Chapter 9: The Laughing Buddha
It is as if a man is just trying to live on a cookery book and has forgotten to cook food - just goes on studying books about food and how to prepare it and how not to prepare it, and argues this way and that; and is all the time hungry, all the time dying, and has forgotten completely that one cannot live on books. That’s what has happened: people are living on Bibles, Korans, Dhammapadas, Gitas - they have completely forgotten that religion has to be lived. It is something that has to be digested. It is something that has to circulate in your blood, become your bones, your very marrow. You cannot just think about it. Thinking is the most superficial part of your being. You have to absorb it.
This story has to be understood very deeply.
In the Tang dynasty there was a stout fellow who was called the Happy Chinaman, or the Laughing Buddha.
When for the first time you hear the phrase “laughing buddha” it looks a little contradictory, a contradiction in terms. A buddha and laughing? Not a single statue exists, not a single painting, not a single description of Buddha laughing. But that is not because Buddha never laughed - that is because Indians are much too serious about religion.
Maybe that is one of the basic reasons why Buddhism disappeared from India. India was too serious, too intellectual, too full of theorizing. Buddha was very simple. His approach was not of the mind; his approach was of the existential being. And this country is the country of the pundits, the scholars, the learned men, the knowledgeable. If Buddha disappeared from this country, it seems natural.
He was bringing a totally different dimension - something very original; something very natural yet very original, because man has forgotten it. He was doing a tremendous service to humanity. He was not a pundit, not a philosopher, not a metaphysician. He was a very simple being - silent, happy, fully alive, living moment-to-moment.
If you want to understand Buddha, go via Hotei. Hotei is his true disciple. It is very difficult because, whenever a man like Buddha happens, immediately pundits and scholars gather around. Because they get new material for their theorizing, intellectuals immediately gather around. They have something new to philosophize about, to write about, to make scriptures of.
It is said - a very old story - that once it happened:
A man became enlightened. The disciples of the devil immediately went to the devil, their master, and they said, “What are you doing sitting here? Run fast! Rush fast! One man has become enlightened - and we have to destroy his truth before it reaches people, otherwise hell will become empty, nobody will be coming to hell. Everybody will go to heaven, to paradise, to moksha!”
It is said that sitting there the devil smiled silently. He said, “Don’t be worried, there is no hurry and no worry. Scholars have already reached there. They will destroy the truth. They do our work so perfectly that we need not be worried.”