Thursday, May 1, 2014

taking a dim view of a dim view of laughter

Budai, the Chinese folkloric character sometimes given the status of a Buddha ... perhaps because he is laughing?
Like bubblegum that has lost its flavor and yet the jaws keep chewing absently, the intersection of religion and laughter continues to rattle around in my thoughts. Yesterday, I did bits and pieces of research, but it's of no use: I have no intention of learning Latin or Greek ("homo risibilis"), let alone Sanskrit or Chinese, so my opinions or hunches remain just that -- the kind of half-baked nonsense a creationist might bring to his uninvestigated, heavenly position.

So be it. I'm just another conclusion-oriented nitwit and this business is just another 'conclusion' reached by a mind that insists on conclusions no matter how often conclusions are proven premature, unsubstantiated and frequently downright stupid.

My hunchy-munchy and seriously-underinvestigated conclusion: Religion takes a dim view of laughter and I take a dim view of that dim view.

Religion takes its dim view because were it to do otherwise, it would be left in tatters on some grimy medieval street, begging for coppers from uncaring passersby. Laughter threatens to shatter religion's rice bowl. This is somewhat ironic since religion holds out the promise of a world of bliss or understanding or peace or relief that has all the hallmarks of laughter and yet, were anyone to exercise such characteristics, religion would be out of a job.

Laughter has no borders. By its nature -- even when it is unkind -- it forswears, if only for the briefest of moments, control. Spiritual persuasions may pat themselves on the back for a view that there is neither control nor controller -- that there is some sumptuous "it" that cannot be named or that God is behind the steering wheel -- but when pressed, religion falls back into its old habits: Discipline and control are necessary to a peaceful life ... and laughter is having none of it. Religion is no laughing matter.

And now to my flimsy, half-assed 'research.'

It began with the question of why the heavy-hitters (Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed etc.) or their closest allies were never (I guessed "never" but didn't know) depicted as laughing. Was there a line somewhere that said "and Jesus laughed?" I knew there were references to weeping ("and Jesus wept" and there are references to Gautama weeping) but laughing? Wouldn't you think that a happy outcome to a serious interest in religion would excite some laughter? And wouldn't the main exponents of spiritual endeavor exhibit such a characteristic?

In this regard, it occurred to me that the missing references to laughter might be the responsibility of the text-writers who came in the wake of the heavy-hitters ... that it might be the text-writer's own solemnity that walled laughter off: No one ever signed on to spiritual life or religion because they were so damned happy and so, perhaps, the text-writers were simply honoring an atmosphere of lamentation, grief and suffering.

The word "laugh" is said to appear 121 times in the Bible. Many, if not most, of the uses refer to the derision heaped on those who misunderstood or sinned or something similar. The word "cry" is said to appear 2,500 times. [As a rabbit hole within the rabbit hole of my flimsy snoopings, "hell" (65 mentions depending on translation)in the Hebrew and Greek in which the Bible is portrayed, is not at all Dante's Hollywood version, but rather "the place of the dead" or "the unknown world." No one may like the idea of death, but it seems overly-inventive to tack on Dante's imagination. "Heaven" -- again depending on translation -- gets some 600 mentions.]

Christianity is a pretty young religion as religions go and as such lacks the maturity that an old dog like Hinduism can display. I don't mean to say Christianity is better or worse -- just that it is younger and thus, perhaps, less capable of mature outlooks. Whatever the case, it is Hinduism I might be more inclined to listen to when it comes to laughter.

But oy vey! When I posed the question of laughter to a much-better-informed-friend-than-I, he sent along this link ... not as some perfect answer, but just as a means of lending a hand. In China, apparently, there were a series of verbal jousts when it came to laughter and the enlightened state portrayed in Buddhism. These fisticuffs rested, it seems, on "Bharata’s 5th century classic `Natyashastra'" which gave the following hierarchical divisions when it came to laughter:
  • sita, a faint smile – serene, subtle, and refined, reserved for the upper caste
  • hasita, a smile which slightly reveals the tips of the teeth, also reserved for the upper caste
  • vihasita, a broader smile accompanied by modest laughter, for the masses
  • upahasita, a more pronounced laughter associated with a movement of the head, shoulders, and arms, again for the masses
  • apahasita, loud laughter that brings tears to the eyes, for the lowest caste
  • atihasita, uproarious laughter accompanied by doubling over, slapping the thighs, rolling in the aisles and the like, again for the lowest caste
The article linked above addresses the laughter of the Buddha ... in this case Budai/Hotei, a folkloric Chinese character who was elevated -- by popular demand based on his laughter, perhaps -- to the status of a Buddha and is sometimes associated with the myth of Maitreya -- the Buddha yet to come. The article is written A. as if Budai were in fact one of the recognized Buddhas and B. asserting a Zen Buddhist take on laughter.

And it was at this point that my flimsy-research mind exploded: "Lord love a duck!" Does anyone who laughs really give a shit that religion may take a dim view of laughter? Isn't it plain as the nose on your face when laughing, that laughter clears the scene, that it has no station, that there are no more plans to be made, and that control, while useful in its practice, is hardly an outcome that would make anyone relax and laugh and be at some honest peace? And which is preferable -- to see a Buddha or to be one?

An old Hindu prayer goes:
Love and charity towards all beings,
Contentment under all circumstances,
Control of the senses and passions --
The practice of these virtues leads to God.
The sorrows and lamentations and grief of the world are undeniable. To be wracked by grief is no small matter. And the disciplines religion can recommend are often very good indeed -- honest-to-God practical stuff. But the endless implicit suggestion that suffering can be overcome, but we'd prefer that you not overcome it in any actual-factual way is too greedy and stupid by half.

Religion is not the point of religion from where I sit.

Laughter is.

1 comment:

  1. "I had an experience once" that was related to my zen practice. And I put it in quotes because I did not have an experience once, but don't know how else to describe it. but "when" it was over, I definitely laughed.