‘Love in a Golden Bowl’: Mystical Dimensions of the Grail Myth

by Sam Buntz

“Does the Eagle know what is in the pit
Or wilt thou go ask the Mole?
Can Wisdom be put in a silver rod
Or Love in a golden bowl?”
-William Blake, “The Book of Thel”

If people in modern day America are familiar with the Holy Grail, this is largely due its varied manifestations in popular culture.  The Grail legend plays a prominent role in movies like Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, The Fisher King, and (of course) Monty Python and the Holy Grail—not to mention the strange but interesting interpretation offered up in The Da Vinci Code, borrowed from the book, Holy Blood, Holy Grail.  One of my favorite writers, Nelson DeMille, is also about to publish a novel involving a Grail quest, so I figured now is as good a time as any other to discuss my own understanding of its symbolism.

To briefly cover the basics: the Grail is, first of all, the cup that caught Jesus’ blood during the Crucifixion, after a soldier stabbed Him in the side with a lance.  But it later came to be identified with the same cup that was used as the Holy Chalice, from which Jesus drank at the last supper, and with which he offered His blood, in the form of wine, to the gathered apostles.  In medieval legend, the Grail becomes an artifact of immense power, capable of granting eternal life and knowledge of the mysteries of the universe—if you can drink from it.  In the famous Arthurian legend of the Grail Quest, it is only Sir Galahad, the one knight who maintains perfect chastity throughout the course of his journey (and of his entire life, for that matter) who is able to drink from the Grail, and thereafter become the Bearer of the Cup himself.  Some scholars claim the Grail came to possess mystical powers partially under the influence of an ancient Celtic myth, which held that the king Bran the Blessed was restored by drinking from a magic cauldron.  These, in short are the crucial facts about the Grail—but, things are about to get weird, since I intend to offer up an interpretation of the Grail’s symbolism relating to its more mystical and imaginative dimensions of meaning, with an eye to similar stories told in other religions and mythologies.

In the vast body of Arthurian literature relating to the Grail—whether in French or in English—the Grail is often described as sitting on an altar, where the Holy Lance (the same used by the soldier to pierce Jesus) continually drips blood into it.  This image is absolutely central:  some psychoanalysts have suggested that the duo of Lance and Grail form a phallic and a vaginal symbol, respectively, but this perspective, while having a certain relevance, is not, in my view, quite accurate.  At least, from the perspective of someone who believes in archetypes, the phallus and vagina would themselves be symbols or lesser embodiments of what the Lance and the Grail manifest—which is what Hindus often say about the Linga and the Yoni, two images which are also usually defined as sexual icons by Western scholarship (again, phallic and vaginal, in that order).  The Linga and the Yoni are usually placed in the same position that the Lance and the Grail find themselves in, the one above the other—and Hindus even identify parts of the natural landscape with the Linga and Yoni, notably Mount Kailash, looming up over Lake Mansarovar in Tibet.  Naturally, these symbols, Eastern and Western, have provided a field day for the Freudian crowd—or, at least, for the small number who take an interest in comparative religion and mythology.  As with the Grail, a person who drinks from the waters of Lake Mansarovar is said to ascend to the highest heaven after death, attaining immortality.  Also, the Cup of Jamshid in Islamic myth serves a similar symbolic function—it supposedly reflects the entirety of the world and the seven heavens, and can grant supreme knowledge to whomever drinks from it, in addition to providing the usual boon of eternal life.

When I describe what I think the Lance and the Grail (and their correlates in other religions) represent, it may sound odd at first, but I think with some contemplation it will eventually seem coherent enough:  the Lance represents, in my understanding, the active function in the psyche, whereas the Grail represents the receptive function.  The active function generates energy and the receptive function contains it—this is what underlies Blake’s cryptic question about putting wisdom in an iron rod and love in a gold bowl.   At its best, the active function—the Lance (iron rod)—is what drives one to pursue wisdom and supreme knowledge, and, also at its best, the receptive function—the Grail (golden bowl)—is that which receives energy, retains the capacity to love and be loved.  But in a fallen state of nature, these functions get twisted towards contrary goals, where the active function becomes the source of selfishness and raw ambition, a drive not towards attaining the authority of real wisdom but towards that authority embodied by the iron rod—brute strength.  The Lance, in this condition, is Egotism—that which prods and drains blood and water from the soul, just as the soldier’s actual lance drained blood and water from the side of Jesus.  The Grail, in the same degraded state, represents the tendency to look for love and joy in the illusory pageant of the world—in golden bowls and Rolls Royce collections and massive closets filled with designer shoes (and so on and so forth.)  It is the parade of appearances hiding—but also reflecting—Reality.  In Tibetan Buddhist symbolism, these functions are represented by the Vajra—a sort of lightning-bolt-scepter, symbolizing the active function—and by the Padma—a lotus, symbolizing the receptive function.  The Tibetan mandalas and iconographic designs depicting these symbols highlight the fact that both functions can be used either in an enlightened fashion or in a crude and degraded way—the latter version being more common in our present, Iron Age.  Putting it another way, the Lance is the Selfhood (or Ego) and the Grail is (before you drink out of it, at least) Illusion, the Veil (the same which is torn in the temple when Christ dies), hiding the answers to the real mysteries of life from any weary seekers who might pass through.  Living in the wreckage of this world, these are the two fundamental forces, the duality, that constantly defeat us.

