Laughing Buddha: Reflections on Joy

A single understanding:
“I am the One Awareness,” consumes all suffering
in the fire of an instant.

Be happy.

Ashtavakra Gita


Kindness goes where logic cannot go

Love goes where kindness cannot go

Humour goes where love cannot go

Kind words, a loving hand…but somehow it seems nothing else can touch that dimension of human connection that humour does. Perhaps that is why it is the most incorruptible, the least fake-able.

Kindness says, I know you need me and I’m here.

Love says, I want to show you what’s in myself so you’ll find it in yourself too.

But when we laugh with someone, there’s no one giving or receiving. Pure equality. Pure sharing.

Laughter says, you don’t need anything and I know that. We both know we’re ultimately one and somewhere, deep down, we know we’re just fooling around….


Scientific studies show today that joy and laughter help boost immunity, promote a healthier heart and contribute to better mental health by reducing stress and anxiety.
We spend most of our lives pursuing happiness through various means – relationships, work, money – but yet, where are we as a society in terms of general light-heartedness and joy? On the contrary we are trained to be very serious from a young age, else we’ll end up nowhere in life. Instead of learning how to ‘flow’ with life effortlessly, like a piece of cork on the river, we’re told to row against the current with all our might. 

So no wonder we’re so lacking in joy which the sages have told us is the substratum of existence, our very nature. As the story of Rishi Bhrigu’s meditation in the Taittiriya Upanishad goes:

“Bhrigu went to his father, Varuna, and asked respectfully: ‘What is Brahman?” Varuna replied: ‘First learn about food, breath, eye, ear, speech, and mind; then seek to know that from which these are born, by which they live, for which they search, and to which they return. That is Brahman.

Bhrigu meditated and found that food is Brahman. From food are born all creatures, by food they grow, and to food they return. Not fully satisfied with his knowledge, Bhrigu went to his father, Varuna, and appealed: ‘Please teach me more of Brahman.’

‘Seek it through meditation,’ replied Varuna, ‘for meditation is Brahman.’

Bhrigu meditated and found that life is Brahman. From life are born all creatures, by life they grow, and to life they return. Not fully satisfied with his knowledge, Bhrigu went to his father, Varuna, and appealed: ‘Please teach me more of Brahman.’

‘Seek it through meditation,’ replied Varuna, ‘for meditation is Brahman.’

Bhrigu meditated and found that mind is Brahman. From mind are born all creatures, by mind they grow, and to mind they return. Not fully satisfied with his knowledge, Bhrigu went to his father, Varuna, and appealed: ‘Please teach me more of Brahman.’

‘Seek it through meditation,’ replied Varuna, ‘for meditation is Brahman.’

Bhrigu meditated and found that joy is Brahman. From joy are born all creatures, by joy they grow, and to joy they return.

Bhrigu, Varuna’s son, realized this Self in the very depths of meditation. Those who realize the Self within the heart stand firm, grow rich, gather a family around them, and receive the love of all.”


Sometimes even our spiritual search can become so serious and yet another thing to attain. Images of saints and sages are often of dire-looking men and women, giving the impression that the ultimate goal of life is a deeply serious matter. 

A nice story in the Zen tradition as narrated by Zen Master Seung Sahn goes:

Questioner: “Why do I or anybody make Zen difficult?”

Seung Sahn: “You say ‘difficult,’ so it’s difficult. A long time ago in China there lived a famous man named Layman Pang. His whole family was a Zen family. Layman Pang used to be rich, but then he realized that many people don’t have enough food to eat. So he gave all of his land to the farmers. He had many precious jewels and other possessions, but he thought, ‘If I give things away, they’ll only create desire-mind in other people.’ So he took a boat out to the middle of a very deep lake and dumped all his priceless possessions overboard. Then he and his daughter went and lived in a cave; meanwhile, his wife and son moved into a very small house. Sometimes the Pangs would visit Zen temples to have dharma combat with the monks. They had a very simple life, and practiced very hard.

“One day, someone asked Layman Pang, ‘Is Zen difficult or easy?’

“He replied, ‘It’s like trying to hit the moon with a stick. Very difficult!’

“Then this man thought, ‘Oh, Zen is very difficult.’ So he asked Layman Pang’s wife, ‘Your husband said Zen is difficult. I ask you, then, is Zen difficult or easy?’

“She said, ‘Oh, Zen is very easy! It’s like touching your nose when you wash your face in the morning!’

“The man could not understand. He thought to himself, ‘Hmmm … Layman Pang says Zen is difficult; his wife says it is very easy. Which one is correct?’ So he went to their son and said, ‘Your father said Zen is very difficult; your mother said it is very easy. Which one is correct?’

“The son replied, ‘If you think it’s difficult, then it’s difficult. If you think it’s easy, then it’s easy. Don’t make difficult and easy!’

“But the man was still not satisfied, so he went to the daughter. ‘Everyone in your whole family has a different answer to my question. Your mother said Zen is easy. Your father said Zen is difficult. And your brother said don’t make difficult and easy. So I ask you, is Zen difficult or easy?’

“‘Go drink tea.’”

Seung Sahn Sunim looked at the student who asked the question and said, “So, go drink tea, OK? Don’t make ‘difficult.’ Don’t make ‘easy.’ Don’t make anything. From moment to moment, just do it!”


Our societies, based largely on material achievement have a more dominant masculine energy while the more feminine energy of creativity, lies subdued. Poetry, painting, writing, singing, playing music – all lighten the spirit and put us in touch with our inner creativity and joy. It is for this reason that so many spiritual traditions involved the arts – bhajan singing, dancing, painting, sculpture, calligraphy etc are all fine expressions of the spirit. As Swami Vivekananda said, you could be closer to God on the football field than in studying the Bhagavad Gita.

Especially in difficult times, finding things to be happy about and laugh about becomes more important. Wishing you a Happy Sunday and week ahead.


Whenever you have the chance, laugh as much as you can.

By this all the rigid knots in your body will be loosened.

But to laugh superficially is not enough: your whole being must be united in laughter, both inwardly and outwardly.

Do you know how this is expressed?
You literally shake with merriment from head to foot, so that it is impossible to tell which part of your body is most affected.

What you usually do is laugh with your mouth, while your emotions are held in check.

But I want you to laugh with your whole countenance, with your whole heart and with all the breath of your life.

~ Sri Anandamayi Ma
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