When the Master Laughed

Maharishi Matanga was an enlightened sage who was respected across many kingdoms. He traveled extensively along with his disciples, and they had the benefit of learning about various cultures. Most of the time, and most of the people came to see the Sage with bundles of woes and worries. The Sage would listen to their concerns, and bless them in silence.

Once, during their stay at a prosperous town, the local chieftain came to see the sage with pomp and fanfare. A large retinue of fawning officials and followers accompanied the chieftain. The proud chieftain began to explain his exploits with much gusto. He claimed that he was so powerful, that he could protect everyone and control everyone in his province.
As he continued gloating about his invincibility, the Sage simply laughed. This greatly upset the fellow. When the chieftain queried as to why the Master laughed, the reply he got was more laughter. Feeling quite insulted, he left in a huff.
Several days later, the Sage and his disciples were passing by another town. The Sage was visited by a well-known Vaidya (physician) with his big retinue of assistants, who began to explain how he cured the illness of a large number of patients and gave them life. Even while they were thus reciting his praises, the master laughed. The physician felt insulted at this and left in a hurry.
Still later, in another town, the local temple priest had come with his devotees. They were singing and praising his enormous spiritual powers, and how he had pardoned their sins and promised deliverance for all those who came under his guidance.
Again, in the middle of their narration the Sage laughed, causing the priest to become flustered and leave in anger.
The disciples, who witnessed these instances, were confused by these unfamiliar responses of the master. “O Master”, they said, “Normally you bless people in silence, but on these occasions you not only did not bless them, but laughed at their achievements and forced them to withdraw in anger. May we please know the reason?”
The master said with a smile “My dear students, the chieftain tried to control other people’s future. He was so sure about it without realizing the uncertainty of his own future. The physician was sure of extending other’s lives unaware of the uncertainty of his own, the priest tried to replace the Divine in pardoning the sins of people, while ignoring his own. These egotistical individuals attempted to control the future, life, and also the faith of people. I laughed because the chieftain had no idea that he going to die early, the physician was going to be afflicted by an incurable disease, and the priest would become mad soon.”
“So”, the master said, “don’t try to take the credit for things much beyond you, but encourage others for self effort, through faith in the Divine and the guidance of an enlightened master.”
This story from the Upanishads reminds us that we cannot grant life, though we may help to maintain health, and we cannot control faith, though we may promote faithfulness.


This story from the Upanishads was compiled by Acharya Ratnananda in “More Light on Less Known: Courage, Compassion, Confidence” Volume 3.