Pujya Swami Chinmayananda had a great sense of humour. He would come out with several witty sentences within the span of one satsang. Behind the humour was always a spiritual thought. One felt so happy just being in his presence. In fact, he was the first swami to introduce humour in Vedanta talks. Now, most spiritual speakers follow this trend. Here are some glimpses into Swamiji’s humour. The stories have been collected from several devotees, and some of them have been my own experiences with him.
A young lady once asked Swamiji: “Whatever you teach is there in the books. Then what do I need a guru for?” He replied: “Why don’t you ask this question to the books?” Books may be there. But teachers are required to explain them and clarify doubts.
Once a devotee, who later became a full time worker of Chinmaya Mission, got a heart attack. When he recovered, he went to meet Swamiji with a glum face, expecting sympathy and concern. The moment he entered the room, Swamiji said: “Welcome to my club.” And they both laughed. The heart patient had got more than just sympathy. He got admission to Swamiji’s “Heart Club”, as Swamiji himself was a heart patient with 17% heart function. The devotee was happy as “heart” in philosophy means the core of one’s being — the inner essence.
There was another time when a cardiologist devotee was getting Swamiji checked at a hospital in Philadelphia where he was working. At the same time, a lady gynaecologist was making her rounds. The cardiologist introduced her to Swamiji by saying, “Swamiji, she delivers babies to the world.” The gynaecologist asked Swamiji what he did. Swamiji replied: “You deliver to this world and I deliver out of this world.” As a teacher of Vedanta, his mission was to liberate people from the thralldom of matter.
Once a young doctor, who had just joined the medical profession, came to get his copy of Bhagwad Gita signed by Swamiji, Swamiji wrote out a prescription for him: “Read two stanzas of the Bhagwad Gita three times a day, for three months. If symptoms persist, repeat the dose!!”
“Hi Swamiji,” greeted a young boy. Swamiji explained to the other devotees around him: “He knows my standard is Hi(gh). He is reminding me of my goal.” Swamiji always advised that it was necessary to discover a great purpose or goal in life. He used to say: “It should be an ideal that you have chosen according to your heart, not an ideal that somebody has given you. It can be political, economic, anything. It should be that which appeals to you the most. Once you gain that great goal or ideal, apply yourself to it. A new enthusiasm will come to you. When there is enthusiasm, then sincerity, ardour, consistency of purpose and a new column of energy automatically follow in you. The quality of action depends on the ideal, which guides and inspires an individual. A person with no ideal feels fatigued in his work. This fatigue is caused by the strain and stress, which we invite, by craving for indulgence in sense objects and ceaseless expectation of the fruits of our actions. The secret of success, therefore, lies in activities undertaken with a spirit of surrender to an ideal.”
Once a social worker came up to Swamiji and asked: “What should I do to change the world?” Swamiji replied: “You change, and the world around you will change.”
Swamiji could also apply his humour to himself. He had inaugurated the Chinmaya Mission Hospital in Bangalore in 1970. The next year, he got his first heart attack and was admitted into the same hospital. He remarked: “Earlier I had inaugurated the outpatients ward of the hospital. Now I am inaugurating the inpatients ward.”
Once, when Swamiji had gone to a hospital for a cardiac check-up, a devotee commiserated with him over the condition of his heart. “Don’t worry,” Swamiji told her. “The heart is the only instrument that is guaranteed for life.” She was taken aback by his nonchalant attitude.
I was in a lift with Swamiji at a hotel in Taipei, going up for a talk of his. The lift had mirrors on three sides and one could see an infinity of Swamiji’s reflections. He laughed and said: “See how the One plays as the many.” The entire creation is a manifestation of God. When the talk was over and we were going down, the angle was different and I could see only three reflections. I said: “Swamiji, I cannot see the Infinite you.” He replied: “See how the One plays as Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh. (The creator, sustainer and destroyer aspects of the one God.)” He was living Vedanta at every moment of his life.
Once a devotee complained to Swamiji in his ashram in Sidhbari, Himachal Pradesh, about me. “Swamiji, it’s not fair. Anjali eats so much and never puts on an ounce of weight. Whereas I starve myself to death, and look at my size.” Swamiji looked at the people around and announced, “Come everybody and see. She says she is an effect without a cause.”
One time, I was trying to take a photograph of Swamiji and he kept sticking his tongue out. “Don’t move, Swamiji,” I said. He replied: “I never do!” The Atman, or Life-Centre, is a motionless entity. It appears to be moving only when it is conditioned by the mind and functioning as its manifestations.
There was a teenager who asked Swamiji: “What if everyone was like you Swamiji? What if everyone in the world took sanyas and ran away from society? What then?” Swamiji replied: “Try. If it were that easy to renounce, the world would be a happier place.”
When I was a teenager, I asked Swamiji how old he was. I said to him that somebody says you are over 60 years old. Swamiji was actually 48 to 50 years old then. He replied: “Age? Blab! I am Unborn. The older they consider me, the nearer they are to the Truth.” Reality is called “Purana Purusha” or the “Ancient Enlivener” in the scriptures. The Self is never born, even at the birth of the body. It is already there to illumine that experience. The Self can only remain unborn and changeless. If we accept the causation in the Supreme, then we cannot come to the “first cause”, which is in itself uncaused.
It is said in the Bhagwad Gita that when righteousness decays and unrighteous is on the rise, then God incarnates in the world to save the good people. A devotee, referring to this, asked Swamiji: “Why doesn’t God incarnate now to save mankind? There are so many criminals and corrupt people around.” To this, Swamiji replied: “Why trouble God? For Ravanas like them, we swamis are enough.”