Namo tassa Bhagavato Arahato Samma Sambuddhassa.

Even though it may at first hand appear to be a shallow subject and inquiry, I happen to find it of relevance to the practice and wondered about it.

How prevalent was the Buddha's smiling ?

As I was starting to read Thanissaro Bhikkhu's "The Buddha Smiles", it is stated :

The Pali Canon has a reputation for being humorless. And it’s easy to see why. In some of its passages, the Buddha seems to regard humor in a bad light. For instance, in the Wailing Discourse (AN 3:107) he refers to “laughing excessively, showing one’s teeth,” as a form of childishness, and counsels that a monk, when feeling joy in the Dhamma, should simply smile. His instructions to Rāhula in MN 61 note that one shouldn’t tell a deliberate lie, “even in jest.” A passage in the Vinaya (Sk 51) tells of a monk, formerly an actor, who made a joke about the Saṅgha. The Buddha, in response, made it an offense for a monk to tell a joke not only about the Saṅgha, but also about the Buddha or Dhamma.

There is also the famous verse in the Dhp 146 that seems aimed at squelching all forms of merriment:

"What laughter, why joy, when constantly aflame? Enveloped in darkness, don’t you look for a lamp?"

And then there’s the fact that the Buddha himself rarely smiles in the Canon, and when he does, the reasons for his smile are never hilarious.

(the emphasize in the quoted passages is a making of mine)

Yet, I started to also read Walpola Rahula's "What the Buddha taught" in which I can read the following :

The Buddha was never melancholy or gloomy. He was described by his contemporaries as ‘ever-smiling’ (mihitapubbamgama). In Buddhist painting and sculpture the Buddha is always represented with a countenance happy, serene, contented and compassionate.

There seems to be a divergence in the two quoted passages as to whether he was "ever-smiling" or only in rare occasions. In Bhante Vimalaramsi's teaching the act of smiling within one's practice is quite present yet I cannot recall from what I read in the suttas the mentioning of smiling.

I'd appreciate learning more about it.

(If such a question is indeed irrelevant please kindly let me know and I'll delete the question).

With metta.


4 Answers 4


The Buddha smiles many times in the suttas, in fond remembrance of experiences that brought great wisdom.

MN83:2.1: Then the Buddha smiled at a certain spot.

The Buddha does not smile at the suffering of others. His smiles are never cruel. His smiles are for the remembrance of great wisdom and insight that can be shared. The Buddha smiles for us all, never against any.

MN83:21.16: Ānanda, I say to you:
MN83:21.17: ‘You all should keep up this good practice that I have founded. Do not be my final men.’”
MN83:21.18: That is what the Buddha said.
MN83:21.19: Satisfied, Venerable Ānanda was happy with what the Buddha said.

The Buddha does have a manner of speaking wisdom that can lead others to smile as if in reaction to a deadpan joke:

AN8.63:1.2: “Sir, may the Buddha please teach me Dhamma in brief. When I’ve heard it, I’ll live alone, withdrawn, diligent, keen, and resolute.”
AN8.63:1.3: “This is exactly how some foolish people ask me for something.
AN8.63:1.4: But when the teaching has been explained they think only of following me around.”

Here, the Buddha is being completely serious, but his statement recalls our own folly and hubris. And we smile at the gentle remembrance of the depth of his wisdom, just as the Buddha smiled in MN83 at his own experience of escaping folly by means of the compassionate help of another.

  • 1
    But is it the case that an awakened one can smile at the unfortunate situation of others by means of wisdom and insight?
    – user17652
    Commented Oct 3, 2021 at 12:45
  • 1
    @Max, that's a good point. I've added a new quote about AN8.63, which is one of the suttas that makes me smile.
    – OyaMist
    Commented Oct 4, 2021 at 12:26

If I may bring forth an answer to my own question, I have found a passage in the suttas that may provide some useful information on the matter. In the sutta MN 81 With Ghaṭikāra it is said :

So I have heard. At one time the Buddha was wandering in the land of the Kosalans together with a large Saṅgha of mendicants. Then the Buddha left the road, and at a certain spot he smiled. Then Venerable Ānanda thought, “What is the cause, what is the reason why the Buddha smiled? Realized Ones do not smile for no reason.”



There are certain reasons for being joyful. Including the ones which make you smile. Remembering Buddha and understanding him is a reason to smile. Buddha himself smiled when he remembered his past lives... Only in one sutta nobody smiled and that was MN1 where he explained root of all things...


Smiling is an essential ingredient in Thich Nhat Hanh's practice. Starting when one wakes up, and prevalent in many of his talks, writings, and instructions.

So if he teaches today that which the Buddha taught, you can extrapolate backwards.

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