Did the Buddha ever joke or was he always serious all the time?

I want to apply Buddha’s lifestyle

currently I joke a lot but sometimes my friend misunderstood me and thought that I am serious this suffered me a lot in the past and created unnecessary tension between me and my friend

because this is a serious discussion please bring a sutta to strengthen your argument


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“One of the reasons why the Canon’s humor goes unrecognized
relates to its style, which is often subtle, deadpan, and dry. This style
of humor can go right past readers in modern cultures where jokes are
telegraphed well in advance, and humor tends to be broad. Another
reason is that translators often miss the fact that a passage is meant to
be humorous, and so render it in a flat, pedantic way.”

“What’s distinctive about the Canon’s humor is that, for the most
part, it functions in line with the Buddha’s directives on wise speech:
that it be true, beneficial, and timely. It’s also in line with right speech
—again, for the most part—in that it doesn’t employ lies or
exaggeration, divisive speech, harsh speech, or idle chatter: types of
speech that, in the form of exaggeration, nationalism, racism, and
silliness, are all too often humor’s common mode.”

Thus, the Buddha’s use of humor tends to be subtler
and more sophisticated than, say, that of the ordinary people quoted
in the Canon, who can sometimes be sarcastic and even crude.

In this book, The Buddha Smiles from Ajahn Thanissaro you will find all about humor in the suttas.


Nanda’s incident: SuttaCentral Buddha made a strange promise.

Don’t lie even in jest: SuttaCentral


MN 61: Ambalaṭṭhikarāhulovādasutta

In the same way, when someone is not ashamed to tell a deliberate lie, there is no bad deed they would not do, I say. So you should train like this: ‘I will not tell a lie, even for a joke.’

This is the exact sutta advice that pertains to your friends not believing you. Chances are that the specific method of humor you are using relies on telling lies.

Regarding Ajahn Thanissaro’s claims about humor, he may have his own theories about what is going on in the suttas, but they are just his theories. Humor, even in modern times, is very culturally bound. That he is somehow able to say what is going on 2,500 years ago is a real stretch.

But that doesn’t have anything to do with humor, does it?

It’s not a strange promise in any case. Living a spiritual life for heavenly bliss was (and is?) a common enough thing. And it may very well play out that way for someone. The Buddha knew that it would motivate him. Any way, it is not relevant to this discussion.


The factors of awakening is the final list of what qualities must be developed for awakening. Progress toward the goal cannot be made without developing the seven factors. The other lists such as the noble eightfold path are really ways to eventually understand the factors of awakening. Humour is not a factor of awakening, but joy is. When it is employed profitably however, humour can be a form of joy in the dhamma .

To employ it profitably requires detachment from conventional reality and to be standing in a position where life is viewed from the perspective of the path. Then the actions of others or one’s self can be seen as a madness and futility which gives rise to a slight smile as seen sometimes on the face of the Buddha.

“Now, the sense of distance here is not harsh or unfeeling. Wise
people also feel compassion for the sorrowing crowd. But still, they
are no longer embroiled in those sorrows because they have learned
how to develop distance from the causes of sorrow within themselves.
Their compassion for others is tempered with the larger perspective
that comes from a knowledge of kamma: You try to help others act in
ways that lead to their happiness, but they have the free will to resist
your help, and so you have to accept their free choices with

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SN 55.62 to SN 55.74 deals with different flavors of wisdom developed in mendicant. One of them is laughing wisdom. If there wasn’t any humor present in the Buddha or the sangha, there wouldn’t be any need to mention it as a category by itself.

What kind of humor and under what situation it was appropriate has been answered by other members above.

“Mendicants, when four things are developed and cultivated they lead to laughing wisdom …”
“… Hāsapaññatāya saṁvattantī”ti.

“Mendicants, when four things are developed and cultivated they lead to great wisdom.
“Cattārome, bhikkhave, dhammā bhāvitā bahulīkatā mahāpaññatāya saṁvattanti.
What four?
Katame cattāro?
Associating with good people, listening to the true teaching, proper attention, and practicing in line with the teaching.
Sappurisasaṁsevo, saddhammassavanaṁ, yonisomanasikāro, dhammānudhammappaṭipatti—
When these four things are developed and cultivated they lead to great wisdom.”
ime kho, bhikkhave, cattāro dhammā bhāvitā bahulīkatā mahāpaññatāya saṁvattantī”ti.


Not everyone translates it that way, though. I believe that Bhikkhu Bodhi translates it as joyful wisdom.

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@Snowbird I was going by the parallel sanskrit word hāsya, which means humor and it is still in use currently in many north and central Indian languages with the same meaning.
Edit: Joyful is a possible translation if etymologically hāsa is considered to be coming from harsh, which does mean joy, but I don’t think it does. It is more likely that it comes from hāsya.


I guess I’m going more off of what is said about laughter in the Pali texts, which admittedly is not much. For example, AN 3.107: Ruṇṇasutta

Yeah… so Pali words in AN 3.107 do mean laughing out loud… almost like cackling, I believe. Hāsa should connote a different meaning. In the current usage, it can connote anything from a joke to the whole genre of comedy; anything that evokes a humorous feeling. Anyway, that is my understanding based a bit on the root language and a bit on retrofitting its meaning from current usage.


Someone in this forum attached a really really cool compilation of every emotion the Buddha displayed in the suttas. I can’t find it in the search function, but if that person is still in this forum, or someone remembers this and has the list, can you please repost it! I think it is a really cool list that addresses the OP!


Totally off topic but I thought it was interesting to note this is the very translation initially used for the title of one of Nietzsche’s books, now translated as The gay science.

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To work out whether you should tell a joke, and to work out which parts of suttas might have been funny at the time, things like the “Benign Violation Theory” from the humor research lab (HuRL) might be useful:

So according to that, when something both benign and a violation of rules held by an audience then it might be funny. Studies of monkeys show them sort of laughing when another monkey goes too far when play-fighting, and since it’s play, benevolence is established first. So there’s an inherent benevolence needed when making people laugh. While possible jokes in the suttas aren’t ‘telegraphed way ahead’, there is already an assumption that things said by sangha members/leaders is benign from those who’ve taken refuge.

Since joy and kindness is so important on the path, they might have had to try hard to not be funny when talking about things that are against the grain! When my meditation is going well, I tend to tell lots of jokes too which is completely against my usual character haha so maybe it is a sign your meditation is going well too, you realise you’re full of good intentions? In that case, what I do is realise that in that benign violation diagram, my own measure of benevalance doesn’t match the perception of who I’m speaking to; I know I’m coming from a good place but haven’t made that clear before the rule breaking (punch-line). Or to me, the rule breaking is funny only because I feel I’m coming from a good place and personally hold that rule as important (or not important, which would mean the joke is offensive if the audience believes it’s important) then I ask myself whether the same is true for the person I’m speaking to.

I think the standard way of paying respect was to stay silent throughout a discourse and descriptions of gatherings of monastics during a discourse like “so very silent, like a still, clear lake” DN2. Also there is a vinaya rule about frivolous talk, perhaps these rules were also introduced partly because some sangha members realised they were full of kindness and wanted to make each other laugh too much!