"Scholars believe that the Laughing Buddha is in fact modelled on an historical figure, a fat, wandering Zen monk named Pu-tai.
All sources describe him as obese, with wrinkled forehead and a white, protruding belly which he left uncovered.
There was another feature of his bodily appearance that captured attention.
Wherever he went, he carried a pu-tai (Japanese Hotei) or cloth-bag. Thus he came to be known as Pu-tai Hoshang, or hemp-bag monk.
Legend has it that in this bag he carried candy for the children. Over the centuries within China, Buddhist notions of happiness based on self-mastery and enlightened insight were fused with popular Chinese life-ideals of happiness through material prosperity, so today the hemp sack may be interpreted as being filled with gold, with happiness, health, and other aspects of abundance.
Happy Hotei's come in many forms.
- Laughing Buddha of Love - sitting in love and compassion
- Laughing Buddha of Prosperity - holding a Ru-Yi Pot or Bowl of Plenty up to the universe for receiving abundance
- Laughing Buddha of Safe Travel - on a journey with a hemp sack full of protection
- Laughing Buddha of Happy Home - sitting on a large gold nugget representing solid foundation, with a smaller nugget in his hand to give to others
- Spiritual Journey Buddha - dressed for the journey in fine robes, with a fan for understanding and a sack to collect insights
- Laughing Buddha of Long Life - sitting with his fan hat and enjoying the good life!
His big belly is a symbol of happiness, good luck and generosity. Hotei is the deity of happiness, laughter, abundance and the wisdom of contentment. The image of the Hotei Buddha is almost always seen carrying a cloth or linen sack. It is usually filled with many precious items, including candy for children, food, or the woes of the world. His prayer mala is carved with a symbol meaning "good fortune". His large elongated earlobes are a sign of wisdom. The bag represents fulfillment of wishes or can also be the blessings of Buddha. Happiness is one of the Laughing Buddha's greatest gifts.
Many believe that rubbing the Laughing Buddha's belly brings joy, luck and prosperity. As a result, Feng Shui has adopted the Laughing Buddha as a prime symbol of wealth & prosperity.
He is supposedly the only member of the seven based on an actual person. Back when Buddhist missionary monks were delivering the message & way of Gautama Buddha onto the islands of Japan, they devised a method to more efficiently reach the local Shinto inhabitants. By manifesting Buddhist principles, with Shinto Kami, the monks were successful. Kami are seen as Shinto gods and were worshiped as such.
The Buddhist monastics were able to better communicate their ideology to Japanese natives by using the Kami's as examples in common Buddhist practice. Thus, Buddhism became very widely accepted in Japan and from one of these manifestations, came Hotei."
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