Tuesday, June 13, 2023

The Old Guy in the Garden

The garden Buddha (Hotei) sits in a sunny alcove in the garden under a canopy of old rose, buckthorn and blackberry leaves. Birds serenade him in early morning, and rabbits visit him at nightfall. Bumbles and dragonflies buzz around him, spiders knit him into their webs, and sometimes butterflies land on him. There is a steady rain of maple keys, leaf dust and pine needles from the trees over his head.

Hotei looks as though he is carved from stone, but he is actually made of some kind of polyresin, and he weighs only a pound or two. I discovered him in the window of a thrift shop years ago, purchased him for a dollar and carried him home where he now presides over a leafy enclave in the garden from early April until late October. 

The original Hotei was a wandering 10th-century Chinese Buddhist monk thought to be an incarnation of Maitreya, the Buddha who is still to come. In Asian cultures, he represents abundance and contentment, and he is the protector of children. For some strange reason, he is also the patron of bartenders.

On the Old Guy's back is a bottomless bag of food, drink and coins which he shares with those in need, and his name actually means "Cloth Sack" in Chinese. He holds a mala (Buddhist rosary), and sometimes he holds a fan with the power to grant wishes. Although our Hotei does not have a fan, he has a mala in one hand, and he seems to be reciting a mantra. One of these days, I will find a statue of Kuan Yin for the garden too.