1.Deer Sitting Luohan / 2.Happy Luohan / 3.Raised Bowl Luohan /
4.Raised Pagoda Luohan / 5.Meditating Luohan / 6.Overseas Luohan /
7.Elephant Riding Luohan / 8.Laughing Lion Luohan / 9.Open Heart Luohan /
10.Raised Hand Luohan / 11.Thinking Luohan / 12.Scratch Ear Luohan /
13.Calico Bag Luohan / 14.Plantain Luohan / 15.Long Eyebrow Luohan /
16.Doorman Luohan / 17.Taming Dragon Luohan / 18.Taming Tiger Luohan
Sixteen Arhats are depicted in Mahayana Buddhism as the original followers of Shakyamuni Buddha. They have followed the “Noble Eightfold Path”, attained the “Four Stages of Enlightenment” and are free of worldly cravings. They are instructed to protect the Buddhist faith and to wait for the coming of Maitreya, a prophesied enlightened Buddha who will arrive many millennia years after Shakyamuni Buddha's entry of Nirvana.
Originally, there are only sixteen Arhats instructed to wait for Maitreya. Later on, teachings about the Arhats become popular in China. “Nandimitravadana”, meaning the “Duration of the Law”, is translated into Chinese and the names of these Arhats are known.
Two other Luohans, the Chinese name of Arhats, are added to the roster increasing the number from sixteen to eighteen after ninth century in China. But this depiction of having 18 Luohans only gains a foothold in China whereas other countries continue to remain with 16 Arhats. “Taming Dragon” and “Taming Tiger” are the two additional Luohans that are only available in Chinese Buddhism.
Because there are no historical records detailing about the appearance of each Luohans, the first portraits of the 16 Luohans were actually painted by a monk whose name was Guan Xiu (貫休). Legend revealed that 16 Luohans appeared to the monk in a dream and requested him to paint their portraits. These paintings depicted them as foreigners having bushy eyebrows, large eyes, hanging cheeks and tall noses. They were mostly seated in landscapes, leaning against pine trees or stones. An additional theme in these paintings were that they were portrayed as being untidy in appearance, and an emphasis that they were beggars wandering from place to place without a home or job. These details are to point out that they are no longer bounded to the worldly desires.
These portraits painted by Guan Xiu became the definitive images for the Luohans in Chinese Buddhism. These paintings were later donated to the Shengyin Temple (present day Hangzhou) where they were preserved with great care and ceremonious respect.
The Emperor Qianlong (乾隆) was a great admirer of the Luohans and he wrote a commendatory to each Luohan in 1757. In 1764, Qianlong ordered that the paintings held at the Shengyin Monastery be reproduced and engraved onto stone tablets for preservation and public display. The temple was destroyed during the Taiping Rebellion at 1850 but copies of ink rubbing of these tablets were preserved in and outside of China.
In Chinese Buddhism, the Luohans are presented in the order when they appeared in Guan Xiu’s dream, not according to their power.
These eighteen Luohans are listed below.
01. “Deer Sitting Luohan” is Pindola the Bharadvaja.
Pindola is one of Buddha disciples who eventually became an Arhat, and was distinguished as a successful disputant, with a voice like the roar of a lion. Buddha requested Pindola not to enter Nirvana, and to remain in existence for the protection of Buddha’s system until the arrival of Maitreya, the next Buddha.
Pindola was used to be a respected official before practicing Buddhism. He always had a skinny and careworn appearance, despite of his birth in a noble family. There was a myth that in his previous existence, Pindola had been a bad son and a cruel man, and due to his bad Karma, he had to suffer in hell for a very long time. His food was “tiles and stones,” and even when he became an Arhat with wonderful powers, he retained a tendency to live on “tiles and stones.”
Pindola usually meditated in the forest. Gradually he gained supernatural power to a point that he could fly like a bird or roar like a lion.
After achieving certain stage in Buddhism, Pindola, along with a deer, returned to the palace where he had used to serve as a high official. He persuaded the king to give up his throne, and the king decided to follow Pindola to become a disciple of the Buddha.