This may seem almost willfully obscure, at first, but I think it’s correct.   However, there remains the matter of analyzing the Quest itself, particularly the crucial problem of Galahad’s chastity, something that seems quite quaint in the present day and age.  But Galahad’s chastity has its allegorical as well as its literal significance.  The other knights, who don’t preserve their chastity and don’t attain the Grail, all fall in that they succumb to various illusions, diverse goals that distract them from the ultimate end of drinking out of the Grail.  Galahad’s chastity symbolizes his whole-hearted attention, his utter determination not to become self-deceived, trapped in Illusion’s spell.  Thus, since the Grail itself represents the illusory barriers but up by Nature, it is only Galahad who is allowed to peer inside the Grail, thus seeing the Reality it has been retaining—both hiding and preserving—for so long.  Finally, he is able to drink from that Reality, partake of it directly—which is what I believe Holy Communion symbolizes, in a higher sense that has now been forgotten.  When Christ offers the Apostles (and everyone else) His blood, he is allowing the whole of humanity to become part of His “mystical body”—people can now attain a wholeness of being, a resurrected spiritual body in which one finds the same illumination and gnosis as the victorious Galahad.  But in order to attain this resurrected body, one needs to participate in the Crucifixion, during which one endures the pains of being tormented by the Lance and drained away by the Grail.  The Grail catches Christ’s blood, in the same way that Illusion or Nature (in the Gnostic and Blakean cosmos) drains away the Spirit’s life energy, convincing souls that they exist in a state of perpetually infantile dependence on its nurturing powers, when in reality, those powers are latent in the soul itself, and are only leached out of it by egotism (the assaulting Lance).  Christ endures these pains to provide an example of the complete pattern of human suffering—and to demonstrate the way to get out of it.   The Grail symbolism tallies with this quite easily.

At the risk of getting more far-out than I already have, one can easily see the four points of the cross as symbolizing the same four qualities depicted in the quadrangular Tibetan mandalas, which can be taken as representing the four powers that govern our nature, and which can exist in both fallen (confused) or risen (enlightened) states of being—two of these are the active and receptive functions discussed above (Vajra and Padma), and Blake’s account of the fall of the four “Zoas” (primordial powers of life) represents the same mystical psychology from a Protestant Dissenter’s standpoint.  Yet when Christ’s death on the cross tears the temple’s veil aside, revealing the Holy of Holies, it shows that Christ has attained the same triumph that Galahad would later attain—He transcended the plane of the relative and illusory, attaining the Absolute, and raising the four fallen powers of the soul back to their original, un-fallen condition.   Wisdom gets taken out of the iron rod and Love gets removed from the golden bowl—they become, instead, forces that render compassion towards humanity.

I don’t deny that this may seem like a weird jumble of symbolism, but I am convinced that it is, in fact, consistent with the best elements of the mystical traditions of the East and the West.  I can only urge the reader to seek out more information, looking into Joseph Campbell’s works on comparative mythology and religion, and into those of writers like Jung and Aldous Huxley—but also into Hindu and Buddhist scriptures, Theosophical and Anthroposophical texts, and great works of scholarship, like Heinrich Zimmer’s Myths and Symbols in Indian Art and Civilization.  The attentive reader will certainly find further dimensions of the symbolism I’ve just outlined—in different versions and with different images, I’m sure.  I don’t mean to suggest, by the way, that one particular esoteric school conspired to somehow align the symbolic content of the Grail Quest and the Crucifixion of Jesus with Hindu and Buddhist psychology.  But I do mean to suggest that such similarities reveal that the imagination works in its own forms, and if it works on those forms for long enough and puts enough together, it will arrive at a mythology with universal resonance (if not a theology with universal resonance, given the assorted creedal differences of the world’s faiths.)  The only good and true interpretations spring from the deep self—from the heart that vibrates to the iron string—and not from pedantry and the technical obsessions that so frequently dog scholarship.  The real Story—the Big One—doesn’t have a historical origin, as most academicians would prefer, though it can be discerned throughout various time periods and in various disguises, proving to be illuminating just as much for its multiplicity as for its sublime unity.


