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The Cosmic Joke behind Enlightenment

By Chad Foreman on Thursday March 17th, 2016

Is seeing the Humour in Enlightenment the key to finding it?

The great cosmic joke is that you are what you are seeking. All the religious and spiritual seeking on this planet and you end up back where you started. If that’s not a fantastic joke worth a good belly laugh I don’t know what is. We all look for happiness, peace and fulfilment in the things of the world, yet all along these things are our very nature – our very own centre of being. Meditation masters and mystics throughout history have seen the joke of it as Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh explains:

I laugh when I think how I once sought paradise as a realm outside of the world of birth. It is right in the world of birth and death that the miraculous truth is revealed. But this is not the laughter of someone who suddenly acquires a great fortune; neither is it the laughter of one who has won a victory. It is, rather, the laughter of one who; after having painfully searched for something for a long time, finds it one morning in the pocket of his coat.

Alt text hereThich Nhat Hanh

Have we been taking enlightenment too seriously?

The Buddhists have been onto the joke for a while, their main training is to not take things seriously. What else is being unattached than a great sense of humour? Buddha realised that all conditions of the world are temporary and taking any of it too seriously creates suffering.

I’m not sure how humans made such a big a deal out of this simple truth but it’s because everyone else was taking things seriously and causing a lot of problems for themselves they held up Buddha to be all enlightened, worshipped him, created another religion and over the years have mostly missed the basic point. Another Buddhist meditator, Longchenpa, realised this simple truth again some two thousand years later and said:

Since everything is but an apparition, having nothing to do with good or bad, acceptance or rejection, one may well burst out in laughter.

Alt text hereThe Buddhists have been onto the joke for a while

What about the warning from spiritual teachers that every single thing you imagine yourself to be is a clever lie constructed by a psychological defence mechanism against the existential truth of transiency.  In other words you are not who you think you are. That’s pretty funny isn’t it? However laughing about it, not taking yourself seriously, is another wonderful coping mechanism to be able to digest such seemingly harsh truths. As Longchenpa says, you may as well burst out laughing,  or as a modern Zen master Adyashanti explains:

We realize–often quite suddenly–that our sense of self, which has been formed and constructed out of our ideas, beliefs and images, is not really who we are. It doesn’t define us, it has no centre.

I have watched hundreds of spiritual teachers and the best ones have a common trait – they giggle a lot. Even my main Buddhist teacher, an intellectual giant in the Gelug-pa Tibetan Buddhist tradition, would consistently forecast his arrival into the temple with bouts of laughter. Another favourite teacher of mine is Alan Watts whom you can’t watch for 5 minutes without getting to hear his infectious cackling and the current Dalai Lama is almost famous for his warm giggle. Alan Watts once remarked:

People suffer only because they take seriously what the gods made for fun.

Alt text hereThe humour of Alan Watts

Laughter and humour are not just frivolous. They can be a sharp tools to cut through the bullshit. Sometimes in society it’s the comedians who are the only ones telling the truth. Not the politicians, not the priests and not even the school teachers but the people who can step back and see the ridiculousness of current affairs. In fact more and more people are getting their truthful political information from The Late Show and from comedians like the late Bill Hicks and George Carlin, who would deliver sobering doses of reality which was actually very true and therefore very funny. Comedians often point to the discrepancy between how we think things are and how they actually are, fortunately that evokes laughter, unfortunately people tend go back to living a lie after the laughter subsides.

The enlightened fool is the one who sees the ego trips of society and can still find joy and laughter in its midst. The fool is often the enlightened one, the one with crazy wisdom, with laughter and jokes as their weapon, they cut through the mundane conformity and bring to light the latent child like bliss bubbling just beneath the surface of all seriousness. The fool possesses a wisdom that is out of reach of the conformist. A playful attitude in touch with enormous amounts of creativity.

Alt text hereA young George Carlin

Humour is also extremely healing, they say laughter is the greatest medicine and it’s true. It can also ease the stress and tension of daily life, reduce boredom at work and unite people of different backgrounds. Everybody takes themselves and others too seriously.

So if humour can heal, relax, unite people, undo the ego and entertain all at the same time that sounds enlightening enough for me.

Which brings me to the laughable way most people understand enlightenment, that is an enlightened person is a perfect person. Perfect virtue, perfect love, perfect knowledge and as a meditation teacher jokes even perfectly smelling sandalwood farts. This ideal of the perfect person is a joke and does not exist in reality. It creates cults of worship around people who are seen as perfect and just stresses the rest of us out with guilt for not living up to these idealistic fantasies.

