Humor in Sikhi

How does humor fit in to Sikh Dharma? Are jokes allowed in Sikhism? Isn’t it more respectful to be serious?...


Editor’s note: The SikhNet Youth OnLine Film Festival for 2014 is on the theme: UnCommon Courage. SikhNet encourages directors to try for the comedy category. After all laughter is the best medicine!

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How does humor fit in to Sikh Dharma? Are jokes allowed in Sikhism? Isn’t it more respectful to be serious? Weren’t the Gurus always serious?

The following expresses the authors thoughts on the subject. This is an exploration of thought and not meant to be a definitive stance on all things Sikh. However, please keep an open mind in case there happens to be value to what is written below :)

Chardi Kala
Chardi Kala is rising spirits. To me raising spirits in terms of jokes does not include sarcasm or laughing at the sake of others but certainly good clean fun and perhaps does include irony.

How does humor fit in to Sikh Dharma? Are jokes allowed in Sikhism? Isn’t it more respectful to be serious? Weren’t the Gurus always serious?

The following expresses the authors thoughts on the subject. This is an exploration of thought and not meant to be a definitive stance on all things Sikh. However, please keep an open mind in case there happens to be value to what is written below :)

Having an ever optimistic view of the world is the mentality that success is made of. Now think of successful people whom you admire and ask yourself if they have a sense of humor or not. I would not only say that humor is quite acceptable for Sikhs I would say it is needed. Granted there are different kinds of humor and certainly dark comedy is not good for the spirit. So what kind of humor is Chardi Kala? Young children understand Chardi Kala well. Watch how they play. Learn from the innocence of their laughter.


ਪਾਇਓ ਬਾਲ ਬੁਧਿ ਸੁਖੁ ਰੇ ॥

Adopting the innocent mind of a child, I have found peace.
(Ang 214)

Chardi Kala is having a light spirit in heavy situations and the pressures of life. Humor lightens situations and moods. Chardi Kala is destroying our own heavy spirits and moving to uplifting spirits.

 

ਨਾਨਕ ਸਤਿਗੁਰਿ ਭੇਟਿਐ ਪੂਰੀ ਹੋਵੈ ਜੁਗਤਿ ॥

O Nanak, meeting the True Guru, one comes to know the Perfect Way.

ਹਸੰਦਿਆ ਖੇਲੰਦਿਆ ਪੈਨੰਦਿਆ ਖਾਵੰਦਿਆ ਵਿਚੇ ਹੋਵੈ ਮੁਕਤਿ ॥2॥
While laughing, playing, dressing and eating, he is liberated. ||2||
(Ang 522)

Following are a few examples of humor in Sikh history:

Guru Nanak came to Hariduar and challenged the ritual of throwing water to ancestors. While the pilgrims were throwing water towards the sun in honor of their ancestors, Guru Nanak stood out from the crowd and threw water in the opposite direction. Upon his asking, the pandits explained that the sun is so many, many miles away. The Guru replied, “My fields in the Punjab are much closer than that, surely if the water can reach the sun it can reach my crops which need the water this season!” Whether the pandits and pilgrims laughed at the time, many listeners of the story today laugh. And rightly so. The bright eyed Guru used humorous irony to teach a lesson. There is no disrespect in laughing when the Guru says a joke! Reverence is not antithetical to humor, they can go together nicely.

ਹਸਤ ਖੇਲਤ ਤੇਰੇ ਦੇਹੁਰੇ ਆਇਆ

Laughing and playing, I came to Your Temple, O Lord.
(Ang 1164)

This is a two part story to illustrate the spiritual maturity of taking things lightly. Once the great disciple of the second Guru, Bhai Amardas Bhalla used to take insults to the Guru very seriously. One such example was when a “holy man” convinced farmers, who were disciples of Guru Angad, that a very serious drought would clear if they denounced the family man Guru and took himself as their new leader. The farmers did so, they left the Guru, but the drought didn’t end! When Bhai Amardas heard what happened he heavily reprimanded the farmers. He told them to drag the false holy man in their own fields, which they did. Wherever the man was drug it rained in that area. Bhai Amardas had punished the false man and brought rain to the farmers.