‘You are the Music while the Music Lasts’: ‘Auditory Cheesecake’ vs. an Opportunity for Transcendence

by Sam Buntz
Harvard University Professor, Steven Pinker — he of the silver curls — once wrote that music, claimed by so many (myself included) as an experience providing intimations of transcendence, is really just “auditory cheesecake.”  But calling music “auditory cheesecake” is merely a disparaging way of saying that music is comprised of sounds which we find enjoyable, a statement undoubtedly true, though by no means the complete rap on music.  The comparison with cheesecake is purely polemical, since Pinker only means that music makes its appeal in terms of pleasure.  He might as easily have said it was “an auditory five-course French dinner” or an “auditory Indian buffet,” but went with this more aggressive musician-baiting instead.  Since we see cheesecake as being so many empty calories, without either nutritional or high-aesthetic value, he went with the more unflattering comparison, just to try (vainly) to take the entire musical enterprise, with its supposedly grandiose ideas about itself, down a notch.  Professor Thalia Wheatley, of Dartmouth College, recently rebutted–or, at least, nuanced–Pinker’s claims, by claiming that music has a social utility as well, since we all get together and listen to it, solidifying our sense of community.  I didn’t actually find this any more helpful than Pinker’s jibes, though I don’t mean to argue that these claims are entirely *wrong* — they’re just supremely irrelevant, missing the proper cognitive target by a light year or two.

Professor Pinker and Professor Wheatley both fall into the fallacy of reductionism–believing that what is most true about a subject is also the most sparely material and uninteresting fact that can be trotted out about it (though Wheatley is perhaps a little less guilty).  You could just as easily say that Van Gogh’s paintings are “visual cheesecake”, if you wanted to suggest that all art is just another way of popping off a few prime neurons (which, come to think of it, Pinker basically does say, in How the Mind Works).  Music for the hard-scientist Pinker is comprised of vibrations in the air, which stimulate the machinery of our inner ear in a pleasant fashion, which consequently stimulates the neurons in our brain pleasantly (as you can probably tell, I’m not sure about the mechanics of this physiological game of Mousetrap–I mean, the board-game–but its fine details would be unnecessary, and probably at cross-purposes anyway.)  For the soft-scientist Wheatley, our social bonds are strengthened by the shared experience of hearing music — which is obviously true enough, and I’m not sure why we need a social-psychologist to say it, when anyone at Woodstock would’ve noted the same thing. This too fails to remark on what the individual experience of listening to music actually is.  The physical mechanics that attend it have been well described by the industrious neuron-fanciers, but I fail to see how knowing which cluster of neurons in my brain music affects, can enhance my actual aesthetic appreciation of music, at all–though I know many would assert that it somehow does.

As a needed antidote to the wisdom dispensed by these contemporary sages, I would recommend turning to the literary and philosophical traditions, which offer more accurate descriptions of what listening to music actually is (and I won’t qualify that or cede any ground by saying “what listening to music actually is like“, because these aren’t fanciful extrapolations from the experience, but direct insights, observation and not simile). Pinker’s whole error rests in assuming that his description of the neurological billiard ball games played in the brain somehow reduce or fully explain the actual experience they describe.  If you think music is teaching you something about the flow of human emotions or about “longing for the far shore” or anything remotely inspiring, it’s not — it’s just a game played by particles that happens to leave you feeling pretty O.K.  But there’s no reason to accept that the particle-based level of reality fully explains the experiential level — although they definitely correlate, there is a gap between the sights, sounds, tastes, scents, and tactile realities experienced at the human, everyday level, and the colorless, scentless, taste-less world of the mathematical patterns that govern atomic and molecular motion.  We have no idea how our actual experience of a color is created out of atoms that are colorless–and the same goes for sound-waves.  We don’t really know why a sound-wave can be heard as an actual sound, so to speak.  The Tufts philosopher and noted skeptic, Daniel Dennett, doesn’t think that it’s even profitable to ask these questions — mainly because he can’t answer them.  But since color and sound and the rest comprise everything that we actually do experience, as opposed to the mathematical models we create, I think it’s worthwhile to talk about them — I mean, considering that they comprise the world we deal with at every moment of our lives.

