By Suma Varughese April 2003 Eat, drink and be merry, for laughter gives your body a workout, provides perspective to the mind, and gladdens your heart. It can even edge you towards enlightenment. It’s time to get serious about fun Doctor Ho HoMeet Dr Madan Kataria, founder of the Laughter Club International, and the man behind the ‘happydemic’ sweeping the world If there were redemption in laughter, Dr Madan Kataria would be a good candidate.Laughter, to the good doctor, is a solemn mission; as well it might be to the man who initiated the laughter revolution in India, through the introduction of laughter clubs. There are now 1,300 laughter clubs all over India, and 700 outside India, including USA, Europe, and the Far East—a phenomenal showing for a movement that began with five members on March 13, 1995. ‘‘Initially, we started with jokes and anecdotes, but after 10 days we ran out of jokes. That’s when I got my breakthrough. Why not laugh for no reason? People were sceptical.” “But in a group, laughter is infectious and pretty soon all simulated laughter turns into regular, stimulated laughter. Anyone can laugh for 15 to 20 minutes without recourse to jokes.’’ Dr Kataria has refined his laughter routine into three sections. The first is hasyayoga, which deals with a combination of yogic asanas and pranayam. The second is playful laughter. ‘‘Children laugh because they want to laugh,’’ says the doctor. ‘‘They laugh 300-400 times a day, unlike adults. There’s a great need for a space where adults can play, which we provide here. We laugh while simulating holding a mobile in our hands, or pretend to be pouring lassi from both hands. When we started playing like children, inhibitions began to melt and humour started flowing.’’ The third is what he calls value-based humour, in which a person will laugh while bringing the thumb and forefinger of the right hand into a circle of appreciation for the other. There’s also laughter that pokes fun at oneself. Then there’s crying laughter, which is a combination of laughter and tears, to help one reconcile to the interplay of opposites. What started off as a light-hearted exercise became a full-fledged spiritual path three years later, when the wife of one of his members called Dr Kataria up. ‘‘My husband laughs heartily at your club, but when he comes home he shouts and screams at me,’’ she protested. ‘‘That gave me a shock,’’ recalls Dr Kataria. ‘‘Laughter cannot be only amusement and entertainment. Real laughter is your nature. This incident led to my creating Inner Spirit of Laughter, a spiritually inclined programme that decrees that your happiness depends on the happiness of others. Now I feel our technique is justified in calling itself hasyayoga, for it actually yokes our own inner being with Divinity.’’ Today, the good doctor’s mission is nothing less than health, happiness and world peace through laughter. He has even instituted a World Laughter Day, which falls on the first Sunday of May. Last May, around 9,000 people met in Copenhagen to celebrate it. Dr Kataria has now given up his medical practice and spends all his time transiting the world, spreading good cheer. But he never charges any money for helping create laughter clubs. After a brief training, people are free to set up their own clubs. Dr Kataria says: ‘‘Earlier, I used to be ambitious—chasing fame, position and money. Funnily, now that I am no longer focused on making money, I am earning a lot more than I ever did, by holding seminars and stress management courses.’’ Who can doubt that Dr Kataria’s life is blessed? To make people laugh is not a joke. Its a gift. Contact: Madan Kataria, Ph: (022) 26316426, Email:email@example.com Legend of the Laughing BuddhaA funny thing happened to the Buddha on his way to the Far East. His slender and beautiful physique became small and pudgy, and his serene, dignified face grew a laugh! The Laughing Buddha is symbolic of the way Buddhism was interpreted in China and Japan. The Buddha‘s original teaching was one-pointed and austere—escape the cycle of birth and death by overcoming suffering. Life, for the Buddha, was not an end in itself, but as a means to achieve Nirvana, a permanent salvation from embodiment. On its way to China, the Buddha‘s teaching became fused with the popular Chinese ideal of happiness through material prosperity. Ergo, the Laughing Buddha, embodying the ideals of the good life: health, happiness, prosperity and longevity. The Laughing Buddha (Pu-Tai) made his appearance in the 10th century, cherubic of appearance, clutching his prayer beads in one hand and a bag of gold in the other and surrounded by children, symbolizing the Chinese veneration of large families. Some say he was modeled on a historic character, a