Tuota and Bajiao Arhats

(This article was published in the Shenzhen Daily on November 14, 2016.)

Tuota Arhat at Huayan Temple, Datong, Shanxi

Let's meet two more Arhats.

The first may be called in Chinese Supintuo, from the Sanskrit Subinda. More likely, though, he will be named for his attribute, the "Raised Pagoda" Arhat, so Tuota Luohan.

Tradition says Tuota was the last disciple to meet the Buddha before the Blessed One "achieved Final Nirvana" (died). As the pagoda often represents the remains of the Buddha's body, the legend says that Tuota carried the pagoda to remind him of the Buddha's earthly presence--this may be because Tuota was near when he passed.

You may recall that Emperor Qianlong wrote a "eulogy" for each of the Arhats; the one for Tuota begins, "A seven-storey pagoda, Miraculous power of the Buddha…"

Tuota may also be seen, in some temples, snapping his fingers, alluding to how quickly enlightenment may take place. This may also indicate the impermanence of things: he had just met the Buddha, and then he was gone!

It should be noted that in some lists, his Sanskrit name is given as Nandimitra instead of Subinda.

The other Arhat we'll meet today is called Vanavasin (or Vanavasa), in Chinese Fanaposi, also called the "Plantain (or Banana) Arhat" (Bajiao Luohan).

Several stories account for this attribute. One says Bajiao was born under a banana tree. Another says when he was born, there was a storm, and the banana trees were making a lot of noise.

But the one I like best is the one that says, in a homely imitation of the Buddha, Bajiao sat under a banana tree to achieve enlightenment!

He is generally depicted as a very old man seated on a banana leaf.

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