The Mud Bodhisattva had always been sitting under the banana tree by the river. The river wasn’t a wide one. It wasn’t a major river. It was even just a small stream. However, filled with stones of different sizes and varying in depth, the stream was quite turbulent. There might even be undercurrents and whirlpools hidden somewhere. Crossing the river was not an easy task.
The leaves of the banana tree were large and dense, like a giant umbrella, sheltering the Mud Bodhisattva. The Mud Bodhisattva just sat under the tree, silently watching the flowing river, and listening to its gurgling sound.
Many years had passed, and no one had appeared by the river other than the Mud Bodhisattva.
One day, an old woman walking with a cane came to the river. She was holding a basket, with a worried look on her face. When she saw the Mud Bodhisattva under the tree, she pleaded, “Bodhisattva, can you carry me to the other side of the river?”
The Mud Bodhisattva just sat there, motionless. Seeing this, the old woman said, “So you are a Bodhisattva with no compassion!”
The old woman staggered and walked downstream.
Another day, a beautifully dressed woman came to the river. Holding up the hem of her long dress, with an anxious look on her face, she saw the Mud Bodhisattva under the tree and pleaded, “Bodhisattva, can you carry me to the other side of the river?”
The Mud Bodhisattva said nothing, just smiled. Seeing this, the woman said, “So you are a useless Bodhisattva!”
With a swing of her posture, the woman walked downstream.
Yet another day, a middle-aged man with a young boy came to the river. The man held the boy’s hand, with an impatient look on his face. He saw the Mud Bodhisattva under the tree and said, “Bodhisattva! It doesn’t make sense asking for your help, does it? With your body of mud, how can you ferry people across the river?”
The Mud Bodhisattva did not even blink, just kept his hands together in prayer. Seeing this, the man sneered, “So you are a foolish Bodhisattva!”
The man, dragging the child, took large steps and walked downstream. The boy, however, kept looking back.
Not long after, someone built a wooden bridge by the river. With the bridge, more and more people crossed the river. Before long, stories spread about the Bodhisattva ferrying people across the river. In the stories, the people who were carried across the river by the Bodhisattva were said to be an old woman, a young woman, or a little boy. Hence, the bridge was named the “Bodhisattva Bridge” and became a tourist attraction. People were all vying to take photos with the Mud Bodhisattva sitting by the river.
On a sweltering noon, under the gaze of all, the Mud Bodhisattva left the shelter of the banana tree. People thought the Bodhisattva would give them teachings or show miracles, so they all watched intently. However, the Mud Bodhisattva moved toward the river.
Perhaps because he had been sitting for so long, the Mud Bodhisattva couldn’t stand, and could only move his body slowly in the sitting posture. He slid into the water from the pebbles on the bank, and slowly proceeded towards the middle of the river. The rushing waves beat against the Mud Bodhisattva, and the undercurrents beneath the water made him wobble. The spectators on both banks increased, and the advantageous positions on the bridge were taken. The clay on the Mud Bodhisattva began to soften, dissolve, and peel off. The crown on his head was eroded, his facial features gradually blurred, and his ornaments and clothes were removed one by one. His hands clasped in prayer suddenly fell off and were washed away by the current. In less than a moment, the lower part of the Mud Bodhisattva’s body was deformed. The remaining torso was leaning and sinking into the deep part of the river, becoming a shapeless lump of earth. The lump, with the turning of the water vortex, gradually shrank and sank, until not a trace was left. The gray mud, like wisps of thin smoke, stretched, twisted, fluctuated, and dispersed, flowing downstream with the transparent river water. The water under the bridge was as clear as ever.
The spectators gradually dispersed. Some people said that the Mud Bodhisattva had committed suicide. Others said that the Mud Bodhisattva had transcended and became an immortal. In any case, the Bodhisattva Bridge, without the Bodhisattva, was no longer crowded with tourists and gradually fell into disrepair. Years later, there was not a trace left, only that banana tree remained, growing taller and taller.
Illustration by Ian Leong