Those who have visited Chinatown, any Chinatown, will observe statues of a stout fellow carrying a linen sack. Chinese merchants call him Happy Chinaman or Laughing Buddha.
This Hotei lived in the T'ang Dynasty and he had no desire to gather disciples around him. Instead, he would carry around the sack filled with gifts of candy, fruit, or doughnuts. These he would give to the children of the streets who gathered around him in play.
Whenever he met a Zen devotee, he would say, "Give me one penny." If any asked him to return to the temple to teach others or pray, he would say, "Give me one penny."
Once, as he was about his play-work, another Zen master happened along and inquired, "What is the significance of Zen?"
Hotei slouched and immediately dropped his sack down to the ground in silent answer.
Then, another Zen master asked, "What is the actualization of Zen?"
At once the Happy Chinaman swung the sack over his shoulder and continued on his merry way.
Ryokan, a Zen master, lived the simplest kind of life in a little hut at the foot of a mountain. One evening, a thief visited the hut only to discover that there was nothing to steal.
Ryokan returned and caught him. "You may have come a long way to visit me," he told the prowler, "and you should not return empty-handed. Please take my clothes as a gift."
The thief was bewildered. He took the clothes and slunk away.
Ryokan sat naked, watching the moon. "Poor fellow," he mused, "I wish I could give him this beautiful moon."
This article originally appeared on Lew Rockwell