People are often confused with the statues depicting Buddha and their meanings in one way or the other, especially the ones between the statues of Shakyamuni Buddha and Laughing Buddha or Budai. Generally these are the two Buddha Statues which are famous all over the world. One of the main reasons for the confusion may be the name as they both has the term “Buddha” used to refer either of them. The main difference, though, is that one of them is the statue of the Buddha while the other is the statue of a Buddha.
The following descriptions, however, may help clear up any confusion regarding these famous statues of Buddha.
Statue of Sidhhartha/Shakyamuni Buddha (The Buddha)
The statue of Siddhartha Gautama, known as the Buddha or Shakyamuni Buddha, depicts the image of a spiritual leader or the teacher who originated from the northern South Asian region. Born as a prince in a state of Kapilvastu almost 2600 years ago, he left all the earthly belongings he had as a prince and his palace to meditate to find a true meaning of life. After achieving enlightenment following years of meditation, his teachings became the foundation of what we know today as the religion of Buddhism.
He is the one whom the Buddhist refer to when the talk about the Buddha. The statues of Gautam Buddha or Buddharupa are often depicted in various poses, including seated meditation (with various hand gestures or mudras), standing or walking and lying down on his side, representing various stages of his life and his teachings.
Statue of Laughing Buddha
The statue of Laughing Buddha is that of the character Hotei, who is based on an eccentric monk who lived at the time of Lian Dynasty in ancient China. Also famous as Budai, this statue has become associated as the bringer of good luck and good fortunes across many Asian countries. He is usually identified with (or as an incarnation of) Maitreya, so much so that the Budai image is one of the main forms in which Maitreya is depicted in East Asia.
In Buddhism, the term Buddha is referred to the person who has attained enlightenment through the practice of medidation. . Eventhough, the Theravada Buddhists refer to Budai as an Arhat rather than a Buddha, the statues of Laughing Buddha are often depicted him as an obese bald man who is smiling or laughing, hence earning him the name Laughing Buddha.
Trivia: Matreiya Buddha or the Future Buddha is depicted as above only in the Northern School of Buddhism, ie Mahayana Buddhism. The Chinese embrace Prosperity and hence the Belly that symbolises such. In the Southern School or Theravada, he is slim, and not fat.
Here you go the difference between the statues of Shakyamuni Buddha and the Laughing Buddha.