KETCHIKAN — A few dozen Ketchikan residents turned up at the Cape Fox Lodge on July 9 to hear words of wisdom from Swami Anubhavananda, who more than once made everyone laugh. But then, what do you expect from a man called “The Smiling Swami”?
Ketchikan was only the latest stop for the swami, an honorific given to Hindu monks. His 2013 itinerary already has included several stops throughout India, Brazil, Australia and New Zealand and will include several more stops, including South Africa, before the year is done.
“Swamiji lives in India, but he really has no home,” said Satish Daryanani, owner of the building at 300 Mill Street and one of the men responsible for bringing Anubhavananda to Ketchikan. Daryanani was reluctant to attach a specific religion to the swami. He described religion as a banana peel, with spirituality as the banana. The swami, Daryanani said, was all about that banana.
Sitting on a sheet-draped chair, a blanket covering his legs, Anubhavananda spent the hour dispensing aphorism and analogy as he stroked his beard.
“Technically speaking, what are we?” the swami asked, before answering that human beings are a house. “And any house without power becomes a miserable experience.”
Humans, the swami added, are unique. Minerals exist. Plants are alive. Animals have knowledge. But only humans have all that plus the ability to laugh, the swami said. When an audience member caught herself laughing out loud at a something the swami said, the swami encouraged her not to hold back.
“Don’t worry, laugh loudly,” he said. Laughter makes life worth living, he said. “Those human beings who do not smile, fill in the blanks.”
The Smiling Swami embraces that mantra, and brings his millennia-old philosophy to the world in a decidedly new media way. His website — www.justbehappy.org — has dozens of videos, audio samples and pictures, not to mention his itinerary and store where you can purchase books, CDs and DVDs. His YouTube account has more than 1,100 videos. He even keeps a blog.
At the July 9 lecture, Daryanani and Bobby Jagtiani, Ketchikan resident and owner of Klassique Jewelers, proferred visitors with a variety of free, self-help books with titles like “Questions Answered” and “Shake Hands With Life,” dealing with everything from anger control to financial strategy to that age-old question, “What is the meaning of life?”
Anubhavananda recounted a story of a businessman at a corporate retreat who put that question to the swami.
“What is the purpose of our life? Most dumb question that can ever be asked,” he said, as the audience chuckled. The swami launched into an analogy of a man with three screwdrivers, of which only one can be used to turn a screw. The purpose, the swami said, lay in the person holding the tool, not in the tool itself. The creator has a purpose, he added, but that purpose should not concern humans, who are like the screwdriver. “We are only the custodian of this property.”
“So let us get out of this maze of stupid thinking,” he said.
At the center of the swami’s talk was what he called “the principle if ‘I.’” Human beings are a collection of I’s, he said. “I am a man. I am a woman. I am American. I am Indian.”
“And that is why we have an iPad and an iPod,” he joked.
When we focus on the I, Anubhavananda said, we become unhappy. By losing the I, humans can find peace, he said. According to the swami, there are three ways to lose the concept of “I:” sleep, die or live through the experience.
When people sleep, they are not man or woman, American or Indian, he said. Death likewise erases identity.
The final, and perhaps least drastic, way to achieve true peace, he said, is “to live through the body, prana (life energy), mind.”
Put another way, “Let our life not be a reaction, but only an action,” he said.
“Friends, don’t depend on the world to bring happiness,” Anubhavananda said, offering advice transcending religious belief. “Start living effortlessly in the present. It is possible.”
Through his hour-long speech, the swami touched on subjects of life and death, love and loss, happiness and sadness. The recurring theme, though, was not too take things too seriously.
“God created this world for fun, nothing serious about it,” he said.
Among the dozens in attendance was local jewelry maker and yoga instructor, Jennifer Hamilton. She said she learned of the swami’s scheduled appearance through ads in the newspaper.
“I’m very open-minded, so I thought I’d come and see what he had to say,” she said, adding that she liked what she heard.
As for Anubhavananda, he’s off to finish his tour of America, Trinidad, Brazil and the United Kingdom. Though he’s been coming to the U.S. for 25 years, he said this was his first trip to Alaska. He said he hopes to return next year.
Just don’t ask him about the meaning of life.