Gotama Buddha is historically portrayed as a young prince over 2500 years ago, in what is now known as India, who saw the reality of human suffering so deeply that he left his kingdom with a vow to discover the end to this cycle of unavoidable human stress. As his story unfolds, this intelligent, intense, and serious-sounding man experimented with some very austere ascetic spiritual practices for several years before incorporating and developing a prescriptive practice that led him to nibbana or the ultimate “release from human strife”.
Although there do not seem to be any Buddhist stories that paint the picture of the post-enlightenment Buddha and his students bursting into gut-wrenching laughter, there are plenty of reasons to believe that he was happy.
The Buddha made it clear that we need to avoid partaking in having fun at the expense of others – the layer of cruelty underlying maligning or ridiculing another person. But based on the smile that exists on his pictorial representations, it is safe to assume that he was a pretty happy fellow. It also seems he used analogies in his teachings that pointed to a light sense of humor, as indicated by: “a fool does not benefit from his association with a wise person any more than a spoon tastes the soup” (Dhp. 64).
It was no fluke that Buddha’s foundational directive for reaching nibbana was to practice mindfulness meditation as often and as much as possible, as indicated by many of his directives asking his monks to sit in a quiet, secluded forest, cross-legged on the roots of and under the shade of a tree. Today, modern science is legitimizing this age-old meditation practice, as evidenced by recent brain research studies which are indicating that regular Mindfulness meditation actually changes the human brain, increasing brain activity in areas associated with positive affect, while reducing negative, stress-inducing activity.
But let’s get real. Have you practiced Mindfulness meditation every day for any considerable length of time? If so, then you don’t need to read about the research findings to realize the first-hand benefits of a calmer, happier mind. If you’ve done any considerable amount of meditation, you’ve hopefully also developed a profound sense of humor. After all, you almost have to laugh at your mind’s many creative shenanigans which become startling elucidated during meditation!
Although committing to and maintaining a consistently evolving meditation practice is serious business, the potential outcome is a much happier mind that is more able to recognize and be present with the miracles that appear in daily life.