There’s a woman in Africa whose life brings me to tears because she so perfectly embodies Kwan Yin, the Goddess of compassion. It might seem unlikely that this unassuming South African nurse would manifest as the Chinese goddess, but of course we know that Kwan Yin is no respecter of national boundaries. Her true domain is the human heart.
This woman, named Sister Abegail Ntleko, grew up in a mud hut. When she was a small child, her mother died and her father became an alcoholic so dysfunctional that Abegail was forced to raise herself. In conditions of extreme poverty and neglect, she managed to go to school and become a nurse. She chose nursing because at an early age she knew she wanted to be of use in the world, to do something about the physical and mental pain she saw all around her. This sounds just like Kwan Yin, a “bodhisattva” who seeks healing and enlightenment for all beings.
Abegail, now in her eighties, adopted and raised numerous unwanted children while working in the medical and social service fields. She has taken in dozens of children orphaned by AIDs and lovingly raised them to be educated and empowered people. She has been honored by African and international institutions, praised by such exemplars as the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu. Tutu said of her, “Sister Abegail exemplifies the true heart of South Africa—a heart that overcame apartheid, that sees the best within all people, and that has never closed in the face of suffering.”
A heart that never closes in the face of suffering: isn’t that the precise description of the Celestial Bodhisattva of Compassion Kwan Yin?
In this month of remembering Kwan Yin, I find so many embodiments of compassion around me—in my family, in my neighborhood, from as far away as Africa. All shining pilgrims on the bodhisattva path with me.
May you also open your eyes and heart and recognize the everyday acts of kindness, the people who stay responsive to the world, and see in their faces the loving features of the Goddess of Compassion.