Ox or elephant?

Another ‘tail’ of the Chinese jester Shi Dongtong 石動筩 (Moving Bucket) running rings around a Dharma master, at the court of emperor Gaozu of the Northern Qi 北齊高祖 (r. 550-59).  Gaozu liked to convene Buddhist seminars and seemed equally to like having his jester liven them up with puns and playfulness. 

The discussions finally reached an impasse and everybody was challenging each other.  Moving Bucket put his oar in last, addressing the Master of Great Virtue nonchalantly, lulling him.  Moving Bucket’s joke rests on a pun on the Buddha’s extraordinary nature:

Quote - Hou Bai - Qiyan Lu

`I’d just like to ask the Dharma Master one small thing: what creature did the Buddha ride?’  The Dharma Master answered, `Sometimes he sat on a lotus flower of a thousand leaves, sometimes he was borne on a white elephant of six tusks’.  Moving Bucket said, ‘The Dharma Master has not read the sutras at all, since he does not know what the Buddha rode’.  The Dharma Master asked him, `Since Kindly Benefactor has read the sutras, what did the Buddha ride?’  Moving Bucket retorted, `The Buddha rode an ox!’  The Dharma Master asked how he knew and Moving Bucket replied, `The sutras say “The World’s Honoured One [the Buddha] was extraordinary,” how can this not be “riding an ox”?’  All present burst out laughing.



The pun is both visual and aural – ‘qi te’, meaning ‘extraordinary’, includes ‘qi’ which is a homonym for ‘ride’ and te which has ‘ox’ in it and originally meant ‘calf’.

Sadly, they don’t tell us if the Dharma Master laughed, or clenched his teeth, or simply sighed resignedly.

See other Moving Bucket puns and jokes, including this one-foot-two-feet lark, or another pun.

Source: Qiyan lu 啓顏錄, by Hou Bai 侯白 (fl. ca. 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: Buddhist Monk Riding an Ox (c. 1880s), Kawanabe Kyosai (1831-89); Smithsonian National Museum of Asian Art, Freer Gallery of Art, Purchase — Charles Lang Freer Endowment.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This