Fat Buddhas Statues
The Story and Symbolism behind the Fat Buddha
Fat Buddhas statues are not images of Siddhartha Gautama the most well known “Buddha” at all. A fat body is usually an indication of gluttony rather than enlightened austerity tradition has it that a fat Buddha is indicative of blessings for a prosperous future it is also thought sometimes a Fat Buddha is associated with fertility (obvious resemblance to the fat belly of a pregnant woman.
One Fat Buddha statue found in Chinese and Vietnamese businesses is that of Jambhuvala the guardian king of prosperity, Mi Fo. This Fat Buddha like statue may be seated on a sack of treasure and holds in his left hand a gold ingot that is similar to a boat or hat.
This Fat Buddha statue is associated with a jewel-spitting mongoose. The Fat Buddha may also be shown with a fan or a walking stick, and holding a mala in his left hand. The Tibetan Fat Buddha counterpart is called Namtoseh.
As it has already been noted "Fat Buddha" is not THE Buddha. When statues and images of the Buddha began to appear nobody knew what he looked like. However they did know that the Buddha was from a noble family and had been described as tall, slender, and of "manly build”. A fat body was associated with prosperity and good fortune so the creation of some ‘fat’ images and statues of him would have been natural.
However the image of a fat overfed Buddha certainly doesn’t fit in with his teachings, and that of an "enlightened one”. Buddhism arrived in China around 100AD, and was widespread by 600AD from where the story of the Fat Buddha are thought to originate.
Fat Buddha Theories
The first Fat Buddha theory is that the fat body is a well fed person of leisure. Enlightenment had led to material success and wealth and a position at least close to nobility. There was also a belief that fat men were inherently generous akin to that of "jolly fat man", Jolly Ol' St. Nick for example. People were encouraged to rub a fat man's belly in hopes of luck and an abundance of food.
The second Fat Buddha theory is that of a Chinese Buddhist monk in the 6th century. He had a fat belly that shook like jelly. This fat and jolly fellow dedicated himself to helping others, and was regarded as the incarnation of the Boddhisatva Metteya, a Buddha who had reached nirvana but stayed around to help people.
The final theory of the Fat Buddha is that one held by most Buddhist scholars. A wise though fat Zen monk appeared in China in 850 A.D. and died in 916A.D. This fat monk’s name was "Knowing This" (ChiChe). No one knew where the fat monk came from, he carried a big fat bag and was famous for his fat belly.
When asked how one should obtain nirvana the fat monk would lay down the fat bag and not say a word. When similarly the fat monk was asked about what happened after reaching nirvana. he would pick up his fat bag and walk away, whilst still not saying a word.
He is thought to be the inspiration for Fat Buddha. Fat Buddha statues began appearing in the late 800's, 1200 years after the Gautama's death. On the body of an authentic Fat Buddha statue you will see that he carries a sack on his back. Particuarly Eastern tradition has it that rubbing the belly of a fat Buddha statue will help to bring good fortune to the supplicant – in a similar way that Catholics rub the feet of St. Peter.
You can't name your restaurant Fat Buddha because it offends Buddhists said Durham Council
In China the Fat Buddha is a symbol of health and happiness, but in Durham the council objected to a restaurant being called The Fat Buddha...on the grounds that it might offend Buddhists
Eddie Fung's £1.3million restaurant opened in Durham in 2007 but the local council insisted he change the name from the Fat Buddha because it was 'provocative'.
Restaurant boss Eddie Fung was amazed at the council's reaction saying "I cannot believe that the council should go to so much time and trouble taking issue over an inoffensive name like Fat Buddha.”
He went on to say "No Buddhist is going to be offended by this. The fat Buddha is a symbol of health and happiness. “
A spokesperson for the Buddhist Society said: "Buddhists regard the fat Buddha as being lucky. To suggest this naming a restaurant The Fat Buddha is offensive is to misunderstand the faith.
"Buddhists don't take offence at anything because to do so doesn't follow Buddhist teachings."
Mr Fung said that his company received no complaints about the use of the name Fat Buddha at his first restaurant, which opened in Belfast also in 2007.
The council in a letter stated "The generic descriptive adjective of "fat" is not in itself a derogatory term when applied generally the name implies an Eastern offer as it is associated with a religion that grew from Asian countries. It does not, however, offer vegetarian cuisine solely nor does it refer to Buddhist belief systems. We believe the name “The Fat Buddha” is provocative."
The council went on to add that they felt the name Fat Buddha was inappropriate in a city founded on faith and they didn’t want to offend anyone because of the many different faiths that lived and visited the city.
However Eddie Fung stuck to his guns and to this day the restaurant still has the name “The Fat Buddha” and the restaurant of course houses many Fat Buddha statues to celebrate it's name "The Fat Buddha".