I won’t even pretend I know much about Buddhism, but I have always been drawn to the image of the Laughing Buddha. In fact, I’ve had a statue of him in my yard for over a decade. His smiling face reminds me that no matter what is happening in my life or the world, we can always choose to see the world more joyfully. So it was a no brainer for me to accept the invitation to review a book titled, Poems of the Laughing Buddha by Jane Marla Robbins. And, just as I hope with any book I read, the ideas it contained helped simulate some SMART thoughts we all might use to create a more meaningful and happy life.
Of course it is good to remember that just like with most of the world’s major religions, Buddhism has dozens of sects and offshoots. Unfortunately, the Laughing Buddha and/or the presence of humor does not exist in most of them. In general, the majority of religions, along with those in charge of them, insist on reverence. In contrast, the Laughing Buddha evolved out of the original Buddhist teachings as a personality known as Maitreya, or the “future Buddha.” Similar to the trickster or jester in some cultures, the Laughing Buddha exists to offer contrast and reveal truth in ways that are often denied. In China this version of the Buddha is known as Budai, while in Japan he is known as Hotei. Regardless of what we call him, his humor and irony (which is often also found in Zen Buddhism) offers a great opportunity for growth, awareness and understanding.
What I love most about the Laughing Buddha, and especially Zen Buddhism, is that it continually questions our viewpoints and attempts to dissolve boundaries so that we see and think of circumstances, other people and the world in a different way. Isn’t that what humor does? Humor breaks open our assumptions while questioning and challenging everything we believe to be right and true. Instead of confronting something outright, humor tends to sneak around our conscious mind and then catch us by surprise. The very best humor startles us awake and changes our awareness. I’m guessing the Buddha knew that if you want people to wake up and be conscious, tricking them with laughter was a good way to do it.
Buddhist humor also points out the unknowable and impermanent nature of life. Have you ever seen a demonstration of the gorgeous Sand Mandela Paintings made by Buddhist monks around the world? Those artistic, symbolic, exquisite works of art and their ritualistic destruction asks us to let go of what we think we know, and accept that everything constantly changes. Just like someone pulling the rug out from under you unexpectedly—it can either be seen as outrageously funny, or tragically hurtful. How we experience any condition can either show suffering and unhappiness, or release us to transcendence and enlightenment. Buddhist humor strives to help us make the distinction. Consider the following situation:
One day a young traveling Buddhist came to the banks of a wide river. Staring hopelessly at the water and wondering how to get to the other side, the young traveler happened to see a great Buddhist teacher standing on the other side. Pleased at finding such a quick solution to his problem he yells out to the teacher, “Oh wise one, can you tell me how to get to the other side of this river?”
The teacher ponders for a moment, looks up and down the river and yells back, “My son, you are on the other side.”
Or consider the following classic jokes:
- What did the Buddhist say to the pizza chef? Make me one with everything!
- Why can’t a Buddhist vacuum under the sofa? Because he has no attachments!
- What did a sign in the monastery searching for new monks say? Inquire within!
An aspiring monk asked to enter a monastery and attach himself to a Zen Master.
“Very well,” said the Zen Master, “but all students here observe the vow of silence. You will be allowed to speak only once every twelve years using only two words.
After the first twelve years, the student said, “Bed hard.”
After another twelve years, he said, “Food bad.”
Twelve more years later, after thirty-six years of hard work and meditation, he said, “I quit.”
“Good,” snapped the Zen Master, “all you’ve done is complain.”
Of course, some might feel that such attempts at humor are disrespectful and insulting in the face of the seriousness of some situations. But again, the Laughing Buddha, like humor in general, disrupts our thinking and makes us laugh. So instead of taking our own views and opinions too seriously, or allowing the sovereignty of our own tight egos to run our lives, humor breaks open our limited awareness by making us laugh at the absurdity of believing we ever have the final solution to anything. Maybe that’s why one of my favorite Buddhist sayings of all time is, “Act as if the future of the world depends upon what you do, all the while laughing at yourself for thinking you can make a difference.”
As for the Poems of The Laughing Buddha, I found several of them in this small volume that touched my heart and made me smile. While I never experienced all-out-laugher, I did nod my head in recognition. Here’s one of the shorter ones as an example:
“Many women I know have facelifts
To tighten their cheeks
And eliminate the lines
Around their mouth and chin.
I have my share of lines as well
But pay someone to cut me?
Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha.
When all I need to do is smile
And all the wrinkles disappear!
As I’ve written about before, there is plenty of research that shows that smiling and laughing is good for us for so many reasons. But what we less seldom acknowledge is that our seriousness is probably just our ego thinking we know more than we think we do or that we have the world all figured out. Maybe the SMART perspective is to find more reasons to laugh every day of our lives, and never be afraid to challenge our own thinking. And if you like to read poetry, I’ve got a book I’m happy recommend.
Thanks to author Jane Marla Robbins for sending me this book and t-shirt. As always, the ideas expressed in this review are solely my own. For more information about the author go to: http://www.janemarlarobbins.com/
This post is part of the #MidlifeLUV Linkup Party for 9-25-15!