Wednesday, December 4, 2013
Do Gurus Giggle?
My yoga teacher Victoria often talked about her friend and yoga colleague Stephanie. Others talked about Stephanie, too. Everyone described Stephanie as a Sanskrit scholar and an excellent yoga teacher who uses chant in her classes.
I imagined that Stephanie would be something of a geek (like I am), quiet and nerdy as she walked softly through the yoga studio. I imagined that she would float slightly above floor level rather than tread on the ground. Because she's got an extra six inches or so from her floating, she would seem unusually tall. Her vision would be perfect, and she would gaze softly, slightly upward as if she were talking to angels. She would be solemn in a prayerful way.
Stephanie's been substituting for Victoria this month, and she's not at all like I imagined. She is shorter than I am. She wears glasses. She chants in a lovely alto, but when she talks her voice is definitely human, even a bit reedy. This goddess, when she walks, treads on the ground (to borrow a line from Billy Shakespeare.) When she looks at us in class, she does not seem to be listening to angels: she seems to see us, the people in front of her. She laughs often.
I'm not sure where I got the idea that a wise person would be so serious. Perhaps the idea is the movie The Karate Kid where Mr. Miyagi has young Daniel catch flies with chopsticks to practice agility and wash windows (or was it a car?) to practice his circular arm movements.
I remember this Mr. Miyagi as a loving but stern teacher. Wikipedia tells me that he was a WWII U.S. Army Veteran and that his wife and young child died in the Manzanar Relocation Camp while Mr. Miyagi was fighting in Europe. It's easy to see why he might be stern, even humorless.
When I saw His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama years ago in Seattle's Key Arena with thousands of school age children and their teachers, I expected him to be stern like Mr. Miyagi. After all, the Chinese had banished him from his homeland, and his countrymen had suffered violent repressions. I thought that His Holiness would seem sad. I thought that he would bow deeply and say something profound that would change the lives of the high school students I was with. Maybe I thought that he would change my life.
I don't actually remember anything that His Holiness said. I remember that I was disappointed. The only thing that I remember for sure is that he giggled through most of the talk.
Since that day, I have thought often of his giggling. Maybe those who are wise have a lightness about them that lifts them from the earthy existentialism that can weigh me to the ground.
I wondered if the Chinese poet and philosopher Lao Tzu, who is reputed to have written the Tao Te Ching, had said anything about laughter, so I started doing a little research.
Lao Tzu said, "As soon as you have made a thought, laugh at it." I love that, so I did a little more reading about Lao Tzu.
Wikipedia cited a scholarly source that said, "Popular legends say Laozi [Lao Tzu] was conceived when his mother gazed upon a falling star and stayed in the womb for 62 years before being born while his mother was leaning against a plum tree. He is said to have emerged as a grown man with a full grey beard and long earlobes, both a symbol of wisdom and long life. In other versions he was reborn in thirteen incarnations since the days of Fuxi; in his last incarnation as Laozi, he lived nine hundred and ninety years and spent his life traveling to reveal the Dao."
My favorite detail here is that he was born with long earlobes. Older men do have amazingly long earlobes. I notice it all the time.
In the opening chapter of Osho's Absolute Tao, Osho writes, "It is said that Lao Tzu was born laughing….He is not sad like Jesus. He can laugh, and laugh tremendously, but deep down in his laughter there is a sadness, a compassion--a sadness about you, about the whole existence."
Perhaps that's it. Perhaps the deepest laughter has some sadness to it that gives the laughter texture. That might be like my laughter since my time of grieving. Maybe it's like Stephanie's, too, though I suspect that any Sanskrit scholar laughs more wisely than I do.
But His Holiness's laughter was neither deep nor textured. It was a high giggle, and it was clear, like small bells ringing. I imagine that such a giggle is in the voice of angels, in the great Spirit that loves us all.
I suspect that such a giggle, both of this world and of the angels, is the wisest laughter. I also suspect that I may not—probably will not—ever reach the wisdom of such a giggle. But I think that after my time of loss and grief, I will find my funny bone again. (And if I don't, my friend Allyson promised to help me.) Perhaps my laughter will become more deep and textured than it was before.
And perhaps, if I keep breathing, time will begin to purify my laughter and my spirit, and I will trill like the angels.
Perhaps. It's a cool idea anyway.