Chapter Four. A Pilgrimage to Enoshima
The temple is large as any that I have yet seen, and, like the others, grey with the wearing of six hundred years. From the roof there hang down votive offerings, inscriptions, and lanterns in multitude, painted with various pleasing colours. Almost opposite to the entrance is a singular statue, a seated figure, of human dimensions and most human aspect, looking upon us with small weird eyes set in a wondrously wrinkled face. This face was originally painted flesh-tint, and the robes of the image pale blue; but now the whole is uniformly grey with age and dust, and its colourlessness harmonises so well with the senility of the figure that one is almost ready to believe one's self gazing at a living mendicant pilgrim. It is Benzuru, the same personage whose famous image at Asakusa has been made featureless by the wearing touch of countless pilgrim-fingers. To left and right of the entrance are the Ni-O, enormously muscled, furious of aspect; their crimson bodies are speckled with a white scum of paper pellets spat at them by worshippers. Above .the altar is a small but very pleasing image of Kwannon, with her entire figure relieved against an oblong halo of gold, imitating the flickering of flame.
But this is not the image for which the temple is famed; there is another to be seen upon certain conditions. The old priest presents me with a petition, written in excellent and eloquent English, praying visitors to contribute something to the maintenance of the temple and its pontiff, and appealing to those of another faith to remember that 'any belief which can make men kindly and good is worthy of respect.' I contribute my mite, and I ask to see the great Kwannon.
Then the old priest lights a lantern, and leads the way, through a low doorway on the left of the altar, into the interior of the temple, into some very lofty darkness. I follow him cautiously awhile, discerning nothing whatever but the flicker of the lantern; then we halt before something which gleams. A moment, and my eyes, becoming more accustomed to the darkness, begin to distinguish outlines; the gleaming object defines itself gradually as a Foot, an immense golden Foot, and I perceive the hem of a golden robe undulating over the instep. Now the other foot appears; the figure is certainly standing. I can perceive that we are in a narrow but also very lofty chamber, and that out of some mysterious blackness overhead ropes are dangling down into the circle of lantern-light illuminating the golden feet. The priest lights two more lanterns, and suspends them upon hooks attached to a pair of pendent ropes about a yard apart; then he pulls up both together slowly. More of the golden robe is revealed as the lanterns ascend, swinging on their way; then the outlines of two mighty knees; then the curving of columnar thighs under chiselled drapery, and, as with the still waving ascent of the lanterns the golden Vision towers ever higher through the gloom, expectation intensifies. There is no sound but the sound of the invisible pulleys overhead, which squeak like bats. Now above the golden girdle, the suggestion of a bosom. Then the glowing of a golden hand uplifted in benediction. Then another golden hand holding a lotus. And at last a Face, golden, smiling with eternal youth and infinite tenderness, the face of Kwannon.
So revealed out of the consecrated darkness, this ideal of divine feminity - creation of a forgotten art and time - is more than impressive. I can scarcely call the emotion which it produces admiration; it is rather reverence. But the lanterns, which paused awhile at the level of the beautiful face, now ascend still higher, with a fresh squeaking of pulleys. And lo! the tiara of the divinity appears with strangest symbolism. It is a pyramid of heads, of faces-charming faces of maidens, miniature faces of Kwannon herself.
For this is the Kwannon of the Eleven Faces - Jiu-ichimen-Kwannon.
Most sacred this statue is held; and this is its legend.
In the reign of Emperor Gensei, there lived in the province of Yamato a Buddhist priest, Tokudo Shonin, who had been in a previous birth Hold Bosatsu, but had been reborn among common men to save their souls. Now at that time, in a valley in Yamato, Tokudo Shonin, walking by night, saw a wonderful radiance; and going toward it found that it came from the trunk of a great fallen tree, a kusunoki, or camphor-tree. A delicious perfume came from the tree, and the shining of it was like the shining of the moon. And by these signs Tokudo Shonin knew that the wood was holy; and he bethought him that he should have the statue of Kwannon carved from it. And he recited a sutra, and repeated the Nenbutsu, praying for inspiration; and even while he prayed there came and stood before him an aged man and an aged woman; and these said to him, 'We know that your desire is to have the image of Kwannon-Sama carved from this tree with the help of Heaven; continue therefore, to pray, and we shall carve the statue.'
And Tokudo Shonin did as they bade him; and he saw them easily split the vast trunk into two equal parts, and begin to carve each of the parts into an image. And he saw them so labour for three days; and on the third day the work was done - and he saw the two marvellous statues of Kwannon made perfect before him. And he said to the strangers: 'Tell me, I pray you, by what names you are known.' Then the old man answered: 'I am Kasuga Myojin.' And the woman answered: 'I am called Ten-sho-ko-dai- jin; I am the Goddess of the Sun.' And as they spoke both became transfigured and ascended to heaven and vanished from the sight of Tokudo Shonin.