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Friday, September 20, 2019

The 18 Arhats at Ma-Cho Temple,
San Fernando, La Union

[These photos were taken on a trip my family and I made to the Ma-Cho (Mazu) Temple in San Fernando, La Union, The Philippines. You can read more about that visit. here.]

The Ma-Cho Temple in San Fernando, La Union, is famous for many things: for its "majestic" five-portal gate, its Kwan Yin Terrace and Eight-Sided Pavilion, its quaint matching Bell and Drum Tower, and of course its tiny, gorgeous main statue of Ma-Cho (Mazu), the Sea Goddess.

Interestingly, though, it is also noted for its mistakenly-named "Eighteen Chinese Saints." These are actually the Eighteen Arhats (also called, in Chinese, 十八羅漢 Shiba Luohan, as a sign near them says). They're ranged along the retaining wall for the Kwan Yin Terrace, between its stone buttresses.

The Arhats have a long history in China, going back hundreds of years. Interestingly, they are NOT properly Daoist figures, but Buddhist; they are said to be eighteen disciples of the Buddha, all of whom attained enlightenment (though some of them are certainly extra-historical). Nevertheless, the first time I saw them in China was at a (Daoist) Ma-Cho (Mazu) temple in Shenzhen, Guangdong. The main figure there is named "Tian Hou," a title conferred on Mazu by the Kangxi Emperor in 1684.

Sign reading Shiba Luohan, "The Eighteen Arhats"

I have given the names of the Arhats in the order they are found from the Gateway to the rear of the temple. In parentheses is the traditional number. I have used their Sanskrit or Pali names, adding the transliteration in Chinese characters; then, their "nickname" in English followed by Chinese characters. (I have removed the diacritical marks used over vowels when transcribing Chinese.) Finally, there is a very brief description and story for each.

Please note that I have sometimes conformed their names to the versions given on Wikipedia. It should be noted that the traditions regarding these eighteen (originally sixteen) figures are very fluid. Their names sometimes have several forms, as do their nicknames; and in some cases, as with Ajita and Pindola, they may even swap names! It doesn't do to be dogmatic here.

#1 Kanakabharavaja or Kanaka the Bharavaja (3) (迦諾迦跋釐堕闍尊者; Jianuojia Baliduoshe Zunzhe), The "Raised Alms Arhat" (舉缽羅漢; Jubo Luohan)
  • He was famous for begging and--contrary to proper etiquette--raising his eyes without shame and looking the giver in the eye! He is often seen (as here) with one foot in the air, as though dancing with joy, representing one who can receive gifts graciously.

#2 Kalika (7) (迦理迦尊者; Jialijia Zunzhe), The "Elephant Riding Arhat" (騎象羅漢; Qixiang Luohan)
  • Like Samantabhadra--a Bodhisattva famous for controlling his mind--Kalika sits calmly on an elephant, representing patience, concentration, and diligence. In other depictions, he is a "Dust-Cleaning" Arhat, like one who polishes a mirror.

#3 Nakula or Vakula (5) (諾距羅尊者; Nuojuluo Zunzhe), The "Silently Seated Arhat" (靜座羅漢; Jingzuo Luohan)
  • It is said that Nakula was once a warrior with immense strength; the violence of his former life led to deep concentration as a monk. But even in meditation, he exuded strength. He is sometimes portrayed holding a rosary, with a small boy by his side. Other portrayals show him with a mongoose, or a three-toed frog, perhaps due to associations with other folk figures.

#4 Vanavasa or Vanavasin (14) (伐那婆斯尊者; Fanaposi Zunzhe), The "Banana Arhat" (芭蕉羅漢; Bajiao Luohan)
  • Legend says he was born under a banana tree, or that he was born during a heavy downpour when the banana trees were making a lot of noise. In a homely imitation of the Buddha, he sat under a banana tree where he gained Enlightenment. In most depictions, as here, he is seated on a banana leaf.

#5 Jivaka or Gobaka (9) (戌博迦尊者; Xubojia Zunzhe), The "Open Heart (or "Heart Exposing") Arhat" (開心羅漢; Kaixin Luohan)
  • Jivaka was once a crown prince, meant to become king. But he wanted to be a monk, and attain Enlightenment. So he went to his second brother and said, "I relinquish the throne, and I will go off to be a monk." His brother, distrustful, thought it best to eliminate him immediately, lest he come back later with an army and stage a coup. "No need," he said, "I have the Buddha in my heart." And in proof, he opened his garments, revealing the image we see at the Temple.

#6 Bhadra, sometimes identified as Bodhidharma, first patriarch of Chinese Chan (Zen) (6) (跋陀羅尊者; Batuoluo Zunzhe), The "Arhat Who Crossed the River" (過江羅漢; Guojiang Luohan)
  • Little is known of Bhadra, but much can be said about the symbolism of "crossing the river." It is widely used for attainment of "the other side," symbolizing some exalted spiritual state. Bhadra carries a traveler's "bindle."

#7 Panthaka, sometimes called "Panthaka the Elder" (see #12 below) (10), (半托迦尊者; Bantuojia Zunzhe), The "Arhat with Raised Hands" (探手羅漢; Tanshou Luohan)
  • His name, like his younger brother's, means "born on the road," and legend says that the brothers were born while their mother was traveling. Others believe the name signifies that they are "on the path" of Buddhism. His hands are raised because he's yawning, having just come out of meditation.

#8 Angida or Angaja (13) (因揭陀尊者; Yinjietuo Zunzhe), The "Arhat with a Sack" (布袋羅漢; Budai Luohan)
  • Because of the sack, he has sometimes been confused with Maitreya Bodhisattva, and portrayed as fat and jolly. he was said to be a snake-catcher, by trade. He would catch snakes in his sack, de-fang them, and release them again--exchanging bad for good. This kindness allowed him to achieve Enlightenment.

