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Le Bouddha rieur du temple de Plai Laem

The story of the laughing Buddha

Discover the story of the laughing Buddha

There he is, sitting next to the cash register at your favorite Chinese restaurant. A shiny bronze statue of a bald man with a round belly with a laughing smile on his face, the same fellow immortalized on incense holders, statuette or candlestick typical of Asian Feng shui crafts from Buddhist temples or Zen gardens. br>
It's the Buddha, isn't it?

Le Bouddha rieur

The laughing Buddha ... is not a Buddha!

Failed, but you are in the right religion! We can forgive Westerners for confusing the ubiquitous chubby figure with the Buddha, since he is also called "the laughing Buddha".

But the true story behind the Laughing Buddha is almost as complicated as Buddhism itself.

Statue Bouddha rieur

Denise Leidy is Curator of Asian Art at Yale University Art Gallery and held the same position at the Metropolitan Museum of Art for 22 years. She is no stranger to the confusion that reigns around the statue of the laughing Buddha.
"When people see this big, funny guy, they're like, 'He's the Buddha', but he's not," Leidy said. “The Buddha, in the singular, is Siddhartha Gautama. But the Buddhist religion over time has become so complicated and has added multiple layers of deities, many of whom have multiple avatars. It has become mind-blowing and only fools like me spend their lives finding out. "

Siddhartha Gautama

The Buddha, as Leidy mentioned, was a man named Siddhartha Gautama who lived around the 6th century BC. J-C in India.

Born a rich prince, he chose to live as an ascetic in search of the meaning of existence, which he found while meditating for 49 days under the Bodhi tree.

After attaining enlightenment and nirvana, which is the escape from the endless cycle of suffering, death and rebirth, Siddhartha Gautama became Buddha or "the awakened one".


Le Bouddha nirvana

Over the centuries, his teachings have spread throughout India, China, Asia and eventually the world. Today, there are an estimated 376 million followers of Buddhism in the world.

So who was the laughing Buddha?

Sculpture du Bouddha rieur

As Leidy indicated, Buddhism has developed over the millennia to include a pantheon of deities in addition to Gautama Buddha. These include many Bodhisattvas, the term denoting wise individuals who work for the enlightenment of all sentient beings.

In Theravada Buddhism , practiced mainly in Southeast Asia, Gautama Buddha is only the most recent of the 28 Buddhas described in sacred texts. And then there are the avatars, the humans believed to be embodiments of deities.

Représentation du bouddha rieur

It turns out that the Laughing Buddha was one such avatar, a 10th century Chinese monk named Budai . According to accounts written centuries later, Budai was a gregarious monk with a rounded belly who wandered from village to village carrying a large canvas bag over his shoulder. (Budai means "cloth bag" in Chinese.) He was loved by children and the poor, to whom he gave rice and sweets from his big bag.

On his bed of death, Budai wrote a poem in which he was revealed to be the avatar of Maitreya , a deity also known as "Future Buddha ".

Statue du Bouddha rieur d'abondance

Over time, Budai has become a popular subject of devotion in Zen Buddhism, both in China and in Japan, where he calls himself Hotei. His big belly and bag are said to represent abundance, and he is one of the seven lucky gods of Japan as an omen of prosperity and good health At one point, he also became the patron saint of restaurateurs and bartenders, hence its prime location next to the cash register.

Laughing Buddha Statues are all the rage!

The representations of the laughing Buddha are varied but the statues are the most popular and for good reason, in wood, terracotta, bronze or natural stone, seated in the lotus position or standing under a parasol, you are spoiled for choice to create a zen atmosphere here.

Collection bouddha rieur

Leidy is not sure of the exact historical provenance of the current Laughing Buddha statues, but believes that Bodai imagery in Chinese art and sculpture began to appear in the 15th century.

"As world trade begins to expand at the end of the 16th and 17th centuries, and porcelain is completely transforming world ceramics, there are likely images of this figure. that crept inside, ”Leidy says. "She was imported to the West and then transformed into a laughing Buddha"

Although rubbing the belly of the laughing Buddha for good luck is not a Buddhist teaching, devotees of Buddhism do not seem to have a problem with this chubby statue.

Le Bouddha rieur en statue

"The fact that this laughing Buddha of folklore is accepted into official practice is testament to Buddhism's great tolerance for diversity," writes Barbara O'Brien, journalist and student of Zen Buddhism .

"For Buddhists, any quality that represents the nature of Buddha should be encouraged, the Laughing Buddha is not considered a sacrilege, even if people unknowingly confuse him with Shakyamuni Buddha". .

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