Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Zen Flesh, Zen Funny Bones

I'm thinking about humour today.  First someone asked me to write a little bio and in distilling myself down to 10 sentences (which if you read this blog much, you know is an impossible task for me; they were long sentences.)  I realized humour is a big part of who I am.

Go ahead, blame my father for the silliness you find here, he's not around to defend himself.  But because of him our family has a somewhat odd sense of humour.  He had funny names and descriptions for so many things.  As a child he never asked me how school was, he always said "how was Miss Spink today?"  A new dress was a "gown" and any haircut on a woman was referred to as an Ella Cinders cut (apparently an old cartoon character or movies star?) In the end we called it "grandad speak";  his own little language which left the grandkids howling: candies were gundies (a scottish term, I believe), glossette raisins were rabbit drops.  If he asked you to have one foot on the curb, it meant be ready when I pick you up.

While I was checking my flickr site today I  found a group called "Silly Buddha" which has all kinds of amusing pictures of little toy Buddha's posed and garden Buddhas covered to the head in snow and my personal favourite, 2 Buddha statues buckled up in a car ready to go.  Some people may find it offensive to mix images of the Buddha with humour, so if this is you, then don't take yourself out for cocktails to the Silly Buddha site.  All seemed in good taste to my twisted little mind.

And, for whatever reason, I felt a need to bust out of all that serious Zen stuff today; to lighten up.  And lightening up is a real tenet of Zen practice because we can get all serious and heavy about our lives and bore and depress ourselves.  Lightening up is about not taking ourselves so seriously.   I come from the school of  "if you can't laugh about it, you're in trouble."   I'm not talking tasteless or thoughtless here.  Rule number one when shopping at the funny store:  Humour at anyone's expense is always a bad idea.  When you're charging it up on the funny card make sure the bill goes to yourself. 

So I started out on the trail of some Zen funnies for your edification, of course.  It was interesting to hear what people out there had to say about Zen humour.  To start with it is often used to show the foolishness of logic or illustrate some point.  A lot of Zen stories are mildly funny, like the one I told in "Knowing Too Much, Too Soon" where the Zen master over fills the cup of a visiting professor to illustrate that he is too full of knowing.

Sometimes Zen humour takes the form of waking us up by asking us something absurd like the famous "what is the sound of one hand clapping."  Almost everyone has heard this one.  It's purpose, as is the purpose of all koans is to get us out of our heads and take us to a deeper level of understanding.

So now I'll share a couple of Zen jokes that I found out there in the googlesphere  One site that had some fun stuff was Allen Klein's, from Ha Ha to Ah Ah.  This little story is from the Zen master Ikkyu, who as a boy broke his master's tea cup.  Trying to avert trouble (or perhaps avoid a wack with a stick)  the young Ikkyu asked the master, "Why do people have to die?"  To which the master replied, "This is natural.  Everything has to die and has just so long to live."  To that Ikkyu produced the broken cup and said, "it was time for your cup to die."  Woody Allen could hardly have done better.

A poem by Ikkyu also expresses his adult sense of humour:
I'd like to
Offer something
To help you 
But in the Zen School
We don't have a single thing.

And finally as a finale a couple of one liners: " A Zen master once said to me: Do the opposite of what I tell you."  So I didn't.  And go away and think about this one:  "Living your life is a task so difficult it has never been attempted before."

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