The fist number of L. refer to the standard CtP edition published in 1987. The following number shows correspondence between letters in the new 2010 edition. Note that on this website CtP is available only 1987 edition with minor additions.

[L. 120 | 130] 24 May 1965

Reflecting on what I wrote a few days ago about humour (which in any case was perhaps rather speculative and can hardly have done much more than scratch the surface), it occurs to me that I might have brought out certain aspects of what I had to say rather more clearly—in particular the actual relationship between laughter and fear. I think I merely said that laughter is 'in some way a reaction to fear'. But this can be defined more precisely. To be 'authentic' is to face the existential paradox, the essential contradiction, in a state of lucid anxiety, whereas to be 'inauthentic' is to take refuge from this anxiety in the serious-mindedness of the anonymous 'they'. But the contradiction is tragi-comic; and this (I suggested) is the source of all tragedy and comedy in the everyday world. It follows from this that the inauthentic man, in hiding in his serious-mindedness from the anxiety of contradiction, is actually hiding from the two aspects of existence, the comic and the tragic. From time to time he finds his complacent unseeing seriousness threatened with a contradiction of one kind or another and he fears. (The fearful is contradictory, and the contradictory is fearful.)

Pain, of course, is painful whether it is felt by the puthujjana or the arahat; but the arahat, though he may avoid it if he can, does not fear pain; so the fear of the inauthentic man in the face of physical danger is not simply the thought 'there may be pain'. No—he fears for his physical existence. And this is the tragic aspect of the contradiction showing itself. And when the threat passes, the contradiction shows its other face and he laughs. But he does not laugh because he sees the comic aspect (that may happen later), his laughter is the comic aspect (just as his fear is the tragic aspect): in other words, he is not reacting to a contradictory situation, he is living it. Tragedy and comedy, fear and laughter: the two sides of a contradiction.

But he may be faced with other contradictions to which, because they are less urgent, he is able to react. He half-grasps the contradiction as a contradiction, and then, according to the way he is oriented in life, either laughs or weeps: if he finds the tragic aspect threatening he will laugh (to emphasize the comic and keep the tragic at a distance), and if he finds the comic aspect threatening he will weep. (A passionate woman, who finds life empty and meaningless when she is not emotionally engaged [in love, or perhaps hate], and fearing the comic as destructive of her passion, may weep at the very contradiction that provokes laughter in a man who has, perhaps, discovered the ghastly boredom of being loved without loving in return and who regards the comic as his best defence against entanglements.) Laughter, then, is not so much reaction to fear as its counterpart.

Another question is that of the sekha and anxiety. Granted that he is now fairly confidently authentic, by nature does he still experience anxiety? To some extent, yes; but he has that faculty in himself by means of which, when anxiety arises, he is able to extinguish it. He knows of another escape from anxiety than flight into inauthenticity. He is already leaving behind him both laughter and tears. Here is a passage from Khandha Samy. 43: iii,43:[1]

Having seen, monks, the impermanence, changeability, absence of lust for and ceasing of matter (feeling, perception, determinations, consciousness), and that matter (...consciousness) was formerly as it is now, thus seeing with right understanding as it actually is that all matter (...consciousness) is impermanent, unpleasurable, of a nature to change, then whatever is the arising of sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief, and despair, those are eliminated. These being eliminated, there is no anxiety. Not having anxiety he dwells at ease. Dwelling at ease, this monk is called 'extinguished to that extent'.

Editorial notes:

[120.1] The draft contains the Sutta reference but not the text, which is translated by the editors. [Back to text]