The Story of San Tszon

IN the popular mind Buddhism implies India rather than China. Yet while in the former it has long been an august shadow, in the latter it is still a living reality. In China the “ Prince of Men ” is followed by millions ; his

words have become part of its literature and daily speech. The best versions of the Tripitaka and the most scholarly commentaries upon that great work are all of Chinese origin. Of like source are the numberless myths which have grown up around the Indian evangelist. Just as Christ, the apostles, and early fathers were made the subjects of the legend and romance of our civilization, so in the East Buddha and his great disciples were apotheosized and made the heroes of a literature that in extent surpasses the corresponding productions of mediæval monks and schoolmen.

The relation sustained by St. Paul to Christianity is paralleled in the Orient by that of San Tszon to Buddhism. Each represented the highest culture of his own land ; each was marked by a piety, zeal, and energy truly remarkable. Each developed the religion of his master in other lands and alien races. San Tszon’s name is indicative. It is the mandarin name for the Three Mysteries, and is the equivalent of the Sanskrit Tripitaka. The story that follows is a series of myths and legends which embody his birth, life, work, and death. As told at Mongolian firesides, they are fragmentary and discursive. The writer has endeavored to connect these in conformity to modern standards, and to present a narrative which, while it may interest the “barbarians of the West,” shall at the same time truthfully portray a phase of the faith of three hundred million fellow-human beings.


In the time of the Emperor TongKo-Zoon (650 B. C.), Buddhism began to wane. The original church had split into sects which hated one another with a fierceness worthy of the heathens of the North.

One party denied metempsychosis; another taught that Nirvana meant extinction of the soul; a third preached that the Great Lord was unconscious and asleep, and a fourth that the world was so inconceivably bad that a worse one was impossible.

The cause of the trouble lay partly in human nature and partly in the fact that the Word had been given not as a whole, but in fragments; these fragments, changed and added to by priests and commentators, became contradictory and often unintelligible save to the adepts who immured themselves in tomb-like cloisters.

And the pious and good cried unto Buddha and he heard them, but the time was not ready for the deliverer.

Now there was a young student in Ho-Nan named Li-Sue, who according to law went down to Chang-On (the capital of China) to enter the annual examination. This he passed with highest honors, and the week after received from the emperor the decoration of his degree. He also received the hand of the beautiful daughter of Pien-Poo, warminister of the realm. Seven happy months passed and Li-Sue, who had been appointed governor of Han-Yon in the mean time, was ordered to his post. Preparations were thereupon made, and after a brief delay he, his young bride, and their attendants embarked on an imperial barge and sailed through the Grand Canal and up the great river, the YangTsze.

The captain of the barge, Jun-TiaNeu, was a robber, who had formerly been a bandit among the mountains. He talked each day with Li-Sue and found that the latter had never been to HanYon and was unknown there. Resolved to profit by his discovery he waited a favorable opportunity, and by promises of power and riches shortly afterwards induced his sailors to murder both LiSue and the attendants. The young wife, however, he did not kill, but reserved her for himself. He also secured the imperial signet, robe, and charter from the body of her dead husband.

They reached Han-Yon, and the first night, when the sailors were carousing, Jun-Tia-Neu had his guards arrest and behead them all, thus destroying the witnesses of his guilt. The day following the unhappy wife gave birth to a beautiful boy. A week afterwards, while awake in bed, she overheard her wicked lord talking in his sleep and threatening to destroy her babe in the morning.

She rose up with the child and, having first wounded his left foot that she might identify him in coming years, wrapped him in warm robes and launched him in a little boat on the great waters of the Yang-Tsze. So in sin and sorrow and in the shadow of death began the life of him who was to bring Buddha’s word into the Golden Empire.


