Fat Buddha: Who is the Laughing Buddha

 Skinny Buddha vs Fat Buddha? Why is Buddha fat? Was Buddha fat? Was Buddha really fat? In fact, was the Buddha fat or thin? What is the difference between the Thin Buddha and the Chubby Buddha? Who is the Laughing Buddha at all?

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SKINNY BUDDHA vs FAT BUDDHA: WHO IS WHO

Laughing Buddha, Smiling Buddha, Happy Buddha, Fat Buddha, Jolly Buddha, Lucky Buddha, Chubby Buddha … is not the Buddha.

Confused? If you are curious to learn who the Laughing Buddha was and to find out the difference between Fat Buddha and Skinny Buddha, continue reading.

Who is the skinny Buddha?

Skinny Buddha vs Fat Buddha
Gautama Buddha statue in Hoi An in Vietnam © World Travel Connector

Let me start this story of ‘skinny Buddha vs fat Buddha’ with the skinny Buddha.

The skinny Buddha is the historical Buddha or Siddhartha Gautama. Gautama Buddha, also called Shakyamuni Buddha, lived around 600 BC in Lumbini in today’s Nepal, became Buddha or the ‘Enlightened One’. He was a spiritual leader on whose teachings the Buddhism was founded.

Buddha statues at Wat Pho in Bangkok in Thailand © World Travel Connector

Siddhartha Gautama is usually portrayed as thin Buddha as he was slim in appearance. Historical Buddha wasn’t fat. Prince Siddhartha Gautama left his place and went to live into the wilderness as an ascetic, fasting and meditating for 6 years seeking the way to defeat life adversities (pain, sorrow, suffering, loss, sickness, death, impermanence…). Later he abandoned asceticism and found the ‘Middle Way’, avoiding all extremes (asceticism and hedonism) as the path to Enlightenment.

But unlike in Christianity where is only one Christ, there are many Buddhas in Buddhism. According to Buddhism, every person has a Buddha-nature and everyone who achieved enlightenment is a Buddha. Also, Bodhisattva is everyone who takes the path towards Awakening or Buddhahood. And what’s more, Buddhas and Bodhisattvas can have many different forms.

While historical Buddha is portrayed as contemplative, serene and peaceful skinny Buddah, the Fat Buddha is pictured open-eyed and laughing. But, who is the Jolly Buddha if not Gautama Siddharta?!

Who is the fat Buddha?

Skinny Buddha vs Fat Buddha_Fat Buddha
Laughing Buddha in front of the Vinh Trang Temple in Mekong Delta in Vietnam © World Travel Connector

The Laughing Buddha, or the Fat Buddha, was a Zen monk called Budai who lived in China around the 10th century, meaning about 1.600 years after historical Buddha. Budai was as a bold man with a big tummy, big smile, large ears, wearing a simple robe, prayer beads, and a large sack.  The fat Buddhist monk was known as a good-hearted, happy and content man of humorous personality, jolly nature, and eccentric lifestyle. Budai was nicknamed the Laughing Buddha because of his big smile and happiness he was spreading around him. Furthermore, Budai (the Laughing Buddha or the Fat Buddha)  became a famous character of Chinese folktales.

Skinny Buddha vs Fat Buddha_Fat Buddha
Laughing Buddha statue at Tam Tai Pagoda in Da Nang in Vietnam © World Travel Connector

This wandering monk used to go from town to town with all his possessions in a cloth sack hanging on his back. Due to his funny looks and a big smile, people gathered around him. He especially loved children and children loved him. In Buddhism, children are believed to have the nature of a god since they live in the present moment, often smiling and laughing, with no ego and no judgemental mind. Budai used to give sweets out of his beg to children and thaught ‘the giving with joy’, and the philosophy of ‘the more you give, the more comes to you’.

Fat Buddha statue
Laughing Buddha statue in Wat Plai Laem on Koh Samui in Thailand © World Travel Connector

Budai is often depicted with a bag he was wearing. Even his name Budai means ‘cloth sack’ in Chinese. But, Budai’s sack has also a symbolic meaning. It symbolizes troubles. And although it is easy to solve the problems of others, it’s never an easy task to solve your own problem. That’s because people get attached to their problems and identify themselves with their problems.

