Everybody knew that there were as many deities as there were grains of rice in a harvest. But, for season after season, Zhou had found his own haul to be hardly enough to feed himself, let alone his wife and small children. HE had already sold what he could, and offered what he could spare at the temples in the village and along the road into town.

There had been no answer.

So he built himself a small pagoda out of paddy mud, and asked the priest in the village to write out “for anyone who needs it” on a scrap of bamboo. Zhou hung the little sign on the tiny pagoda after it had dried, and told his daughter she could use it as a doll house if no deity had seen fit to accept his small offering of incense.

The next day, the fields were overflowing with rice, far earlier than the harvest should have been. Zhou then had the priest write two more messages: “thank you,” and “who are you?” He delivered both with his very last bit of incense.

The next day, both had disappeared and a new message had been left, on finely folded bamboo paper. The priest was surprised to see a farmer as humble as Zhou bearing such, and even more surprised when he read it aloud.

“I am nothing, and I come before and after all that has ever been. But despite my greatness, no one has ever built me an abode before.”

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