LAUGHTER is the very essence of religion. Seriousness is never religious, cannot be religious. Seriousness is of the ego, part of the very disease. Laughter is egolessness. Yes, there is a difference between when you laugh and when a religious man laughs. The difference is that you laugh always about others — the religious man laughs at himself, or at the whole ridiculousness of man’s being. Religion cannot be anything other than a celebration of life.
And the serious person becomes handicapped: he creates barriers. He cannot dance, he cannot sing, he cannot celebrate. The very dimension of celebration disappears from his life. He becomes desert-like. And if you are a desert, you can go on thinking and pretending that you are religious but you are not.
You may be a sectarian, but not religious. You can be a Christian, a Hindu, a Buddhist, a Jain, a Mohammedan, but you cannot be religious. You believe in something, but you don’t know anything. You believe in theories. A man too much burdened by theories becomes serious. A man who is unburdened, has no burden of theories over his being, starts laughing. The whole play of existence is so beautiful that laughter can be the only response to it. Only laughter can be the real prayer, gratitude.
This Hotei is tremendously significant. Rarely has a man like Hotei walked on the earth. It is unfortunate — more people should be like Hotei; more temples should be full of laughter, dancing, singing. If seriousness is lost, nothing is lost — in fact, one becomes more healthy and whole. But if laughter is lost, everything is lost. Suddenly you lose the festivity of your being; you become colorless, monotonous, in a way dead. Then you energy is not streaming any more.
Laughter is a flowering. If Buddha was the seed, then Hotei is the flower on the same tree. If Buddha is the roots, then Hotei is the flower on the same tree. And if you want to understand Buddha, try to understand Hotei. And it is right that people used to call him the Laughing Buddha. Buddha has come of age in Hotei. Buddha has laughed in Hotei. Enlightenment has come to its very crescendo.
But it is difficult to understand Hotei. To understand him you will have to be in that festive dimension. If you are too much burdened with theories, concepts, notions, ideologies, theologies, philosophies, you will not be able to see what this Hotei is, what his significance is — because he will laugh looking at you. He will laugh because he will not be able to believe that a man can be so foolish and so ridiculous.
It is as if a man is just trying to live on a cookery book and has forgotten to cook food; just goes on studying books about food and how to prepare it and how not to prepare it, and argues this way and that — and is all the time hungry, all the time dying, and has forgotten completely that one cannot live on books. That’s what has happened: people are living on Bibles, Korans, Dhammapadas, Gitas — they have completely forgotten that religion has to be lived. It is something that has to be digested. It is something that has to circulate in your blood, become your bones, your very marrow. You cannot just think about it. Thinking is the most superficial part of your being. You have to absorb it!
This story has to be understood very deeply.
IN THE T’ANG DYNASTY THERE WAS A STOUT FELLOW WHO WAS CALLED THE HAPPY CHINAMAN, OR THE LAUGHING BUDDHA.
WHEN for the first time you hear the phrase ‘laughing Buddha’ it looks a little contradictory, a contradiction in terms. A Buddha and laughing? Not a single statue exists, not a single painting, not a single description, of Buddha as laughing. But that is not because Buddha never laughed — that is because Indians are much too serious about religion. Maybe that is one of the basic reasons why Buddhism disappeared from India. India was too serious, too intellectual, too full of theorizing. Buddha was very simple. His approach was not of the mind; his approach was of the existential being. And this country is the country of the pundits, the scholars, the learned men, the knowledgeable. If Buddha disappeared from this country, it seems natural.
He was bringing a totally different dimension — something very original; something very natural yet very original because man has forgotten it. He was doing a tremendous service to humanity. He was not a pundit, not a philosopher, not a metaphysician. He was a very simple being — silent, happy, fully alive, living moment-to-moment. If you want to understand Buddha, go via Hotei. Hotei is his true disciple. It is very difficult, because whenever a man like Buddha happens immediately pundits and scholars gather around because they get new material for their theorizing. Intellectuals immediately gather around. They have something new to philosophize about, to write about, to make scriptures of…
Hotei lived a totally different life from an ordinary religious man. His whole life was nothing but a continuous laughter.
It is said about Hotei that even sometimes in sleep he would start laughing. He had a big belly, and the belly would shake. Sardar Gurdayal Singh would have enjoyed meeting him, and Hotei would have enjoyed Sardar Gurdayal Singh. People would ask him, “Why are you laughing? and even in sleep!” Laughter was so natural to him that any and everything would help him to laugh. Then the whole life, awake or asleep, is a comedy. You have turned life into a tragedy. You have made a tragic mess of your life. Even when you laugh, you don’t laugh. Even when you pretend to laugh, the laughter is just forced, manipulated, managed. It is not coming from the heart, not at all from the belly. It is not something coming from your center; it is just something painted on the periphery. You laugh for reasons — which have nothing to do with laughter.
I have heard: In a small office, the boss was telling some old stale anecdote, which he had told many times. And everybody was laughing — one has to laugh! They were all bored by it, but the boss is the boss, and when the boss tells a joke you have to laugh — it is part of duty. Just one woman typist was not laughing, was sitting straight, serious. The boss said, “What is the matter with you? Why are you not laughing?”
She said, “I am leaving this month” — then there is no point!
It happened: Mulla Nasrudin listened very attentively while a stranger told a long story in the coffee-house. But the man spoke so indistinctly and muffed his punchline so badly that the story was not funny at all, and except for the Mulla no one laughed. But the Mulla laughed heartily.
“Why did you laugh, Nasrudin?” I asked him afterwards when the stranger had left.
“I always do,” replied Nasrudin. “If you don’t laugh, there is always the danger of their telling it over again.”
This is an excerpt from the transcript of a public discourse by Osho in Buddha Hall, Shree Rajneesh Ashram, Pune.
A Sudden Clash of Thunder
Chapter title: Laugh Your Way to God
19 August 1976 am in Buddha Hall
Osho has spoken on ‘Laughter, Celebration, Joy, Dance’ in many of His discourses. More on the subject can be referred to in the following books/discourses: