Book: Religion and Senses of Humour
Chapter: A Laughing Guru: Finding Meaning through Jokes and Humour
This chapter will argue that jokes, humour, and laughter can play a central role in religious experience and can be harnessed as a tool for highlighting meaning. This view runs contrary to the oft accepted position that the path to profound and religious truths should be a serious and solemn one. Through a consideration of Osho (an enigmatic, yet controversial figure) and the Rajneesh Movement, I will demonstrate how laughter can be at the heart of a religious tradition. For Osho, “life is a cosmic joke” (Rajneesh 1998: 77) and so the only appropriate response is to laugh. Heavily influenced by Zen Buddhism, Osho sought the laughter of his followers (through joke-telling, kōans, and meditation) as he believed that the disruption it causes allows reserved and constrained bodies to break free, to stop thinking rationally and to experience an awakening. Thus, laughter is positioned as a religious act, an essential tool for unveiling wisdom and understanding the incongruities of life. Despite the overt presence of laughter in the Rajneesh Movement, Osho’s use of humour and joke-telling has been overlooked by previous scholars in favour of the more ‘serious’ dimensions of Osho (one exception to this is Gilhus 1997). Yet as a self-declared “laughing guru”, Osho frequently laughed during his lectures and was renowned for telling jokes, humorous anecdotes, and generally being playful with his followers. This chapter will recognise that Osho’s image as a laughing, humorous, joking, playful guru was challenging for some of his followers. Indeed, Osho’s use of humour and joke-telling allowed him to push the boundaries of acceptability and taste, in order to highlight inadequacies in this world and to transmit religious understanding through an alternative means.