#9 Vajraputra (8) (伐闍羅弗多尊者; Fasheluofuduo Zunzhe), The "Laughing Lion Arhat" (笑獅羅漢; Xiaoshi Luohan), also called The "Persuading Arhat."
  • See the little lion? It has become tame through this master of persuasion; it was he, they say, who convinced the Buddha's cousin and assistant Ananda that both practice and understanding were necessary to achieve Wisdom. He was a lion-killer before becoming a monk, and was later joined by the cub, who seemed grateful that he had given up his former profession.

#10 The "Dragon Subduing Arhat" (降龍羅漢; Xianglong Luohan) goes by many names, including Nantimitolo (慶友尊者; Qingyou Zunzhe) and Mahakasyapa (17 or 18)
  • He and #11 are unusual, in that they were added long after the original group of 16 developed. Because of this, the names of these two are less stable than any of the others, changing with the whim of local custom. His attributeof "dragon-taming" indicates his ability to calm our inner monsters.

#11 The "Tiger Taming Arhat" (伏虎羅漢; Fuhu Luohan), like the "Dragon Subduing" one, has many names, including Pindola Bharadvaja (賓頭廬尊者; Bīntóulú Zunzhe) and Maitreya (17 or 18)
  • The tiger represents the passions; one story of the tiger-tamer says a tiger had been harassing a town; when the Tiger-Taming Arhat arrived in the area, he suggested feeding the tiger to prevent its depredations. Naturally, the food given was all vegetarian, and the tiger thus became tame!

#12 Cudapanthaka, or Pantha the Younger (16) (注茶半托迦尊者; Zhucha Bantuojia Zunzhe), the "Door Guarding Arhat" (看門羅漢; Kanmen Luohan)
  • The younger brother of Panthaka above, his name means "Little Panthaka." They say he was slow-witted, and unable to learn even a single verse. But the Buddha, using skillful means, taught him to sweep (in some versions, to wipe) and repeat a simple verse, such as "Sweep, sweep, sweep," to focus his mind. This simple method led him to Enlightenment. Another story says he used to knock roughly on people's doors to beg for food. Once, he knocked on an old, rotten door, and it fell to pieces! So the Buddha gave him a ringed staff (as seen here) and told him to pound the ground with it, instead of pounding on the door with his fist. Through this (and the sweeping association) he came to be thought of as one who guards the doors of the senses, letting only pure things in.

#13 Kanakavatsa, or Kanaka the Vatsa (2) (迦諾迦伐蹉尊者; Jianuojia Facuu Zunzhe), The "Happy Arhat" (喜慶羅漢; Xiqing Luohan)
  • He was a great debater and orator. When seekers asked what happiness was, he would say it came from the five senses; but when asked about Bliss he said it came, not from the outside, but from the inside. Not being subject to changes on the outside, it could then be sustained indefinitely.

#14 Nandimitra or Subinda (4) (蘇頻陀尊者; Supintuo Zunzhe), The "Raised Pagoda Arhat" (托塔羅漢; Tuoda Luohan)
  • This was the last disciple to meet the Buddha before his death; afterward, he carried a pagoda to remind him of the Buddha's presence, as the pagoda represents the earthly body of the Buddha.

#15 Pindola Bharadvaja or Pindola the Bharadvaja (but sometimes called Ajita; see next) (1) (賓度羅跋羅墮闍尊者; Binduluo Baluoduoshe Zunzhe), The "Long Eyebrow Arhat" (长眉羅漢; Changmei Luohan)
  • This Pindola is leader of the Arhats. He is usually called "the Bharadvaja" because one of the candidates for inclusion as a 17th or 18th Arhat is another Pindola. The eyebrows indicate longevity, seniority and, thus, leadership. Another legend says that he was born with these eyebrows! It seems he had been a monk in a previous life who tried--but failed--to gain Enlightenment. He hung on to life, striving for attainment, for such a long time that finally all that was left were the two long eyebrows!

#16 Asita or Ajita (15) (阿氏多尊者; Ashiduo Zunzhe) (but sometimes called Pindola Bharadvaja; see previous), The "Deer Sitting Arhat" (騎鹿羅漢; Qilu Luohan)
  • As mentioned above, he is sometimes switched with Pindola. His placement on a deer comes from a legend that he had once left the service of a king and snuck off to become a monk. After his Enlightenment, he rode back into the palace (presumably from the mountains) on a deer, was immediately recognized by the guards, and was ushered into the king's presence, where he taught him the Dharma. The king turned the throne over to his son and followed the Arhat out to become a monk.

#17 Rahula (11) (羅怙羅尊者; Luohuluo Zunzhe), The "Contemplating Arhat" (沉思羅漢; Chensai Luohan)
  • Rahula is the Buddha's son. His father left home to seek Enlightenment the day Rahula was born; his name means "fetters," suggesting that his father saw him as tying him to the householder's life. As a young boy, Rahula sought out his father and asked for his inheritance; the Buddha taught him the Path to Enlightenment. His gentle appearance here betokens his youth in comparison with the other Arhats.

#18 Nagasena (12) (那迦犀那尊者; Najiaxina Zunzhe), The "Ear Cleaning Arhat" (挖耳羅漢; Wa'er Luohan)
  • The cleaning (or scratching) of his ear signifies that Nagasena ("Dragon Army") was anxious to hear correctly every word the Buddha spoke. He has been identified with the great scholar Nagasena, who answered King Menander's questions in the famous early Buddhist dialogue The Questions of King Milinda. If so, his careful listening paid off, as King Menander threw some of the toughest possible questions at him, and he answered them thoroughly.

Don't miss the post about our visit to Ma-Cho Temple!

Posted September 20, 2019

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