The Fat Buddha is thought to be based on a historical figure, a Chinese Zen Buddhist monk named Qieci who lived over 1,000 years ago during the later Liang Dynasty. In China he became known as Budai, meaning cloth bag, named after the sack he always carried. In Japanese this is translated as Hotei. He was a benevolent man who dedicated his life to helping others, and is portrayed as a fat, bald man in monks clothing, with a large exposed belly, and either wearing or holding a necklace of beads. This necklace is a Mala, a Buddhist string of prayer beads.
Fat Buddha statues are popular as a symbol of health, happiness, prosperity and good fortune. These statues take a number of forms, and can convey different meanings depending on the symbolic meaning of the various objects he is holding.
He is often seen with a large sack. This is the sack of blessings. It contains many treasures which he distributes freely. The sack represents wealth, and the fulfillment of wishes. The Ru-Yi or bowl of plenty signifies abundance and wealth. Budai holds the bowl above his head to receive abundance from the heavens. The parasol gives protection by deflecting misfortune. The wish-giving fan symbolizes happiness. Budai waves the fan to banish troubles. The Wu-Lou gourd, or gourd of enlightenment contains the elixir of youth for long life. The wealth ball is thought to represent a pearl. It is a symbol of the greatest treasure of all, wisdom.
Fat Buddha Statue Meanings:
Prosperity. Arms above his head, holding the Ru-Yi bowl of plenty.
Protecting Wealth. Seated on coins, or bag of blessings.
Safe Travels. Bag of blessings over his shoulder, and holding the wealth ball.
Enlightenment. Seated, with bag over the shoulder, and holding the wealth ball.
Happiness. Sitting and holding a parasol over his shoulder.
Spiritual Journey, or long life. Carrying the gourd of enlightenment, the fan and prayer beads.