Budai and Qixiang Arhats

(This article was published in the Shenzhen Daily on Oct 31, 2016.)

Budai (Angaja) and friend, at Huayan Temple, Datong, Shanxi

Let's meet two more of the 18 (or 16) arhats today.

Most temple visitors will know that the fat, jolly figure in the first hall is Mi'le Fo or Maitreya, and that he is the Buddha-to-be, the next in the succession of Buddhas to come in compassion to teach. He has a big belly, a big smile, and a big bag next to him.

They may be confused, then, to see him again among the arhats in the Main Hall (or sometimes in a separate hall dedicated to the arhats). But this is not Mi'le Fo. This is Yinjietuo (Angaja or Angida in Sanskrit). Because of the sack, he may also be called Budai Luohan, or "Cloth Sack Arhat."

Tradition says he was a snake catcher in India. As an act of compassion, he would capture poisonous snakes, defang them, and release them again so they could not harm the populace.

The sack he carries is a bit different from Mi'le's: Mi'le brings good things out of his stack, but Yinjietuo takes away bad things in his.

Depictions of him vary: he is sometimes rotund like Mi'le Fo, but can in fact appear with almost any physique.

Another sometimes-confused arhat is Kalika, called Jialijia or Qixiang ("elephant riding) in Chinese. As the name indicates, he may be seen on an elephant; but he may also appear cleaning up dust.

Both images refer to cleaning the mind. As we've said before, a tame mind, like a tame elephant, is useful; but if either is wild, it can be dangerous!

Whatever process one is engaged in--cleaning dust, taming an elephant, or controlling the mind--one needs patience, concentration, and diligence.

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