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“Fat Buddha”

“Fat Buddha” Really a 10th Century Chinese Monk

More commonly known as the Happy Buddha or Laughing Buddha, Hotei was a monk of the T’ang Dynasty, recognized for the sack of candy he carried and shared with small children.  He is a figure of Chinese folklore, and one of the Seven Gods of Fortune representing abundance and good health.  He is also thought to be a bodhisattva, one who has dedicated himself to the path of enlightenment like Buddha, or a Maitreya, a future Buddha-like figure who will appear on Earth, achieve enlightenment and teach the Dharma.

The true Buddha began his path to enlightenment after seeing a infirm old man begging and learned of suffering and decided to embrace asceticism. His journey of contemplation eventually brought him to a sacred fig tree where he paused in meditation.  It was there that he attained Bodhi, a perfect state of illumination. From that moment forward, he was Buddha who took to the countryside and preached for 44 years what was to become one of the primary religions of the world until his death at age 80.

Laughing Buddha statues are frequent Asian decor accent found in business and restaurants because he is the deity of contentment and prosperity. This Buddhist icon is most often seen with a sack in tow, filled with candy for children and gifts of food for the less fortunate. Much like Catholicism’s St. Nicholas, Hotai is the patron saint of children, the suffering and the downtrodden.

A laughing Buddha statue portrays a corpulent, bald man whose ample gut can be seen through his sagging robes. While Ho Tai could definitely benefit from a few stomach crunches, his ample belly is symbolic of good luck and wealth. Along with his jolly middle and pleasant smile the Ho  Tai nearly always carries bent, wooden walking stick in one hand and his bag of goodies in the other. The Happy Buddha is most often portrayed as a statue in either a reclined, standing or sitting position. The reclined position most likely originates from the “sleeping Buddha position,” one that reflects the Buddha’s last moments on Earth before he was delivered to Nirvana.

Most often, the happy Buddha Statues are displayed in the home as a talisman of plenitude. Many Ho Tai statues portray the cheerful patron holding gold ingots in his hands while sitting atop a mountain of gold coins. It’s also not unusual to see the Buddha sitting atop a Dragon throne. The Dragon is a icon of security and virility in Asian culture. Other symbolic elements often seen in sculptures and statues of the happy Buddha include a rosary necklace symbolic of prayer, a pauper’s bowl representing the laughing Buddha’s lack of worldly possessions or an oogi. The oogi is a Chinese “wish giving” fan used in the past by Chinese aristocracy as an affectation to guarantee that their wishes would be granted.

In western culture, the happy Buddha is thought of as  the fat Buddha. As a chubby, smiling man who often travels sharing candies and presents to children, Ho Tai most closely matches what Westerners think of as Jolly St. Nick. However, his offerings and blessings can be enjoyed all year. Many believe if you rub the belly of a happy Buddha you are sure to enjoy good fortune and financial success.

Happy Buddha is also considered a patron of restaurateurs and bartenders and is often seen in Chinese and Japanese restaurants. Overindulgence in food and drink are often credited to the influence of the laughing Buddha.

Intestested in a Laughing Buddha Statue or planning to add a bit of Asian Decor to your home?  Check out the unique selection of Buddha statues and oriental furnishings at Big Buddha Statue.  Rob Mabry is one of the owners of Big Buddha Statue and the author of this and many other articles on ancient culture.

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