For about a week I have been enjoying a delightful biography of the theoretical physicist, Richard Feynman, penned by James Gleick, an outstanding writer on science and scientists. I’m enclosing a link to it on Amazon. It is, after all, a must-have.
In his prologue, the author quotes the mathematician Mark Kac, as saying, “There are two kinds of geniuses, the “ordinary” and the “magicians.” An ordinary genius is a fellow that you and I would be just as good as, if we were only many times better. There is no mystery as to how his mind works. Once we have understood what they have done, we feel certain the we, too could have done it. It is different with the magicians…Even after we understand what they have done, the process by which they have done it is completely dark. Richard Feynman is a magician of the highest caliber.”
Gleick gives many examples of Feynman’s remarkable feats of mental computation, and also of his many breakthroughs in the field of quantum mechanics. Much of the book is over my head because I am not trained in mathematics. But what comes across is Richard Feynman’s confidence and determination in using mathematics to uncover and describe nature’s most esoteric physical laws. Feynman moved in the world of numbers and abstract mathematical ideas like Bach moved through the world harmony and contrapuntal theory, revealing and then codifying new laws at every step. He was honored with the Nobel Prize in 1967, but I don’t think any accolade could ever do justice to his singular gifts and achievements.
He worked on the so-called “Manhattan” project at Las Alamos, New Mexico, facilitating the design of the first atomic bomb. Like Oppenheimer, he struggled with the ethical and human implications of nuclear weapons for the rest of his life.
I sometimes wonder if knowledge is always an unqualified good. Sri Chinmoy wrote that occult knowledge, as symbolised and embodied by the third eye, is not helpful before the awakening of the heart. If we focus first on becoming morally pure and spiritually mature, we will eventually reach the point where we can acquire occult knowledge and power without being tempted or misled by it. Oppenheimer recalled the famous words from the Bhagavad-Gita when he witnessed the Trinity fireball, mankind’s first nuclear explosion, “I am Krishna, destroyer of worlds.” Interestingly, Oppenheimer was fluent in Sanskrit, and had read the Gita in the original language. Maybe it was his heart speaking at that moment, praying for a general spiritual awakening to match this awesome and terrible knowledge.
I believe Sri Chinmoy came to earth to foster that awakening, and that he knew, better than anyone else, the urgent need for it. I read recently that, in his later years, Sri Chinmoy would ask some of his assistants to take him on long drives on a daily basis, sometimes two or three times a day. During those drives he would meditate in profound silence, or he would do japa, quietly repeating the word “Supreme.” Also, he kept notebooks where he would copy the word “Supreme” hundreds of times, or he would write out the text of the “Invocation”, his most personal and sacred song.
I am reminded of one of his beautiful aphorisms:
The silence of God-oneness-souls
Is infinitely stronger
Than man-made nuclear weapons.
—Sri Chinmoy, Seventy-Seven Thousand Service-Trees, Part 26
I have thought that the hundreds of free Peace Concerts that he gave (almost one thousand!), his hundreds and hundreds of published books, his devotional songs that number in the tens of thousands, in addition to his personal devotional diaries and japa, are all manifestations of his silent union with the Absolute Reality. And the fecundity that flowed through his hands is a reminder of the fact that life has a limitless source, a divine source, which no human power can ever threaten. I actually have a facsimile of one of his prayerful notebooks, with the word “Supreme” written out twenty-seven times on each page. It reminds me to have faith in that wonderful Grace.
To be perfectly honest, however, I do not feel that any discovery or technology is inherently anti-divine or “bad”. It is just a question of how wisely we can use it. Feynman, an atheist, was still a deeply moral and humane man. I believe scientists like him have a God-given mission to awaken humanity by offering knowledge. Interestingly, Sri Chinmoy taught his disciples never to touch paper with the feet, saying:
Paper means knowledge. It represents the wisdom of the human brain. The discoveries of human beings are written down on paper. If we kick or touch our discoveries with our feet, then we are not honouring our achievements and discoveries. If we look down on our own achievements and if we don't value our own discoveries, then how are we going to value anything? There is something higher and deeper inside the paper, and that is the supreme discovery of our human brain. This discovery is nothing other than light. Therefore, we should not touch paper with the feet. It is a crime.
There is a special deity who embodies knowledge and wisdom. Her name is Saraswati. She represents wisdom or knowledge in boundless measure and according to our receptivity we receive from her. But we need a vehicle to contain what we receive, and the vehicle is a book. So books contain the inspiration from the goddess Saraswati. Whenever we see a thing, we have to go to its source. The source of the book is the living goddess Saraswati. How can we touch the goddess in that piece of paper with our feet? How can we kick her? Impossible! So we should not touch paper with our feet because inside it is the living presence of the cosmic goddess.
—Sri Chinmoy, The Jewel Of Humility
I feel Sri Chinmoy was a treasure house of spiritual knowledge, wisdom and achievement. For that reason, I think it is very important for us to write down our memories of Guru, to write books. In that way, we can participate in a very significant way in humanity’s self-discovery. In this issue, I discuss some of my favorite experiences with the Master, especially those involving spiritual giants, luminaries, of the hoary past.
I long for the day when we will be able to take our hydrogen and neutron bombs and beat them into… well, I don’t know if we could somehow harmlessly shape them into ploughshares, baseball bats or lava lamps, but they’d sure make darn good lawn ornaments!
Welcome to the Luminaries Issue!
