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Laughing Skull of Life & Death


Nepal Collection

Name: Laughing Skull of Life and Death

Date: Fall 2012

Country: Nepal
Although today I am healthy,
Well-nourished and unafflicted,
Life is momentary and deceptive:
The body is like an object on loan for but a minute.

So if, when having found leisure such as this,
I do not attune myself to what is wholesome,
There could be no greater deception
And there could be no greater folly.

(Shantideva. The Bodhisattva’s Way of Life 4.16, 4.23
translation by Stephen Batchelor)

Laughing skulls are part of the ornate decoration on Buddhist monasteries. At first I was taken aback. Why would the monasteries so decorated with the elaborate paintings and ornate exteriors be adorned with a skull? Doesn’t that lend a touch of morbidity?

The Shantideva links the symbolism to the Buddhist thinking. It equates our zeal for drama and wrong thought to the affect that it has on daily living. The rictus grin of the laughing skull is the reminder that death is delighting in your follies, is mocking what you are going through. The swirling of emotional energy that surrounds you is wasted on life dramas instead of devoting your energy to the preparation of death, or in the Buddhist thought, preparing for the next life.

Americans are afraid to talk about death. to think of ourselves as impermanent, to prepare and be comfortable with knowing that our body will die and our spirit will leave it. This skull is a reminder that those things which seem catastrophic in the present will be exposed as trivial upon death. My question to you: At the twilight of your life will you have spent your days wasted or in preparation? The laughing skull is your reminder to let go, laugh and prepare.


Order: Available in multiple sizes. To obtain your own fine art print, visit the Order Page.

Stories: The images were taken while I was on a 18-month sabbatical around the world. To read of my experiences in Nepal, visit 30 Days of Adventure.