The Origins of Budai: Commonly Confused with Gautama Buddha

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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, plentitude, 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!

What is the Buddhist & Hindu Concept of Dharma?

Many people wonder about the Buddhist and Hindu word Dharma and what it signifies.  Dharma is one of the core concepts within both Buddhism and Hinduism.  When capitalized and referred to as the Dharma, the word means the collective teaching of Siddhartha Gautama Buddha, or the Enlightened Buddha.  Much the same way Christians study Jesus’s teachings within the Bible, Buddhists study and worship the Dharma.  Simply put, the Dharma is the Buddha’s Teachings.

Thai style Buddha statue
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When presented in a lowercase form as dharma, the word translates to mean simply ‘the way things are’.  Just as the Taoists follow the Tao, or the Way as they call it, dharma represents the laws of nature or why things are the way they are.   It is thought to be our ultimate aim in life to realize the dharma or understand the ways of the universe.  Dharma is thought to an unchanging universal law just as gravity is an unchanging presence in the universe.

The first writings about dharma can be found within the Vedas among various ancient writings.  At the time it was thought that knowledge of dharma could only be passed on from Sages.  Later on, however, it was thought that through ritual practices or duties one could achieve ultimate understandings, the dharma.

Although the dharma was referenced in the Vedas it was never clear how a lay person really could achieve it.

Within Buddhism, the dharma was the main focus of the Buddha’s meditations.  Dharma was thought to be infinite containing both material and immaterial elements of the world.  It is believed to become a sense in just the same way one can smell a flower they can develop the sense of dharma.  Dharma carries goodness and it is thought to be a person’s duty to seek it out.  Through his meditations, the Buddha sought the dharma, or the ultimate meaning to life.  It was underneath the Bodhi tree in which the Buddha ultimately attained it.

What’s your dharma?

Postures of the Buddha

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The Buddha is often depicted within art and sculpture holding many different poses or postures.  A lot of times these poses include specific hand gestures as well as positioning of the legs.  Many people wonder the meanings behind these certain hand gestures and seated positions.  The Buddha is often seen with either his ankles tucked, called the Double Lotus position, or with one leg resting atop the other which is called a Single Lotus position.  These seated positions are in combination with certain hand gestures called Mudras.

One such posture that is commonly seen is the Buddha sitting with crossed legs (Double Lotus) and both hands resting palms up upon his knees.  This stance represents meditation and is the most common posture due to the Buddha’s enlightenment through meditation underneath the Bodhi Tree.  This stance, called the Meditation Buddha, represents inner wisdom, emotional stability, and clarity of the mind.

Another important posture is that of the Buddha with legs crossed (Double Lotus), left hand resting face up within his lap, and right hand pointing to the ground with his palm facing towards him.  This pose is regarded as the Buddha calling the earth as witness to the moment he reached enlightenment.  This stance, called the Enlightenment Buddha, signifies gaining insight, achieving great character, and having self-discipline.

Here are a few more common postures of the Buddha:

Protection Buddha: The Buddha sits in either Double or Single Lotus position with right hand raised facing outward and left hand in the lap.  This position represents having courage and offers the bearer protection against fear, delusion, and anger.

Teaching_Budda
Teaching Buddha Statue

Teaching Buddha: The Buddha sits in a Double Lotus position with hands up at chest level.  His hands form a circle by joining thumbs and index fingers with the right palm facing in and the left facing out.  This position brings about wisdom, understanding, and finding the truth behind your life’s path.

Contemplation Buddha:  The Buddha stands with legs together and both arms against the chest, palms in, and right hand on top of the right.    This pose represents patient understanding.

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The Spread of Hindu God Ganesh into Buddhism

Many people are unaware that although a renowned Hindu deity, Ganesh is also worshiped by Buddhists.

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It is said that during the 10th century, merchants traveling from Asia began to worship Lord Ganesh.  As their devotion and teachings spread among the trading community, many other traders began to worship Ganesh as well.  His role as Remover of Obstacles was very much important to their journeys in trade as the hoped for safe voyages and safety from harm while at sea.  Lord Ganesh therefore became the primary deity associated with traders.  They would invoke his image before any other god whenever hardship would arise.

When Hindus began to spread across to the Malay Archipelago in Southeast Asia they took with them not only their culture but their particular fondness for Ganesh.  Statues were erected throughout the region in his honor.  Hindus migration further into Southeast Asia such as in Indochina, brought the practice of worship of Hindu deity’s right alongside Buddhists.  It is here that Buddhists alike began to adopt their fondness for Ganesh as Remover of Obstacles.  Even today in Buddhist Thailand Ganesh is worshiped as God of Success.  Within Mahayana Buddhism Ganesh is appears in the form of the Buddhist god Vinayaka.  His image often appears in Buddhist scriptures shown dancing.

The Two Schools of Buddhism: Mahayana & Theravada

Many do not know that there are two major schools of thought within Buddhism.  Just as Christianity is split into different sects such as Catholicism and Protestantism, so too is the Buddhist Religion.  These two differing schools are known as Theravada and Mahayana.

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Theravada Buddhism is a school of thought that stresses the need to follow the teachings of elders.  They believe that the longer practicing monks have gained more wisdom; therefore their teachings should be very highly regarded.  Younger Theravada monks are passed on with teachings of those that came before them.  The main goal of those who practice Theravada Buddhism is to become free of suffering.  Shedding the chains of suffering is the ultimate attainment in their eyes.  Typically Theravada is practiced in more eastern areas of Asia such as Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Burma.

Mahayana Buddhism on the other hand stresses the importance of following the Buddhas teachings to go out into the world and spread the Dharma to others.  They are much more teaching oriented, believing that one’s own worship is just as important as spreading wisdom on to others.  Mahayana literally translates to mean ‘the Great Vehicle’ which is metaphor for the spreading of Buddhist teachings throughout the world.  Mahayana monks are a vehicle for knowledge, passing that knowledge unto others.  These monks are known as Bodhisattvas.  Mahayana Buddhism is mostly practiced in countries such as China, Tibet, Vietnam, and Japan.

Although these schools of thought originate and are practiced widely in the Far East, both schools have made their way into the west.  Many westerners may choose one school over the other in their practice, or take principles and examples from both.  Both schools are centered around the same teachings but hold special importance on ways to live and practice, one focusing more on individual practice, and the other more on teaching to others.

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