Ho Ho Ho Tai

The Muslims begin their prayers before daylight. Then bells ring from the monastery. You barely notice the season, even though now and then canned Christmas music is playing in a store. And so the holidays have crept up on me without barely registering they’re here.

Feels a little melancholy. Even though my inner snark despises the materialism of Christmas, the family part of me misses my kids. And, like me, my youngest son will be hanging out by himself on the day. He’s looking out for the animals and can’t leave them to go down south where his dad and friends are.

So I guess I do miss the holidays. Miss my sons visiting and the requests for chocolate bread–my holiday speciality, a white French bread with melted chocolate inside. And Christmas morning which always has a lazy kind of feel to it–it seems like it was so long ago that my kids were up first thing Christmas morning. Last year they slept in till noon while I got up early and baked.

So in honor of the season–solstice, Christmas, Hanukkah–or however these cold, dark days are celebrated–I’ve decided to write about one of my favorite icons–Ho Tai, The Laughing Buddha, who I think of as the Chinese (or is he Japanese?) Santa Claus because he’s sometimes depicted with a bag of candies for children slung over his shoulder. He has an especially strong presence in China since he’s important in Feng Shui energy flow. I have a couple Ho Tais hidden in the rocks at my home in California. A friend of mine put an Oakland Raiders badge on his. My taxi driver in Gangtok had him mounted on his dash.

Ho Tai was a Chinese (or was it Japanese?) monk, not the Buddha, and it’s not his gift giving or his taste in football teams that I want to focus on, but his laughter. His belly laugh. In Chinese the soul resides in the belly so Ho Tai’s belly is big and round to hold his very big soul. Rubbing it brings good fortune. Even carved in stone, I can feel that laugh when I look at Ho Tai.  He always puts a smile on my face and sometimes I do need to be reminded to smile.

My Christmas will be quiet this year. I decided to spend it at Tashiding Monastery in silent mediation for a couple days, then visiting with my friend, Phurba and his family. It’s been cold up here in the mountains, but I have a warm Nepalese sweater, a wool hat and socks, a little Ho Tai, the beautiful Himalayas, and lots of love and good things to think about while I’m here.

 

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