Why Was the Buddha Laughing?

I first wrote this piece in April 2007 and it remains a favorite. In my humble opinion, the ability to laugh is one of the most important virtues we can possess.

Have you ever been in one of those conversations about the meaning of life and why are we here that gets so deep and heavy it feels like your head is going to blow up? Or attend a lecture by a brilliantly intellectual teacher who is brilliantly droning on about some brilliant philosophical model of consciousness that makes perfect brilliant sense but not once does he or she even crack a brilliant smile and everyone else in the room looks totally glazed over and you want to run out the room screaming? So you go home and turn on the TV and there's some comedian who is silly and Light and you find yourself laughing at what he or she is ruminating about, and you feel the Zen of it all and think, "Hey now, this is much more like it?"

The wacky part about this whole spiritual path thing is man, sometimes it's all a bit too much and everyone is just so darned serious all of the time. Although I write and teach about the serious aspects of growing in conscious awareness and the importance of cultivating Ethical Intelligence skills, a large part of every day is spent in apparent mindless yet fully intentional laughing and joking and being playful and silly. When I work with people in groups and one-on-one in processing some of the weighty personal issues that affect them on a spiritual level, we actually spend a great deal of time laughing. I've had a lot of those near brain explosions and "get-me-out-of-here!" moments over the past several decades, and frankly, there is very little I got out of the content of those scenarios. Actually, they often have left me feeling like taking a nap because you feel so mentally stuffed afterwards, and there wasn't even any pumpkin pie after the main discourse. So, even when I am talking with someone about a situation in his or her life that is hardly lightweight, I always try to shift the energy to bring in some levity, some mindlessness to get them out of their hefty brain spin - because laughter is good medicine.


What is a Buddhist vacuum cleaner? One that has no attachments.

Sometimes, in all our noble efforts to make a difference because it is so dark on the physical plane on Earth right now and the need for our focused efforts for positive change is so great, we can forget to just have fun, and our own energy field becomes extremely dense. Yet when you look at the saints and sages that appear to have figured it out to a large degree, every one of them laughs a great deal of the time. They bring humor into their talks on purpose. They get the cosmic jokes that exist in the midst of even the bleakest situations and the toughest internal struggles. They make Light of a situation, not out of disrespect or disregard for another person's pain, but because they know it moves energy away from the heaviness. Spinning in our personal status quo isn't productive, so a shift is in order in whatever way it can happen, and Lightening things up with humor alongside the compassion and straight talk and mirroring is an excellent combination of energy-moving strategies.

One of the characteristics I feel is a vital part of choosing to take the path of conscious awareness and personal transformation and actually be effective is maintaining a very healthy sense of humor. When we take ourselves too seriously we are open game for the ego to grab hold with all of its lofty self-righteousness and arrogant ideas of how wise and evolved we are. Being able to laugh at ourselves and indeed at our shadow behaviors and repetitive spiritually non-productive and even self-destructive behavioral grooves - as well as any inflated notions we hold about our degree of "spiritualness" that we can get tripped up in - are an essential aspect of their transcendence.

God is a comedian playing to an audience too afraid to laugh – Voltaire.

We often see images and statues of a round-bellied Buddha whose face is bright with laughter. The Chinese Buddha called Hotei or Pu-Tai is based on a colorful (some call him eccentric) Chinese Ch'an (Zen) monk who lived over 1,000 years ago and has become a significant part of Buddhist and Shinto culture. Because of this monk's kindly nature, he came to be regarded as an incarnation of the Bodhisattva who will be Maitreya (or, the Future Buddha, succeeding the Gautama Buddha). Although some claim Hotei is based on superstition, he is a genuine symbol of a spiritual activist who is an advocate for of the weak, poor and children, a wandering jovial monk who travels about transforming the sadness in the hearts of people of this world. A comedian on the road as it were.


Hotei represents not a packaged Buddhist perspective, but a Universal belief that a life of working on Self-mastery over our ego, a happy and positive outlook, meaningful endeavors and right livelihood, a proactive commitment to the welfare of others and awakened awareness is definitely attainable in this world of form. If having a Laughing Buddha statue around can re-mind you of that, then regardless of whether Hotei is superstitious myth or not, who can argue that's not a good thing to focus your attention on? Heck, we need all the positive re-minders we can get.

