Lately I find myself laughing all the time, at everything. I laugh when people celebrate finally having a right everyone else takes for granted. I laugh when I hear religious doctrine passed off as natural law. I laugh at myself when I walk an extra three blocks for free trade coffee then put the cup in the trash to add to a mountain peak of garbage. I even smiled as we gathered to be with a good friend as he had his dog who was suffering from severe congestive heart failure and a stroke euthanized. Am I a heartless bitch with no sense of propriety? No, I just find a smile or a laugh the best way to respond to good news, bigotry, irony and even compassion. Why?
First of all, a smile has become my natural reaction to compassionate acts - whether the event surrounding them is happy, sad, traumatic or anything else. Compassion makes me smile, and when you look for it you find it everywhere. When a man shoots 9 others to spark a race war and thousands of all races and faiths respond by peacefully joining hands; that is compassion. When 120,000 raucous, wild rock fans stop and sing “Happy Birthday’ to an 80 year old Tibetan monk; that is compassion. When those who oppose same sex marriage on religious principles accept it as a secular right; that is compassion. Compassion makes me happy, so I smile.
Laughter has both physiological and psychological effects on us. It helps relieve high blood pressure. It helps to release tension and mitigate terror. It calms us in times of stress and uplifts us in times of sadness.
I laugh at the absurdity of life - not as a cynical response but because absurdity truly amuses me. I mean, I am a fan of Monty Python. When we think about it most of what we do in life is absurd, so I laugh all the time - at others and at myself. We are dissatisfied with ourselves and our life so we rush around in the vain pursuit of happiness: in things, in people, in power, in riches, in looks, in sex and on and on. The Buddha says, “See them thrashing about like fish in a stream with little water”. But why is this absurd? Shouldn’t we try to find things that make us happy when we’re dissatisfied?
We should certainly seek bliss when we’re dissatisfied, but we’ll never find it in things. Like us, all things pass away so possession is no balm. The only answer to dissatisfaction is in relationship, and relationship engenders compassion. Look at my examples of compassion above. All of them are based in relationship. Relationship is the only thing that doesn’t pass away. Even when we’ve died the relationships we built will remain and we will remain in the causal effects we had in others’ lives and that our memory will continue to have. Impermanence is a depressing teaching without interconnection; and the more you recognize your interconnection with others the less you care about impermanence - or I should say the less it concerns you.
So why did I title this post “I Know Why the Buddha Laughs”? A friend was getting a tattoo of the “Laughing Buddha” and I said, “Well, you know that’s not Buddha but the Chinese god Budai.” What a know-it-all! While this is his origin, as Buddhism expanded through China he was transformed eventually into an image of Maitreya Buddha - the Buddha of the Age to Come. So why does he laugh? I like to think that he laughs as he looks back on our time and sees us recognizing the absurdity of our thrashing about and the joy of turning toward compassion.
Join Maitreya and me and give a hearty laugh as you examine the absurdity of life - both outside yourself and within. Release you anger when you see the injustice of the 1% stomping on the 99% in their quest for power - knowing that power always passes away. Relieve your sadness at the raping of our resources as you realize we could all do better. Laugh away your fear at the reports of war and mayhem on the news when you recognize that for every act of terror there are a thousand responses of compassion, and that we live in the per capita least violent time in human history.
Don’t stop with the laugh, however, or you might be drawn into cynicism. Let your observation of absurdity motivate you to see the centrality of relationship and the truth of interconnection. When you do this your laughter will transform into the knowing smile of one suffused with compassion. Compassion will transform the way you view others and yourself. Dissatisfaction will fall away and - not happiness but - bliss will fill you. And bliss has only one expression, the smiling laugh of the Buddha.