My Maharishi – Humor Incarnate

“We have an infinite number of reasons to be happy, and a serious responsibility not be serious.”

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi

Spiritual leaders are often perceived as being stern and serious, in some cases even humorless. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, while he could be serious when needed, was famous for his smile, his laugh, and his sense of humor in general.

In this episode, Thom shares some anecdotes from his 26-plus years of being with Maharishi, where Maharishi put his sense of humor on display. Some of these were public displays, while others were from behind the scenes; all of the stories reflect Maharishi’s famous quote, “We have an infinite number of reasons to be happy, and a serious responsibility not be serious.”

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Episode Highlights


Maharishi’s Humor



Maharishi’s Way of Answering Serious Questions



The Million-Pound Reply



A Lover of Analogies



The Complaint About Meditation



Fifty Dollar Bet on Effortless Mantra



Think Mantra Without Effort



“I Am an Imposter.”



Journalist Wanted to Expose Maharishi



“I’m Here to Find and Report Facts.”



Laughter-Filled Meeting With Maharishi



Surprising Turns: Maharishi’s Impact on the Journalist



A Force Five Hurricane of Happiness


Jai Guru Deva


My Maharishi – Humor Incarnate

[00:45] Maharishi’s Humor

All right, let’s take a moment to flesh out the man Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, with whom I spent the better part of 26 years, watching him, listening to him, and so on. He had the capacity to be extremely serious, when describing the most profound details of our teaching that comes down for thousands of years and yet, he always had something of a slightly mischievous twinkle in his eye. Meaning that, under certain circumstances and at certain moments, when he felt inspired to be that way, he could be very humorous.

I remember one particular instance where there was a question about, that had come from the Zen traditions of Zen Buddhism, somebody had quoted that if a tree is cut and crashes down in a forest, but no one is around, does it make a sound? And in the same vain, they read another bit of this poetic description of silence and said, it’s the sound of one hand clapping.

And Maharishi lifted up his one hand and began rapidly bringing his fingers down to his palm, making this sound that was the sound of one hand clapping, holding his one hand up and clapping it and then laughing and laughing, taking what might otherwise have been conceived of as a terribly serious contemplative thing, the sound of one hand clapping, the great Zen mystery. What is that sound meant to make you contemplate? Silence, and Maharishi just having a bit of fun with it.

[02:36] Maharishi’s Way of Answering Serious Questions

He was someone who really enjoyed having fun with intellectual terms as well. I remember on an occasion when he was being interviewed by some journalists, and this was in the 1960s when Maharishi was trying to get his teaching Vedic Meditation on a serious footing so that when people contemplated learning it, they knew they weren’t learning a religion or some dogma, but they were learning a technique.

And so he was trying to get people to move their questioning away from speculative religious questions into more serious questions about the direct experience that could be had when practicing the technique that you learn. Vedic Meditation is a technique. It’s not a dogma.

And someone said to him, “Maharishi.”

“Yes,” he said in a very serious tone.

“Please give us a few words on the subject of reincarnation.”

And he smiled, and he said, “Reincarnation is for the ignorant.” And the journalist quickly wrote these points down and moved on to another point.

Now, there were some people in the audience who looked around quizzically because they had been present in another meeting that had occurred just that same day about reincarnation, and Maharishi had made the point that if, at the end of one’s body life, one hasn’t completely gained the deep inner fulfillment then there are seeds of unfulfilled desires there. And these are the seeds, these unfulfilled desires, the seeds for taking up yet another body and living yet another life, not yet in fulfillment, reincarnation occurs.

And I had to explain to the people who were looking quizzically. I said, “Think about his answer carefully. Reincarnation is for the ignorant.” But the journalist took it as reincarnation is for ignorant people, and she didn’t want to be one of those, so she moved right along.

He could give an answer like that, that was, complete for any state of consciousness that was listening, and verified and validated whatever that consciousness state considered it to mean. And he knew what he was doing. He had a lot of fun with that.