Luminaries are those who spread light and knowledge — and since God the pre-eminent Illuminer is spreading His light through every human life — each of which is His own life — it follows that we are all luminaries. It is really only a question of to what extent. July, 2011, and a group of disciple friends have gathered in Reykjavik to begin a musical tour, minor luminaries singing Sri Chinmoy’s songs in churches throughout the heartland of this impressive nation…
If you were to try to paint eternity, these landscapes of Iceland would inspire you. They spread out all around you to every horizon, the rumpled splendours of the earth, vistas uncluttered or devoid entirely of man things and stretching out forever. From your palette you would choose the bright greens for the wide grassed valleys that seem endless as prairies; purples and charcoal tints for the far off hulks of mountains; grey-blues for the cold summer sea. Be sure to capture the towering sky, and tiny flecks of white for those farm cottages shrunk by distance and swallowed up in the immensity.
These are the landscapes of legend and fable and folklore and if you close your eyes, stop your thoughts, you can easily feel the breath of past millennia, the huge silences and emptiness, the brief tenure of farms, the vanished generations. Everywhere the violent genesis of the nation is evident, mountain massifs thrust up a thousand metres out of the sea, plains of buckled lava spilt from the earth’s core and spreading out like cooling fudge, escarpments of magma with their huge cliff top prows of tumbling scree, the bared raw crust of the earth.
Scraps of history litter the plains and linger — an empty stone cottage crumbling back into the ground, its windows like gaping eye sockets; the rib cage of an ancient wooden boat, half submerged in a mountain lake; an overgrown path leading to a destination that has vanished, only a hearth of blackened stones; that old wooden wheel. In tiny graveyards of twos or tens the dead who lived and struggled here lie beneath their granite memorials and unkempt summer grasses. Their cairns of stone lie scattered in the flowering meadows.
Lapwings and curlews call out from the great silence — you listen, but there is nothing else. Twos and threes of sheep dot the treeless Nordic prairies. If you wander out here alone, leave your toys behind, your cellphone, your iPod, the useless distractions that fill the empty gaps or lonely spaces of your life, eternity will examine you — who are you, why are you here? This canvas of eternity reminds you of the brevity and inconsequence of your own short life, asks of you the timeless question — what is it that can make your life meaningful, give you intent and purpose before you vanish like the alpine flowers?
These are the landscapes that surround us, twelve of us from eight countries who have come together to sing Guru’s songs. In the tiny churches of small towns, in rural settings and coastal settlements with unpronounceable names and in lovely valleys, our audiences sometimes numbering as few as five or six — though in the great cathedral in Reykjavik, many more — we are filling the brimming silence with the beauty of Guru’s music, summoning our soulfulness, honing our oneness of voice, listening intently to most deeply feel the heart-essence of each song. Offering too to the inner world, the Mother earth bank that Guru said was a repository of all this, the sense of something enduring and beautiful that will gather like lovely seeds in the soul of the nation, flower in some tomorrow.
Friends of the Icelandic disciples seem everywhere — Snatak’s kin materialize in country towns to feed us, appear in halls of power and as welcoming pastors of churches; Gangane’s parents offer us the family’s summer home out in the west, a wood panelled cottage surrounded by lurching hills, volcanic cones, groves of trees. All night the wind purrs in the tops of aspens and pines.
We are dopey with travel, long hours crossing the hundreds of kilometres of valleys and slow hills, the long flowing nape of earth that seems smoothed by a cosmic hand. Sky sculptings too that mesmerise, high cirrus and columns of cumulus shepherded by evening winds, and the light play of the horizoning sun; and mottled clouds sagging with rain. Their bellies droop like grey pillows.
On my departing flight to New York, the seat cushions of the plane are all imprinted with a charming Icelandic lullaby:
‘Bi, bi og blaka, alftirnar kvaka…’
‘Bye bye and hushabye,
Can you see the swans fly?
Now half asleep in bed I lie
Awake with half an eye.
Heyho and welladay,
Over hills and far away…’
Up and away, over the hills and faraways of this lovely country, yes half asleep, half an eye, as our jet leans west over the Arctic Circle before rejoining and inching down the seabord of continental North America.
But words or photos cannot capture the essence or spirit of this place — they are only a few lovely feathers of the majestic peacock, or a handful of pebbles gathered from a calm and tranquil shore.
You step out into the huge distances, this conspiracy of earth and sky that surrounds you like a vast stage, feeling the relief — or perhaps the unbearableness — of being alone with only yourself, the unburdening humbleness or the troubling emptiness against which you can measure and consider your own brief millisecond of living.
You are the only living thing, the first human, an Adam alone in this endless garden landscape, the lead and only actor in a great amphitheatre of nature — but there are no lines, no plot, only the attentive stillness, a void empty of intent or purpose. The huge distances diminish you, the great silences swallow up the follies in your mind, disentangle you from the fictions and myths of who you thought you were. Everything is pared away.
Stripped of everything, you are only pure consciousness, a ragged scarecrow in an empty field. Bereft of all your props and distractions you peer into the empty silent mirror of eternity to see yourself, unmasked and elemental, to become as nothing and to see what remains.
On a distant hillside a Lilliputian farmhouse catches the sun — its single front window stares out into the nothingness, a gaping Oh! of wonderment. You go to bed at midnight in daylight — you wake at 5 am to the same daylight, the patient empty hills, the pale sun still over there on the earth’s rim in this nightless Arctic summer.
