Budai, also called Laughing Buddha was a Chinese monk of the 10th
century, a real person. He is always depicted with a big belly,
laughing, sometimes with a sack, which he was always seen carrying
around, according to legend.
Budai monk (Laughing Buddha)
means "sack of cloth" in Chinese.
Over time he has become a symbol of a different kind to many non-Buddhist Chinese.
Like Guanyin, which originally was depicting the
Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, but which is now also seen often in Daoist temples - as
the goddess of mercy - the Laughing Buddha has also became a folkloric
symbol of another type.
He represents wealth and prosperity.
The latter is the reason that figures of the Laughing Buddha often are seen on the front desk or counter of restaurants and shops in Asia.