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The Religions of South Vietnam in Faith and Fact, US Navy, Bureau of Naval Personnel, Chaplains Division [1967], at

Legend of Quan-Am

Thi-Kinh (better known as Quan-Am), a very beautiful and talented young maiden, was of a humble family yet she was sought in marriage by many of the richest and most handsome of men. To the surprise of all she refused them and married a poor unattractive peasant. While life was difficult, Thi-Kinh shared the meanest chores with her husband and found happiness in doing so.

During one summer siesta-time as her husband was asleep on the hammock, she noticed a stray hair of his beard growing in the wrong direction. Thinking to cut it off, she got a sharp knife and approached her husband. But her touch and the feel of the blade caused the man to jerk his head which wounded him. Frightened he began to call for help and accused his wife of attempted murder.

Utterly dismayed that her husband would think thus, Thi-Kinh offered no statement and her silence seemed to be an admission of guilt, so she was cast out of her home as an exile. None took pity upon her. Her family disowned her, her former suitors and the village women who never forgave her beauty treated her badly. Finally weary of this, Thi-Kinh sought to renounce the world and seek release in religion. She thus disguised herself as a man and entered an order of Buddhist monks.

In spite of the simplicity of her religious clothing and "shaven head", she still was a very attractive individual, and this was noted by the devotees of the temple. A young girl fell in love with this "handsome bonze". She plead with Thi-Kinh to forsake the religious order and marry. Thi-Kinh cut her short by asking her to respect the holy vows. The young woman reacted by having an affair with the first man who sought her out, and when pregnant went to another village and gave birth to a child. The new mother placed the babe in a basket and left it at the gate of the temple after writing a note accusing Thi-Kinh of being its father. While the prior was reading the note, with all the men gathered about, the baby began to cry. With typically feminine reaction, Thi-Kinh reached down and picked up the baby to quiet it. This gesture seemed to confirm the charge, and she was expelled from the temple as she had been from her home.

Pity for the child forced her to beg for herself and the baby. She thus became a familiar sight as she walked about with the child in her arms and a begging bowl in her hand. The day came when she could no longer sustain herself, so she returned to the temple and knocked at the gate of Buddha. She revealed her secret and begged pardon for her sins as well as for forgiveness of those who had caused her misery. Then in typical Vietnamese story fashion, she sank to the ground and died.

When her story was heard by the Emperor of China, he was deeply moved by her abnegation and chastity, so by royal decree she was raised to the rank of divinity with the title of "Quan-Am Tong-Tu"-The Compassionate Protectress of Children. Today the cult has spread throughout the Far East.

Pictures of Thi-Kinh or Quan-Am are to be found rather widely in Vietnam, and if one visits the old Vietnamese temples and looks under smoke blackened rafters caused by incense burning and decades of dust there Quan-Am sits with child in arms, an unchanging smile on a beautiful serene face.

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