Iceland grows its light-bearers, its poets and philosophers out of these sweeping landscapes, the darkless summers, lightless winters, the naked earth — its austere beauty of fire and stone — the rich and fertile spawning grounds of emptiness.
When I was nineteen years old I auditioned for the acting academy in Amsterdam. It was my dream to be an actor, to live for the joy of the theatre. By a stroke of good fortune — call it Grace — I was accepted. In the acting school I met a lot of other nineteen-year-olds that wanted to become actors. It turned out becoming an actor wasn’t all that easy. Only a handful really ‘made it’. They ended up with the big theatre companies, played the big movie parts, rose to stardom. A silent majority would fade away into obscurity pretty soon after graduation. Or so I was told.
I loved acting. What I didn’t like so much was the entourage: the petty games of jealousy and ego and the somewhat superficial, indifferent attitude prevalent in the profession. Once I attended a meeting with professional actors about what they had become after their graduation from the academy. One actor was asked whether the acting profession had made him a better person. ‘I’ve actually become worse,’ he said bluntly. Gulp, I thought.
To make a long story short, I never finished the acting academy. I made it to the second year and dropped out. Most of my classmates survived and went on to become real actors. Some of them really made it. It seemed that my year had a particular abundance of talent, since quite a few of them made it. I see them ever so often appearing on television, on movie posters, in magazine interviews. Stardom — or as far as that goes in a small country like The Netherlands.
Stardom is funny though. Every time I saw a familiar face on the cover of a magazine or in a television series, my heart made a little jump. I wanted to grab the first person to walk by and shout, ‘I know that person! We went to school together!’ But I always checked my impulses. Perhaps I would only coolly remark that I had in fact known the person before he or she got famous. Yet that childish desire to be associated with luminaries. As if some of the stardust would rub off on you. I’m sure the evolutional biologists will have wonderful explanations, but it’s a strange instinct on any account. I’ve gotten better though, over the years.
I once met a real star — two even — without even knowing it. It was a year after my drop-out from the acting academy. I had become a waiter in a vegetarian restaurant in Paris, run by disciples of Sri Chinmoy. The work was simple, yet satisfying. Humble service. Spiritual progress. A different life. One quiet Monday evening we got a phone call from a driver, telling us he was delivering a group of musicians. Famous musicians. He wanted to reserve nine tables. We got a name with the reservation as well: Britney Spears. Nobody in the restaurant had ever heard of them. We didn’t even know it was a ‘her’. We led a very simple life, devoid of television, newspapers or magazines.
The party of nine entered the restaurant. They looked the part: fashionably dressed, cool, friendly and distant. Yet we were completely ignorant of their fame (we were still thinking in terms of ‘their’). I was their waiter. They ordered salad. The girl I in hindsight identified as the real Britney Spears ordered a spring salad, ‘because I feel springy’. The boy sitting next to her whom I later identified as Justin Timberlake ordered a tofu salad. We politely took their orders and quietly served their meals. And if we had just kept it at that, everything would have been fine. Boring, but fine.
Then curiosity reared its head. The problem was, we knew they were famous, we just didn’t know what kind of famous. And we wanted to know. Even though we all lived the life of modern monks, the stardom reflex prevailed. ‘Ask them who they are,’ the cook urged me every time I came into the kitchen. ‘Just ask them.’
It seemed a simple and fair enough question. Posed with the right amount of innocence, I figured I could get away with it. So when serving the main course I popped the big one.
‘So you guys are in the music industry?’
There was an awkward silence. It was one of those moments you would offer your kingdom for an invisibility cloak. Then one of the girls in the party (not Britney) pointed her thumbs to the two men sitting next to her and said, ‘These guys are rock stars!’ A classic move of strategic diversion. Yet we still didn’t know who they were! And now it had become awkward. Who are these people, you could almost hear them think. But they were nice enough. At the end of the meal they received aphorisms of Sri Chinmoy with their cheque. The aphorisms were in French. When I was about to leave, one of the girls called me over to their table, asking me to translate Guru’s aphorisms for them. So I did. The evening ended with some enlightening spiritual poetry. And we left as friends. And the realisation that in the end we’re all created equal, luminaries or no.
Seeing over 50 people running around a 400 metre track indoors for 6 or 12 or 24 hours straight, some with little or no rest, most people may think perhaps that they have stumbled upon an asylum for the mentally challenged. Even ‘normal’ runners who may jog for fitness or even race up to a marathon distance of 26.2 miles, may think that this ultra-long event on a standard track indoors is too extreme and may find it too difficult to grasp.
But there we were, 56 people in all, running and walking up to 24 hours for hundreds of laps, over and over and over. I was one of them and I must say it was quite an uplifting, albeit tiring, experience. Instead of trying to explain in detail what happened from a subjective or even an objective point of view, which you can find on this website, I will offer a different perspective of this type of race experience which almost anyone can relate to, even if they cannot run a mile.
We all have seen surfers in real life, in videos or even in photos as they challenge the power of the ocean waves, not by fighting them but by trying to develop a oneness with them, riding on their powerful natural currents. Ocean waves have been undulating with the tides, the winds and the lunar forces over and over again for billions of years in stunningly regular fashion. You do not even have to be a surfer to understand this. But those who actually surf the waves have a much deeper and more personal experience of this phenomena by entering into that reality on a more physical and deeply personal level.
