Shadow Bodhisattva

Since she was born, the Daughter of Shadows lived in a cave and never ventured outside. Her mother told her that the world outside was terrifying, and those who tried to get out would be blinded by the sun. The Daughter of Shadows heard the word “sunlight” since she was little, but she never knew what sunlight was. In any case, it must be something very scary.

Her clan had been living in the cave for countless generations. According to the legends told by her grandparents, their ancestors were being pursued by another tribe and had to flee. One deep night, the fugitives came upon a mountain. Someone found an opening in the rock and everyone quickly hid inside. Initially, the cave was like a winding tunnel and after walking for what seemed like forever, they entered a spacious area. They lit up the area with torches and saw that it was a huge cavern, with a pool in the centre. Just then, the enemies approached from behind. The ancestors sat down, waiting for the end of their lives. One of the girls was sitting on a rock in front of the pool and the torch behind her projected a giant shadow on the smooth, towering wall of the cave, like a seated Bodhisattva. At the sight of the giant shadow, the enemies let out terrified screams. The sound echoed in the cave, amplified into a frightening roar, scaring the pursuers into dropping their weapons and fleeing. From then on, their ancestors settled in the cave and no longer ventured into the outside world. They were convinced that they were saved by the Shadow Bodhisattva. They would periodically select two young girls from the clan to take turns sitting on the rock in front of the pool, placing a torch behind them to project the Shadow Bodhisattva onto the cave wall as a form of worship.

The Daughter of Shadows was one of these two girls. She had been performing this duty for three years and didn’t find it boring at all. She sat calmly on the rock, staring at the giant shadow on the wall. She firmly believed that the shadow was not her own, but the incarnation of the Shadow Bodhisattva. The shadow changed shape slightly with the flickering of the fire, blurring the boundaries of light and shadow. She was constantly thinking about where the light ended and the shadow began, or where the shadow ended and the light began. However, she found that it was impossible to discern or confirm.

In fact, the clan did not truly never leave the cave. The adult men formed a team, going outside the cave under the cover of night to hunt or gather what was needed for living. One day, they brought back a man who had fainted in the forest. When the man woke up, the first thing he saw was the back of the Daughter of Shadows, followed by the Shadow Bodhisattva on the cave wall. When the Daughter of Shadows was not performing her duties, she took care of the man. The man said he was a wandering bard, collecting legends from various places and turning them into songs. He also peddled something called sunglasses. The Daughter of Shadows then told him the legend of her ancestors. In gratitude, the bard gave her a pair of sunglasses. Not knowing what use these dark objects were for, she wore them on her head as a decoration. However, her clan believed that these were ominous objects.

One day, after the Daughter of Shadows finished her service, she found that the man had left without saying goodbye. Without thinking, she ran after him towards the entrance of the cave. She had forgotten the experiences of her ancestors and the teachings of her mother. The brightness outside hurt her eyes and made her head dizzy. She thought, that must be the terrifying sunlight! At this moment, the sunglasses that she wore on her head slid down and landed perfectly on the bridge of her nose, covering her eyes. She instantly felt much better and was no longer afraid of the sunlight. Wearing the sunglasses, she followed the mountain path until the sun began to set and cast a slanting light. She noticed that the forest had become very dark, so she took off her sunglasses. At this moment she saw a tent, inside which a lamp was flickering, casting a seated figure on the canvas. A voice was singing a song, telling the story of her ancestors. The Daughter of Shadows squatted under a tree and listened. Then, she approached the tent and crawled in. Two shadows appeared on the canvas and then merged into a four-armed, two-faced Shadow Bodhisattva. Finally, the light went out, and the Shadow Bodhisattva disappeared.

At dawn the next day, the wandering bard packed up his tent, pushed his cart, and continued on his way. The Daughter of Shadows, wearing her sunglasses, followed him. On the open slope, golden sunlight bathed the two figures. The girl did not know that the elongated and distorted Shadow Bodhisattva was following closely at her heels.

Illustration by Ian Leong





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