Surely The Buddha appeared quite emaciated when he realized full enlightenment. Why is an emaciated Buddha rarely represented in art?

  • 1
    FYI some (perhaps rare) representations of an emaciated Buddha do exist if you look for them.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Jan 21, 2015 at 14:42
  • 1
    Just a quick comment that the Buddha only attained enlightenment after He had abandoned the practice of extreme self-mortification. He discovered the Middle Way which is a path of neither self-indulgence nor self-mortification. After realizing that self-mortification didn't work, He accepted milk and rice from the village girl Sujata to regain the strength needed to continue His practice toward enlightenment.
    – santa100
    Commented Jan 21, 2015 at 16:43
  • "Surely The Buddha appeared quite emaciated when he realized full enlightenment." I am not sure why he would appear this way. Like santa100 said, it was not self-mortification that lead him to the Way.
    – Thien
    Commented Jan 21, 2015 at 20:34
  • @ChristopherLee He may have found enlightenment not long after the Middle Way, i.e. while he was still thin. If not self-mortification, the art/depiction might show resolve, self-control (and impermanence of bodily form).
    – ChrisW
    Commented Jan 22, 2015 at 0:47
  • I might be a bit young and mistake,but I believe the fat laughing buddha statues are used to incorage people into the practice I myself am fat and people believe I live a great life so the statue is more a prable then a mistake
    – user6959
    Commented Sep 19, 2015 at 10:54

5 Answers 5


As @ChrisW linked above, there are many representations of the Buddha in his emaciated state, such as enter image description here and enter image description here and enter image description here.

From the book Buddhist Art and Architecture by Robert E. Fisher, a brief mention of this style of portraying the Buddha is found on page 47 when discussing contrast between Roman and Indian styles of portraying the Buddha in art in the Gandhara region where Alexander the Great had just ended his campaign.

The Roman love of portraiture and dramatic realism appeared in the form of images of the emaciated Buddha, a favorite subject of the region but one seldom found in Indian art.

So while the Romans liked this style, it certainly wasn't as popular then (or now) as depictions of the Buddha while not in an emaciated state. As mentioned, the Buddha taught the middle way, so neither his period of luxury nor his period of austerity seem as important or as inspiring as the period of his enlightenment, most popularly depicted with the Buddha looking healthy and serene.


Because it is not the middle way.

Representing the Buddha as emaciated is likely to lead others to fast like the Buddha, thereby repeating his follies.

The representation of the Buddha is not primarily a representation of the human or of history alone, but of the realized wisdom of a Buddha.


Because people often wish to deny that starvation and illness exist. Even Buddhists find these facts challenging


The fat, bald, laughing"buddha" is a chinese monk named Ho Tai (or Mi Lo Fa) .


Beautiful answer by Robin111.

But I believe the question is why isn't Buddha represented as emaciated? Specifically why do people have the fat Laughing Buddha statue everywhere especially at the front of business buildings? Mainly this is because it represents wealth, commerce, and overspending, something businesses like. Most when asked say "it's luck." These people feel it attracts abundance.

Other reasons this trend has remained so is because:

  • the Buddha did not attain Awakening until he "fattened up" a little, taking the milk curds from the woman, and taking care of his physical form
  • the obesity/fat belly represents happiness and physical health [ironic because I feel much happier on successful fasts than I do overeating!]. Remember that happiness (a result of the 2nd training) is a foundation for Awakening (the 3rd training).
  • obesity is representative of wealth in earlier times (actually all times, except this past century) which in reference to Buddha perhaps represents spiritual wealth.
  • 2
    The 'laughing Buddha' is presumably Budai.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Jan 22, 2015 at 9:10
  • Interesting interpretation but rather unusual. Traditionally the Budai form of Maitreya is associated with Chinese (as well as Vietnamese) representation of the Maitreya. Other traditions as well as historical Chinese iconography generally depict him in a regal stately princely manner. The important qualities as you pointed out is his joyful nature in his obese appearance. It is also symbolizes not judging someone by their appearance because everyone is a Future Buddha.
    – Yinxu
    Commented Apr 26, 2017 at 2:29

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