Popular modern-day teachers like Pema Chodron, the late Ram Das, and the Dalai Lama all comprehend the value of levity, and even being mischievous and playful with their students at times. When you are evaluating the merits of spiritual teachers, I suggest you pay attention to their sense of humor and how often they laugh, as it reflects how clearly they can see life as Divine comedy and how seriously they take themselves. A self-effacing and joyful sense of humor (as opposed to a mean-spirited one), along with other attributes such as compassion, self-honesty, fearlessness, high ethical standards and impeccable spiritual transparency are all hallmarks of a teacher worth paying attention to.

Any being that can shift people away from their own worries and sadness, even if it is for just a moment or two, is offering humanity a great and high vibratory service.

I consider our most beloved comics, humorists and actors who joyfully see the value in and celebrate the funny and silly and absurd aspects of being human to be saints, actually. Smiling and laughter are contagious forms of energy that elevate the spirits of everyone they come into contact with. Those dealing with healing from a devastating physical illness are routinely "prescribed" a strong dose of whatever can make them laugh as much and often as possible.

What did the Yogi say when he walked into the Zen Pizza Parlor? "Make me one with everything."When the Yogi got the pizza, he gave the proprietor a $20 bill. The proprietor pocketed the bill. The Yogi said "Don't I get change?" The proprietor said, "Change must come from within."

Some data on the positive effects of laughter:


• According to a study performed in 2000 by cardiologists at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore, laughter, along with an active sense of humor, may help protect you against a heart attack, The study, which was the first to indicate that laughter may help prevent heart disease, found that people with heart disease were 40 percent less likely to laugh in a variety of situations compared to people of the same age without heart disease. (Laughter is abundant in those who have an open heart chakra.)

• Research conducted by Dr. Lee S. Berk, Professor at Loma Linda University, demonstrates that laughter increases the count of NK cells (a type of white cell) and antibody levels.

• Laughter increases the levels of endorphins – the body’s natural painkillers. Endorphins released as a result of laughter may help in reducing the intensity of pain in those suffering from arthritis and muscular spasms.

• Experiments have demonstrated that a ten-minute laughter session leads to a reduction of 10-20 mm in blood pressure.

• Dr. William Fry of Stanford University claims one minute of laughter is equal to the aerobic benefits of ten minutes on a rowing machine.

• The Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humor (AATH), states that the therapeutic use of humor "promotes health and wellness by stimulating a playful discovery, expression, or appreciation of the absurdity or incongruity of life's situations. 

This intervention may enhance work performance, support learning, improve health, or be used as a complementary treatment of illness to facilitate healing or coping, whether physical, emotional, cognitive, social, or spiritual."


And now there is Laughter Yoga, created by Dr Madan Kataria of India, who suggests that daily twenty-minute sessions combining laughter exercises and pranayama will provide the health benefits of laughter described above. There are Laughter Clubs and Laughter Yoga workshops given around the world. You can even hire a certified Laughter Yoga coach. (But I think putting on a Robin Williams DVD while you breathe would do the job just fine.)


"I think it would be a good idea." - Gandhi, when asked what he thought of Western civilization.

What is considered to be funny is, like beauty, in the eyes of the beholder. It's hard to explain why we find something to be humorous, because what is funny is beyond logical, analytical explanation. What is funny to me may not be funny to you in the least. But one characteristic about laughter is universal: When we are engaged in laughing at something funny, our inner chatter is generally dis-engaged. We have a direct "no mind" experience that is akin to all moments of clarity and spiritual awakening that occur when we get out of our own way.

But okay, why was Buddha laughing? Of course, there are no conclusive answers, only speculations … and deep speculating on the "why of it all" can make your head feel like it will spontaneously combust. Maybe the simple fact that it feels good and makes others feel good is explanation enough. Plus, it's a form of selfless, contagious service we all can engage in.

How do you make God laugh? Tell Him your plans.

This post was originally published in the April 2007 issue of Oracle 20-20 Magazine, and adapted for this blog.


©2007, 2018, 2020 Suzanne Matthiessen, innerevolution media. All rights reserved.

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Please read the "Legal Stuff" and "Sharing Site Content" pages for your protection.