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Buddhism and Humor. Some Think It’s No Laughing Matter?



by Bhante S. Dhammika of Australia

Humour (Pali parihasa) is the characteristic of something that evokes laughter or at least a smile. Having a sense of humour is the ability to see the funny, the odd or the ridiculous side of things, and to be able to make others laugh. The Buddha had a poor opinion of the humour of his time, probably because most of it was rather coarse – slapstick or based on sexual innuendos. He also must have noticed, as many have since, that a lot of humour is derived from making fun of and ridiculing others, and thus contains an element of cruelty.

Interestingly, the Buddha made it an offence for his monks to mimic physical disabilities (yathavajjena kilanti), something that provokes hilarity in certain people. Ancient Indian actors and comedians believed that because they “use both truth and falsehood to entertain and amuse the crowd” that they would be reborn in the heaven of the laughing gods. The Buddha had a different idea. He said that they would be more likely to be reborn in the purgatory of laughter.

Nonetheless, the Buddha seems to have approved of humour that would raise a smile or lighten the mood, because the Tipitaka contains numerous examples of his urbane, subtle humour. His discourses are full of puns (silesa), a pun being the use of a word that has two different meanings or two words that sound the same, for humorous effect. For example, brahmans were also known as ‘reciters’ (ajjhayaka) because they chanted the Vedas, but the Buddha joked that they were really called this because they couldn’t meditate (ajhana).

Another way of evoking humor is by juxtaposing two connected but incongruous things, something the Buddha occasionally did in his similes. For example, he said that having good intentions but wrong practice will no more lead to Nirvana than pulling a cow’s horn will give milk. He said that a fool does not benefit from his association with a wise person any more than a spoon tastes the soup (Dhammapada 64).

Occasionally, the Buddha used parody (parihapajja) to critique certain persons or ideas, particularly the pretensions of the brahmans. Once, an arrogant young Brahman insisted to him that brahmans are superior to other castes because “they are born from the mouth of Brahma”, a belief found in the Vedas. The Buddha quipped: “But surely brahmans are born from their mothers’ vaginas just like everyone else” (Assalayana Sutta).

As is well-known, the first discourse in the Tipitaka, the Brahmajala Sutta, includes a story that makes a laughing stock of the idea of the idea that a deity created everything. And what of the Jataka stories? They are full of mockery, jokes, humorous sarcasm, irony, slapstick, and sometime downright ribaldry. If you don’t believe me, read the Kacchapa Jataka [No.273], but don’t read it to your kids.

Laughter is sometimes called ‘the best medicine’ and the Buddha would have agreed that humour can sometimes have a therapeutic value. On those occasions where a particular way of thinking has made a problem look unsolvable or a burden appear unbearable, making a joke of the situation can sometimes open up a different way of looking at it and suggest a solution. Humour can also trigger a catharsis, a therapeutic release from anxiety, tension or fear, or lift one out of depression. The Buddha occasionally used humor to this end.

At one time, King Ajatasattu went to visit the Buddha and asked him if he could tell him one advantage of the monastic life that could be seen in the present; i.e. not in heaven or a better rebirth, but right now. The king had only recently murdered his father and was starting to feel increasingly regretful and uneasy about this. The Buddha asked the king what he would do if one of his slaves ran away and became a monk and the king later came to know where the slave was staying. Would he, the Buddha inquired, have the monk arrested and returned to bondage?

“No” answered the king. “On the contrary, as a monk, I would stand up for him, bow to him and offer him alms.” The Buddha replied, “Well, there you are! There is one of the advantages of the monk’s life that could be seen in the present.” This unexpectedly whimsical answer to a serious question must have at first surprised the king, but then made him either smile or chuckle. Having lightened the king’s mood and put him at his ease, the Buddha then proceeded to answer his question more seriously.

In the centuries after the Buddha’s passing, Buddhist thinkers explored the psychology and even the physiology of humor. The Dhammsangani for example, identified several types and intensities of smiles and laughter – the gentle smile (sita), the beaming smile where the corners of the mouth turn up and the teeth can be seen (hasita), laughter that makes an audible sound (vihasita), laughter that causes the head, shoulders and arms to shake (upahasita), laughing until tears come to the eyes (apahasita), and roaring with laughter (atihasita).

