We take up the Art of Laughter which we know is a striking feature of people we consider wise. If you have ever heard the Dalai Lama speak it is hard to find a time when he isn't laughing.

How does laughter figure into the spiritual life?   How can we use laughter to help us get over life's challenges?

Here are some thoughts from Wilfred Peterson:

Meet the challenge of life with the art of laughter….Take a tip from Will Rogers who observed people with laughter in eyes and love in his heart and declared: “I never met a man I didn’t like.”

Learn laughter from little children by thinking their thoughts, dreaming their dreams and playing their games.

Develop a playful attitude toward problems; toss them around; handle them with a light touch.

See the section On Laughter in Universal Theosophy for more from Mr. Peterson and quotes gathered for your consideration.

Your thoughts, questions and comments?

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What a classmate did with laughter, when we were around age 15, has always stayed with me. Although the majority of insults we perceive were never intended to be insults, sometimes they actually are intended as insults. When another classmate said something to this classmate that probably was intended as an insult, she treated it as good-natured fun and laughed about it. This caused even the one who made the insult to laugh along with everyone else. It completely disarmed the insult. What a lesson in psychology! Laughter is indeed powerful.

I pulled this from the article Nicholas points to:

I
The first point to which attention should be called is that the
comic does not exist outside the pale of what is strictly HUMAN. A
landscape may be beautiful, charming and sublime, or insignificant
and ugly; it will never be laughable. You may laugh at an animal,
but only because you have detected in it some human attitude or
expression. You may laugh at a hat, but what you are making fun of,
in this case, is not the piece of felt or straw, but the shape that
men have given it,--the human caprice whose mould it has assumed. It
is strange that so important a fact, and such a simple one too, has
not attracted to a greater degree the attention of philosophers.

Several have defined man as "an animal which laughs."

He makes the point that laughter is largely a human experience.  Why is laughter so central to being human?

If you go to the Universal Theosophy page "On Laughter" there is an accordian with quotes within it.  Give it a try.  One of the quotes is from Sara Davidson the contemporary author and screen writer:

"The ability to laugh at life is right at the top, with love and communication, in the hierarchy of our needs.  Humour has much to do with pain; it  exaggerates the anxieties and absurdities we feel, so that we  gain distance and through laughter, relief."

Laughter can help us gain some critical distance from our personality, which is a work in progress.

Is laughter sometimes a release from the cage of a separate sense of self?

Yes - and it's important to say "sometimes", just as you have done, for there are different qualities of laughter, some of which are wicked.

I often see certain kinds of laughter as a kind of release-valve; it can keep us from building up too much inner pressure, or from "over heating", etc.. But I also question if this is always valuable. When I observe comedians using comedy and laughter to broach difficult subjects with people (like, say, racism or similar issues), I wonder to myself: is providing a release really what the soul needs, or does it merely "kick the can down the road" and leave the issue undealt with? Does laughing at something taboo, or something we know to have unethical aspects, because we can see the ridiculousness underlying it, actually help humanity progress past those issues?

A good example might be political satirists; they get us to laugh at political issues, which may or may not be helpful. The issue being laughed at might have very real effects on people, and while it may feel nice to release ourselves through laughter, are we merely releasing ourselves from our conscience?

I don't have the answers to these questions, but it seems to me that if we need a release valve for something, it means there is pressure building up, and releasing the pressure doesn't necessarily address the reason why the pressure is building up in the first place.

Of course, as Peter says, laughter isn't always this way: it's not always out of a need for release. Sometimes its an expression of true joy. Sometimes its an expression of something wicked.

Very good points. 

There are many reasons for laughter; sometimes people use it to lighten a tense situation like the story about Gandhi.  Sometime people us it  to put down and insult others.    In general laughter demands a detached attitude  towards a situation which allows one to see the comical ironies in life.  In the case of highly developed individuals,  laughter is a down flow  of spiritual energies expressing its joyfulness. 

Can you recount an incident, either private or public, where laughter defused some conflict and helped to draw people together?  

example:  A group of reporters gathered in front of the Buckingham Palace to interview M.K. Gandhi prior to his meeting royalty.  The British reporters found Gandhi a rather odd chap, very short, bald, extremely skinny, voice like a bird, and dressed with only sandals and dhoti draped about his waist and shoulder in the cold London air.  There was an obvious cultural divide preceding this important meeting with the King.  One reporter shouted out, "Mr. Gandhi, aren't you a tad under dressed for the occasion?"  "Gandhi quipped, "I should be fine, the King is wearing more than enough for both of us." Gandhi had won them over with his sense of humour. 

I think that humor must be something very important to understand.

Humor cuts through the heaviness of egoic life.  It's gives us temporary relief, or release, from the bonds of ego.  A minor vacation of the mind.  There's a temporary suspension of looking at life so very seriously, and that is fun stuff. 

