Translation:History of Guan Yin Hall

History of Guan Yin Hall
by Zhao Mengfu, translated from Chinese by Wikisource

The text is taken from a memorial inscription, written by Zhao Mengfu, marking the occassion of the restoration of Guan Yin Hall (located inside a Buddhist monastery, which has long since been torn down). The original inscription has been lost to history. However, some tracings, of varying quality, still survive. The inscription's running script style of calligraphy is still studied by calligraphy enthusiasts.

337041History of Guan Yin HallZhao Mengfu
First eight characters of History of Guan Yin Hall, by Zhao Mengfu
觀音殿 History of Guan Yin Hall

延祐 (1320)



After a number of years of being ravaged by the wind and rain, the (Guan Yin) Hall had been on the verge of collapsing. Several abbots came and went, but none of them seemed to care. However, when Shanshi Zuhui took over as senior monk, things began to improve. He took it upon himself to personally call in favors from worshipers, collecting money and grain. He worked tirelessly, without complaint, even donating his own alms bowl and mantle in support of the project. As luck would have it, the provincial governor, as well as other local military generals, encouraged the local populace to contribute by doing good works. At last, the old building was torn down, and the new building was erected. The new hall was truly majestic, with its huge vermillion pillars and intricately painted crossbeams. It was truly dazzling. It reminds one of a small white flower, which adorns a vermillion-colored cliff. On the day that construction was completed, fragrant clouds rose high into the sky. Men and women came to celebrate, offer blessings, and marvel at the workmanship. There simply had never been anything like it. When the esteemed abbot asked me to write this inscription, I asked him whether he recalled the origin of the name Guan Yin. It is because Guan Yin can hear the sounds ("yin") of the world; Guan Yin can observe ("guan") these things without physically observing them. That is why it says in the sutras that Guan Yin can observe the sounds of the world, but can achieve detachment from earthly bonds. It has nothing to do with physically observing the sounds; rather, it is observing via the mind. The essence of Buddha-hood is "mind-only," in other words, the ability to link minds together. To perceive the sounds of the world in a non-physical way is the essence of Buddha. We should all observe the world in this way. The new abbot is known throughout the land as a respected monk, whose wisdom has been long-established. He was invited to take over at this mountain monastery. Land was cleared, and the mountain pass was widened. Rows of trees were planted, using only the highest quality woods. The statues within the hall are a sight to see. It is truly a restoration of its former glory, and a remarkable accomplishment, perhaps a greater accomplishment than the authoring of a sutra. I am originally from a small town in Wu. At the end of the Song Dynasty, I served here as a junior official. I have been a devotee of the Buddha since that time. Guan Yin has profoundly influenced my life. As a result, I returned 15 years later. That was 30 years ago. It is as though my fate was bound to Guan Yin's universal door in a previous life. Therefore, even though I am not an accomplished devotee of the Buddha, how could I refuse an opportunity to write this inscription?

7th year of Emperor Renzong's Yanyou era (1320)

By Zhao Mengfu, Hanlin Academy scholar, official transcriber of imperial decrees, and editor of national histories

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