101 Zen Stories: Happy Chinaman

Image Credit: Patrick Seguin

He enters the city barefoot, with chest exposed;
Covered in dust and ashes, smiling broadly.
No need for the magic powers of the gods and immortals,
Just let the dead tree bloom again.

Ten Ox-Herding Verses (Translated by Gen Sakamoto)

Qìcǐ (契此, ? – 916/917 a.d.), known as Bùdài Héshàng (布袋和尚) in China and Hotei (布袋) in Japan, was a Chan (Chinese equivalent of “Zen”) monk who lived during the T’ang dynasty in 10th century at Mt. Siming in the Fenghua district of Ming prefecture, Old China. He is said to be “the future buddha“.

A bald, stout, big-bellied man with a perennial broad-smile on his face whose magnanimity and cheerfulness brought him to be known as “Laughing Buddha” to most of the world, Hotei strolled through the town, begging for alms, with an oogi (Chinese hand fan) in one hand and a big sack in the other. In the sack, he would put gifts of candies, fruits or other foods which he would give away to children.

He had an unnatural contentment with his life and had no desire to be proclaimed a Zen master. Whenever he met a Zen devotee, he would extend his hand and say: ‘Give me one penny.’ And if they asked him to return to temple and teach others, again he would reply: ‘Give me one penny.’

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

Hotei 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.

8 thoughts on “101 Zen Stories: Happy Chinaman

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    1. Yes. The reason is stated by author Helen B. Chapin in one of her research papers published in the journal of American Oriental Society in March 1933.

      Hotei himself predicted the date in one of his writings where he stated that he would attain parinirvana in the third month of the third year of the chen ming reign and further names that year “the cyclical year ping-tzu”. However, the third year of that reign was “ting-chou”. Thus, the confusion. March is confirmed though.

      Liked by 3 people

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