Most of us can also look up into the sky and see the sun or the moon or the stars and other heavenly objects that we have no control over but inspire us immensely. They are all part of our natural universe which we unavoidably inherited as we ourselves became part and parcel of this same amazing creation. We also cannot deny the fact that there are universal forces and principles which guide all these objects that we see and that we ourselves are part of, such as the earth, the other planets, moons, etc. We ourselves are undeniably part of this most unique planet earth which has been revolving around our own special star, the sun, for billions of years. We can also enjoy the light and beauty of our own unique moon which has been doing laps around the earth for billions of years as well.
We sometimes take this all for granted as we see that the entire solar system as we know it as well as other aspects of this vast universe are just spinning around and around. Even on the minutest microcosmic level the electrons are spinning around the neutrons to form the atom, one of our main physical building blocks and sources of energy. If we can be more conscious of this type of unique experience of universal principles and take part on a deeper personal and physical level just as the surfer enters in the ocean to ride the waves and experience their power and energy, then we can expand our own oneness with this incredible universe in ways which cannot be explained adequately in words.
So what does all this have to do with the 24 Hour Race in Ottawa? I think most people can see where this leads because that is where it led me many years ago as I started doing very long loop runs and races. Instead of fighting the experience by feeling bored or impatient to get to the end of the race, one must try to feel a oneness with the experience of going around and around, just as the rest of the universe we live in is doing and has been doing without question for eons.
This is the system we inherited and no logic or emotional approaches can try to explain it. If we just go with the flow, which may be easier said than done, then we can enjoy the ride on the top of the wave and not be destroyed by it if we try to resist it. When one runs these type of very long races around and around it is best to turn off the logical mind which calculates time and space and just meditate on the deeper nature of the experience itself.
When I would at times fall into that mental resistance of thinking how much time is left or how far I have gone or have to go still, I would immediately try to stop my mind through various meditation techniques as I ran or walked. That would immediately allow me to enjoy each and every lap as an important and meaningful experience in itself. It is a way to enter into the moment, the ‘here and now’, as we sometimes hear the enlightened ones talk about.
So although this may just seem to some people like another super-long running race with a bunch of eccentric people with nothing better to do than to run in circles like an experimental lab animal, it can be an opportunity to experience life in this rotating universe on a very deep and meaningful personal level. If we can run with the proper attitude and approach, it will not matter how far you have or have not gone, nor whether you came in first or last. Anyone who enters that universal energy field and tries to ‘go with the flow’, as they say, can have a uniquely uplifting experience even as the body and mind may struggle to endure the whole distance or time limit.
If you want to see who ran and how we all finished in relative comparison to each other, then please visit the Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team Races website . But if you want to know what the experience was like on a more personal level and try to understand it more fully, then get on some good running or walking shoes and start training for next year’s race. Or if you do not like running or cannot run then perhaps you can rent or buy a surf board and get out on the waves as you try to expand your oneness with this incredibly powerful and energetic physical universe.
Warning: Please learn how to turn off the analytical, logical physical mind while attempting these long events or else it will become much more difficult for you and less enjoyable. After all, if the earth or the moon had to logically consider how many billions of years they have been going around and around and around then they too might just freak out and stop.
At some point in my childhood I graduated from just praying each night kneeling beside my bed with my mother and the sister closest to me in age to also being permitted to join the rest of the family each Sunday night — or more often during seasons of especial devotion — for the rosary.
In winter we would be in the lounge kneeling around the open fire, the mantric repetitions falling into incantatory, hypnotic rhythm with the click of the beads, the fall of the embers in the grate: the contemplation of the events of the life and afterlife of the Mother of God and her Son, the ‘concentrated meditation on the prototypes of magnanimity’. In summer we might pray upstairs in ‘the girls’ room’ where the golden, evening light from the west where the Sun had sunk behind the Southern Alps would wrap us round as we slid into silence.
The central recitations of the rosary could not be more simple but, at the conclusion, a series of more-involved prayers is recited. One of these is the so-called Salve Regina:
Hail, holy Queen, Mother of Mercy,
Hail, our life, our sweetness and our hope.
To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve;
to thee do we send up our sighs,
mourning and weeping in this valley of tears.
Turn then, O most gracious advocate,
thine eyes of mercy toward us;
and after this our exile,
show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary.
and Mum would say: ‘Pray for us O holy Mother of God,’
and we would say: ‘that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.’
I am not sure if it occurred to me at the time that it was a particularly gloomy view of the world. I do not think that I really considered the world a valley of tears, or thought of life as an exile calling for mourning and weeping.
It is said that this prayer may have been composed by one of the first crusaders. If that were the case that might explain its tone. If I were saddling up a horse for a trip to the Middle East, I might be syncing the Salve Regina onto my iPod too — mourning and weeping in a valley of tears. But in the 1970s I was more of the opinion expounded by Sri Chinmoy:
I am an optimist. A God-lover is an optimist at every second, because he knows that God’s Wisdom created this world. God created the universe with the tremendous hope that His children, His creation, would become an exact prototype of Him. This was His Vision, and how can His Vision be wrong?
In our case, vision and reality are two different things. Sometimes our dreams blossom into reality, but most of the time our dreams remain in the dream-world. But God only deals with Vision, and His Vision and reality go together like the obverse and reverse of the same coin. If you look at the Vision, you are bound to see the reality inside it; again, if you look at the reality, you will also see the Vision.
