Posts Tagged ‘Chinese culture’

What’s not to like?

So yesterday I blogged on yummy Chinese food, and suddenly realised that I didn’t know why we had a fat Buddha outside our front door greeting our guests when the Buddha himself was a thin ascetic type who eschewed the pleasures of the flesh. Flesh? He even eschewed the pleasures of bok choy  in oyster sauce …

Anyway, the answer is that I was confusing Budai (Chinese: 布袋; pinyin: Bùdài), pronounced Hotei in Japanese, Bố Đại in Vietnamese, who is a Chinese folkloric deity, with the Buddha.

Wikipedia, as so often, is our friend here. (What a great experiment in information dissemination Wikipedia is, to be sure.)

Anyhow, courtesy of Wikipedia’s contributors, here is the fascinating story of the “Fat”  or “Smiling” or “Laughing” Buddha. Look, he’s fat, celebrates kindness, is nice to kids and is poor but contented. I mean, hello? What’s not to like? I am clearly channelling him in my life. I wonder if he enjoyed a pint or two of bitter British ale?

Anyhow, I have left the Wikipedia internal links in, in case you want to explore further …

His name – Budai – means “Cloth Sack,”and comes from the bag that he is conventionally depicted as carrying. He is usually identified with (or as an incarnation of) Maitreya, so much so that the Budai image is one of the main forms in which Maitreya is depicted in East Asia. He is almost always shown smiling or laughing, hence his nickname in Chinese, the Laughing Buddha (Chinese: 笑佛; pinyin: xiàofó). Many Westerners confuse Budai with Gautama Buddha. (There ya go. I’m not uniquely stupid.)

Description

The laughing or fat buddha

“So I said to the girl at the drive thru at McDonalds, “You know what, supersize me”. And now look what happened.”

Budai is traditionally depicted as a fat bald man wearing a robe and wearing or otherwise carrying prayer beads.

He carries his few possessions in a cloth sack, being poor but content. He is often depicted entertaining or being followed by adoring children.

His figure appears throughout Chinese culture as a representation of contentment. His image graces many temples, restaurants, amulets, and businesses.

History

According to Chinese history, Budai was an eccentric Chán monk (Chinese: 禅; pinyin: chán) who lived in China during the Later Liang Dynasty (907–923 CE). He was a native of Fenghua, and his Buddhist name was Qieci (Chinese: 契此; pinyin: qiècǐ; literally “Promise this”). He was considered a man of good and loving character.

The term buddha means “one who is awake”, connoting one who has awakened into enlightenment.

Over the history of Buddhism, there have been several notable figures who would come to be remembered as, and referred to as, buddhas. Later followers of the Chan school would come to teach that all beings possess Buddha nature within them, and are already enlightened, but have yet to realize it. This teaching would continue into Zen.

Budai is often conflated with (or simply replaces) the historical Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, in spite of the distinct visual differences in how each has been depicted. In India, Nepal, and throughout southeast Asia, Gautama (who lived during the 6th c. BCE) is commonly depicted as being tall and slender in appearance. In contrast, in China and those areas to which Chinese cultural influence spread, the depiction of Budai (who lived during the 10th c. CE) is consistently short and round. Both depictions are the idealized results of the religious, cultural and folkloric traditions which evolved in the centuries after their respective deaths.

Traditions that revere Budai

Folklore

Budai in folklore is admired for his happiness, plenitude, and wisdom of contentment. One belief popular in folklore maintains that rubbing his belly brings wealth, good luck, and prosperity. (When I did business in China, young ladies often wanted to rub my belly. So it’s for good luck, huh? Who knew? They might have explained: could have saved some embarrassing mis-understandings.)

In Japan, Hotei persists in folklore as one of the Seven Lucky Gods (Shichi Fukujin) of Taoism.

Buddhism

Some Buddhist traditions consider him a Buddha or a bodhisattva, often identifying him with Maitreya (the future Buddha).

His identification with the Maitreya is attributed to a Buddhist hymn he uttered before his death:

Maitreya, the true Maitreya
has billions of incarnations.
Often he is shown to people at the time;
other times they do not recognize him.

Zen

The primary story that concerns Budai in Zen (Chán) is a short kōan. In it, Budai is said to travel giving candy to poor children, only asking a penny from Zen monks or lay practitioners he meets. One day a monk walks up to him and asks, “What is the meaning of Zen?” Budai drops his bag. “How does one realize Zen?” he continues. Budai then takes up his bag and continues on his way.

