Someone once asked Ramakrishna why there is suffering in the world. He answered, “To thicken the plot.”
There is a relationship between joy and fear that is often overlooked. Fear is exciting if it is not too great. One obvious demonstration of this can be seen in babies. If you say, “boo” softly, nothing happens. The baby hardly notices. There is no fun in it. If you say, “BOO!” very loudly, she startles and cries. She is frightened. But if you say “Boo” somewhere in between, she giggles with delight. A little fear is fun. It’s not the form of the fear, obviously. It is the intensity of the energy that is exciting. If it is too much, her system is overwhelmed and shuts down (often painfully). She retracts from the experience. But if she can give herself openly to the energy, it’s a rush.
As adults, we continue to look for the right intensity of “Boo.” This is why horror movies never go out of fashion. It’s not the horror but the thrill that is attractive. For those whose aesthetic or emotional sensitivities are more tender, horror movies are too strong a “Boo.” When he was younger, my son did not like horror shows. He said they were too scary. But he liked action films, especially if they have martial arts. That was his level of stimulation. My wife, on the other hand, often found action films a little too much. She preferred a good drama or romance. These too aroused tension, fear, heartache and all the rest.
Each of us seeks a certain level of “Boo,” a certain amount of fear or pain or sadness to give us delight. Too little and we get bored. Too much and we get overwhelmed. Just right and we are delighted.
Now, let’s take this up a notch or two. Perhaps we are all just pieces of the universe who condensed into form for the sheer joy of popping back out. We could have been born in angelic realms. That would have been nice – perhaps, a little too nice. There was not enough juice in it; not enough zing. So we came into this world where there is more entertainment: love and fear, delight and evil, wars and cowboy shows, punk rock and Beethoven. Then we forgot who we were. We forgot our essential nature was in harmony with the whole universe. This was part of the plan. If we remembered who we were, we would know we were safe. That would take the fun out of it.
And yet, when we laugh, we break out of form a little. We laugh at what might have been painful and we laugh when we break free of our forms. We love to poke fun at our pretense, stodginess, and denseness. If we poke too hard, it hurts. But if the poke is not too sharp, we see our silliness and pretense. We step out of ourselves and chuckle. As we guffaw, we taste our essential nature.
The important point is, when we laugh, we come closer to our cosmic nature.
Perhaps we should all help each other find the right level of “boo” that makes us laugh and pop-out of pretense and self-importance. We can laugh our way toward our Buddha natures. We could call this practices “Boo-ism.”