Or, The 18 Lohans
Eighteen Lohans Bring Serene Energy Into Homes
An Arhat (or Lohan, in China) is a Buddhist who has reached the highest state of peace and enlightenment. Seated in this lovely garden are the Eighteen Arhats (or Lohans, in China). They have realized the truth of non-self, and that all is a composite of the five aggregates dependent on other phenomena, originally empty and subject to impermanence. Having eradicated all passions, desires, and attachments to worldly things, each is foremost in his discipline. The Arhats (or Lohans, in China) have overcome the defilements of greed, anger, and ignorance. Their unique ways of practicing Bodhisattvahood have been inspirational for many Buddhists followers since the time of the Shakamuni Buddha. Although their outward appearances may be deceiving, their traits are subtle and beautiful in their own special ways. If only one is able to recognize his or her own potential and work diligently to benefit oneself as well as others, the path towards Buddhahood can ultimately be attained. (This beautiful Arhats Garden is located at Hsi-Lai Temple, Hacienda Heights, Southern California, www.hsilai.org)
After his enlightenment, Shakamuni Buddha frequently visited Mount Grdhrakuta near Rajagrha, the capital of Magadha where he gathered an assembly of disciples and propagated his teachings. This mountain is also called the Vulture Peak because of the shape of its peak. Each time when the Buddha was there, his disciples of monks, arhats, Bodhisattavas of foreign lands, asuras and other sentient beings, etc. would gather at the same location and listened attentively to the Buddha’s teachings of the Dharma.
In order for Buddhism to flourish after his time and that sentient beings be given the opportunity to understand and follow his Buddhist Dharma, Shakamuni Buddha ordered his sixteen Arhats to remain in the world dwelling in different lands to disseminate his teachings to benefit sentient beings. After the arrival of Buddhism in China, these sixteen Arhats became the source of creative ideas for several local artists, subsequently added the number of Arhats to eighteen. The two new Arhats (or Lohans) were the Laughing Buddha (Happy Buddha) and the Buddhist Kung-Fu Master Damo (Bodhidarma).
The Chinese have long held dear the desire to invite the Eighteen Lohans into their homes. They have believed that the presence of these great beings will not only protect the home and its residents from mental and spiritual pollutions, they also help residents attain high spiritual awakenings through meditative practices that bring happiness, harmony and liberation from day-to-day aggravations.
In the main hall of many Chinese Buddhist temples and martial arts centers, there are usually two rows of large yellow figures – one along the East and another along the West Wall. These are the Eighteen Lohans, Buddha’s great disciples, referred to as shravakas in Sanskrit.
Buddhism describes them as Arhats, while the Chinese refer to them respectfully as Lohans, i.e. someone who follows the Eightfold Path and has achieved liberation from wordly existence. Arhats have successfully subdued all cravings for sensual pleasures and from their minds have been banished all ignorance and wrong views. Lohans have achieved liberation from the cycle of birth and rebirth and they are known for their great wisdom, courage and supernatural powers.
Their presence in any living and work space wards off evil, so these Lohans have over the years become the protectors of temples, palaces and large mansions. Many people who embrace the spiritual path, also invite the images of these Lohans into their living space. The names of the Lohans provide insights into their attributes, special skills, or the spiritual attainments they symbolize.
The Eighteen Lohans
The following images of 18 Great Arhats (or Lohans in China) are my version of these holy personalities. They were disciples of the Buddha who had realized the meaning of the Four Truths and completely freed themselves from the cycles of cause and effect.
(1) Calico Bag Lohan: Angaja, the Indian snake-catcher whose aim was to prevent the snakes from biting those passing by. He removes the venomous fangs of the snakes and then releases them in the mountains. His great kindness of heart protects you from getting bitten by snakes and his presence in the home prevents all poison from coming into the home. Detaching himself from all worries, Angaja is uninfluenced by destruction, fame, possessions, losses or other outside factors. He is compassionate and accommodating, regardless of the events and gossips of the outside world. Like his accompanying sack, he is always joyful and untroubled.
