The Gods' Humor From Vishnu To ... Caragiale

"God Himself had a great sense of humor when He allowed us to be born into this world…" The gods' smile is a kind of gentle answer to human ignorance, but also the preparation of the human mind for understanding the mystery. Why are mysteries also revealed through humor and not just through solemnity? Because there is a shock of the revelation that would be difficult to take without the buffer of refined, subtle irony. And there is yet another explanation: the smile, subtle humor broadens consciousness. Human consciousness is like a diaphragm. Anger narrows it completely. A man with a high IQ, 125 for instance, has the intelligence of a moron, i.e. an IQ of under 70, when angry. On the contrary, an environment of relaxation, of smiling contentment, can open the "diaphragm" of consciousness significantly, paving the mental way for illumination. The gods' subtle irony is related to the principle of relativity. It is common knowledge that the first to have had the intuition of relativity were the Indians, in their sacred texts such as Purana and the Upanishad. In Matsya Purana, there is a text in which a visionary, Narada, asks the god Vishnu about the mystery of the unseen world and of the human fate. The god's first answer is an ambiguous smile. A polysemantic and metanoic smile. Then, the god creates for the ascetic the concentrated life scenario of a "well-off" individual, so that the latter can experience dramatically man's capacity for deception. Deep in trance, the ascetic sees the stereotype scenario of life. Awoken from the cognitive spell, and back to the diurnal state, the ascetic Narada sees the smiling face of Vishnu. He has been taught the lesson of life with a smile that rendered it all relative. In the Romanian area, we find a similar scenario in Gala Galaction's short story Călifar's Mill. The Romanian character Stoicea, himself in deep trance, receives life's lesson and riches not from a god, but from a "master" disguised as a miller, who disappears into the unseen world around 1901… i.e. precisely 100 years ago! In another Indian sacred text, an ascetic asks the god Shiva about the mysteries of the universe and of man's salvation. Shiva smiles and answers him with a special gesture: he unites his forefinger and his thumb. This sign (mudra in Sanskrit) can be read in three ways: zero, O.K. (as the Americans would say) or "relax". Arsenius the Great, a Christian saint, received the same answer from God. When he asked what was the secret for his salvation, the divine whispered answer was: "Quiesce!" (Latin for "Quiet down!"). Quite often, goddesses have a more refined sense of humor than their husbands, the gods. Rama, the reincarnation of Vishnu, came onto the earth to civilize the world. One day, while doing this, he sees a beautiful young woman named Sitha. He falls in love at once and marries her. But he soon remembers he has another wife in heavens, the thousand-year-old Lakshmi, or rather the old bag Lakshi. He has therefore replaced his many-century-old wife with that young, swarthy, sexy woman from Southern India. The poor god starts having qualms of conscience. But Mrs. Sitha comforts him saying that she, Sitha, is his very millennium-old wife Lakshmi. She has just taken the shape of a young woman in order to keep him company in his mission on the earth, and to protect him from the temptations of the sexy Indian women. That is why, whenever I see that a man leaves his first wife to marry a younger woman, I know his second wife is still the first in a younger body… It's an irony of fate. It is for this reason that the Christians say: the second marriage is penance. Mr. Parvati, Shiva's wife is funny and practical. One day, Shiva boasts he has discovered Yoga, the system of salvation, consisting of 84,000 "stances" (asanas) or "postures" of the body and mind. Parvati tells him with humor and practical sense: "Dear husband, this is terribly complicated. If you intend to give men such a gift, I don't think you're going to make them very happy. Instead of saving themselves at this tormenting cost, through 84,000 asanas, people will give up, preferring to die unsaved. Look, I would certainly like to learn the system of salvation myself, in order to save myself, but only if you invent one single saving posture that sums up all the 84,000." Shocked and at the same time inspired by his wife's creative humor, Mr. Shiva racked his brain and came up with the wonderful posture called "Lotus" (Padmasana), which indeed sums up all the others! Humor is the expression of wisdom or the path to it. I should mention here that educational "genre" called koan or the koan "thinking method". The koan is a paradoxical assertion or a problem without a logical solution, which triggers a major cognitive wave in the mind. In certain Zen schools, the koan is the main cognitive instrument. Here is an example of koan, which a master told his disciple: "If during meditation you have visions and see Mara (the death god), strike his back with a stick five times. And if you meet Buddha Himself, strike Him five times too!" The disciple may be dumbfounded, frightened, shocked or – in the best of cases – illuminated. It all depends on how much the diaphragm of his mind has opened. We find humor in the writings of the holy fathers of the Christian civilization too. Saint Anthony the Great sometimes used to joke with his disciples. A devout pilgrim reproved the saint for his relaxed attitude. He asked: "How come? A saint making jokes? A saint allowing his disciples to tell jokes?!" Anthony the Great then answered with humor, referring to the parable of the bow: if you pull the string too hard, it breaks. Likewise, if you strain the ascetic's mind with meditation too much, the man breaks down. That is why you should let him relax. Mortals only accept the gods' irony. Human irony bothers them terribly. Caragiale's humor was not accepted by his contemporaries: some were afraid of him, others had a grudge against him, yet others sued him for libel. His posterity, however, have loved Caragiale. Now that he has become one of the gods, his humor is considered a national mirror and lesson: ridendo castigat mores. The people of today are as sinful as Caragiale's contemporaries – perhaps even more so – but they nevertheless react with joy under the subtle whip of the good-hearted Caragiale. As a matter of fact, any kind of subtle humor makes you kin with the gods. Only sarcasm and coarse humor are considered aggressive, insulting, dictatorial. We know too well that the communist regimes have provided so many samples of black humor! I have recently attended a meeting where a monk lectured to a lay audience. The monk talked about spiritual matters, then answered questions. He had a great sense of humor and consequently the audience was even more receptive. Someone asked: "Is TV good for Christians?" "If it isn't out of order, then it's good." The audience laughed and understood. Another question: "Can we know what God did the tenth day, after creation?" Answer: "I know. He thought how He should punish those who ask silly questions." The audience laughed again and understood. But an ill-humored gentleman asked: "Don't you think you resort to humor too often, as compared to the gravity expected from clerics?" The monk answered: "Well, God Himself had a great sense of humor when He allowed us to be born into this world…"

by Vasile Andru (b. 1942)