How irony and sarcasm are seen in Buddhism? For example, are they considered wrong speech in all ocasions?


3 Answers 3


Thanissaro Bhikkhu wrote,,

For many of us, the most difficult part of practicing right speech lies in how we express our sense of humor. Especially here in America, we're used to getting laughs with exaggeration, sarcasm, group stereotypes, and pure silliness — all classic examples of wrong speech. If people get used to these sorts of careless humor, they stop listening carefully to what we say. In this way, we cheapen our own discourse. Actually, there's enough irony in the state of the world that we don't need to exaggerate or be sarcastic. The greatest humorists are the ones who simply make us look directly at the way things are.

Bhikkhu Bodhi wrote,

Harsh speech is speech uttered in anger, intended to cause the hearer pain. Such speech can assume different forms, of which we might mention three. One is abusive speech: scolding, reviling, or reproving another angrily with bitter words. A second is insult: hurting another by ascribing to him some offensive quality which detracts from his dignity. A third is sarcasm: speaking to someone in a way which ostensibly lauds him, but with such a tone or twist of phrasing that the ironic intent becomes clear and causes pain.

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    Buddha's criticism of a monk who broke his celibate vows is as follows: "Worthless man, it would be better that your penis be stuck into the mouth of a poisonous snake than into a woman's vagina. It would be better that your penis be stuck into the mouth of a black viper than into a woman's vagina. It would be better that your penis be stuck into a pit of burning embers, blazing and glowing, than into a woman's vagina." -- etc etc etc. Is this not harsh speech? Speech uttered in anger? Intended to cause the hearer pain? Is this not abusive speech, reviling, insulting, hurting, etc? Oct 15, 2015 at 13:15
  • @KrishnarajRao I asked a similar question, which was given this answer.
    – ChrisW
    Oct 15, 2015 at 13:27
  • @ChrisW - If that link is the answer, then it is highly metaphorical, lengthy, roundabout, and beyond my limited ability to understand. A more direct answer would be of some use. Oct 15, 2015 at 13:35
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    @KrishnarajRao IMO Yuttadhammo may have implied that the Buddha is dispassionate (he wrote that "The closest he gets to actual disturbance" is "Pretty tame, but then that's to be expected"); and that the canon shows the Buddha is willing to be disparaging of people's actions sometimes (e.g. "so vile and evil-living a person as you"). The right speech doctrine implies you can say things which aren't "endearing and agreeable to others", provided they're true, beneficial, and said at the proper time.
    – ChrisW
    Oct 15, 2015 at 13:54
  • The Abhaya Sutta is specifically a follow-on to what the Buddha said to Devadatta.
    – ChrisW
    Oct 15, 2015 at 13:55

The Buddha himself was quite sarcastic, ironic and funny, as all wise people tend to be. Of course he knew what to say, and when to say it.

  • Can you give an example of something the Buddha said that's meant to be understood as sarcasm?
    – ChrisW
    Mar 12, 2015 at 7:51
  • @ChrisW I've heard that there is humour in the Pali Canon before but I can't give examples so I've asked the question explicitly buddhism.stackexchange.com/q/8093/157. Maybe not sarcasm but humour certainly Mar 12, 2015 at 11:11
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    I came across a sutta before but I can't find it now, where the Buddha replies to a monk something like, "ah.. now the student has become smarter than the teacher" which could be considered sarcastic. The monk asked a question like if there is no self then who experiences the results of karma or something like that.
    – ruben2020
    Mar 14, 2015 at 4:00

Buddha himself his speech was full of irony and sarcasm, its all over the pages I have read in the Chinese Classical Sutras. I can recall easily some from my memory:

When criticizing those who practiced the Dharma wrongly but wishing for attainment, he said they were wishing making rice by cooking the sands (煮沙成飯), Surangama Sutra. It was directed to those who didn't conquer sexual desire but wanting any fruition of the practice.

When criticizing another wrong practice, he said using human fece crafting an artwork of sandalwood hoping it gave out the fragrance of sandalwood (人糞刻旃檀形).

Criticizing the Brahmin's Self notion, he said it was like a worm by accident eating out a piece of wood forming pattern looked like a letter, they thought the worm knew language!《大般湼槃經》.

I very much agree with Ven. Thanissaro as quoted by above ChrisW. When someone is full of wisdom his speech is an art of speech of the highest form.

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