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Koan: The Happy Chinaman

Thanks to all for your kind letters and well-wishing. The power and Internet is back on and all is well here. My neighbors still (Thursday morning) don’t have power, so there are still plenty of people going without. It must be a hundred times worse down south. Please direct your thoughts (and prayers if you do that) towards the hurricane victims.

We’ll wrap-up this week with a koan today and the Dhammapada tomorrow, and then get back to your letters and maybe a lesson or two next week.

Koan: The Happy Chinaman

Anyone walking about the many Chinatowns in America will observe statues of a stout fellow carrying a linen sack. Chinese merchants call him Happy Chinaman or Laughing Buddha.

This Hotei lived in the T’ang dynasty. He had no desire to call himself a Zen master or to gather many disciples about him. Instead he walked the streets with a big sack into which he would put gifts of candy, fruit, or doughnuts. These he would give to children who gathered around him in play. He established a kindergarten of the streets.

Whenever he met a Zen devotee he would extend his hand and say: “Give me one penny.” And if anyone asked him to return to a temple to teach others, again he would reply: “Give me one penny.”

Once 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.

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