A Famous Buddhist
When is a Buddha not The Buddha? When he’s Hotei.
The rotund, smiling, bald Buddha figure you see all over represents a different person from the serene, composed figure you also see. In this photo, you can see both.
The fat figure represents a legendary Chinese monk named Budai, or Hotei in Japanese. He was said to live in the 900s, centuries after The Buddha, who lived and taught in India and Nepal.
What makes it more complicated is that Budai/Hotei is often said to be a manifestation of an incarnation of the earlier Buddha.
Although sometimes he is thought of as an entity in his own right. Buddhism is a much less doctrinal religion in general than Western monotheistic religions, and you’ll see huge variations in how it is practiced. Sometimes he has supernatural powers attributed to him, othertimes he’s a simple folk figure.
The iconography is extremely consistent. His bare belly is often rubbed for good luck, and he shares the prominent earlobes seen on statues of The Buddha. The meaning of those earlobes varies — sometimes they are taken to represent The Buddha having given up earrings when he surrendered his earthly possessions, other times they suggest an ability to hear the feelings of all beings, other times they’re just a general representation of wisdom and compassion.
Often Hotei is shown with a sack, like the figure below holds in his right hand. Sometimes he was said to hand out treats or gifts from his sack, making him a bit of a parallel to Santa.
Other times, the sack apears to be missing.
And below you can see him with beads, which sometimes suggest meditation and other times wealth or good fortune, and sometimes the beads are replaced with a ball which often suggests even greater wealth.
And while the Hawaiian shirt wasn’t what the original monk wore, it seems appropriate here.