The Three Laughing Monks
In China, there is the legend of the three laughing monks. They are also today sometimes referred to as the three laughing saints. The monks only ever did one thing: on entering a new village, they would stand in the market place and start laughing. They would laugh with their whole being (mind, body, heart, and soul) and suddenly people would wake up to the Life and Kingdom of Buddha that surrounded them. A crowd would soon gather and everyone would start laughing because of these three crazy monks. Eventually, the whole town would get involved and be alive to joy. Then the monks would shimmy on to another town.
The three laughing monks were loved and admired very much. For their only preaching, their only message; was laughter. They never taught; they would simply create a situation. As the years passed, the laughing monks’ fame grew and grew. All of China loved and respected them. Nobody had ever preached the way they did: with laughter and nothing else. Yet they also remained an enigma. For they never laughed at anyone in particular, but rather as if they had understood a great cosmic joke. The three laughing monks spread joy all over China without using a single word.
After living long lives together, one of the three laughing monks died. When this happened, the whole village in which they were staying wondered what would happen next. They thought that when the monk had died, the other two would surely weep. The whole village gathered expecting to see this unusual sight. But instead of crying, the two remaining monks stood beside the corpse of the third laughing a great belly laugh. The villagers asked, “How can you be laughing at a time like this?”
So for the very first time, the two monks spoke and said, “We are laughing because our brother has won. We always wondered who would die first and he has defeated us. We are laughing at his victory and our defeat. He lived with us for many years and we laughed together and we enjoyed each other’s company. There is no better way of giving him a last send off. We can only laugh.
Nevertheless, the whole village remained sad. But then when the dead monk’s body was place on the funeral pyre, the whole village realized that the two monks were not the only ones who were joking, the dead monk was also laughing! At that time, the custom was to change the clothes of the deceased and bathe the body. But the dead monk said to his companions, “Don’t give me a bath because I have never been unclean. So much laughter has been in my life that no impurity can accumulate, can come to me. I have not gathered any dust. Laughter is always young and fresh.”
So just to respect his wishes, the two monks did not change their brother’s clothes. Then when the body was put on the fire, suddenly they became aware that he had hidden some Chinese fire-works under his clothes and had started going off. The whole village began laughing and the other two monks said: “You bastard, you’re dead, but you have defeated us once again. Your laughter is the last.”
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