What does this have to do with humor? Keep reading... Guru Angad found out that his Bhai Amardas had used miraculous powers to punish the false holy man and said, “In all this time, you have not learned anything from me. The path of Dharma is difficult; You must eat the uneatable.” The lesson for Bhai Amardas was to tolerate that what is intolerable, like an insult to his Guru. When we do not take even the heaviest things in this world as serious, instead seeing that they too have a place and we happily accept God’s Will… than we are securely on the path. We see this lesson demonstrated by Amar Das in this next episode when he became Guru and ate the uneatable.

Now Guru Amardas sat on the throne of Guru Nanak. Once a jealous relative thought that he himself should be Guru instead. He violently stormed in and kicked Guru Amardas off his sitting position. This intolerable act of hostility would very rightly be a punishable offence. But instead of anything intense like he might have done before becoming Guru, made a humble joke: The Guru took the man's foot and started to massage it, “I’m sorry, my old bones must have hurt your foot when you kicked me.”

What a thing to say! Guru ji, I would say, ironically showed how absurd this situation was, that a young man felt the need to kick such a senior citizen. I see the humor in the words of the Guru, I am sure I’m not alone. The lesson to me is that a holy man brings light to heavy situations, always with grace and often with humor.

ਹਰਿ ਪਾਇਅੜਾ ਵਡਭਾਗੀਈ ਮੇਰੇ ਗੋਵਿੰਦਾ ਨਿਤ ਲੈ ਲਾਹਾ ਮਨਿ ਹਸੁ ਜੀਉ ॥3॥

By great good fortune, the Lord is found, O my Lord of the Universe; earning profit continually, the mind laughs with joy. ||3||
(Ang 173)

Once there was a Pandit named Kalyug. He was purported to have the ability to perceive the spiritual abode of Shivapuri, Brahmpuri and other celestial realms in his meditation. He had a bowl in front of him which people would leave donations in. He would close his eyes and instruct pilgrims to do the same. He would guide people in an astral journey and speak of celestial happenings. While everyones eyes were closed Guru Nanak instructed Mardana to move the donation bowl from in front of the pandit and hide it behind a bush. When the spiritual vision finished the pandit opened his eyes and noticed that his bowl had disappeared. He looked right and left but couldn’t find it! “Where’s my bowl?!” He became angry that someone had insulted him in public, how dare they! Who would have the audacity to do such a thing!? As he became more angry a larger crowd gathered. Now Guru Nanak stepped forward and asked, “Pandit ji, you were able to see Brahmpuri and Shivpuri and other places, why don’t you meditate and search the universe for where your bowl is hiding?” The crowd now saw the absurdity of the situation. What a funny scene this must have been!

 

This did not improve the pandits mood immediately but after more teaching and by the grace of Guru Nanak the pandit too came to see the situation and asked to have the honor of hosting the Guru in his home. Such is the personality of Guru Nanak, it has the power to break illusion, teach crowds of people, humble and reform misguided behavior. Now THAT’S HUMOR!

ਸਹਜਿ ਬੈਰਾਗੁ ਸਹਜੇ ਹੀ ਹਸਨਾ ॥

In peace and poise, they remain detached; in peace and poise, they laugh.
(Ang 236)

This next story is not from the history of the Guru’s but is a preface to give context to a Guru story. This is a woman who I know and for the purposes of this article she will remain anonymous. The story is about her interaction with a saint. She was gradually coming to adopt the teachings of this Sikh saint and perhaps the time had arrived that her soul called for her to take the next step.

The saint called her on the phone and said, “I want you to move to our community. Drop everything and come here, you will have a new job. Be here by Monday.” This order came as a surprise. It was Friday night which meant she had to decide right away to quit her job, where she recently received a nice promotion, arrange to travel across the country and move to a new place to be ready to start a new work on Monday! She immediately replied, “Yes sir!” The saint was happy with her affirmative spirit and obedience. He asked, “How are you going to get here?” She replied,”I will drive. And if my car breaks down, I’ll take a plane. Whatever it takes I’ll be there on Monday.” At this the saint began to laugh. She described his laugh, “It was a cosmic laughter. It wasn’t like anything I’ve ever heard before, it’s hard to describe. It was like his soul was laughing because he could see my destiny and something good had just happened. The tone was booming, it was so vast and unearthly it was like the universe was laughing. It was too much for me, it scared me.” She told him, “Sir you’re scaring me.” He said, “Oh I am just laughing because I am happy.” The saints laughter was something different than common laughter, it was like a master soul overjoyed to see another beloved soul evolving.

