By Dzigar Kongtrül
Originally published in ASCP's Skin Deep, April/May 2006.
We could all use more humor in our lives. Having a sense of humor doesn’t mean laughing and being cheerful all the time. It means seeing the illusory nature of things — and seeing how, in this illusory life, we are always bumping into the very things we meticulously try to avoid.
Humor allows us to see that ultimately things don’t make sense. The only thing that truly makes sense is letting go of anything we continue to hold on to. Our ego-mind and emotions are a dramatic illusion. Of course, we all feel that they’re real: my drama, your drama, our confrontations. We create these elaborate scenarios and then react to them. But there is nothing really happening outside of our mind! This is karma’s cosmic joke. You can laugh about the irony of this, or you can stick with your scenario. It’s your choice.
We need to bring a sense of humor to all aspects of our lives — even to positive aspects such as well-being, harmony, and peace. When we take these things too seriously, joy becomes pain, peace becomes annoying, and harmony becomes contrived. To have genuine harmony, peace, and joy, we need to cut through seriousness with a sense of humor.
Humor is difficult to describe in words. It arises in our heart and a smile appears or laughter comes out of our mouth. It brings a new vision and perspective to everything. And it can also be a great friend — at times our only friend. In especially difficult times, when we’re deserted by everyone else, we still have our sense of humor. We don’t have to take this short life — with its fathers, mothers, husbands, wives, lovers, children, jobs, and money — so seriously. In fact, it’s funny to be so serious. Especially knowing that ultimately we will have to drop all of it and leave this life, as in the Tibetan saying, “like a hair pulled from butter.” The brief time that we have in this world would be well spent trying to wake up from this seriousness.
Is Seriousness All that Useful?
There is a lot we could accomplish in this brief human life. We could actually realize the nature of reality and the truth of phenomena — including ourselves. How ridiculous is it then to be so serious about carrying a briefcase, driving a BMW, or talking on the cell phone to our friends? At some point, we have to say, “OK, that’s enough.” This doesn’t mean ignoring our mind and emotions, or not addressing or discussing things. It means simply asking ourselves whether seriousness is all that useful.
When we wake up in the morning, thoughts and feelings naturally arise. It’s up to us how seriously we take them. This is not to say we should never be serious or responsible. It just means that we may need some perspective and a more positive attitude.
A positive attitude doesn’t mean just thinking good thoughts. It means not getting caught up in the seriousness of everything we do, hear, see, feel, and relate with. I myself am very tired of being so serious — exhausted, actually. But it doesn’t help to just give up on the things we’re so serious about. That doesn’t really serve the purpose.
When you find yourself stuck in seriousness — even if it’s your karma to be a serious person — you can just pop out of it. This is quite a profound practice.
The Sense of Humor Practice
Like an old man watching children at play, we need to see through our own seriousness. No matter how seriously the children go about their games, the old man is amused and never for a moment takes them to be real. We can watch our thoughts and emotions in the same way. Without taking them so seriously we can see them as children at play and give them lots of space.