Navigation Menu+

A Tale of Twin Buddhas

Posted on Feb 27, 2015 by in Travel | 0 comments

Japan is one of the best places to get lost in. Although Tokyo is a dense, sprawling metropolis of people, buildings and activity, traveling a few hours by train can land you in storybook towns that showcase Japan’s tranquil natural beauty.

Legend has it that in the mid-8th century a famous monk named Tokudo directed his master craftsman to carve two mammoth eleven-faced Kan’non statues out of a single block of camphor wood. One of the statues, which was carved from the base of the great tree, was presented to a temple at Nara while the other one, carved from the larger top half of the tree, was set adrift in the sea with the intention that it would eventually reach its rightful karmic home. That statue drifted for over 300 miles before making landfall and found its way to the city of Kamakura, where it has peacefully resided ever since.

Jimmy and I encountered this delightful story when we visited Kamakura on a day trip from Tokyo and found ourselves wandering the peaceful grounds of Hase Dera Temple, the final home of the Kan’non statue pushed off to sea. We both share a special affinity with Kwan Yin Buddha and when we discovered that the Kan’non Buddha ubiquitous in many Japanese temples and our beloved Kwan Yin Buddha are one and the same, we couldn’t believe the serendipity. The gold-gilded Kan’non statue sits over 30 feet in height and is regarded as one of Japan’s tallest wooden sculptures. As we stood in front of the massive Buddha, a pervading calmness enveloped us in its arms – an inexplicable connection to a time and place beyond our own.

That day, we abandoned our normal frenetic pace and indulged in a slow walking reverie of the grounds before enjoying a steaming bowl of soba in the tea shop overlooking the rolling hills of Kamakura. 

When it was time to leave, I wondered out loud, “The other Kan’non, the twin carved out of the base of the same trunk. How far away is that temple from here?”

Jimmy replied distractedly, “Don’t know. Hundreds of miles at least. But if we don’t hurry, we’ll miss our train back to Tokyo.”

With dwindling daylight pacing us, we scrambled to the train station, thoughts of the twin Buddha tucked away for another day or perhaps another trip.