Through the Nose of Buddha
When my friends and I visited Todai-ji in Nara, Japan, the Buddhist temple was still the largest wooden building in the world. The Daibutsu within is 49 feet tall, also a world record at the time for bronze Buddhas. In this house of enormity, my adventure involved a small hole.
The temple is supported by massive wooden columns. At the base of one is carved a rectangular hole, punched all the way through. According to lore, the dimensions of the hole match those of the Daibutsu’s nostril and anyone who crawls through is guaranteed enlightenment.
Student groups love the challenge, of course, and all of the kids we saw made it through easily. My companions – four Japanese 20-somethings plus one fit Australian woman – all successfully traversed the passage. My turn.
I am not a big man. At least, I don’t think of myself as particularly large, maybe a bit above average – 6’, 195ish pounds (183 cm, 88 kg for those in the more sensible metric crowd). However, Japan is not built for people my size. My own apartment was the worst. I couldn’t close the bathroom door while sitting on the can because my legs were too long. I was forever hitting my head in doorways, too – sure to elicit the exclamation: “I hate this #$&%ing country!”
I didn’t really hate Japan, of course. I loved it. But what else is there to say at such a moment?
Considering the matter of the hole, my main worry was not my height so much as my width. I have broad shoulders, even by Western standards. I figured if I could get my shoulders through the opening I’d be fine. So, I stretched both arms above my head and in I went.
Stuck. Panic! Fortunately, there was still enough of me outside the hole that I could wiggle back out. I walked away relieved. We continued our exploration of the temple.
My eyes kept drifting back to the hole. Everyone else who tried made it through – not just the kids, either. An older couple, surely less nimble than I, took their turn as well. Pride was working its evil upon my brain. Surely, there must be a way.
I hatched a new plan. If I stretched one arm up and the other downward, my shoulders would be at a narrower angle, allowing them to move through the tight space. If I entered the rectangular entrance by the diagonal, that would provide the greatest width for passage. Geometry. This could work.
On this second attempt, my shoulders passed through the entrance just fine. Encouraged, I pressed on.
Stuck. Good and stuck this time. Claustrophobic prophecies coming true.
It turns out, my hips are wider than I think they are. My top was more mobile as anticipated but once my rump crested the plane of the entrance, I was firmly wedged. I couldn’t reach far enough above my head to reach the other side to pull myself through. I couldn’t get enough leverage to push back. My aft section was similarly useless.
What the Hell was I going to do? Would the monks have to bring grease or butter to ease me through? Would they have to cut the hole? I could see the morning headline:
Stupid Gaijin Gets Stuck in Hole, Venerated Temple Defaced
Despair. Other tourists gathered - amused, fascinated and perplexed. No doubt, a few snapped photos. I suppose I might have thought to be embarrassed if I hadn’t been so genuinely terrified at the prospect of being stuck forever. I imagined starvation might gradually reduce body mass and allow me to slip free. Or would they just have to wait for my corpse to decay?
Luckily, my friends swung into action. One of the guys moved around to the front hole and grabbed my lead arm. The others took the rear and pushed on my hindquarters. After much grunting and struggle from all parties…
Whoosh! I flew through the chute and out, landing on top of my friend. Rarely have I felt more relieved. Nothing left to do but laugh.
Much rejoicing. More shutters clicking.
My enlightenment was two-fold. First, there are few greater exhilarations in life than accomplishing something you thoroughly believed was impossible. Second and surely more important, the toughest problems require good friends.*******************
The hole (not me in the photo):
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