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Sudhana (Chinese: 善財; ||pinyin]]: Shàncái; Wade-Giles: Shan3Tsai2) translated as Child of Wealth, is the main protagonist in the next-to-last and longest chapter of the Avatamsaka Sutra. In Chinese traditions he is also one of the acolytes of the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara (Guan Yin) and is paired with Long Nü. He and Long Nu being depicted with Guan Yin was most likely influenced by the Jade Maiden (Chinese: 玉女; ||pinyin]]: Yùnǚ) and Golden Youth (Chinese: 金僮; ||pinyin]]: Jīntóng) who both appear in the iconography of Yù Huáng.[1]

The Gandavyuha Sutra

Sudhana (Japanese: 善財童子 Zenzai Douji) was a youth from India who was seeking enlightenment. At the behest of Mañjuśrī Sudhana takes a pilgrimage on his quest for enlightenment and studies under fifty-three "good friends," those who direct one towards the Way to Enlightenment. The 53 stations of Japan's Tokaido are a metaphor for Sudhana's journey. Avalokitesvara is the 28th spiritual master Sudhana visits at Mount Potalaka. Sudhana's quest reaches it climax at when he meets Maitreya, the Buddha to be who snaps his fingers and opens thereby opening the doors to his marvelous tower. Within the tower Sudhana experiences all the Dharmadhatu (dimensions or worlds) in a fantastic succession of visions.[2] The final master that he visits is Samantabhadra who teaches Sudhana that wisdom only exists for the sake of putting it into practice.

The pilgrimage of Sudhana mirrors that of Gautama Buddha and the Gandavyuha Sutra becomes very popular in China during the Song Dynasty when it was adapted and circulated in small amply illustrated booklets, each page dedicated to one of Sudhana's spiritual teachers.

Tale of the Southern Seas

Chapter 18 of the Complete Tale of Guan Yin and the Southern Seas (Chinese: 南海觀音全撰; ||pinyin]]: Nánhǎi Guānyīn Quánzhuàn), a sixteenth century Ming Dynasty novel, is the first text that connects Shan Cai as being an acolyte of Guan Yin. Here Shan Cai was a disabled boy from India who was very interested in studying the Buddhist teachings and Guan Yin had just achieved enlightenment and retired to Putuoshan. When he heard that there was a Bodhisattva on the rocky island of Putuo he quickly journeyed there to learn despite his disability.

Guan Yin, after having a discussion with Shan Cai, decided to test his resolve to fully study the Buddhist teachings. She has the tree and plants turn into sword wielding pirates running up the hill to attack them. Guan Yin took off and dashed to the edge of a cliff and jumped over with the pirates still in pursuit. Shan Cai, still wanting to save Guan Yin jumped after her.

Shan Cai and Guan Yin managed to reascend the cliff at which point Guan Yin ask Shan Cai to look down. There Shan Cai saw his mortal remains at the foot of the cliff. Guan Yin now asked him to walk and Shan Cai found that he could walk normally and that he was no longer crippled. When he looked into a pool of water he also discovered that he now had a very handsome face. From that day forth Guan Yin taught Shan Cai the entire Buddha Dharma. Next Guan Yin and Shan Cai encounters the third son of the Dragon King and in the process Guan Yin earns Long Nu as a new acolyte. (see Long Nu for how Shan Cai and Guan Yin aid the Dragon King)

The Precious Scrolls

Yuan Dynasty hanging scroll. Depicts Shan Cai (walking on waves), The Filial Parrot (above), Guan Yin and Long Nu

The Precious Scroll of Shan Cai and Long Nu (Chinese: 善財龍女寶撰; ||pinyin]]: Shàncái Lóngnǚ Bǎozhuàn), an eighteenth-nineteenth century scroll comprising of 29 folios, gives a different legend for how Shan Cai and Long Nu come to be acolytes of Guan Yin and seems to have a Taoist origin. The text is set during the Qianfu period of the Tang Dynasty.

A virtuous minister by the name of Chen Bao, and his wife Lady Han, are still childless and not getting any younger. When Chen rejects his wife's suggestion of taking a concubine, she then suggests praying to Guan Yin. Guan Yin, who sees that the couple is destined to remain childless, orders a Boy Who Brings Wealth (Chinese: 招財僮子; ||pinyin]]: Zhāocái Tóngzǐ) to be born into the family. Soon Lady Han gives birth to a boy named Chen Lian, but she passes away when he was only 5 years old.

As a child, Chen Lian was interested not in civil or military pursuits, but in religious enlightenment much to his father's disapproval. At the age of 7 his father finally gave into his pleas and allows him to learn under the tutelage of the Yellow Dragon Immortal (Chinese: 黃龍仙人; ||pinyin]]: Huáng Lóng Xiānrén) at Ma Gu. Here Chen Lian is given the name Shan Cai and becomes a dutiful apprentice, however he rejects all of his father's request for him to visit home.

When his father's 60th birthday approaches, he is once again asked to visit home. With his master away on business, Shan Cai decides to visit his father since it is a special occasion. On his way down a mountain path to visit his father he hears a voice crying out for help. Upon investigation, it turns out to be the voice of a snake trapped in a bottle for the last eighteen years. The snake begs Shan Cai to release her upon which she turn into her true form, that of a monster and threatens to eat him. When Shan Cai protests at the snake's behavior, it makes the argument that than ēn (恩, a kind act) is repaid by a feud and that is the way of the world. However the snake agrees to submit the argument to three judges.

The first judge the argument is presented to is the human incarnation of the Golden Water Buffalo Star who agrees with the snake given its past experience with humans. The Buffalo Star relates how it never wanted to descend to earth but was pushed out of the gates of heaven by Dizhang who took pity on the toiling masses. Dizhang vowed that if the humans did not repay a favor with a favor his eyes would fall out and drop to the ground. Because of the Buffalo Star's fall to earth, which was face first, it lost all of its upper front teeth. It suffered greatly at the hands of humans who after years of toiling for its master was butchered and eaten. Because of this Dizhang's eye did indeed fall out and transformed into the snails that the buffaloes now trample on when it plows the fields.

The second judge they encounter was the Taoist priest Zhuangzi who also agreed with the snake citing an experience he had when he resurrected a skeleton who then immediately took Zhuangzi to court and accused him of stealing his money.

The last judge they met was a young girl. The girl told the snake that it could eat her as well if the snake could show her how it was able to fit into the bottle which Shan Cai had released it from. As soon as the snake wormed itself back into the bottle, it was trapped. The girl then reveals herself to be Guan Yin. When the snake begs for mercy, Guan Yin tells it that inorder to be saved it must engage itself in religious exercises in the Grotto of the Sounds of the Flood (present day Fayu Temple) on Mount Putuo. At this time Guan Yin also gains a new disciple in the Filial Parrot.

Three years later, as Guan Yin returns to Putuoushan, she appears to Shan Cai in the middle of the ocean. Shan Cai then joins her in walking across the ocean and becomes her acolyte. With the confirmation of his faith, his parents are reborn in heaven. After the snake submitted itself to seven years of austerity, it cleanses itself of its poison and produces a pearl. It then transforms into Long Nu and joins Shan Cai and becomes an acolyte of Guan Yin as well.[3]


External references

ja:善財童子 zh:善財童子