Monday, August 9, 2010

That was Zen, this is Tao.

When someone asked me a few days ago, "if Buddha was so enlightened, why was he such a fatty?" I had to laugh, shake my head and walk away.

The person in question didn't want an answer; what he really wanted was to pick a fight. And I'm not interested in fighting with anyone.

But the question did arise, and has arisen often since I began my Dharma adventure five years ago. Why was Buddha so fat?

The answer is, we don't know what Buddha Shakymuni actually looked like. We can hazard a guess thanks to all the pictures and statuary, but they were done after Buddha died, and digital cameras were nonexistent, so there's no way to know for sure.

What we do know is that Buddha Shakymuni came from the warrior caste, and warriors as a rule are inclined toward physical fitness.  There is also the lovely little teaching I posted a few days ago in regards to what Buddha himself said about the auspices of walking.

So if the Buddha wasn't the big fatty that Westerners think he is, then who is that rotund little statue that is seen in virtually every Chinese restaurant in the United States?

That's Hotei, or if you prefer, Budai. His history is intriguing, and entangled in myth and folklore, so much so that I cannot relate it all here.  The one common denominator that all of the stories have, is that he was something of a Buddhist Santa Claus, giving out treats, wisdom, and contentment to all who asked.

According to Chinese tradition, Budai was an eccentric Chinese Zen (Chán) monk who lived during the Later Liang Dynasty (907–923 CE) of China. He was a native of Fenghua, and his Buddhist name was Qieci (Chinese: 契此; pinyin: Qiècǐ; literally "Promise this"). He was considered a man of good and loving character.

Now he is considered something of a deity, who gives wisdom, happiness and prosperity to those who ask. Here in the States, its customary to rub his belly before making a wish.

In Japan, Budai is known as Hotei, and is considered one of the Seven Lucky Gods.  Hi is also considered to be the incarnation of Miroku Bosatu

Hotei carries a large cloth bag over his back (Nunobukuro 布袋, lit. = cloth bag), one that never empties, for he uses it to feed the poor and needy. It includes an inexhaustible cache of treasures, including food and drink. Indeed, the Japanese spelling of “Hotei” literally means “cloth bag.” He also holds a Chinese fan called an oogi 扇 (said to be a “wish giving” fan -- in the distant past, this type of fan was used by the aristocracy to indicate to vassals that their requests would be granted). Hotei is most likely based on the itinerant 10th-century Chinese Buddhist monk and hermit Budaishi (d. 917), who is said to be an incarnation of Miroku Bodhisattva (Maitreya in Sanskrit

So what does all of this mean? Nothing, other than the little rotund guy that is often perched upon restaurants may have once been a human being, whose kindness and good deeds became shrouded in myth and legend. Or that Hotei is the future Buddha Maitreya. But I leave all of that for academics to puzzle over. My only intent was to offer you a brief snapshot of who Shakymuni was and what he was not.  Although both were kind and compassionate and enlightened, they just weren't the same people.
may you be happy and healthy
om mani padme hum


  1. Ah yes, I have one such "Hotei" on my couch table. He's made of mahogany stained wood. It is said to be auspicious to rub his little (little?) round belly. It gives me an internal belly giggle every time I do so. That's got to be good for something? :)

    I think if your read Deepak Chopra's book "Buddha, the supposition is that he became quite skeletal while in the quest for the truth.


  2. Yes, Buddha himself spoke about it during his stint with the asthetics. He spent 6 years living off of very little, and found that starving the body did not bring him any closer to enlightenment.


Be polite.