(2) Deer-Sitting Lohan: Ajita, who comes from a high caste Brahmin family, once a powerful government official highly trusted by his king who becomes a Buddhist monk living in a monastery deep in the mountains. He returns to the palace riding a deer and recognizing him, royal guards run to tell the king who begs him to return. But Ajita instead successfully advises the royal ruler to abdicate and return to the monastery with him. The Lohan on a deer in your home signifies spiritual awakening, a very auspicious sign.
(3) Doorman Lohan: Cudapanthaka was one of Buddha’s favorite disciples. When he went alms-begging, he would bang on people’s doors. One time he did that, the old and rotten door fell apart, and he had to apologize to the owner of the house. So Buddha gave him a tin staff and told him, “When you go alms-begging, you don’t have to bang on people’s doors any more. Just tap this staff. If the people inside want to to give you alms, they will come out.” The tin staff had several rings on it and made a light noise when tapped. The tin staff has become the symbol of this Lohan. Prior to leading an ascetic monastic life, he had been regarded as forgetful and foolish. While sweeping the dust off the floor, he awakened to the teachings of the Buddha that one must practice diligently in order to eradicate the greed, anger and ignorance existing in one’s mind.
(4) Elephant Riding Lohan: Also known as Kalika. In legend, the elephant is known for its immense strength and power, endurance and perseverance. The precious elephant is regarded as a very special animal by the Buddhists and having this Lohan riding the elephant in your home is exceptionally auspicious as it brings excellent descendents luck. The elephant also brings victory over evil forces. Sometimes Kalika is portrayed with a duster. With his mind so pure and compassionate, he uses his duster to wipe out the problems of sentient beings.
(5) Laughing Lohan: Kanakavatsa, the Jolly Arhat, was an excellent preacher. He was a well-known public speaker renowned for his complete mastery of Buddhist doctrines. He teaches whenever it is appropriate and convenient for his listeners, assuring them happiness and contentment. When asked to define happiness, he replies that this is experienced through the five senses. When asked what is bliss, he describes it as joy coming from deep within, akin to feeling Buddha’s blessings in his heart. He is always seen with a happy and smiling face, forever joyful and content. Having him in the home brings everlasting happiness and his big laughter dispels all obstacles and unhappiness.
(6) Laughing Lion Lohan: Vajraputra, according to legend, used to be a lion hunter, but gave up killing after seeing the light. Usually shown riding a lion or with a baby lion alongside him, this Lohan symbolizes the invincible might of the principles of Buddhist thoughts – compassion and wisdom. The lion also holds a powerful place in feng shui lore as it is regarded as the most powerful of protector against outside disturbances to your peace. He once imparted his teaching to the highly regarded Ananda (the most learned disciple), and encouraged him to place equal importance on both practice and understanding of the Dharma during the cultivation toward Buddhahood.
(7) Long-Eyebrow Lohan: Pindola, the Arhat with long eyebrows, was the leader of the Eighteen Arhats. According to legend, Pindola was born with two long white eyebrows. The story goes that in a previous life he was a monk who, though having tried very hard, could not attain enlightenment even at a ripe old age, when only two long white eyebrows were left. When he was born, his father was told that Shakamuni Buddha also has two long eyebrows, therefore his son had the look of the Buddha in him. As a result , Pindola was sent to a monastery to become a monk, eventually attaining enlightenment. He is foremost in his boundless virtues and wisdom. He would accept offerings from sentient beings, thereby bestowing givers the divine merits.
(8) Meditating Lohan: Nakula, originally a warrior, has immense strength. He gives up a life of fighting and killing to meditate and becomes a monk, finally attaining enlightenment. During his meditation, Nakula was engrossed in deep thoughts, searching for the truth of the universe. His sphere of influence extends throughout all of India and he is considered one of Buddha’s favorite disciples. Occasionally he is portrayed as a teacher holding a Buddhist rosary with a small boy beside him. His presence in the home enhances the serenity of the home.