Budai teaches us to ‘keep our begs down’, to detach from our problems and laugh. In fact, laughter produces enzymes that change the chemistry of our brains and when you detach from your problems and you can easily find the solution for them. Budai’s jolly spirit and laughter made people around him to laugh too. And while they laughed, they achieved Nirvana. In short, Budai was a Zen master of laughter.

Skinny Buddha vs Fat Buddha in Vietnam
Laughing Buddha statue in front of the Vinh Trang Temple in Vietnam © World Travel Connector

Budai taught laughter not only during his life but also in his death. When he died, he asked his disciples to cremate his body what wasn’t a tradition in at that time China. But before he died, he put firecrackers and fire rockets into his pockets.  And when his disciples lit the fire to burn his body, a firework started. Budai was a Zen master of laughter even in his death.

Skinny Buddha vs Fat Buddha in Hoi An in Vietnam
Happy Buddha statue in Hoi An in Vietnam © World Travel Connector

Budai was believed to have achieved Buddahood and has become a Buddha. He was said to be a reincarnation of Matreiya Buddha, the Buddha of a future age.

Laughing Buddha meaning

In China Budai became a patron of restaurateurs and bartenders, so you can see statues of Budai often at the entrance to Chinese Buddhist temples, at Chinese restaurants and bars. Chinese Fat Buddha is known as the Buddha of Happiness, and the Buddha of Wealth. Thus, rubbing the belly of Chinese Laughing Buddha is believed to bring good luck, wealth and prosperity.

Happy Buddha statue at Tam Tai Pagoda in Da Nang in Vietnam © World Travel Connector

The Laughing Buddha entered also the Buddhist pantheons in Korea, Vietnam, Thailand, and Japan. Budai in Vietnam is known as Bố Đại. Budai got a significant role in Shintoism in Japan. In Japan Budai is called Hotei and he is one of ‘seven gods of luck’. Hotei in Shintoism is a god of Contentment, Happiness, Abundance and Good Luck, and a protector of children.  The fatness of Japanese fat Budha portrays an abundance of love, compassion, wisdom, virtue … while the bag of Japenese Hotei symbolizes the bag for feeding poor people and people in need.

Laughing Buddha statues and Feng Shui

Happy Buddha at Wat Plai Laem on Koh Samui in Thailand © World Travel Connector

Over time Laughing Buddha (Fat Budda) has become a popular statue in Feng Shui. There are many Laughing Buddha statues in different poses holding different symbols in Feng Shui.

Meaning of different Laughing Buddha statues in Feng Shui

A statue of Laughing Buddha with prayer beads around his neck is believed to be good for meditation. Happy Buddha’s prayer beads are called ‘pearls of wisdom’. A statue of Laughing Buddha with children is said to bring blessings and good energy, while a Laughing Buddha with a cloth bag takes away your worries and brings happiness. Smiling Buddha statue with a ball brings prosperity. Laughing Buddha statue holding a bow brings abundance and good fortune. Jolly Buddha statue holding a fan called Oogi takes away negative energy, troubles, concerns and brings stressless life and contentment. A statue of Laughing Buddha with a big hat brings easy-going life with no troubles and no worries.

Fengshui Laughing Buddha Statue for Luck & Happiness

Laughing Buddha sitting on lucky money coins and carrying golden ingot for good luck & happiness 

While some can doubt if a Fat Buddha statue can take away worries, stress, troubles, negative energy or not, everyone agrees that Happy Buddha statue (or Budai statue) undoubtedly brings smiles to everyone’s face!

Laughing Buddha statue Jade

Jolly Hotei Laughing Buddha Garden Statue

I love this Happy Buddha quote: ‘The statue of the Laughing Buddha acts as a good friend. Whenever we are off the track, his smiling face can bring us back to the present moment, to a positive mood.’ ― Sakshi Chetana, Laughing Buddha

PS: Have you smiled while reading this story about Fat Buddah?! I bet next time when you hear someone asking ‘Why is Buddah fat?’, you will tell them the story about Happy Buddah with a smile. And Smiling Buddah will bring smiles to their faces as well.

Did you like this Budai vs Buddha story? Ok, ok… you just can’t stop smiling … In your case, the mission of Fat Happy Buddha is completed.

