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Hotei

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Hotei or Pu-Tai (布袋羅漢 literally cloth sack) is better known as the obese Laughing Buddha. In China, he was been dubbed the Loving or Friendly One. He has become incorporated into Buddhist & Shinto culture and is based on an eccentric Chinese Ch'an (Zen) monk. His image graces many temples, restaurants, and amulets. Hotei has become a deity of contentment and abundance, Taoist in origin.

History & Art

The Laughing Buddha derived its beginnings from a mix in Buddhist, Taoist, and Shinto religions and can be traced back to the time of the Liang Dynasty[?] (五代後梁) in China. Hotei is theorized to have begun as a real Buddhist monk in China over 1,000 years ago. He was considered a man of good and loving character. It was said of Hotei's benevolent nature, that he was to be regarded as an incarnation of the bodhisattva soon to be Maitreya (the Future Buddha), but this claim was only allegorical and due to his large protruding stomach & smile, he was caricatured as the "Laughing Buddha."

The image of Hotei is almost always seen carrying a cloth or linen sack (that which never empties) which is filled with many precious items, including rice plants (indicating wealth), candy for children, food, or the woes of the world. Sometimes it can be filled with children as they are seen as some of those precious items of this world. His duty is patron of the weak, poor and children. In some scenes he may be found sitting on a cart drawn by boys, or wielding a fan called an oogi (said to be a "wish giving" fan -- in the distant past, this type of fan was used by the aristocracy to indicate to vassals that their requests would be granted).

The statue depicts a stout, smiling or laughing bald man in robes with a largely exposed pot belly stomach symbolic for happiness, good luck, and plenitude. Some sculpture has small children at his feet. Another item that is usually seen with the Hotei figure, is a begging bowl; to represent his Buddhist nature. All of these images display Hotei as a wandering monk who goes around and takes the sadness from people of this world. He most certainly is a loving and cheerful character, strikingly similar to Santa Clause in the West and is a common statuette found in homes and businesses in China and Japan.

Religion

The basis of belief in the Laughing Buddha is mainly superstitious legend. As it goes, if a person is to rub his belly, it brings forth wealth, good luck, and prosperity. He is often admired for his happiness, plenitude, and supposedly wisdom of contentment.

Chinese Buddhists have superstitiously adopted Hotei as the Laughing Buddha into the Mahayana Buddhist pantheon and his image may be found in the first hall of a Buddhist monastery. Ch'an temples will usually have Hotei located at their entrances & courtyards but unfortunately, he became the object of worship as a god of good luck and prosperity. Later naive enthusiasts made the unsubstantiated claim of divinity to the figure and gave the already appointed title of Maitreya Buddha to him.

Pu-tai, as he is known in the land of Japan, is also seen as a one of the Shichi Fukujin, the Seven Japanese Shinto-gods of Luck. He is supposedly the only member of the seven based on an actual person. Back when Buddhist missionary monks were delivering the message & way of Gautama Buddha onto the islands of Japan, they devised a method to more efficiently reach the local Shinto inhabitants. By manifesting Buddhist principles, with Shinto Kami, the monks were successful. Kami are seen as Shinto gods and were worshiped as such. The Buddhist monastics were able to better communicate their ideology to Japanese natives by using the Kami's as examples in common Buddhist practice. Thus, Buddhism became very widely accepted in Japan and from one of these manifestations, came Hotei.

Western Invasion

Recently, Hotei statues, statuettes and amulets have gained popular status in Western land by eclectics and the like. From the new enthusiasism has grown much ignorance due to the obliviousness of culture & factual history. A common misconception is the false acquaintance between the Laughing Buddha and Gautama Buddha, the founder of Buddhism and at times the random enthusiast cannot tell the difference between the two. Hotei is also referred to as the patron saint of restaurateurs, fortunetellers and bartenders. When one over eats and over drinks, jokingly friends attribute it to Hotei's influence.



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