I Kuan Tao

Statues of Budai form a central part of I Kuan Tao shrines, where he is usually referred to by the Sanskrit name Maitreya.According to I Kuan Tao, he represents many teachings, including contentment, generosity, wisdom and open kindheartedness. He is predicted to succeed Gautama Buddha as the next Buddha, and helps people realize the essence within, which connects with all beings.

Conflation with other religious figures

Angida Arhat

Angida was one of the original eighteen Arhats of Buddhism. According to legend, Angida was a talented Indian snake catcher whose aim was to catch venomous snakes to prevent them from biting passers-by. Angida would also remove the snake’s venomous fangs and release them. Due to his kindness, he was able to attain bodhi.

In Chinese art, Angida is sometimes portrayed as Budai, being rotund, laughing, and carrying a bag. In Nepali, he is also called hasne buddha (“laughing Buddha”).

Phra Sangkajai / Phra Sangkachai

In Thailand, Budai is sometimes confused with another similar monk widely respected in Thailand, Phra Sangkajai or Sangkachai (Thai: พระสังกัจจายน์). Phra Sangkajai, a Thai spelling of Mahakaccayanathera (Thai: มหากัจจายนเถระ), was a Buddhist Arhat (in Sanskrit) or Arahant (in Pali) during the time of the Lord Buddha. Lord Buddha praised Phra Sangkadchai for his excellence in explaining sophisticated dharma (or dhamma) in an easily and correctly understandable manner. Phra Sangkajai also composed the Madhupinadika Sutra.

Gratuitous photo of not fat body for journalistic balance.

One tale relates that he was so handsome that once even a man wanted him for a wife. To avoid a similar situation, Phra Sangkadchai decided to transform himself into a fat monk. (That’s my excuse, and I’m sticking to it – Ed.)

Another tale says he was so attractive that angels and men often compared him with the Buddha. He considered this inappropriate, so disguised himself in an unpleasantly fat body. (Or that one. That’s a good one, too.)

Although both Budai and Phra Sangkajai may be found in both Thai and Chinese temples, Phra Sangkajai is found more often in Thai temples, and Budai in Chinese temples. Two points to distinguish them from one another are:

  1. Phra Sangkajai has a trace of hair on his head (looking similar to the Buddha’s) while Budai is clearly bald.
  2. Phra Sangkajai wears the robes in Theravadin Buddhist fashion with the robes folded across one shoulder, leaving the other uncovered. Budai wears the robes in Chinese style, covering both arms but leaving the front part of the upper body uncovered.
Advertisements

The lazy man’s way to blog is, of course, to re-blog other people’s blogs when you agree with them. The page I link to below is short, charming, and thought-provoking. We should all remember this.

The rest of sgmarinova’s blog is good too. Why not look around while you’re there?

http://sgmarinova.wordpress.com/2012/05/09/for-tomorrow/

BBQ Pork Buns 茶居

BBQ Pork Buns – picture stolen unashamedly from internet. Copyright be buggered. Look, it’s Sunday, right? Be nice.

Anyway, personally, I am not putting off going to Taipan for Yum Cha lunch for another Sunday.

Monosodium glutamate overload here I come. I may re-deem myself later by posting a nice photo or two of some food. Celebrating authentic Chinese culture. And, er … eating.

I am not sure the Buddha would agree that chowing down on seemingly endless dishes of squid tentacles, pork buns (see pic) and various non-identifiable masses wrapped in rice paper is noble. Not to mention sticky rice, that amazing invention that sits in your gut like a cannon ball for days. Comfort food for winter. (And winter has arrived in Melbourne with a vengeance … brrrr.)

Well, maybe the little fat smiling Buddha outside my front door would approve. But given the Buddha sat under a tree not eating much for years, where did the fat Buddha come from in world consciousness?

Hmmm. I feel some Google research coming on.

20120603-142514.jpg

Busy, crowded, chaotic, noisy, delicious. Yum Cha at its finest at Tai Pan in Doncaster, Melbourne

Too much is never enough.

Nom, nom, nom …

Some time ago – a disgracefully long time ago, actually – I promised to nick some good thoughts sourced from around the internet, and post them here regularly, with my own commentary. The idea is simple: there are cleverer people than me around, but I am clever enough to spot stuff that deserves sharing. So I am sorry I have taken so long to come up with entry #2: my excuse is that I have been very busy posting on all sorts of other important topics.

My “steal” today stretches back into the past, to say something that is still utterly relevant to our world in 2012.”Only the wisest and the stupidest of men never change.” Confucius

A statue of Confucius, located in Hunan, China on the shore of the Dongting.

Confucius was responsible for a lot of good sense; for example, he espoused the well-known principle “Do not do to others what you do not want done to yourself”, an early version of the Golden Rule.

