Thursday, September 29, 2016


Someone asked me, "Why is Buddha fat?" I thought about this question a lot more existentially than I needed to.

Does Buddha exist? Does God exist? Why do we make God to fit our image? Why do we create spiritual icons? Why is Jesus often portrayed as a bearded white guy when he was not? Where do the lines of history, theology, esotericism, and mysticism cross?

Even without my mind wandering, the answer to the question is nuanced.

I suppose a person must begin by talking about the historical Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama. A man who begun his life as a prince, married his cousin, had children, and on his 29th birthday left the confines of his palace to first witness; sickness, old age, and suffering. This led him to the yogic tradition. Where he became a wandering monk, denounced worldly goods, and practiced self mortification. It is said that during this time that Buddha (Siddhartha Gautama) ate only one grain of rice and drank only one cup of water a day.

You can imagine what that does to a man's figure.

This ultimately brought him to the epiphany of the Middle Way (or practicing moderation in extremes) and Enlightenment under the Bodhi tree.

Much like the spread of Christianity, Buddhism has separated into various traditions across many countries. There are now so many representations of Buddha that is hard to keep up. One portrayal however, is seen frequently. This "Buddha" is a smiling (or laughing) bald headed man seated with a large round belly often wearing beads or carrying a bag. This "Buddha" is called the Budai.

I have had a hard time really pinpointing the exact history of Budai. In some instances, Budai is said to be representation of the Maitreya Buddha (a Buddha that will come in the future and teach us Buddha stuff). Other times, Budai is attributed to a variety of monks in history that had a more rotund figure often carrying a bag. In Japan, he is known as Hotei (布袋) one of the Seven Lucky Gods or the God of Contentment and Happiness. The Chinese often use small Budai figurines in Feng Shui for good luck, abundance, happiness, success, and good health. It is said that if you place a Budai in any bagua area, you can benefit.

Is this a long answer to a simple question? Yes.

Was Buddha fat? No, At least not according to history. Though, Budai might have been.

What I can say is the following...Budai is adorable and not matter the context I always am happy to see them.

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