So God’s Message of peace, happiness, delight and fulfilment cannot be separated from the creation. The creation embodies the message of divine fulfilment, for God must be fulfilled in and through His creation.”
—Sri Chinmoy, Sri Chinmoy Answers, Part 18
Let us maintain such a positive attitude.
And yet, and yet…
One does not need to look as far as the history of the crusades to see that the earth is not quite yet heaven.
There are aspects of reality that begin to resemble a valley of tears, a ravine of mourning, a canyon of imperfection, a chasm of gloom.
Sri Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita says:
Declines, when Wickedness
Is strong, I rise, from age to age, and take
Visible shape, and move a man with men,
Succouring the good, thrusting the evil back,
And setting Virtue on her seat again.
—Bhagavad Gita IV
And so they come — the great luminous figures of history, great beacons of light to humanity, the light divine in human form, pushing back the boundaries of gloom, transforming gloom into light.
And not alone do they come, there shine across the history of humanity countless lesser lights, each illumining to some lesser degree some corner of crepuscular human existence.
The Buddha’s mum died seven days after his birth. He was raised by his step-mum who was also his aunt — Aunty Maha Pajapati Gotami.
It was not all that far from the grove where the Buddha was born to the tree where he attained enlightenment but that distance was a giant journey from light to effulgent light, a journey which transformed a prince of a small and remote Nepalese kingdom into one of the towering luminaries of humanity — a lighthouse to guide millions of sentient beings across the valley of tears.
Many people became his disciples including his son Rahula; his half-brother — Pajapati’s son — Nanda; his cousin, Ananda.
This was something that came to mind when I read Chidananda Burke’s account of Sri Chinmoy’s profoundly moving visit to Kagoshima in Japan.
In 1997 Sri Chinmoy visited The Immaculate Heart Catholic Girls’ School in Kagoshima, Japan and offered there a Peace Concert.
Chidananda writes: ‘…the heart-wrenching beauty of these two songs, expressing Sri Chinmoy’s enormous love and concern for their land, left the children almost stunned.’
The children were also impressed by the poise, the beauty and the splendour of the Sri Chinmoy Centre singers. With their brightly coloured saris, their shining faces aglow with their teacher’s radiance and their sparkling music, the singers brought down into the dimly lit auditorium a heavenly brightness, showing these young girls a living spirituality that they could aspire toward.
But that was late twentieth-century Japan. In north India in the 5th Century BC Pajapati could aspire to learn from her son — grown beacon of light — but she might not aspire to renounce the world and follow him with total devotion as Nanda, her son, or Rahula, her great-nephew, or the least of males might. The world did not permit a woman to so aspire — the uplands of spiritually were reserved for men to roam: women must stay in the valley of tears.
And yet she did so aspire.
She asked the Buddha to initiate her. He refused. She asked again. Again he refused, as he did a third time. But, like the householder that Christ spoke of in parable knocking at his neighbour’s door for bread — ‘I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his persistence he will get up and give him as much as he needs’ (The Bible; Luke 11.8) — Pajapati kept knocking… ‘knock and the door will be opened to you’.
In the end the Buddha relented. He established an order of nuns, telling his closest disciple, Ananda, that women were as capable as any other person of attaining Nirvana.
And so the will of Pajapati changed the shape of human society — and, in making that change, brought it closer to reality, for, as Lao Tzu was writing in distant China at almost exactly the same time:
To know the masculine and be true to the feminine
is to be the waterway of the world.
To be the waterway of the world is to flow with the Great Integrity,
always swirling back to the innocence of childhood.
To know yang and to be true to yin is
to echo the universe.
—Tao Te Ching, Chapter 28
Pajapati does not merely tell us that a woman may attain unto the highest spiritual states, she teaches us all that a pure heart aflame with aspiration can overcome any barrier, that the ideas of society are to be ignored by a soul in its progress towards perfection.
She who had nursed the baby Siddhartha on her lap was to attain to realms of transcendent release unknown to most.
She remains one of that heavenly host of lucent beings shining light upon humanity, pushing back the borders of gloom just a little further.
Pajapati — the holy Queen — wrote:
‘Homage to you Buddha
best of all creatures
who set me and many
others free from pain.’
Let us pray —
‘Turn then, O most gracious advocate,
thine eyes of mercy toward us;
and after this our exile…’
* * *
In the garden of love-light
O Beauty Eternal!
This heart to mine is in Your embrace.
—Sri Chinmoy, Premaloker Kanane Nirabatar Swapane (English translation)
by Suchana Cao
A few days ago I was delivering a class in high school and it was time for me to introduce a new subject when one of my students asked me out of the blue, “Do you know New York?”
I don´t remember to have answered immediately, “Yes, I do!” for my lovely student repeated his question with eagerness and big open eyes.
For most tourists, New York means Manhattan and its high buildings, large bridges, Soho, Broadway, Central Park, fashion and limos. But in my case, I just know a little bit of these fantastic places. Each time I would visit New York, I would arrive in JFK international airport, take the same yellow cab and drive along the same highway towards my final destination — Queens.
You can also find nice sites here — light blue stores, peaceful cafés, a quiet park with a pond, huge old trees, the best vegetarian restaurants, an international community and many nice and devoted people. A renowned spiritual Master happened to live there in a special way until 2007.
He not only used to teach meditation but also offered peace concerts, played several sports, ran marathons, ultramarathons, painted million and million paintings, wrote poems and songs everyday, lectured on a regular basis and lifted a lot of people over his head. And all that incredible activity of his was absolutely unconditional and free of charge!