Today Pindola is usually portrayed as a Luohan riding on a deer, and hence called " Deer Sitting Luohan".
02. “Happy Luohan” is Kanaka the Vatsa.
Kanaka was famed as a great debater. It is said that he knew all the systems of thought, no matter good or bad, and was the most well-spoken person in explaining them.
His vast knowledge enabled him to sort the true easily from the false and what was wise from what was foolish. Being able to distinguish the true from the false allowed him to live in peace, and being able tell the wise from the foolish, he could live in joy.
For this reason, he is known as " Happy Luohan".
03. “Raised Bowl Luohan” is Kanaka the Bharadvaja.
Kanaka, like other followers of Buddha, was a beggar, dependent upon the charity of virtuous and generous people. However, his manner of begging was different from others. He would never ask for gifts, even though he was a beggar. Instead, he would raise his bowl above his head and start chanting. Some people grew weary of his chanting. They gave him food in order to get rid of him. But some people were touched by his chanting. They offered him food because they can easily recognize him as a holy person. Therefore, he is known as " Raised Bowl Luohan."
04. “Raised Pagoda Luohan” is Nandimitra.
The last disciple recruited by Shakyamuni Buddha was Nandimitra, who came to Buddha when he was about to enter Nirvana. Disciples sought to protect Buddha from the pressures of the new seekers. However, Nandimitra was unusually persistent and was desperate to find enlightenment, as if a person who was desperate to breathe under the water. At length of time, he was allowed to see Shakyamuni Buddha, and to become his very last disciple.
Nandimitra is usually depicted with a pagoda where ever he goes. Pagoda is a stupa which stores Buddha’s relic. This Luohan uses carrying pagoda as a metaphor that Buddha is with him all the time. Therefore, he is known as "Raised Pagoda Luohan".
05. “Meditating Luohan” is Nakula.
Nakula was a great warrior, and he was huge and extremely strong. He could easily kill anyone with whom he fought, and it is said that in all of India, there was none to rival him.
One day, he suddenly grew tired of killing. He could easily take away a man's life, but he could not give a man’s life. The nature of life was a mystery.
After pondering long on these misgivings, he discovered Buddhism. Nakula confirmed that killing was a foolish arrogance and a wicked intervention in the destiny of another. Therefore, he stopped killing, and he concentrated in meditation instead. Gradually, he penetrated into the true nature of the universe.
It was odd to see a muscular man sitting in deep meditation, so people called him the "Meditating Luohan".
06. “Overseas Luohan” is Bodhidharma.
Bodhidharma had been a servant to Prince Siddhartha even before he became Buddha. It is said that Bodhidharma, his name, was actually named after a tree for which he was born under, and the meaning was "tree of virtue".
After he had become a follower of Buddha, Bodhidharma was enthusiastic to spread out the principals of Buddhism. In this way, people can realize the truth, stop making mistakes and avoid further suffering. He was a great preacher, and could explain Buddha’s teaching in clear and simple language. Hence, he is often represented as either holding a book or praying bead in hands. Bodhidharma set out to eastern India to preach the teachings of Buddhism. Both his enthusiasm and his true wisdom helped him complete this difficult mission. Legend said that he could pass over the rivers effortlessly, like a dragonfly, so he is called "Overseas Luohan".
07. “Elephant Riding Luohan” is Kalika.
Kalika was an elephant tamer. Although elephants are large and powerful, Kalika was gentle and patient with them, and his elephants always loved him and wanted to obey his commands. Because of his unusual friendship with the elephants, Kalika is called " Elephant Riding Luohan". In Buddhism, elephant represents stability and persistence, so even Samantabhadra Bodhisattva also associates himself to a white elephant with six tusks.
Another characteristic of Kalika was that he had extremely long eyebrows which grew to the ground. If he cut them off, they would grow back again. Because of his extraordinary eyebrows, it is easily mistaken him as Asita, the fifteen Luohan who also has very long eyebrows.
08. “Laughing Lion Luohan” is Vijraputra.
Vijraputra was a talented hunter and had killed many animals before. One day, he suddenly realized that taking life away was inappropriate, and he imagined what if others hunted him and ate his meat instead. Troubled by these thoughts, Vijraputra was lucky enough to encounter Buddha’s teaching at that time. He was greatly relieved, abandoned his old profession and became a follower of Buddhism.
