February 02, 2011

The Tricycle Gallery: Hotei as a Kite

Have you visited the Tricycle Gallery lately? We have two major collections to visit and are hard at work on a third. The first gallery is Himalayan Art from the Rubin Museum of Art. The second contains the paintings, drawings, and calligraphy of Rinzai Zen master Hakuin, which appears courtesy of Japan Society.

The image above is by Hakuin, who revitalized the koan tradition of Rinzai Zen in Japan. This drawing depicts the wandering monk Hotei, whose name means "Cloth Bag." Usually this bag is over his shouldr, but here he uses it as a kite. In the complete picture, of which this is a detail, we see that the line attached to Hotei's vehicle is held taut by several men on the ground. Hotei is floating free on the wind but still connected to the Earth. A further interpretation of this image is that the work of laypeople—the men on the ground—is required to keep a monk such as Hotei aloft. Hotei, incidentally, is the model for the fat happy "Buddha" figures formerly associated with Chinese restaurants in the American imagination.

The Tricycle Gallery is a great place to browse and appreciate centuries of Buddhist art, but you can also download the images and send them as e-cards to your friends. It's a free and easy way to show someone you care. We've almost got our third installment of the gallery ready, and we'll announce it here when it's complete.

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Wisdom Moon's picture

Hotei is the most popular image of Buddha in the mind of people in the UK, it seems. I constantly meet people who think that Buddha was fat and if you rub his tummy you will get good luck! It's interesting that they should have such a strong karmic connection with that image such that it is more popular than any other.