Alt text hereHumour is so healing many are turning to Laughter Yoga classes

If Nietzsche declared ‘God is dead’ and Zen Buddhists urge us to ‘kill Buddha in the street’ I would like to add if you believe in a perfect Guru – slap yourself across your face, and see if it doesn’t hurt. That’s reality. Reality is perfect because it can deliver all range of human emotions from sadness and despair to elation and joy. Trying to just have perfect emotions and a perfect life only invites a massive come down of disappointment. As Alan Watts says, you cannot have up with down or even right without wrong.

All you have to do is be yourself

So all that’s left is to just be your natural self. As someone once said if you can laugh at yourself you will never be short of material. Or as one of my favourite Zen teachers Brad Warner says:

The state of ambiguity – that messy, greasy, mixed-up, confused, and awful situation you’re living through right now – is enlightenment itself.

Alt text hereHow enlightening it is to be yourself

Another cosmic joke is that we will all die. This is not scary it is reality. Of course religions have made a business out of promising you that there is life after death and there are consequences to all your actions after death, the fear of fire and brimstone or the desire for virgins in heaven are potent motivators to act responsibly in our lives and also a powerful invocation to take the priests, churches and traditional lineages seriously. It’s the oldest trick in the ‘book’. But it’s time to grow up and be able to act responsibly without the need for fairy tales. We live, we love, we grow, we die. That’s absolutely beautiful and enchanting enough. As Osho says:

Life as it is should be enough of a reason to laugh. It is so absurd, it is so ridiculous. It is so beautiful, it is so wonderful. It is all sorts of things together. It is a great cosmic joke.

So where does the cosmic joke lead us? Back to where we started; to the unadulterated pure joy of just being alive – laughing for no reason and grinning like a mad hatter. Life becomes play instead of a chore, a cosmic dance on the needle head of eternity.

 

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Steven Blake
Guest

I live my life like this. I look for the joy in each moment and that means I mainly find joy and don’t dwell on the negative. My mantra is that i see life as a series of lessons about life. That way I don’t take anything personally. Things happen, it is how we deal with it that matters. I have unconditional love and joy, I share it all the time because love and Joy is something we can never deplete, the more we give it away the more we have.

simplysimon2
Guest
simplysimon2

The end of all our exploring will be to arrive at where we started and know that place for the 1st time! TS Eliot

Ben Ihloff
Guest
Ben Ihloff

Exactly! And the fact that you did not know it when you started the journey makes returning to the starting point in an awakened state well worth the trip! 🙂

Dayanand B Saxena
Guest
Dayanand B Saxena

Cricketer Mr Gayle born in a poor ffamily says that his mother taught him to laugh thro adversity

Ben Tousey
Guest
Ben Tousey

I tried being serious once… but everybody laughed.

Baldeep Singh
Guest
Baldeep Singh

Those that say they know do not. “I don’t know” is a statement of truth. “I don’t know shit” is even better!

friendlyprogrammer
Guest
friendlyprogrammer

Speak for yourself please.

Baldeep Singh
Guest
Baldeep Singh

I did, my friend. Ego is limited, by definition. Truth is very quiet, I think. I like your cloud visalization. It seems quiet and peaceful.

friendlyprogrammer
Guest
friendlyprogrammer

The cloud thing was not meant as a visualization. You are meant to try this on real clouds floating above your house. I just wrote a long comment for someone else.. let me re-edit it and try to explain magik in easier terms… THIS COMMENT WILL TEACH YOU REAL MAGIK… Judeo-Christianity is nonsense. Science has proven we live in a simulation and that our past can be altered (Delayed Choice Quantum Eraser experiment). The Buddhist and Hindus and ancient Egyptians all say we live in a perfect and high definition imagination in which we are all a portion of.. This… Read more »

Jim Martens
Guest
Jim Martens

“i don’t know shit” is my personal mantra….lol. Camus paraphrases Nietzsche by saying “The innocence of the ceaseless change of things, as soon as one consents to it, represents the maximum liberty. The free mind willingly accepts what is necessary.” Thanks for sharing your truth:)

Mark
Guest
Mark

I enjoyed the overall article, but when the author states that “. . .it’s time to grow up and be able to act responsibly without the need for fairy tales. We live, we love, we grow, we die… death is death and to believe otherwise is fantasy is just silly.” This statement silly. You don’t ‘know’ there is nothing after death any more than I ‘know’ there is.

