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Budai Hesheng

Budai Hesheng - British Museum - Joy of Museums

Budai Hesheng

This almost life-size porcelain figure represents Budai Hesheng seated with one knee raised on a rectangular plinth. He is decorated in polychrome enamels and depicted as a fat smiling bald man with elongated earlobes and a large stomach. The Budai is dressed in the loose amber-coloured robes of a begging Buddhist monk, and he holds a sizeable green-glazed cloth bag under his right arm and the drawstring in his hand. His robes are edged with a border of scrolling flowers and foliage

Budai is a semi-historical monk as well as a deity who was introduced into the Zen Buddhist pantheon. He allegedly lived around the 10th century during the Liang Dynasty. His name literally means “Cloth Sack”, and refers to the bag that he is conventionally depicted as carrying as he wanders aimlessly. His jolly nature, humorous personality, and eccentric lifestyle distinguish him from most Buddhist masters or figures. He is almost always shown smiling or laughing, hence his nickname in Chinese, the “Laughing Buddha”. The plinth is incised beneath the glaze with a dedicatory inscription giving details of the date when the figure was made and the maker of the statue.

Budai figures represent both contentment and abundance in Chinese culture. As Zen Buddhism was transmitted to Japan around the 13th century, the Japanese Budai was almost always depicted with his “cloth sack” that looks like a large bag which serves as a prominent motif within the context of Zen as it represents abundance, prosperity, and contentment.

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“Habits are cobwebs at first; cables at last.”
– Chinese Proverb

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Photo Credit: 1) JOM