Balancing Laughter and Strictness

Live Q&A from Vrindavan
Shree Giridhar Dham Ashram, 1 April 2020

In today's Satsang, Paramahamsa Vishwananda answered questions about practical jokes, dishonesty for good reasons, what kind of service He prefers, and the reason for the guru's strict behaviour towards devotees.


Jai Gurudev! Again, welcome to Vrindavan!

So, today, well, there is not much happening. Just an incident here yesterday with some people living in the ashram. You see, in this time right now when it’s inside and close, some people have a problem with that. Some people say, ‘We need our privacy, we need our space, we need our time to do our own things.’ It’s true, you need this time for you, but you have to understand one thing: when you are in the ashram, when you are surrounded with other people, you also have to care for others, not only about yourself. 

And you have to be grateful, especially being here in Vrindavan. It’s such a wonderful place, where Bhagavan Krishna Himself probably has through His grace allowed people to be here. So, instead of being grateful, very often people become ungrateful for what they have. Some of the people don’t do much, they have their food in their hand when the time comes, and they have a place to sleep, they have a roof over their head. Some people don’t have this outside. Look at the sadhus on the street! They don’t have that. The sadhus are suffering here in Vrindavan, because there is nobody to give them food. Luckily there are certain ashrams distributing food for them. Not even the government has taken this initiative of looking after these poor people. You know, it is very easy to say, ‘Yes, we lock down the city, we lock down the street, we lock down the country for the protection of the people.’ It was only four hours that people had to prepare themselves, just to lock down everything like that. Imagine these sadhus on the road, the people who are around here, they have not prepared themselves for 21 days of lockdown. It’s very difficult.

And yet, you have people sitting in the ashram here, having a roof over their head, having a bed to sleep in, having food to eat, still they complain that they need their space and all that stuff. It’s amazing how people are. And this is a bit sad. Because in this time one has to have a really deep understanding of things. But yet, you see how the mind is.

So, just be grateful where you are. You are still alive, you have food, and be happy that you can do your spiritual practice. You don’t need to walk around. When we look at what is happening here in India, probably you have seen it in the news: thousands and thousands of people didn’t have work from one day to the other, and they had to leave. For example, Delhi, thousands of people – it was a mass. It’s sad to see this and how all of a sudden they have to go back to their villages, and they can’t go back to their villages because everywhere is locked. They don’t have transportation, they don’t have anything. So, just be grateful for where you are, really.

As today is April Fool’s Day, people often make jokes about sensitive topics such as religion and human tragedy like diseases, etc. Some people find these jokes offensive, some people find it funny. What is Your opinion about this? Should there be a limit to humour?

Well, you are asking the wrong person right now, because I like to joke. You know, people in general take life so strictly and through that strictness they become miserable and unhappy. So, very often I myself like to make jokes. I forgot that today was April Fool’s Day, otherwise I would have made lots of jokes.

You know, we have to be happy in life, and sometimes it’s important to make little jokes. On whom would you go and make jokes? Only to the people that are dear to you, no? So, this April Fool’s Day. I don’t know why it has to be only on the first of April. No, you have to make jokes in your life, you have to do things that will make you laugh and happy. Like hiding in the corner and scaring somebody. Very often I do it with the swamis and the people who are near to me. 

You see, I’m not somebody which likes to be miserable. I like to laugh with people, I like to joke with people, that doesn’t mean that I am not the guru. I know where I am seated and they know where they are. I can be very friendly with them, I can be very dear to them, but it doesn’t mean that it crosses the line. We joke, there are certain kinds of jokes we do, but it’s not offensive or rude, because I don’t like rude jokes. I like when somebody can laugh and really be happy.

You don’t need to become miserable with your life. You should do something so that you make yourself laugh every day a little bit. Imagine your life without laughter. Life without laughter and you would be grumpy and miserable. Looking at yourself in the mirror you would get scared. So, to avoid you having a heart attack by looking at yourself in the mirror and having a heart attack seeing your face, do a few things that will make you happy and joyful. It is said that when you are laughing, there are so many nerves on your face which get activated. And those nerves which get activated on your face, these points, they are very positive points which, when you smile, your whole energy field changes. When you smile, when you laugh, your whole surroundings change. So you should laugh. 

