Pu-Tai (Cloth-Sack) - Budai in Pinyin - is a popular figure in Chinese and Japanese folklore. Fat, bald, poor and content, followed by adoring children, he is also called the laughing Buddha. He is linked to the Chan monk Qieci from the 900s CE. Taken to represent deep happiness and contentment, from the bag he is carrying he lets out candies for the children.
Pu-Tai represents contentment, happiness, plenitude. Rubbing his belly brings wealth, good luck, and prosperity, according to one folk belief. No wonder mange statues of him adorn temples and businesses.
'Buddha' means "awake", and the term is used for one who has reached enlightenment, who has become spiritually awake. In the history of Mahayana Buddhism there are many who are thought of and referred to as Buddhas. Some Buddhist traditions consider Budai a Buddha, often identifying him with Maitreya (the future Buddha), from something he said before his death: "Maitreya [Buddha] . . . Often he is shown to people . . . other times they do not recognise him."
[More: Wikipedia, s.v. "Budai"]
A key idea is that good meditation makes one a Buddha (Enlightened One) in time, for example five months . . . Or it takes future lives as well as this one. On the right road inwards many get happy from their progressive and deep meditation too, even jubilant. You don't have to be Buddha to be happy, but it helps -
Able meditation is an inwardly oriented practice. There are dozens of meditation methods, as the word 'meditation' carries different meanings in some religious traditions, and outside them as well.
In the West, the term 'meditation' is among other things an attempt at conveying the meaning of the spiritual practice called dhyana (Jhana in Pali, Ch'an in Chinese, Zen in Japanese), in Buddhism and in Hinduism. Dhyana comes from the Sanskrit root dhyai, to contemplate or meditate. A book by Daniel Goleman (1975) compares different meditation approaches, and offers a map for the practice. His map is derived from Buddhist sources. And the term 'meditation' in contemporary usage is parallel to the term "contemplation" in Christianity. Yet, 'meditation' has other meanings and contexts (settings) in addition to these.
Since the 1950s or so, meditation has been studied by researchers with many different angles and approaches.
How widespread is meditation in the USA by now? A 2007 study by the U.S. government found that nearly 9.4% of US adults (over 20 million) had practiced meditation within the past 12 months. So meditation has become mainstream in the West too. [Wikipedia, s.v. "Meditation"]
Chinese meditation is a mixture of meditation practices of Buddhism, Taoism, and still more. Much allows for getting along with main principles found in the I Ching, the Tao Te Ching, the Chuang Tzu and other texts. Many schools in our times teach breath-training practices.
Diving into suggestions for meditation
Lu K'uan Yü, also known as Charles Luk, was born in Canton in 1898 and died in 1978. Throughout his life he contributed to Buddhist publications, devoting his life to presenting Chinese Buddhist texts to Westerners. In his book The Secrets of Chinese Meditation, he presents ways of meditation found in China over a very long span of time. He includes extracts from ancient and modern classics and suggestions for meditation. And, of course, if you divulge secrets by publishing them, they are not very secret any more. And that is good for all who like to be aligned with Gautama Buddha. He says it plainly in the "Final Days" discourse: "I have set forth the Dharma without making any distinction of esoteric and exoteric doctrine; nothing is held back." [Maha-parinibbana Sutta, 2:32]
Lu's stand is that the main thing to go for in life is self-cultivation that is headed toward self-realization. Unfortunately, self-realization is too deep an experience - a too inward or essential one - to make much meaning to most persons. And self-cultivation can be of many kinds. So he needs to explain what self-cultivation is fit, and suggest the direction that is most cherishable to go. He goes into salient points from Buddhist sources, Chinese Zen, and from Taoism.
"In our self-cultivation, we should first know the way, and the Buddha and great mesters have taught us the appropriate methods." [Lu, 1969:11] Have they? After all, there are teachings of Buddha that are only attributed to him. Lu capitalises on one such text, the Mahayana text called Shurangama Sutra. It is online and rather extensive. Here I should make clear a stand: A text may contain good points on its own, no matter who it originates with or not. The Shurangama Sutra is one of the Mahayana texts that are attributed to Buddha and that came to influence Chinese and Japanese Zen, but there is rather much esoteric material in the text.
The Surangama Sutra lists twenty-five ways of controlling the mind by meditation, and the best one among those is deep mantra meditation beyond study and low-levelled learning, it says. [More] [Lu, 1969:16-43]
According to traditional records, the Shurangama Sutra was translated into Chinese in 705 CE. There are at least 127 commentaries on it in Chinese alone. A number of scholars have associated the Shurangama Sutra with the Buddhist tradition at Nalanda, India. It is said that the general doctrinal position of the text corresponds to what is known about the Buddhist teachings at Nalanda at that time. The work stresses the need for a sound and fit moral basis for a practitioner, and for fit meditation. Other sutras (works) of antiquity contain the same teachings about the need for skilled meditation.
Chang, Garma C. The Practice of Zen. New York: Perennial/Harper, 1970.
Goleman, David. The Varieties of the Meditative Experience. London: Rider, 1975.
Huang Po. The Zen Teaching of Huang Po: On the Transmission of Mind., tr. John Blofeld. New York, NY: Grove Press, 1958.
Lu Küan Yü, (Charles Luk). The Secrets of Chinese Meditation: Self-cultivation by Mind Control as taught in the Ch'an, Mahayana and Taoist schools of China. York Beach, Maine: Weiser, 1969.
Lu Kuan Yu, tr. The Surangama Sutra (Leng Yen Ching). New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal; New edition, 2000. Online: ◦PDF file.
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