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16 comments

  1. I love the story about Budai putting fireworks in his pocket and then being cremated. Thanks for the explanation of Buddhism and the skinny vs fat and laughing buddha images I have seen.

  2. So many Buddhas! One can’t help but feel light-hearted and happy when looking at the laughing Buddha. I loved your description of the differences in Buddhas, very educational.

  3. I learned a lot about Buddha in this post. We have seen a lot of Skinny Buddhas – but did not know these were the ones that Buddhhism was founded on. I am not sure we have seen as many Laughing Buddhas. But I like his philosophy that the more you give, the more you get. And I did not know they were an important statue for Feng Shui. Interesting.

  4. It certainly can be confusing. I thought that the different portrayals were all from the incarnation of Buddha. Good to see the facts. Not sure about the fireworks as the Buddha’s didn’t wear garments with pockets but prove me wrong!

    1. Hey Elaine,

      Of course, the Buddha (Siddhartha Gautama) didn’t wear garments with pockets. He didn’t make the fireworks either. But Budai did. Or, at least a legend says so. 🙂

      xoxo Milijana

  5. I loved your post and it was so informative. We were really unaware of all these facts. Honestly, till the day I used to think both Buddhas were the same. Thanks for writing this.

  6. Interesting, I have seen laughing buddha everywhere but never asked myself his story. I like the metaphor about carrying a cloth sack, and how a lot of us carry our problems with us. Thanks for sharing!

  7. I’ve known so little about Buddhism, that this was completely enlightening. Nice to know the differences between the skinny Buddhas and the fat, laughing Buddhas. But what about the giant reclining Buddha?

    1. Hey Tami,

      that’s also Siddhartha Gautama, the historical Buddha shown in the position during his last illness. But that’s another story.

      xoxo Milijana

  8. Laughing Buddha is my Fav. I always end up buying a statue of him from souvenir shops. So good to know about his jolly nature and how he got this name.

  9. Love the way you have explained the two Buddhas. I have always been a little partial to the Laughing one for the positive vibes it keeps sending. In fact, there was a saying or maybe just a joke, that if you rub the belly of a laughing Buddha, your wish will come true. 😉

  10. An interesting post. I wasn’t aware of the historical connection to China and a monk. I got curious and found this post through a web search because I had made assumptions about Buddhism and one of them was that the skinny monk and fat monk were just representations of Siddhartha at different times in his life or they represented different ways he tried to achieve enlightenment before settling on the middle way.

    My understanding was that stopping the cycle of rebirth involved eliminating attachment (which operates on some level like a Western ghost story where the deceased hangs around as a ghost because they haven’t let go of something that ties them to the world – they have unfinished business for example or can’t let go of a loved one — only in the Buddhist sense, the spirit doesn’t hang around as a ghost, they come back in a body to seek out that to which they are attached). Attachments comes by way of desires we have. Therefore, in order to eliminate attachment, one must eliminate all desire.

    I figured that the two Buddhas represented ways that Siddhartha tried to attain Nirvana. The skinny Buddha represented a life of asceticism — trying to extinguish desire by denying oneself all desirable things. Likewise, I thought the fat Buddha represented a life of hedonism — terminating desire by fulfilling all desires (and thereby extinguishing them — kind of like how a little bit of candy makes a kid happy, but too much makes them want to puke (effectively ending their desire for candy)).

    Then, ultimately, Siddhartha became “enlightened” as to the middle path when he recognized that asceticism and hedonism were both just attachment to desire themselves — they were both obsessions with desire. Both paths obsessed about desire and thus focused on things of this earth and the future and the past.

    The better, or middle path, is to simply not worry about desire, but to live in the present where desires will come and go but they will not lead to attachment since living in the present will result in one instant’s desire becoming the next instant’s past, which will not result in attachment.

    1. Hey Julian,

      thank you for taking the time to read the story of two Buddhas and to comment on it.

      I enjoyed reading your interesting perspectives and profound thoughts on Buddhism and two Buddhas.

      Thank you so much for your reflection. I appreciate it a lot!

      Milijana

  11. You made a good research about these Buddhas. I just realized I have so many photos of them during my travel in Vietnam and Thailand.

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