In world known as Fat or Happy Buddha in China actually known as Mi La Fo or Maitreya Buddha, but who is he?  You have probably seen his figures in most of  Chinese or Vietnamese restaurants  and feng shui shops all over the world. In China you can see his figures in most of souvenir shops, many temples, restaurants, households and some offices. He is one of most famous deity in Chinese folk beliefs, Taoist and Chan Buddhist pantheon. After Guanyin and Jade Emperor he is second most important and most widely worshipped deity in China. Except in China he is one of major deities in Korea, Japan and Vietnam.

In a restaurant,

He was born in 9th century in China. Since childhood he was admitted to Chan Buddhist temple. His real name isn’t known but only nickname which is Budai in Chinese and Hotei in Japanese. His name is literally translated as cloth sack since he always carried one.  It is known that he was fat eccentric and very joyful man.  Budai was always smiling and with his charismatic nature he drew many people around him like magnet. He used to travel from temple to temple, from village to village and town to town mostly by walk. Wherever he appeared he brought joy, happiness, wealth, health and good fortune. His main mission was to spread happiness. People usually went as a crowd around him and especially children. In his sack he always carried a lot of sweets for children, his mouth nice words for everyone and his face a smile.  Budai believed that more you give more you receive and more happy you are. When he reached new temple or village he put his sack down and started laughing madly.  Laughter was his way of enlightenment and spreading happiness. He rarely spok.  Budai said that magic is in laughter and symbolically represented laughing at problems by special gesture. It was putting his bag down and laughing at it, bag symbolized problems which you should put down and laugh at them. Budais recipe for happiness was smiling, positive approach to solving problems, modesty, making others happy  and giving. Budai spent his life in happiness, joy, laughter, spreading happiness, compassion and modesty. When he died in 903 he wanted to be cremated. It was his wish because he secretly put a lot of fireworks in his robe in order to make people laugh one last time. When cremation started fireworks burnt and went into sky.

In Tanzhe temple near Beijing,

In China he is considered as deity of good luck, prosperity and wealth. Also he is considered as patron of children and often is depicted with them. His big belly is symbol of happiness, fertility, prosperity, generosity and wealth.  His big years are symbol of good listener. Budai brings only precious gifts such as good fortune and children.


He shouldn’t be confused with first Gautama Buddha or Amitabha Buddha as he isn’t same Buddha and some don’t even consider him as Buddha.  In all 3 major schools of Buddhism there is concept of Maitreya Buddha a future Buddha which will come and spread good and help people. In Theravada and Vajrayana he still didn’t appear and is depicted as slim person. Since 16th century Chan Buddhist schools of China accepted Budai as first recorded Maitreya or Mi La Fo in Chinese. Soon Japanese Zen schools of Buddhism also confirmed Budai as Mi La Fo and than schools of Korean Seon and Vietnamese Tien Buddhism did same.  He was recognized like this because of his good deeds, generosity, enligthtened peaceful mind and willingness to help. However Chan Buddhism doesn’t consider him as only Maitreya but as one of them as they consider that there were, are and will be many undiscovered Maitreyas .

In popular TV serie

Budai about himself  and Maitreyas said-

Mi-lo, true Mi-lo

Reborn innumerable times

From time to time manifested to men

The men of the age do not recognize you

In China he is considered as major deity of luck, happiness, fertility, prosperity and wealth. He is widely worshipped as popular folk religion deity. By many Chinese he is also considered as incarnation of Maitreya. Taoist schools also consider him as deity. Except in houses, restaurants, offices and shops his statues may be found in most of Buddhist temples especially in first halls. He is often in shrines of Taoist temples too. Except in China he is widely worshipped deity in Singapore, Malaysia both by Taoists and Buddhists. In Japan he is also popular deity  for followers of Zen and Shinto. In Korea he is worshipped by followers of Seon Buddhism and Korean folk religion. In Vietnam he is worshipped bz followers of Tien Buddhism and highly infeunced by Chinese, Vietnamese folk religion.

My collection in different depictions,
One of my favorite

ENjoy China 😉


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