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In any departmental store, you will come across a strange figure of reclining old man with a fat belly and a very pleasing grin. This gift is acceptable to all on all the occasions. Laughing Buddha (Hotei or Pu-Tai) is the symbol of health, wealth and happiness. Budha, the prince is regarded as an incarnation of Maha Vishnu and is venerated by Hindus too. There is varied views of who the statue represents. Some say, it represents Maitreya, a disciple of Buddha who used to catch snakes, extract the venom release them, that they do not harm his fellow monks. Other view is that the figure is based on an eccentric Chinese Ch'an (Zen) monk who lived in the time of the Liang Dynasty (907- 923 AD). He had lovable qualities and was apt at predicting weather. He was seen as a roving monk who always carried a hemp bag full of curios. Laughing Buddha is a significant part of Buddhist culture. He was regarded as the incarnation of Buddha himself. In the temples of the Zen sect, this statue is placed in the front of the entrance. Chinese too believe that only a rich man could be fat. His reclining posture indicates relaxation and contentment. In some pictures, Laughing Buddha is surrounded by number of children indicating growth of the clan. He is the patron God of poor, weak and children. Hotei is also referred to as the patron saint of restaurateurs, fortunetellers. Laughing Buddha comes in seven varieties of poses. In the same manner, Mother was worshipped in Harappan culture. In Hinduism we have Lord Ganesh with a pot belly and he is worshipped like this Buddha for removal obstacles and to bring prosperity.
Once, I met a young man who meditates on silence. He said, "All the mantras are meaningless conjure of words, so I kill my desires keeping silence observing the breath". I was even more curious and asked him why he should 'kill' his desires. My friend said, "Buddha said that desire is the root cause of all sufferings". I asked him whether he was practicing 'killing' the desires, when he took up that foreign university examination and secured a plump posting in the US. Since he had consulted me earlier, I knew the magnitude of his desire. My dear friend fell silent. Suddenly, he found hollowness in his arguments. Does a desire to pass an examination, to secure a job or to build a house cause sorrow to all? Desires need not necessarily cause sorrow! Buddha's meaning was that there is sorrow and hollowness glaring in life and it is better not to have or restrict ones' desires. When I can not ask Bhagwan Buddha to give me prosperity, wealth etc., Laughing Buddha comes helpful!
This paradox is seen in Hinduism also. In Bhagawad geeta, Lord Krishna warns about attachment which will cause misery. Sloka 62 and 63 of Sankhya Yoga says, ध्यायतो विषयान्पुंसः संगस्तेषूपजायते। संगात्संजायते कामः कमात्क्रोधोsभिजायते॥ क्रोधाद्भवति संमोहः संमोहात्स्मृति विभ्रमः। स्मृतिभ्रंशाद्बुद्धिनाशो बुद्धिनाशात्प्रणश्यति॥ "By thinking about objects always, one gets attracted to it. From attraction the desires are born. From desires anger is born (when not attained). From anger foolishness and from foolishness madness. With the loss of mental faculties, the man parishes". Lord Krishna goes a bit ahead, he does not use the word desire but a willful association with the object may bring the desire. Even in the absence of a desire (to enjoy, acquire etc.,) the mere association may bring such desires. It is written on the walls - no matter how much we yearn for eternal Godly bliss, we like to have objects of comforts and luxuries around us. We want our Gods to give us spiritual enlightenment and also the objects the neighbour envoys! We have Gods to give us objects of our desire like Lakshmi (there are eight Lakshmis), Ganesh and many other Gods. Buddhism regards such desires as hindrances to attain God-head while Hinduism regards such desires as the seeds of creation. This phenomenon is known as maya or leela.
In Purusha Sukta, the Almighty Lord 'desired' to be many and became many. The problem with Buddhism was that it preached such nearly impossible things to common men. Before Buddha, there was so much violence and materialism. When Bhagwan Buddha died he did not desire a monument be made for him. But the Sangha made not one, but many monuments and also for many thousands of monks. The monasteries became rich. Swami Vivekananda says, "The mobs, the masses and various races had been converted to Buddhism; naturally the teaching of Buddha became in time degenerated, because most of the people were very ignorant. Buddhism taught no God, no Ruler of the universe, so gradually the masses brought their gods and devils and hobgoblins out again and a tremendous hotchpotch was made of Buddhism in India. Again materialism came to the fore, taking the form of license with richer classes and superstition with the lower." It is not the fault of Buddha Bhagwan but I must confess, there is a flaw in his theory. No religion can be pure and perfect without God. Buddhism preached the moral aspects of the religion but did not have a place for God. There are two temples in Belur and Halebeed in Karnataka. People appreciate the beauty of both the temples but pray only in Belur temple as the temple in Halebid has no God installed in it. Buddhism is a beautiful temple without God!
Hinduism has separate codes for the common men and for sanyasis. Nowhere the believes are negated but are lead to further truths. Lord Krishna does not use the word Aasha (desire) but 'dhyayato vishayaan' (thinking about worldly objects). If my friend wants to marry Ms. Asha, it is a desire. If he does not marry, he will feel restless for some time. That desire is harmless. If he throws an acid bulb on her face that she should not marry anybody, it is vyamoha (infatuation), which is harmful. One should be able to withdraw from the desires whenever he wants. One should be able to control the desires and senses. Constructive desires help the mankind to live better.