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.

 

北齊高祖嘗以大齋日設聚會。時有大德法師開道,道俗有疑滯者,皆即論難,並援引大義,廣說法門,言議幽深,皆存雅正。石動筩最後論義,謂法師曰:「且問法師一個小義,佛常騎何物?」法師答曰:「或坐千葉蓮花,或乘六牙白象。」動筩云:「法師全不讀經,不知佛所乘騎物?」法師又即問云:「檀越讀經,佛騎物何?」動筩答云:「佛騎牛。」法師曰:「何以知之?」動筩曰:「經云:『世尊甚奇特,』豈非騎牛?」坐皆大笑。又謂法師曰:「法師既不知佛常騎牛,今更問法師一種小事:比來每經之上,皆雲價值百千兩金;未知百千兩金,總有幾斤?」法師遂無以對。坐皆大笑。

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.

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