During an interview a number of years ago with my teacher, Kyudo Nakagawa Roshi, I asked him, interview-fashion, what the difference was between when he began practice and the present moment.
"In the beginning there was lots of confusion, lots of pain," he replied. "Now, it's laughing all the time."
Laughing all the time -- how fine that sounds. How delicious. How inviting. And how very different, perhaps, from the place in which many may find themselves ... places that can feel more like the first part of his statement -- "lots of confusion, lots of pain."
One aspect of the confusion, I think, is that Buddhism is something that is alive. That aliveness is absolutely crucial to any sort of understanding. Without the aliveness, Buddhism is merely dead -- another belief system loaded with practical and wise advice ... just like a well-worded tomb stone. Naturally wise words can be a big help and point in good directions, but no one ever captured "laughing all the time" in a book, in a pulpit, or even in the grave. Laughter spills out without effort, without difficulty. It is just alive and clear. It feels so damned good and yet no one in his right mind would build a temple to laughter and lecturing about it encourages more somber note-taking in an audience than it does a case of the giggles.
Laughing all the time.
One of the things you have to admit about laughter is that no one can do it for you. If in fact, if you had any choice in the matter, you might guard your laughter jealously ... that's how wonderful it is. ("Hey mom -- Joey tried to steal my laughter today, but I kicked him in the shins before he could get it.") But there are no real worries here -- no one can do it for you, add it to you or take it from you. It's alive and its yours. Just like Buddhism, just like enlightenment, just like ... laughter.
I got to thinking about all this today because just as I was about to drift off for a pre-work nap, I was attacked by a volcanic sneeze ... which of course screwed up the lulled, almost-there state.
Buddhism can sound pretty profound. Whatever the school, there are words and costumes and temples. All such things get the student's attention -- which is a good thing, assuming a desire to clarify "a lot of confusion, a lot of pain." But the downside of such wonderful attention-getters is the awe factor. It may be natural enough to revere and kowtow, but I doubt if it feels as good as "laughing all the time." I am always trying to think of little exercises that will get the customers into a laughing mode -- something that is entirely personal and fully alive ... something that others will call "Buddhist."
Enter the sneeze and my suggestion that sneezing has some important possibilities in the world of "laughing all the time." First, I was headed towards sleep, kind of letting the week's fatigue do its number. Then, as if from a distance ... I knew it was coming. I could feel the tickle somewhere high in my nose, somewhere in the neighborhood of my left eye. I focused on it, paid attention to it, felt its small, ant-like feet traveling and tickling. Attention, attention, attention ... and goodbye sleep. The tickling seemed to know its way to whatever it is that flips that one last switch. It tiptoed and tromped in that direction. No escape from suffering -- no escape from a sneeze. Nanoseconds drifted by like lazy clouds in the sky. Closer, closer ... one kinhin-careful footstep after another, tickling, teasing ... attention, attention, attention. And finally there's no denying it ... it just happens. All the attention, all the tickling, all the awe, all the...everything is gone in one...great...sneeze. Body, mouth and thought -- gone. This and that -- gone. Greed, anger, and folly -- gone. Ego and lack of ego -- gone. Nothing fancy. Natural as a daffodil in the spring.
A small example of living Buddhism, Buddhism without the name. Personal without the personality. No problem. No confusion. Just like life before and life after this one single sneeze.
A Christian might say, "God bless you!"
And s/he'd be right. What a blessing.
It's enough to make a grown (wo)man laugh.