[04:59] The Million-Pound Reply

On one occasion, when being interviewed by a BBC, British Broadcasting Commission, television interviewer who said, “Maharishi, I have evidence from the exchequer, that’s the treasury commander of the United Kingdom, that your charity raised one million pounds in the last few years. And that’s a lot of money, Maharishi. What do you have to say about it?”

And Maharishi looked at him and said, “It must be a mistake. A million pounds!”

And the man said, “Here’s the piece of paper right here.”

Maharishi looked at the piece of paper, and then he glanced over at his team, his staff, who were in the wings of the stage, and said, “Check this out. A million?”

He said, “Only a million? It’s not enough. It’s not enough. A million pounds? I’m trying to bring peace to the whole world, and we only raised one million pounds. We have to improve on this. A million?”

It had been the purpose of the interviewer to try to embarrass Maharishi that a million pounds sounded like a lot of money. He turned it back and said, “It’s not enough. We have to improve on it.” But he did so in such a way that those who knew him well realized exactly what he was doing.He was giving a bigger context but in a playful sort of fashion.

[06:09] A Lover of Analogies

Maharishi used to love to make analogies. Somebody once, who had a very rough nature, had applied for a specific job to be something of a diplomat of Maharishi’s teaching to senior people in the world.

And in his absence one day, someone said, “Maharishi, he would be very good at this because he’s been doing lots of meditation in the last few years, and he’s improved dramatically.”

And Maharishi said, “You take a potato, you put it in the oven and bake it, and when you take it out, it’s a baked potato, but it’s still a potato.” And he laughed and laughed.

He said, “There are certain people whose personal offerings to the world are magnificent if you find the correct environment in which those offerings can be appreciated. But, we need to find someone who has, in their basic nature, that intrinsic talent of that’s going to be required for diplomacy, and his nature is not going to be fully appreciated in this diplomatic context.”

[07:29] The Complaint About Meditation

In the 1970s, Kurt Vonnegut Junior, a famous author, who was also a famous American existentialist, someone who believed that life had no particular meaning, that life was absurd, and that you had to derive from life the pleasures that you derived based on your own sensibility, your intelligence, your sensory apparatus, make the most of whatever life offers you, but stop looking for meaning.

And this was following, I know, a very, very sketchy definition of existentialism, but we can go into greater detail about it some other day, following hotly in the footsteps of Albert Camus, the writer of The Stranger, and who followed in turn from Jean-Paul Sartre, whose document or book, Nausea, is a very great expression of what had become to be known as French existentialism.

Vonnegut had two family members who meditated, his daughter and his wife, and he wrote an article that appeared, I believe, in Life Magazine, entitled, “Yes, We Have No Nirvanas.” And it was an allusion to an old 1920s song, Yes! We Have No Bananas that had become a famous song and was enjoying a little bit of a renaissance in the 1970s.

Vonnegut was a very affable man, super intelligent, and a meditator. One day, sitting with Maharishi before a small audience, Vonnegut said to Maharishi, “The one complaint I have about meditation, it works.”

[09:12] Fifty Dollar Bet on Effortless Mantra

He said, “I closed my eyes and started meditating as soon as I received my mantra and I laughed and laughed and laughed and laughed and laughed.” And he said, “My laughter was what dominated my experience. Thank you for what you teach, but please tell me, what have you taught me? And I don’t really understand why it works or what it is. There’s no particular reason for me to laugh.”

Maharishi said to him, “It’s the nature of life and all of that.”

Vonnegut was already very much academically wed to the idea of the nature of life, if there was such a nature, being that it’s simply absurd. And so he wasn’t going to buy that concept.

And Maharishi said, “When you think your mantra effortlessly.”

And Vonnegut got held up his index finger and said, “That’s the thing.” He said, “You know, I’ve examined carefully your idea that I can think my mantra effortlessly and I challenge that. I can certainly think it with less effort than I might think other thoughts, but effortlessly I can’t do.”

