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LAUGHING, Continued: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6
What Is Humor?

Of all the wonders of nature, a tree in summer is perhaps the most remarkable---with the possible exception of a moose singing “Embraceable You” in spats. -- W. ALLEN

ASSOCIATE SUPREME COURT Justice Potter Stewart is known to have said that he couldn’t describe pornography, but he “knew it when he saw it.” He later much regretted this remark when he was faced with a roomful of smut and hours of viewing naughty movies with a task at hLaughing Buddha Does a Flipand of distinguishing the artful from the lewd. He quickly discovered he couldn’t define porn, even in his own mind.

One might try to say about humor that we know it when we laugh at it. But what handle can we get on this humor thing that causes us to chortle?

Meng, leaving nothing affirmed and nothing negated says: “Humor is the ability to laugh despite, or in spite of, or both despite and in spite of, one’s own Dukkha. Or maybe it’s not.” Douglas simply left nothing affirmed: “Humor is whatever seriousness is not. Oops -- that was too easy!” In that same vein, Meng’s email signature includes the tagline: “Life is too important to be taken seriously.” Dinty seems to agree in so many words, writing: “Humor is the truth of our situation.”

Meng echoes that sentiment with these words: “I think we as adults tend not to find humor in our experiences of the world precisely because we place a veil on our eyes and are unable to directly appreciate our experiences.” He recommends a story at his website for Buddhists about a clown who is veiled. David replies to “What is humor?” with Buddhist aplomb: “Who wants to know?”

Jeff slipped in some a-peeling humor: “Humor is when you slip on a banana peel and fall down. Tragedy is when I slip on a banana peel and fall down. Satori is when Buddha slips on a banana peel and sees the morning star.”

Is Humor a Part of One's Practice?

May all the evil deeds and suffering of sentient beings ripen in me, and may all my virtue and happiness ripen in sentient beings. -- CHOGYAM TRUNGPA, "Training the Mind"

I ASKED THE FIVE panelists how humor impacts on their own spiritual practice:

David writes: “I think the mellowness of attitude that derives from practice is conducive to seeing the lighter side of life. But you have to remember ... I have become a semi-professional humourist, so on a mundane level I am poised and primed to see humour in life for those reasons. Also, much of the humour in [my] cartoon strip [Dharma the Cat] is ‘invented’ by conscious, willful and disciplined creative effort (i.e., object-driven, with the purpose of creating a communication about some aspect of the dharma), so this has less to do with practice than profession.”

“Being able to acknowledge the many, many weaknesses in myself makes me far more able to make fun of myself, which I do more than I make fun of other people.” says Dinty. “I certainly hope I do, anyway. In The Accidental Buddhist, the joke is on me most of the time. In life, this is true too. So, seeing what a total bozo I am allows me to love and honor the total bozo in others. I call this Bozo Zen.”

“I think that being a Buddhist is very simple,” Meng says. “It's just about cultivating kindness, compassion, mindfulness and calmness. Very simple, but not easy at all.”

“Humor is not a central part of my practice/Buddhist ‘theology’” says Jeff. “I'd say that sincerity, modesty, mindfulness, gratitude, and compassion are the cornerstones of my approach, more or less in that order. But my feeling is that any authentic Buddhist practice, at least for me, cannot be divorced from any aspect of my life, and humor is certainly a prominent part of my everyday life. My Buddhist practice, ideally, is entwined with all areas of my life, and therefore naturally informs and is informed by my sense of humor.”

“It occurs to me that maybe I am not serious enough in my Buddhist spiritual practice.” says Douglas. “That thought occurs to me often, especially when I fall out of my meditation practice for days, sometimes even a week at a time. After all, the stakes in spiritual practice are pretty big, aren’t they?

“Yet humor about it all is a coping strategy, a release valve, for the true intensity -- the real stakes -- that lie behind this thing called Buddhism and ‘spiritual practice.’ Really, we are talking about where our heads and hearts and spirits are in this world. And maybe the next. And the one after that. The big enchilada of life. And whether we will continue to suffer the slings and arrows of our outrageous (self-inflicted) fortunes for endless cycles of existence. Or start to wake up. Geez, that's a big dance card! You gotta' smile in the face of it, or else.”

PAGE 3: "Die, you old fake!"

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