Fu: The Buddha Bat of Happiness

My Life’s Dream began to flow in earnest about two or three years after I was born. The significant event marking its commencement occurred when a deliveryman came to my family’s home with a huge box containing a Magnavox monaural sound system. (This is a highly significant symbol given the trajectory my life subsequently took exploring the English Language system of ‘cymbals’ and sounds).

When I entered the room where the Magnavox was being set up, the deliveryman told me that a bat had flown out of the box as soon as he’d opened it and into a tree in our backyard tree. (In my memory, there is no confusion about which tree it might be since we lived in the desert and there were so few). I ran outside excitedly to stand beside a scrawny tree in full expectation of seeing a bat hanging from its branches. A baseball bat.

Looking back on that fateful moment, I see myself standing in a state of surprise and disappointed to find no bat (of either description) hanging there. But what startled me the most was the sudden realization that two completely different things could each lay full claim to the same name, despite the fact that they appeared to bear no resemblance to each other.

It is this wondering that initiated the quest-i-on through the mirrored corridors of linguistic synchronicities and the tortuous cultural mind-set it both reflects and generates. To this day I take great pleasure in identifying and examining the relationship between odd verbal bedfellows — like taught and taut, lesson and lessen — which seem to echo and reflect my own school daze.

This next curious piece from my personal CrossWord puzzle will at first seem unrelated. But as with all dreams – whether waking or sleeping – the pattern is revealed most readily in retrospect once we correctly ‘connect the dots.’

Tunneling Through to China

Like many young children, I believed that if I dug a hole deep enough in my own backyard that I would eventually tunnel through to China. Imagine my amazement when —nearly three score years later — I discovered that I’d literally achieved my goal, metaphorically speaking.

The success of my ‘dig’ derived from my relentless pursuit of that original bat – through the echo chambers of the English language – all the way to China. I first learned of my achievement in 2007 when I went to the Pacific Asia Museum in Pasadena, California to view an exhibition of Chinese art.

No sooner had I stepped into the gift shop (where I began my museum tour), than a large bat caught my eye. It was brown and furry with beady eyes and front teeth exposed. I was amazed to see it sitting there harmlessly among a collection of other animal hand puppets in a basket on the floor.

Since I was going to be sharing some of my WordMagic wordplay with grade school children in the near future, I contemplated buying the bat in honor of my very first pun. However, I decided to give this possibly frivolous expenditure further consideration as I explored the various exhibition rooms.

Almost immediately, in a glass exhibit box, I found a clue to my own mystery: A small card placed next to some historic objects stated that in Daoist philosophy the bat is a symbol for Happiness because the word Fu in Chinese means both bat and happiness.

Suddenly, I became aware of an entire culture that does what I do quite naturally with words – which is to relate them through their sound. The Chinese don’t have to defend themselves against the attendant condescension that greets many Western punsters. So, this was a very big and affirming discovery for me. Naturally, I bought the bat.

Coming Full Circle

The following year, I went on a tour of several cities in China. At one historic site – next to an enormous gold statue of Gautama Buddha – the guide informed us that we were in the ‘Land of 1000 Buddhas.’ He said that it was also called the Land of Happiness because the word for Buddha in Chinese is nearly the same as the word for happiness. He pronounced ‘fu’ with just a slight variation from the happy/bat pronunciation.

Words – and particularly homonyms – have been a great source of happiness and awakening for me since early childhood. They remain a fascinating refuge from the noise of this world. And they provide uncanny insights into the type of world we’ve collectively created – as we speak and write – with all our verbal ‘sound and fury.’ In fact, I found within words a pathway out of the pandemonium, which I’ll share with you in the pages that follow.

Ironically, or perhaps poetically, I’ve returned to the Buddhist practice of my youth since that trip to China. I did so because of its focus on the power of word sounds to facilitate a world at peace with itself by precipitating human transformation and activation of our greatest potential.

As for the bat, my furry hand puppet bears the name of “Fu—the Buddha-Bat of Happiness.” He reminds me of the rewards that have come from ‘following my bliss’ regardless of how long it was dismissed as nonsense by onlookers. Fu also illustrates for me the importance of honoring every child’s early fascinations since their wonderings may one day guide their wanderings – to new vistas of awareness that they may one day share with us all.