Monday, 18 February 2013

Laugh with Buddha

In the Buddhist tradition, we have the Laughing Buddha or the Happy Buddha, known as Hotie in Japan and Put-Tai in China.  This Buddha is not the historic Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, but supposedly a fat, wandering Zen monk, who carried a bag over his shoulder that contained sweets for children.  The bag is also reputed to contain gold, or it can be said that the bag represents fulfillment wishes that can also be the blessings of the Buddha.  This Buddha is really a fusion of the Buddhist notions of enlightenment and practical Chinese aspirations for happiness through prosperity and plenty.  So we get the image of the fat laughing Buddha with the big belly. There is this proverb that says "laugh and grow fat" and on laughter, the American inspirational and self-help author Og Mandino wrote these words: 

"And so long as I can laugh, never will I be poor.  This then is one of nature's gifts and I will waste it no more.  Only with laughter and happiness can I truly become a success.  Only with laughter and happiness can I enjoy the fruits of my labour.  Were it not so, far better would it be to fail for happiness is the wine that sharpens the taste of the meal.  To enjoy success I must have happiness and laughter will be the maiden who serves me."

Laughter of course, is one of the great joys of life; those with a quick smile and a sense of humour are bound to enjoy life.  Like the Fat Buddha then, we can laugh and become enriched with the blessings that light heartedness can confer.  I once knew a man, Fred, who wanted one of those brass Fat/Laughing Buddha's as an ornament to put on top of his television.  He got his wish and there it was situated, pride of place on top of the set.  Then one night the brass Buddha which was quite substantial, fell onto Fred's head as he knelt down to adjust the telly.  It may not have amused Fred, but the Buddha certainly brought the gift of laughter to everyone who witnessed this unfortunate incident, and may I say it brought the gift of laughter to everyone who subsequently heard about it too. 

There is this laughter that in a way performs a role much more effectively than all the sermons and scriptural texts on humility can hope to do.  Laughter can bring us down to earth very quickly at those times when we might be taking ourselves a little bit too seriously or when we might be trying a little too hard to impress.  Like the unfortunate heckler at a comedy show, showing off, who was put down with these words: "Well it's a night out for him... and a night off for his family."

We see this coming down to earth in the story of the prodigal son, the story of a young man who dreams of great things and a better life, so much so that he takes his inheritance, because he thinks he knows what's best, and goes to live it up in a far off country.  But in the end, when the money is gone he comes up against reality, he finds himself friendless and in abject poverty.  The dreams and the showboating are over and he is forced to return to his roots, to the place where he is really known and loved. There he finds a true homecoming, a welcome that must be met with some acknowledgement and humility, an opportunity for learning, for repentance and for personal growth.  Reality sets in when that brass Buddha falls on your head.  When we face reality we wake up to an opportunity to show gratitude and to acknowledge the many blessings that we may be fortunate enough to have such as warmth, shelter, food, friends around us, and the people we love.