I suppose the DL or others easily find themselves in that light state of being - not taking their ego so very seriously.  I believe I've read somewhere, where H.P.Blavatsky was asked 'what is the most important thing to keep in mind, if one chooses to be an occultist?'  Her answer - 'to have a good sense of humor'.  Supposedly, when asked what was the second most important thing, her reply was 'to have a good sense of humor'.  I'd have to confirm that.. :)

 

Story about Laughter and Abe Lincoln

Lincoln often visited wounded soldiers in Washington area hospitals. In addition to inquiring about their health he often entertained the patients with his  funny stories. He had just left one such facility when a visitor to the same hospital heard wounded soldiers laughing and talking about the President. The soldiers seemed in such good spirits that the visitor was curious, and he approached the bedside of one of the patients.

"You must be very slightly wounded," he said to open the conversation.

"Yes," the soldier replied, "Very slightly. I have only lost one leg, and I'd be glad to lose the other, if I could laugh as hard at some more of 'Old Abe's' stories."

Some thoughts of Mark Twain on the subject:

Laughter without a tinge of philosophy is but a sneeze of humor. Genuine humor is replete with wisdom.
- quoted in Mark Twain and I, Opie Read

Humor is the good natured side of a truth.
- quoted in Mark Twain and I, Opie Read

So you see, the quality of humor is not a personal or a national monopoly. It's as free as salvation, and, I am afraid, far more widely distributed. But it has its value, I think. The hard and sordid things of life are too hard and too sordid and too cruel for us to know and touch them year after year without some mitigating influence, some kindly veil to draw over them, from time to time, to blur the craggy outlines, and make the thorns less sharp and the cruelties less malignant.
- "A Humorist's Confession," The New York Times, November 26, 1905

What is it that strikes a spark of humor from a man? It is the effort to throw off, to fight back the burden of grief that is laid on each one of us. In youth we don't feel it, but as we grow to manhood we find the burden on our shoulders. Humor? It is nature's effort to harmonize conditions. The further the pendulum swings out over woe the further it is bound to swing back over mirth. 
- Interview in New York World Sunday Magazine, November 26, 1905

One of the ironies of the Buddhist tradition is that although the first truth is universal suffering the people who take up Buddhist practices are actually quite cheerful and love to laugh.

Replies to This Discussion

Permalink Reply by Sharisse on November 22, 2013 at 12:22pm

This is beautiful, thank you for sharing this. It was infectious just to read it and couldn't help but smile. :)

Permalink Reply by barbaram on November 23, 2013 at 4:52pm

This is a very good observation.  It is funny that those who are keenly aware of suffering are quite cheerful.

Permalink Reply by Sharisse on November 5, 2013 at 7:40pm

To me, laughter helps you let go, however fleeting it might be. If just for those few moments your sides hurt and your eyes are watering, all else doesn't matter. There are no words or limitations to it, it's a universal sound!

Permalink Reply by Gerry Kiffe on November 6, 2013 at 10:09am

Wow, how beautifully and poetically put.  Laughter takes us out of the box of the personal nature and thrusts us into something grander.  That is what I have taken away from your comments.

Permalink Reply by Jon Fergus on November 6, 2013 at 12:18pm

Would joyous laughter perhaps be a kind of glimpse into the essential bliss of Self? Would someone who is rooted in that bliss see humor hidden in even the darkest things?

Permalink Reply by Sharisse on November 22, 2013 at 12:14pm

This is somewhat a late response to this, although when I tried to reply the Ning had down time, it was resting. :)

In my view, a lot of times we look back on things or situations (especially dark ones), kind of remembering them, and laugh at either ourselves through that situation, or that situation itself. And almost grasping the humor of 'in hindsight.' Even the darkest things have light, its very hard for us to see it though.

Permalink Reply by Gerry Kiffe on November 11, 2013 at 3:55pm

What does it mean to laugh in the face of adversity?

Permalink Reply by Sharisse on November 22, 2013 at 12:20pm

I see it as upliftment, everyone suffers through adversity, to be able to make one person smile, or others laugh, and even yourself laugh fills people with hope and is one way to uplift the situation.

Permalink Reply by Catherine Austin on December 3, 2013 at 6:51pm

The story about the man who had a son, strong and healthy, and people said how wonderful, the man said maybe, maybe not. Then the son broke his leg and the people said how unlucky - the man said maybe, maybe not . Then marauding armies took every healthy young man in the village and they left this man's son because he had broken his leg, and the people said, How lucky you were, the man said maybe, maybe not.... and so on

...you all probably know this story better than I have relayed it, and I guess the truth of it is that good things follow bad things follow good things in cycles, as night follows day, if we could really see this and know our eternal cyclic nature, then we are just in a film, sort of, that ends well and starts again also on a different experience. So we may as well enjoy the variety!