In “The Dry Salvages”, T.S. Eliot said that people could experience a pure present, unburdened by time, when listening to “music heard so deeply / That it is not heard at all, but you are the music / While the music lasts.”  I don’t know what Pinker would say about this — maybe he would concede that it was a interesting “poetic” flight of fancy, but state again that it’s not a description of hard fact.  (There’s the risk of being a tad unfair to Pinker–but the analytically and not aesthetically minded, in my experience, always dismiss good literary observations for being “poetic”, without explaining why being poetry disqualifies something from intellectual or philosophical consideration.)   Given that this is from a poem, it is undoubtedly “poetic”, but to deny its interpretation of music a fair hearing is simply to confess that one doesn’t feel like wrestling with philosophy.  Eliot, a student of Buddhism (and a Christian at the same time), suggests that the subject-object distinction — the sense of the self as a hearer, and of music as that which is heard — is illusory, and can, when one pays very close attention, dissolve, leaving only Reality itself, which is not perceived or heard by a separate subject or conceived of as a separate object, but is simply “that which is naturally so”.  Merging with music provides a hint of what Eliot calls “the intersection of the timeless moment with time”, the state in which the temporal division between the self and the not-self disappears, leaving an eternal unity that was always present, though not noticed, because not looked for.  This is not Eliot’s view of music alone — the literary tradition (books are also, incidentally, a mere neuron-stimulation device in Pinker’s view) is rife with references to music transcending refined hedonism, to become a tool for training the mind to unite with the flow of time.  This idea is central in writers like Proust and Beckett, Wallace Stevens, G. Bernard Shaw, and plenty of others.  And the philosophical tradition has the same reverence for the musical experience:  Nietzsche saw it as the perfect vehicle for transport into Dionysian ecstasy (he once said “Life without music would be a mistake”) and Arthur Schopenhauer, under the same Eastern influences as Eliot, paid one of the ultimate tributes to music. He said that we live in a world driven by misguided needs, urges, and desires, and indulging these was, in his view– following that of the Buddha–the surest path to generate suffering.  In addition to practicing meditation and contemplation, music could also become a way of getting beyond desire — to simply be aware of the endless flow of the will, represented by music’s continual fluctuations, while yet existing in a state of detachment from it, beholding it.  According to Schopenhauer, one should not get lost in the emotions evoked by music, but simply contemplate and follow it, attaining a state of tranquility — one more temporary than that attained through meditation and renunciation, but still valuable.

I’m not saying the reader needs to accept these specific descriptions of the transcendental nature of musical experience (although I, of course, do).  I’m just denying that Steven Pinker’s way of explaining musical and artistic experiences by saying that neuron clusters fire when A, B, or C occurs, and Wheatley’s way of explaining them by appealing to social-realities, are enormously inadequate — although, obviously, at the purely scientific or mathematical or sociological level, they’re relatively accurate.   We can’t afford to hand over a substantial portion of our own perceived reality, just because we can’t explain it wholly through the movements of particles and waves — we have to actually experience it by experiencing it, not by getting at it through second and third-degree explanations.  I’m not suggesting that we should stop doing neuroscience or anything utterly mad like that — far from it, since the benefits we can accrue from neuroscience are massive.  I’m saying we should stop trying to use pop-neuroscience and pop-evolutionary-psychology as a way of reducing a very large experiential world into a very small mathematical and mechanical one.  I’m sure that any person attempting to live, work, love, deal with suffering, and all of that classic stuff, will find that the great poets and philosophers have a lot more to tell him or her than many rather over-published semi-scientific authorities, who dominate a great deal of the non-fiction marketplace in the Western World.  I think that music, at its finest, can draw us out of our ego-consciousness and into an awareness of a greater experience, flowing within and outside of the self.  But pop-neuroscience only leads us into entertaining simplistic ideas about what listening to music looks like in a mathematical model, rather than actually letting us listen to it — it tries to elevate the ego’s claims over the demands of actual lived experience.  Going too far down this road, one is liable to end up like William Blake’s caricature of Isaac Newton — sitting at the bottom of ocean, placing a compass on a scroll riddled with diagrams, while staring between his feet.

