“If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans.” – Woody Allen
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This quote provocatively restates a universal truth, enshrined in sayings such as “Man proposes, God disposes.” We all have dreams and we make plans accordingly. We envision our life going along a smooth line leading to destination happiness, with happiness being equated with the fulfillment of our dreams. However, life rarely goes the way we plan – factors beyond our control disrupt things. If we ascribe those disruptive factors beyond our control ultimately to the supreme divinity, then we could say that God has disposed the plans we had proposed.
But does God really laugh when we make plans? Is he a sadist who delights in disrupting our plans? Certainly not. The point of God’s laughter is subtle and non-literal. To appreciate that point, we need to understand that our perspective is very limited – so limited in fact that our plans often involve such a huge degree of presumption that it makes those in the knowledge of things laugh indulgently. Suppose a small girl plans to build a sand castle and tells her parents that her dream prince will come on in shining armor on a white horse and live with her in that castle. The parents laugh not sadistically, but indulgently, at the child’s grandiose imagination associated with the sand castle.
Similarly, when we make our plans in this temporary material world where everything is swept away by the tides of time, even our best-laid plans can be seen to be not much different from the child’s fantasies about a sand castle. Seeing the grandiosity of our plans, God laughs – not sadistically, but indulgently.
The key illusion that we need to counter is the notion that we are controllers who can make the world bend to our plans. However, countering this illusion doesn’t have to be disempowering, implying that we have no control and are utterly helpless. We are parts of God, and as he is the supreme controller, we as his parts are controllers in our own small right. Just as parts are meant to work in harmony with the whole, we are meant to use our capacity to control in harmony with his plans.
Those devoted to God make plans, but they do so in a mood of service without becoming attached to their plans. Their attachment is to God, not to their plans. If a particular plan of theirs get disrupted, they may be temporarily perplexed not being sure what to do. But they don’t become disheartened, thinking that nothing is worth doing. They soon regain their perspective, focus on their ultimate plan of serving the Lord and find some other practical way of continuing their service to him, thereby moving closer to him.
Gita wisdom explains that we are meant for something much bigger than this world. Just as the child needs to grow up and learn more constructive engagements, we too need to grow up spiritually and learn more constructive engagements. Whereas the child needs to stop building sand castles, we don’t need to stop our endeavors in material life – we need to redirect our consciousness from this world to God and invest our emotions primarily in him. With our consciousness thus invested, we can see the world as an arena for contributing in a mood of service, according to our talents and interests. If our life’s overall plan is to serve our Lord, then that plan makes him smile with joy.
Indeed, the purpose of the Bhagavad-gita was to inspire Arjuna to harmonize his plan with Krishna’s plan (18.73). And in the ensuing battle for establishing dharma, Arjuna did make daily plans for tackling various enemy commanders, and Krishna aided and guided him in executing those plans. Arjuna’s diligence in doing his service – in planning it intelligently and executing it pragmatically – made Krishna smile in satisfaction.
Just as parents already have a home in which the child can live happily with them, God too has a home for us in his personal abode where we can live happily with him. When we grow up spiritually and redirect our life’s endeavors for his pleasure and for our purification, then we can function in this world effectively but without excessive emotional entanglement.
When we live devoted to him, making him our goal, then on leaving our body at the end of our life, we attain his eternal abode. Thus seeing the return of the prodigal child, God laughs in joy.