The Camphorwood Statue
一 The Arrival
Thus have I heard: a glow from the sea had attracted the people living in the fishing village near Nagai Beach. The men went to their boats, which they had moored for the night. The women, following them, said that a piece of the moon had fallen into Sagami Bay.
二 The Monk
Sweet water fell from the waxy fronds of trees onto Tokudo Shonin’s saffron robe. The peasants in the persimmon grove where he had spent the night directed him to this forest, remote, uninhabited by people. A tree had fallen, they told him. Mud stuck to Tokudo Shonin’s toes. He had come on foot from Nara, crossing fields and hills, tales from peasants guiding him, seeking the fallen tree.
三 Black Sand
Moonlight from the sea illuminated the forested mountains that stood watch over Sagami Bay. They had been awaiting her arrival. On the beach, the women from the fishing village watched, too, the black sand, coarse between their toes. The men, in their small boats, cast nets into the salt water.
Tokudo Shonin found the valley in Hase, exactly where the peasants had told him to look. Standing on a ridgeline, he could see down into it, dense with camphorwood trees. These trees knew no fear of the woodsman. On the slope opposite him, a glow came from the undergrowth, lighting up the canopy of trees, turning the leaves emerald. He hurried down from the ridge, not mindful of the dank leaves covering the ground. His sandals slid over them, yet he did not fall.
Her glow faded as she lay on the black sand, surrounded by the villagers. Now she had arrived. A young woman stepped forward, speaking her name.
六 The Sight of Closed Eyes
A camphorwood tree had fallen. Tokudo Shonin knew from the glow that emerged from under its bark why he had come. He closed his eyes. The brightness left an afterglow that he could see with his eyes closed. The shape was not that of a tree. Instead, he saw the form that lay within its wood, granting him a precognition. He opened his eyes at the sound of approaching footsteps.
七 A Temporary Home
The men carried her to their village. They did not need to talk to the monks to know what to do. They built a structure out of rushes and grasses. This was only temporary.
八 The Divine Ones
The old man and old woman bowed to Tokudo Shonin. They appeared ordinary. He bowed lower. “Kannon.” He did not know which of the three of them spoke. It did not matter. Perfect understanding penetrated the mists of confusion.
She had come by sea from Hase, in Western Japan. Sixteen years it took her, seeking out the black sand beach along Sagami Bay, far to the east. Here, they would gild her in precious gold, then carry her up Kaiko-san Mountain and enshrine her. She had returned to the land because of the people’s suffering.
十 Carving the Statues
It took three days for the old man and old woman to carve the camphorwood tree. No other trees in the valley compared in height or girth to the tree. As Tokudo Shonin had foreseen, they found enough wood to carve two statues, both as tall as four men. Food did not matter to the three of them. They had the tree. One statue, thought Tokudo Shonin, would be enshrined at Nara, where the sacred deer roam the wide avenues and pilgrims pray at the temples. The other he would set adrift in the sea, coming to shore where she was needed.
十一 To Assuage Suffering
They built her temple on Kaiko-san Mountain and named it Hasedera, for they knew she had come from the camphorwood forest in Hase, Western Japan.
Many years later, in 1902 when the Enoden Electric Railway was put in, the builders named the station Hase after Hasedera Temple. Even today, the green and yellow cars of the Enoden Electric Railway run along the coast from Fujisawa to Kamakura, stopping at Hase Station. Many riders exit there. Tourists, primarily. They tend not to turn off the main road from the station, and thus they overlook Hasedera, where she was enshrined. Instead, they follow maps in their guidebooks that lead them to the Daibutsu, a statue of the Great Buddha. Along the way, souvenir shops and ice cream parlors offer their own relief from the suffering of this world.
From her shrine in Hasedera, her camphorwood body gilt in precious gold, she looks out upon Hase Station, the city of Kamakura, and Sagami Bay, her smile embodying perfect peace. When the souvenirs begin to gather dust and the ice cream no longer tastes sweet, when the guidebooks lead the people astray, she will be waiting.
十二 The Bodhisattva
The old man and old woman carved two camphorwood statues of eleven-headed Kannon, just as Tokudo Shonin had foreseen. He looked upon her, closed his eyes, and understood.
Note on the meaning of the Japanese characters.
The characters preceding each section title are Japanese numerals. Originating in China, they have been adapted for use in multiple East Asian cultures.
In Japanese, the number four is a homophone for death ("shi") and the number nine is a homophone for suffering ("ku"). Both numbers are considered unlucky, similar to thirteen in Western culture. Sections four and nine are titled accordingly, with the content reflecting each title.
When Ted Snyder walked out of a used bookstore with a copy of Ayya Khema’s Be An Island in hand during the late 1990s, he had no idea that he had just taken his first step on the Noble Eightfold Path. From that small bookstore in Southern California, the path has led him to the Milwaukee Shambhala Center, where he served as a chant leader for their weekly meditation practice, and to a pilgrimage to Bodai-ji Temple at Mount Osore, a remote volcano in northern Japan that serves as an entry to the underworld.
If Ted isn’t sitting on a cushion, he can probably be found either scribbling in a notebook or hunting insects. As a professional entomologist, he has published and lectured extensively on how to safely and effectively control pests in and around structures. In addition, his poetry has been published in Mosaic and Split Rock Review, and his esoteric writing is forthcoming in NILVX.
More on Ted Snyder's work can be found on our Links page.