My student listened to my short and general description of NY with interest. After that, I asked him why he would ask such a question out of context — we hardly ever speak of the American continent in the French lesson — and his answer came directly from his heart, “Because New York IS THE CITY!!!! It is the Capital City of the World!!!!”
How sincere and true he was! His words were full of sympathy and conviction; he is even eager to visit New York one day.
Now I wonder how many more teenagers are keeping alive their dreams of visiting the Capital City of the world. Where does this eagerness come from? What is going on in their hearts and imagination?
Just a few hours later in the afternoon on that same day, as I was crossing a street to get to the supermarket, I started hearing some young boys and girls shaking and singing, “Viva New York! New York! New York!” The melody was unknown but their joy and enthusiasm were quite familiar to me.
Once again I was caught by a moving inner silence…
When Billie Holiday died, everyone noticed. The great jazz singer was only 44. Only a few years earlier, she had been at the peak of her ability, but her final years were a tragedy waiting for a final act.
When Billie Dove died, hardly anyone noticed, even though she had once been one of America’s most famous faces, lighting up the screen in numerous films. At the Academy Awards, a few months after her passing, she was one of the faces in the “In Memoriam” segment, saluting stars who had recently left this world. As each actor appeared in the montage — Toshiro Mifune, Robert Mitchum, Jimmy Stewart — the applause seemed to grow louder. But for Billie Dove, it was muffled, polite rather than warm. Even in this audience of movie people, few people would have heard of her. She had been forgotten, perhaps, but for a reason she probably wouldn’t protest: she had died at 97, outliving most of her fans, even those who had adored her in their childhood.
Silent movie queen Billie Dove died 75 years after her prime. Her career was forgotten, but her name had been remembered, as it was adopted one of her fans: Billie Holliday (who, 38 years later, had not been forgotten).
I was one of those few people who noticed when Billie Dove passed away. At the time, I was writing newspaper obituaries, so I made sure that her story was retold. “You write obituaries,” people would say. “Morbid!”
No, not even remotely. Strange as this might sound, but obituaries are not about death. Since their origins in 18th-century Britain — when they first became one of the most-read sections of magazines and newspapers — they were always about life. They are the summation of a person’s life, their significance and achievements.
How can you sum up a life in a few paragraphs? In fact, how many paragraphs would you need? Let’s put it another way: how many words is a life worth? Steven Jobs made the cover of Time magazine, and the walls outside Apple stores were lined with bouquets and apples with bites taken out of them — a tribute to the Apple logo. When I leave this world, I don’t expect that kind of glory. A paragraph or two in the local paper might have to suffice.
Perhaps it’s not important. Someone’s death might be too early to assess their life. Shakespeare’s passing was mostly ignored at the time, years before his manuscripts were dusted off and he was reassessed as England’s greatest writer. Bach was celebrated when he died, but as a great musician, not an unparalleled composer. Franz Kafka’s death didn’t make any headlines, and his life would remain unknown today, except that his friends ignored his wishes to destroy his manuscripts, disobediently revealing them in all their greatness. Then we have poor Anne Frank, whose literary brilliance was only known after her passing.
At the end of each year, I still write a list for a website of 10 significant people whose deaths went almost unnoticed, but who deserve to be saluted. Last year, as always, presented an intriguing group of lives. “Baby Marie” Osborne, Hollywood’s first child star. Vladimir Raitz, the man who invented package tours. George Nissen, inventor of the trampoline. Francisco Varallo, the last surviving player of the first-ever football World Cup final in 1930. Lawrence Garfinkel, the epidemiologist who did more than anyone to enlighten us that smoking causes lung cancer. Their lives all gave us something intriguing, wonderful, even world-changing. Why weren’t they more famous?
Other lives were fascinating for others reasons — like Maudie Hopkins, who appeared in the 2008 list. Her claim to “fame”? She was almost certainly the last surviving widow of a Confederate soldier. As the US Civil War finished in 1865, that was no small achievement. It helps to know her age (93), her husband’s age when he enlisted (16), and their age difference (67 years).
On more than one occasion, reading and writing obituaries has left me wondering how my own tribute will read. These tributes, however long or short they might be, are a reminder that we should avoid wasting our lives. Consider Dave Freeman, who died at 47, nine years after extolling the virtues of an adventurous life in his book 100 Things to Do Before You Die. Alfred Nobel’s death was misreported in 1888, so the scientist read a French newspaper obituary, condemning him as “a merchant of death” for his main achievement: the invention of dynamite. Shocked, he wrote the Nobel Prizes into his will, presumably so that his name would be remembered for something less controversial.
Most of us don’t have the luxury of reading our own obituary, and very few of us would want it. Yet most of us would hope for a good obituary — or failing that, any obituary. However, the tribute I want is not one that conveys greatness in the very first line. Any number of despots and troublemakers could get such a review. I’d prefer a tribute that shows me as a person of goodness, whose achievements were notable not for their ambition, but for their compassion.
Such are the true luminaries. Often, a writer can use their literary prowess to turn a life into a great story. But with those who live good lives, inspiring or improving the world (or even a small part of it), their stories are already magnificent.
by Terri Carr
A cheerful mind
Has always been a
To a healthy body.
