Is that Fat, Happy Guy the Buddha?

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james hotei
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.

me hotei
Photo: Daniel Scharpenburg

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Ed: Cat Beekmans


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About Daniel Scharpenburg

Daniel Scharpenburg lives in Kansas City with two kids and two cats. He teaches classes in Buddhist studies at the Rime Buddhist Center, where he's starting a Zen meditation group in the near future. He's studied with a wide variety of different Buddhist teachers and is a dedicated follower of the Zen tradition. He received personal instruction from Shi Da Dao, in the Caodong (Soto) tradition, and he has served as jisha (personal attendant) to Karen Maezen Miller on a Zen retreat. He's the writer of Notes from a Buddhist Mystic Find out more about Daniel on his blog and connect with him on Facebook and  Twitter.


4 Responses to “Is that Fat, Happy Guy the Buddha?”

  1. Thanks for the article. Nice write up; straight and to the point. Mind giving some input on my latest?

  2. reader says:

    Thanks! I always wondered who he was!!

  3. littledragonblue says:

    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.

  4. reader2 says:

    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.

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