stout Zen monk who carried a cloth bag with him wherever he went, earning the soubriquet Pu Tai Hoshang (hemp-bag monk). This monk is said to have been an incarnation of the future Buddha, Maitreya and is chiefly memorable for his uncanny accuracy in predicting the weather. Whenever the monk wore wet-weather sandals, citizens knew they should expect rain, and when he was spotted in wooden sandals or sleeping on the town bridge in a squatting position, warm weather was expected. Today, the Laughing Buddha is a symbol of auspiciousness, of luck and prosperity. In Japan, he is known as Hotei, one of the seven gods of good luck. It could well be the ‘before‘ and ‘after‘ snapshots of enlightenment. Pre-enlightenment, the Buddha, shell-shocked by his sudden exposure to mortality, agonizes as dancing girls whirl for his entertainment: ‘How can anyone laugh who knows of old age, disease and death ?’ If life contained suffering, then how could it be joyous? Only the ignorantand the self-deluded could laugh, he thought. And the Buddha lost his smile. And now look at the chubby personage on the cover! The Laughing Buddha, arms thrown up in happy abandon, his entire being rubicund with joy, all angst and sorrow dissolved in the bliss of ultimate awareness. What a promise he holds out to those of us who fear that our foray into reality will only submerge us in misery. Yes, the road to full knowing must encompass all that is unfortunate and negative, but the final understanding yields not sorrow, but joy. Not a moan, but a laugh-unfettered, fearless, and all-encompassing, with room for old age, disease, death, not to mention 21st century malaises such as child molestation, nuclear wars and AIDS. There may or may not be a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow but there will certainly be a great whooping laugh and a cartwheel or two. If a laugh signals the end to the whole human enterprise, there are some who claim that it also gave rise to the process. An Apache Indian creation myth quoted by Beldon C. Lane, professor of theological studies at St Louis University, USA, in an Internet article titled The Spirituality and Politics of Holy Folly, goes thus: ‘Hactein, the High God, first created all varieties of animals and laughed uproariously at their peculiar shapes and funny behavior.’ ‘Then he made a man and spoke to him, saying, ‘Laugh!‘ The man laughed and his laughter caused the dog to jump and wag its tail… His laughter helped to complete all that the God had initially brought into being at creation.’ ‘At last the man was caused to fall asleep, and he dreamed a creature like himself, a woman. When he awoke to find her more than a dream he began to laugh and she laughed too. They laughed and laughed together… and that was the beginning of the world.’ Full Bodied Laughs ‘A merry heart doeth like good medicine, but a downcast spirit drieth up the bones,’ observed the Proverbs in the Bible. Closer to our time, a wit echoes the same sentiment. ‘There ain‘t much fun in medicine, but there‘s a heck lot of medicine in fun,’ said US humorist Josh Billings. Laughter, like other positive emotions, is a potent healing force. Says Dr Madan Kataria, a physician and founder-president of the Laughter Club International, which encompasses 1,300 clubs in India and 700 outside India: ‘I was inspired to start the Laughter Club because of the amount of research that proved that laughing was good for health.’He adds: ‘Laughter cannot solve your problems but it can help you look at them differently. From my experience, it seems to increase immunity levels, and senior citizens report sounder sleep.’ One of the most celebrated cases of healing through laughter is that of Norman Cousins, editor of the Saturday Review, a prestigious American publication. Cousins was struck with a fatal condition called ankylosing spondylitis, a degenerative disease that causes the breakdown of collagen, the fibrous tissue that binds together the body‘s cells. Given only a few months to live, he checked out of the hospital, and into a hotel and began treating himself with extremely high doses of Vitamin C and humour. Describing his recovery in the book Anatomy of an Illness, Cousins writes: ‘Ten minutes of solid belly laughter would give me two hours of pain-free sleep…’ ‘Even more encouraging, the retreat of pain was accompanied by a corresponding increase in mobility… Looking back, I realize that laughter probably played a part in activating the release of endorphins.’ Cousins quotes Dr James Walsh, former medical director of the School of Sociology at Fordham University in New York. According to Dr Walsh, whose research proved that hearty laugher stimulates inter
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