Recently, a stand-up comedian found herself in trouble with the law for making a joke about the Buddha. When I heard of this I was a little puzzled. To make a joke about the Buddha might be in poor taste, it might be off-color, not to everyone’s liking, but should it be a criminal offence? And then there is the matter of free speech. To my mind, unless someone’s words advocate violence or, in the case of religious sensibilities, are extremely offensive, derogatory or denigrating, they should have the protection of free speech.

I thought this comedian’s jokes made light of some aspects of the Buddha’s life, that they were rather silly and that they should be simply brushed off and ignored, but not that they were offensive. There is a short dialogue in the Digha Nikaya which those who were “outraged”, “offended” and “angered” by this comedian’s jokes should perhaps re-read and think about.

“Monks, if anyone speaks disparagingly of me, the Dhamma or the Sangha, you should not be angry, annoyed or upset because of that. If you were angry or displeased, that would be a hindrance to you and you would not know if what they said was right or not. Therefore, monks, when others speak disparagingly of me, the Dhamma or the Sangha, you should explain to them what is incorrect, saying, ‘This is not correct, that is false, that is not what we do’.”

What is the best way we can “protect Buddhism”? By getting angry and calling upon the arm of the law when someone tells a joke about it, or by taking the Buddha’s words seriously and following his sage advice? In some countries, the slightest wrong word about religion, even if accidental, can lead to draconian consequences, even to death. For years we have read about such things and probably congratulated ourselves that Buddhist cultures and societies are generally more free, more tolerant, more live-and-let-live. The reactions to this comedian and similar ones to a pastor just recently, suggests that such admirable attitudes are changing – and not for the better. The Buddha has been respected and admired by millions over the centuries and continues to be even today. A few silly jokes won’t change that.

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Lingering world disorder and the UN’s role



The 9/11 Twin Tower horror in New York.

Russia could very well be questioning the legitimacy of the UN system by currently challenging the right of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to arbitrate in the conflicting accusations of genocide brought against each other by it and Ukraine. Russia has countered Ukraine’s charge of genocide, occasioned by its invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, by accusing the latter of perpetrating the same crime in the rebel region of Eastern Ukraine, which is seen as being within the Russian sphere of influence.

As is known, when Russia did not participate in a hearing sanctioned by the ICJ on the charge of genocide brought against it in March 2022, the ICJ called on Russia to halt the invasion forthwith. Russia, however, as reported in some sections of the international media, reacted by claiming that the ICJ has ‘no jurisdiction over the case since Ukraine’s request does not come within the scope of the Genocide Convention.’ The main sides to the Ukraine conflict are at present reportedly stating their positions in the ICJ with regard to the correctness of this claim.

Whereas, the law-abiding the world over would have expected the ICJ’s word to prevail in the Ukraine conflict, this does not seem to be the case. More precisely, it is the moral authority of the UN that is being questioned by Russia. Given this situation, the observer cannot be faulted for believing that Russia is ‘sticking to its guns’ of favouring a military solution in the Ukraine.

Considering the foregoing and the continuing lawlessness in other geographical regions, such as South-West Asia, the Middle East and parts of Africa, the commentator is justified in taking the position that little or nothing has been gained by the world community by way of fostering international peace over the decades.

Most distressing is the UN’s seeming helplessness in the face of international disorder, bloodshed and war. The thorny questions from the 9/11 New York twin-tower terror attacks, for instance, are remaining with humanity.

One of the most dreaded questions is whether the UN Charter has been rendered a dead letter by the forces of lawlessness and those wielders of overwhelming military might who couldn’t care less for moral scruples. Those state actors who display these traits risk being seen as destruction-oriented subversives or terrorists who are impervious to civilizational values.

Commentators are right when they point to the need for UN reform. This is, in fact, long overdue. Of the original ‘Big Five’ who went on to constitute the permanent membership of the UN Security Council (UNSC) at the end of World War 11 and who oversaw the establishment of the UN, only the US and China retain major power status in the true sense of the phrase today.

The rest of the original heavyweights cannot be considered ‘spent forces’, but there are other powers of more recent origin who could easily vie for their positions. Some of these are India, Brazil, South Africa, Turkey and Indonesia. Inducting some of the latter into the UNSC could help constitute a more globally representative UNSC. That is, they will help put together an UNSC which is more faithfully reflective of the current global power distribution.

