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LAUGHING, Continued: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6

Humor as antidote to religious solemnity?

“To remain caught up in ideas and words about Zen is, as the old masters say, to ‘stink of Zen.’ ” -- ALAN WATTS

"WHO CAN RESIST certain cartoon strips?” asks Dr. James Austin in his book "Zen and the Brain." “They relieve us of the ... litany of woe. ... If there is no access to humor, problems arise from being overearnest, and from endowing one’s person, cause, or situation with unqualified seriousness. Overly solemn persons can become especially vulnerable to the heavy burden of their religious preoccupations.”

Asked to explain the humor and characters in his popular cartoon strip Dharma the Cat, David says:

“One of the reasons Bodhi is such a funny character is because he takes himself so seriously. Not laughing at oneself in one's earnestness only makes one's predicament funnier to others. In fact I have described Bodhi's character as ‘a novice monk who is stumbling earnestly along the Buddha's path, stepping squarely into every spiritual pitfall.’ I think his unrelenting earnestness is the key to his funniness.

“Also, people ask me, ‘When is Bodhi going to get it together?’ Well, there is a lot more humour available in observing people’s mistakes than in observing their successes. So if Bodhi is going to continue to give us his enjoyable ‘how not to’ lessons, he is going to have to forego enlightenment for quite some time -- in the true spirit of a Bodhisattva.”

(NOTE: It is easy -- and a joy -- to spend an hour at David’s website. Be sure to read the expert commentary from various religious experts that accompany each cartoon. The insights of these experts is a delight that adds abundance to each whimsical strip.)

“I find humor -- or perhaps lightheartedness might be a more accurate word -- to be a useful antidote to excessive seriousness on the spiritual path.” says Douglas.

“The excess I refer to is taking oneself and one’s spiritual work so seriously that it becomes a form of spiritual egotism, or -- in Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche’s memorable phrase -- ‘spiritual materialism.’ Look at me, look how spiritual I am or am trying to be!”

Dinty adds:

“Being able to see the humor in things, being able to laugh in the face of a dire world, what the Irish call black humor -- these are all helpful in not becoming too attached. Part of attachment, a large part in our Western world certainly, is the intense wishing that things were another way. Being human, I succumb to this weakness constantly, wanting to be thinner, richer, taller, less gap-toothed, less busy. But I can catch myself, laugh at what a big silly guy I am, before the knot I am tying myself into becomes too tight to ever release itself. Humor and laughing at oneself is not Buddhism, but it can be a way into Buddhism.”

Humor can, of course, be a trap of its own kind, David notes:

“[T]here are an infinite number of things like humour that people can trap themselves with, like any kind of attachment. I think it's human nature to inadvertently trap and cage oneself with the very things we use to prop ourselves up with -- an idea to which young Bodhi [the monk in Dharma the Cat] bears witness...”

Musings of an Amusing Occidental Buddhist

“So when someone asks me, ‘What do Buddhists eat?’I imagine what they mean is, ‘What doesn’t object to being killed and eaten? Cardboard?’ ” -- DINTY W. MOORE, "The Accidental Buddhist"

DINTY MOORE'S KIND and comical book about his exploration of Buddhism, The Accidental Buddhist, takes him (and his readers) into the world of very American Zen retreats and Buddhism lectures -- and Dinty’s struggles with his energetic monkey mind.

In many ways, the world Dinty visits is full of disappointments [John Daido Loori smokes cigarettes; the Dalai Lama eats meat.] But as the book progresses, Dinty’s view, which is framed by 12 years in Catholic school, changes -- or, perhaps, becomes more [small ‘c’] catholic. His humor seemed to me to change, chapter by chapter, from being target-seeking and irony charged, to becoming more reflective and appreciative that we are all in this crazy (and funny) old world together.

Near the end of the book, Dinty writes:

“In the future, I will sit whenever possible, as much as possible, missing days here and there surely, and will continue on occasion to read about Buddhism, but my real practice will be found in how I relate to my daughter, how I handle myself in traffic, and the way I look at things. ...

“What kind of Buddhist am I?

“I think I am probably a fairly lousy Buddhist.

“But Buddhism, thankfully, is a tradition with plenty of room, even for lousy Buddhists.”

PAGE 6: A Laughable Nirvana?

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