Many miles below Han-Yon on the Yang-Tsze was the monastery of LoYin. It was the only place where Buddha’s word was taught, and there incompletely ; the only place that had not yielded to false doctrines and evil ways. Its superior was a very old man of great piety and learning, who, the night that the babe was set adrift upon the waters, was kneeling in prayer and beseeching the Lord Buddha to come, or to send some prophet, and redeem the world. This had been his daily prayer for fifty years. It was the last watch of the night, and as the old man’s voice sank into silence, there came through the darkness the cry of a little child in pain. Superior and acolytes started up and hurried down to the water’s edge, where amid the reeds and rushes they found the boat and the babe. The old man raised the child tenderly in his arms and carried him to the dwelling-room of the monastery. Here they ministered to his wants, dressed his wound, and put him to sleep. As there was no name on the raiment nor on the boat, they called the child Sue-Sung, signifying " Born of the Waters.” The superior sat up watching while the rest slept. Just before the dawn, the earth shook and the child’s face shone with a great glory. Then the old man knew that Buddha was listening to his prayers and that in the child was a divine soul.

Sue-Sung grew rapidly. His mind and spirit kept pace with his body, and at twenty he was known throughout the province as the wisest and holiest man in Hu-Peh. On the death of the superior, Sue-Sung, despite his youth, was unanimously chosen head of the order. His zeal was contagious and his love and kindness knew no bounds. The brothers of the order followed him so well that soon poverty and vice became almost unknown in the province. His fame, spreading, crossed the mountains and reached the ears of the Emperor Tong-Ko-Zoon. An imperial courier was sent to Sue-Sung bearing rich gifts and asking the holy man to repair to the capital and there be the highest priest of the land. Sue-Sung with humility sent word back to the court that he could not leave his people of HuPeh. Again and again came couriers, until finally Sue-Sung half yielded. Once in two months he would go to the capital and there teach and preach to the emperor, the ministers, the great nobles, and mandarins, but the rest of the time he passed in Hu-Peh ministering to the afflicted, the ignorant, and the downtrodden.

Years passed, and though people still doubted and quarreled, and occasionally in the far-off provinces warred each with the other over their clashing creeds, there seemed to fall upon the empire a new light, like the breaking of a clear morn after a long season of wintry storms. And that season the emperor conquered the heathen beyond what is now known as the Great Wall.


Buddha the Lord sat one day upon his throne in the immeasurable caverns of the Kin-Ling Mountains. Below him was the countless congregation of the good, who listened as he explained the divine mysteries of earth and heaven, birth, life, and death.

Then said Kwan-Yin-Poo-Sa, the beloved disciple, “ Oh, master, what aileth in the East, and why dost Thou not help on the right ? The North is well; and well also are West and South. But in the East is care and suffering, much wickedness and ignorance. I hear their prayers in many voices, and its burden is, ‘ Give us the truth, O Lord, give us the truth, else we perish ! ’ Oh (Buddha), wilt thou not send me to that faroff land ? ”

Buddha’s great eyes shone with love upon the disciple as he said, “ KwanYin-Poo-Sa, thou dost not yet comprehend all things, nor yet knowest thou how, in the fullness of time, all things work to my glory. Go thou eastward to the race that lives upon the confines of the Yellow Sea. Find there the man who is to come for the Three Mysteries. He shall take them back to his people, and in them shall they find the Truth. Thou shalt take with thee this staff and robe, and thy companion shall be Swing-Hing-Che, the man-ape, who knows more than any beast in all the worlds.”

The disciple bowed and thanked the master ; then taking the staff and robe he left the Great Presence.


When Kwan-Yin left the great cavern, he found outside Swing-Hing-Che, the man-ape, swinging by his tail from the moon. The message was given and the man-ape shook his head once, changing himself from a monkey to a dignified philosopher. Kwan-Yin took the ape’s hand in his own, and spreading his mighty wings swept with the speed of thought through the 18,000 lis that separate Heaven from Chang-On, and landed in the market-place of the capital. Here they pitched their tent, and put out a large sign in golden letters stating that they were merchants, and that they had for sale a robe that could not be worn and a staff that could not be carried. A vast crowd collected and wondered greatly ; for the robe was beautiful, soft as the finest silk and splendent like gold. But whoso put it on, it burned like liquid fire. And the staff was like a rod of fine silver set with diamonds, but whoso tried to carry it, it passed through his hands like water, or else was so heavy that it could not be lifted. The rumor of their strange wares went through the city and reached the court of Tong-Ko-Zoon and the pagoda of Sue-Sung, but it did not reach the ears of the emperor and the holy man. And at the second watch the two genii separated, the man-ape flying to the emperor’s bedroom and the disciple to that of Sue-Sung.

