The Wood Bodhisattva sat on a high wooden platform, contemplating its past and present life. It had been sitting in this position for over a thousand years. There were no wooden Bodhisattva statues that had survived intact for over a thousand years, so the Wood Bodhisattva was considered a historical and cultural treasure. Decades ago, it was moved from its original location in a traditional wooden temple to a concrete exhibition hall.
The Wood Bodhisattva remembered that, over a thousand years ago when it became the Wood Bodhisattva, there were dozens of nearly identical wooden Bodhisattvas carved by the same master sculptor. These dozens of similar-looking wooden Bodhisattvas were sent as tributes to different places, some even leaving the sculptor’s homeland to be highly venerated in distant palaces or temples. One of them encountered a storm while crossing the sea and sank with the ship to the bottom of the ocean. Over the course of a thousand years, the rest of the wooden Bodhisattvas were gradually destroyed by natural disasters and human calamities. Only one Wood Bodhisattva remained, continuing to protect humanity.
The Wood Bodhisattva also experienced disasters. Over many centuries, it had been worshipped in more than a dozen different temples and had escaped the threats of fire, floods, and earthquakes more than a dozen times. Every time, when the temple hall was about to collapse or be engulfed by fire, there were always devout monks or believers who took risks to save the Wood Bodhisattva in time. Some even sacrificed their lives for it. Many Buddha, Bodhisattva, and Dharmapala statues that were once worshipped together with the Wood Bodhisattva could not escape their fate. The Wood Bodhisattva was very confused about why it was always able to escape danger narrowly.
The Wood Bodhisattva pondered whether this was due to the merit of its past life. The Wood Bodhisattva remembered that in another thousand years before the last thousand years, it was a tree in the forest. In its thousand years as a tree, it indeed provided shelter to countless beings. However, the other trees in the forest either withered naturally, were cut down and harvested, or were burnt to the ground in fires afterwards. The entire area was leveled to become vast farmland, then the farmland was covered by houses, and gradually developed into a city. In the end, the city was destroyed completely in a war. Thinking about the changes in history, the Wood Bodhisattva felt a little too old.
In fact, the Wood Bodhisattva, after a thousand years, also underwent some changes. Its left foot was blackened in a major fire five hundred years ago; its right hand’s ring finger was accidentally broken during a relocation; its wood began to decay in ways imperceptible to the naked eye due to changes in temperature and humidity over the years. However, people refused to let the Wood Bodhisattva age. They used the most advanced technology and the most effective measures to keep the Wood Bodhisattva out of the flow of change, so it remained as good as new.
The Wood Bodhisattva, which had sat quietly and pondered for a thousand years, always wore a gentle smile. Only one person saw the sorrow behind the Bodhisattva’s smile. Like other worshippers, the man walked into the concrete-built exhibition hall, knelt sincerely before the high platform where the Wood Bodhisattva sat. On the altar-like platform, unlit incense and candles were offered, and the worshippers’ actual offerings were lit elsewhere by the staff. Not a single flame was allowed around the Wood Bodhisattva. The man knelt before the altar, his hands clasped, his head raised, staring at the Wood Bodhisattva in the dim light. In the ambiguous light, he seemed to see the Bodhisattva’s mouth moving.
The next day, the man entered the exhibition hall again. He specifically chose the time just before closing when there were the fewest visitors. When most people had almost left, he stealthily took out a small bottle of gasoline and a lighter from his trousers pocket. The glass bottle shattered at the foot of the Wood Bodhisattva, and a torch made from a rolled-up newspaper fell on the spilled gasoline. The Wood Bodhisattva was immediately surrounded by a blazing fire. The flames quickly surged upwards, and in the dancing firelight, the Bodhisattva’s smile became unprecedentedly brilliant.
The Wood Bodhisattva, after the fire, was completely beyond repair, leaving only a misshapen piece of charred wood. Everyone believed that the arsonist was a crazy extremist. As a result, he was sentenced to life imprisonment. When he was asked why he did it, his answer was: I just wanted to light a stick of thousand-year-old incense.
Illustration by Ian Leong