And Maharishi said, “Yes, you can think it effortlessly.”

To which Vonnegut replied, “No, I can’t think it effortlessly.”

To which Maharishi reasserted, “Yes, you can.”

And Vonnegut said, “No, I can’t.”

And Maharishi said, “Would you like to bet?”

Vonnegut got that classic Vonnegut smile on his face under that big bushy mustache, and he said, “Yes.” He said, “I would like to bet.”

Maharishi said to him, “I’ll bet $50 that you can think your mantra effortlessly.”

Vonnegut says, “You’re on.”

Maharishi says, “Get the 50 from him.”

Vonnegut says, “I need another 50 from you on the table.”

Maharishi laughs and says, “My dhoti” – the robe that he was wearing – “my dhoti has no pockets.” He said, “You’ll have to accept my credit.”

Vonnegut says, “Well, here’s my 50.” Puts it on the table.

Maharishi says, “All right, close your eyes.” Vonnegut closes his eyes.

[11:17] Think Mantra Without Effort

Then Maharishi whispers to him, “Now, whatever you do, in the next minute, don’t think your mantra at all.” A few seconds tick by. Vonnegut pops his eyes open and points his finger at Maharishi, and says, “You cheated.”

Maharishi says, “Take the fifty,” and we whisked that fifty away.” And they both laughed and laughed and laughed and laughed. A very good example of Maharishi’s sense of humor. “I’ll bet you fifty dollars, I can make you think your mantra without effort.”

And, of course, the reason why Vonnegut said, “You cheated,” was because if somebody tells you not to think a thing and close your eyes and whatever you do, don’t think it, that’s going to be effortlessly the first thought that you have. And it worked M

[11:59] “I Am an Imposter.”

Maharishi had about him an ability to laugh, to laugh at himself. He loved laughing at himself. I remember once at the Albert Hall, the great Victorian structure in London that can hold 10,000 people, packed to the brim with people, and somebody stood up at the microphone and said to Maharishi, pointing at him with his index finger from the microphone in the aisle as Maharishi was taking questions, “You are an imposter.”

And Maharishi let a beat go by. And then he just cracked up laughing. And he laughed and laughed and laughed and laughed. And he said, through his laughter, “Yes, yes.”

He said, “I accept your designation. I accept your title. I am an imposter. I appear to be just a regular human up here lecturing to you and answering your questions. And actually, deep inside myself, I know that I’m something else. Something more than what you’re seeing, and I’m allowing you just to see this lecturer up here. So yes, you’re absolutely right. I’m an imposter.”

And then he laughed, and the whole audience was laughing. It completely took the steam out of his would-be accuser’s hope, the hope which had been to disgrace Maharishi or to make him somehow shrivel or become defensive. I never saw Maharishi get defensive before.

[13:35] Journalist Wanted to Expose Maharishi

I remember another occasion when a beautifully dressed journalist from one of the major magazines, I believe it was Time Magazine, had been assigned to come to Switzerland to write an expose on the famous Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who had been the personal guru to many celebrities and so on.

And she was on the warpath. And one of my jobs was to be sure that when people walked into his private rooms to meet with him, they had to remove their shoes. It’s a tradition in India.

In India, when you walk into someone’s house with your shoes on, it’s not considered to be polite because the shoes have been everywhere out in the streets and collecting all the filth of the streets.

And frequently in India, it’s a habit, it’s a verycommon habit to use the floor as furniture, that is to say, sitting on the floor, perhaps around a small coffee table and taking your lunch.

It’s a very common thing and when you sit on the floor, you’re sitting on that surface, you’re putting your hands on it and everything and if people come walking in there with their street shoes on, bringing in all the stuff of the street, then that would be akin to someone walking into a Westerner’s house and walking around on their furniture, their couch, their chairs, and everything with their street shoes on.

It wouldn’t be considered to be terribly polite. So it’s been a tradition for thousands of years that when you enter someone’s home there, always you take off your shoes.

