodies, becoming the old fisherman and the young man once more.
The old man then said: “Now you know the secrets of the sea. I am here to help you, and so you now know what you must do.”
— “Yes,” the young man replied.
He returned to the South and told his father that he wanted to be a man of science. He studied very hard and discovered many things in fish that were good for people, such as fish oil, phosphorus, and fish bones which could be used to fertilize the vegetables. He presented his discoveries to doctors and they asked him if he was a doctor or a prophet. He replied: “Who cares who I am? I do it to help our sick people.”
Soon he became famous and had to hide because people would bother him too much and some people knelt before him to pray and worship him as if he were a god. He did not want this so he decided to retire to an island where he knew he could study a lot more. And there he was happy until he died. He was venerated by all.
This is the story of a young inventor who lived in the times of a king who liked inventions. This was years before a king was ever mentioned in the well known legends of many countries today.
The King was powerful and rich. He had a pretty wife who escaped from the palace one day. The king sent several of his guards to pursue her. They had to run very rapidly as she was very agile and fast, and it was very difficult to catch up with her. So the King ordered his soldiers on horseback to go after her.
From then on, the King ordered that her feet be tied with strips of cloth and decreed that every girl in his kingdom, upon reaching the age of eight, was to have her feet bound. Each foot was wrapped with a long strip of cloth. Then the girl was ordered to wear wooden shoes so that her feet would not grow. The girl’s feet were thus bound until adulthood. The King issued that decree so that women would not run away from home.
Thousands of years ago, China had a King who liked inventions. He used to tell the people of China: “Bring me inventions and those who contribute useful things to humanity and progress shall be well rewarded.” In addition to the gifts, the King had large statues built in honor of the inventor. Naturally, he would refuse those inventions that he believed were useless.
There was a young man who manufactured glass using sand and mud. He studied a lot in his free time. The King ordered that he be kept in a room like a prison. The young man had manufactured a great quantity of phosphorous, which was unknown anywhere else in the world at that time, and the King wanted no one else to learn about this secret. The room where the young man was kept was large and beautiful. He was well fed, and when he slept, the servants fanned him.
One day, the King held a feast. The young man observed through his small window that many people were entering the palace. However, he was not allowed to leave his room, not even on his day of rest or on such auspicious occasions. The young man turned his eyes towards the window and gazed at the sky. Then he exclaimed: “I do not want anything from these people. I just want to be free so that I can look at the people more closely adn walk the streets. Please do something.”
Then, suddenly, a ball fell from the sky into the room and out of it oozed a mixture that penetrated the container in which he prepared his invention of glass. The young man walked over to the container and felt that he had to work. He took out a piece of round glass from the container, and at that moment, many people rushed toward his room and stood outside as the King entered the room.
“What is happening?” the young man exclaimed.
The King said, “Something came from the sky. We all saw it. What was it?”
The young man answered: “I did not see what came down, but it remained here.”
Then the King said: “Heaven has sent you to work with me.”
So the King invited the young man to sit with him at the feast, and the court musicians played music, and the young man saw what he wanted to see.
After the feast, the King invited him to play games, but the young man refused, saying: “I am accustomed to being alone, Your Majesty. I am going to tell you the secret that came from the heavens, if you promise to set me free.”
The King answered: “I promise.”
So the young man presented the glass ball to the King and held it up and said: “You are going to see a mountain through this glass ball.” The King then saw a large and beautiful mountain with enchanting birds, which no one else could see. He immediately ordered his soldiers to go to the mountain and catch the birds, but his soldiers soon returned and reported to him that the birds were not there, that the birds flew faster than any horse and they could not be caught. The King did not think that it was wise to let the young man go.
One day, the King was talking to his people, and the young man once again took out the glass ball and looked into it. He saw many incredible things.
“How may I leave this place?” the young man asked the crystal ball. “The King has deceived me,” he murmurred, and looking up at the sky, he saw a circle of clouds and a beautiful girl stood in the middle. The young man looked at her mesmerized.
