A buddha is an awakened being devoted to the welfare of everyone. Go to any Eastern imports store or just browse Buddha images on google and you’ll keep finding two different archetypes.
One is of a buddha sitting completely still and solemn in a meditative posture. This represents the sort of peace, equanimity and stability of mind that supports a task as epic as living for the welfare of others.
The other is of a buddha in any number of positions wearing a giant, laughing smile. This represents the joy and lightheartedness that come from realizing on a very deep level that it’s not so serious.
Even though I’ve spent over two years on solitary retreat—the quintessence of still-faced Buddha—I still tend to resonate more with laughing Buddha. Why? Sincerity is a lot about embracing our humanity. We can’t do this fully until we stop taking ourselves (and life) so seriously and, inversely, bring joy to the day-to-day.
Have you ever been in a group of people where someone tells a joke and only one person laughs while everyone else is scratching their heads, “I don’t get it, what’s so funny?”, they say. This is often how the laughing Buddha feels in everyday life.
For a laughing Buddha, life itself is a great big cosmic joke. The absurdity of it all—who can explain dark matter, consciousness or what happens after death, let alone why we feel the way we do. The nature of illusion—how a moon can look like a human face, how a promising opportunity can really be a destructive turn. The facade of more—how people spends their whole lives striving to achieve and become and succeed only to one day realize that all along they’ve been a “serious, strain-faced human” and they missed the joke!
The laughing buddha has relaxed, chilled out and appreciates “the joke”—however, their buddhahood implies that they aren’t just sitting around doing nothing. No, not at all! Instead, they apply themselves diligently in the direction of their “personal truth”, not to achieve some grand outcome, but rather because that’s what a Buddha does—live with sincerity.