A Hero’s Story

by | Apr 11, 2024 | Buddhism for All

Helena was the most talented warrior of her generation.  She made a solemn vow to retrieve a mythical stone of immense power called the Storm Maker from a faraway island.  The Storm Maker is said to endow its owner with the power to make rain, and that would allow Helena to end their great drought.  She was given their best ship, and she assembled an elite crew of the best sailors and warriors.

Off they sailed.  There were teething problems: an occasional rope breaking, water seepage, arguments among the crew, but everything was quickly taken care of.  Soon, they encountered enemies, but led by Helena, they easily defeated them.  And then one by one, they defeated vastly more powerful enemies: entire fleets of pirates, demons, and a magically animated skeleton army.  More important, with each battle, Helena became an even more powerful warrior.  Before this journey, she was already the most talented warrior of her generation, but now, she felt invincible, and for good reason.  Her fame spread far and wide.

They arrived at a beautiful paradise island populated by a tribe of friendly, attractive people, led by a kind chieftain who warmly welcomed them.  The crew lived on the island for many weeks.  The desire arose in all of them to abandon their mission and live here for the rest of their lives.  Helena almost gave in to that temptation too.  Only when she was reminded of her solemn vow, and the plight of her people, did she decide to continue her mission.

That was the first surprise: the first great enemy that almost doomed the mission was not pirate fleets, or demons, or fighting skeletons, it was pleasure and complacency.

The crew continued the journey.  They spent many weeks in open water with nothing much to do.  Then, many, many more weeks passed.  The mystery island was nowhere to be found.  Maybe it would never be found.  Worse, on most days, there was nothing much to do all day except to train, and train, and train some more.  By this time, almost everybody wanted to give up and return to the paradise island.  Ultimately, though, the crew decided to soldier on.  This was the second surprise: the next enemy that almost doomed the mission was the seemingly endless tedium and drudgery of the journey.

The one small break from all that tedium came at the expense of Helena.  While the crew was painstakingly searching the islands, they found an old woman trapped inside a deep hole in the ground.  While Helena was trying to rescue her, she slipped and fell in.  Worse, she disturbed the ground and caused the hole to cave in on itself, thereby sealing off the entrance.  Helena was carrying very little food and water, and she gave it all to the old woman.  It took days for her crew to rescue them.  It was a mini-adventure that did nothing for the mission except to provide the crew a story to entertain themselves with.

And then things took a sudden steep upturn.  The crew found the mystery island where Storm Maker was hidden.  As they searched for it, Helena met a strange old man who tested her, and approving of her character, gave her an immensely powerful magic sword.  This enabled her to defeat even more powerful enemies than any mortal human had ever faced: a dragon and an archdemon.  Nothing at this point could stop her.  The completion of her mission was at hand.

Helena’s final and most powerful enemy emerged: herself.  At the moment she found Storm Maker, it found her, and it already knew how to use her against herself. Its powerful magic conjured a duplicate of Helena, which was like her in every way, except more powerful.  Helena was already the most powerful warrior in the world, slayer of a dragon and an archdemon.  There was no way she could defeat an even more powerful version of herself.  She wanted to give up.  She could only give up.

Fortunately, as Helena was leaving in despair, she met the wise old man again. He informed her that her hesitation was what powered her magical duplicate.  The more she hesitated, the more powerful the duplicate became.  The only way to defeat the duplicate was to charge at her, with no hesitation at all.  That took Helena all her faith, all her courage, and all her determination.  And she did it. 

That was her final enemy.

Except, as we shall see, it was not her biggest challenge.

Helena finally approached the altar on which Storm Maker was enshrined.  She lifted it.  She could feel its sheer power.  With exultation, she carried it home.  When she arrived, everybody cheered for her.  The drought would finally be over!

Helena climbed up the highest mountain.  She held up Storm Maker.  Rain clouds gathered.  And then, nothing.  There was no rain.  No matter how hard Helena tried, no matter what she did, she could not generate rain.  Nothing worked.  Forty days and forty nights later, Helena was completely out of ideas.  All she had was panic and despair.

In her despair, that old woman she rescued from the hole in the ground suddenly appeared in front of her, and transformed into a glorious goddess.  The goddess told Helena that the gods needed to know if Helena was worthy.  By giving the old woman all her food and water, Helena showed that she had selfless compassion, and because of that, she was worthy.  “Worthy of what?” Helena asked.  “Worthy of the answer,” the goddess replied.  And then the goddess spoke in a riddle, “To lose everything is to lose losing everything.”  And then she disappeared.

Helena thought she understood the riddle, maybe.  She decided to drop Storm Maker into the deepest part of the sea, so that there was no chance of ever getting it back.  As she was on her ship ready to drop Storm Maker, the crew asked, “Are you sure?”  “No, I am not sure,” she replied, “but this is the only way to completely lose.”  She took a deep breath, and dropped Storm Maker into the sea. It sank.  Nothing happened.  All hope was lost.  She was completely helpless.

Amazingly, while being completely and perfectly helpless, she found complete and perfect trust. Unable to do a single thing, she was calm. There was nothing more to do.

Suddenly, a giant water spout formed over the sea.  It sucked water high up to the sky.  Thick rain clouds started to form.  And then it rained, drenching the land.  The long drought was finally over.  It turned out that Helena did precisely what she needed to do, because Storm Maker could only be fully activated when its owner had totally given up all control. 

Helena’s entire people was saved, and everybody lived happily ever after.

The reason I made up this story is that the upcoming posts center on the true story of how one of Soryu’s students arrived at the breakthrough to the Dharma, the Dharma that saves all beings.  Helena’s mythical story demonstrates the heroism such a journey requires.


  • Reflect on this post with Angela:
    • Helena remembered the solemn vow she made when she wanted to give up. In Chinese, we call this 不忘初心 –  or Never forgetting our original mind/heart. When the journey gets tough, or we get swayed by pleasure, complacency, drudgery, boredom, wanting, pride, jealousy, and basically, ego … , we need to remember our original vow. This is unique to each of us. Why did we take the journey in the first place? That is the beginner’s mind, the purity of mind, that compassion that motivated our journey. 
    • What is your original vow or aspiration?
    • What stood out to you most from this story? Why? 

Chade-Meng Tan

Meng is an award-winning engineer, international bestselling author, movie producer and philanthropist. His work has been nominated eight times for the Nobel Peace Prize. (Read Meng's story)

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