Laugh, Buddha, Laugh

A friend recently asked me about Buddha. He wondered about a statue he once knew in a Chinese restaurant that featured a huge, jade, laughing Buddha – arms in the air and a big belly to rub for good luck. He wondered why there are so many different interpretations or statues of Buddha and how come he’s never come across the benevolent one he so remembered as a child.
The “Laughing Buddha” is called Budai in China and Hotei in Japan. Budai is almost always represented as carrying a cloth or linen sack, which never empties, and is filled with many precious items, including rice plants (indicating wealth), sweets for children, food, small mammals, and the woes of the world. His duty is patron of the weak, the poor and children.
In Chinese Buddhist temples of the Chán sect, Budai's statue is traditionally placed in the front part of the entrance hall. He is depicted in the familiar likeness of the above-described Laughing Buddha; a stout, smiling or laughing shaved man in robes with a largely exposed potbelly stomach symbolic for happiness, good luck, and plenitude.
Some sculptures have small children at his feet. Another item that is usually seen with the Budai figure, is a begging bowl; to represent his Buddhist nature. All of these images display Budai as a wandering monk who goes around and takes the sadness from people of this world. Because he represents prosperity and happiness, statuettes are often found in homes and businesses in China and Japan.
“Start becoming a little more alert and watch things, and you will be surprised. Life is mysterious, unexplainable - life is absurd. You cannot prove anything for or against. If you become a little alert you will find love, light, laughter, everywhere!”
In Japan, it is said that when Hotei attained enlightenment he started laughing. He lived at least thirty years afterwards; he continued laughing for thirty years. Even in sleep his disciples would hear him giggling. His whole message to the world was laughter; he would go from one town to another just laughing. He would stand in one marketplace, then in another, just laughing, and people would gather.
His laughter was so contagious that whoever heard it would start laughing. Soon the whole marketplace would be laughing; crowds would gather and laugh and they would ask him, "Just give us a few instructions.” He would say, "Nothing more, this is enough. If you can laugh, if you can laugh totally, it is meditation.” Laughter was his device. It is said many people became enlightened through Hotei's laughter. That was his only meditation: to laugh and help people laugh. Just watch life, and you will be surprised!

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