Tree Bodhisattva

The Lumberjack made a living by felling trees. Depending on what kind of timber the buyer needed, the Lumberjack would go into the forest to find it and cut down the required amount. The Lumberjack didn’t actually want to cut down trees. Every time he was about to do it, he felt a sense of remorse. But for his livelihood, the Lumberjack had no choice but to cut trees. It was a skill passed down through his family, and he didn’t know how to do anything else. This often troubled the Lumberjack. Sometimes, when he found valuable timber and sold it for a good price, the Lumberjack would take a break from his work for a while, allowing the forest to rejuvenate.

When the Lumberjack was young, he encountered the Tree Bodhisattva. It was the first time his elderly father let him go into the forest alone to cut down trees. In search of a very rare type of wood, he wandered in the forest for three days and three nights. On the morning of the fourth day, as the sunlight slanted into his eyes, he saw a huge shadow, standing tall with a thousand arms spread out behind its back. The sun was directly above, scattering immeasurable light. He immediately knew that this was the legendary Tree Bodhisattva, which was also the kind of timber he was looking for. However, at this moment, he was completely unable to move his hand. The axe fell to the ground, and the young Lumberjack knelt in front of the great tree.

It was said that a thousand types of animals and insects lived on and under the Tree Bodhisattva. In the spring, it bloomed with a thousand beautiful flowers. By summer, it bore a thousand ripe fruits. Even in the harsh winter, the Tree Bodhisattva remained a green shade, sheltering all creatures on and under it. The Lumberjack didn’t know how many centuries the Tree Bodhisattva had lived. Judging from its thick trunk, it was at least a thousand years old. The Tree Bodhisattva was likely the first tree in the forest and the ancestor of the entire forest.

That time, the Lumberjack cut down another tree instead. The buyer was not satisfied with the timber and deducted half of the fee. The young man was deeply dejected about his failure. However, his father didn’t say a word. The Lumberjack returned to the Tree Bodhisattva and expressed his worries. The Tree Bodhisattva showered him with a sympathetic light, swaying its thousand arms to signal to him that his safety and livelihood in this forest would be protected.

Later on, the Lumberjack’s elderly father passed away peacefully. The Lumberjack married and had a lively and lovely child. His son gradually grew into a strong young man but had no intention of continuing the Lumberjack’s work. His wish was to make a living in the city. To fulfill his son’s wish, the Lumberjack needed some money to let his son venture into the outside world. One day, a master sculptor came. He was willing to pay a very high price to hire the Lumberjack to find an extremely rare type of timber. Upon hearing this, the Lumberjack’s heart sank.

The Lumberjack shouldered his axe, walked into the forest, and arrived in front of the Tree Bodhisattva. The Lumberjack said nothing, and the Tree Bodhisattva remained silent. The Lumberjack sat down in front of the Tree Bodhisattva and the two gazed at each other until night fell. The full moon rose, shining through the branches. In the cold moonlight, the forest revealed countless shadows of the Tree Bodhisattva. The Lumberjack’s heart trembled, but he remained seated motionless, as did the Tree Bodhisattva. The Lumberjack closed his eyes, his inner turmoil causing him to sweat all over.

Finally, the sun rose, and when the Lumberjack opened his eyes, there were no Bodhisattvas left. All that stood before him were trees, quietly bathing in the soft morning light. He stood up, raised his axe, and chopped down the tree in front of him.

The Lumberjack divided the massive tree trunk into dozens of pieces. It took him thirty days to transport all the timber out of the forest. He delivered the timber to the master sculptor, but his son refused to accept the substantial sum of money. His son had already decided to follow the sculptor to learn his craft. Thus, the master sculptor left the forest with the young man and the invaluable timber. The Lumberjack used the money to buy a piece of land where he planted a thousand fruit trees, and from then on, he never entered the forest or chopped down trees again.

The master sculptor made many exquisite statues from the timber he took back. However, he kept the finest piece hidden and unused. After studying with his master for many years, the Lumberjack’s son also became an outstanding sculptor. In his fiftieth year, he learned of his father’s death. He took out the precious piece of timber left to him by his master. He examined the form and grain of the wood for three days and nights, then picked up his chisel and carved it into a statue of a Bodhisattva.

Illustration by Ian Leong





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