I will be completely honest in admit that I do not get sarcasm.

When a person says something sarcastic I end up believing what they say, until they give that look that almost says 'Um, that was sarcastic. Duuh!" And I'm left at the butt of the joke.

My problem here seems to stem from a simple truth to lie perspective. If I were to ask someone a question I expect an honest or helpful answer, where sarcasm may be neither of these things.

Example: "Do you have a bathroom?" 'No, we go in a bucket.'

Say I'm at a new place, asking a person I've never met or only met once or twice. In this case I was hoping for a simple 'Down the hall to the left.' as an answer but I've been met with sarcasm.

Even though I'm pretty sure this house has a bathroom I do not know this 100%. If I did not know sarcasm existed (which in my mind and experiences is basically the case) I have two options. Believe the information I have been given, or look that person in the face and say "You have just lied to me."

It would seem that calling a person out on this deliberate lie (this sarcasm) would be extremely rude, and force the person to admit to giving me false information. At the same time this seems to be the only way to obtain the truth, the only real answer I ever even wanted to hear.

I understand that sarcasm can be funny, in context. My basic understanding is that once you get to know someone well enough you will catch those subtleties in there speech, whereas with another less known person they believe their own lie (sarcasm as knowing the information to be false but not sharing that fact) making it hard to tell if it truly was a lie simply because it was a joke 'Duuh!'

There are many more examples of sarcasm I have come across, some easier to catch than others and some easily rectified by a simple 'Just kidding.'

To sum all this up googling Sarcasm gives me: The use of irony to mock or convey contempt. Which does not sound lighthearted at all, the word Mock standing out.

I'm not asking why people are sarcastic but why it's seen as such a go to form of comedy when it seems so detrimental to the person being mocked as well as detrimental to the person being sarcastic (at least from a Buddhist standpoint)? Is sarcasm as a response to a question, when that question is looking for an undeniable true answer, seen as bad Karma?

Any information on the Buddhist thoughts on why we use sarcasm and what it is, as well as from other/more modern sources on the subject (ex.South Parks Sarcastiball episode) would be greatly appreciated if I Am to understand this experience more. Thank you.

  • 4
    next time just ask for the bucket :)
    – Ryan
    Commented Jul 23, 2015 at 2:05
  • Hi, and welcome to Buddhism.SE. I've edited your question for better readability, hope you don't mind. Please see the guide for new users if you haven't already. Hope you enjoy your time here, thank you for your participation.
    – Buddho
    Commented Jul 23, 2015 at 3:49
  • In regards to my question itself a previous idea was "When seeking True information is sarcasm seen as Bad Karma?" Though I changed it in hopes of being more broad. I also accept that the bathroom example may not have been the best as it is closely (and literally) related to simple toilet humor. Either way I believe that in my situation body language is not an issue, because sarcasm is in the form of words and therefor should only have to be understood in the form of words. If not then a blind man would never understand sarcasm because he can't see you winking repeatedly to show its a joke. Commented Jul 23, 2015 at 5:01
  • 1
    There aren't many question marks in this question. Is the last paragraph/sentence, i.e. "Any information on ... why we use sarcasm and what it is ... would be greatly appreciated" the only question which you're asking here?
    – ChrisW
    Commented Jul 23, 2015 at 9:24
  • I did forget a question mark in the second to last line, and I am also thinking about editing in my earlier comment concerning what (if any) bad karma sarcasm may have. I hope this makes my thoughts clearer. Commented Jul 23, 2015 at 21:22

4 Answers 4


Sarcasm isn't a deliberate lie, because the intention isn't to lie or mislead, but it is wrong speech, because it has the capacity to hurt people.

Per Buddhism, unless a statement is true and beneficial, it is not right speech. And joy derived from the suffering of others isn't wholesome.

Ironically saying "You lied" to someone who is being obviously sarcastic can be seen as a kind of sarcasm itself, since it can be viewed as being affectedly sincere.

The criteria for deciding what is worth saying

[1] "In the case of words that the Tathagata knows to be unfactual, untrue, unbeneficial (or: not connected with the goal), unendearing & disagreeable to others, he does not say them.

[2] "In the case of words that the Tathagata knows to be factual, true, unbeneficial, unendearing & disagreeable to others, he does not say them.

[3] "In the case of words that the Tathagata knows to be factual, true, beneficial, but unendearing & disagreeable to others, he has a sense of the proper time for saying them.

[4] "In the case of words that the Tathagata knows to be unfactual, untrue, unbeneficial, but endearing & agreeable to others, he does not say them.

