by Michele Fulton
The Laughing Buddha has become a common and popular name for Budai, a Buddhist Zen monk who lived in China over a thousand years ago. Some people from the West who are not familiar with Buddhism, may mistake the Laughing Buddha for Gautama Siddhartha, the Buddha. Some Asian languages use the same word for monk as they do for Buddha, so there has been confusion that he is a form of the historical Buddha.
He was different from all other monks, as he was a jolly fellow and often laughed whole heartily and reminded everyone to enjoy life and stay happy. According to one legend, he who would always carry a bag full of candies, which he gave out whenever he met up with children. He was very much loved.
Another theory has it that he was originally a fertility God, or a God of Prosperity, and his round belly was a symbol for a bountiful harvest. As Buddhism spread into China from India, the local population accepted him as a saint, or a manifestation of the Future Buddha (Maitreya Buddha). The Maitreya is the future and last Buddha who will bring ultimate love and enlightenment into the world. In Japan he is known as Hotei and is considered one of the Seven Gods of Fortune.
The Laughing Buddha is not worshipped. He is there only to help bring good energy, prosperity and luck. The main intent of the Laughing Buddha is that it is a constant reminder to smile, stay happy and enjoy your life. This positive attitude will bring you even more blessing of prosperity.
Rotund, laughing and with an exposed belly, Laughing Buddha makes everyone smile wherever he goes. He reminds us to be grateful for what we do have, to stay happy in the face of obstacles, and to continue to grow towards ultimate happiness and enlightenment.