A British controversy over naming a Chinese restaurant as "Fat Buddha"

By Walter Jayawardhana, Published on the Buddhist Channel, July 26, 2007

City council decrees name as inappropriate

Durham, UK -- The Indo Asian News Agency has come to the conclusion that Buddhists do not care the naming of a Chinese restaurant "Fat Buddha" while Durham City Council in the UK believes it is offensive.

The news has been written about Durham City Council's belief that the naming of the Chinese restaurant could be offensive to the religion.

"I respect the Chinese cultural belief that a fat Buddha is a lucky sign. But that"s only in China. The other Buddhists all over the world do not believe that Buddha was a fat person and early Buddhist texts described the physique of the Buddha in an opposite sense -as a lean person who did not overeat," said Venerable Tapovanaye Suthadara, a former teacher of the University of Kelaniya , in Sri Lanka. He was speaking to this correspondent from the An Lac Mission , in Ventura , California.

Venerable Suthadara said calling Buddha a fat person in a restaurant sign could be hurting to the feelings of the Buddhists other than Chinese Buddhists.

Indo Asian New Service said, "Buddhists in Britain don't think so, but the Durham City Council believes it is offensive to the religion. It has expressed its misgivings in a letter to Eddi Fung, a Buddhist businessman who wants to call his new Chinese restaurant in Durham the "Fat Buddha". Durham is a city in Britain, where Buddhism is a fast growing religion.

In this instance to know the Buddhist view the news agency did not go to other Buddhists except the restaurant owner and unnamed Chinese Buddhists.

Describing Buddha from the earliest Buddhist texts or the Pali cannon Venerable Tapovanaye Suthadara said, Buddha was a moderate eater and moderate in all other aspects of life.

"Early texts always represented Buddha as a strong, lean person only eating food sufficient to maintain good health," Venerable Suthadara further added.

He said Buddha was not greedy of food and according to the earliest Buddhist texts describing him as a fat person is a thorough misrepresentation.

He said in China all philosophers have been depicted as fat persons as an artistic expression out of respect but for some outsiders it could be hurting.

Quoting from ancient canonical text URAGA VAGGA of SUTTA NIPATA in KHUDDAKA NIKAYA , Venerable Suthadara said, Buddha is described as was having "thin limbs like an antelope, is wise and eats little food without greed".

Herman Hesse, the Noble prize winner of the famous novel, Siddhartha described Buddha as a person eating like a bird.

The Indo-Asian News Service quoted an unnamed spokesman of a unnamed Buddhist Association as saying, "Buddhists regard the fat Buddha as lucky. To suggest this is

offensive is to misunderstand the faith. Buddhists don"t take offence at anything because to do so doesn"t follow Buddhist teachings."

Eddi Fung the restaurant owner was quoted by the Indo Asian News Service as saying, "Fung, 39, said: "I cannot believe that this woman should go to so much time and trouble to take issue over an inoffensive name like Fat Buddha. No Buddhist is going to be offended by this. The fat Buddha is a symbol of health and happiness. It is political correctness gone mad."

But American Buddhists say the word fat is having a wrong connotation in a health conscious world and depicts Buddha as a overeating food greedy individual which is a complete misrepresentation of the true historical Buddha who was depicted correctly in the early Gandhara Buddhist statues.

The news agency said, in a statement, the Durham City Council defended the position: "The department felt the name was inappropriate in a city founded on faith. We don't want to offend anyone because of the different faiths that come to the city. The council operates a strict non-discriminatory equal-opportunities and diversity policy across the board."

Tracey Ingle, the councils head of cultural services, told the Daily Mail: "I stand by the letter, which asked the restaurant owners to rename the place. That is where we are now. We have taken every reasonable step and I have contacted the company director and set out my concerns."