The image of the Laughing Buddha is based on a wandering Chinese monk, Budai (Hotei, in Japanese) who lived centuries ago and is believed to be Maitreya, or the Buddha to come. The statue’s plump figure and benign countenance suggest contentment, magnanimity and plenitude. Folklore has it that rubbing his pot belly brings good fortune and wealth.
But he’s more than just a good luck charm favored by Chinese restaurateurs and businessmen. The Laughing Buddha’s big belly is a symbol of tolerance; also, that prosperity and wealth can go hand-in-hand with enlightened awareness.