One of the traditional, good luck charms in Japan is the Daruma Doll, the ancient roly poly doll that can't be knocked over, no matter how far it is pushed. The idea of this original tumbler doll is said to have begun as a tribute to Bodhidharma, or Dharma, a fifth century AD Indian holy man who began the practice of mindful meditation that has come to be known as Zen Buddhism.
Dharma meditated without moving or closing his eyes -- for seven or for nine years, depending on which version of the legend you're hearing. In the process, his limbs became completely paralyzed, and some of the stories say that his appendages actually fell off. That didn't deter him, the myths insist, from rolling all the way over land from India to Japan in order to bring Zen to the Japanese. How he made it across the sea, we don't quite know. But enlightenment can overcome all sorts of physical (and geographic) obstacles.
These brightly colored red dolls with black and gold trim, some quite small and some as big as beachballs, are made from paper mache and painted to look like a stylized version of Daruma, with blank white spaces where his eyes should be. At the beginning of the new year in Japan, adults and children alike buy new dolls. They set a goal for themselves for the coming year and paint in one of Daruma's eyes. If one reaches the goal, then you get to paint in the other eye. Nearly 2 million of these dolls are made every year and sold at temple festivals -- where the previous year's Darumas -- presumably with both eyes painted on -- are consumed in a bonfire.
Now, the reason I mention this is that it seemed like an intriguing possibility, with the new school year beginning, for kids to have a Daruma doll -- and adults, too, with the start of work again after summer vacations. If you can't find an authentic Daruma doll, it's easy enough to make one from the instructions that you can find online. There's even a counting-out rhyme to go with your Daruma, to test the seriousness of your concentration. You must repeat it, without laughing, while looking into someone else's eyes -- a first step on the path to enlightenment. Daruma-san, Daruma-san Nira miko shimasho Warattara dame yo Ichi ni san shi go.
Copyright 2007© John Cech
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