Ho Tai, “the Laughing Buddha”

Ho Tai
Ho Tai

I thought I’d try my hand at drawing a Ho Tai, also called the Laughing Buddha. Unlike commonly assumed, this is not a Chinese representation of the original Buddha (Siddharta Gautama Buddha) but a rather different historical figure. He lived during the 9th Century and was a Buddhist monk. He worked away happily in the monastery kitchens and loved his food but he is not as famous for his prodigious girth as for his kindness and generosity. He often visited local villages and distributed food and gifts to the poor – especially children – becoming something of a Santa Claus type figure depicted carrying a sack full of goodies. After his death he was elevated to god status by the Daoists. It is easy to find all different sizes of Ho Tai figures in shops in your local Chinatown. Now you can impress the proprietor by knowing the correct name! (Note the pronunciation is ho – long o, and tai like tie)

image (cc) 2009 Hilary Farmer

5 thoughts on “Ho Tai, “the Laughing Buddha”

  1. Gah! If Daoists were the least bit consistent they would eschew gods entirely! “Split a piece of wood, and I am there. Lift up a stone, and you will find me.” (Jesus, quoted in the Gospel of Thomas, 77, but still–this is what the Daoists almost believe.)

    God (for a certain conception of god!) is everywhere, in everything, within us and all around us, although entirely and necessarily uncommunicative about it. The Daoists drive me nuts because they come SO CLOSE to the truth, and then steadfastly avert their eyes. Christians actually bother me less because they are so completely off base it hardly matters.

    Lovely picture, though! Look at those ear-lobes! Very interesting stylistic variation for you as well.

  2. A good rant every now and then is good for the soul… or something. 😉
    I think that like most religions/philosophies that Daoism has different types of followers. I assume that for many or even most, that the Ho Tai for example, is just a representation of a certain quality or a truth found in many people and places – a sort of concentration of the quality to help (perhaps illiterates) in the day get the concept as it were. But then I haven’t really researched this – just speculating.

    I don’t know that the historical Ho Tai had earlobes like that – since the original Buddha is represented with enlarged earlobes it came to be a sign of enlightenment… even today if a child is born with extra large earlobes, it is both a sign of beauty and of an “old soul”… so I was told when I lived in Taiwan.

    Glad you like the picture!

  3. Amazing that some mortal humans with such extremely limited sensory organs and intellects capable only of interpreting sensory input with such limited knowledge can proclaim TRUTH when all God(s) are invisible and unprovable.

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