SotW: Was the Buddha Fat?

An old joke: I have the body of a God. Unfortunately that God is Buddha.

Now, as a Buddhist, I have to mention that of course, Buddha was not a God. But was he fat? No, definitely not. The “fat Buddha” or “Laughing Buddha” is a Chinese invention more than a millenium after the death of the Buddha. The actual Buddha was quite lean.

In the suttas, when monks (including the Buddha) meet or exchange pleasantries, they almost always talk about whether they are able to get enough food donations. The idea of the fat monk was at least 1500 years away.

Here is a quote from a sutra where the Buddha pretty clearly condemns fat monks:

Now monks are diligent and hard working. They are so committed, they would use a block of wood for a pillow. Màra has no room to interfere.

But in the future monks will have soft, beautiful hands and feet. They will have huge, fat bodies and sleep until after sunrise. Màra would then have room to interfere.

SN 19.8

Here is another little sutta where the Buddha gives some dieting advice. I like to call it the Poetry Diet:

Once when the was at Savatthi, King Pasenadi ate a huge pile of food. When he came to the Buddha, he was so stuffed he could hardly breath. Concerned for his health, the Buddha composed this little poem:

When someone is mindful
And pays attention to how much they’ve eaten
Their problems become more lean
The age slowly, saving their lives.

The king quickly called over a young brahman named Sudassana. “Sudassana,” the king implored, “memorize this little poem and recite it to me every time I eat. I will pay you 100 kahaapanas a day!”

Over time, the King came to eat only a single portion of rice per day. He became lean and healthy. Admiring his own health and vigor, the king said, “The Budda has shown me compassion both now and in the future.”

-SN 3.13


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