Next morning the watchmen of the city said that they had seen many brilliant shooting-stars during the night, and that each time a star went past all the birds burst into song.


Sue-Sung lay in a deep sleep. Then it seemed to him that the earth shook, and through the wall came a bright spirit surrounded by glory, who carried in his hand a vast roll. And the spirit read a few characters, and Sue-Sung knew that it was the Word. As the spirit ceased, a voice said, “ Prophet, desirest thou the Truth? Lovest thou the Truth? He who dares to search and find the Truth shall have everlasting life. If thou darest, go to the Si-Tien near the western sky.” Sue-Sung sprang from his sleep, crying, “ I dare and I will go,” and dressing himself went in before the altar, where he prayed a long time. For he was sorely troubled. He, the wisest man in China, had never heard of Si-Tien. After praying he left the temple and went in to see the emperor, whom he dearly loved, and who was exceedingly learned.

Now in the mean time the emperor had likewise dreamed, but the spirit in his dream had said, " Master, but one can find the Truth, and only one can reach Si-Tien, and he must bear an unbearable staff and wear an unwearable robe.” The great ruler had likewise sprung from his sleep, and had washed, and dressed, and prayed to Buddha, and being troubled in his mind had gone to see his best and dearest friend, the holy man. Thus it was that Tong-Ko-Zoon and Sue-Sung met on the threshold of the porcelain palace. And as they met it was the beginning of a new day.

As they conversed there came thereby a great lord of the land, who seeing his two masters perplexed, tried to beguile them by telling them of the strange merchants and wares of the yester eve. When they heard the news they knew that the Lord had heard their prayers, and that the answer was about to come. So the emperor commanded the merchants to be brought before him, and it was done. When the staff and robe were displayed, all marveled at their beauty, and the emperor said, “ What is the price of thy goods ? ” And the man-ape answered, “ We sell them for neither money nor price, but the man who can wear the unwearable robe and bear the unbearable staff, they are his freely and for naught.” The nobles pressed forward, but those who touched the robe were burnt and suffered great pain, and those who laid hands on the staff could neither grasp nor lift it. The emperor said, " There is magic here and only righteousness can prevail against it. Try thou them, SueSung.” The holy man put on the coat, and it shone like a great flame, but did not hurt him, and he grasped the staff which was light as the grass-blade and strong as steel, and it never left his hand. Sue-Sung and the emperor trembled with joy and turned to question the merchants, but they vanished in a great light. Then all knelt in prayer, for they knew they had seen two spirits, and the emperor then gave Sue-Sung a new name, and named him San-Tszon.


San-Tszon thereupon set out to find Si-Tien and procure the Three Mysteries, which are the Truth. The good emperor wished to provide a great retinue of soldiers and servants, scribes and attendants, but the holy man thanked him, “ I am a servant of the Lord, and he will provide for all my wants. Give me a horse and two messengers and leave the rest to the Lord.” And it was so ; but so great was the fame of the holy man, and so powerful the love of the emperor, that all the roads along which he went were lines of happy people. Therefore to escape the honors and entertainments that were lavished upon him, he avoided the great cities and towns, slept by day, and traveled swiftly by night.

After a time he reached Eli, the place of all sand, where grass grows not and where is neither water nor rain. After two days San Tszon, horse, and servants were about to die of thirst, when an unseen hand seized his own and made him strike the dry ground with the unbearable staff. Immediately a well of fresh water sprang from the earth and the bamboo, orange, and banana grew heavyfruited before their eyes. And thus passed a year.