—Sri Chinmoy, Twenty-Seven Thousand Aspiration-Plants, Part 95
Sometime around the year 1440, Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press. And it probably wasn’t long after that that the world’s first self-help book saw the light of day. Though philosophical writers and speakers of every age have taught that thoughts are potent, how many of us really believe it? Do we actually think it is possible to bring more good into our lives by changing how we think? And if so, how do we actually change our thoughts?
Psychologists may continue to debate whether it is nature or nurture that leads to a happy life for a very long time. Meanwhile, some brilliant souls have discovered that self-nurturing positive affirmations are a tool any one can use to create a satisfying life. Louise Hay, author and speaker, is something of a grande dame on the subject of positive affirmations. Her first book, You Can Heal Your Life has helped millions of people understand that our ingrained thought patterns affect our bodies and every area of our lives. Long before anyone heard of The Secret or The Law of Attraction, Louise has been delivering the same simple message — that people have to learn to feel good about themselves, forgive themselves and others and transform their negative beliefs in order to attract better conditions into their lives.
Readers everywhere relate to her down-to-earth delivery as well as her consistently uplifting message. She does not encourage the type of magical thinking that says you can have it all overnight, or even in 13 weeks. No, she says, it takes time to change our thoughts. And progress comes a little at a time.
Once we know that it is important to have a positive attitude, how do we actually achieve and maintain one? How do we change negative thoughts?
Louise's start in life was anything but easy, beginning with an abusive childhood. When she was diagnosed with cancer in her 40’s, she sought healing from spiritual advisors as well as medical doctors. Her journey of recovery led her to learn about the body mind connection. She learned that our thoughts and beliefs about ourselves and about life can create illness, poverty and suffering or the opposites of vibrant health, prosperity and joy. She began working with positive affirmations to recover from her own cancer.
As her recovery continued she was moved to share what she had learned with others. This led to the first printing of You Can Heal Your Life.
Louise’s work shows us that it is our own mindset, our own unconscious patterns that attract what we expect and what we accept into our lives. If we feel, consciously or otherwise, that we are worthless and unlovable and we feel that kind, supportive people will not like or accept us, then we will unconsciously repel supportive people away from us. It will be more or less impossible for us to develop satisfying, enriching, supportive relationships with others if we secretly believe we are not worthy of being loved, appreciated and cherished.
Though this philosophy may sound simplistic and idealistic to some, isn’t it often the case that the solution to a complex problem is overlooked because it is so simple?
Louise knows that many people are not really ready to consider that their thoughts create the details of their lives. And so she does not debate or engage in arguments with those who disagree with her theories. She continues delivering her message in a gentle, encouraging manner, secure in the knowledge that, “All is in divine right order.”
Luckily we do not have to peer into all the dark, dusty cupboards of our subconscious and pull out all the bad thoughts hiding there. We just have to look at the outer symptoms of the life we are living. Ask yourself, am I happy with my work? My relationships, friends, family, where I live, my financial status?
Wherever there is a desire for improvement, there is no reason any person cannot get what they want if they are willing to consider that the change must start from within, with their own thinking patterns.
Like any sincere teacher, Louise stresses over and over again that transformation from self-destructive thinking to a fruitful mindset does not happen overnight. She acknowledges that she herself still has to work at keeping her thinking positive. And she has been writing and speaking about this topic and practicing affirmations for three decades. She says she is successful about 70% of the time. Not bad for someone who was faced with an uphill battle from the very start.
I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestioned ability of a man to elevate his life by conscious endeavor.
—Henry David Thoreau, American Transcendentalist author (1817–1862)
When Bach died in 1750, his music sank into obscurity. Except for a few highly refined music lovers and scholars, his compositions were not widely performed or appreciated by the public. Eighty years after Bach’s death, Mendelssohn brushed off the St. Matthew Passion for a centenary performance, bringing the magnificent opus of Bach back into the popular consciousness. Seventy years later, in 1899, Pablo Casals encountered a precious, manuscript copy of Bach’s cello suites in a second hand shop in Barcelona. He practised and practised them for thirty-five years before agreeing to record them. Before Casals, the suites were considered instructional pieces on the proper fingering and bowing for the cello. After his recordings, people understood them to be one of the supreme pinnacles of all chamber music. About two hundred years after Bach’s death, Glenn Gould recorded his legendary interpretation of the Goldberg variations, demonstrating that these piano variations contain unsounded depths of emotion and meaning. Once again, a brilliant performer demonstrated that Bach’s music is not merely instructional, it is to be loved and enjoyed.
I have thought it ironic that the work of such a great composer should sink into obscurity for so long. But I look at the people who brought his music back from near-oblivion — Casals, Gould, Mendelssohn. And I realise that they are geniuses, and only a genius can really appreciate and give proper credit to another genius. That is why they were in a good position to resurrect Bach’s opus and offer its beauty and delight to the world.
Like Bach, Sri Chinmoy’s contributions are monumental. He contributed to the world as an artist, athlete, philosopher and humanitarian. I hope that one day his forty plus years of spiritual service to human consciousness will one day be considered his greatest achievement. Whenever I attended one of his public meditations or Peace Concerts, I always felt that he was offering his very best, his all, to the audience, and that he was sincerely grateful to people just for coming to listen to his music and meditate together.
I remember a special Peace Concert that Sri Chinmoy gave on 23 August 2000, at the Riverside Church in northern Manhattan.
