Ho Ho Hotei
Years ago my daughters were somewhat confused by school friends carefully questioning how my daughters could feel motivated to “pray to that laughing fat guy.”
My young daughters were perplexed by their friends’ question for two reasons. One, the Buddha was a teacher, not a deity, so those who follow the Buddhist path to enlightened understanding do not “pray to the Buddha.” And two, he certainly was not a fat guy, and he certainly did not carry a reputation of being a guffawing jokester. Where did people get those odd impressions?
Siddhartha Gautama, known as the Buddha, or “the awakened one” became Buddhism’s founder over 2,500 years ago when he began to teach others techniques for approaching the direct experience of the true nature of reality and the true nature of the self in that reality. Born a prince, he renounced his inheritance and lived for years in the woods of India as a starving ascetic grappling with the questions of what life really is and why there is so much suffering in life and what could be done to eliminate that suffering. Eventually he found the answers he sought, and then devised a means to teach others a way to begin to break through to those answers.
I reminded my girls of the big statue in our favorite Chinese restaurant, the round laughing guy with the big bag of gifts.
They were still confused. Having spent half their years growing up in Japan, they pointed out to me, “Dad, that’s Hotei, not the Buddha”.
Well, yes, but most Americans do not know that Hotei (or Hotai in Chinese), famous in Asian culture, is “a buddha” but not “the Buddha” who was the ascetic spiritual seeker.
Is it possible that a glimpse of what is deepest truth in life can turn one into a jolly laughing philanthropist, bringing joy and gifts to all just for the fun of it? Hotei says so. So does Santa Claus.
So as we approach the holiday gift giving season, think of Hotei in Buddhist culture as filling a role like Santa Claus in the Christmas culture of Christianity. Help your friends be of good cheer, especially in this challenging economy. Spread some laughs. Give some gifts. Brighten spirits.
And happy holidays to you from An-shu Rumiko and me.