Then came they to nations speaking unknown languages and having strange costumes. But San Tszon touched his ears and tongue with the staff, and straightway he spoke and understood as one of them. Thus in every nation he was welcomed as one from the next city of the same land. And thus passed a year.

Once he narrowly escaped yielding to temptation. Five years had passed, and the attendants so full of zeal at first had lost all faith and murmured, first to each other, and then to San Tszon. One morning as they were approaching the snow-mountains of India, they said unto him, “ O master, let us turn and go back to our homes. Our wives and children are forgetting us ; we are growing old and decrepit, and we shall soon be in a desert land from which there is no return. If the Truth is anywhere it is where we live and love, and not among these icy desolations.” The faithful horse understood them and rubbed his head against the saint’s shoulder as if to join his entreaty unto theirs. For a second San Tszon was irresolute. Then he blessed the attendants and bade them go back while he went on alone. He had scarcely gone a quarter li when three fierce tigers rushed from a thicket, and before he could aid his friends had borne the attendants and the horse far away. Full of sorrow he turned, and facing the western sky proceeded. At nightfall he encountered a savage mountaineer, who sat by the wayside. “ Whither goest thou ? ” asked the stranger. “ To Si-Tien, by the western sky,” was the answer. “ What is there in that land ? ” “ The Three Mysteries and the Truth,” said the holy man. The savage laughed loud and long and asked, “ Where are thy horse and thy attendants, pilgrim ? ” San Tszon told what had occurred, and then sighing turned to go, adding as he went, “ Horse or not, attendants or none, I go on ; for the Lord is with me.” Then rose Swing-Hing-Che, the man-ape, for he it was in disguise, and led the holy man a hundred yards through the chasms and then said, “ Look, master, to thy left! ” And the saint did, and there spread a broad road far toward the west, and coming whinnying toward him, younger and stronger than ever, was his good horse. He turned to thank SwingHing-Che, but saw only a thin cloud that floated towards the stars. And San Tszon knew that it had been an angel sent by the Lord.

The years passed, and his garments fell piece by piece away until naught remained but the unwearable robe and the unbearable staff. Once in the country of black-faced men and monkeys he was surrounded by robbers, who demanded what he had. “ I have neither silver nor gold,” he said, “ but am traveling into the West to gain the Truth.” “ Give us then thy garments and thy life,” cried the robber-chief. The band were about to strip him, when the saint pointed the unbearable staff at his assailants and said, “ Children of evil, your doom is pronounced. Stand as you are until I return.” Immediately each robber turned to stone. He saw, heard, felt, and suffered, but change and motion were gone. And there some travelers say they still stand to-day, as a monument of the Lord’s wrath.

Another danger occurred one warm day in spring when San Tszon entered a valley as beautiful as the rose-gardens of Chang-On. Groves and tilled fields, fertile meadows and fat kine, showed the wealth of the owner. In the centre of a flowery hill rose a porcelain palace. The saint, worn and wearied, entered the portal and found within only maidens, but maidens more lovely than human eye ever saw. They tempted him with rich food and fragrant wines, with strange aromatic drugs, and last and deadliest of all with their own beauty. The saint’s blood rose in his ears and he could hear his rebellious heart throb in wildest fashion. But he only knelt and prayed. As he prayed, the earth shook and palace and splendor, maidens and all, disappeared. When he opened his eyes he was alone upon a rock, but over his head spread a vast tree from whose boughs hung luscious fruit. These he picked and ate ; then lying down he slept sweetly till the next dawn.


Fourteen years had gone by, when San Tszon emerged from the mountain-wildernesses and found himself before Si-Tien. On the 23d day of the 9th moon, in the 40th year of the reign of the good Emperor Tong-Ko-Zoon, the saint reached the bank of the river Fau-Tai-Ho, which separates this world from the kingdom of Buddha. Prayer, right-living, and abstinence had sharpened his senses and opened his spitual sight. He saw the river, clear, deep, and broad. Beyond were the hills covered with flowers and fruits. Wonderful birds flew here and there, filling the air with unspeakable melody. Deer, gazelles, and other docile creatures grazed upon the sunny slopes. Everywhere on earth and in air flew on splendent wings the elect. And afar shone the portals of the cavern of Kin-Ling, from which ever and anon came majestic music or the accents of a mighty voice that thrilled the universe.

