I cleaned the Kuan Yin statue today. And as I rubbed a light coat of oil over the arms that poke out every which way (like a bad hair day) and bear a variety of unidentifiable implements, then stroked the face, which., like the rest of the statue, is a black coating on what seems to be brass beneath, and brought the base to a new shine, I remembered ....
I saw the statue in a shop selling hand bags and other inexpensive items. Maybe 35 years ago. It was placed in the window. Nothing special as statuary goes. Machine-made was and remains my guess. I was new to Zen at the time and the minute I saw the statue, I knew I had to have it. So I scratched and scrounged at a time in my life when I didn't have much money and came up with the $80 it cost. It wasn't a Zen statue (too much ornateness and mystical add-ons) but I loved it and wanted it and bought it.
When I got it home, I set it on a mantel and then found myself strangely embarrassed by it. I didn't know it was a representation of Kuan Yin, bodhisattva of compassion, but I knew it was way more advanced than I was. It was in my house. It was like having a stranger who was going to sleep over and you weren't quite sure how to make conversation. So each day, I took to touching it. I would touch it and perhaps bow, but more often, just touch the black metal and pass on. Day after day.
When I practiced zazen or seated meditation at home, I would sit in front of it, incense curling up towards the ceiling, and forget all about it during zazen ... only to be reminded of its presence when it was time to stop sitting.
Years passed. Kuan Yin was there through antics and sorrows ... right up until today when I sluiced very hot water over it, dried it and oiled it up. I remember that once I offered to give it to a friend and I am glad now she declined. Everyone should pick their own advertising gadgets and not try giving them to someone else.
We are old friends now. Not even "friendship" describes our nearness. I was happy to wash and oil the Kuan Yin today and Kuan Yin was happy to be washed. I don't like saying stuff like that out loud for fear that someone will tip over in a mystical swoon. But it's just the way things are ... tasty as Ritz crackers.