September 11, 2013

Is that Fat, Happy Guy the Buddha?

Photo: Daniel Scharpenburg’s Son James

Is the statue pictured above the Buddha?


Oddly enough, the most common misconception about Buddhism is that this fat guy is Siddhartha Gautama, the historical Buddha.

He’s really not. But I do like him.

This is Hotei.

He is a Bodhisattva that represents contentment. He’s usually depicted as an overweight bald man with a mala carrying a cloth sack, and he’s always smiling. He is especially beloved in China and East Asia and he is sometimes referred to as the “Laughing Buddha.”

So, if Hotei’s not the Buddha, why is he important? Why do we have statues of him?

Hotei has an important role. He reminds us to face our problems with a good attitude. I have a Hotei statue on my desk at work. Why? To remind me to be in a good mood at work. I can look at him when I feel my mood starting to go downhill and I’ll feel a little better.

Hotei is an example for us to look up to.

We should strive to be content. This is the doctrine of equanimity. When life gets hard, we shouldn’t be pulled down by it, if we can help it. If we face our problems with a defiant smile, life is easier to handle.

Like all Bodhisattvas, his purpose is to show us an example to follow.

Photo: Daniel Scharpenburg

Like elephant journal on Facebook.

Ed: Catherine Monkman


You must be logged in to post a comment. Create an account.

reader2 Jan 5, 2015 7:43pm

He is a Buddha, which is a title/name for awaken and enlightened beings. Each Buddha present one type of virtue, because there are so many virtue embodied by our spiritual beings.

The Buddha presents love for others and love for oneself. The laughing Buddha presents the happiness of learning Buddhism in this lifetime.

littledragonblue Jan 2, 2015 5:51pm

I was under the impression that he was the Buddha of the future–the last Buddha–and that he was happy because everyone on the planet had finally achieved enlightenment, meaning that he wouldn't have to reincarnate again because his work was finally complete.

reader Jan 2, 2015 1:00am

Thanks! I always wondered who he was!!

Read Elephant’s Best Articles of the Week here.
Readers voted with your hearts, comments, views, and shares:
Click here to see which Writers & Issues Won.

Daniel Scharpenburg

Daniel Scharpenburg lives in Kansas City. He’s been practicing Buddhism for nearly 20 years. He teaches at the Open Heart Project Sangha and is a Zen Teacher (Fashi) in the Dharma Winds Zen Order. His main focus is on mindfulness practices rooted in the earliest Zen teachings and compassion practices rooted in the Bodhisattva Tradition. He has taken Bodhisattva Vows and Brahmajala Precepts and he is affiliated with the Zen Buddhist Order of Hsu Yun.
Find out more about Daniel on his blog and connect with him on Facebook