[5] "In the case of words that the Tathagata knows to be factual, true, unbeneficial, but endearing & agreeable to others, he does not say them.

[6] "In the case of words that the Tathagata knows to be factual, true, beneficial, and endearing & agreeable to others, he has a sense of the proper time for saying them. Why is that? Because the Tathagata has sympathy for living beings."

— MN 58 http://www.accesstoinsight.org/ptf/dhamma/sacca/sacca4/samma-vaca/

  • Thank you for the edit (I tried to make sentence breaks but they did not apear on the final draft) but I do have one question regarding your answer. To quote you 'Ironically saying "You lied"...' I am reading this as if I am the one being ironic. For me this is not the case, as i say this with no sarcasm of my own in order to get a true answer so that I don't have to guesstimate at what the person is actually saying (ie. bucket really meaning toilet). Part of the confusion is with the word 'obviously' because sarcasm is not obvious to me. Think Sheldon from Big Bang Theory as an analogy. Commented Jul 23, 2015 at 4:50
  • I understand your position, and I wondered about including that last observation, but I thought it'd be beneficial to see how others would see the statement. In the end we can't control what others think or make of us.
    – Buddho
    Commented Jul 23, 2015 at 6:50

Sarcasm is not only a deliberate lie (even if wrapped) but has mostly also certain strong elements of aversion in it. (given your samples)

Its of cause a breaking of the precepts.

Every lie, even if it is meant as a joke, is a lie.

Don't forget, its not sure if the other would understand your "playing around" and "teasing" and if he/she would take it serious and follows, that would fall back to you.

As for joking around to entertain others, see: Talaputa Sutta: To Talaputa the Actor

Teasing and joking around is not good. Just observe little dogs, they would not do anything else as such, biting for fun, but getting older and having that strong habit, they even bite each other till they kill.

So such teasing and banter is just an instrument of socializing and what ever fun, it goes at the expense of others. When ever you laugh another cries or feels at lose by your gain.


Sarcasm is a type of humor and humor can be very unwholesome. What people are often trying to achieve with humor is to bring attention to themselves and make themselves look superior while making someone else look inferior. (There are other situations where someone is just trying to diffuse stress or lighten the mood; maybe by being self deprecating; which is not cruel.)

Before I began meditating regularly, I enjoyed watching comedy routines, giving quick sarcastic responses, and the feeling that my friends and I were very witty and smart. At this time, I see the cruelty and wrong speech far more in many types of humor and try to avoid being involved in it.

It may not be a bad thing that you "don't get" sarcasm. Maybe that says something about the wholesomeness of your mind states. But to go so far as to judge someone else as telling a lie or having wrong speech isn't helpful to you. Slowing down and not reacting to such unskillful responses to your sincere questions may possibly cause the sarcastic person to feel uncomfortable enough to say "just kidding" and give you the real answer you needed. But if not, you can just say "ok, thanks" and move on to the next person who might be a little more helpful.

In my tradition, we just note "hearing, hearing" and try not to react to the aspects of what we are hearing, such as cruelty in this case.

  • 1
    Your first paragraph says a lot, 'which is not cruel,' hitting my point nearly on the head. In the form of non-malicious sarcasm (if we could categorize) it is completely acceptable to use wit to get a laugh. The problem occurs when looking for truth. When a simple question only has two outcomes, truth and not truth, sarcasm falls in the second category. 'Accidentally' giving misinformation when information is required, and then as you said forcing that person to go back on themselves to say "JK" which in this case is the same as "I lied". Slowing down is one of my hardest problems for sure. Commented Jul 23, 2015 at 21:45

Sarcasm: even if it is sometimes hilarious--is (accidental) malice and is also a test of your dominance and strength in the conversation. People should stop being sarcastic because it is indeed Wrong Speech

Whatever you do, do not be malicious back (through sarcasm, assault, etc.).


  • Ignore the emotion and reply back positively. "Thanks I'll go use the bathroom" or "Thanks I'll go use the bucket"
  • Laugh lightly and re-assert lightly. "Haha. I really need to use the bathroom. Does that one work?" Should they reply with further sarcasm, just go use it. They are feeling too close with you and want to just make you laugh.

The first solution is better than the second due to neurological conditioning purposes -- the second solution works but it will train them to keep being sarcastic.

The 1st solution is best.

In a personal setting, sarcasm means that the person is too relaxed with you. In a group setting, sarcasm means that the person is being rude and testing you.

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