The Taming Dragon Lohan
Buddhism, centering on the teachings of Buddah, is one of the world’s most popular religions.
The 18 Lohans (or Arahats) were followers of Buddhism’s “Eightfold Path” who had achieved full spiritual fulfillment. They had reached “Nirvana,” the state of absolute freedom from worldly cravings, and because of this they were no longer subject to reincarnation. Their eternal status makes them akin to guardian angels, adept at protecting adherents from evil and allowing them to open themselves to meditation and spiritual enlightenment.
Originally there were only 16 Lohan. Sometime between the late Tang Dynasty and early Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period of China, two more Lohan were added, increasing the number to 18. The 18 Lohan were first painted in 891 A.D. by the Chinese Buddhist monk Guan Xiu, who is said to have been visited by the Lohan in his dreams. Yet these added representations only gained foothold in China, while Japan and India continue to recognize only 16 of the Lohan.
Here’s an interesting fact: In China at the end of the ninth century the Buddhist faith had suffered greatly, being subjugated to great persecution under the reign of Emperor Tang Wuzhong who preferred Taosm. A cult was born, out of this staunch resistance which incorporated the Lohan as the powerful guardians of the Buddhist faith. The last two additions, the Taming Dragon and Taming Tiger Lohan were, in fact, thinly disguised swipes against the thriving Taoism of the time.
The Taming Dragon Lohan’s Sanskrit name is Nantimitolo. Nanti stands for happy and mitolo, a friend. Together the name means happy friend. He is called the Taming Dragon Lohan for his brave act of vanquishing the ferocious dragon. There is a charming verse describes him thus:
“In the hands are the spiritual pearl and the holy bowl,
Endowed with power that knows no bounds,
Full of valour, vigour and awe-inspiring dignity,
He succeeds in vanquishing the ferocious dragon.”
According to lore his story goes:
Once upon a time in ancient India the people of a small kingdom, being incited by a demon, went on a rampage against the Buddhists and their monasteries. In the mayhem of destruction, some had even shamelessly stooped to steal the Buddhist sutras.
The Dragon King of the undersea, outraged by this unruly behaviour of humans, punished them all, innocents as well as the guilty, by flooding their entire kingdom. As he deemed them most unworthy of benefiting from the wisdom within these writings, he took custody of the sutras and stored them in his palace.
In time the repentant people having suffered so long, wanted the sutras back but nothing would sway the Dragon King’s resolve. It took an extraordinary being, Nantimitolo, to succeed in subduing the dragon guard and restoring the sutras back to earth. Hence he is called the Taming Dragon Lohan.