Mi Lo Fu Buddha

Mi-Lo Fwo the laughing happy money buddha toby framed oil paintingMi Lo Fu Happy Fat Laughing Money Buddha

People often ask me about the origins of Mi Lo Fu Buddha (布袋 Budai / 笑佛 Laughing Buddha / 胖佛 Fat Buddha / 快乐佛 Happy Buddha / Mi-Lo Fwo / Maitreya) image with my head on it. His nickname was “Cloth Sack” — Budai in Chinese.  It’s actually a large original oil painting by Shanghai artist Yang who was inspired after learning of my trip to Mt. Jiuhua Buddhist Temple.

He painted this and surprised me with it.

I am fat. I have a large belly, and an (almost) bald head. Apparently, I smile and laugh a lot. Put this all together in China, and apparently it means I am the reincarnation of ‘Mi Lo Fu’ – the laughing happy money buddha – he’s also large fat and indescribably happy.

China Rubbing BellyBecause of the apparent similarities between my real body and that of Mi Lo Fu, I often (VERY OFTEN) have my belly rubbed by complete strangers (in elevators, shopping, bars & restaurants) — rubbing the belly apparently is good luck and brings wealth to the person rubbing. When in the south of China particularly, I often get dragged into wedding photos of couples I never met.

Notes from trip to Mt. JiuHua Buddhist Temple on May 21, 2007.

During a business trip to HeFei, Anhui province, one of our Chinese business partners decided to invite me to a Buddhist temple 3.5 hours south of the city, in a mountain region of the province, where there are exactly 99 temples (9 being a good luck number, usually reserved for the emperor) most of them restored in Ming and Qing Dynasties. One of these temples is the major one, and the home of the Chinese-Buddhist association (the only group officially sanctioned by the Chinese Government, where practicing religion is still generally illegal). To visit the major temple is a dream for many Chinese Buddhists, that typically are forbidden from traveling outside their province boundaries for government regulatory/security reasons, or for travel cost.

Anhui MtJiuhua Buddhist Temple mountainThe Minister for Trade and Investment of Anhui province, and General Secretary of the Communist Standing Committee (Mr. Tan) joined us for the weekend trip.

The temple was at the very peak of a mountain called Mt. JiuHua, with a 15 minute ride cable car system to partially go up and down.  Buddhism was first introduced to Mt. Jiuhua in the year 401. Mt. Jiuhua has become the place where religious rituals were held to worship the God of Earth. Many scholars, politicians and monks make the journey to the mountain, and thus Mt. Jiuhua got its fame.

Upon arrival at the top, and after a few minutes doing the obligatory Buddhist incense lighting, north, south, east & west and kneeling respect to the golden Buddha, then burning fake money and paper cars as an offering, the Minister then told us he had organized a private audience with the Vice President of the China-Buddhist Association (in China, the President is a figurehead, the Vice President is equivalent of CEO – and generally considered the #1 person).  Mr. Tan had done this as his way of showing his power and strength to impress us (a very common tactic in Chinese business dealings).

We were then ushered into a side room of the temple – the typical Chinese VIP room, where we were introduced to the VP, and whom it turns out, is the most venerated monk in China – photos of him greeting the Chinese president and the King of Thailand adorned the VIP room walls.

Anhui-Buddhist-MonkI bowed in respect to him, then we sat. Because of my business card, he thought I was from the USA, and following his lead, we discussed world politics, hatred of the Bush administration, the problems in Iraq and likelihood of escalating tensions in North Korea and Iran.

We discussed the importance of top quality entertainment to keep people happy and distracted from the wars and destruction. We discussed my years in China, my impressions of it’s people, it’s history and of it’s culture. We discussed Australia and my mothers 80th party and cruise. We discussed the beauty of Canada, of it’s politics and of Montreal’s culture. Through my translator, we talked for about 2 hours. I was actually rather bored and at the time was not aware of the significance of this.

Then the VP called one of his monks sitting in the room over and whispered something to him – I was hoping it was his way of ending the meeting and so I could get outside and take more photos…

Not to be….

The VP then removed the wooden beads of his wrist, kissed them, rubbed each one of them, and then handed them to me. I accepted them, examined them with care, then placed them on my wrist.

Jiuhua-Temple-Toby-MonkThe monk returned with a plate with a golden Ti-Tsang Wang P’usa statue. This particular deitie represents Great Compassion and Wisdom is Buddhist faith. The VP kissed it, rubbed it with his fingers, then presented it to me a