In a distant village, there was a young girl who gained fame for her great skill in weaving. This girl was named Hua Lei. When she walked around her village, she would look for unsuspecting women, busy with weaving, and she’d point out the flaws in their work. Then, she’d bring out her latest creation and wait for them to compliment her. However, she always heard the same words of praise.
“It’s almost seamless like a goddess’ robe!” they all said.
Instead of feeling respected and celebrated, Hua Lei felt like a failure because she equated “almost” to “imperfect” despite the fact that the compliment really meant that others highly regarded her talent.
On her sixteenth birthday, Hua Lei finally got tired of hearing those words, so she resolved to become better. Deeply spiritual, she called out to her favorite goddess, Chih’nu, the daughter of the Jade Emperor and the Celestial Queen Mother and the weaver of the stars and their light. “Oh goddess, please show me the way to your palace so that I might see you and learn from you. I want to become the best weaver in the world!”
Luckily, the goddess heard Hua Lei’s plea, so she decided to unravel a small part of her tapestry and used the silvery thread to fish out Hua Lei from earth.
Not realizing what was happening, Hua Lei panicked and fainted while she was hurtling upwards. When she woke up, she looked around and saw that she was in a palace, clothed in a seamless robe. She realized that she was at the palace of the Goddess Weaver. She looked around and noticed that a woman was standing behind her.
The woman spoke, “Hello Hua Lei! I’m glad that you’re awake now. I didn’t mean to scare you. I felt excited to teach you, so I did what I did.”
“It’s alright, great goddess. I’m glad to meet you face to face,” Hua Lei said as she bowed in respect.
“Hearing that puts my heart at ease,” replied the goddess. “Let’s have some tea first before we go on to your lesson.”
After drinking tea, the two ladies headed for the goddess’s work shop. It was adorned with fantastic tapestries, cloths, and threads. At the center of the room, two looms were set; one was made out of ivory and the other, jade. The goddess motioned for them to sit, pointing at the ivory loom for Hua Lei.
“Show me how you weave,” said the goddess.
Hua Lei nodded and started her weaving process. She took a spindle full of blue thread, and she laid the strands onto the loom. She also took red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet threads to mix into her design. She planned to make a cloth depicting a blue heaven with a rainbow across it.
After finishing one fourth of the cloth, the Goddess Chih’nu asked, “What is that?”
Hua Lei looked at where the goddess’s finger was pointing and saw a stray fiber that didn’t follow the pattern. Embarrassed, she undid the fabric and fixed the kink that she saw. After what felt like a few hours, she finished the cloth that she was weaving.
The Goddess Chih’nu smiled, obviously pleased with Hua Lei’s work. She held the cloth up, and threw it onto the sky where it manifested as a perfect blue sky with a glowing rainbow that made people who saw it ecstatic.
“You have done really well, Hua Lei. I’m glad that you don’t give up when you make mistakes. Now, I will teach you the secret that will turn you into a master.”
With reverence, Hua Lei watched the goddess on the jade loom, and paid close attention even though the motions of weaving were repetitive. Then, she saw something odd. One of the silver meteors on the design seemed crooked. Following the goddess’s lead, she also pointed out the error in a respectful question.
“Oh Goddess, why is that meteor leaning towards the right? The rest are all leaning towards the left.”
Tapping her forehead, the goddess giggled and exclaimed, “Oh dear! I did it again!” Then, she continued weaving.
At that point, Hua Lei was confused. Is the goddess joking by continuing even if there was a mistake? Or is she not as conscientious and meticulous as I am? I can’t believe I revered her for so long, and this is just what she does! Where’s the lesson on being a master? The confusion rumbled and churned inside her head, but she only had the chance to blurt out her observation after the goddess stopped weaving.
“Holly One, why did you continue weaving even when you already know that there’s a mistake in your cloth?”
Again, the goddess smiled. “I wanted to teach you something, Hua Lei,” she said softly. “Look at the finished cloth.”
The goddess spread the cloth in front of Hua Lei, and said, “Look at the pattern. Isn’t it more interesting now that the meteors alternate in direction? It looks as if they’re dancing! Imagine if all of them just leaned to the right. Wouldn’t that be boring? Remember, Hua Lei, everyone makes mistakes. The common artisans would work hard and correct their errors. A truly great master incorporates the mistakes into the design and loves the finished product.”
“I also know that you’re unhappy when you hear that your work is ‘almost like a goddess’s seamless robe.’ That’s a sign of foolishness, Hua Lei. Nobody is perfect. Even I make mistakes, but masters accept errors as learning opportunities and avenues for creativity. While we should not purposefully make errors nor stay mediocre, we should learn to look at them positively. The same goes for compliments. Only a foolish amateur would smirk at a compliment. The polite reply would be a simple ‘thank you,’” she continued.
Humbled, Hua Lei wept and thought herself foolish for having doubted her patron goddess and for wasting time by sulking after receiving compliments. She bowed down and thanked the goddess for the lesson. She tried to take her leave, but the goddess said that she’s welcome to stay another night.
The next day, Hua Lei woke up in her room. She thought that she just dreamt the entire thing, but she kept the lesson she learned in her mind as she weaved that day and the rest of the days that followed. Whenever she made mistakes, she also tried to incorporate them in her designs, and true enough, most of the people who saw her work complimented it with “It’s almost seamless like a goddess’ robe!” With each compliment, she thanked her admirers and replied with “Thank you” each time. As she continued this practice, she became renowned in all the land and became a master weaver.