But he was also primarily responsible for instituting and codifying a love of authority that has, viewed from an historical perspective, condemned Chinese society to a limiting, claustrophobic respect for those in charge.

To this day, Confucian respect for those in charge – within a family, at a workplace level, in local government, and nationally – slows China’s development into anything resembling a pluralist society while simultaneously making it possible for the centralised Governmental system to drive their economy with little regard for human rights as the West would recognise them. It also encourages a ruling kleptocracy and lack of innovation.

But in this quotation, Confucius offers us a balancing thought we should all dwell on.

Rigidity of opinion is a common failing worldwide. And at its most extreme, it morphs into the horrors of civil war, inter-national conflict, racism, homophobia, colonial exploitation and many more nasties.

As I have grown older, I realise more and more that those things that I once saw as lay down misère* are rarely as certain as I once thought. As John Lennon once wisely said, “The more I see, the less I know for sure.” This is not an argument for some wishy-washy relativism, where nothing is certain, and excuses can be made for any opinion in the search for unity. No, it is merely a belated recognition, in my case, that there are not only two sides to most stories, but often many more than two.

Sadly, when rigid thinking is exhibited in politicians, it is often applauded. Politicians who evidence little or no doubt in their public prognostications are often called “strong” or “effective leaders”. They present with such certainty that we are often happy to delegate to them any need to think critically, while we busy ourselves with “getting on with life”. The problem, of course, arises when the “conviction politician” implements his or her convictions, and we all discover – too late, usually – that their much-lauded convictions were actually sheer nonsense.

The only substitute for this pattern of behaviour, which societies of all types and all eras repeat endlessly, is to consciously up our own level of interest. To read between the lines, and behind the front page, to educate ourselves, to criticise constructively and to demand answers to reasonable questions.

Some years ago, I called into Melbourne talk-back radio station 3AW, to the then Australian Prime Minister, arch-conservative John Howard. The second Iraq invasion was about to get underway, and I called him to point out that a leaked report from his own Chiefs of the Australian Defence Force had said that an inevitable result of any such invasion would be very high civilian casualties.

Howard brushed off my comment grumpily, simply saying “Well, that’s not my point of view.” I started to protest, seeking to point out that the advice came from his own advisers, and surely it was a relevant factor in his decision-making. The right-wing radio host sniffily cut me off, muttering “The Prime Minister has answered your question.”

To date, Iraqi civilian casualties of the war and the chaos that ensued thereafter are in excess of half a million people.

Half a million entirely innocent, civilian casualties. Men, women, and children. Young, and old. And still counting. Howard’s biography, written years later, virtually ignores the issue.

I am not so foolish as to think that if Howard had listened to me then that benighted war and those casualties could have been avoided.

But I do believe that if Howard, Blair, Cheney, Bush et al had not been so insanely gung ho – indeed, had they heeded Cheney’s own opinion from a decade earlier that a full-blown invasion of  Iraq would be a quagmire from which we would not know how to extract ourselves, and which would provoke a military and social cataclysm – then better planning might have been in place to deal with the immediate post-invasion chaos.

Around the world, millions of ordinary people feared exactly what eventuated. Their “folk wisdom” was better than the faux wisdom of the political leaders, relying, as they were, on tainted advice and their own self-confidence. If they had not been so damned obsessed with their own “convictions”, they might have been a deal more pragmatic, and many lives might not have been needlessly sacrificed – not to mention the Allied troops that have died or been horribly injured.

So perhaps, as Socrates said, “The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.”

And why does such modesty in thinking matter?

Because simply put, as George Santayana noted, in his Reason in Common Sense, The Life of Reason, Vol.1, wrote “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

For example, the way things are going, an attack on Syria or Iran (or both) are both live policy options for the West. Faced with such a nightmare scenario, the regimes in Damascus and Teheran become ever more brutal and belligerant. Their obduracy is met with yet more sabre rattling.

And so it goes, and so it goes.When will we ever learn?


*Misere
or misère (French for “destitution”; equivalent terms in other languages include bettel, contrabola, devole, null, pobre) is a bid in various card games, and the player who bids misere undertakes to win no tricks or as few as possible. This does not allow sufficient variety to constitute a game in its own right, but it is the basis of such trick-avoidance games as Hearts.

A Misere bid usually indicates an extremely poor hand, hence the name. An Open or Lay Down Misere is a bid where the player is so sure of losing every trick that they undertake to do so with their cards placed face-up on the table. Consequently, ‘Lay Down Misere’ is Australian gambling slang for a “dead cert”; a predicted easy victory.