From Romanian jokes to discussing religion

How the world (i.e., Japan) was created

How the world (i.e., Japan) was created (kuniumi 国生みCountry-Birthing)

WARNING: I am now turning to religion(s). If you are not open to discussing religion and calling into question certain tenets, you should probably stop reading/listening here.


This is a comment on Romanian jokes (bancuri), which are probably shared across Eastern Europe and may have something to do with Yiddish culture.

Every Romanian feels (for some reason) a compulsion to tell jokes; I haven’t met a Romanian who didn’t know a joke.

It is virtually impossible not to know a joke. Even if you don’t tell jokes, you would have overheard one. Toata lumea stie un banc, toata lumea a auzit un banc. Everybody heard somebody else telling a joke to another person (or a group).

Why? Why do we think like this? We think politics is a big joke.We have all these jokes that are political in nature, which seem to have an underground sort of meaning, which should escape surface censorship. Consider the following:

What’s the difference between Communism and Capitalism?

In Capitalism, we have the exploitation of man by man.

What about in Communism?

In Communism it’s the other way around.

That would be a joke and your reaction is: “What does it mean? That there is no difference? Why don’t you just say so?”

We don’t just spit it out because it doesn’t take you very far. When you tell this joke, a connection is made between two arguments, but it doesn’t stop at this point: “Communism and Capitalism are the same (as far as the average person is concerned)”.

It pulls at us to question the validity of the explanation “the exploitation of man by man”; it makes us ask:

What does “exploitation of man by man” mean? Is it slavery? Yes, it is slavery.

What kind of slavery? Maybe it’s different. Is it the same thing?

Romanian humour has a certain political-thought-philosophy undercurrent: What is “freedom”?

So it’s a short joke, a couple of lines, and it’s in question-and-answer format. We think that jokes are essential to understand what goes on in the world, to explain how the world works. We have all these characters who behave in certain predictable ways, specific for each of the various nationalities

Jokes (for Romanians) are all about revealing deeper meanings of how things work. However, Romanians nowadays have become superficial because we don’t pursue a thread of thought (firul gandirii) further; we just stop at laughing (“Oh, I got it!”), we stop to enjoy a short fleeting moment of pleasure.

Why do we like to laugh so much? Because life (in Eastern Europe) is pretty sad.

An Eastern European touched (or clubbed over the head) by Russian culture (from Dostoevsky to Stalin) knows that life is sad, that the condition of being alive is full of opportunities to be, become, or remain sad.

You have to laugh while you can still laugh. How do you laugh? You laugh by showing some understanding of Reality, by showing that you grasp some part of this Reality. But it’s never everything!

You always grasp some part, but then you have to burst out laughing when you recall how silly it is to presume to grasp it all.

The person who laughs doesn’t really say anything anymore.

If you ask somebody a question and they just laugh, it could mean that there is no answer, that the question is wrong. It could mean that your question itself is ridiculous, that it doesn’t have any meaning.

It could mean that the ultimate answer is just Nothing-Coming-back (mu-henji 無返事) that could be interpreted in any way you’d want. The smile of Buddha, right?

It’s strange that many divine figures go silent but smile at some crucial point when they’re asked a difficult question by the disciples.

Consider the koan (Public-Proposal 公案) practice, the famous Zen one-sentence zipping you out of this reality by making you realise the truth (what reality?).

Are Romanian jokes and koan somehow related? Not really. They’re of a very different kind, but they both serve to help people deal with their reality in their respective societies.

Communism appeared in Romania, in a society which believes that sadness is an essential part of being alive. Making fun and laughing helps you as a Romanian deal with this sad world.

On the other hand, koan are questions or short stories meant to make you Think about the Proposal.

*If you listen to the voice recording, you know that I’ve erred believing it’s koan (考案 Think-Proposal) instead of the correct koan (公案 Public-Proposal).

In a koan, the zen master knows the answer to the student’s question, but the master is not divine. Remember that Buddha was an Indian prince before becoming Buddha: Human originally, one of us and not divine. He became divine.

Mind the direction:

Not divinity descending down on Earth into a human like us, but rather divinity reached upwards, from a human in our condition, exactly like us (living in another time).

The direction is different in the Mediterranean cultures (Greek,  Roman, Judeo-Christian & Islamic) since the divine is projected downwards into one point on Earth. Divinity could mean one God coming down on Earth, although it depends on how you count:

Do we count Christ, God and the Holy Ghost as one? Or not? There are some differences on this point. What about Moses and Mohammed and the other guys? Do we count them as divine?

The apostles and the prophets were human and reached up to apostle-hood or prophet-status, but keep in mind that God is not human: He (She?) becomes human.

In the Orient, we start with the human who later becomes divine; now everybody else could reach divinity, by following.

That’s the difference between Buddhism and Christianity (and, by extension, monotheistic religions in general) as far as I can grasp it. I’ve read some of our holy texts and there are aspects I cannot understand, aspects which don’t make sense in light of what we now know.

Now, if you read sutras (御経 in Japanese; o-kyo Respected-Songs) and you compare them with what we have (i.e., the Bible), it strikes you immediately that our books (the Old Testament and New Testament) are called the Old-Contract and the New-Contract.