After a while, he turned his head so that he could not see her anymore. At that moment, the glass ball fell to the floor and startled him. He turned around and saw the girl standing by his side, gesturing to him as if inviting him to step into the circle of clouds under her feet. He walked over to her and stepped into the clouds with her. As they stood on the clouds together, arm in arm, the clouds lifted them into the sky. As the young man looked down, he became afraid of the height, and the girl laughed at him.
As they rose, the people on the ground saw them and began to pray because they did not know what was happening. The young couple thus roamed the skies and the heavens happily ever after, and no one knew where they went.
In a city in China where there were many houses, a family meeting was being held in one of them. Some grandchildren were asking their grandfather to reveal one of his remaining secrets. Because they had already heard most of his stories.
The grandfather said: “I am too old and very soon I shall go to the other world. I am going to tell you what happened to me when I was young and handsome.
“My parents loved me very much since I was the only son. And I had a dog which I loved very much. It was a boxer, old and with a lot of wrinkles on his face. I loved him so much that I used to let it eat from my own plate, and we slept together. I always played with him in my free time.
“My father was a tailor, and my mother helped to take care of the clients.
“One day as I returned home from school, I noticed that my dog, ‘Beilan’ was not at home to greet me.”
When I asked where my dog was, my parents told me that they had taken the dog to the forest and that I would not see it anymore.
“Why?” I asked my father. “Because I say so,” he replied.
I felt very sad, so I decided to go to the forest to look for Beilan. I left home to look for my dog. It was very late when I reached the forest. I started to call out, “Beilan, Beilan, come, my friend, come.”
It was a clear night. The moon looked huge, and I walked and walked, farther and farther. The chirping of the birds sounded different as I went deeper into the forest. I took some fruit that looked like cucumbers and ate them, because I was very hungry. After eating several of the fruits, I started to hear many voices. They sounded like a tribunal was in session. I walked toward the place where the voices were coming from. Soon I reached a small mound. I stood there and looked down towards a clearing, and there I saw Beilan sitting in the center of a circle formed by a group of different animals. Beilan was talking to them and the animals were listening.
“How strange,” I said to myself, because I did not understand what they were saying. Then I heard a voice coming from behind me, saying, “Sleep, sleep,” in a chanting voice. I turned and saw a snake. I told it to leave me alone. Then I climbed down from the mound towards the animals so that I could hear the conversation better. As I approached, one of the animals said: “Look, a boy!” All of the animals then rushed towards me and began smelling me. The lion said: “He smells like a dog.” Beilan told them that I was his grandson, and he ordered them to leave me in peace and to continue their conversation.
Beilan then said: “I am the oldest of all, and very soon I am going to change, and before I end this conversation, I want each of you to speak.”
“You, bear, what are you doing here? What good do you do for others? What is it that you do well?”
– “First,” said the bear, “I put up with my wife’s beatings. she is strong and hits very hard. Six months out of a year, I hibernate in the mountains where it snows, and I strengthen my fur to offer warmth to others after my death.”
– “And you, buzzard?”
– “I clean the land. I only take nourishment for myself from dead animals and other wastes. And among us buzzards, we do not devour anything that is alive.”
– “And you, horse?”
– “I transport people and pull carts and ploughs. Hay is my only nourishment, but I am very strong.”
The lion then volunteered: “I command the jungle, the forest and the plains. I devour all the beasts that are weak and sick, so that only healthy and strong animals will live.”
“But tell me something that was unusual about your life, lion,” said Beilan, “apparently your mother was a goat?”
– “Well, my parents were lions, but when I was a kitten, they were caught by hunters. My mother was injured, but she was able to take her entire litter, me and my brothers, to the top of a mountain to hide us. But she lost her hold on me, and could not grab me. I fell from the mountain top down a cliff where some goats were grazing, so they adopted me, and I grew up among them. I played with them even though I still loved my parents.
