Beautiful excerpt on humor and seriousness
Sense of Humor
Excerpt from Chogyam Trungpa – Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism
It would be interesting to examine this subject in terms of what is not a sense of humor. Lack of humor seems to come from the attitude of the “hard fact.” Things are very hard and deadly honest, deadly serious, like, to use an analogy,
a living corpse. He lives in pain, has a continual expression of pain on his face. He has experienced some kind of hard fact -“reality”- he is deadly serious and has gone so far as to become a living corpse. The rigidity of this living corpse expresses the
opposite of a sense of humor. It is as though somebody is standing behind you with a sharp sword.
If you are not meditating properly, sitting still and upright, there will be someone behind you just about to strike. Or
if you are not dealing with life properly, honestly, directly, someone is just about to hit you. This is the self-consciousness of watching yourself, observing yourself unnecessarily.
Whatever we do is constantly being watched and censored. Actually it is not Big Brother who is watching; it is Big Me!
Another aspect of me is watching me, behind me, just about to strike, just about to pinpoint my failure.
There is no joy in this approach, no sense of humor at all.
This kind of seriousness relates to the problem of spiritual materialism as well. “Inasmuch as I am part of a particular lineage of meditators, associated with the church and its organization, because of my religious commitment,
I must be a good boy or girl, an honest, good, church-going person. I
must conform to the standards of the church, its rules and regulations. If I do not fulfil my obligations I will be condemned, reduced to a shrunken body.” There is the threat of solemnity and death – death in the sense of an end
to any further creative process. This attitude has the feeling of limitation, rigidity; there is no room to move about at all.
You might ask then, “What about the great religious traditions, the teachings? They speak of discipline, rules and regulations. How do we reconcile these with the notion of a sense of humor?”
Well, let’s examine the question properly. Are the regulations, the discipline, the practice of morality really based on the purely judgmental attitude of “good” as opposed to “bad”? Are the great spiritual teachings really advocating that we fight evil because
we are on the side of light, the side of peace? Are they telling us to fight against that other “undesirable” side, the bad and the black? That is a big question.
If there is wisdom in the sacred teachings,
there should not be any war.
As long as a person is involved with warfare,
trying to defend or attack,
then his action is not sacred;
it is mundane, dualistic,
a battlefield situation.
One would not expect the great teachings to be as simple-minded as that, trying to be good, fighting the bad. Such would be the approach of the Hollywood western movie even before you have seen the conclusion, you already know precisely
that the “goodies” will not be killed and the “baddies” are going to get smashed. This approach is obviously simple minded; but it is just this type of situation that we are creating in terms of “spiritual” struggle, “spiritual” achievement.
I am not saying that a sense of humor should be wildly unleashed. I am speaking of seeing something more than just warfare, struggle, duality.
If we regard the path of spirituality as a battlefield,
then we are weak and feeble.
Then our progress on the path will depend
upon how great an area we have conquered,
upon the subjugation of our own and others’ faults,
upon how much negativity we have eliminated.
Relative to how much dark you have eliminated,
that much light you have been able to produce.
That is very feeble; one could hardly call it liberation or freedom or mukti or nirvana. You have achieved liberation by defeating something else: it is purely relative.
I do not want to make a “sense of humor” into something solemn; I am afraid that people are going to do that. But in order to really understand rigidity, that which is represented by the corpse, one cannot avoid the danger of making
a sense of humor into a serious thing.
Sense of humor means seeing both poles
of a situation as they are,
from an aerial point of view.
There is good and there is bad
and you see both with a panoramic view
as though from above.
Then you begin to feel that these little people on the ground, killing each other or making love or just being little people, are very insignificant in the sense that, if they begin to make a big deal of their warfare or love making,
then we begin to see the ironic aspect of their clamor. If we try very hard to build something tremendous, really meaningful, powerful – “I’m really searching for something, I’m really trying to fight my faults,” or “I’m really trying to be good,” – then it
loses its seriousness, becomes a paper tiger; it is extremely ironic.
Sense of humor seems to come from all-pervading joy, joy which has room to expand into a completely open situation because it is not involved with the battle between “this” and “that”. Joy develops into the panoramic situation of
seeing or feeling the whole ground, the open ground. This open situation has no hint of limitation, of imposed solemnity. And if you do try to treat life as a “serious business,” if you try to impose solemnity upon life as though everything is a big deal,
then it is funny. Why such a big deal?
