In 2008, an artist friend in Shanghai surprised me with a gift or a large oil painting…
The oil painting shows my head on the Mi-Lo Fwo (Maitreya) Buddha cloaked in golden robes, holding a gold bar worth RMB 1 million, and with a giant exposed belly, rubbed above the belly button.
This oil painting has since been adapted into animations, stickers and other things for daily use in China as it has become an iconic symbol of me within my circle of friends.
Now I was better prepared to understand the random belly rubs and touches from complete strangers in the years that followed.
Buddhism has had a long history in China and has been instrumental in shaping Chinese culture and tradition. Throughout the millennia, Buddhists in China have faced persecution under various leaders.
Chinese Buddhism is one of the oldest forms of Buddhism in history and hosts the world’s largest Buddhist population.
Unlike Buddhists outside the country, Chinese Buddhists believe in a combination of Taoism and Buddhism, meaning they pray to both Buddha and Taoist gods, the latter of which teaches that enlightenment can be achieved in a single lifetime without reincarnation.
Another way in which Chinese Buddhism differs is in the depiction of Buddha. Original Buddhist teachings taught that Buddha was extremely gaunt. In most Buddhist countries, Buddha is depicted as being very skinny and meditating under a tree.
In stark contrast, China’s Mi-Lo Fwo, (laughing buddha) is the most common and most popular depiction of Buddha in China for centuries.
Chinese Buddhists’ main goal in life is to ‘be happy’, and it’s for this reason that depictions of Buddha show him as being fat and laughing – just like me.