Buddhadharma: The central tenet of Buddhism is our need to accept that pain is always present. Where’s the humor in that?
Norman Fischer: We are all in a mess. We’re all miserable and upset and everything is terrible and there’s all this suffering and we’re trying to end suffering— and yet the teachings say in the end everything is fine. That is a big joke. It’s comical. Our human life is comical. Everything that Buddhism asks us to pay attention to—impermanence, suffering, egolessness—which may sound awful and frightening at first, turns out to be good news. Impermanence is permanence, suffering is joy, egolessness is freedom, and the only trouble is that we don’t notice that. Somehow we knew that and we forgot. That’s kind of absurd, laughable, slapstick. The whole proposition of human trouble is serious and not serious at the same time, and that paradox is essentially funny. Our whole world—including our Buddhist world—and how we conduct ourselves always contains an element of humor. When I go to a big ceremony that’s solemn and religious, I always feel I can take a small step back and laugh. It’s so severe and yet so funny at the same time. Don’t you think so?
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