The Laughing Buddhas
It is no coincidence that all or most sages are gifted with a sense of humour, says Suma Varughese, for humour gives us a sense of proportion, prunes our ego, and increases awareness
Having been on the spiritual circuit for close to three decades (out of which 21 years were in Life Positive), I can say with some confidence that most of the really sound gurus or spiritual teachers I have met have had an equally sound sense of humour.
Swami Sukhabodh ananda, for instance, who used to hold a programme called Life some years back,had such a rollicking sense of humour that it would literally have you rolling in the aisles. Mahatria, the Chennai-based spiritual teacher, too has a great sense of humour. His very popular discourses are richly larded with droll observations that can have you in stitches.
Swami Tejomayananda, former worldwide head of the Chinmaya Mission, too has a face from which laughter is never too far away.
Similarly, you only have to look at the Dalai Lama’s face to know that laughter is as much a part of his spirit as depth and gravitas are. Mahatma Gandhi too had a fabulous sense of humour.
In these lockdown months, I have been watching and listening to Eckhart Tolle on YouTube. Eckhart is one of the world’s most popular spiritual teachers and author of The Power of Now. He too has a terrific sense of humour, all the more funny because it is delivered quietly, even as he chortles gently.
To the outsider, the gravity of the spiritual life and the levity of humour can seem almost too contradictory to go together, but spirituality is, in fact, all about fusing polar opposites and being comfortable in every mood, or rasa. The enlightened or even the evolved soul has the flexibility and innate comfort to laugh like a baby one moment and be as still as a graven statue the next. Without the need for an identity or an image to keep up, the soul is free. And it is light. Enlightened souls are lighthearted. Life is both joyous and fun for them. Having no self to drag them down, there is no question of taking themselves seriously, and so they elicit laughter out of every possible situation.
And yet, it is not as if these people discovered their funny bone on enlightenment. I am fairly sure that a sense of humour is more or less a necessity for anyone to qualify for a spiritual quest. Think of the humourless people in your life. Chances are high that they may be a little dry in personality or, perhaps, pompous and inclined to take themselves a little too seriously. Or, yet again, they may be extremely serious about life in general. Almost all of them appear a little out of proportion in some way, and what is more, are singularly charmless.
A sense of humour gives us a sense of proportion. It enables us to laugh healthily at life and, sometimes, at ourselves too. It prevents us from taking ourselves too seriously or thinking too well of ourselves. I am convinced that those who lack a sense of humour are usually lacking in awareness too. And as we all know, the spiritual path is fuelled only by awareness.
Because of their refined nature, gurus have a refined sense of humour. They will never ridicule anyone or laugh at what is sacred. But their keen perception allows them to sniff out the pretensions and follies of humans. And they will gently call attention to it. Making us aware of our pretensions is one more way of pruning the ego and enhancing our awareness. Their laughter is a healthy inoculation against the spiritual traps along the path.
Suma Varughese is a thinker, writer, and former Editor-in-Chief of Life Positive. She also holds writer’s workshops. Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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