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The Buddha, the Absurd, & the Joker – Debmahul Sen

Last updated on May 12, 2020

The Joker.
Such an intriguing character. Characters like these are timeless. They are ever relevant in a constantly changing world. How does a comic book character achieve such an enormous feat? The nihilism, the laughs, or just the crime? May be all of that. The joker is someone who has accepted all the absurdities of life and relishes in it’s meaninglessness. He is a product of the ever rotting and ever decaying society. Unhappy teens, disgruntled middle aged men, disease riddled 70 year olds and all of that. The joker is then a self fulfilling prophecy. He is a like a concept, to put it bluntly. But how does such an unstable but steady concept even emerge? Misery, pain, trauma? Or, the reactionary behavior towards all of them?

The question reminded of Albert Camus. One of the most influential authors of our time. He mentioned in his groundbreaking essay, ‘The myth of Sisyphus’ that human beings were destined to suffer so long they tried to find the meaning of life. There is no elegant answer to the grand question of the meaning of life. So every time Sisyphus pushes the boulder up the mountain, it rolls to the bottom and the loop goes on. We are the Sisyphus of modern times. No matter what we do, happiness is fleeting. We are never truly happy in our lives. Every chore, every conversation, every moment seems to be futile. Pointless. Absurd.

Now what does the absurd hero do in such a situation? Does he give up? Albert Camus prescribes a somewhat counter intuitive approach. He asks us to embrace the absurdity and simultaneously rebel against it. That is, facing the grim truth but not letting it ruin your life.

It is here that the path bifurcates. The choices we make in order to embrace and face the absurd becomes the basis of such bifurcation.

There is the way of the Buddha. The one who taught us that the self is illusory. Permanence is not permanent. Rather than obsessing over ‘me’, ‘myself’ and ‘I’, he asked us to focus on the four noble truths. The four noble truths, as the name suggests, talk less about the self and more about human suffering and way to attain liberation from the same. This cracks the narcissistic bubble we take refuge in. This is one way, a very peaceful and efficient one at that, to face the absurdities of the self and the cosmos.

Now if one way of dealing with the absurd is a confrontation with the delusion of self then another way is the way of humor and moral nihilism. The way of the Joker.

He has seen his fair share of misery and suffering. He was punished for things that weren’t under his control. Absurd, right? So how does he fare when he stands tall against the absurd? Quite well from his perspective. He uses humor. He looks the absurd in the eye and laughs at it. This brings down the absurd from the very pedestal we humans put it in. Suddenly, the greater force of the absurd loses its power over you. It’s a tragedy when the absurd unfolds, but a comedy if you embrace it with humor. It is not sad. It’s just funny.

And laughter is contagious.

Picture Courtesy: IMDB, Hindustan Times

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