Hawk620
Guest
Hawk620

‘Enlightemment’ is a fraud and taking it at the fork in the road will lead to misery. ‘Enlightening’, ‘awakening’, ‘evolving’, ad infinitum is what is really ‘happening’…and the human collective experiment is a microcosm of the macrocosm…eternally ‘spiraling’…

Frank Burton
Guest
Frank Burton

I can relate to this also, taking our cues from nature there is never an “enlightenment” but a continuous journey of evolving and growing. After all, we are a part of this wonderful creation, all is ONE.

friendlyprogrammer
Guest
friendlyprogrammer

Many describe enlightenment as some kind of knowledge. It is an aspect of spirituality that everyone should try to surpass. Astral projection is close to enlightenment, but maybe you think that is also fraudulent. I do not grasp how enlightenment can be fraudulent when it is the pinnacle of spirituality among humans.

Hawk620
Guest
Hawk620

You believe the state of cosmic consciousness is a noun, that it is static. Hardly.

friendlyprogrammer
Guest
friendlyprogrammer

How can you argue a negative with a straight face? Science does not preclude the notion of a god-consciousness. The atomic model still in use to this day was postulated by a man (Niels Bohr) who went to his grave believing wholeheartedly that when you close the refrigerator door everything inside literally ceases to exist. I will go farther and tell you that I presume to have had enlightening out of body experiences. The kind you say is a fraud. I also teach meditation, lucid dreaming, remote viewing, etc. If you want to understand the science behind religion then try… Read more »

nhr215
Guest
nhr215

These are all games. With true enlightenment there is no need for interest in tricks and games. Reality is what it is and you are completely at peace with that so don’t spend your time trying to convince people to imagine clouds turning blue.

friendlyprogrammer
Guest
friendlyprogrammer

My job description seems to be “Spiritual Leader”. I teach these “tricks and games” to a planet that currently has fear based religions ruling over 50% of the global population… I am not at peace with reality as it is. I aim to convert as many people towards Hermetic Buddhism as I can in my lifetime. Reality as it is is constantly being poluted by Christian mentalities which are evil.. Christians do not realize their every thought has power and a christian mother fearing her daughter is living in a dangerous neighborhood could cause her daughters attack or murder….. SO… Read more »

nhr215
Guest
nhr215

Almost every word you have written is loaded with the energy of aversion, attachment, and judgement. Seems like if you are interested in spreading buddhism you might want to look at yourself first before seeking to teach others.

Personally, I don’t seek out people to teach. They come to me asking for help. That is the doorway to open their minds. Pushing your beliefs about the universe on others without invitation isn’t much different than what the Christian evangelicals do.

friendlyprogrammer
Guest
friendlyprogrammer

First. I am Hermetic. It is similar to Buddhism and Hinduism at the core but it is not the same. You are trying to push your beliefs upon me at this moment and you seem to think it is good for the goose and not the gander. I have not invited your opinion… and yet I will respond. So what do you think I should do? (rhetorical) … Work at Starbucks and hope that in my lifetime I am able to steer a single person away from the evils of Christianity. Then I could accomplish my lifes purpose in a… Read more »

nhr215
Guest
nhr215

You did invite my opinion. You asked me directly. This was my response.

friendlyprogrammer
Guest
friendlyprogrammer

I cannot recall seeking your opinion directly or indirectly unless rhetorical as your opinion does not seem to be of value to me and I found your comments made little or no sense. You speak as if a teacher should not judge which makes me think you have never taught a willing person… (see I judge)… I try not to judge evil or too negatively but no teacher can see where their student lies without some insights. You speak of Buddhist concepts such as detachment which is fine for pursuits such as Astral Travel or attempting Enlightenment but there is… Read more »

Lev Lafayette
Guest
Lev Lafayette

> Reality is what it is and you are completely at peace with that <

Good comment. I take it you're familiar with the Stoics then?

Lev Lafayette
Guest
Lev Lafayette

> Simply walk outside and pick two fluffy white clouds.. Then paint one of them blue with your mind..

The cloud will vanish completely and the control cloud will remain completely intact. <

Hahaha… Oh my.

Maybe it will change for a person with "a very special mind".

But outside of that sad mental landscape the cloud will not turn blue and the control cloud will not remain intact.

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