The Skinny on Fat Buddha
Skinny Buddha and Fat Buddha. What’s the difference? Well, there are many popular depictions of “Buddha.” The general term “Buddha” is a title given to someone who has reached enlightenment and often refers to Gautama Siddhārtha, the original founder of the religion in India and Nepal.
The skinny depiction is, in fact, Gautama Siddhārtha. This is who is referred to when using the name Buddha. After renouncing his wealth and living as an ascetic, he reached enlightenment under the Bodhi tree and realized the truth of the middle path.
The “fat Buddha” is generally a depiction of the Chinese monk Budai (Hotei in Japanese), who in turn is regarded as an incarnation of Maitreya, the future Buddha. Budai wandered the Chinese country side helping other around 950 A.D. He is also referred to as the “Laughing Buddha” for his jovial appearance. This version is considered the Chinese god of good luck and fortune.
In my visit to the Buddhist monastery in Tengboche, Nepal, the main hall contained three large Buddha statues as the centerpieces. On the left was the “past Buddha,” in the center the “present Buddha” and largest statue, and on the right was Maitreya the “future Buddha.”
Maitreya can be found in the canonical literature of all sects of Buddhism who’s coming is regarded to be an actual event, with parallels to the second coming in Christianity. L. Ron Hubbard even suggested he was a “Metteya” in a 1955 poem (yeah, right).
Particularly in the West, the Laughing Buddha is a popular image found everything from Chinese takeout to little red statues, though he is not the Siddhārtha Gautama as many think.
These two versions are just the most recognized for most in the West. There are many more incarnations represented the world over.
More info can be found here.
The above picture is from Flickr user Theobald Gloom.