When Vijraputra quitted hunting, the animals in the forest knew that he would not hurt them anymore. Therefore, they were more willing to approach him and showed appreciation to his kind decision.
Two lion cubs often came to play with him as he meditated in the forest, and in time they became his constant companions. Hence, Vijraputra is called " Laughing Lion Luohan".
09. “Open Heart Luohan” is Gobaka
Gobaka was a prince, but he did not want to become the king of his small state. Instead, he wanted to leave the palace and to follow Buddha for enlightenment. However, his younger brother wanted to be the king, and he prepared to rebel with force in order to claim the throne. To prevent a war and to pursue the path of Buddhism, Gobaka explained to his brother that he had no desire to rule the land. All that was in his heart was the Buddha nature.
His brother did not believe in what Gobaka said, and suspected that Gobaka was trying to fool him with some unworthy excuse. Whatever the Buddha nature might be, it could not possibly compare with the joy of ruling a kingdom, and having everybody obeyed to his command. To prove that he was sincere, Gobaka pulled open his gown, and the face of a Buddha was seen peering out from the middle of his chest, for which his heart was only the Buddha nature. His brother was surprised but was convinced that Gobaka had no urge to compete for the throne. Hence, he cancelled the potential bloody rebel and many innocent lives were saved.
This is the reason why Gobaka is called " Open Heart Luohan".
10. “Raised Hand Luohan” is Pantha the Elder.
Pantha the Elder and his younger twin brother, Pantha the Younger, were born on the road when their mother was travelling. Their names could mean “continuing the way,” or “prolonging the existence of Buddhism”.
The two brothers became monks when their mother passed away. Pantha the Elder was very strong and tall, and his arms could become as long as Pantha wanted them to be. He could pick fruit from the tops of trees, or even pluck birds right out of the air. Throughout his life, Pantha the Elder used his remarkable abilities to do many good works which required long arms. Also, another legend was that when Pantha the Elder finished meditation, he would raise his hands and let out a deep breath. Hence, he is remembered as " Raised Hand Luohan".
11. “Thinking Luohan” is Rahula.
Rahula is the son of Prince Siddhartha, and he was born before Prince Siddhartha practicing Buddhism. Rahula was born during an eclipse, so his name actually meant “eclipse.” When Rahula grew up, similar to his father, he also sought for enlightenment. At first, determined to find the true path on his own and being skeptical of his father’s wisdom, he initially followed other masters and practiced other principals. However, in the end, as his insight deepened, he realized that his father was wiser than anticipated, and he became one of his father’s followers.
Rahula was distinguished as one who could carry out very strict disciplines and rules. He is often represented as having a large umbrella-shaped head, prominent eyes and hooked nose. Because of his deep concentration and profound insight, Rahula is called "Thinking Luohan".
12. “Scratch Ear Luohan” is Nagasena.
Nagasena had been practicing Buddhism for thirty years before he attained Arhatship. He was skilled in analyzing and developing logical principles.
Nagasena is often portrayed with a small ear brush for cleaning his ears. Regular people would say that this is a symbol of keeping one’s ears clean in order to receive the teaching of Buddhism. Other people would suggest that it was Nagasena’s desire to free himself from the pollution of hearing, for which sound from the environment can interfere and disrupt the calmness of one’s inner self. Therefore, he is called “Scratch Ear Luohan”.
13. “Calico Bag Luohan” is Angida.
Angida was noted for the cleanness and fragrance of his body, and he was described as being perfect in all things.
According to legend, Angida was an Indian snake-catcher whose aim was to prevent snakes from biting innocent people. After the snakes were caught, he would remove the snakes’ venomous teeth and then release them in the mountains. It was due to this kindness of heart that Angida was able to attain enlightenment. The bag that he used to carry the snakes became his symbol, and he is called “Calico Bag Luohan”.
14. “Plantain Luohan” is Vanavasa.