Sometimes what happens to me is that I go into a certain craze in laughing. For no reason, I just laugh. That happened in Maharashtra when we were on the pilgrimage in the hotel having dinner and all of a sudden, I just started laughing! I don’t know, I can’t remember really what the situation was, but I could not stop laughing. Even when I tried to stop, it was impossible to stop laughing, and with that the whole hall was just laughing. There was no reason. They didn’t know why I was laughing like that, and there was no reason for them to laugh, but this laughter was so contagious. Just like the virus right now is very contagious, this laughter was also very contagious and it was free of charge. Nobody needed to pay anything, and everybody was laughing, everybody was happy.

So, sometimes to play a little joke on your dear ones is not wrong, and one should not take it too seriously. You have to make your life joyful, and you have to make your life happy.

I feel sometimes that in society many rules and regulations make one’s life almost impossible to live if one has little money. To share an example with You: I have a land and I want to have my own water from nature, and so the government gives me two options. One, I tell the governments that it’s only for watering the plants and then it’s free; or two, I tell the government it’s for personal use like drinking and then it costs thousands of Euros per year. So, I decided not to be honest and I told them it’s only for the plants, but I drink it. Does this dishonesty add karma to my karmic bank? It is very difficult to remain perfectly honest in a society that doesn’t really support our living.

No, this doesn’t bring any karma. The water is free, it’s for everybody. The water is on your land and it is free for you, whether you are giving it to the plants or you are putting it in the plant inside of you, it’s the same. So, it’s not a terrible thing that you are doing. It’s fine, to do it like that.

Which kind of service do You appreciate more: internal or external? For example, should we create new projects to spread Your message in the world or we should take our time and effort to dive deeper in the heart in our sadhana and private worship?

Well, you see, both are important. It is important to dive deeper into your sadhana and it is also important to spread the word of the Master, the word of the guru to others. If you have gone to a wonderful place and you have eaten one of the most wonderful dishes, it is automatic you would like to share it with others, no? You would bring your friend to that restaurant and you would order the same food you think is very nice. 

Like that, what you are receiving in your sadhana inwardly you also have to give it to others. So, both are important. First you have to work on it yourself, by going deeper inside and transforming yourself. By you transforming, you will see that you have this inner power inside of you. That source of energy inside of you, you can’t restrain it; you will have to give it. It’s like you feel this tremendous love inside of you, and so what would you do? Would you just sit there and say, ‘Yes, I feel this love inside of me.’ You would explode. It can be very dangerous, I tell you. The best way to keep it in balance is to give it to others. So, it is important also to spread the teachings, but first you have to know the teachings of the Master to give it to others.

I have noticed that sometimes You act harshly or unfriendly to devotees saying they should wash themselves because they stink or similar things. What deeper purpose does it have? Do you protect them through this behaviour from some other situations? Is it to teach them humility?

Listen, listen, listen, listen, listen, listen! Sometimes you have to be harsh! Because if I am sweet, sweet and nice, nice, people take it like, ‘Oh, He is just testing us, it’s not real.’ No, sometimes you have to be strict. You know, I’m not harsh with the people, but I have to be strict. The word may sound harsh, but it is just strict. It is just a reminder. Because if I tell you something in a sweet nice way, it is sweet and nice and pleasing to the ears. Later on, you will go outside after the satsang is finished and you will go and forget about it. ’No, He just said it like that, He doesn’t mean it.’ Often this is happening. 

Even after I said that down in the temple, people were saying, ‘No, no, no, no, no, He doesn’t mean it like that. He means it like this.’ Listen, if I am telling you something directly like that from my mouth, I mean what I’m saying. I don’t mean something else. If I meant something else, I would tell you directly, ‘Yes, that means this and that.’ If I’m telling you that you are stinking, that means you are stinking. You know? 