ਜੇਹਾ ਮੂੰਹ ਕਰਿ ਭਾਲਿਦਾ ਤੇਵੇਹੈ ਲੇਖੈ॥

A person is reflected (in the mirror) in exactly the same way as is their propensity.

ਹਸਦੇ ਹਸਦਾ ਦੇਖੀਐ ਸੋ ਰੂਪ ਸਰੇਖੈ॥

The laughing person finds a laughing form in it.
(Bhai Gurdas Vaar panna 2)

The above story I heard directly from someone I know, that is why the following oral traditions about the tenth Guru is conceivable to me. It is said that Rishi Dusht Daman meditating in the cold mountain enclosure had reached such a state that nothing could intimidate or disturb him. He was merged with the Infinite and absorbed in profundity. Once a determined practitioner wanted to meet the Rishi to see if he was really the undisputable master who slays demons. This man had slain demons on his own, why all the big talk about this other Rishi? Is Rishi Dusht Daman really that great? The challenger approached the summit where Rishi Dusht Daman was meditating. However, the closer he came, the more he heard laughter. It was such thunderous laughter that the man had to compose himself to carry on. The closer he got the more booming the laughter became. With all his best efforts the man tried to approach the great Rishi, but ultimately the laughter was too powerful and intimidating. The man retreated without meeting Rishi Dusht Daman. Hah!

ਦਾਮਨੀ ਪ੍ਰਹਾਸਨਿ ਸੁ ਛਬਿ ਨਿਵਾਸਨਿ ਸ੍ਰਿਸਟਿ ਪ੍ਰਕਾਸਨਿ ਗੂੜ੍ਹ ਗਤੇ ॥

You laugh thunderously like lightning, are a denizen of a splendid dwelling, illuminator to the Universe and possessor of profound doctrine.
(Dasam: ang 73)

Another wonderful oral tradition says that Guru Gobind Singh always had a slight smile on his face. He rarely laughed because when he would laugh everyone else would laugh too. They would all laugh with such high spirit it could go on and on so Guru ji refrained from laughing all the time so the Khalsa wouldn’t get distracted and lose themselves in laughter. They had to get things done and couldn’t just be laughing all the time. Chardi Kala was truly the culture in the court of the Guru!

 

Another legend goes that Guru ji encouraged his Khalsa to make other people laugh. The presence of the Guru and the Khalsa was indescribable and their belief and faith were beyond what most can fathom. Most people of the world wouldn’t understand what would be a normal remark for them. If they were to treat other people as they treated each other, if they were to give the truth to the common person, people would either interpret it as outlandish or they would be scared and unable to understand the power of the truth. It was a challenge for a lone Khalsa to maintain Chardi Kala outside the presence of other Khalsa and especially the Guru. How could they maintain Chardi Kala while in the more dense presence of karmicly afflicted people? Guru ji advised the Khalsa, when they are in the heavier company of common people, one of the best ways to uplift the atmosphere is to joke with them. Get people to laugh. Spreading good humor in the spirit of the Guru is a wonderfully blessed act! This is the behavior of the Guru’s Khalsa! This is the culture of the pure ones!

 

One of the great epics penned by the Tenth Guru is called 'Bachitr Natak': The world is a Play.
Certainly humor is allowed in This Play!

ਵਾਹੁ ਵਾਹੁ ਕਾ ਬਡਾ ਤਮਾਸਾ ॥

Waaho! Waaho! Great! Great is the Play of God!

ਆਪੇ ਹਸੈ ਆਪਿ ਹੀ ਚਿਤਵੈ ਆਪੇ ਚੰਦੁ ਸੂਰੁ ਪਰਗਾਸਾ ॥

You Yourself think, You Yourself illuminates the sun and the moon; and You Yourself laugh.
(Ang 1403)

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