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PAGE ONE Feature: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6

By Tom Armstrong
Copyright 2000

Before enlightenment, a whoopee cushion is funny; when you realize enlightenment a whoopee cushion isn't funny; after enlightenment a whoopee cushion is funny again.

IS IS SURELY an odd thing to those who have never investigated Buddhism that a religion can have at its inception the gloomy pronouncement by Gautama Buddha that The First Noble Truth is the fact that we suffer.

The Dhammapada, a collection of the Buddha's essential teachings, offers us this truth in these sobering words:

How can you find delight and mirth
Where there is burning without end?
In deepest darkness you are wrapped!
Why do you not seek for the light?

Look at this puppet here, well rigged,
A heap of many sores, piled up,
Diseased and full of greediness,
Unstable and impermanent!

And, yet, Buddhism, too, offers an escape from suffering, described, simply, as a cutting off of the three fetters of egoism, being possessive and believing oneself to be important. Accompanying this sloughing off of the fetters is joy, happiness and felicity.

The Dhammapada goes on to say:

    Felicitous is the emergence of the enlightened, felicitous is the teaching of truth. Felicitous is harmony in the community, felicitous the austerity of those in harmony.


    Let us live most happily, possessing nothing; let us feed on joy, like the radiant gods.

Thomas Cleary, the eminent translator and commentator of scores of Buddhist texts, believes the phrase “feed on joy” means that when one is transcendentally happy, one should savor “the taste of abstract contemplation instead of savoring thoughts of ambition and acquisition.”

But how does humor figure into all of this? How should we consider humor in the path’s procession? Indeed, is humor a part of the joy, happiness and felicity that is alluded to? And if not, how are we to understand the aspect of the Laughing Buddha [a.k.a., Maitreya or “the Coming One”], frequently captured in statuary as fat and guffawing, who is promised as the next Buddha, due 2500 years hence. He is described at the China Pages website as “a symbol to remind everyone that in every human heart there is the potential to be enlightened. This Buddha ... sends rays of love into the world of darkness.”

As an aid to better understand the connection between humor and enlightenment, I have gathered up sage words from five prominent online followers of the teachings of the Buddha whose appreciation of humor is evident in their writing. Each responded to an open-ended survey that sought wisdom as to how humor conects with one’s practice. Throughout the remainder of this article, you will see quotes from the five panelists, listed below.

Chade-Meng Tan [“Meng”], is webmaster of the venerated website What do you think, my friend?, which has been online since 1995. He is currently a graduate student at UC Santa Barbara.

David Lourie, the author of the much-honored Dharma the Cat cartoon strip which appears online and runs in monthly dharma newsletters and magazines in 16 countries, where it is translated into at least eight languages.

Dinty W. Moore, is a recipient of a 1992 NEA grant and is (in his words) a “writer, teacher, editor, human being and lawnchair buddhist.” He wrote "The Accidental Buddhist", and is webmaster of a comprehensive guide to his work---The Dinty W. Moore Virtual Databank, plus a website devoted to concise literary nonfiction, Brevity. His most-recent book, "Toothpick Men," is a collection of his short fiction.

Douglas Imbrogno is editor and webmaster of Hundred Mountain, the publication you are now reading, which he describes as “an offbeat, Buddhist-oriented journal of the spirit and the arts,” a publication that has been online since November, 1998. His day job is as feature editor of the Charleston Gazette newspaper in Charleston, W.Va.

Jeff Wilson, who was until recently an editor at Tricycle, the Buddhism Magazine, and webmaster of their website, the Tricycle Hub. He is continuing his association with Tricycle as a consultant while he works on a book for St. Martin’s Press about Buddhism in New York City.

PAGE 2: What is this thing called humor?

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