There are not many mythological figures that are as familiar as the laughing buddha.
Paintings of him are commonly found everywhere including Chinese restaurants, artwork on porcelain vases, living rooms, and even in the office.
It’s not surprising as the laughing buddha is a powerful symbol of peace, harmony and happiness. His laugh can be visually infectious too.
While most Chinese would identify him as the 笑佛 (xiao fo), he can also be addressed with an even more informal nickname of 布袋 (bu dai meaning cloth bag) due to him being accompanied by his trusty bag all the time.
He also has other aliases including:
- Fat buddha
- Buddha of happiness
- Maitreya buddha (弥勒佛)
- Buddha to come
In many circles, the laughing buddha is also considered as one of the gods of wealth.
So famous is this divine figure that variations of him are also revered in countries like Japan, Vietnam, Korea, and many other countries in Asia.
Interestingly, ancient writings recovered in archeological expeditions have shown that he was bodhisattva who was worshiped much earlier than the well-known Goddess of Mercy.
Legend of the laughing buddha
It was alleged that bu dai was a monk who attained deity-like status said to have lived around the period of the 10th century.
He had such a happy and joyous personality that went on journeys to nowhere bringing joy to people and helping them appreciate the simply things in life.
His only luggage was the sack which he carried wherever he went to visit.
He didn’t need to have a goal of making people happy, his humor and light-hearted approach to life was enough to infect everyone in his presence to feel great about life too.
This means that being himself was the best gift he can give people. And people appreciated him for being genuine and true to himself.
A story told of the time when nasty children realized how gullible he was and trapped him in a net for their own amusement. Not only was he smiling and laughing throughout the ordeal as he found the actions of the kids amusing, he felt that it was fine as long as the kids were having fun. The children then release him when they realized what a profound life lesson has been taught to them by his actions, or inaction.
They all became friends of course.
Then there was the story of how he encountered a fight between two grown adults. He then offered his fat belly for them to vent their anger. They then proceeded to continue punching his belly until they became grossly fatigued. Tired and having calmed down, the two guys made up and became friends again. Pu Dai was of course, merry and unhurt in the exchange.
Some people insist that he uses the bag to capture all the unhappiness, worries and sorrow of people he meet. Others argue that it is fill with gold and wealth items.
It was said that on one occasion, a rice merchant challenged the jolly Buddha to put all his rice in his bag, he can have them for free if he completed the task. While it was all in good fun, the magical bag was hardly full after clearing the inventory of rice belonging to the businessman. And he held his side of the bargain. Just then, a court official escorting a whole convoy of money and goods passed through and found what he witnessed amusing and challenged Pu Dai to put all the cargo into his bag. He did. Then with a swing of his arm threw the bag into the sky and all the money and food fell all over the city to the delight of the peasants.
Robin hood had nothing on the laughing buddha.
His smile represents benevolence. His fat belly symbolizes a generous being. His long earlobes is an embodiment of eternal love. And his trademark sack represents an unconditional nature of giving.
Folklore has it that a day in heaven is equivalent to 140,000 years on earth. And a night in heaven is approximately 400 years on earth. With the holy age of 4,000 years, the Maitreya buddha is said to be over a billion and a half years old in earth years. Which is why he is sometimes referred to as a buddha of the future.
In feng shui, what the bag contains depends on how the laughing buddha is used at home and for what purpose.
In other ancient text about the laughing buddha’s origins, he was actually known as the Maitreya buddha from Tusita heaven.
And was only adopted into Chinese culture during the Song dynasty and quickly became a very popular god.
Placement of the laughing buddha
The laughing buddha is often depicted in a sitting position, a standing posture or in a walking pose.
A popular depiction is one where he holds gold ingots while riding an elephant. This signifies bringing good fortune and joy to where he goes.
Which one to purchase for the house depends on your objectives.
While they all can bring happiness and wealth luck to residents, the sitting position is great for harmony, the standing position is good for encouraging more participation by members in the household, and the walking stance is more for wealth purpose.
But what’s most important is that a potent symbol of the laughing buddha must have 3 features.
He must first be laughing or smiling. Secondly, he must have a huge belly that is preferably exposed. Thirdly, he must have his bag with him.
Sculptures and paintings of the laughing buddha are best placed in the living room or dining room.
Having the god as support behind the sofa set helps to enhance the positive energy when the family interacts in the living area.
A painting of it can also be hung overlooking the dining table. Representing the joy of having food on the table and sharing with loved ones.
Common areas are ideal so that his positive energy can effect everyone at home.
It’s not recommended in the bedroom unless under extreme circumstances.
They also make great decorations for casual areas in the office.
While there is no specific directional requirements for the placement of the laughing buddha, one can consider placing it at the southwest where the kun trigram is to improve relationship harmony, at the northwest where the chien trigram is to help the patriarch relieve stress from work, or at the southeast where the sun trigram resides for general wealth luck.
He would also make a great addition for the wealth corner at the primary wealth location.
Remember to rub his belly as often as you like. It’s a trademark of Pu Dai that rubbing his belly brings good luck and even an ability to heal.
Saying that, according to the 8 mansions school of thought, the yen nien sector of a house governs relationships and harmony.
Thus, you can also locate that sector and place a laughing buddha on display to harness that positive energy.
It can therefore be placed in areas of the home suffering from this annual affliction to counteract the negative effects of the conflict star.
A painting of him surrounded by children is also said to enhance fertility luck.
These days, merchandise like figurines of the laughing buddha can be found in various poses and positions.
They can also be fully colored in gold, silver, bronze, or painted with life-like colors.
Just be aware of what pose your are buying and judge for yourself what it is meant to signify.
For example, one posture which has become popular over the years is one in which he raises both his arms holding up a huge gold ingot.
This is obviously one posture meant for bring money luck.
When in doubt, the safe bet is to get the laughing buddha portrayed in a relaxed sitting position… in his usual happy self.