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Serious Laughter


from Back To Godhead Magazine, #35-04, 2001

Krishna consciousness is both serious business and great fun. Observers figure that anyone as earnest about spiritual life as Hare Krishna devotees seem to be (as evidenced by all the rules we follow) must not be enjoying life. Sometimes they ask, “What do you do for fun?”

I thought of that question this morning during the Srimad-Bhagavatam class in our temple. We’ve been blessed the past few weeks with a visit by His Holiness Maha-Vishnu Swami, an elderly Indian sannyasi from England who spices his learned lectures with humor and contagious belly laughs. He makes learning the serious lessons of the Bhagavatam enjoyable.

This morning, Maha-Vishnu Swami was saying that we must give up hypocrisy to advance in spiritual life. To illustrate, he told the story of a lawyer whose business was slow. When a man walked into his office one day, the lawyer, to impress his potential client, picked up the phone and pretended for some time to be talking to an important client. Finally, he hung up the phone and ask the man how he could help him.

“Oh, I’m from the phone company,” the man replied. “Your phone’s not working, and I came in to fix it.”

We all laughed. We got the point: Be a hypocrite and you’ll make a fool of yourself.

Part of the serious business of Krishna consciousness is laughing at the foolishness of material life. The material world is no doubt a fool’s paradise, filled with the folly of trying to ignore the unavoidable reality of miseries like old age, disease, and death.

As aspiring devotees of Krishna, we often laugh at ourselves too, at our childlike, fumbling attempts to make it to the mature world of pure devotion to Krishna. But we know that if we persevere in our spiritual practices despite the trials of life, we’ll eventually win Krishna’s favor by our love. That thought can make everything look bright.

Even when things aren’t looking so bright, humor can help us remember an important point, such as our reluctance to hear good instructions:

A man was driving with a car full of penguins. A surprised police officer stopped him and ordered him to take them to the zoo. The next day, the officer saw the man again—still with the penguins.

“I told you to take them to the zoo!” the officer demanded.

“I did, officer,” said the man, smiling. “And we had so much fun, today I’m taking them to the beach!”

Srila Prabhupada is giving me so many important instructions, I think. Am I really hearing him? Will I ever get rid of my penguins?

I once handed Back to Godhead to a young man in the street. He had seen the magazine before. He flipped it open to a photo of Srila Prabhupada and asked, “Does this man ever smile?”

He certainly does. Photos of Prabhupada often show his gravity, his no-nonsense attitude toward spiritual life. But he laughed too. Sally Agarwal, at whose home Prabhupada stayed when he first arrived in America, described his laughter as “oceanic.”

“He just seemed to take in the whole world when he laughed,” she said, “and he laughed a lot.”

Pure devotees see the whole world as a place for laughter in the joy of Krishna consciousness.