Humor in the dhamma

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Humor in the dhamma

Postby zavk » Thu Jan 22, 2009 10:36 pm

Hi all,

I'm sure we've all been in situations where a potential conflict is dissolved by a willingness of one party or the other to see the lighter side of things. It just happened to me today. There was a misunderstanding between myself and someone else. It was a misunderstanding on both our parts so I wasn't expecting the other party to react angrily, but the other party did. I made myself laugh at the misunderstanding even though I felt a surge of indignation and annoyance that the other party got upset. The outburst of humor diffused the situation. And now looking back, I can see how utterly silly the whole misunderstanding was. I'm glad I was mindful enough not to react in kind.

So that made me wonder: What is the place of humor in the dhamma? Apart from advice against heedless joking, idle chatter, etc, do the suttas mention anything about the skillful use of humor, or the sillfulness of having a healthy sense of humor? I don't seem to recall the specific mention of 'humor' as such. If there isn't, are there verses that might be interpreted along these lines?

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Re: Humor in the dhamma

Postby Ben » Fri Jan 23, 2009 1:14 am

Hi Zavk

I've seen this topic discussed elsewhere and there are essentially two views with regards to humour in the Dhamma. The first view is that what we consider humour may indeed be the result of the vaguaries of culture and language, and what we find humourous now, may not have been intended to be humourous in the day when it was first uttered.
The second view is that gentle humour was a mechanism that Gotama used as part of his 'skillful means' in communicating with his interlocutors. RF Gombrich writes about humour in the essay 'Metaphor, Allegory, Satire in his work How Buddhism Began: the conditioned genesis of the early teachings, Munchiram Manoharlal Publishers, New Delhi, 1997
Kind regards

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Re: Humor in the dhamma

Postby zavk » Fri Jan 23, 2009 2:15 am

Thanks for the reply, Ben.

Yes, I'm aware that what is considered humourous is context-dependent. And it seems to me that the Buddha had a great (and sometimes wicked) sense of humour. Thanks for pointing out Gombrich's book. I happen to have access to it as an e-book so I shall read that chapter you suggested.

However, what I'm still curious about is: If we bracket off questions of contexts (culture, geographical location, etc, etc), how might we understand humour as a cognitive experience? How might we interpret humour with, say, the psychological ideas delineated in the Abhidhamma?

I am by no means competent with Abhidhammic psychology. I only have had very superficial exposure to the Abhidhamma. I realise that there is no simple answer to this. But I'm really curious. Because it seems to me that realised beings tend to be portrayed as having a good sense of humour. I'm thinking of Hotei or the laughing Buddha in East Asian Buddhism. And apparently (I just found out about this on wikipedia) there is a Phra Sangkadchai or Sangkachai in Thailand who is the Thai representation of Mahakaccayanathera, an arahant of the Buddha's time. It is said the the Buddha praised Phra Sangkadchai for his excellence in explaining sophisticated dhamma in an easily and correctly understandable manner. Moreover, I'm sure many of us have been inspired by dhamma teachers (our teacher is one example, Ben) who are always able to see the lighter side of life.

Anyway, just some wandering thoughts......

EDIT: I just want to say that I can see the irony in my attempts to take 'humour' seriously..... :)
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Re: Humor in the dhamma

Postby thecap » Fri Jan 23, 2009 4:50 am

Haven't read the Abhidhamma, but Joy is one of the Seven Enlightenment Factors...

I've often been in such a situation that if I were serious, my conversation partner would certainly hate me, but with a joke or two, they appreciate and listen to what you say, although the message may be exactly the same...

Thus I think humor is like an epitaph on the gravestone of delusion. You don't have to dig out the smelly corpse to be in the know. "Comedy is simply a funny way of being serious." (Peter Ustinov)
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Re: Humor in the dhamma

Postby Jechbi » Fri Jan 23, 2009 7:14 am

This question may be related to the experience of laughter. There are certain times when I hear or read something profound, and it makes me laugh, not because it's silly or "ha-ha" funny, but because it reflects a surprising, subtle truth that strikes a vaguely familiar chord in a totally unexpected way. A good Dhamma talk always evokes some laughter, in my opinion.