It appears harsh, yes, but this is how to keep reminding yourself that you have to take a shower or you have to put some deodorant on or some perfume on. Not for yourself, but also for the other people. And I’m not telling that because I don’t love you. I am saying that because it is bothering other people who don’t want to say it. We have to look after ourselves also. So, sometimes I can be strict and say it in a strict way because I’ve been saying that many times, but people take it as a joke. They think that it is April Fool's Day every day. No, we can make jokes, that's one thing, but to be strict is another thing. So, that’s why sometimes I am strict. Also, when I am strict, then people listen. 

Because you see, here I have heard, not only here, but also in the ashrams and other devotees say, ‘Oh, Swamiji means something else when He says something.’ No, if I’m telling you through my mouth, I’m telling you something, and that means you have to take what I’m saying seriously. I can tell you in a very nice way, which I always do. But I have seen that when you use nice words, people forget about it, people don’t listen to it. And then they have their own interpretation of things. So, imagine, the guru is here telling you you have to take shower, you have to do this, you have to do that, and yet you interpret it the way you want to hear it or how you want to understand it. What will it be like when the guru is not here one day? That’s why, to avoid that misinterpretation of things, the Master has to be strict. 

Actually, when I look at myself, I am not strict. If you really want to know strictness and harshness and discipline in an ashram, go to a Japanese ashram; you will know what it is! Go to a Buddhist ashram, you will know what it is. That’s why at the beginning I started the talk by saying how very often one is so ungrateful. Because you see, this is the whole concept in the spiritual world: they think that, ‘Ah, a guru should be…’, how they want it to be. The gurus are how they are, they show the people the way. 

But very often, people have a certain concept of how the guru must be, and they are stuck on this concept, because they have always seen the guru from far away. They have seen guru at a distance. And of course, for them they can worship that guru, they can say whatever they want because that guru would never come near to them and tell them off if they are doing something wrong. Same thing when people like worshipping the deity. It’s not wrong, it’s beautiful to worship the deity, but why do people have more affinity to worshipping a deity, to go to the temple, the churches and so on? Because Jesus or Krishna will not come and tell you off! But whereas, when you do something wrong, the guru will come and if you are really doing something wrong, he will tell you frankly. And it is very difficult for people to accept that.

One of the messages I saw, somebody was saying that, ‘Ah, how wrong it is to harsh words’ and so on. You see, one thing is that what the guru does and what the guru shows on the outside to the people are two different things. That’s why I said to you yesterday, I am how I am. I speak the same way to all and not because of the camera will I speak differently. No, I speak the same way to the swamis, I speak the same way to the devotees who are near to me. So, you are also dear to me, that’s why I speak directly. And from that I can be harsh from your side, but from my side it’s just strict. 

I can make a joke and you may understand it your way, but it is completely different. You can understand what I mean by that. So, would I say I was I harsh? No. Because for me, like I said to you, I said it in a harsh and also a joking way. Probably that part you skipped over, about how the people were laughing. You know, I remember somebody sent me that part of the video when I said that about the stinkiness. If you look again you will see a devotee behind me. One devotee from Portugal sent it to me and the moment I said ‘stinkiness’ what he was doing? He was smelling himself and looking shocked! So, you see, in that strictness there is also a joke behind it. So, that you probably skipped over. 

But you have to see it in a deeper way. Sometimes, a parent has to raise their voice for the child to listen. It’s not because the parent likes to raise their voice, but because the child doesn’t understand – if it is just a normal thing, the child will not take it seriously. But when there is not the same tone, ‘Ah, there is something different in that tone.’ You see? That tone is different and the child will learn to listen.

Sometimes, just by looking at some people in a certain way, they will understand something. Some, like the people who are close to me, I just need to look at them in a different way and they will understand that. Sometimes I don’t need to say anything, they will know there is something that they have done something wrong. But these are the people who are connected to the guru. They will understand that the Master doesn’t wish anything bad. I don’t think there is any Master who wishes anything bad, even being strict with the disciples, who wishes anything bad for them. No, it is always for the sake of the devotee. The Master has come from wherever realm they have come to help their devotees. But if the devotees don’t take it seriously, sometimes one has to be strict. Like I said to you, again, if you want to know what is strict, go to other ashrams, you will know what is strict.

Jai Gurudev, everyone!