The Laughing Buddha - more
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
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
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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