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The Origins of Budai: Commonly Confused with Gautama Buddha

Fat & Happy Buddha Statue by Lotus Sculpture
View all our Laughing, Fat and Happy Budai statues from Lotus Sculpture

Many Americans mistakenly identify the Budai as that of the Siddhartha Gautama Buddha.  The Budai is often depicted holding a cloth sack and is commonly referred to as the laughing Buddha or the fat & happy Buddha.  It is believed that the Budai is an incarnation of Maitreya or the future Buddha form that will succeed the historic Gautama Buddha by appearing on earth someday in the future at a time when Dharma will have been forgotten, in order to re-teach the pure dharma.  He is said to appear on earth one day and achieve complete enlightenment, just as the historic Gautama, teaching the world his wisdom.

In Buddhist folk traditions it is said that the Budai is a man of good and loving character and is admired for his genuine happiness, plenitude  and contentment.  A popular belief is that rubbing his belly will bring about good luck, wealth, and overall prosperity.  Incorporate a Fat & Happy Buddha Statue from Lotus Sculpture into your life and rub his belly for good luck and happiness!

Attributes of a Buddha Statue: The All-knowing, All-Seeing & All-Hearing

I am the All-Knowing, the All-Seeing, the Knower of the Way, the Opener of the Way, and the Preacher of the Way. Come to me, all you gods, men, and demons, to hear the law”.
~Lotus Sutra, Chapter Five~

Stone Gupta Buddha Statue
View all our Buddha statues including this stone Gupta period Buddha statue

Buddhism and Buddhist art has traveled a long way from its simple beginnings. In the earliest Buddhist art of India, the Buddha was not represented in human form. His presence was indicated instead by signs, such as an empty seat, footprints, or space beneath a parasol. It wasn’t until the 1st century AD, when Buddhism expanded outside of India, when the human image of one Buddha came to dominate the artistic scene. The Golden Age, otherwise known as the Gupta period, from fourth to sixth century AD, adopted an ‘ideal image’ of the Buddha.  Gupta Buddha statues, popularized with their eyes cast down, as if in a meditation state, and enriched with a spiritual aura, became the model for future generations of artists.

Throughout history, artists have given their own spiritual interpretation of the Buddha statue, but a few physical non-human characteristics continue to represent the nature of the Buddha.

The All-Knowing”: The Bump of Knowledge; the uppermost bump at the head of a Lord Buddha statue. This symbolizes spiritual wisdom and a fully-developed top chakra. Chakras are believed to be centers of the body which a person can collect energy. This bump is typically covered with spiral shaped curls of hair that symbolize enlightenment.

The All-Seeing”: The Urna, commonly translated as the third-eye, is a circular dot positioned in between the eyebrows of a Buddha statue. It is viewed as an auspicious mark and symbol of the Buddhas enlightenment; his ability to see past our mundane universe of suffering and see the true nature of the world. Legend also says that Buddha had one strand of white hair in the center of his forehead, from which emitted rays of light to enlighten the world. Some traditions believe the location of the Urna is the sixth chakra – center of energy and wheel of light.

The All-Hearing”: As the art of Buddha sculpture evolved, superhuman characteristics became standard traits carved into the Buddha image. Among them are webbed fingers, very long arms, and long earlobes. The elongated ears are typically present in any given Buddha statue. This is an expression of the highest degree of respect. Long earlobes came to be a symbol of all who achieves enlightenment.

Buddhist Zen Stories

Japanese style Buddha statue
Japanese Buddha Statue in Abhaya mudra 36″

Zen Story –The Most Important Teaching

A renowned Zen master said that his greatest teaching was this: Buddha is your own mind. So impressed by how profound this idea was, one monk decided to leave the monastery and retreat to the wilderness to meditate on this insight. There he spent 20 years as a hermit probing the great teaching.

One day he met another monk who was traveling through the forest. Quickly the hermit monk learned that the traveler also had studied under the same Zen master. “Please, tell me what you know of the master’s greatest teaching.” The traveler’s eyes lit up, “Ah, the master has been very clear about this. He says that his greatest teaching is this: Buddha is NOT your own mind.”

