Laughter and Transmission of the Dharma

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 25, 2018

Language, Reality, Emptiness, Laughs

Soraj Hongladarom
Chulalongkorn University

Laughter, especially in connection with philosophy, reality, or language, is not much discussed in the vast literature of Buddhism. In the few places where it is discussed, however, there are two strands. On the one hand, laughter is frowned upon when it is seen as an attraction that leads one astray from the path. This is evident in the Tālapuṭa Sūtra, where the Buddha says that actors and comedians would find it very difficult to enter the Path. It is also found in the Vinaya, where the emphasis is on the proper behavior of monks. The Buddha often rebukes monks who laugh out loud in the villages where householders can see them. The other strand views laughter more positively. This strand is found more in the Mahāyāna literature, where the Buddha laughs when he realizes emptiness, that nothing is substantial. The attitude of Buddhism toward laughter is conditional. Laughter and playfulness have a soteriological role to play as a skillful means, and Buddhism is not always serious.

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