In some old Vietnamese pagodas, there is often found a statue of a woman carrying a child in her arms. She is the goddess Quan-Am-Tong-Tu (the compassionate protectress of children). The legend behind that story follows.
Once upon a time, there was a girl named Thi Kinh, who came from a most humble family. She was industrious as well as beautiful and many men of means, including some of the most handsome men in that area, sought her hand in marriage. She refuses them all and married a poor, simple man.
Life was hard for them from the beginning. They had just a few acres of rice fields and they worked them alone. Despite all of the hard work, the young wife was undaunted and found great pleasure in giving love and devotion to her husband.
One summer afternoon, Thi Kinh’s husband was asleep in the hammock and the young wife whiled away the afternoon just gazing at his face. All at once, she noticed a hair of his beard, growing in the wrong direction on his chin. She took a sharp knife and approached her husband with the intention of shaving off that hair. She had just barely touched his face with the knife when he awoke with a start. Frightened, he began to scream, accusing his wife of trying to kill him.
Stunned by the terrible accusation and all of the neighbours who came running, she did not say a word to vindicate herself. Her husband and the neighbours took this silence as an admission of guilt. Thi Kinh was cast out of her home and no one felt sorry for her.
Thi Kinh felt lost because everyone had turned against her, even her own family. She decided to renounce the world and find forgetfulness.
Disguised as a man, she entered a religious order in an old pagoda. Despite the simplicity of the religious garment she wore and her head being shaved, Thi Kinh was, indeed, handsome and the people frequenting the pagoda often commented on how handsome “he” was.
Before long, a pretty young girl fell in love with the handsome monk (Thi Kinh is disguise) and tried in vain to get his attention. In desperation, the young girl approached the monk one day and began to spill out her feelings for him. Before she could finish, her words were cut short and she was requested to respect her vow.
Confused and upset, the girl gave herself to the very next man who courted her. When she found herself pregnant, she went to another village and later gave birth to a son.
The unwed mother then took her new baby, put him in a basket, and left him on the gate of the pagoda where Thi Kinh was a monk. In a letter she placed in the basket she accused Thi Kinh as being the father of the child.
When the superior, surrounded by all of the monks, was reading the note from the unwed mother, Thi Kinh bent down and picked up the baby because he was screaming. Her natural gesture confirmed the charge in the eyes of the monks and she was expelled from the religious community.
Thi Kinh would have committed suicide in her despair, but she felt pity for the deserted child and decided that she must resign herself to her fate. She had to resort to begging, tramping up and down the streets every day with the child and a bowl in her hands, asking for alms.
Finally, she could continue no longer. She staggered to the pagoda to knock for the last time at the religious door. Thi Kinh confessed the secrets of her life to the superior and begged him to forgive her for disguising herself as a man in order to become a monk. She also asked that no one is harmed for what they had done to her. She thrust the child, who had become like her own, into the superior’s hands for safekeeping and drew her last breath.
The king was told of what had happened. He was so deeply impressed by the chastity and drive of the unfortunate woman that he issued an order to title her “Quan-Am-Tong-Tu,” the compassionate protectress of children, and raised her to divinity rank.