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Fat Buddhas

To: alt.magick.tyagi,alt.mythology,alt.religion.buddhism,alt.zen,alt.lucky.w
From: catherine yronwode 
Subject: Re: Fat Buddhas (was: Re: Just a question, please.)
Date: Sun, 20 Feb 2000 22:10:34 GMT

Gammon Jason wrote:
> > If I understand, (I probably don't) Buddha was known for living
> >> > > an austere life. Why then is he depicted as being hugely obese?
> >> >
> He's not.  That "Fat" guy is called "Hapi".  He's a symbol of good 
> luck.  Your supposed to rub his belly for success.  The real budha 
> statues are of thin men, with androgenous charicteristics, usualy 
> sitting in the "lotus" style position.

It's a bit more complicated than that. As a child growing up in
California, i had a number of Chinese-American friends and they referred
to the fat Buddha as "Happy Buddha" (i.e. smiling). Strangely, none of
them mentioned rubbing his belly -- although many of my Caucasian
friends told me that this was a Chinese "superstition." 

Later, as i read more in books, i found out that the fat Buddha of China
was originally a good luck and prosperity god named Hotei. However, most
Chinese people consider these the SAME entity. For instance, just a
couple months ago at the Sebastopol (California) flea market, my husband
and i looked over an array of fat baldheaded Buddha statuary and plaques
-- and the vendors, both immigrants from Taiwan, were very patient in
answering our questions. 

"Is this Buddha?" i asked, pointing to a wonderfully robust statue
holding up a gigantic slipper-shaped gold bullion. 

"Yes, Buddha." 

"But isn't he a Chinese wealth god, too -- Hotei?" 

"Yes! Hotei-Buddha! Good Luck Buddha -- for wealth, bring money." 

Throughout our entire conversation, the vendors ONKLY referred to the
fat bald-headed wealth-god as Buddha. The name Hotei was introduced by
me, acknowledged by them, and then discarded as they continued to refer
to the images they sold as Buddhas. 

We bought one of their large wall-plaques and it hangs on my office wall
as i write: Around a central "jade" (translucent green plastic) coiled
Dragon, there is a "rosewood" (opaque red-brown plastic) fat Buddha
reclinging on his back, the Dragon supported by his rotund belly. He is
laughing happily and his right hand and right foot hold aloft large
gold-painted bullions. A malla (string of 108 Buddhist prayer-beads) is
draped around his chest. Above the Dragon there is a an ornate area of
"rosewood" (opaque red-brown plastic) bearing a four-character
inscription in Chinese ideograms in gold ink which the vendors
translated variously as "Get Wealth In!" and "Bring Money!" -- a desire
for wealth grammatically expressed as a command. The entire plaque is
suspended from a knotted red cord and terminates in a long red tassel. 

Well, as folks used to say (before the population explosion and
political correctness made the slogan unusable): "Fifty million Chinamen
can't be wrong." In other words, if the bald fat guy IS Buddha to them,
who are you to say them nay?

Likewise, in Thailand, the ancient protrayal of the Hindu god Siva in
the form of his symbol, the linga (stylized human penis) became changed
first to render the penis highly realistic and then, when Buddhism
entered the country, the penis amulet became BUDDHA'S penis. Thus we
find in the amulet market of Bankok, delightlly sculpted brass and
silver palad khik ("honourable surrogate penis") amulets inscribed with
Buddha's eyes and devotionary sayings such as "Lord Buddha Protct My
Penis." See an illustrated web page on these at

Also on that web page you will see goddess Nang Kwak, bestower of
wealth, and worshipped particularly by Thai shop-keeprs, most of whom
are nominally Buddhists. For isnatnce, a the wonderful Phad Thai
restaurant in Santa Rosa (California) -- after you order the INCREDIBLE
shrimp appetiser thingies -- check out the lovely golden statue of Nang
Kwak with her offering of water on a small wall-alater the dining room
and, behind the counter, the larger wall-altar featuring a Buddha of the
type popular in Thailand, seated in meditation with the 108
"snail-martyrs" cooling his head. (The snail-martyrs are 108 snails who
gave their lives to cool Buddha's head with their mucous while he was
meditating in the hot sun.) 

In Asia, Buddhism incorporates diversities that some Caucasian American
Buddhists find "unacceptable" because they do not understand or agree
withthe polytheistic practices of Chinese and Thai Buddhists. I suspect
the "mono-Buddhistic" belief of some American neo-Buddhists is a
byproduct of their having been raised in a monotheistic religion and not
understanding he flexibility of Asian folk-Buddhism. 

cat yronwode 

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