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Certitude Chasing Uncertainty: Humor Meets Wisdom

Jack Kornfield is a humorist Buddhist. Note I did not write… a humanist Buddhist, although I suspect he is so. Well known for his book, After Ecstasy, The Laundry, he is a tri-founder of the Insight Meditation Center, Massachusetts, and co-founder and guiding teacher at Spirit Rock Meditation Center in California.

I will explore the relationship of uncertainty and humor as it relates to wisdom not certitude, using two talks he gave in 2017 on the Prajnaparamita Sutras. The seminal set of wisdom-pointing commentaries is central to the ideal of Bodhisattvas. So, it is important to view the Part 1 talk below, then read my commentents and then view Part 2, read my comments and summary.

  • Cloud of wisdom, nothing fixed

  • Gaslights as angels

  • Qualities of Wisdom, calm, spacious, fruitful, kind, present

  • Tao, flexibility, human paradox, way things are

The first part of the talk seeks through Prajñāpāramitā Devi, a personification of wisdom also known as the "Great Mother," qualities of wisdom as cloud-like, and without certitude. Perspective affords equanimity as demonstrated in the poem about Monet and the Tao. Humor begins shuffling opinion as noted in comments by Ajaha Chah.

As we see and point and see again, the light changes from out to “en.” This flexibility allows touching but not attaching. For example you slip and fall (but not too hard) on an icy sidewalk. What do you do next? You get up, look around to see if anyone saw you and grin. What? Yes, you/I wonder about the perspective and opinion of others which may include questions of…”are you okay,” as we swipe off the snow/ice and regain our composure...ease of connection, the flow of the moment...

  • Suffering/4NTs connection with now

  • Three rules

  • Wedded to attachment

  • Wisdom present with mystery of birth and death

  • Walking feedlot

  • Awe of Floated Bugs

  • Place to rest-YES

  • Falling Star-Touched

  • Wisdom as spaciousness, not as up-set

  • Wisdom as action a formed response, compassion

In Part 2, notice how Kornfield shows even the BIG questions flow rather than stand guard to the unknown. How do you deal with suffering? I acknowledge, understand cause and effect, and take steps to reduce the impact-good answer. And, do we not just know the rules to be oh so certain. In addition to the three rules for writing the next great American novel is the appropriate response for how a person gets to Carnegie Hall, or America’s Got Talent: practice, practice, practice.

Letting go as wisdom knowing when to hold, fold, and walk away, maintains the freedom, the flexibility to be in the next moment. Coming into and out of, is the mystery of birth and death. The mystery and awe are the answers wrapped-up in acceptance of deep-knowing. Who is she who comes thus and what hence has left? Seeing the inside of my body from a bacteria’s perspective is like me looking at the Milky-Way. There is no way to grasp it all.

Wisdom of being bodhisattvas is a calm unfolding response to the condition and variables as they slide about. There is refuge in wisdom akin to not being held hostage to opinions and desires. Open to the moment the Bodhisattva is a skilled practitioner addressing arising suffering in a compassionate manner. Embracing uncertainty is not easy but through vowing, and then using sila (ethical behavior), wisdom is a follow through at the right time, under right conditions to take right action.

Humor allows people to lessen their issues and concerns for moments at a time. A refuge formed by smiles and laughter, helps untangle Bodhisattvas’ from delusion (katto).

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