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A recent column in Tricycle: The Buddhist Review discussed laughter. It was written by Bodhipaksa and debunks the quote that is attributed to the Buddha and something that he never actually said.
“When you realize how perfect everything is, you will tilt your head back and laugh at the sky.”
The article discusses the role of laughter in the suttas (the written record of the Buddha’s oral teachings). The Buddha did not appear to be sanguine about laughter. He discouraged monks from being merry when suffering was all around. In another place, he chides a comic actor becuase what he does can contribute to “intoxication and heedlessness.”
Laughter is a double-edged sword. On one edge, laughter can be the chief product of self. Bodhipaksa cites research that finds humor is often at the expense of others and thus gives rise to a feeling of superiority. This reinforces the sense of self and further girds suffering. On the other edge of the sword, laughter is a natural by-product when one has done much work to liberate from the entanglements of self.
Take the Dalai Lama for example. He has called himself a “Professional Laugher.” His jocularity does not stem from making himself superior to others but arises from his directly felt connection with everyone and everything. When we are not caught up in our personal stories and seeking to make ourselves okay in every moment, laughter will naturally leak out.
The incessant identification we have with our stories is what suppresses laughter. When the stories stop, the laughter is free to emerge.
It’s good to laugh. We know that it can improve your mood and has been reputed to aid in healing. To the extent that we can vanquish our limited sense of self, we can look to laughter as a barometer of our progress along the path.
The Buddha may not have been as jovial as His Holiness, but he did have a sense of humor–a wry, sarcastic one when it came to lampooning the religions of his day.
Laughter is very connected to the unencumbered voice. In fact, unbridled laughter is one the voice exercises that I do on a regular basis. I am not laughing at anything in particular, just laughing. In the Awakened Introvert, I explore the power of the voice and how to get beyond self-consciousness.
Give laughter a try. Rather than consuming a joke, try to laugh at the sheer joy of being alive.