12. Happy Chinaman

    Anyone walking about Chinatown in America will observe statues of a stout fellow carrying a linen sack. Chinese merchants call him Happy Chinaman, or Laughing Buddha. 

    This Ho-Tei1 lived in the Tang Dynasty2. He had no desire to call himself a Zen master or to gather many disciples about him. Instead he walked the streets with a big sack into which he would put gifts of candy, fruit, or doughnuts. These he would give to children who gathered around him in play. He established a kindergarten of the streets. 

    Whenever he met a en devotee he would extend his hand and say, "Give me one cent." If anyone asked him to return to a temple to teach others he would reply, "Give me one cent." 

    Once as he was about his play-work, another Zen master happened along and inquired, "What is the significance of Zen?" 

    Ho-Tei immediately plopped his sack down on the ground in silent answer. 

    "Then," asked the other, "what is the actualization of Zen?" 

    At once the happy Chinaman swung the sack over his shoulder and continued on his way.


1. Ho-Tei

Budai (Chinese: 布袋; pinyin: Bùdài; Japanese: 布袋, romanized: Hotei) is a semi-historical Chinese monk who is venerated as Maitreya Buddha in Chan Buddhism. He was also introduced into the Japanese Buddhist pantheon. He is said to have lived around the 10th century in the Wuyue kingdom. His name literally means "cloth sack",and refers to the bag that he is conventionally depicted as carrying as he wanders aimlessly. His jolly nature, humorous personality, and eccentric lifestyle distinguish him from most Buddhist masters or figures. He is almost always shown smiling or laughing, hence his nickname in Chinese, the "Laughing Buddha". As he is traditionally depicted as fat, he is also referred to as the "Fat Buddha", especially in the Western world.


2. T'ang Dynasty