When I had only been a student of Sri Chinmoy’s for a very short time, my best friend, who had introduced me to Sri Chinmoy’s teachings contacted me on the phone:
“Mahiruha, guess what! Sri Chinmoy has announced that tomorrow will be held a thirteen-hour meditation!”
I said, “Oh, that’s wonderful,” and excused myself because my microwaved popcorn was ready.
As I munched on the popcorn, I wondered how in the world was I supposed to meditate for thirteen hours?
Sri Chinmoy actually recommends that people meditate for no more than one hour and a half or two hours at a stretch, maximum.
So, what was going on?
I drove up to New York in the evening, and the meditation began at one o’clock in the morning. It began with a long, sublime, silent meditation. After that, Sri Chinmoy’s various choirs or singing groups came up on stage to sing devotional songs.
After that, Sri Chinmoy played on the piano. It was an extremely powerful and haunting piano performance, one of the best I have ever heard. Perhaps the recording of it is available somewhere.
After the piano performance, there was a short intermission. Sri Chinmoy walked over to the aisle behind me and said to an older gentleman, “I understand that you are a great pianist.”
The man nodded and smiled.
“You may know how to play the piano, but I can break the piano!” Sri Chinmoy said enthusiastically.
The pianist laughed, delighted with Sri Chinmoy’s childlike charm and self-effacing humour.
I realized then, that this thirteen hour meditation was to be broken up into various segments of silent meditation, prayer, devotional chanting, poetry recitation and singing. Sri Chinmoy was trying to inspire us that everything we do in the spiritual life can be a form of meditation, and that our service to the world cannot be separated from our attitude towards God or our Higher Power.
I enjoyed Sri Chinmoy’s comment about breaking the piano because at that time I had been studying Beethoven’s late string quartets with great interest. I understood that when Beethoven first premiered his quartets, people thought he had gone insane. And even his contemporary biographers, praised him back-handedly, that his motives were pure, even if his music didn’t make sense. Now, of course we know that his late works, his piano sonatas and late string quartets are among humanity’s ultimate artistic achievements.
My very favorite composer, Bach, suffered a similar fate, when his greatest works, his vocal pieces especially, fell into an inexplicable obscurity for a eighty years after his death.
During that long meditation with Sri Chinmoy many years ago, Sri Chinmoy handed us copies of a poetry book that I’ve always treasured, entitled “Sail, my heartbeat, sail,” a collection of rhyming poems, at once aphoristic and simple, and yet lyrical
Two of my favorite poems from this book are:
Tells me Whom to beg only,
Wide without, sempiternally.
- Sri Chinmoy
Sail my heartbeat sail, sail
To clasp our Lord's Nectar-Mail.
- Sri Chinmoy
This second poem reminds me of Walt Whitman's wonderful 'Leaves of Grass', where he writes:
A child said, What is the grass? fetching it to me with full hands;
How could I answer the child?...I do not know what it is any More than he.
I guess it must be the flag of my disposition, out of hopeful green stuff woven.
Or I guess it is the handkerchief of the Lord,
A scented gift and remembrancer designedly dropped,
Bearing the owner's name someway in the corners, that we may see
And remark, and say Whose?
- Walt Whitman
To finish my story, at the end of that epic thirteen-hour meditation, we all walked into the bright summer sunshine, as fresh and awake as if we had just enjoyed a week of sound sleep. Sri Chinmoy said later that we had meditated extremely well and that he was very proud of us. And I was happy that I had been able to spend so much time with my meditation teacher and with my fellow students. It was a real adventure.
I hope these articles on meditation inspire you to seek for those stray letters and dropped handkerchiefs of God in your own life. The variety of topics, themes and styles this time is certainly refreshing!
Title photograph by Pavitrata Taylor
I always knew the best place in town to eat.
Canberra, my home city, is the capital of Australia – but don’t expect a hectic metropolis. It exists in the cosy realm between a small town and a “real” city, with most of the conveniences but less of the exhaustion. Canberra’s best restaurants are world-class, apparently.
