A correspondent named Jim wrote:
I have a Chinese friend who showed me how to write Mi-Le-Fo in Chinese. I already
knew that "Fo" means Buddha but I had to pull out my Chinese dictionary to find the other two. I now know that "Le" means "tight" or "Force" -- as that is the direct translation of the character Le in Mi- Le-Fo. My problem is that I can't find the correct character of "Mi" in my dictionary. Do you know what "Mi" translates into?
This part is easy: Mi is "full,
overflowing." It is "second tone," and looks like this 弥
in simplified characters, and this 彌 in traditional.
"Le" 勒is, as you say, "stop, rein, force, coerce." But sometimes--rarely, it seems--it is written
乐, meaning "happy." This makes much more sense to me; but "overflowing with coercion"? Doesn't sound right, does it? I am not only
not a scholar of Chinese--I can't speak it at all! With this information, I have reached the limits of what a dictionary can tell me. But I have a regular reader (you
know who you are, My Prince) who may be able to shed a little more light on the subject.
A guess: there has been a shift of meaning relating to the "le"
Meanwhile, here are some things I found in my
titled "Maitreya and Metrak," which traces the evolution of Mi-le mediated from Sanskrit via Central Asian languages. (Jim writes that he is a "student of Asian history," so I hope this article is scholarly enough!)
At Charles Muller's site:
You will need to enter "guest" (without quotes) under user name, and leave the password
blank. (Read more about the Digital Dictionary of Buddhism
and access; also, see Muller's top page for his other excellent resources.)
My pal Prince
Roy (whose Chinese skills have been verified by
the U.S. of A.) wrote...
my $.02 on Milefo. I don't have a strong
background in classical Chinese and even less in canonical Chinese,
so you are getting what you paid for:
Milefo 彌勒佛 is
almost certainly a transliteration from Sanskrit, translated when
the sutras made it to China however many thousands of years back,
and in these cases almost never carries a literal meaning.
Why the change in some cases to le 乐?
This probably has more to do with the sinocization of Buddhism. The
Milefo evolved from the anemic, thin austere figure of Indian
Mahayana tradition into the rotund and jovial manifestation that we
see in China today. Since he is a generous, jolly fellow who also
loves children, people started to use the character 'le'乐.
That's the best I can do....