Teej festival - Pashipatinath nabij Kathmandu

The Laughing Buddha - more information


Man creates god in his own image. For instance, if we place together all the idols or pictures of Buddha from different countries, we find them completely different to each other. An example of difference can be found in any particular organ of their faces. Unlike Japanese or Tibetan Buddha, Nepali Buddha does not have a crooked nose. Such an anthropomorphic explanation of god, animal or object is basic to rational nature of human beings. Niddle’s ‘eye’ and maize’s ‘moustache’ are other example of anthropomorphism.

An old, fat man, holding luggage on his back and laughing so heartily as if he never knew to be serious, always stares at me inside my little apartment. He has been there for about three years but only some months back, I happened to know that he is Siddhartha Gautam in a completely distorted form: the Laughing Buddha. I have visited several Nepali monasteries but found nowhere like him. What national, cultural or anthropological background might have helped construct such an image of Buddha? A series of questions finally lead me to know that laughing Buddha is the Chinese Maitreya, a personal name for the World Teacher. Christians know him as the Christ. Similarly, Hindus know him as Krishna. All the major religions of the world expect his imminent return so that he can guide all the humanity as one sharing, economic and social justice and global cooperation. The figures of laughing Buddha are mostly found in Chinese shops and restaurants. Chinese rub his belly for good luck and prosperity. The bag he holds on his back is supposed to include goodies to the children.

But why is he laughing? Whom is he laughing at? His laughter may signify different meanings at this time of great political, economic and social crisis. To the progressive Chinese, his laughter may be a sign of happy disposition. But it can’t be so in our context. Mystery of his laughter confused me a lot.

There are different ways of laughing: cackling, chuckling, giggling, sniggering, to name only a few. When we are thinking about something funny, we chuckle quietly. We giggle in a silly way, when we feel amused, embarrassed or nervous. And when we are very unpleasant at someone’s problems or mistakes, we snigger. So, we laugh sometimes for variety of reasons, sometimes to ridicule and sometimes to be ridiculed. Facial expression would not help much to differentiate the kind of laughter one makes. We must hear the way one laughs. Besides, mental or emotional states of the laughter also determine why one laughs.

Ancient Buddha used to meditate sitting cross-legged under the tree. Such an early image of gravity contrasts with the postmodern Buddha who is, quite surprisingly, shown to prefer for avoid asceticism, to be worshipped as never before inside the highly decorated monasteries and to laugh in a way that is very incomprehensive to most of us. Nevertheless, I believe I know why he laughs.

At first, he laughs at our inability to laugh like him. Then, he laughs at his own realization that he has to laugh at the people of his own land. After that, he keeps on laughing sometimes at our ignorance and sometimes at our knowledge that he walked around the world to fathom every soul of mankind suffering from earthly temptation and to promulgate the idea of peace and social equality condemning his own royal birth.

He laughs at several monks and idolatrous people who are trying to confine him within the four walls of cozy monasteries. He laughs at his own misfortune of being worshipped as a diving figure and of being treated merely as a promising commercial production of several businessmen.

He laugh at us because we forgot that today, he is an abstract noun, and that any thing abstract dwells only inside the heart, not in the military vision sought by the lenses of impatient gunners.

He laughs at you. He laughs at me. He laughs at both the ruler and the ruled and at several invisible existences whose minds are destructively obsessed with the lust for power even at the cost of peace. Out of confusion and chaos, here the Laughing Buddha even cackles, chuckles, giggles and sniggers. Sometimes, he laughs as a child, sometimes as a philosopher, and sometimes as the people gone mad turning laughter into sorrowful tears.

Source: The Kathmandu Post 21/1/2005

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