One of the common misconceptions that many people have about Buddha is the depiction often used in the Western world of a fat, bald little man. This depiction is not actually of Buddha, but of a 10th-Century Chinese monk known as Budai.
Budai is almost always depicted as smiling or laughing, in a seated position with a protruding stomach. Budai has been incorporated into Buddhism, Taoism and Shintoism and is believed by many to be destined as the next Buddha after Siddhartha Gautama.
Budai was a wandering monk, and would often be said to predict people’s fortunes. He claimed he was an incarnation of Maitreya, the Buddha of the Future.
Siddhartha Gautama was a monk who taught in India between the 6th and 4th Centuries BC and is the person on whose teachings that Buddhism was founded. Gautama was believed to have been born in what is now known as modern day Nepal, and some accounts are that he was born to royalty. Gautama renounced his princely upbringing in order to become a holy man.
One could write indefinitely on the intricate details of this topic. There are a number of different variations and some of the details are a little vague, but like most faiths it all depends on what source you research your information from.
This is a bit like the game some may have played in grade school, Telephone Game. It basically involved sitting in a circle and the first person whispers something into the next person’s ear and so on until it reaches the last person, who speaks the message out loud and reveals how the message may have unexpectedly changed.
The background of some of Buddhism’s origins is a bit similar. With the passing of time and modernization, the Western world has come to recognize Buddha as a little fat man who smiles and little else, which is genuinely unfortunate. ☯