Who is the Man Behind the Turban?
An Interview with
Swami Beyondananda (a.k.a. Steve Bhaerman) has proven himself to be the unequivocal master of 'pun'tification for the New Age. Many of you have been following his column for quite some time. Some of the Swami's 'pun'coctions are just plain 'punny' while others are pure 'pun'ishment! Recently, I contacted His Hilarious Whollyness—the Pun'tiff—for an interview by phone.
Randy Peyser: Hi Swami! I'm putting you on the speakerphone so I can tape this conversation. I think I may need you to speak up a little bit.
Swami Beyondananda: I'm never afraid to speak up.
RP: I've noticed. In fact, that was one of my questions. Have you ever gotten in trouble with any of your puns?
SB: I think I've learned over the years to read an audience. I'm not generally trying to insult people. I have four planets in Scorpio, so if I want to insult people I can, but I don't like it when I unintentionally insult people. It's very rare that people ever complain about what I do. But it has happened.
I once did a routine in San Jose on humanitarianism and on eating animals. I was teaching cows to want to be eaten at a little place called the 'hashram' and I was putting the cows into a state called 'cattlepsy' and there was a spiritual master named Baba'cue. Some animal rights people come up to me afterward and said that they were offended.
RP: How do the puns come to you?
SB: I just hear things differently. Any ability that you have that you reinforce by practicing, you get better at. For many years I enjoyed doing humor, but I didn't reinforce it and I didn't write things down. Then one year that changed.
I had just been laid off from a teaching job at Wayne State University in Detroit. So I took a job taking down trees for the city of Ann Arbor, Michigan. While I was there, a magical thing happened. One of my co-workers—who was a brilliant psychologist disguised as a truck driver—suggested that we start a publication for the people that we worked with. We used humor to tell the truth and to blow everybody's cover. It was fantastic and I really got to appreciate the power that humor has.
In order to do this paper, I had to write down all my ideas. So if I woke up in the middle of the night with an idea or if I was driving to work and an idea came, I would just scribble something on my pad.
It was a very valuable lesson to retrieve the natural ideas that were flowing through my head. And the more I retrieved them the more the ideas came.
RP: How did you become the Swami?
SB: After doing this tree-working paper for a few years, I started a paper in 1980 called Pathways. My partner in this venture also had a great appreciation of humor. We wanted Pathways to be a newspaper where a lot of alternative points of view got presented concerning health and community and spiritual pursuits and personal growth.
People tend to take those areas really seriously so we decided that we had to have humor. So as a regular feature in Pathways, every month on the last page we had Swami Beyondananda, and that's how the Swami was born.
In the two years that we published Pathways, we found that even if people weren't interested in all the other stuff, they wanted to read 'the Swami'. We did things like 'Teach Your Dog to Heal,' 'Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sects,' 'Tantrum Yoga' and a number of other things like that. We found that humor was a wonderful way to bring new ideas to people.
RP: I know that the Swami not only writes, but that the Swami performs live...
SB: Right. By 1984, I was working as a free-lance writer, writing books for other people and working with ad agencies doing humorous commercials. I was doing impressions (I don't do them anymore because I'm a post-impressionist), but at the time, I was doing impressions and I took a workshop. I made a declaration at this workshop that I was going to pursue humor as a full-time career.
Somebody invited me to a personal growth workshop on humor and the Swami made his debut. As often happens when you're doing the right thing, there was a period of grace where I just got so much positive feedback that I knew this was my next direction.
R. You have a partner don't you?
SB: Yes, my wife, Trudy Light. We're going through a change right now where neither of us is performing very much any more. Trudy is segueing out of dancing. Now she has a business selling beaded Egyptian scarves—she sells them mail order and female order.
And I'm picking performances selectively and only doing the ones I really want to do. It feels like I'm moving forward into a more mainstream audience. I'm also focusing on other kinds of writing, as well as 'the Swami'.
RP: What do you aspire to do next?
SB: Well I was aspiring a lot earlier—I was doing heavy work here... Actually, I have a Swami book coming out.
RP: Oh, a new one?
SB: Yes. It's tentatively entitled, Don't Get Even, Get Odd — Laugherisms from Swami Beyondananda. These are just little pithy things which I hope don't pith anybody off. They're extracted from the work that I've generated over the last eight years.
I think that this is the kind of book that will go mainstream. I do a lot of radio, and radio is a very mainstream venue. I do 'Morning Drive Time Rock and Roll' on talk radio and people love getting the Swami. Many people have told me that I need to be seen by a larger audience. I expect that in the next year or so I will begin to do more television and be seen and connected with even more people.
RP: That's exciting.
SB: It is. And I've also developed a new form of expression. You've heard of Haiku right? Well, I'm doing 'Low-ku'. Low-ku is essentially political limericks. I've produced a number of limericks based on things that have happened recently.
For example, when Dick Army, the congressman from Texas, talked about Barney Frank, the gay congressman from Massachusetts, and said, "I don't want Barney Fag... Frank." He corrected himself right away and claimed it was a slip of the tongue and that it was very easy to want to say 'frank' and say 'fag' instead... so I wrote this Low-ku.
