Police officials could not confirm whether the man was arrested, but members of the temple said witnesses obtained the man's vehicle license-plate number before he drove off. They said they later received word that he was arrested.
According to Zenshuji priest, the Rev. Kosho Itagaki, the man, whom the priest had never seen before, entered the temple around midmorning yesterday before going to the Kuan Yen stone statue on the east side of the mission.
The man tied a container full of a flammable liquid to a rope, which he used to hoist the bucket to the top of the statue and douse the religious icon. He then set the statue on fire and walked to his car and drove off, Itagaki said.
Firefighters from the Kaua?i Fire Department put out the fire, which didn't cause much damage.
But thousands of dollars in cleanup costs were accrued, because the flammable substance has to be professionally cleaned, said Larry Feinstein, a member of the Zenshuji.
"That statue stands for compassion," Feinstein said. "How do you react to senseless violence?"
The statue is a gift from stone workers in the Yamaguchi Prefecture in Japan, Itagaki said, in memory of the immigrants who have passed away here. It's at least 25 years old.
"It's kind of nuts, the person who did this," Itagaki added. "It's impossible to burn.
"The members are shocked," he added, at the senselessness of the crime.
Despite the crime, Itagaki has no intention of placing gates at the temple entrance. "Many persons (of all ethnicities) practice this tradition. We open the doors to everybody who wants to practice this tradition," he continued, adding that Zenshuji traces its roots back over 100 years on Kaua?i, making it one of the oldest still-intact Buddhist congregations in America.