The Laughing Buddha
Aka Pu-tai, Budai or Hotei
The bald, chubby, laughing fellow many Westerners think of as Buddha is a character from tenth-century Chinese folklore. His name is Budai in China, or Hotei in Japan. He represents happiness and abundance, and he is a protector of children and the sick and weak. In some stories he is explained as an emanation of Maitreya, the future Buddha.
In Buddhism, the celestial Buddha named Hotei or Pu-Tai is best known as the jolly Laughing Buddha. In China, he is known as the Loving or Friendly One. He is based on an eccentric Chinese Ch'an (Zen) monk who lived over 1,000 years ago and has become a significant part of Buddhist and Shinto culture. The Laughing Buddha is not worshipped. He allegedly lived around the 10th century in the Wuyue kingdom.
Because of this monk's benevolent nature, he came to be regarded as an incarnation of the bodhisattva who will be Maitreya (the Future Buddha). His large protruding stomach and jolly smile have given him the common designation "Laughing Buddha."
His name literally means "cloth sack". 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. He is patron of the weak, poor and children.
Largely exposed pot belly stomach symbolizes happiness, good luck, and plenitude.
According to legend, if one rubs the Laughing Buddha's great belly, it brings forth wealth, good luck, and prosperity. Hotei is also referred to as the patron saint of restaurateurs, fortunetellers and bartenders. When one overeats or over drinks, friends jokingly attribute it to the Laughing Buddha's influence.