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Who is “Laughing Buddha?”

“Laughing Buddha” or “Fat Buddha” is not “The” Buddha. He may not even be “A” Buddha at all! But I like to think he is! So who is he? What does he say about Joy?

I was today years old when I learned that The Laughing Buddha we see in art and media is actually Qici, a Chinese monk and folk hero. His nickname is Budai, which means “cloth sack.” Qici was a traveling monk who carried a few belongings in a cloth sack. His jolly nature, humorous personality, laughing face -- and fat, protruding belly-- are said to symbolize abundance, good will and forgiveness.

Some say Qici wasn’t a Buddha at all, but rather, a Chinese folk deity. Chan Buddhisim says he is, in fact, an incarnation of a future Buddha.

from Wikipedia:

He is traditionally depicted as a fat, bald monk wearing a simple robe. He carries his few possessions in a cloth sack, being poor but content. He would excitingly entertain the adoring children that followed him and was known for patting his large belly happily. His figure appears throughout Chinese culture as a representation of both contentment and abundance. Budai attracted the townspeople around him as he was able to predict people's fortunes and even weather patterns. The wandering monk was often inclined to sleep anywhere he came to, even outside, for his mystical powers could ward off the bitter colds of snow and his body was left unaffected.

I find it fascinating that his nickname, "Budai," just coincidentally sounds like Buddha, but the words aren’t at all related! "Budai" is a word in a Chinese language. "Buddha" is Sanskrit, a sacred, classical South Asian language. "Budai" is pronounced Boo-DIE. "Buddha" is pronounced . . . it's hard to type out phonetically. The first "u" sounds more like the "u" in "Up." The "dh" has a slight exhale like "red-hot." The final "a" also sounds like "up." BUH-d(h)uh.

The word “Buddha” is the masculine form of Budh, which means, variously:

  • to awaken

  • to wake, be awake, observe, heed, attend, learn, become aware of, to know, be conscious again

  • to open up (as does a flower)

  • One who has awakened from the deep sleep of ignorance and opened [their] consciousness to encompass all objects of knowledge

I love that turn of phrase "to be conscious again." To me, this connotes that we already are conscious, we just drift away sometimes. We can always come back to being awake.

THE Buddha was born Siddhārtha Gautama to royal parents of the Shakya clan. Buddha is called by many names. Here are a few: The Buddha, Gautama Buddha, Shakyamuni (Sage of the Shakyas), The Awakened One, The Enlightened One.

The title of "Buddha" is also used for other beings who have achieved awakening and liberation, but who aren’t as famous as Gautama! We all have Buddha-Nature within us–a pure mind that can awaken at any time.

So whoever Budai is . . . What do you feel when you see images of him?

According to this article in India TV News, different poses of Budai have different meanings.

Without knowing any of that, I personally feel very joyful when I see this image. Especially when he has his arms up above his head. That feels intuitively joyful to me!

Whether he is a Buddha or not, I feel like the wisdom of the universe is showing up in this form to remind me to have a sense of humor, and to find true joy in life and practice.

True joy in life and practice is about developing skillful, wholesome pleasures. Like truly experiencing the flower's color, shape and scent in real time. Being present with people we care about. Experiencing the basic goodness of each moment. Taking delight in the moments when we do the right thing, because we truly care about ourselves and others.

One of my most favorite dharma talks of all time talks about this. Here's a paraphrase of Sally Armstrong's Dharma Talk, Skillful Development of Pleasure in Practice and Life:

The Buddha was called, in his lifetime, the happy one, the radiant one. He was often described as joyful and serene.

After his awakening, the Buddha declared himself to be the one who lives in happiness. This kind of happiness is not about chasing pleasure. Skillfully working with the difficulties we experience actually allows true happiness to arise.

A King visiting the Buddha's first monastery described the monks as smiling and cheerful, sincerely joyful, and plainly delighting -- living at ease and unruffled . . . this whole community with this sense of joy and contentment- -- because they have done the work.

She goes on to explain, they are learning to find the natural joy of existence within the heart. -- regardless of like and dislike, pleasure and pain, winning and losing -- there is a natural joy that is just there, just because.

The path gives knowledge, vision, wisdom and leads to peace. The entire practice is a continued refinement of joy.

Random Conclusion

I was not raised with any formal religious instruction. My Gran identified as Catholic. She also had this statue as far back as I remember. It currently resides in my Uncle Jay’s yard in Kansas. How cool is that!?

May this blog post serve us all in living our best, awake, joyful lives. ❤️🙏

Disclaimer: I talk about Buddhism in my classes, but I am not trying to convert anyone to anything! We can appreciate Buddhist philosophy and still be whatever we want to be.

All Human Wisdom traditions talk about the same things–like be a good person, try to remove hatred from your heart, take care of people. I like how Buddhism communicates universal human wisdom and care.

When we celebrate Buddhist teachings, we honor Yoga’s cultural roots.



Dharma Talk:

Sally Armstrong2017-08-1958:07

58:07 Skillful development of pleasure in practice and life (Retreat at Spirit Rock)

Spirit Rock Meditation Center: Concentration Retreat

Image sources:

Uncle Jay

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