His whole teaching was just laughter. He would move from one place to another, from one marketplace to another marketplace. He would stand in the middle of the market and start laughing – that was his sermon. His laughter was catching, infectious; a real laughter, his whole belly pulsating with the laughter, shaking with laughter. He would roll on the ground with laughter. People who would collect together, they would start laughing, and then the laughter would spread, and tidal waves of laughter, and the whole village would be overwhelmed with laughter.
People used to wait for Hotei to come to their village because he brought such joy, such blessings. He never uttered a single word, never. You asked about Buddha and he would laugh, you asked about enlightenment and he would laugh, you asked about truth and he would laugh. Laughter was his only message.
Now on the opposite extreme, Christians say Jesus never laughed. Christians must be misrepresenting Jesus. If Christians are right, then Jesus was not enlightened – and I would rather prefer Jesus to be enlightened than Christians to be right. So I say to you, he laughed! He must have laughed. Only such people can laugh. Their whole energy becomes a bubbling joy. Their whole being wells up into celebration. Laughter is celebration. Jesus must have laughed. My own feeling is that his laughter must have offended the serious so-called rabbis of his day.
He must have told beautiful jokes. He was a Jew, and Jews have the best jokes in the world. And he was not a man who could be believed to be so serious that he never laughed. A wrong impression has been created by Christianity. Jesus is painted as crucified – that gives the wrong impression. For his whole life he was not on the cross. My own understanding is that on his cross also he must have laughed, because only a man of great laughter can say to God, “Father, forgive these people, because they don’t know what they are doing.” He was not serious, he was not sad, even the cross was a celebration.
Animals can play, at the most, but no animal can celebrate. It is given only to human beings. It is their privilege, prerogative, to celebrate. And laughter is the best celebration. To laugh is your fundamental human quality. If you come across a buffalo laughing, you will go mad. No other animal can laugh, only man. It is something special, a gift of God. And naturally, when one becomes enlightened, one will be able to have a total laughter. You need reasons to laugh; he will not need any reasons to laugh. Laughter will be just his natural quality.
That is the meaning of the story that Bodhidharma never stopped laughing for seven years. There was no reason – just the whole ridiculousness of the thing: so many buddhas and everybody believing that he is not a buddha and trying to attain buddhahood.
You are all buddhas. Whether you know it or not, it doesn’t matter – your buddhahood is not affected by it, you still remain a buddha. You can believe that you are not a buddha; your belief is not going to transform your nature. You can believe anything! Your belief remains superficial. At the very core of your soul, you are a buddha.