“When I grew older, I often accompanied my adoptive parents as they grazed on the montain side. One day, they were attacked by some wolves, and they were trying to escape. I was very scared. My goat mother said: “Goodbye my son.” I answered, in tears, trembling, “Mother! mother! mother!” I roared with all the strength I could muster. The wolves heard my roar. They got scared, released my adoptive parents and ran away. Everybody congratulated me.
“But the time came for the annual tribunal, like the one we have here. The judge was a tiger, and he ordered my parents to send me away. Thus, I had to go my own way, and at first I was very sad, but in time, my sadness dissipated, and eventually, I found a consort and formed my own family.”
Beilan said: “You must have been courageous, because, if not, the tribunal would have taken away your lion suit and given you a rabbit suit for cowardice.”
And thus, each animal related to Beilan something about itself.
Finally, Beilan told the gathered animals: “The lion has had many experiences, and has attained many things in his life. He has pursued many different animals. He was able to scare away the wolves and did not cry. He has learned many things from other animals. One has to learn and understand all points of view.”
– “The lion, as the king of the forests and the plains, is a very fine king. He waits till his food is brought to him, and he protects his family. Because of this, he commands the forest, and for that everybody should respect him.”
– “Now you know that every hundred years or so someone such as I will come along to bring news of the other worlds as well as this one. You already know about those animals that change their skin and those that do not change.”
The conference thus came to an end. Beilan lay down, said goodbye to the others, and asked them to keep the secrets of the jungles and to love and respect the laws of nature.
These were the last words of the dog. He breathed for the last time, and soon only his skin was left. A figure was seen leaving the body and disappearing in the sky. The lion then said: “Everybody, go to your places before the sun rises, and do not forget the secret of living with nature.”
The Birth of the Sandal Tree
There once was a very rich family in Shen Xian, in the northern part of China. However, the family had no sons, and the greatest wish of the family was to have a son. The house in which the family lived was surrounded by high walls that protected a beautiful garden of pretty flowers and big trees. The only think lacking was a child. They waited and waited.
Not far away from the rich family lived a very poor woman and her husband. Both were very ill and could not work. Nobody would give the husband work because he had tuberculosis. One day, the woman gave birth to a son. But shortly afterwards, her husband died.
The poor woman went around begging for food and money but people would throw stones at her. This was the custom in those days, the sick were usually killed. The woman went from one field to another looking for plants, and from one garbage pile to another looking for leftover food that had been thrown out by the rich family. When the child was nine years old, the poor mother died. The boy buried her near a garbage dump and then went alone to beg, but he did not live long either. Some passersby picked up his body and threw it in the dump where his mother had been buried.
Years went by, and at the place where their bodies had been laid, two trees grew for the first time in two centuries. One was a big tree and the other was small. No one knew the name of those two trees but they emitted a very attractive fragrance.
After the trees appeared, the rich family which we had mentioned before were finally blessed with the birth of a child. The parents were very happy and contented, but their joy gave way to sadness when they discovered that the boy was blind. It was truly a tragedy.
The couple did not let any outsider into their walled compound because they did not want anyone else to know that their son was blind. Otherwise, stones would be thrown at the boy until he died.
A few years went by, and one day, a nice family who were good friends of theirs came to visit. The son of that family played with the blind rich boy, and the secret of his blindness was kept very well. And anothere few years went by ….
One cool and peaceful day, the owner of a neighboring house had an upsetting incident. He had lost the money to pay the salaries of his employees. It was a large sum of money. The man was very sad and left home with the thought of never returning again.
He boarded his carriage with the intention of going very far away. On the way he saw a beautiful woman standing on the curb as if waiting for someone. She wore valuable jewelry. She waved at the driver to stop and asked for a ride. The driver gave her a ride. She climbed into the carriage, sat down and remained silent. They traveled for hours, but she did not utter a word. Then, the man turned his head towards the back of the carriage where the woman was riding, but there was no one there, there was only a package where the woman had been sitting. He picked it up, opened it and found a lot of money. The man immediately turned the carriage around and went back home. He used the money to pay his workers and, feeling happy, he asked himself who was that kind woman.
