The General Weituo

(This article was published in the Shenzhen Daily on Monday, July 27, 2015.)

Weituo stands behind Mi-le Fo at Huayan Temple, Zhiti Shan

In the first hall of most temples (the "Heavenly Kings' Hall"), we are greeted by the fat, jolly figure of Mi'le Fo, the so-called "Laughing Buddha." Standing behind him there is usually an often fierce-looking warrior in armor. He is most often armed with a three-bladed sword, and he faces toward the Buddha in the main hall, away from the temple's entrance.

This is Weituo (Sanskrit Skanda), a general sworn to protect the Buddha's followers (the sangha) and the temples where they study the Buddha's teachings (the dharma). One legend says that when the Buddha left this earth to enter nirvana, he personally gave this important mission to Weituo.

There is another, more charming, legend to explain Weituo's position behind Mi'le Fo.

It seems that when Mi'le  Fo was on earth as the Chinese monk Budai, his generosity led to some trouble. Unscrupulous men would come to his temple and beg for food--and anything else they could get their hands on. Eventually, the temple fell into disrepair because of these con-men, and the sangha was starving.

So the Buddha (not Mi'le  Fo: the other Buddha, the one in "Heaven") sent Weituo to discipline the villains and recover the temple's resources. The general then remained at the temple to prevent further losses.

Today, when we enter a temple, the Laughing Buddha seems to be saying, "Come in! Enjoy!" And as we leave, Weituo gives us the once-over as if to say, "Don't take anything that's not yours!"

Weituo, by the way, has something of a temper. So his position is fortunate because gazing at the Buddha up in the main hall keeps him calm!

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