The popular figure of Budai, also known as the Laughing Buddha, is often mistaken for the historical Gautama Buddha. However, Budai was in fact a Chinese monk named Qieci who is said to have lived around the 10th century. He is typically depicted as an overweight, bald man with a protruding pot belly. He carries with him a special cloth sack after which he received his name, Budai, while his ever jovial features gave him the nickname, Laughing Buddha.
In life, stories portray Qieci as an eccentric being who traveled from town to town, spreading laughter and joy wherever he went. He pulled sweets from his sack for children, food for the hungry, rice plants for the poor and medicine for the sick. He was a man of few words but plenty of smiles. He left a larger-than-life legacy and became a folklore deity of contentment and abundance.
Chinese Buddhists consider Budai an incarnation of Maitreya, the future Buddha who is believed to eventually take Gautama's place. For some, this belief stemmed from Qieci's dying words, a Buddhist hymn attributed to Maitreya. For others, it was due to his nature of benevolence and devotion to helping others. His actions of selflessly taking on the burdens of the world were considered the ultimate path to Zen and enlightenment.
The reverence of Budai spread all across Asia. In Japan, he is known as Hotei and is one of the prominent Seven Lucky Gods. To this day Budai is worshipped by many, symbolizing happiness and generosity. According to folk legend, if one rubs the Laughing Buddha's belly, it brings good fortune, wealth and abundance. He is referred to as the patron saint of popular businesses as well as a guardian of children. It is said that Budai always has something to give and his cloth sack never empties. He is a reminder across all cultures that the more one gives, the more one receives back.