I became interested in Buddhism during my senior year in college. I finished a chemical engineering degree in four years, which meant that I had exactly one course (well, one in the fall and one in the spring) that was solely for my benefit and not required somehow for my degree. My goal since my freshman year had been to take the most random, off-the-wall course I could find. As “Gothic and Old High German” was only offered every other year, that was out. I chose instead to take “Classical and Colloquial Tibetan”.
The language is dense, particularly in classical religious texts. While people in Spanish classes were learning about how to ask for the bathroom or eat at a restaurant, I was learning about the jewel ornament of liberation, the wish-fulfilling gem of the noble teachings. In an entire year of study – small class, only four students – we were able to translate all of 50 lines of text into English. What makes this so dense is that sentences read like a string of concepts, which must be stitched together in some logical form to get to an English sentence – sort of like if I only used nouns and the occasional adjective to write this post.
In order to piece together this puzzle, then, one must learn to see the world from the point of view of a Tibetan Buddhist. It’s been long enough that I can’t recall specific teachings, only occasional phrases and concepts, but it was so foreign to Western thinking as to be fascinating. I do remember that there was a real peace at the center of the philosophy. I never subscribed to it as a religion as much as I did a philosophy and way of life, which either lined up well with or influenced my own views of the world.
Given that soft spot for Tibetan Buddhism, I have an even softer spot for the Happy Buddha that you see below. Something about a jolly fat Chinese guy filled with pure happiness just keeps me smiling. (I can also relate to this figure more that I might like, but that’s a different story.) I have a growing collection of these figures, now running at about ten or so. This Buddha is depicted in various poses, each of which carries a specific meaning. The legend goes that you rub the fat man’s belly for good luck.
So, in searching for the meanings of the various poses (which I haven’t yet found), I came across the actual origin of this figure known as Hotei, or the Laughing Buddha. Read more about the legend and story of this icon in the Wikipedia, and also see more information on Buddhism there as well.