Changmei and Tanshou Arhats

(This article was published in the Shenzhen Daily on Oct 24, 2016.)

Changmei, the Long Eyebrow Arhat, at Huayan Temple, Datong, Shanxi

From time to time, we have encountered the figures known as the 18 (or sometimes 16) Arhats, and we have looked more closely at one of them, "Jivaka, the open-hearted arhat." Let's meet some of the others.

One notable member of the group is "Changmei Luohan," meaning the "Long Eyebrow Arhat." He is easy to spot: an old, old man with very, very long eyebrows.

Changmei (called Asita in Sanskrit) was a monk in a previous life who, try as he might, could not attain enlightenment. He lived for so long that his eyebrows grew to extraordinary lengths. After death, he was reborn as a small baby--with the same eyebrows! In that life, then, he became an arhat, an enlightened disciple.

In the year 891, a monk named Guan Xiu had a dream in which the arhats revealed their true appearance, and asked him to paint them. Centuries later, the Emperor Qianlong visited these portraits at Shengyin Temple in Hangzhou, and was so impressed that he ordered them to be reproduced and distributed to other temples. (Good thing, as the originals were later destroyed.)

The Emperor also wrote "eulogies" for each arhat. For Changmei he wrote:
Compassionate elder,
A monk who has attained enlightenment.
Perceptive of the infinite universe,
With tacit understanding.
Another arhat's story is much simpler. Tanshou Luohan (Sanskrit Panthaka) is the "Raised Hand Arhat." He is stretching because he has just emerged from a long meditation! Emperor Qianlong wrote of him:
Easy and comfortable,
Yawning and stretching.
In a state of omniscience,
Contented with his own lot.
We'll meet more arhats next time.

Tanshou, the Raised Hand Arhat, at Fuyan Temple, Nanyue, Hunan

No comments:

Post a Comment