Fat Buddha, Skinny Buddha, Laughing Buddha
A Listener Phoned In
(to 937-660-4949 where you can call in your questions too!)
What’s the deal with the big fat Buddha statues? He’s got fancy robes and stuff all around him and looks very greedy. What’s up with that?
And my response:
Whenever you mention Buddha to a non-Buddhist american (maybe all Westerners, I’m not going to presume), the guy in the picture on the right springs to mind.
He’s fat. He’s jolly. The Laughing Buddha is fell-fed and looking happy. Rub his belly for luck!
The thing is, that’s not really Buddha; his name is Hotei. He’s a deity of contentment and abundance, originally based (the statue anyway) on a real Chinese Zen monk named Budai who lived in the early 6th century. He is almost always shown smiling or laughing, hence his nickname in Chinese, the “Laughing Buddha.” He’s also sometimes associated with Maitreya, who is a Buddha who will appear in the future.
Remember the original story of Siddhattha Gotama (The ORIGINAL Buddha). The prince left the city to go live in the wilderness for six years. While he was out there, he lived the life of an ascetic, refusing food and nearly starving to death. He probably looked something like the statue on the left. Afterwards, he turned to the Middle Path, avoiding all extremes, such as eating too much or too little. After recovering from his time as a starving ascetic, the real Buddha was almost certainly a normal-sized man, not fat like Hotei. The style of statue on the bottom-right is probably a lot more realistic.
But if you’re running a restaurant or public business, which one looks happier? Which one would you want advocating your product? Yes, in the capitalistic Western world, fat & sassy wins out over quiet and contemplative every time. Eventually people just started calling the fat man “Buddha,” possibly due to the similarity with the name Budai.
We even had a story here in the Koan section about Budai/Hotei: http://www.dailybuddhism.com/archives/162