A person might attempt to meditate in a 100% or 200 % correct posture. Big Deal. Funny. Or on the other hand, a person might try to develop a sense of humor, trying always to make fun of things, to find humor in every corner, every
crack. That in itself is a very serious game, which is equally funny. If you build up physical tension to the point where you are clenching your teeth, biting your tongue, then suddenly something will tickle you because you have been building too much; it
is too absurd to go to such extremes. That extreme intensity itself becomes humor, automatically.
There is the Tibetan story of a certain monk who renounced his samsaric, confused life and decided to go live in a cave in order to meditate all the time. Prior to this he had been thinking continually of pain and suffering. His
name was Ngonagpa of Langru, the Black-faced One of Langru, because
he never smiled at all but saw everything in life in terms of pain. He remained in retreat for many years, very solemn and deadly honest, until one day he looked at the shrine and saw that someone had presented a big lump of turquoise
as a gift to him. As he viewed the gift, he saw a mouse creep in and try to drag away the piece of turquoise. The mouse could not do it, so it sent back to its hole and called another mouse. They both tried to drag away this big lump of turquoise but could
not do it. So they squeaked together and called eight more mice who came and finally managed to drag the whole lump back into their hole. Then for the first time Ngonagpa of Langru began to laugh and smile. And that was his first introduction to openness,
a sudden flash of enlightenment.
So a sense of humor
is not merely a matter
of trying to tell jokes
or make puns,
trying to be funny
in a deliberate fashion.
It involves seeing
the basic irony
of the juxtaposition of extremes,
so that one is not caught taking them seriously,
so that one does not seriously play
their game of hope and fear.
This is why the experience of the spiritual path is so significant, why the practice of meditation is the most insignificant experience of all. It is insignificant because you place no value judgment on it. Once you are absorbed
into that insignificant situation of openness without involvement in value judgment, then you begin to see all the games going on around you. Someone is trying to be stern and spiritually solemn, trying to be a good person. Such a person might take it seriously
if someone offended him, might want to fight. If you work in accordance with the basic insignificance of what is, then you begin to see the humor in this kind of solemnity, in people making such a big deal about things.
Q: In each lecture you describe some seemingly inescapable situation in which we are all trapped, in which we have already become enmeshed. I just wonder if you ever mean to imply that there is a way out?
A: You see, the whole point is that if we are speaking of a way out all the time, then we are dealing in fantasy, the dream of escape, salvation, enlightenment. We need to be practical. We must examine what is here, now, our neurotic
mind. Once we are completely familiar with the negative aspects of the state of our being, then we know the “way out” automatically. But if we talk about how beautiful and joyous our attainment of the goal will be, then we become extremely sincere and romantic;
and this approach becomes an obstacle. One must be practical. It is like visiting your physician because you are ill. If a doctor is going to treat you, then he must first know what is wrong with you. It is not a question of what could be right with you; that
is not relevant. If you tell
the doctor what is wrong with you, then that is the way out of your illness. That is why the Buddha taught the Four Noble Truths, his first teaching. One must begin with the realization of pain, duhkha, suffering. Then having realized
duhkha, one goes on to the origin of suffering and the path leading out of suffering and liberation. The Buddha did not begin by teaching the beauty of the enlightenment experience.
Q: Following the usual patterns of evaluation and judgment, I find myself thinking that the errors and obstacles which you describe in later lectures are somehow more advanced than those described in the earlier lectures.
Is this correct?
A: That is true. Even after one has stepped onto the path, as in the case of bodhisattvas, once you have begun to awaken there could be a tendency to analyze your awakened state. This involves looking at oneself, analyzing and evaluating,
and continues until there is a sharp blow which is called the vajra-like samadhi. This is the last samadhi state of meditation. The attainment of enlightenment is called “vajra-like” because it does not stand for any nonsense; it just cuts right through all
our games. In the story of the Buddha’s life we hear of the temptations of Mara, which are extremely subtle. The first temptation is fear of physical destruction. The last is the seduction by the daughters of Mara. This seduction,
the seduction of spiritual materialism,
is extremely powerful
because it is the seduction of thinking
that “1” have achieved something.
If we think we have achieved something,
that we have “made it,”
then we have been seduced by Mara’s daughters,
the seduction of spiritual materialism.