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Who is the Chinese Happy Buddha?

Statues of Buddha usually come in two different forms. The first is the deeply religious symbolically reverent statue that seems to represent a disciplined and meditative Buddha. These statues seem to be in keeping with the stories and teachings of Buddha. On the other hand, the fat laughing statues who are also called Buddha don't really match the character of devoutness and control. So, how does one reconcile the disparity between these two images of Buddha?

Tradition holds that the Chinese Happy Buddha or Pu-Tai is actually based on the characterization of an actual Buddhist monk who lived more than 1,000 years ago. Pu-Tai was a man of choice character. He was a kind and benevolent man who shared all he had with those in need. Most representation of Pu-Tai actually show him holding a bag with is full to overflowing with good things, like a rice plant which represents wealth, food or candy. It is said that Pu-Tai spent much of his life distributing the items found in his bag to the children of the poor. Because of this story, he is said to nourish and care for children and the weak or poor. His duty is to care for those who cannot speak for themselves.

It is easy, and almost natural to draw a comparison between the Chinese Happy Buddha and the Christian Saint Nicholas or Santa Claus. Each one is said to have been an actual person who lived centuries ago. Though one was a Buddhist monk and the other a Christian saint, each was said to share their wealth with children and poor. Each one is represented as a fat and smiling man with a jolly character. And just as Saint Nicholas was said to have pointed people toward Jesus Christ, Pu-Tai is said to have pointed people toward the teachings of Buddha which say that true happiness comes from self mastery, a happy countenance, a purposeful endeavor and a deep commitment to the welfare of others.

In fact, tradition tells us that because he was so benevolent, he has become the incarnate of the bodhisattva who will come at some point in the distant future as the Maitreya. Bodhisattva is a person who desires to help others to the point of sacrificing themself. This compassion is extended not only to other people, but to all sentient beings including insects, birds and all members of the animal kingdom. A true bodhisattva is one who wishes only to come to the aid of others. For those who may be more familiar with the Christian religion, Jesus Christ is the perfect example of a true bodhisattva as he sacrificed himself completely for the benefit of the world.

Buddhists look forward to a future date when the Maitreya will come to earth bringing with him world peace and harmony between warring factions. Once again the similarity between these teaching and the Christian teachings is uncanny. According to legend, from time to time throughout the history of mankind, Maitreya is born among men. Though he is recognized as a generous and wise man, he is never recognized by the men of the age for who he really is, but lives his life and passes onward incognito.

Pu-Tai is represented as a heavy, bald, laughing man. These characteristics symbolize happiness, good luck and plenty. Sometimes he is shown with children, other times he has a fan in his hand. The fan is a symbol used by nobility to communicate to their vassals that their wishes will be granted. So, a statue of Pu-Tai holding a fan represents that he is coming to take away the sorrows and unhappiness they feel and replace them with happiness and wealth.

The image of Pu-tai is not limited to China. This image and story has traveled across the world where ever Buddhism has been transported. In Japan he is known as Hotei. He has traveled across Asia and is now spreading across other continents as well. In North America it is not uncommon to see statues of Pu-tai or Hotei in restaurants, temples or worn on amulets. In fact, more Americans associate his image with the name Buddha than the more austere image of the devout Buddha.

Though not a part of Buddhist teachings, there is a strong cultural tradition that rubbing the fat belly of Pu-tai or the Happy Buddha will bring good luck, fortune and prosperity. The legend states that there is nothing that will bring more happiness to Pu-Tai than watching all the sorrow and suffering of mankind changed to happiness and prosperity. His inner smile is so bright that it radiates throughout his entire being and is certain to bring happiness where ever he may be. Set this Happy Buddha in a place of honor where he may work to lift the burdens you must carry.


If you would like to purchase items of the Happy Buddha, please see below.


Four-Sided Happy Buddha Statue
Brass Happy Buddha Statue
Tibetan Buddhist Silver Happy Buddha Statue
Jade Happy Buddha Pendant
Jade Happy Buddha Statue
Happy Buddha Yellow Wrist Mala