It's called 'Low-ku to a Retreating Dick Army'
'Said Gingrich's ranking right flanker,
RP: Very, very good. (laughter)
SB: Yeah. I'm very interested in politics. My major back at Brooklyn College was political science. I've taught history at the college level and I've always had an interest in politics.
One of the things I've noticed in being the Swami for the past eight years is that there is a gulf between people in this country who are spiritually skeptical, secular and politically aware, and the people who are interested in personal growth and spirituality, but have a very weak political consciousness.
Part of what I'm interested in doing is bringing these groups together to have a conversation. I'm not sure what form this is going to take, but the alternative is what's in charge now. And what's in charge now ain't working.
In my travels around the country, I find there are a lot of very mainstream people who are dissatisfied with both political parties. I think that anything that happens has to come from the center—what I call the 'radical center.' I'm very interested in helping this radical center. I call it radical just because we're so politically dysfunctional in this society that honesty is radical.
RP: Well put.
SB: A politician cannot tell the truth. They can't. They'll lose. For example what if Clarence Thomas said, "I must confess that this was a time when I was very emotionally overwrought. I did come on to these women. I was inappropriate and I see that that's a mistake and it's something I'm never going to do again. I've learned something. I deeply apologize for any hurt that it might have caused."
If we were a mature political society we would say, "Great. Thank you. We have no problem with you being a Supreme Court Justice because wisdom is learned through mistakes."
But no one is ever willing to admit that they made a mistake. If Clarence Thomas had said that, he'd be a janitor. So he had to lie. Do you know what it does to people to have to lie in order to survive?
No matter what their political perspective, there are a lot of people in our society who are beginning to realize that (1) we must be honest; we must be willing to tolerate honest mistakes and forgive, and (2) there is wisdom in every point of view.
We don't cultivate wisdom in our leaders. A wise leader will be able to draw on a piece of wisdom that the fundamentalists have, and a piece of wisdom that the Native Americans have, and a piece of wisdom that the psychologists have, and synthesize that into something that makes sense to most people. But we don't have that yet.
That's really where the action is politically. I'm not quite sure what role I'll play in that, but I'm excited about it. It's something that turns me on. There seems to be a lot of synchronicity in my life in this area.
RP: Keep us posted on how this is evolving.
SB: Well, what's happening is what I call a conversation, and the conversation is among people who are interested in this idea. Some of the people I'm in contact with are Marilyn Ferguson, author of The Aquarian Conspiracy, and Michael and Justine Thoms from New Dimensions Radio, a fellow named Brad Lanton who wrote a very powerful book called Radical Honesty, and Mary Ruwar, who wrote a book which combines libertarianism and spiritual principles. And I'll be on e-mail soon.
Everybody has a piece of wisdom and this is really a place to move that wisdom around, churn it up and come up with something that will impact the body politic.
RP: Well that sounds exciting. Does the Swami have any predictions for the new year?
SB: Ah! Predictions! Well of course, the Swami doesn't like making predictions 'cause he doesn't want to ruin his non-prophet status. If perhaps you give me some areas, he might venture a guess.
RP: Let's see...Are there going to be any earth changes coming?
SB: Absolutely, there'll be some changes. Swami says, "It's gonna grow warmer and the warming will peak sometime around July or August, and then it's going to get cooler again."
RP: Sounds like time for summer vacation.
SB: Yeah, so look for it to get warmer right around that time. And as far as anyone out there in California is concerned about earthquakes, Swami says, "If you find a fault, don't dwell on it."
RP: Who's your biggest fan?
SB: I don't know—most of my fans tend to be of average weight.
RP: When is your new book coming out?
SB: The new one won't be out for quite a while. It depends on how well my current one does.
RP: You mean, "When You See A Sacred Cow, Milk it for All It's Worth."
SB: Yes. And if you're reading this, your assignment is to ask for it at a bookstore, because when you ask for the book, it's inevitable that the bookseller is going to laugh. If they don't laugh, they may be suffering from humoroids or have irony deficiency.
Swami Beyondananada's Ten Guidelines for Enlightenment
1. Be a FUNdamentalist -- ensure that the Fun always comes before the Mental. Realize that life is a situation comedy that will never be cancelled. A laugh track has been provided and the reason we are put in the material world is to get more material. Have a good laughsitive twice a day, which will ensure reguhilarity.
2. Remember that each of us has been given a special gift
3. The most powerful tool on the planet today is Tell-A-Vision. That's where I tell a vision to you and you tell a vision to me. That way, if we don't like the programming we're getting, we can change the channel.
4. Life is like photography -- you use the negative to develop.
5. It is true: As we go through life thinking heavy thoughts,
6. If we want world peace, we must let go of our attachments and truly live like nomads. That's where I no mad at you and you no mad at me. That way there'll surely be nomadness on the planet. Peace begins with each of us. A little peace here, a little peace there. Pretty soon all the peaces will fit together to make one big peace everywhere.
7. I know great earth changes have been predicted for the future, so if you're looking to avoid earthquakes my advice is simple: When you find a fault don't dwell on it.
8. There's no need to change the world. All we have to do
9. If you're looking for the key to the Universe I've got
The bad news: There is no key to the Universe.
The good news: It was never locked.
10. Finally, everything I've told you is channeled.
That way, if you
Ask for "When You See A Sacred Cow, Milk it for All It's Worth"
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