“The Kingdom of God in a Bag of Donuts”

by Sam Buntz

There has been much debate about how to translate Jesus’ saying “The Kingdom of God is within you”.  Some versions of the Bible prefer to translate it as “The Kingdom of God is among you,” ensuring that any inner light the individual self may or may not have is thoroughly subjected to the interests of a more communal idea of Christianity.  I can’t read Greek, and hence cannot really comment in a scholarly fashion on the true meaning of the word entos, translated as “within” and “among” in each case—but the Canadian Sage, Northrop Frye (an ordained but only occasionally practicing Methodist minister, incidentally) could read Greek, and he informs us that the difference in translation has more to do with the translator’s attitude than with any inherent meaning that we can determine, one way or the other, in the word itself: “Those who feel that psychological metaphors express the profoundest truths will prefer ‘within’; those who want a more social gospel—and these translators clearly have a social conscience—will prefer ‘among.’”  Yet, in the non-canonical Gospel of Thomas, Jesus says (in a version that Frye suggests might be original),  “The Kingdom of God is inside you and outside of you.”

This last formulation not only combines, in a strange way, the differing emphases of the two translations of the same saying—but it manages to provide further clarification. The Gospel of Thomas’s Jesus goes on to say, “When you know yourselves, then you will be known, and then you will understand that you are children of the living father.  But if you do not know yourselves then you dwell in poverty and you are poverty.”  In its mysterious advice to “know yourselves” but also to “be known”, this resembles St. Paul’s great passage, “For now we see through a glass, darkly, but then, face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as I am known.”  But what, then, does it mean to “know as I am known”?  By seeing through a “glass”, the King James translators mean seeing in a mirror or reflective lens.  So, Paul is stating that, in this world, we are gaining knowledge of Reality at a remove, as in a reflection.  We are not seeing the Face of God itself, but are only seeing the Image of God as it exists in a corrupted form in human beings: we are perceiving only a dim distortion of God, as when Moses was only permitted to see the “back” of God.  To “know as I am known” is, hence, for the same being to see and be seen by itself at once, to see its own face without the aid of a mirror—to see, in other words, the “face you had before you were born” (as W.B. Yeats and a Zen meditation question, or koan, both put it, albeit in slightly different ways)—to see Adam before the Fall or, even, as the Buddhist philosopher D.T. Suzuki more radically put it, “To be with God before He said ‘Let there be Light’.”  Meister Eckhart expressed the same idea as Paul, stating “The eye through which I see God is the same eye through which God sees me,” and St. Thomas Aquinas also depicts the condition of the Blessed in heaven as being one in which God within the soul knows God outside the soul.  Naturally, Jesus’ emphasis on self-knowledge in The Gospel of Thomas’ report raises the ire of socially-oriented (or just externally-oriented) Evangelicals, but the Gospel of Thomas probably means something closer to Aquinas’s condition of the Blessed.  It is not espousing some sort of far-out New Age egotism—doesn’t seem to be talking about the ego-self knowing itself—only about God in the self and God outside of the self knowing Himself all at once.  Not only is this somewhat complex, but it is also bafflingly simple—“a condition of complete simplicity, costing not less than everything,” in T.S. Eliot’s words.

Now, this involves a form of mystical apprehension that has not always been looked upon with favor by some churches.  Frequently, it is misunderstood as being a kind of spiritual narcissism—turning away from God to become centered in a sort of perfect self-love.  But Jesus’ purported statement that the Kingdom of God is outside as well as inside, and St. Paul and Eckhart’s shared idea that the act of knowing and the act of being known can become the same thing, should put this interpretation to rest.  If it is orthodox for St. Teresa de Avila to ascend her “interior castle” towards God, I see no reason why Eckhart—whose works were initially condemned as heretical—or a Zen Monk or Hindu Vedantist, for that matter, is any less orthodox.  If this kind of mysticism were what some people accuse it of being—turning entirely away from the objects of perception to the subject, to the self that perceives, constituting self-knowledge without God-knowledge—it would, perhaps, be a kind of ascetic selfishness, an utter withdrawal from our shared experience of life.  But it isn’t that, and none of its most revered practitioners and explainers ever asserted that it was.

