Make spiritual seeking a joyful adventure
Readers of the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna are struck by the humour and repartees of Sri Ramakrishna. Throughout the Gospel we see the words (Laughter), (All laugh) sprinkled everywhere. We also know that the Master often played with his young disciples in the Panchavati. He was a rigid disciplinarian, no doubt, and could be extremely serious when necessary. But that did not prevent him from seeing the lighter side of life. He imparted his highest teachings and accomplished the training of his disciples through play and fun, many a time the disciple himself unaware that he was being taught!
No wonder, years later, Vivekananda could say this to his students in New York: “We must be bright and cheerful, long faces do not make religion. Religion should be the most joyful thing in the world, because it is the best... Why should a man who loves God and who is pure be sorrowful? He should be like a happy child, be truly a child of God"
People in the West were often shocked to see that a 'holy man' like Vivekananda should be so much full of fun. According to them, holiness was synchronous with a long face and a grim countenance. Swamiji dismissed these characteristics as signs of dyspepsia rather than of spirituality. “We are the children of the ever-blissful Divine Mother! Why should we be morose?" He asked
Sri Ramanuja lists cheerfulness (anavasada) as one of the basic qualities necessary for devotion. Elucidating on it, Swamiji comments:
“In the Western world the idea of a religious man is that he never smiles, that a dark cloud must always hang over his face, which, again, must be long-drawn with the jaws almost collapsed. People with emaciated bodies and long faces are fit subjects for the physician, they-are not Yogis. It is the cheerful mind that is persevering"
Despondency is not religion, whatever else it may be. By being pleasant always and smiling, it takes you nearer to God, nearer than any prayer. How can those minds that are gloomy and dull love? If they talk of love, it is false; they want to hurt others. Think of the fanatics; they make the longest faces, and all their religion is to fight against others in word and act... By worshipping power and making long faces, they lose every bit of love from their hearts. So the man who always feels miserable will never come to God.
But cheerfulness is not the same as excessive mirth and merriment (uddharsha). How easily does man run from one extreme to the other! Swamiji's words of warning:
“Excessive mirth make us unfit for serious thought. It also fritters away the energies of the mind in vain. The stronger the will, the less the yielding to the sway of emotions. Excessive hilarity is quite as objectionable as too much of sad seriousness, and all religious realization is possible only when the mind is in a steady, peaceful condition of harmonious equilibrium"
A mind in that state [of excessive merriment] never becomes calm; it becomes fickle. Excessive merriment will always be followed by sorrow. Tears and laughter are near akin... Let the mind be cheerful, but calm. Never let it run into excesses, because every excess will be followed by a reaction
Approach God with a cheerful mind — this is the second message that comes to us from Sri Ramakrishna's smile'
To be continued
About the author
This article is an excerpt from Swami Tyagananda's “Sri Ramakrishna's smile". This article talks about pursuing spirituality cheerfully. Swami Tygananda is a monk of the Ramakrishna Order.