Of Laughter and Enlightenment – A Zen Story
There was a Zen monastery where many disciples gathered to learn from the master. Of all the disciples, the newest disciple was the most active, taking up lots of work. If his master wanted something, he would reach his side before anyone else. He instantly completed any tasks given to him by his master. He was the last to sleep and the first to wake up and begin the daily chores. The master took note of this and asked him one day, "Where were you before you came here?"
The disciple replied, "I was learning from Shaling Kyu."
"Oh, Shaling Kyu! I have heard about him. Once when he was walking on a bridge, he tripped and fell into the water. Right?" asked the master.
"Do you know that he became realized at that very moment?"
"I didn’t know about that. But he has written a poem about his realization."
"Do you remember that poem?"
"Yes master, I remember."
"Then tell me."
"I have found a pearl.
For long time dust and dirt had covered its brightness.
Now the dust has flown away. The dirt is gone.
Brightness has been born.
The mountains and the rivers have been lit with its light."
The moment he finished reciting this poem, the master let out a loud laugh.
The disciple was confused, "What is so funny about this poem? Why did the Master laugh?" But no matter how much he thought about it, he could not find an answer. His sleep was ruined that night. The moment he got up the next morning, he came looking for his master.
"Oh, Master! Why did you laugh when I told you that poem yesterday?"
The master said, "You are worse than a clown."
"Yes, clowns make others laugh, but you get terrified if someone laughs." Saying this, he started laughing loudly again.
This laughter of the master enlightened his disciple.
Sadhguru: There is a deep connection between Zen and laughter.
Most of the Zen masters were the kind to laugh loudly. Not only Zen, anyone who has attained a certain elated state within themselves do not wait for a reason to laugh. Whether it is good news or bad news, they can laugh.
In my youth, after enlightenment flowered within me, I looked at everybody around me and thought, “Why are these people, who are capable of being extremely blissful every moment of their lives, messing up their lives like this?" Tears would stream down my face.
But soon, I realized that whenever I saw ignorance in people around me, it was more blissful to laugh than shed tears. There is no meaning in going on shedding tears.
In this world, more than poverty or disease, it is ignorance that is widespread. What better opportunity can you find to laugh than when you see ignorance? If you have the intelligence to relate ignorance and blissfulness, then there is really no problem.
Once, I was driving in the mountains in the US. It was pouring rain. Volunteers from Isha were travelling with me in different cars.
In the car behind me, there were three American women with an Isha volunteer. Generally I drive fast and they were trying to drive their car at my speed.
I warned them, saying, "Don't try to match my speed."
They said, "No, this route is familiar to us," and they kept going at the same speed.
The mountain road made a bend at one place. I maintained the same speed through the bend, but the car behind me was unable to manage the turn. At great speed, it hit a lone tree that was standing nearby. In that impact, the car bent the tree a little and sort of climbed up the tree like a beast, so that it was hanging half on the tree and half on the road. If it had missed slightly, it would have fallen into a 400 feet deep valley.
From my rearview mirror, I witnessed everything from the moment the car hit the tree. I brought my car back a little and parked it, got out and looked at their state.
The ladies inside were shouting and screaming. The car was hanging precariously on the edge, and we slowly got each one out safely from the car one by one.
All of them could have died in an accident like that. But they escaped. Even after escaping a disaster, they could not move beyond the fear and commotion that it caused. The American women started crying even more vigorously.
But the woman from Isha started to laugh out loud the moment she stepped out. The moment I reached there, I also started laughing uncontrollably.
The American women got even more angry and shouted, "How can you behave so irresponsibly when we’re suffering like this?"
I continued to laugh and told them, "If you had all died I wouldn't have laughed like this. I would have waited for some time and then laughed."
At any point in life, or in any situation of life, how you face what comes to you depends on how ignorant you are. Where did you come from? Where are you going? You don't know anything, but you imagine something on your own and get caught up in that. You are going to be here for a very short span, so why make it such a mess out of your foolishness?
You may come up with a thousand reasons to lose your laughter. “I lost my father. I lost my mother. I lost my wife. I lost my husband. I lost my child.” Whatever reason you may give, there is no reason to lose your laughter.
If people have lost their laughter, there is only one reason: they are at the peak of ignorance, have lost sense of life. If you attain an ecstatic state, laughter is all that is left. If you listen to the sound of a temple bell, you will see that it is closest to the sound of a loud laughter. One who has lost his laughter has lost everything. This is what the Zen master demonstrated to his disciple.
Editor’s Note: Read this article, where Sadhguru explains what Zen is and how it came to be such an effective means towards the Ultimate.