I love Buddhist humor. I especially love the way many Buddhist meditation masters find humorous ways to show us how uptight we can get.
Back in ancient times, before kids, my wife and I took a long cross-country RV trip. We ate very frugally on the road, with Katina making amazing meals, but we did have the ritual of eating breakfast on Sunday mornings in a local diner.
One Sunday morning, in one of the Virginias I think, a dog-eared menu had a message prominently on display on the very top, as if it were their motto:
If you don’t have a sense of humor, you have no sense at all.
I think of that menu and its message from time to time, as I struggle to keep up my meditation practice. I ask myself, am I taking meditation too seriously?
In the words of the comic Swami Beyondananda “The world is in serious condition largely due to our conditioning to be serious.”
And we do take ourselves way too seriously, right?
I love Buddhist humor. I especially love the way many Buddhist meditation masters find humorous ways to show us how uptight we can get. The author David Chadwick recounts in a recent book about his life as a student of the Japanese Zen master Suzuki Roshi.
A few students went out to lunch one day with their teacher, he remembers, and the Buddhist master ordered a hamburger. One student seemed perplexed and remarked to Suzuki Roshi that the Buddha was a vegetarian.
Suzuki Roshi’s response:
Yes, Buddha was a very pious man.
The Zen teacher Norman Fischer comments that Suzuki Roshi’s had zero pretensions. He wrote:
He had that kind of humor all the time, unsettling whatever place you had settled into as your comfort zone. It’s not a statement about eating meat or not eating meat. It’s about fixations.
One could say Buddhism addresses our fixations, front and center. And how we can find true relief from the narrow view of things we have when we are in their grip.
Some get offended at un-enlightened attempts at Buddhist humor. That it’s a sign of disrespect. But those who feel this way are often in the hold of a fixation playing itself out.
The idea isn’t to use Buddhist humor as a way of hiding, or to make light of a serious situation. Appropriate Buddhist humor comes from a place of courage, of taking a risk, of being vulnerable, of stepping out of whatever conditioned pattern may be running.
One more from David Chadwick’s book Zen Is Right Here: Teaching Stories and Anecdotes of Shunryu Suzuki:
On the fourth day of sesshin (intensive retreat) as we sat with our painful legs, aching backs, hopes and doubts about whether it was worth it, Suzuki Roshi began his talk by saying slowly:
The problems you are now experiencing”—we were sure he was going to say will go away— “will continue for the rest of your life.
The way he said it, we all laughed.
Here is an actual Craigslist ad posted by a Buddhist meditator with a sense of humor, in NYC (apparently, they exist!)
It is true, as this Craigslist poster says, setting egoic annoyances aside makes lots of room for the present moment.
And that’s where we can relish in the playfulness of a merry heart, as the Book of Proverbs reminds us that “a merry heart doeth good as medicine, but a broken spirit drieth the bones.”
And finally, here is our friend Swami Beyondananda with this observation:
If we want world peace, we must let go of our attachments and truly live like nomads. That’s where I no mad at you, you no mad at me. That way, there will surely be no madness on the planet.
Let’s all live like no-mads!