A pun on the son of the sun

As in Europe, Chinese jesters could aim their wit or mockery at religion and its representatives, at very least puncturing pomposity and sanctimony, or simply lightening up an earnest ambiance. There are several such religiously irreverent anecdotes concerning the jester Shi Dongtong 石動筩 (Moving Bucket), at the court of emperor Gaozu of the Northern Qi 北齊高祖 (r. 550-59). 

Gaozu would occasionally arrange Buddhist seminars at which a Master of Great Virtue would preside, and on this occasion the jester innocently asked the Master what day it was:

Quote - Hou Bai - Qiyan Lu

The monk answered, ‘Today is the Buddha’s birthday [ri = both ‘day’ and ‘sun’]’.  Moving Bucket, pretending to misunderstand, said, ‘So the sun [ri] is the Buddha’s son [also pronounced ri at the time]?’  The monk reinterpreted for him, ‘On this day Buddha was born’.  Moving Bucket persisted, ‘So the Buddha is the son of the sun?’  Everybody had a good laugh over this.

 

高祖又嘗以四月八日齋會講說,石動筩時在會中,有大德僧在高座上講,道俗論難,不能相決。動筩後來,乃問僧曰:「今是何日?」僧答云:「是佛生日。」動筩即云:「日是佛兒。」僧即變云:「今日佛生。」動筩又云:「佛是日兒。」眾皆大笑。

And here is another, more visual pun by the playful Moving Bucket.

Source: Qiyan lu 啓顏錄, by Hou Bai 侯白 (fl. c. 581), in Taiping Guangji 太平廣記, comp. Li Fang 李昉 (925-96), fol. 247, in Lidai xiaohua ji 歷代笑話集, Wang Liqi 王利器, ed. (Hong Kong: Xinyue Chubanshe, c. 1958), pp. 10-11.

Image credit: Nandha Kumar at unsplash

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