In the Tang dynasty there was a stout fellow who was called the Happy Chinaman or the Laughing Buddha.
This Hotei had no desire to call himself a Zen master, or to gather disciples around him. Instead he walked the streets with a sack on his back full of candy, fruit and doughnuts—which he gave out to the children who gathered and played around him.
Whenever he met a Zen devotee he would extend his hand and say, “Give me one penny.” And if anyone asked him to return to the temple to teach others, again he would reply. “Give me one penny.”
Once when he was at his play-work, another Zen master happened along and inquired, “What is the significance of Zen?”
Hotei immediately plopped his sack down on the ground in silent answer.
“Then,” asked the other, “what is the actualization of Zen?”
At once the Happy Chinaman swung the sack over his shoulder and continued on his way.
Laughter is the very essence of religion. Seriousness is never religious, cannot be religious; seriousness is of the ego, part of the very disease. Laughter is egolessness.
Yes, there is a difference between when you laugh and when a religious man laughs. The difference is that you always laugh about others; the religious man laughs at himself, or at the whole ridiculousness of man’s being.
Religion cannot be anything other than a celebration of life. And the serious person becomes handicapped, he creates barriers: he cannot dance, he cannot sing, he cannot celebrate. The very dimension of celebration disappears from his life. He becomes desert-like. And if you are a desert you can go on thinking and pretending that you are religious, but you are not.