Laughter — the Best Medicine: What the Dalai Lama and Patch Adams Have in Common
Have you noticed how the Dalai Lama projects authority through laughter, with his charming chuckle and warm smile at every stop, in every situation?
He’s always ready with the joke that makes large crowds gasp for breath as they laugh.
This isn’t just an act of empathy with the people around him. Laughter connects us to the very universe itself at a deep level. This power is not limited to enlightened teachers.
The Dalai Lama, like the famous “laughter doctor” Patch Adams M.D. both emphatically believe in the power of laughter to heal, energize, enable, and inspire. The Dalai Lama famously laughs at every opportunity and often cracks jokes at his teachings. Patch Adams spent his entire life using laughter to comfort — and even heal — the sick.
Patch Adams: trying to make laughter and compassion the core of “what medicine is”
Hunter Doherty “Patch” Adams, M.D., took awareness of laughter as therapy to a new level of acceptance within the medical community as a valid treatment option. His life inspired the movie, Patch Adams. In his lifetime, he opened a free hospital to pilot a treatment regimen with thousands of patients — a hospital where the main element of common therapy was humor.
“We’re trying to make compassion and generosity the centre core of what medicine is,” said Campbell about the Institute. 
This hospital became the Gesundheit Institute, famous for volunteer programs with clowns going to hospitals, refugee camps, orphanages and prisons. Patch Adams is a living model for comedian Charlie Chaplin’s famous quote: “Laughter is the tonic, the relief, the surcease for pain.” (For more on the scientific evidence for “laughter” as a prescription for health, see the last section of this feature.)
Laughter’s Power: heal, banish, energize
If you laugh when you are ill, you feel better. (Mom always said, “Laughter is the best medicine.) If you laugh in the face of sadness, you transform grief. If you giggle at your own stupidity, you learn wisdom. Laughter has the power to banish demons, both internal and external. If you smile in at the end of the day, you look forward to the next morning. Laughter is the ultimate magical power. If you can laugh, you are already a magician. If you tap into the magic of laughter, you have started on one of the paths to enlightenment.
Video: “Laugh with the Dalai Lama”: When the Dalai Lama laughs, everyone laughs. It’s a form of mindful medicine.
Mindfulness meditation pursues the blissful state of non-thinking, or rather, being in the present moment. Emptying the mind by sheer will is difficult, and methods include simply observing your thoughts, distraction, visualization, and mantra repetition.
All of these methods achieve a blissful state. Yet, an easier path, one we pursue intuitively in our lives, is laughter. When we laugh, in that instant, we enter the state of “no thought” or emptiness, if only for a microsecond. With practice, laughter can be a powerful path to enlightenment.
The power of laughter to heal
Laughter’s power is of benefit to anyone, of any spiritual path:
• science has proven that laughter is a genuine medicine, with real healing powers (various peer-reviewed articles and studies) 
• laughter has the power to charm and influence those around you in daily life
• laughter can extend life, and make those days truly worth living
• laughter supports us on the eightfold path, teaching equanimity, compassion, patience, kindness (Metta) and supporting us along the difficult path.
• laughter is beautiful.
Laughter and Mindfulness
Think about the moment of laughter. When you laugh, you are possessed by the laugh, in the present moment, no longer worrying about past or future. Laughter is a very powerful mindfulness meditation method. Thinking simply stops when you laugh. You experience genuine moments of no-mind.
Laughter Teaches Emptiness
For those who “fear” the emptiness of enlightenment—often misunderstood to mean nothingness of extinction—laughter teaches us what true emptiness is. In that moment of pure laughter, our mind is still. It is empty. But it is bliss.
Laughter, in Buddhism, is a very powerful daily meditation. I think of the innocent child, always laughing and giggling, smiles coming as naturally as tears, but everything spontaneous and real. Isn’t this the goal of meditation? To seek what is the inner truth. What is real. To be in touch mindfully with the real you?
Why do Enlightened Masters Laugh?
Throughout history, enlightened ones are the ones readiest with the smile or laugh. From Gandhi to Mother Theresa to the Dalai Lama, the smile is what people remember first. Gandhi, through hunger strike and strife, was always ready to smile.
The Dalai Lama who lost his entire country laughs more than most. The Dalai Lama suffered invasion, the death of his fellow monks as he fled Tibet, the ongoing struggle of his people, violence and bloodshed in his homeland. But he is the first person with the laugh and smile. That’s enlightened behaviour.
My Teachers all Laugh and Smile
From my root teacher through all the teachers I respect, one thing certainly connects them all. They are always willing to smile and laugh. If only it were so easy for the rest of us.
What happens between childhood and maturity, that we lose the spontaneous, ready, daily, hourly, minute-by-minute willingness to laugh? Stress, life, struggles, more stress, worry, clinging, on and on. But those who endured far more suffering than most of us—from Mahatma Gandhi to Mother Theresa to the Dalai Lama—were always the ones able to laugh and smile in any situation.
Laughter is also energy. It has been called “the best medicine” and perhaps it must also be considered the best meditation.
What Science says about laughter: “stress-relief, pain reduction, improved healing…”
In an Official Publication of the College of Family Physicians of Canada, William Stream (PhD) concludes:
“There are, however, several good reasons to conclude that laughter is effective as an intervention. Although the evidence (detailed below) demonstrating laughter’s benefits could be stronger, virtually all studies of laughter and health indicate positive results.” The evidence Professor Stream mention include “an exhaustive review of the medical literature.” 
The article maps out extensive clinical evidence, including randomized controlled clinical trials, “validating the therapeutic efficacy of laughter” particularly in the fields of geriatrics, oncology, critical care, psychiatry, rehabilitation, rheumatology, home care, palliative care, hospice care, terminal care and broad general patient care.
Groucho Marx once said, that ‘A clown is like an aspirin, only he works twice as fast.’ Patch Adams would certainly agree.
Laughter Researcher: “get all the laughter you can!”
Robert Provine, a well-known researcher on laughter said, in the documentary “Laugh Out Loud”:
“Until scientists work out the details, get in all the laughter you can!”
Provine is Professor of Psychology at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, an Assistant Director of the Neuroscience Program, and the author of Laughter: A Scientific Investigation. 
 The Gesundheit! Institute, Founded by Patch Adams M.D.
 “Laughter prescription”, Official Publication of the College of Family Physicians of Canada, William Stream (PhD)
 Laughter, A Scientific Investigation, Robert Provine, Viking, ISBN-10: 0670893757; ISBN-13: 978-0670893751
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Author | Buddha Weekly
Josephine Nolan is an editor and contributing feature writer for several online publications, including EDI Weekly and Buddha Weekly.
5 thoughts on “Laughter — the Best Medicine: What the Dalai Lama and Patch Adams Have in Common”
Laughter has always been a wonderful way to get through to people, great to see Buddhist leaders using same
Humor is part of the skillful means of a truly enlightened being 🙂
“Skillful means (upaya-kausalya) refers to an enlightened person’s ability to tailor their message to a specific audience. The concept emerged in Buddhist texts such as the Lotus Sutra, written hundreds of years after Buddhism began, but it also characterizes the historical Buddha’s style of dialogue and teaching. Teachers today may use skillful means to deliver the right teaching to a student in the most effective manner.”
Great insight. Thanks.
Beware of anyone who claims to be enlightened but has no sense of humor. The signs of a real spiritual master are joy and humor, the ability to laugh at oneself.
Totally agree:-) Thanks for your comment Mark.