Hotei Who? What I'm Learning from a Statue
This was going to be last week's post. Howsomever, while traveling around New England visiting family, my computer and I both picked up viruses (not the same one) and then we ran into a big snowstorm. We're both home now, all better, and full of apologies for missing a week!
When I was growing up, one of my parents' knickknacks was a dark wooden statue about six inches high. I'm not sure who or where it came from. But as a kid I was most aware of two things: the guy’s big belly and the fact that he had a laughing, even blissful, smile. I think I might also have been a little afraid of him—he was different!
But mostly he was just there, watching, and smiling throughout my childhood. I guess that’s why, when my siblings and I were sorting through the household after my parents had died, I saw him and said I wanted him.
I think I may have packed him away for a while. But at some point I rediscovered him, brought him out, and put him on my altar, both in memory of my parents, and with an eye to bringing more joy and celebration into my life.
Imagine my surprise when not too long after that I arrived at the house of my cranial sacral/vagal system/zapchen teacher to find a four foot high stone model of my guy! "I know him!" I said to Janet.
As an adult I had often thought of him as a laughing Buddha (a lovely image). Perhaps that was what my parents called him? Janet explained to me that he was indeed known as the Laughing Buddha but that he was actually Hotei (ho-tay), an eccentric Chinese monk of the 10th century (Wikipedia calls him "a semi-historical figure"), who lived a simple life, wandering around, apparently aimlessly, carrying his few possessions in a sack. In fact his name means "cloth sack." He also loved to entertain children, so I like to think of him as a Chinese Saint Nicholas. He was later venerated as a Buddhist deity, representing contentment and abundance.
I am not a pantheist so the deity part doesn't quite suit, but I am what I would call a "facet-theist." That is, I tend to think of God as a diamond with an infinite number of facets, each producing and reflecting light and life in different amazing (and sometimes scary) ways. The whole is too brilliant to see or take in, but one facet at a time I can sometimes get a glimpse of the glory and beauty of "the Good Big Thing."
Hotei teaches me to laugh, to be content with what I have, to allow joy. Those are great and deeply appreciated gifts. However, given my training in and penchant for body-mind interdependence, I also began to wonder about his bodily stance. Why were his arms up in the air like that? I am familiar with the charismatic praise stance—arms up and the hands out, like a "U" or a "V"—and have experienced deep peace and connection in that position. But this is different. Hotei has his arms up and his hands turned back above his head, facing up to the heavens.
So I tried it. It is not a position I can keep up for an extended length of time, but wow! When I "do the Hotei" I feel more open to God in some inexplicable way—more open yet also safe. The closest I can come is to say that, somehow, I feel almost as if I am doing a handstand on God's hands. That is perhaps too upside down an analogy to be accurate but the metaphor persists for me.
Joy, abundance, contentment—and a handstand on God's hands. What I am learning from a statue. Wow.
Next time I'll write about silence and sound.