Smiling and laughter

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A smile is an expression on the face caused by happiness and where the corners of the mouth turn up. Laughter is a combination of facial expressions, sounds and bodily movements indicating strong happiness or amusement. There is no reference to the Buddha ever laughing but he is said to have had a beautiful smile and to have smiled often (S.I,24; Th. 630).

The Buddha’s smile, together with his calm and radiant countenance, gave him an attractiveness that naturally attracted people. His disciples were described as being ‘smiling, cheerful, exultant, joyful and with radiant complexions’ (M.II,121). The psychology of the abhidhamma recognises several types and intensities of smiles and laughter - the gentle smile (sita), the beaming smile where the corners of the mouth turn up and the teeth can be seen (hasita), laughter that makes an audible sound (vihasita), laughter that causes the head, shoulders and arms tremble (upahasita), laughing until tears come to the eyes (apahasita), and roaring with laughter (athisita). The Buddha considered loud giggling and laughing to be inappropriate for monks and nuns (A.I,260), given that their vocation is a serious one. In the Dhammapada he asks, ‘Why all this laughter and celebration when the world is on fire?’ (Dhp.146). The Buddhist peoples of Asia are renowned for their readiness to smile, a characteristic which reflects a general openness and kindness which the Buddha’s teachings impart.

An example of the importance of smiling and laughter can be found in this excerpt (paraphrased) from the Patisambhidamagga (trans. by Kare, Dhamma Wheel):

Those who are filled with smiles and laughter, will perfect the virtues. That is smiling wisdom. Those who are filled with smiles and laughter will also attain perfect concentration and wisdom. Those who are filled with smiles and laughter will attain the path and the direct knowledges, and they will quickly realize the ultimate meaning, nibbana.

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