Maitreya, the future Buddha, is a bodhisattva, which is a Sanskrit word that roughly means wise, enlightened being. A bodhisattva is dedicated to helping others achieve enlightenment. Some sects of Buddhism believe that Maitreya will appear when the teachings of Gautama Buddha are no longer taught and are forgotten. But the meanings and beliefs about Matireya are many and varied within Buddhist beliefs.
The laughing Buddha was a Ch'an Buddhist Monk that lived in China over 1000 years ago. The Ch'an sect of Buddhism is called Zen in Japan. Tradition says that this monk's name was Hotei, or Pu Tai (which means cloth sack). Tradition also says that he was a man of good and loving character, and as such he was linked with the traditions of Maitreya the future Buddha. Because of his large belly and smile he was also called The Laughing Buddha.
The Laughing Buddha is often times portrayed as carrying a cloth sack which is filled with various things. Money, candy for children, food, even the woes of the world. Sometimes he is portrayed as sitting, fanning himself with a type of fan called a 'wish giving' fan. He is sometimes portrayed with a begging bowl. But whether sitting or standing, he is always bald with a big pot belly and a smile on his face.
Belief in The Laughing Buddha is mostly based on legend. It is said that rubbing his protruding belly brings good luck. Statues of Maitreya are displayed in Buddhist temples, Chinese and Japanese homes, and other places around the world. The many schools of Feng Shui, the art of arranging spaces to fit the environment to achieve balance and harmony, utilize statues of Maitreya in many ways. In the office or in the home, a statue of this wandering monk can bring wealth, peace and joy.