In Chinatowns across the world, one cannot fail to notice statues of a cheerful rotund figure carrying a hemp sack. The Chinese call him The Happy Chinaman or The Laughing Buddha.
That happy fellow, Pu-tai Ho-shang or Hemp-bag monk, was an eccentric Zen beggar priest who lived during the Tang Dynasty. In Japan, he is called Hotei (which literally means cloth bag) and is one of the seven lucky gods. He is supposedly the only member of Japan’s Seven Lucky Gods based on an actual person. He is sometimes mistaken for the historical Buddha Shakyamuni. It is believed that rubbing his pot-belly will bring about wealth, good luck and prosperity. He is considered by many as the patron saint of restaurateurs and bartenders.
Although he was a Zen master, he did not wish to be called one nor did he want any disciples. Instead, he would walk the streets with his linen sack full of candies, fruits, doughnuts and other goodies. He would give those to the poor and needy and to the children who gather around him to play. The streets were his kindergartens.
Whenever he met a Zen devotee he would extend his hand and say: “Give me one penny.”
Once as he was about to play-work another Zen master happened along and inquired: “What is the significance of Zen?”
Hotei immediately plopped his sack down on the ground in silent answer.
“Then,” asked the other, “what is the actualization of Zen?”
At once the Happy Chinaman swung the sack over his shoulder and continued on his way.
Ashidakim.com, Zen Koans 12, Happy Chinaman