[15:15] “I’m Here to Find and Report Facts.”

And so my job in this instance was to get the journalist who was pretty full of herself and high and mighty to remove her shoes and her shoes were of a very, they were high heels and they were very expensive shoes. I had enough worldliness in me to know that a pair of shoes like that would cost multiple thousands of dollars. Very well-dressed, well-appointed woman.

She said to me, “I’m not taking off my shoes.” And she said, “I have no guarantee that they’re going to be here when I return.”

And she said, “By the way, in case anybody was thinking that, this yogi I’m about to meet is going to somehow get me on side, I’m not here to be got on side. I’m here to find out facts and I’m going to be reporting on facts, and there are some very difficult questions I have to ask him. They won’t be difficult for me, they’ll be difficult for him. And I hope that nobody was anticipating that this is going to be anything like a jolly meeting.”

I just said to her, “Look, it’s all right, I’ll, I’ll personally look after your shoes. I have a silk bag here that is used for other things and you can place your shoes inside this silk bag and they’ll definitely be here when you come back out of the room. I give you my personal guarantee, I’ll hold on to them myself.”

[16:39] Laughter-Filled Meeting With Maharishi

And with that, the little buzzer buzzed for Maharishi saying, he was ready for the next person to come in, and I ushered her into the room, and of course, I wasn’t present in the room because it was a private meeting.

The door was closed behind her, and there was silence for probably 15 minutes. I couldn’t hear anything, not that I was trying to listen through the door or anything, but sometimes you could hear the murmurings of voices, though you couldn’t hear what was being said, you could hear that people were talking.

And then, about 15 minutes into her time with him, I heard some laughter. First of all, it was Maharishi’s laughter. And then I heard shared laughter, and he was laughing, and she was laughing. And for another 15 minutes, nothing but peals of laughter came out of that room. He was laughing, she was laughing, laughing, laughing, laughing. You’d have thought that there was some laughing gas that had somehow escaped into the room.

And then abruptly and suddenly, after they’d been together in the room for half an hour, the door opened. I said to her, “Here are your shoes.” And I took them out of the silk bag. She looked at the shoes. Maharishi looked at the shoes being removed from the silk bag, and they both began laughing and laughing and laughing at the fact that she’d had her shoes placed in a silk bag before going into the room with him, and she was busy buckling on her shoes.

[18:03] Surprising Turns: Maharishi’s Impact on the Journalist

Maharishi was standing in the doorway with her and then he said, “We’ll be in contact, yes?”

And she said, “Oh yes, of course, Maharishi. Thank you so much for seeing me.” And then she turned, and she looked at me, and she said, “I’ve just been appointed the head of Maharishi’s new initiative to bring meditation into the schools in my country and I am really fired up about it.” And then she left.

And I looked over at Maharishi, and I just said, “Maharishi, there’s no doubt about you.” And he said, “Remember Guru Deva’s famous saying.” Maharishi’s teacher, whom we call Guru Deva, Swami Brahmananda Sarasvati, he had a famous saying about this knowledge. He said, “Even rocks melt. Even rocks melt with this knowledge.” And that was one instance in which I saw rocks melting.

[18:56] A Force Five Hurricane of Happiness

It was always great fun being around Maharishi when he was in one of those affable moods. He could also be very strict, when being strict or being a disciplinarian was the very best thing for those who were studying under him or learning with him. But my fondest memories of Maharishi were the memories of him laughing.

He had a quick and ready wit and the ability to laugh, and laugh in the face of what most people would consider adversity. The overall sense I borrow from the famous Prudence Farrow, the sister of Mia Farrow. Prudence was the woman about whom the Beatles wrote in their song Dear Prudence from their White album from 1968 or 9, Dear Prudence.

And Prudence had a title for Maharishi. She referred to him as a Force Five Hurricane of Happiness. And that’s my overall memory of him, the Force Five Hurricane of Happiness. Thank you Prudence, for that.

That’s all for today. Jai Guru Deva. 

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