Some years ago, as a frequently broke, unemployed student, I was shown a spot in the city centre, which some of my friends would visit every Friday night. In a wide arcade, surrounded by busy shops and trendy restaurants, a picnic was set up. Various youths gathered around, dressed in scruffy garments. An elderly lady, in a thick brown jacket, approached me with a kind smile. “Would you like some soup?” she asked in a strong accent that sounded perhaps eastern European, exact location unknown.
Uncertain of how to respond, I graciously accepted her invitation. She went to a large pot and served me a polystyrene cup of rich, home-made vegetable soup. At her insistence, I went to the table next to the soup, to take my pick from several slices of fresh bread which some of her younger friends were buttering cheerfully.
The soup was superb. Not exactly a secret recipe, but it had a certain quality to it that made it taste as good as anything I had ever tried. As soon as I finished, she quickly turned to me. “Would you like some more?” I had to answer yes – not to be gracious this time, but simply because it was too good an offer to turn down.
She had some helpers, but this old lady was obviously the leader of this happy group of food-providers. One of them told me that she would spend the day making soup from the vegetables growing in her garden – and in fact, I couldn’t imagine any other possibility. She and her friends would then take two large metal pots of soup to town, along with plenty of bread, and serve it to the kids on the street. The effect was like sorcery. I knew some of her regular customers: not street kids, but their parents would no doubt describe them as having an “attitude problem”. They were abrasive, rebellious people in their late teens – until they sat down with this lady for soup and fresh bread. “Momma” was all anyone called her, and it seemed fitting.
She would embrace some of her regulars, and greet everyone with good cheer. One of the girls I knew back then – who was usually one of the rudest, most unpleasant people I knew – would sit there, grinning sheepishly, suddenly humbled by the encounter. “How could one lady be so nice?” she said. And she meant it. Momma would infect everyone she met with her sweetness.
I too became a regular, introducing some of my own friends to her open-air soup kitchen. Even after I found myself with a steady job, and no need for such charity, I still dined out with Momma on Friday night, offering her a donation for her troubles. She refused to accept it, but insisted on serving me another cup of pumpkin soup to reward my attempted generosity. She once looked at the small crowd of youngsters who had gathered to enjoy her hospitality that night. “These are my children,” she said proudly to a visitor from Greenland. “They come and go. Some of them get jobs. Some of them end up in jail. But there is always someone here to serve.”
As I said, Canberra is not such a big place, so Momma’s good deeds were noticed even by the older, more well-to-do people who run the media. She was eventually named Canberran of the Year – a refreshing change from the sportsmen and entrepreneurs who so often win such an honour.
Even before I was visiting Momma’s soup kitchen, I was reading about the world’s great restaurateurs – the great chefs of Paris and London, Venice and New York. At a time when I saw culinary paradise in the local Chinese restaurant or the busy El Rancho’s steakhouse in the adjoining suburb (known for the generous size of the dish rather than its gourmet value), I was intrigued. What could place the highly-ranked Parisian cuisine on a higher pedestal than any of the local food?
In one book, I read some advice: “The best restaurateurs in the world are snobs.” It suggested dressing well to dinner, lest they spit in your soup. Since then, of course, a few of the most acclaimed restaurateurs have become celebrities – and in many cases, have revealed that they are not snobs. They’re worse. Obnoxious, bad-tempered old boors. Thanks to the delights of reality TV, we can see them yelling at their staff and being rude to their customers.
Though I always had a plan to “live it up” when I started travelling, to experience the joys of foreign dining, this ambition was tempered ever-so-slightly when, as an environmentally-concerned 18-year-old, I decided to go vegetarian. On my all-too-brief sojourn to Paris, a few years later, I didn’t visit any of the world-famous, unaffordable restaurants. The handful of bakeries and cafés I visited gave me the impression that they thumbed their noses at vegetarians – or anyone else who refused to experience the full delights of their cuisine. Instead, I kept visiting La Victoire Suprême du Coeur, the only vegetarian restaurant I knew in Paris, run by my good friend Madhupa Class. This taste of French cuisine (without the stench of cigarette smoke, so common in Parisian eating places) left me truly satisfied. But was it the Gallic culture, or the friendly, welcoming attitude of the management? It wasn’t a typical restaurant, after all. The chefs, the staff, all meditate before they work, to ensure that the atmosphere is as peaceful and happy as possible.