Theoretically, a more widely representative and inclusive UNSC could be a check against the arbitrary exercise of power by the more ambitious, expansionary and authoritarian members of the UNSC but a foremost challenge facing the UN is to induce such new members of the UNSC into representing the vital and legitimate interests of the ordinary publics within these states and internationally. Minus such representation of the world’s powerless UN reform could come to nought. In fact, this could be described as a prime challenge before the UN which could decide its enduring relevance.

Admittedly, the challenge is complex and defies easy resolution. Not all the countries that are seen as prospective UNSC members are democratic in orientation. That is, they would not be people-friendly or egalitarian. Most of them are governed by power elites that are part of what has been described as the ‘Transnational Capitalist Class’ and could be expected to be repressive and parasitic rather than caring or egalitarian. How then could they be expected to be committed to re-distributive justice within their countries, for example?

In the short and medium terms, the UN system could bring into being systems and institutions that could make it comparatively difficult for the power elites of the world to be parasitic, exploitive, self-serving and unconscionable. Strengthening and giving added teeth to systems that could prove effective against money-laundering and allied practices of self-aggrandizement is one way out.

Ironically, it is perhaps the UN that could lay the basis for and provide these mechanisms most effectively and non-obtrusively. It would need to work more with governments and publics on these fronts and lay the foundation for the necessary accountability procedures within states. It should prepare for the long haul.

In the longer term, it’s the coming into existence of democracy-conscious governments and ruling strata that must be sought. Here too the UN could play a significant role. Its numerous agencies could prove more proactive and dynamic in inculcating and teaching the core values of democracy to particularly poor and vulnerable populations that could fall prey to anti-democratic, parochial political forces that thrive on division and discord.

UN aid could be even directly tied to the establishment and strengthening of democratic institutions in particularly impoverished countries and regions. Thus will the basis be laid for younger leaders with a strong democratic vision and programmatic alternative for their countries. Hopefully, such issues would get some airing in the current UN General Assembly sessions.

Accordingly, the broad-basing of the UNSC is integral to UN reform but the progressive world cannot stop there. It would need to ensure the perpetuation of the UN system by helping to bring into being polities that would respect this cardinal international organization which has as its prime aim the fostering of world peace. Democracy-conscious populations are an urgent need and systems of education that advocate the core values of democracy need to be established and strengthened worldwide.

The coming into being of rivals to the current Western-dominated world order, such as the BRICS bloc, needs to be welcomed but unless they are people-friendly and egalitarian little good will be achieved. Besides, undermining the UN and its central institutions would prove utterly counter-productive.

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Country Roads …concert for children



Sponsors and Country Music Foundation officials - from left: Dmitri Cooray (Jetwing), Maljini Jayasekera (Cargills), Feizal Samath (President CMF), Susaan Bandara (LOLC), Deepal Perera (SriLankan Airlines) and Spencer Manualpillai (Dilmah)

I’ve always wondered why those who have hit the big time in their profession, as singers, have not cared to reach out to the needy.

They generally glorify themselves, especially on social media, not only with their achievements, but also with their outfits, etc. – all status symbols.

I’m still to see some of the big names grouping together to help the thousands who are suffering, at this point in time – children, especially.

However, I need to commend the Country Music Foundation of Sri Lanka for tirelessly working to bring some relief, and happiness, to children, in this part of the world.

Country Roads is said to be Sri Lanka’s and South Asia’s longest running charity concert for children, and this year, they say, the show will be even better.

This concert has consistently donated 100% of its proceeds to children’s charities in Sri Lanka. Over the past 35 years, this has resulted in several million rupees worth of aid, all of which has contributed directly to addressing the most pressing issues faced by children in Sri Lanka, a common practice since the concert’s first edition was held in 1988.

In 2014, the concert contributed Rs. 500,000 to Save the Children Sri Lanka, to support its mother-and-child programme for local plantations. During the same year, another Rs. 100,000 was given to the Oxonian Heart Foundation, to help treat impoverished and destitute children suffering from heart disease, while a further Rs. 100,000 was donated to a poor family caring for a special needs child. In commemoration of its landmark 25th anniversary concert in 2013, CMF donated a million rupees to aid in a special UNICEF project.