San Tszon saw neither bridge nor ford, but not far off was a boatman. He approached and noticed that the boat was a bottomless frame. He entered, and it moved off without sail, or oars, or rudder. Midstream he saw the body of an old man floating down the current, “ Stop friend,” he called to the boatman, “ let us save this drowning man before it is too late.” As he spoke, he saw that his companion was an angel. From the angel’s eyes shone a strange light, and on his lips played a jocose smile, as he answered, “ That is thy body, San Tszon, and it floats on to the great ocean; but for thee is life everlasting.” They reached the shore, and there and the happy multitude that pressed forward to meet and greet them, the saint recognized all of those he had loved arid lost in past years. He shed tears of joy, but walked on to see the Lord and complete his quest. Over the slopes and into the vast cavern he went, where sit the elect and righteous listening to Buddha as he teaches the wisdom of the universe. There was no sun nor moon there, neither was there night. For the glory of the Lord made all as bright as day. San Tszon tried to stand still, but some power urged him forward through the innumerable throng that smiled upon him, until he reached the great throne on which sat the Lord. He tried to look up and speak, but the splendor dazzled his eyes, and his tongue clave to his mouth. So he knelt in silent adoration.

“ Look up, dear one,” said the Lord ; “ thou hast been faithful in all things, and thy reward shall be the wish of thy soul. Thou shalt indeed sit upon my right hand among the saints, but first shalt thou go back to thy own land, and there give those thou lovest the Truth.”

As Buddha spoke, an angel put in San Tszou’s hand three volumes made of beaten gold. These were the Three Mysteries and the Truth. Then the saint rose in the air like a white dove, and flew eastward toward Chang-On. And as he fled, peace and joy fell from his wings upon the lands beneath.


In the mean time the Emperor TongKo-Zoon grew sorely troubled, and would not be comforted. He knew in his soul that the good saint would return and bring with him the Truth ; but the years passed ; there came no tidings, and doubt sprang up on every hand.

In a dream, on the 20th day of the 9th moon, an angel told him the signal of San Tszou’s return. The next morning he issued a proclamation that the saint would come back when the withered pine-tree in front of the palace broke into new leaves. The news spread from town to town, and the devout began to put on mourning, as they believed the message a kindly way of saying that San Tszon was dead. It was noon of the 23d day. The court was silent, the emperor buried in silent prayer, and the city outside quiet beyond its wont. Suddenly there rose a murmur beyond the walls; it swelled into a tumult. There was no wrath nor sorrow, though, in the cry of the multitude, but joy and happiness. It swept from house to house, from street to street, from the city to the suburbs far beyond. At first it was human voices alone, then came the happy noise of fireworks, then drums and cymbals, and then vast orchestras of musicians. A young priest rushed pale and breathless into the court, “Oh, master,” he cried, as he knelt, “ the dead pine is breaking into a million leaves and San Tszon is coming home.” They heard not the last of his speech ; they crowded, lord and mandarin alike, to door and window and looked out. The tree was bursting into new life; from dry trunk and withered bough the green spikes were shooting forth; and there, entering the court-gates, grander and statelier than ever before, was San Tszon. Over the cheers and tears there came a strange awe. Some, still smiling, knelt; others cried, who had never known tears. The saint neared the emperor, who took him in his arms and kissed him. Then San Tszon handed the good emperor the three golden volumes, and as all knelt he prayed a prayer, which long afterwards those who heard it said was the sweetest music on earth. The prayer ended, all rose, but as they stepped forward the saint became glorified and ascended into the air, blessing them as he vanished in the heavens.

And thus came the Truth to the Great Empire.

Wong Chin Foo.