He has become incorporated into Buddhist, and Shinto culture and is based on an eccentric Chinese Zen monk who lived in the time of the Liang Dynasty. His image graces many temples, restaurants, amulets, and businesses. Budai has become a deity of contentment and abundance, when adopted by religious and Buddhists. In Japan, Hotei persists in folklore as one of the Seven Lucky Gods . He is almost always shown smiling or laughing, hence his nickname in Chinese, the "Laughing Buddha" .
As Angida Arhat
Budai derives from the time of Sakyamuni Buddha, where there was a monk named ''Angida'', whose name also meant ''calico bag''. Angida was one of the original eighteen Arhats of Buddhism. According to legend, Angida was a talented Indian snake catcher whose aim was to catch venomous snakes to prevent them from biting passers-by. Angida would also remove the snake's venomous fangs and release them. Due to his kindness, he was able to attain bodhi. Both Budai and Angida have similar resemblances, as they both are rotund, seen laughing and carrying a bag, However, in Chinese art, Angida is portrayed as Budai, so it may be unclear whether the imagery between the two are similar in any way.
As a Chinese Buddhist monk
In the Chinese tradition, Budai was a monk who lived during the Later Liang Dynasty of China. He was a native of Fenghua, and his Buddhist name was Qieci . He was considered a man of good and loving character. Apart from his character, his identification with the Maitreya Bodhisattva is also attributed to a Buddhist hymn he uttered before his death:
::''Maitreya, the true Maitreya
::''has billions of incarnations.
::''Often he is shown to people at the time;
::''other times they do not recognize him.
Budai is almost always represented as carrying a cloth or linen sack, which never empties, and is filled with many precious items, including rice plants , sweets for children, food, small mammals, and the woes of the world. Sometimes it can be filled with children, as they are seen as some of those precious items of this world. His duty is patron of the weak, the poor and children. In some Japanese representations, Budai may be found sitting on a cart drawn by boys, or wielding a fan called an ''ōgi'' .
In Chinese Buddhist temples of the Chán sect, Budai's statue is traditionally placed in the front part of the entrance hall. He is depicted in the familiar likeness of the above described Laughing Buddha; a stout, smiling or laughing shaved man in robes with a largely exposed pot belly stomach symbolic for happiness, good luck, and plenitude.
Some sculptures have small children at his feet. Another item that is usually seen with the Budai figure, is a begging bowl; to represent his Buddhist nature. All of these images display Budai as a wandering monk who goes around and takes the sadness from people of this world. Because he represents prosperity and happiness, statuettes are often found in homes and businesses in China and Japan.
Faiths that revere Budai
The primary story that concerns Budai in Zen is a short kōan. In it, Budai is said to travel giving candy to poor children, only asking a penny from Zen monks or lay practitioners he meets. One day a monk walks up to him and asks, "What is the meaning of Zen?" Budai drops his bag. "How does one realize Zen?" he continued. Budai then took up his bag and continued on his way.
I Kuan Tao
Statues of Budai form a central part of shrines in the I Kuan Tao. He is usually referred to by his Sanskrit name, Maitreya, and is taken to represent many important teachings and messages, including contentment, generosity, wisdom and open kindheartedness. He is predicted to succeed Gautama Buddha, as the next . He helps people realize the essence within, which connects with all beings. and he fosters the realization of tolerance, generosity and contentment; thus, he helps to bring heaven to earth.
Phra Sangkadchai/ Phra Sangkachai
In Thailand Budai is sometimes confused with another similar monk widely respected in Thailand, Phra Sangkadchai or Sangkachai . ''Phra Sangkadchai'', a Thai spelling of Mahakaccayanathera , was a Buddhist Arhat or Arahant during the time of the Lord . Lord Buddha praised ''Phra Sangkadchai'' for his excellence in explaining sophisticated dharma in an easily and correctly understandable manner. ''Phra Sangkadchai'' also composed the Madhupinadika Sutra.
One tale relates that he was so handsome that once even a man wanted him for a wife. To avoid a similar situation, ''Phra Sangkadchai'' decided to transform himself into a fat monk. Another tale says he was so attractive that angels and men often compared him with the . He considered this inappropriate, so disguised himself in an unpleasantly fat body.
Although both Budai and Phra Sangkadchai may be found in both Thai and Chinese temples, Phra Sangkadchai is found more often in Thai temples, and Budai in Chinese temples. Two points to distinguish them from one another are:
1. Phra Sangkadchai has a trace of hair on his head while Budai is clearly bald.
2. Phra Sangkadchai wears the robes in Theravadin Buddhist fashion with the robes folded across one shoulder, leaving the other uncovered. Budai wears the robes in Chinese style, covering both arms but leaving the front part of the upper body uncovered.
Budai in folklore is admired for his happiness, plenitude, and wisdom of contentment. One belief, popular in folklore not Buddhist doctrine, maintains that rubbing his belly brings forth wealth, good luck, and prosperity.