Why do we laugh, actually? Take a comedian, for example. Do we laugh because what he says is so true? Yes. Do we laugh because what he says is so ridiculously false? Yes, and I think in that case we laugh because the absurdity points to an obvious truth. The cause of laughter, in my opinion, is hard to nail down and hard to understand. We don't really have any control over it. It comes over us like an "ah-ha" moment comes over us. But I think it's a reaction to raw truth.

The problem with humor is that it can be hard to make someone laugh. Often humor comes off flat, or we don't "get it," or it's forced or inauthentic. Humor can be just plain unfunny. So I think we have to be really careful with attempts at humor with regard to the Dhamma, because humor implies an effort to manipulate another person in some way, to try to get them to laugh. Sometimes it's welcome, sometimes it isn't. But spontaneous laughter is always, always welcome, even in those darkest hours, even when hope is lost. Especially then.

Personally, I can't imagine the Dhamma without laughter.

:rofl:
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Re: Humor in the dhamma

Postby appicchato » Fri Jan 23, 2009 7:58 am

zavk wrote:...how might we understand humour as a cognitive experience?

The problem (if, indeed, it can be called that) here is that 'humor' is about as relative as anything can possibly be...there is no way that you (not zavk) can get everyone to agree that any one particular thing is 'humorous'...no way...as an aside, what is there to 'understand'?...

Be well... :smile:
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Re: Humor in the dhamma

Postby zavk » Sat Jan 24, 2009 2:01 am

Thanks for all your helpful replies.

It seems to me that if 'humour' is unfixed, often subtle, and ultimately essenceless, then perhaps the sense of humour, the lightness of being, that we encounter in realised beings and dhamma teachers is what blooms forth from the 'middle path', a path which (as I interpret it) is unfixed, subtle and essenceless, but which pursued would surely ease our burdens.

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Re: Humor in the dhamma

Postby person » Mon Feb 16, 2009 11:05 pm

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Re: Humor in the dhamma

Postby zavk » Mon Feb 16, 2009 11:08 pm

person wrote:Possibly of interest:
http://ieas.berkeley.edu/events/2007.02.09w.html


Fantastic!!!!! But alas, I am on the other side of the world. I do hope a publication comes out of this.
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Re: Humor in the dhamma

Postby Kare » Tue Feb 17, 2009 12:21 am

There is one really remarkable passage in Patisambhidamagga about smiling wisdom (or laughing understanding):

Katamā hāsapaññā? Idhekacco hāsabahulo vedabahulo tuṭṭhibahulo pāmojjabahulo sīlāni paripūretīti – hāsapaññā. Hāsabahulo vedabahulo tuṭṭhibahulo pāmojjabahulo indriyasaṃvaraṃ paripūretīti – hāsapaññā. Hāsabahulo vedabahulo tuṭṭhibahulo pāmojjabahulo bhojane mattaññutaṃ paripūretīti – hāsapaññā. Hāsabahulo vedabahulo tuṭṭhibahulo pāmojjabahulo jāgariyānuyogaṃ paripūretīti – hāsapaññā. Hāsabahulo vedabahulo tuṭṭhibahulo pāmojjabahulo sīlakkhandhaṃ…pe… samādhikkhandhaṃ… paññākkhandhaṃ… vimuttikkhandhaṃ… vimuttiñāṇadassanakkhandhaṃ paripūretīti…pe… ṭhānāṭṭhānāni paṭivijjhatīti… vihārasamāpattiyo paripūretīti … ariyasaccāni paṭivijjhatīti… satipaṭṭhāne bhāvetīti… sammappadhāne bhāvetīti… iddhipāde bhāvetīti… indriyāni bhāvetīti… balāni bhāvetīti… bojjhaṅge bhāvetīti … ariyamaggaṃ bhāvetīti…pe… sāmaññaphalāni sacchikarotīti – hāsapaññā. Hāsabahulo vedabahulo tuṭṭhibahulo pāmojjabahulo abhiññāyo paṭivijjhatīti – hāsapaññā. Hāsabahulo vedabahulo tuṭṭhibahulo pāmojjabahulo paramatthaṃ nibbānaṃ sacchikarotīti – hāsapaññā. Hāsapaññatāya saṃvattantīti – ayaṃ hāsapaññā.

