What Does the Laughing Buddha Symbolize?

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The Laughing Buddha is one of the most famous Buddhas in the West and is also well known in the East. Often affectionately called “Fat Buddha”, this famous Buddhist symbol is quite chubby, always jolly, and symbolizes good luck, fulfillment, joyfulness, and abundance.

Does this symbolism apply to both Buddhist teachings and Feng Shui, however, or to just one of those? Furthermore, is the Laughing Buddha based on a real-life historical figure or is he just fiction? We’ll cover that and more below.

Who is the Laughing Buddha?

Hotei laughing buddha
Porcelain Laughing Buddha by Buddha Décor. See it here.

The Laughing Buddha is one of 28 different Buddhas. Although, it should be said that there are many types of Buddhism and the exact number, identities, and names of the Buddhas in each branch of Buddhism can vary.

Regardless, Laughing or Fat Buddha is easy to distinguish from all the others thanks to his unique body type and jolly predisposition. His actual name is believed to be Maitreya Buddha or just Budai in Chan Buddhism. And, because of how unique, fun, and approachable he looks, his image has become one of the best-known symbols of Buddhism in the Western world.  

Facts and Theories About the Laughing Buddha

Budai is believed to be a semi-historical and semi-fictional 10th-century Chinese monk. He is also called Hotei in Japanese, and he likely lived in the Wuyue Kingdom in Eastern China. He quickly became famous throughout East Asia, including Vietnam, Korea, and Japan.

Budai’s name literally translates as “Cloth Sack”, likely after the travel sack or bag he is always portrayed with. What made Budai famous wasn’t just his looks, however, but also his eccentric and fun personality and lifestyle, as those were fairly unorthodox for most Buddhist monks at the time.

The main written historical evidence we have of Budai’s existence and life is the famous 30-volume work called The Jingde Record of the Transmission of the Lamp by Shi Daoyuan from the Song dynasty. The text describes the lives of various figures from both Chan and Zen Buddhism, including Budai or Maitreya Buddha.

Not Yet a Buddha?

At the same time, however, the Maitreya Buddha is also said to be a “future Buddha” or a “Buddha to come”. Such figures are believed to become Buddhas in the future but aren’t ones yet. According to that theory, Budai, or the Laughing Buddha, isn’t technically a Buddha yet but is a bodhisattva instead.

Bodhisattvas are people who have devoted their lives to the road to Enlightenment but just haven’t reached it quite yet. Remember that reincarnation is a key part of Buddhist theory, so they believe that we all live many lives on our road to Enlightenment. This includes those of us that manage to become Buddhas in the end.

So, Budai is still an aspect of Maitreya Buddha and he is still a Buddha – just in the future. As said future is prophesied to be a certainty, however, we can still view and revere him as a Buddha nevertheless.

The Laughing Buddha and Feng Shui

While separate from Buddhism, Feng Shui takes a lot of inspiration from it and is often viewed as intrinsically linked to it. So, it comes as no surprise that the Laughing Buddha is a major symbol in Feng Shui.

If you browse even casually through what Feng Shui has to say about the Laughing Buddha, you will see dozens of different types of statuettes with his image in different poses, colors, and materials.

In essence, Feng Shui recognizes many different Laughing Buddhas and recommends each of them for a particular need. Depending on what type of influence you need in your home, Feng Shui will recommend a particular Laughing Buddha.

Different types of Laughing Buddha Statuettes and Their Symbolism

Wood laughing buddha
Wooden Laughing Buddha by MAM Design. See it here.

We won’t be able to cover every single type and symbolism of the Laughing Buddha in Feng Shui. That’s especially because there are various philosophical schools of Feng Shui, each with its own interpretations and theories on the Laughing Buddha’s exact symbolism and meaning.

However, we can give you a few of the most prominent types of Laughing Buddhas in Feng Shui and each of their meanings:

  • Laughing Buddha with a traveling sack –  A journey through life as well as wealth and fortune.
  • A sitting Laughing Buddha – Love, the balance of thoughts, and tranquility.
  • Laughing Buddha with beads – Meditation and mindfulness, symbolized by the beads as “pearls of wisdom”.
  • A Laughing Buddha sitting on a gold nugget and offering smaller gold nuggets – Good luck and prosperity.
  • Laughing Buddha with a fan – Carefree attitude, joy, and happiness.
  • Laughing Buddha with a bowl –Attaining Enlightenment through the renouncing of life’s material side.
  • A Laughing Buddha with both a fan and a traveling bag over his shoulder – Protection during long journeys.
  • Laughing Buddha with several children – Symbolizes good luck and positive energies sent from the heavens.
  • A Laughing Buddha holding his fan with one hand and a bottle gourd with the other – Good health and blessings.

