Thursday, August 18, 2005

The Laughing Buddha

I have a notebook where I scribble things down. In this notebook, I write down observations, quotations, odd notations and enumerations. Perhaps with the hope that somehow when I need to plan or write something I can go back and search my notes. Today I came across my notes on the Laughing Buddha. In the Philippines there was a time when you could see a Buddha in almost every house. At least my family had one and my friends houses had one. I was always curious about this Buddha.He was different from the Buddha sitting serenely in the lotus position. He was Buddha with a pot belly and a smile. Sometimes he would have several children clinging or sitting all over him. I was always though how could Buddha have gone from the Keanu Reeves figure in Little Buddha to this Cheerful Buddha that looked liked Samo Hung. A friend once told me that Buddha got fat after reaching China. The food. This was of course rubbish. Years later I saw a comic book from Asiapac entitled "Legend of the Laughing Buddha". The comic book was illustrated by Jeffrey Seow and translated by HK Wang. Laughing Buddha was different from Guatama Buddha.He was born Jishi Ajita into a well-off probably noble family. Predisposed to be generous Ajita soon became a disciple of Buddha and took name Maitreya. He was destined to be reincarnated several times. Buddha's advise to him was:
"Buddhism is not just about meditation neither is it for the sake of oneself. Buddhism has to be applied to the real world or it will amount to nothing. "
According to some, Maitreya was reincarnated as the Fat Monk who always carried a magical sack cloth. He could fly with clock and put anything inside it without filling it up. Due to magical powers of his sack he was able to ask a large amount of food for the poor. The sack cloth was called Pu Tai and incidentally he was also called Monk Pu-Tai, Bu-Dai or Hotei.
Hotei was an optimist and his mantras, if you can call them that, were: Perpetual Smile and An All Embracing Belly Laugh! Laugh! Laugh! Laugh away Sadness Laugh away Worries Laugh away Hatred All things in the world are embraced by the big belly Take things in your stride All of you are fated to live together How can you not be filled with joy? There are too many intolerable things happening in the world, but often we are the ones who cause them Why not have a big belly to embrace them all
There are several stories about Hotei. One of my favourite was why he was often depicted with many children sitting on him. Due to the sunny disposition of the monk he was often followed by children. And somehow people got it into their head that if they touched his belly they would be blessed with children. Sometimes though he was to cheery that he nearly lost all the money in his monastery. Buddha was troubled by this so he sent over a strict and fierce looking deity-guard Wei Tuo. What duo they made in the stories. The Laughing Buddha Hotei, benevolent and good-hearted. How we need more people like that and of course a couple of Wei Tuo.
Perpetual Smile and An All Embracing Belly


Anonymous ed said...

hello out there. the fat buddha i believe is a result of chinese cultural adaptation. the buddha got mixed up (sorf of) with a chinese prosperity god, who is depicted as fat and jolly. in other parts of asia, such as vietnam, laos and cambodia, the buddha is always depicted as lean, and without the flab. :-)

8/19/2005 11:07:00 AM  
Anonymous bugsybee said...

Fact or fiction, I can relate more to the Fat Laughing Buddha, especially with all the children clinging to him. When I was a kid, somebody (probably my parents) gifted me with chinese silk pajamas embroidered with a laughing buddha and the little children were scattered all over the pajama. I liked it so much and I wore it till it got tattered.
And how correct! "There are too many intolerable things in this world but often we are the ones who cause them." So indeed, why not laugh away worries and hatred?

8/19/2005 11:35:00 AM  
Blogger juned said...

Hello Ed,
Definetly different from Gautama Buddha.
Folklore or not he is a different person. Buddha means "awakened one" or "enlightened one" a title.

Bugsybee, Once I learned his story it is not hard to appreciate his cheery philosophy

8/19/2005 12:20:00 PM  
Blogger blackshama said...

My Bukkyo as the Shakyamuni Buddha is called in Japan is from Kamakura. My Dad gave it to me more than 20 years ago. Once I was on a high school student exchange in Japan.

The Kamakura Daibutsu is sitting on a lotus position and meditating. He is middle aged and fat. The Japanese do not view Buddha as a prosperity symbol and I haven't seen a Buddha image in Japan that is smiling.

8/19/2005 11:54:00 PM  
Blogger blackshama said...

I can relate to the Daibutsu and his philosophy. At times I read a translation of the Tripitaka published by the Japan Society for the Promotion of Buddhism. Buddhist thought makes Christian teaching clearer.

8/20/2005 12:01:00 AM  
Blogger juned said...

He exsists in Japanese folklore as one of the seven happy gods, shichi fukujin.


8/20/2005 08:56:00 AM  

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