One day, some children were playing in the street by a wall when a beautiful woman called out to them. All the children who were playing there approached the woman, and she gave them some candy. At that moment, the wall where they had been playing fell down. All the children were scared but they realized that the woman had saved them. When they looked back, she had disappeared.
The children later related this incident to their parents, and there was a lot of speculation about that woman who saved lives, but no one knew who she was.
Even the little blind boy heard about the stories. “Who is this woman?”, the blind child, who was now nine years old, asked his friend. The friend answered: “I don’t know, but people say that she helps many people and then leaves without waiting for a thank you.”
“How strange!”, said the blind boy.
That same night, the boy dreamed that the door to his room opened and a beautiful woman came in wearing a pretty dress and precious jewels.
“Do you want to see?” she asked him.
“Then you should do what I am going to tell you.”
“I promise,” he answered.
“Tomorrow, when your friend comes to your house to play, you will ask him to take you to play at the dump. When you are there, you will touch two trees, one large, and one small. Then you will ask to be taken there for three days. During those three days, you will take some leaves off the trees and rub your eyes with them; after this you will be able to see. Do not scare your mother – you will let her know gently by asking her to give you the blue pants and your white shirt, and then she will know that you can see. After this, you have to fulfill a promise to beg for charity in the streets. You will keep sacred the place where the trees are located, and you will be able to heal the people who are sick. You will disinfect the houses and prepare incense with the leaves of the two trees. You will make sure that no one will harm them.”
After saying this, the woman disappeared.
The blind boy woke up and was not able to sleep anymore. He waited for his friend to arrive. The next morning, his friend came early and the blind boy asked the friend to take him to the place where the dump was. His parents did not want to let him go, but he went anyway and did what the lady in the dream told him to do.
After that, the boy was able to see colors and everything else; he was so happy he cried. He could never have imagined that the world could be so beautiful. All he wanted to do was look and look, and see everything.
The next day, as he was about to get dressed, he wanted to shout for joy, but he remembered his promise. So he asked his mother to give him his blue pants and his white shirt. His mother brought him a shirt, but it was not white, so the boy told her so. At this moment, the mother realized that her son was able to see.
“You can see, my son, you can see! What great happiness this is!”
The boy then remembered his promise. “Mother, I have to leave home.”
– “But my son, you are only nine years old,” she replied.
– “I have to leave because I have a lot of work to do.”
The parents then gave him a lot of money for his journey, and with these funds he built a wall around the trees.
Then the boy started to beg for charity. One day, he came to a house and saw a woman crying. “What is wrong?” he asked.
The lady replied: “My daughter is dying; a terrible infection covers her skin.”
He told her: “Take these leaves and rub her skin with them for three days.”
– “But there is no cure,” said the lady. “The doctors say that nothing can be done.”
The boy replied: “There is nothing for you to lose; do what I tell you.” And then he left.
He began to treat the ill in this manner. He gave them the leaves and told them how to prepare them. He learned many secrets. Everybody visited him and gave him great gifts. He built some houses around the site where the trees grew. People called him monk because he walked pensively. He wore a white tunic and carried a bag from house to house, with the medicine prepared from the leaves of the trees.
Years went by. Many young men came to study under him and work with him. They came to study the sacred trees that have saved so many lives. People honored him by calling him the “Great Priest” and he became renowned throughout China.
As the years passed, he and his disciples built many monasteries. They still exist, and the Great Priest is worshipped as a saint. His image is painted as an old man with a long beard. He carries many small vats with the healing preparations from the leaves of the trees. He even wrote prescriptions on how to prepare the leaves, and his secrets have been well kept. The secrets are only made known to those who study and perform good deeds. The person who helps others will find the secrets of life and perpetuate the story of the sandal trees.