The Bible sounds like a business transaction as opposed to “somebody who experienced the same things and made songs about them” (経  means “Passing through something”, as seen in the combination keiken (経験 Passing-Tests), usually translated as “experience”).

Do we start with a human from among other humans like him?

Or do we start from a God in the sky projected as a beam on earth, a God temporarily housed into a human being? Doesn’t it sound as unnatural as you can think of? Still a virgin, right? How strange is that?

This incomprehensible aspects are those that prove His divinity. We start with the proof in Christianity.

What’s the proof of divinity in Buddhism?

The fact that this person has done something during his life and has come to know something.

Do we call this “divinity”? Is it the same kind of divinity that we are talking about? No, it’s different.

Both are called religions, both are called sacred, but they are different because the direction is different.

You could say that Buddhism started from a more familiar experience to any of us, that of being an ordinary human.

However, if you feel that you’re part of the divine, that a divine spark has been blown into you, then you start from the other side.

That being said, in our day and age (following the scientific revolution), we feel that the divine spark hypothesis is pretty shaky.

  • At the very least they’ve got the years wrong for when God separated Sky and Water.
  • Adam and Eve living in a place where they are naming the animals? Not exactly.

We had something called evolution and that is a different explanation. Personally, I don’t think that the snake was punished to have to crawl on the ground and be hunted (Genesis 3:14). I think the snake just evolved that way, into the kind of animal it currently is.

Do you agree with me? Do you think that the body of the snake evolved to be what it is? Or was it punished by God?

What does Buddhism say about the snake? There’s probably some ridiculous explanation about this in Buddhism as well, their books were written thousands of years ago.

Buddha lived some 600 years before Christ, but the songs were (of course) compiled much later.

The Pāli Canon (Pali: Tipitaka) is the standard collection of scriptures in the Theravada Buddhist tradition, as preserved in the Pāli language. It is the most complete extant early Buddhist canon. It was composed in North India, and preserved orally until it was committed to writing during the Fourth Buddhist Council in Sri Lanka in 29 BCE, approximately 454 years after the death of Gautama Buddha.

That would be another story and it’s older. Would these Buddhist texts have influenced Jesus, if he had known about them?

Mohammed knew about Jesus, and he was influenced by that, obviously, 600 years later.

Is there a certain time at which religious figures appear (at 600 years intervals) to change our perception of what divinity is?

Jesus changed it for some people; Mohammed changed it for some other people.

Is it better or is it worse? I don’t know, to tell you the truth; it’s not for me to decide, it’s for you to decide.

I am here to tell you that there are other ways in which people have interacted with what we call Divinity in English (Western culture), with what we call the Sacred Awakened One in Buddhism, with the one that was believed to strike down with lightning in Greek culture.

How was the world formed? Was it by dipping a halberd (naginata 長刀) into the primordial waters and watching the drops fall to form the Japanese archipelago (chain of islands), like pearls dropped into the sea, from Izanagi and Izanami’s fight?

(Actually, no fight, just churning the waters with the naginata Long-Sword.)

Do you know Japanese religious dogma?

The elder gods delegated the youngest couple Izanagi and Izanami to carry out their venerable mandate: to reach down from heaven and give solid form to the earth. This they did with the use of a precious stone-covered spear named Ame-no-nuboko (天沼矛, “heavenly jewelled spear”), given to them by the elders. Standing over the Ame-no-ukihashi (天浮橋, “floating bridge of heaven”), they churned the chaotic mass with the spear. When drops of salty water fell from the tip, they formed into the first island, Onogoroshima. In forming this island, both gods came down from heaven, and spontaneously built a central support column called the Ame-no-mihashira (天御柱, “heavenly pillar”) which upheld the “hall measuring eight fathoms” that the gods caused to appear afterwards

Then they initiated conversation inquiring of each other’s bodily anatomy, leading to a mutual decision to mate and procreate:

Izanagi: How has your body been made?
Izanami: My body is fully formed, except for a part which has not quite grown.
Izanagi: My body is fully formed, except I have a part that has grown too much. If I place the part of my body that has grown too much, and plug the part of your body not yet grown, we will procreate lands and dominions. What say you to this?

Izanami accepted the offer and Izanagi proposed that both should circle around the column Ame-no-mihashira in opposite directions, Izanami going right and Izanagi left and on meeting each other would perform sexual intercourse (maguwai (麻具波比))

That may sound slightly different from our normal dialogues and that’s why I am talking here to let you know that in Romania we have been using jokes to connect with this divine reality which we call Laughter.

Laughter has become a god among Romanians, since it is the ultimate winner in every debate. But there are different kinds of laughter:

There is the laughter of disapproval, the dismissive laughter, the sarcastic laughter, the crude-barbaric laughter, the hearty laughter, laughing from the stomach. Laughter which emerges from joy, laughter which emerges from discovering the answer to a riddle, or something that tickles our imagination in a certain way.

The true laughter: The laughter from a beam of understanding, passing between humans.

Yes, I tend to stand on the Zen Buddhist side.

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