I believe that all of the authorities I’ve just cited—from Jesus to Eckhart—are talking about the same fundamental experience, which, in a not exactly smooth attempt at providing a definition, we can call “the elimination of the subject-object distinction” (a commonly used but by no means easy to understand expression, often found in literature on mysticism, be it Christian or Jewish or Buddhist or Sufi).  It can be expressed more simply this way: we usually consider ourselves to be separate and distinct beings perceiving a separate and distinct world.  But, in reality, it is impossible to divide the contents of our consciousness from consciousness itself—we can never wholly separate the object from the subject.  When we are actually conscious of seeing something—a chair or an apple or whatever—we can’t actually parse our consciousness of a chair from the chair being perceived.  In terms of our real experience, it is all part of the same basic awareness, which has not the slightest shade of dualism in it.  Zen meditation—or really any form of meditation that seeks to train the mind to attain a certain perfect-pitch of concentration, whether by focusing on a mantra or on any other object or non-object—seeks to more deeply realize the unreality of the subject-object distinction.

But what does this have to do with the Kingdom of God?  If one takes Jesus seriously when he says that the Kingdom is within you and outside of you, one is inevitably led to the conclusion that there is no difference between what is inside and what is outside—the Kingdom of God is a country not limited by any borders, this false subject-object distinction we continually draw up.  In a Buddhist metaphor, this experience is usually described as being like the shattering of an empty clay pot: the pure space within the pot becomes the same as the pure space outside the pot, with no distinction remaining between them.  It is not that the subject absorbs the object—which is basically C.S. Lewis’s idea of how Satan works in The Screwtape Letters (that is, Satan is a giant Ego seeking to suck all external egos into itself)—and it is not that the object absorbs the subject (which is, I’d imagine, in an extreme form, what being enchanted or terrified by hallucinations induced by a drug are like).  It simply eliminates this false duality.  We cannot say much more about it, except that the people who attain such a realization and do not fall from it become the real Saints of this world.

Christ Himself, as I understand Him, represents a Person in whom this falsely conceived duality had dissolved or never even existed—He is a Person who has realized and experienced “the sound of one hand clapping”, in the classic Zen phrase.  I believe this is why Christ is not described as a being-among-beings—although in His incarnation as Jesus this is, at least, the impression He gives to the people around him—but as The Word, and why the Holy Spirit is described as being “the wind that bloweth where it listeth.”  Word and Wind are both images that transcend the concepts of subject and object: The Word is not a thing or even a being, strictly speaking: it is a Power, the stream of endless creativity that is not only from God, but is God.  It also radically overcomes the difference between Being and Non-Being—as the great theologian, Paul Tillich, thought God must.  The Word and the Spirit are hence not beings-among-beings, but symbols of the “Ground of Being”, a Deity to be apprehended through life and contemplation, not through set formulas and definitions.  Jesus, as I understand Him, was a Man who transcended his status as a mere man—while also retaining it—by becoming at one with the Father, seeing Himself no longer in terms of the subject-object distinction, but living perpetually in and as the God that transcends this distinction.

Hopefully, this article has demonstrated that the idea that “the Kingdom of God is within you” does not imply a sort of quietism—a withdrawal from outer activity into a solitude that is basically autistic.  Far from it: the entire life of Jesus demonstrates how such a claim needs to be incorrect, but it also, in His realization that “Before Abraham was, I am” (i.e. “before any being came into existence, The Word or Power of Being already existed”), demonstrated that those who thought the Gospel was purely social, and that there was no room for a deeper mystical revelation, were gravely mistaken.  A Zen parable beautifully complements Jesus’ own Gospel narrative, showing that the life of contemplation and the life of action are, in reality, made one in the Kingdom of God:

There was a Zen Master named Ho Tei, who was, in fact, an Enlightened man. He used to hand out donuts to the neighborhood children, and was always jolly, earning the title “Laughing Buddha.”  (Many of the fat and joyous Buddhas, seen in Chinatown shops and Chinese restaurants today, depict Ho Tei, and not the original Siddhartha Gautama Buddha.)  Once, a student of Zen came to test the Laughing Buddha’s attainment, and asked him, “What is the realization of Zen?”  Ho Tei simply dropped his giant donut bag and stared at him—which was, itself, the answer to his question.  And, the student asked further, having gotten the point, “What is the actualization of Zen?” Again, answering the question, Ho Tei picked up the bag of donuts and went merrily on his way…

Thus is the Kingdom of God.