by Antaranga Gressenich
When I was seventeen, my first journey without my parents led me to North Africa – specifically to Morocco. I went there by train with one of my school friends. On a very hot summer day, we explored the city of Meknes in the north of Morocco, and our long walk ended in the slums. Houses there were made of planks crudely hammered together and plastic bags. I was really shocked and sad as I saw that human beings had to live in such poverty. Born in Germany, I had never seen anything like that before.
After my return to Germany, the sympathy I felt for the poor and needy urged me to join a 'Third World' group and Amnesty International. I read a lot about all the hunger in the world, the wars, the torture, the ecological disasters. Such an unjust world, full of suffering! I intensely looked for ways to change the world for the better. God provided me with a clear mind and the ability to understand that power can change situations for a while, but that real and lasting change will start only when human beings feel more sympathy and love in their hearts and start to share. But how could I help to bring about this change?
After I had finished school, I moved with a friend to an old farmhouse where we grew organic vegetables in the garden and I started my civilian service. I did not want to join the army and chose instead to serve disabled children.
One Sunday I went to a market where I saw a poster announcing a movie about Zen meditation, which was to start in a few minutes in a tent on the market. I entered the tent and watched the movie. All of a sudden the whole world around me changed. I was so happy, and everything around me seemed so beautiful. Unfortunately this lasted for only a few minutes.
I had a similar celestial experience out of the blue a few weeks later, when I looked at some tropical plants in a hospital as I brought one of the disabled children there. This inspired me to practice Zen meditation. I also practised Hatha Yoga and read Yogananda’s Autobiography of a Yogi. One day Peter, a participant in the Hatha Yoga class I attended, put a brochure in my hand saying something like, 'This is about a real spiritual Master.' I was looking for a real Master of meditation who could teach me, because I was unable to get this celestial feeling again through my regular Zen meditation practice.
A few months later, I met the spiritual Master Sri Chinmoy, whom I had read about in the brochure. While shopping in Munich, I saw a poster that announced a Peace Concert by Sri Chinmoy. I drove there with three members of our flat-sharing community at the old farmhouse. Sri Chinmoy played many instruments at the Circus Krone in Munich, but I did not have any inner experience. For some reason, I decided to sign up for a meditation class given by Sri Chinmoy’s students in Munich.
Nine months later, I moved to Munich to study homeopathy, acupuncture and a few other alternative healing methods. I attended the meditation class and learned a lot, but the celestial feeling did not come back. At the end of the class I was asked if I wanted to become Sri Chinmoy’s student. I was not sure because I had had no significant meditation experiences during the class. Therefore I decided to go by train to Florence, where Sri Chinmoy would offer another Peace Concert in a few days.
The moment I arrived in Florence, I was very happy, even though I was quite tired because I had not been able to sleep well in the coach section of the night train. I was asked to give a photograph and a completed questionnaire to Nivedak, one of Sri Chinmoy’s students, in case I wanted to become a student. I gave Nivedak both even before I had listened to Sri Chinmoy’s performance! I felt that Nivedak’s big heart and my happiness inspired me to act immediately. I decided to stay a few days longer in Florence to enjoy the springtime, because I was so happy there. But the next day, my happiness had disappeared. I realised that the reason for my happiness had been Sri Chinmoy’s inner and outer presence and not the springtime.
A few days later, just before leaving for Oslo, Sri Chinmoy accepted me as his student. I meditated very regularly and my general mood moved in a positive direction, but I did not have my celestial experience again. Was my choice wrong? In April 1989, a year later, I stood beside the entrance to a hall with many tropical plants in the Hilton Hotel in Munich. Sri Chinmoy was there to meet and honour a Nobel Laureate in Physics.
Suddenly Sri Chinmoy approached me as he went to welcome the Nobel Laureate, who was standing quite close to me. Sri Chinmoy looked briefly into my eyes. My consciousness changed. I felt deep inner peace and everything around me looked beautiful. The celestial feeling I had experienced first in the hospital when I looked at some tropical plants was there again! This time it lasted for hours. From that day on, I was sure I had found the right person to lead me to enlightenment.