Astrid Brook from the UK

The 2023 musical extravaganza will feature the bright lights and panoramic cityscape of Colombo, as its backdrop, as it will be held at the picturesque Virticle by Jetwing, which is situated high above the city, on the 30th floor of the Access Towers building, in Union Place, Colombo 2.

The 35th anniversary Country Roads concert for children will take place on Saturday, 7th October, 2023.

Feizal Samath, President of the Country Music Foundation (CMF), the concert organisers, commented: “We are very much looking forward to this event as it’s being held after a lapse of five years, due to unavoidable circumstances.”

Fan favourites the Mavericks from Germany and Astrid Brook from the UK will once again return to headline the 2023 concert, and joining them on stage will be local outfit Cosmic Rays, as well as the Country Revival Band, with Feizal and Jury.

Dirk (from the Mavericks) has this to say to his Sri Lankan fans: “2018 was the last time we were in your beautiful country with the Mavericks band. Then Corona came and with it a long break. I missed you very much during this time.

“It has now been five years since my last visit to Sri Lanka. A lot has changed. The sponsorship that has always made this trip possible for us is gone. But we didn’t just want to end this tradition, which we have learned to love so much since 1992. That’s why we’re travelling to Sri Lanka this year entirely at our own expense, because it’s an affair of the heart for us.

Mavericks from Germany

“We very much hope that it won’t be the last Maverick performance in Sri Lanka. We hope that this unique journey will continue, that there will also be a Country Roads concert in the years to come.”

The 35th anniversary edition of the Country Roads concert for children will be supported by Official Venue Virticle by Jetwing, and Official Airline SriLankan Airlines, as well as its other partners, Jetwing Colombo Seven, Cargills, LOLC, and Firefly.

Tickets are currently available, for a charitable donation of Rs 2,000 each, at Cargills Food City outlets at Kirulapone, Kohuwela (Bernards), Majestic City, Mount Lavinia (junction) and Staples Street.

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Healthy, Glowing Skin



Give your skin a boost by including the following into your diet:

* Avocados:

Avocados contain healthy fats which can help your skin stay moisturised and firm.

They also contain vitamin C and E – two important nutrients that your body need to support healthy skin and fight free radical formation.

Avocados are also rich in biotin, a B vitamin that some nutritionists believe can help promote healthy skin and hair. A deficiency of biotin can lead to skin problems, such as rashes, ache, psoriasis, dermatitis and overall itchiness.

* Carrots:

Carrots are rich in vitamin A, which fights against sunburns, cell death, and wrinkles. Vitamin A also adds a healthy, warm glow to your skin.

You can get vitamin A by consuming provitamin A through fruits, vegetables, and other plant-based products. Your body then converts beta-carotene into vitamin A to protect your skin from the sun.

Provitamin A can also be found in oranges, spinach, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, bell peppers, broccoli and more.

* Dark Chocolate:

Dark chocolate is beneficial for your skin because cocoa powder boasts a bunch of antioxidants. These antioxidants hydrate and smoothen your skin, making your skin less sensitive to sunburn and improves the blood flow of your skin. Make a healthy choice by opting for a bar of dark chocolate with 70% cocoa for more antioxidants and lesser added sugar.

* Green Tea:

Green tea has been said to protect the skin against external stressors and ageing. This is because it is antioxidant-rich and contains catechins that protect your skin, reduce redness, increase hydration, and improve elasticity.

A diet rich in antioxidants along with adequate hydration may even out your skin texture, strengthen your skin barrier and improve your overall skin health.

Avoid adding milk to green tea as the combination can reduce the effects of the antioxidants present in green tea.

Additional tips for healthy skin…

Don’t forget to stay hydrated because water plays a big part in the appearance of your skin. Water ensures your skin has enough moisture, which reduces the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. It also helps with nutrient absorption, removal of toxins and blood circulation.

Besides food and water, it is important to observe proper hygiene. This means no touching your face until you’ve washed your hands. Your hands carry more bacteria than you think and the occasional touch here and there can add up. After a long day out, cleanse your face thoroughly.

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