It is said that laughter is the universal language of humankind. There is that old cliché that when a man truly laughs, the whole world laughs along with him. When it comes to infectious laughter, there is no one more contagious than Avatar Adi Da Samraj. Therefore, if I were to tell you the feeling course of my life has been altered by one man's laugh, would it really seem so strange?
A few decades ago I walked away from UC Berkeley with a degree in Chemical Engineering, and within two days I'd been hired as "Engineer in Charge" of a nuclear reactor. Not bad for an upstart, you might say. But after two years, my interest in this significant position began to wane, and returning to San Francisco State for a Master's degree, I soon ended up on the faculty.
Seven years passed. Once again, my interest in what I was doing waned. My life had been unfolding according to plan, but whose?
I took to the inner life, and having quit teaching, I began to study Sanskrit and Vedanta. In due course, I was a bona fide monk in a local San Francisco ashram (up at 5:00 a.m., peddle across town, meditation at 6:00). Then alas, with the rising cost of sandals, incense and organic brown rice, my money ran out, and I became your neighborhood yogi-carpenter and built a house in Potola Valley for a friend. Living in seclusion there for six months, I tried to practice the yogic approach to diet, asana (posture), breathing and meditation. But it soon became evident that my yogic incapacities were exceeded only by my aversion to poverty. And my interest waned.
Whatever consolation others might have taken in the active worldly life, or in the passive spiritual one, I had found little sustenance in either, and August of 1974 found me living in San Francisco with my wife, four children, and five dogs. Both my outer and inner aspirations had more or less fallen by the wayside, and I had found a job as a computer operator at REA Express. It was a simple living. I was coasting. However, there existed one night radio program, "Meeting of the Ways." My habit was to switch on the set and listen to the first five or ten minutes to see if anything or anyone could penetrate my boredom. The radio never remained on for more than ten minutes until one particular Saturday night when I heard the voice of Adi Da Samraj for the first time.
I had no idea who or what he was; there was simply this voice, which seemed to possess a life of its own. So much so that the radio itself appeared to be animated with speech. Then suddenly, the voice laughed and laughed, and laughed! I was awe struck with delight!
His laughter was free of all irony, and seemed to pierce directly to the core of my being. It communicated the fullness and depth of someone who knew all about death and life, suffering and joy. The experience proved a literal baptism, for in that moment an old way of life ended and a new one was initiated. Whoever owned that laugh was intimately familiar with the down side of life, yet still he seemed to shake with the unrestrained hilarity of a laughing Buddha.
As the program continued, I did a very uncharacteristic thing. Vibrating with excitement, I bolted through the house shouting, "He's here! He's here!" — stampeding kids and dogs in the process. I had never acted in that way before, and I have never acted in quite that way since.
A few days later, I drove to the Dawn Horse Bookstore on Polk Street in San Francisco to learn more about this man. Doing so was extremely out of character for me, but I felt inexplicably compelled to go. I still knew nothing about Adi Da Samraj. Had he written a book? Was there an organization connected to him? I was informed only by the reverberating guffaws caroming off the walls of my mind.
The Polk Street bookstore was high up on the second floor. No less than a hundred steps barred the way. Reaching the top, I entered and found someone who said his name was James crouched down behind a desk, poring intently over an imposing disarray of books and papers. By this time, I was feeling terribly foolish. Had a wayward belly laugh that past Saturday taken possession of my psychic funny bone? In any case, I asked James, "What do I do now?"
James responded ironically, "Fill out this card and we'll be in touch with you."
I filled out the card, bought a magazine and a book and headed home.
In the magazine, there were two photos of Adi Da Samraj. I spent a lot of time gazing at them and listening to the tape I had made of the radio broadcast. But the days became weeks, and James never called. After three weeks, I returned to the bookstore and made the ascent once again.
This time I felt really foolish. James was there, buried under mounds of papyrus, just as I'd left him. I couldn't help wondering if he ever called time out for bodily functions. Introducing myself again, I said, "Do you remember me? I filled out a card three weeks ago but no one called."
James replied, "Yes, I remember you. We lost your card! We were hoping you'd return. Here's another card. Fill it out and we'll be in touch with you."
In that instant, as in so many moments since, the feeling behind that mind-stopping laugh welled up inside of me, making it clear that Humor was being restored to my world!