The Laughing Buddha


Budai is said to travel giving candy to poor children, only asking a penny from Zen monks or lay practitioners he meets. One day a monk walks up to him and asks, “What is the meaning of Zen?” Budai drops his bag. “How does one realize Zen?” he continues. Budai then takes up his bag and continues on his way.

Last night I lay on the couch staring across the room at my “laughing Buddha.” This statue came into my possession after my mother passed away in 2003. We never understood where or why my mother had this thing. She had no inclinations toward eastern thought, although she watched episodes of Kung Fu with me when I was a teen. We are not even sure how she got it. But she always loved it. It had a prominent place in our house …right above the television set. And there it stayed, even after my father passed on and she moved to a new apartment. When I asked her about it, she would just say “I don’t know, I just like it.”

So with my own proclivities for the mystic path, it was the one item she had that I really wanted. I bring this up because the reason I was suddenly mesmerized by it last evening, was because of the sudden passing of our local neighborhood stalwart Ric Menello.

The connection comes from an interview I did with Ric a few years ago, when I took on the ambitious task of interviewing the many creative and interesting patrons from our local cafe, Vox Pop. For some reason, this laughing Buddha came up in our conversation.

His uncle gave his mother the first one because she could not have a baby. It is also known as the Buddha of fertility.

“Then she had me. I was her laughing Buddha.”

In a sense, Ric was the laughing Buddha. He was unassuming, generous, warm and full of stories. Ric and I would often talk about esoteric aspects of film such as Akira Ifukube who was the main composer for all of the Godzilla films as well as other Japanese monster flicks. He knew as much about film as Leonard Maltin or Roger Ebert. And he had a take on it that was completely unique.

I will not go into Ric’s place in the world of cinema other than to supply this link to his imdb page. His passing leaves an empty seat in a lot of hearts. Vox Pop was an adventure that lasted but a brief period in time. A place where artists and intellectuals came to gather for poetry, song and activism. Above  all, we came together as a community. Sadly New York real estate has no compassion for such things. I have since moved to the outskirts of the 11226 zip code. Ric Menello’s passing just illustrates that our time here on this planet is precious, and that we should not waste our existence. Ric was a good example of magnanimity. A quality not so easily found in our modern world. Rest in peace old friend.



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