Story of The Three Laughing Monks

Three Laughing Monks Walking In Orange Robes
Three Laughing Monks, Walking

I have heard about three monks. No name is mentioned, because they never told their names to anybody, they never answered anything.  So in China they are only known simply as “The Three Laughing Monks.”

They did only one thing: they would enter a village, stand in the marketplace, and start laughing. Suddenly people would become aware and they would laugh with their whole being.

Then others would also get the infection, and then a crowd would gather, and just looking at them the whole crowd would start laughing. What is happening? Then the whole town would get involved, and they would move to another town.

They were loved very much. That was their only sermon, the only message — that laugh. And they would not teach, they would simply create the situation.

Then it happened they became famous all over the country — the three laughing monks. The whole of China loved them, respected them. Nobody had preached that way — that life must be just a laughter and nothing else.

And they were not laughing at anybody in particular, but simply laughing as if they had understood the cosmic joke. They spread so much joy all over China without using a single word. People would ask their names but they would simply laugh, so that became their name, the three laughing monks.

Then they became old, and in one village one of the three monks died. The whole village was very expectant, filled with expectations, because now at least when one of them had died they must weep. This would be something worth seeing, because no one could even conceive of these people weeping.

The whole village gathered. The two monks were standing by the side of the corpse of the third and laughing such a belly laugh. So the villagers asked, “At least explain this!”

So for the first time they spoke, and they said, “We are laughing because this man has won. We were always wondering who would die first, and this man has defeated us. We are laughing at our defeat, at his victory. He lived with us for many years, and we laughed together and we enjoyed each other’s togetherness, presence. There can be no other way of giving him the last send-off, we can only laugh.”

The whole village was sad, but when the dead monk’s body was put on the funeral pyre, then the village realized that not only were these two joking — the third who was dead was also laughing… because the third man who was dead had told his companions, “Don’t change my dress!”

It was conventional that when a man died they changed the dress and gave a bath to the body, so he had said, “Don’t give me a bath because I have never been unclean. So much laughter has been in my life that no impurity can accumulate near me, can even come to me. I have not gathered any dust, laughter is always young and fresh. So don’t give me a bath and don’t change my clothes.”

So just to pay him respect they had not changed his clothes. And when the body was put on the fire, suddenly they became aware that he had hidden many things under his clothes and those things started… Chinese fireworks! So the whole village laughed, and those two said, “You rascal! You have died, but again you have defeated us. Your laughter is the last.”

Osho – “Vedanta : Seven Steps to Samadhi”

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What Is the Spiritual Meaning and Moral of “The Three Laughing Monks” Story

The story of the three laughing monks isn't just a tale of laughter or jest; it's a narrative that delves into the deeper realms of the human spirit. It speaks volumes about the essence of existence, the transcendence of conventional norms, and the eternal dance between life and death.

Within these laughing monks lies a profound wisdom, a message that surpasses words. Their laughter isn't merely a frivolous act; it's a reflection of their profound understanding of the cosmic joke. They embodied a truth that life, at its core, is meant to be lived with joy, embraced with laughter, and celebrated with the lightness of being.

Their laughter was infectious, igniting a chain reaction of joy wherever they went. It wasn't a laughter pointed at any individual or circumstance, but a joyous resonance with the universal humor of existence. They didn't preach through words but conveyed a powerful sermon through their very presence, sparking a realization that life itself is a grand cosmic joke meant to be celebrated.

In their moment of loss, when one of the monks passed away, their laughter persisted. It wasn't a mockery of death but a celebration of life lived to the fullest. Their laughter stemmed from the understanding that their companion had triumphed in a way—having lived a life so rich with laughter and joy that even in death, he brought laughter to their lips.

The departure of this monk wasn't a somber occasion but a testament to his unwavering spirit. He, in his final request, epitomized the purity and vibrancy of a life filled with laughter. Refusing a change of clothes or bath, he symbolized how laughter keeps us perpetually clean, untouched by the impurities of life, ensuring that even in death, he radiated joy.

And as the funeral pyre embraced his earthly form, his last jest unfolded—a hidden stash of fireworks, a final act of mischief that set the whole village into laughter once more. His laughter echoed through his departure, leaving behind a legacy of joy, reminding everyone that even in the face of mortality, laughter transcends boundaries and defies expectations.

The story of the three laughing monks, beyond its humor, illuminates the profound spiritual truth that life isn't confined to the realms of sorrow or seriousness. It beckons us to embrace each moment with a heart full of laughter, to recognize that laughter isn't just a fleeting emotion but a force that transcends even death.

It's a gentle reminder that the essence of life isn't in accumulating material wealth or adhering to societal norms, but in embracing the purity of joy, celebrating the interconnectedness of our spirits, and cherishing the moments that bring us together in laughter.

In the end, the laughter of the departed monk lingers as a tribute to a life well-lived, urging us to carry forth the legacy of joy, to embrace each moment with the lightness of being, and to let laughter be our guiding force through the journey of life.

Personal Reflection Questions

Spiritual stories are an opportunity to reflect on your own life. Here are 10 questions you can use to go deeper with the teachings in this story:

  1. Reflect on the profound simplicity of the Three Laughing Monks' message — laughter as their only sermon. How might this simplicity translate into your own life, and what could laughter reveal about the cosmic joke we all share?
  2. Consider the transformative power of laughter as a shared experience. Can you recall instances in your life when joy was infectious, spreading through a group and creating a sense of unity and connection?
  3. Explore the notion of living a life that embodies joy and laughter. How does this story inspire you to infuse more lightness and humor into your own existence, regardless of external circumstances?
  4. Reflect on the impact of the monks' laughter on the towns and villages they visited. How might your own authentic expressions of joy influence and uplift those around you?
  5. Ponder the idea of the cosmic joke mentioned in the story. Can you identify moments in your life when you've glimpsed the humor in the grand scheme of things, even amidst challenges or hardships?
  6. Consider the monks' response to the death of one of their own, expressing laughter instead of sorrow. How does this challenge conventional views on death and mourning, and what insights might it offer about celebrating life?
  7. Reflect on the dead monk's request not to change his clothes, symbolizing the purity of a life filled with laughter. In what ways can you nurture the freshness and youthfulness of your own spirit, maintaining a lighthearted perspective?
  8. Explore the theme of victory and defeat in the monks' laughter at the deceased's victory over them. How might this perspective reshape your understanding of success and defeat in the context of life's inevitable challenges?
  9. Consider the surprise element in the story, with the deceased monk revealing hidden fireworks under his clothes. How might unexpected moments of joy and revelation be woven into the fabric of your own life?
  10. Reflect on the lasting impact of the monks' laughter even in the face of death. How does this story influence your perception of mortality, and how might it inspire you to approach life with a lighter heart and a deeper appreciation for the shared joy of existence?