Guojiang and Wa'er Arhats

(This article was published in the Shenzhen Daily on November 28, 2016.)

Wa'er Arhat at Huayan Temple, Datong, Shanxi Province

Today's two Arhats are Guojiang, the "Arhat Who Crossed the River," and Wa'er, the "Ear-Cleaning Arhat."

Little is known of Guojiang, whose Sanskrit name is Bhadra (also sometimes Bodhidharma, like the famous Chan patriarch). But his attribute is a well-known symbol in many religions. The Bible shows people "crossing the Jordan River" to freedom from the Egyptians; Caesar "crossed the Rubicon," committing himself to a rebellion (and thus a new life); and the chicken crossed the road simply to get to the other side.

"Crossing over," then, is a goal in itself. Some religions put a bridge in the image; the Roman Catholic Pope is called the "Supreme Pontiff," meaning bridge-builder. In India's Jain religion, leaders are called "Tirthankara," meaning ford-maker. Interestingly, England's two major universities have a bridge and a ford in their names!

He may be seen holding a book, accompanied by a tiger, or, often, with the ringed staff typical of a wayfarer.

More is known of Wa'er, whose Sanskrit name, Nagasena, means "Dragon Army" (so he is also called Long Jun in Chinese). He was considered to be a great teacher, and some think he was the speaker in the famous Buddhist book The Questions of King Milinda, in which he answers a king's questions regarding the Buddha's teaching.

So why is he cleaning his ear in almost every representation? Well, naturally, the only way to become a great teacher was to be a very good listener when the Buddha spoke! The Buddha's disciples are called sravakas or hearers, and Wa-er was among the best.

No comments:

Post a Comment