“The mind, the Buddha, living creatures – these are not three different things” – ~Avatamasaka Sutra~

Zen Story – Nature’s Beauty

A priest was in charge of the garden within a famous Zen temple. He had been given the job because he loved the flowers, shrubs, and trees. Next to the temple there was another, smaller temple where there lived a very old Zen master. One day, when the priest was expecting some special guests, he took extra care in tending to the garden. He pulled the weeds, trimmed the shrubs, combed the moss, and spent a long time meticulously raking up and carefully arranging all the dry autumn leaves. As he worked, the old master watched him with interest from across the wall that separated the temples.

When he had finished, the priest stood back to admire his work. “Isn’t it beautiful,” he called out to the old master. “Yes,” replied the old man, “but there is something missing. Help me over this wall and I’ll put it right for you.”

After hesitating, the priest lifted the old fellow over and set him down. Slowly, the master walked to the tree near the center of the garden, grabbed it by the trunk, and shook it. Leaves showered down all over the garden. “There,” said the old man, “you can put me back now.”

“Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience”
~Ralph Waldo Emerson~

Zen Story – Going with the Flow

A Taoist story tells of an old man who accidentally fell into the river rapids leading to a high and dangerous waterfall. Onlookers feared for his life. Miraculously, he came out alive and unharmed downstream at the bottom of the falls. People asked him how he managed to survive. “I accommodated myself to the water, not the water to me. Without thinking, I allowed myself to be shaped by it. Plunging into the swirl, I came out with the swirl. This is how I survived.”

“A Buddha is just someone with no concerns”

Optimize Your Environment

For many people, their living environment is simply a place to lay their head at night and go to between the hustle and bustle of daily life or for others merely a storage compartment for all their many possessions.   But what many people don’t realize is that our personal homes and spaces are often a reflection of ourselves and our internal states.  The way you maintain and care for your home can speak wonders for how you are feeling inside.  If your personal space is cluttered, crammed, or overwhelming, it might suggest some internal struggle, or even perhaps infiltrate stress into your life.

Taking some time to organize, purge the unnecessary, and add some personal touches to your home can alleviate stresses and become a calming presence in your life.  Buddhist principles stress simplicity.   Although minimalism is encouraged, I believe that our homes should be regarded as a sanctuary of sorts; a safe place where we can unwind and be surrounded with things that make us joyful.  Take away all the unnecessary things and replace them with a few objects that make you happy.  If art is medium of relief for you, create a space just for painting.  The same goes for music, crafts, writing, or whatever it is you like to do to bring yourself ease and contentment.

10″ Teaching Gandhara Buddha Statue by Lotus Sculpture $115

If spirituality is important to you, create a space for meditation or private reflection.  Someplace quiet, simple, and away from the chaos that may be your household on a daily basis.  Even consider bringing a meditative tool into your life, a teaching Buddha Statue, to help with your focus and as a constant reminder of the necessity for practice.

As William Morris once said,

“If you want a golden rule that will fit everything, this is it: Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”

Fill Up Your Karmic Piggy Bank

“All that we are is the result of what we have thought.”

Many Americans are at least minutely familiar with the concept of Karma.  We all learn in grade school about the universal laws of cause and effect or more accurately termed, Newton’s Laws of Motion: to every action there is always an equal and opposite reaction.   The concept of Karma is very similarly defined but relating to our awareness rather than simply physical matter.  Karma is the broad universal concept of cause and effect or action and reaction, which governs all consciousness.  This means that everything we do, think, say, or encourage others to do produces either positive or negative karma.  The karma that we produce both effects this lifetime, and our lifetimes to come.

When many people hear this they immediately think that this implies that our actions are not freely governed or that everything that happens to us is out of our control and already fated based on our past.  But this is not the case.  Karma should not be thought of as predestined fate, as we all act with free will creating our own destines.  If we sow goodness in our lives we will reap goodness.  We have the power to influence our Karmic piggy banks in a positive way with every kind gesture and thought.  Although not all Karma is realized immediately or in this lifetime, it will come back to us in other lifetimes.

Through positive actions, unadulterated thoughts, prayer, mantras, and meditation we can all reconcile the influence of karma in this present life and turn our destinies for the better.   Its never a bad time to remember to be kind unto others, or as our mothers always taught treat others the way you want to be treated.  I believe the world could benefit from a lot more kindness.  The next time you see someone struggling with a bag of groceries, lend a helping hand.  The goodness you bring to the world every day will shine back on you.  You can shape your future as you wish it.

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