The materials the Laughing Buddha statue is made out of also matter when interpreting its symbolism:

Laughing buddha material meaning
  • A stone or brown wooden Laughing Buddha symbolizes the Earth element and the grounding, stability, and nourishment associated with it.
  • A green jade Laughing Buddha symbolizes the Wood element as well as vitality and growth.
  • White, metal, and glass Laughing Buddhas symbolize the Metal element which helps bring beauty, precision, and joy.
  • A black Laughing Buddha stands for the Water element and the wisdom, fluidity, and introspection that go with it.
  • Red Laughing Buddhas symbolize the Fire element as well as passion and inspiration.

How To Place A Laughing Buddha Statuette In Your Home

Laughing buddha in home

The type of Laughing Buddha you bring into your home matters but so does the way you place it in your interior space. As with all things Feng Shui, there are a few rules on how you should and shouldn’t place your Laughing Buddha statuette. Here are the main Dos and Don’ts you should be aware of.

Dos:

  • One popular placement for the Laughing Buddha is in one’s office. This is believed to relieve tension and work-related stress and to give a clear mind. This is an especially good combination with a black Buddha statuette representing the Water element.
  • The Laughing Buddha should be placed in the east sector according to the Feng Shui Bagua Formula. It should also be placed in view of all family members. Alternatively, it can be placed in a living room or the room where most family members spend the majority of their time. That’s so the Laughing Buddha can help resolve any differences and quarrels among the different members of the household.
  • Placing the Laughing Buddha on a desk is believed to fulfill your inspirations and improve your luck.
  • If the Laughing Buddha is placed in the south-east corner of the household, then he will bring good windfall fortune and increase the prosperity of the household. The rooms for this placement should typically be bedrooms, dining rooms, or the main hall of the household.
  • The statuette should also face your Sheng Chi direction, in accordance with the Feng Shui Kua Formula. This way, the Laughing Buddha will be able to assist you in succeeding with your personal development goals and achieving the success you seek.
  • Wherever it is, the Laughing Buddha should ideally face the main door of the household. If it can’t be placed facing it directly, it should at least face that general direction.

Don’ts:

  • The Laughing Buddha should never be placed beneath the eye level of the adults in the household. Desks are usually viewed as an exception to this rule as we work on desks by sitting down. Still, even then the statuette should be placed at least 30 inches (76.2 cm) from the floor.
  • The statuette should never be placed near electrical sockets or loud electrical equipment as that’s considered insulting to him.
  • Another way to insult the Laughing Buddha and negate his positive effect is to place him in the kitchen, bathroom, or on the floor.
  • Putting the Laughing Buddha on a TV set, a monitor, on speakers, or on an audio system is also ill-advised.

As an extra tip, keep in mind that the Laughing Buddha’s birthday is believed to be on May 8th. Lighting a candle next to your Laughing Buddha statuette on that date is said to please the Laughing Buddha and fulfill desires.

FAQ

What does a laughing Buddha with a bowl mean?

This stands for a monk’s life of simplicity, renunciation of worldly possessions, and search for Enlightenment.

Which Laughing Buddha would be a good one for my yoga studio?

We suggest getting one with beads because this symbolizes meditation practice. The beads stand for pearls of wisdom.

Would it be appropriate to put a Laughing Buddha in the garden?

Yes, absolutely. A garden is a great place for a stone or mortar Laughing Buddha statue. This part of your home is connected to the natural world and a Buddha here will balance the energy between your house and garden.

How can I attract wealth and abundance?

The Feng Shui map teaches of a “wealth corner” in our homes. This can be found by standing in your front doorway and looking left. Place a Laughing Buddha there, particularly one sitting on a pile of coins. This will attract the energy of prosperity to your home and those in it.

In Conclusion

Whether a historical or a mythical figure, the Laughing Buddha is no doubt one of the biggest symbols of Buddhism in the West as well as the East. A core figure and symbol in Buddhism, the Laughing Buddha also has a major role in Feng Shui as a symbol of good fortune, prosperity, mental health, and success on the road to Enlightenment.

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