I do not care much for the style of Bhikkhu Ñanamoli's translation, but if you read it with a smile, it should work:

What is laughing understanding (or smiling wisdom)? Here someone with much laughter, blitheness, content and gladness perfects the virtues, thus it is laughing understanding. With much laughter, blitheness, content and gladness he perfects restraint of the faculties, thus it is laughing understanding. With much laughter, blitheness, content and gladness he perffects knowledge of the right amount in eating ... devotion to wakefulness ... the virtue aggregate ... the deliverance aggregate ... the knowledge-and-seeing-of-deliverance aggregate ... penetrates the possibles and impossibles ... perfects the abidings and attainments ... penetrates the noble truths ... develops the foundations of mindfulness ... developes the bases for success ... develops the faculties ... develops the powers, develops the enlightenment factors ... develops the path ... realizes the fruits of ascetism ... penetrates the direct knowledges, thus it is laughing understanding. With much laughter, blitheness, content and gladness he realizes the ultimate meaning, nibbana, thus it is laughing understanding. They lead to a state of laughing understanding: this is laughing understanding.

The point is: laugher, smiles etc. are described as a road to nibbana. You can smile and laugh your way straight into the ultimate goal!

So hey, who needs meditation? Let's have another joke!

:rofl:
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Re: Humor in the dhamma

Postby genkaku » Tue Feb 17, 2009 1:08 am

A Zen friend of mine once went to India to spend some time at the ashram run by Rajneesh, aka Osho. This was before Rajneesh got caught with his pants down in Oregon. While my friend was there, she sent me some material from the ashram -- exercises that people used. One of them was this: When you wake up in the morning, for five minutes, just lie in bed and... laugh.

I tried it. I was all by myself. At first, I had to fake it. Then I got laughing that I was faking it. And finally I was just laughing. It was quite a lot of fun... and informative too.
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Re: Humor in the dhamma

Postby appicchato » Tue Feb 17, 2009 1:58 pm

thecap wrote:Joy is one of the Seven Enlightenment Factors...


True...but what's it got to do with humor?...

Be well...and joyful... :smile:
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Re: Humor in the dhamma

Postby lonewolf » Wed Oct 15, 2014 3:23 am

I do not want to open a new topic since this thread is very related to my question. Laughter can be said to be an effect of humor. Is laughter considered skillful, or unskillful in itself, I know some have really strange sense of humor. So decoupling the act of laughing from the causes, just the act itself, is it wholesome or not?

I read some time ago that music is a form of crying, I am curious how about laughter?
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Re: Humor in the dhamma

Postby cooran » Wed Oct 15, 2014 4:48 am

Hello lone wolf,

Here is a previous thread on Laughter
viewtopic.php?f=16&t=20076

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Re: Humor in the dhamma

Postby lonewolf » Wed Oct 15, 2014 1:30 pm

cooran wrote:Hello lone wolf,

Here is a previous thread on Laughter
viewtopic.php?f=16&t=20076

With metta,
Chris


Hi cooran,

Thank you Sir. I read the thread, and it seems opinions vary, though skewed towards unskillful. Wonder if one can laugh mindfully, seems like an unlikely event.

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Re: Humor in the dhamma

Postby silver surfer » Wed Oct 15, 2014 4:53 pm

Can't remember exactly but I'm sure I read somewhere that "quality humor" could even be considered a lifestyle for the wise. And I have to agree with it. I knew one of those :quote:wise old men, met him at a football game and we sort of kept in touch, and I really had the utmost respect for his sense of humor. He always made me laugh and think hard at the same time :D He said extremely clever and funny things always at the right time, and he always nailed it.
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