By Swami Chaitanya Keerti
Oct 03, 2013
On my recent trip to the US, a man working in a restaurant greeted me with Assalam o Alaikum and I responded with Wa Alaikum Assalam. In a shop in New York, the shop-owner, perhaps an Indian or Pakistani told me that he would give me a big discount as I was a Muslim. In both the places I wondered why they thought of me as Muslim.
Perhaps my small beard and Kurta-pajama give the impression that I was a Muslim. In India I have never been considered a Muslim — only in the US. This was a bit strange for me, but I loved it.
It is natural that most people look at others with their own limited understanding, and that’s perhaps why the beard, which has nothing to do with any particular religion, has come to identified with one. You can have a beard without belonging to any religion.
Down the ages, only religious people, artists, poets and philosophers had beards. Other regular people shaved it off regularly. Sages and Hindu and Sikh gurus were known for their long beards. It was important to have a beard to be seen as a guru or a wise man. In recent times, J. Krishnamurti, Meher Baba, Raman Maharishi did not have beards, yet they were the enlightened masters. J. Krishnamurti wore Western clothes and neck-tie in the West and Kurta pajama in India, and he looked very handsome in both. Osho had a long beard and wore long flowing robes. Rabindranath Tagore, who was addressed as Gurudev, had the same kind of flowing beard.
It is believed that wise men always have long, grey beards, so people who want to seem wise usually grow one. At least, the wise men of Islam, Judaism and Greek Orthodox Christianity did so. The Pope is clean-shaven because Roman Catholic clergy shave as a sign of celibacy. Confucius had a beard, and he was wise too. Santa Clause has a beautiful beard and children love him.
I have also heard that the Bible has a commandment against shaving — actually, against touching razor to face. So Jews, who religiously follow the Bible, don’t touch razor to face.
In modern times, it is possible to shave without a razor touching the face, and many do. Sikhs don’t cut any hair, so the beard sort of happens by default.
During one of Osho discourses, a disciple asked an interesting question: “Last night, I noticed your beard. It is really a magnificent thing; it reminds me of a lion’s mane. Does a beard like yours come with enlightenment? Or do you have to be born with it?”
Osho replied: “You are a little bit crazy, but not more than me. I insist: if you want this kind of beard, you will have to be born with it. It does not come with enlightenment. Enlightenment has no concern with your beard. Even a woman can become enlightened. That does not mean she will have a beard. This kind of beautiful beard comes only with your birth.”
Swami Chaitanya Keerti, editor of Osho World, is the author of Osho Fragrance