The concert was special for me for a lot of reasons. I had not been a student of his for very long at that point, just three years. Also, I had not been to many Celebrations. So, it was a special opportunity for me to meditate with many other disciples in a sacred place. I got to the cathedral about twenty minutes before the concert was to begin, and found a seat at one of the back rows. A young man sitting next to me, perhaps from Eastern Europe, announced, “Help, I think I broke my foot. Is there any doctor around?”
Three people sitting immediately around me said “yes”. He chose the doctor closest to him who looked to be a boy of sixteen. Maybe you can get your practitioner’s license earlier in Europe than you can in America.
“You broke your foot?” the kid asked, also in an accent, maybe German.
The young man nodded.
“Can you move your fingers?” the boy inquired.
Puzzled, he moved some of the fingers of his left hand.
“No, the fingers on your feet!” shouted the boy, a bit louder than necessary. I guess he didn’t know the word for “toes”.
The man wriggled his toes at which point Herr Doktor declared that his foot was definitely not broken, but recommended that he maybe try using ice and some stretching exercises.
At that point, a hush fell over us all as Sri Chinmoy entered the room and the concert proper began.
Sri Chinmoy’s concerts usually followed a pattern. He would stand in front of the audience and pray and bring down a very high but palpable spiritual consciousness. Then he would play a variety of instruments, interspersed with a cappella singing by his disciple choirs. At the end of the concert he would once again stand before the audience and pray and meditate in silence before us.
The organ was often one of the last instruments Sri Chinmoy would play. I think he once considered it to be at once the king and the queen of all musical instruments, that it embodied and offered both sweetness and power, love and dignity. This time, while Sri Chinmoy played the organ, something happened. The hairs on my ankles and the back of my neck stood on end. It seemed as if a wind had started blowing through the cathedral, like some kind of gentle breeze off the ocean in mid-July, bearing the scent of flowers and the rumour and mystery of foreign lands. I felt buoyed on a rising tide of love. I felt literally drowned in love, a love and a sweetness I can never put into words. Then, something in the atmosphere changed. And I felt inside the love, the sweetness, a kind of ineffable, unimaginable power. A power to beggar all the atomic bombs from Trinity on. To put it more precisely, I felt a colossal will power. I don’t know another way to say this, and so please excuse me, but it was as if a second Sri Chinmoy had come into the room. I felt the presence of Jesus Christ. I did not grow up in the Christian tradition, but somehow I knew it was the Christ whose divinity and effulgent joy pervaded the hall. I will never forget that experience. It was a real privilege for me to bask in the grace of that great Avatar. After the concert, many of us just sat in our seats, unable to speak or move.
Somebody behind me asked “What was that?!” but nobody answered. No words were needed or would have been sufficient or adequate.
The following day, Sri Chinmoy confirmed what so many of us had felt so powerfully, and said that the Christ had come to him with His deepest blessings and affection.
I also remember, in late March 2001, a special concert Sri Chinmoy offered in honor of Sri Krishna. He sang bhajans to Lord Krishna, accompanying himself on the harmonium. At the end of the program, he turned around and meditated on a beautiful icon of Krishna and Radha that had been placed on the stage. At that moment, it seemed as if the entire room became flooded with Sri Krishna’s love and compassion. For a moment I felt I was magically teleported to a world where there are no problems, or fears or anxieties, but only the beloved Lord Krishna in his eternal sweetness and affection. Rose milk prasad was offered at the end, which seemed so appropriate. (By the way, Sri Chinmoy’s sacred bhajans to Krishna are among my very favorites, of all his compositions. They embody joy and light in measureless measure. I think he said that if we can sing his devotional songs soulfully, that we can make as much progress as through rigorous meditation.)
Once I was working as a server at our Oneness-Fountain-Heart restaurant in Queens. It was November Celebrations and many of Sri Chinmoy’s disciples from all over the world had gathered together to see the Master before his departure for the Christmas trip. It was early afternoon, and there were seven or eight disciples sitting at various tables at the restaurant. On the television screen, Sri Chinmoy was climbing up the steep steps of the Borobudur temple complex, finally arriving, a bit winded, at the beautiful Buddha at the top. As only Sri Chinmoy’s students were in the restaurant, we all looked up at the screen and watched Guru meditating on Lord Buddha. I really felt, at that moment, the Buddha’s peace and universal compassion-heart as a concrete reality. I am so happy that the Master’s meditations have been captured on tape and video, for his consciousness and self-giving really transcend space and time. Then, Guru folded his hands and bowed before the Buddha and the video ended. The disciples paid and left and I went back to folding napkins and cleaning menus.
In sharing these experiences I am in no way trying to “proselytise” or to make any particular claims for my Master. I am just saying that I had unusual, intimate and precious experiences in his presence. And I feel that people like him, who are able to offer to people inner experiences of Truth and God, deserve a place among humanity’s most beloved and cherished savants and luminaries. Maybe one day these Masters of the silent and the invisible will get the credit and the recognition they so richly deserve.
Swalpe Tushta Brihate Shanka Khudra
Satisfied with a little, afraid of the vast,
Narrow are the confines of m an's boasting and vainglory.
Always preaching, always boasting and bragging, turning the ear deaf.
Seven inner seas are now wild and churning, each life is tired and sad.
Satisfaction and fulfilment only a dream.
The entire world is filled with suffering and conflict.
The silent, the liberated and the realised are rich in their heavenly treasure.
Let man's inner moon of infinite Light get total satisfaction
In the sacrifice divine.
—Sri Chinmoy, Swalpe Tushta Brihate Shanka Khudra