According to legend, when Vanavasa was born, rain was falling heavily on the banana trees around his house. The rain created tremendous noise, which sounded like "vanavassa vanavassa”. Therefore, his parents named him Vanavassa, which means "rain", "banana" or both.
When Vanavasa began to practice Buddhism, he liked to meditate under the shade of a banana tree. For this reason, he was called " Plantain Luohan". Plantain is a type of banana. It is low in sugar and requires cooking before consumption. Similar to a cultivator of Buddhism, one will gradually become more mature and fruitful by practicing Buddha’s principles and true wisdom.
15. “Long Eyebrow Luohan” is Asita.
According to legend, Asita was born with two long white eyebrows. In his previous life, he was a monk who had tried very hard but failed to attain enlightenment even at his old age. He only had two long white eyebrows left. After his death, he was lucky enough to be reincarnated as a human again.
When he was born, his father was told that Buddha also had two long eyebrows. Therefore, Asita had the look of Buddha in him. As a result, his father sent Asita to a monastery to become a monk, and eventually attained enlightenment in that life. For this reason, he is called “Long Eyebrow Luohan”.
16. “Doorman Luohan” is Pantha the Younger.
Pantha the Younger was the younger twin brother of Pantha the Elder, “Raised Hand Luohan.” Pantha the Elder was always outshone his brother due to his remarkable arms and his brilliant mind. Pantha the Younger was considered dull and ordinary by comparison, and it was due to his bad Karma in the past. He could not make any progress in his spiritual life. He was unable to concentrate or memorize even for a few lines of doctrine.
As a result, Pantha the Younger was assigned to more manual works in the monastery, such as serving tea for the others, or looking after the visitors. This is why he is called “Doorman Luohan”.
On one occasion, the King invited Buddha and his disciples for breakfast, except Pantha the Younger. When Buddha discovered that, he comforted Pantha and asked him to repeat “Sweeping broom” these two words in his mind. By doing so, poor Pantha was stimulated, and realized that all attachments of this world were defilement and to be swept away by the broom of Buddha’s doctrine. Pantha the Younger continued the practice, and finally attained Arhatship afterward.
There was another legend regarding to the name of “Doorman Luohan”. When Pantha the Younger went for alms round, he would bang on people's doors. For once, he banged too hard and an old and rotten door fell apart. He had to apologize to the owner of the house. Therefore, Buddha gave him a tin staff and told him, "When you go for food begging again, you don't have to bang on people's doors any more. Just tap this staff. If the people inside want to give you alms, they will come out." The tin staff had several rings on it, and it would create light noise when it was tapped. The tin staff gradually became the symbol of this Luohan.
17. “Taming Dragon Luohan” is Nantimitolo.
Nantimitolo this name is made up of two parts. Nanti means happy, and Mitolo means friend. Together Nantimitolo means happy friend. There was a legend in ancient India. The king of the undersea flooded a kingdom and took all the sutras back to his palace under the sea. Nantimitolo, who had mastered the powers taught by the Buddha, subdued the dragon and restored the sutras back to earth. Hence, he is called “Taming Dragon Luohan”.
Nantimitolo is one of the two Luohans that are only available in Chinese Buddhism. Buddhism in India, Thailand, Japan, Korea and other countries continue to have 16 Arhats only.
18. “Taming Tiger Luohan” is Pindola.
Pindola was a Brahmin and a general. Since he was devoted to Buddhism, which forbids killing, he was ordered by the king to become a monk. He joined a monastery in the mountains, and spent most of his days in deep meditation. One day, a huge tiger appeared, and it terrified other monks and worshippers to flee for their lives. Pindola was also frightened, but upon further thought, he believed that the tiger was just being hungry.
Hence, Pindola started to share his food with the tiger, and each day the tiger returned. Gradually, the tiger became his friend, for it knew that Pindola had no intention to hurt it and was willing to share his food.
Sometimes the tiger would come even when it did not want any food. It enjoyed Pindola's company. In the end, the two became great friends, and Pindola is called " Taming Tiger Luohan".
Pindola is one of the two Luohans that are only available in Chinese Buddhism. Buddhism in India, Thailand, Japan, Korea and other countries continue to have 16 Arhats only.