I can’t imagine that I could truly enjoy food that was prepared by a grouch who would despise his customer so much (at first sight) that he would spit in their soup. It seems like a corny cliché (and it probably is exactly that), but one of the best ingredients of any dish is love. That’s why we all love our mother’s cooking, the food that she makes especially for us.
I haven’t been to visit Momma for a number of years. My wild youthful ways diminished, the way I was always hoping they wouldn’t, so that my Friday nights are now spent reading a good book or visiting a friend. Otherwise, I would probably have kept seeing Momma, however comfortably employed I was. Free or not, it was always the best food in town.
Of course, the past is a tempting place to visit. I walked past the arcade one night, perhaps two years ago, and sampled the soup. Still exquisite. I vaguely recognised a couple of her assistants, though I’m sure they didn’t recognise me. Momma herself, however, was nowhere to be seen. I was about to ask one of them where she was, but I decided not to do so, in case I didn’t like the answer. All that mattered was that, after she had shown the way, the food was still cooked with love. It’s one thing that I couldn’t expect from some fancy restaurateur in Europe. They might be true artists, but the best food – like the best music, or the best poetry – is formed of love and joy. Nothing could be better.
Canberra - Australia
Why do I meditate? What does meditation mean to me? I could give a thousand answers, but the most hardcore one would be that I don’t feel safe without it.
I am at the mercy of my body that immediately declares that she is me and she is the queen and everyone and everything else has to obey her.
I am at the mercy of my mind that grabs all occasions to tell what it thinks right and what should be changed according to him, the superpower destined to re-invent and define the world.
I am at the mercy of my own fears (‘what if...?’), doubts (‘what if ... not...?’) and my own unpleasant, impatient and aggressive reactions to a world (the world) that doesn’t want to go my way.
I am at the mercy of a wee heart that tends to forget the growing lion-cub it is breeding within and that tends to tremble at the mere thought of losing what it considers “safety” is: the job I do for a living, the roof above my head, the people I love, the capacities I seem to have. This is a heart that – in spite of its deep affection – can so easily let itself dragged into follow-ups of mind-made decisions long before it could make its own choices upon silent advice from a much higher source.
When I have a good meditation, I feel safe.
I feel aware and ready to face both reality and illusion of reality and I feel able to distinguish between them.
I feel conscious of who and what I am, and therefore also of who and what I am not. At that time I perfectly know that it is not my body that drags deeply hidden in its own flesh a soul, a noble but mute and all-consenting pseudo-boss. It is actually this truly noble soul that condescended decades ago to drag this egotistic body and to use it as its instrument for unfolding itself towards the real reality of a cosmic cause.
On the aftermath of an efficient meditation it becomes absolutely clear to me that not “my” soul, but “the” soul that claims the rest of me as “its”, has the power of transforming its body mass, energy sheet, mind and heart, all of which have a claim on the word “me”. Something more, it has a rare power unfathomable for all bodies (since physics established that two bodies cannot be simultaneously at exactly the same place), most minds and many hearts. This is the power of a deeper understanding, of becoming ONE with any other being and seeing the world with their eyes, of accepting and therefore loving them this way.
When I want to meditate, it is this love I intend to find.
When I meditate, it is to this love that I allow to find me and govern me.
We met, by some twist of cliché, on a mountain top. He wasn’t seated in full-lotus on the summit dressed in a loincloth - he wore sensible mountain gear and was resting behind a rock some way from the top, eating a chocolate bar. We fell to talking.
As a child his ambition had been to be a great mystic; to live in a distant cave rapt in the sublime, effulgent vision of godhead; lost in the blinding light of the divine.
With time, things change, aspirations alter, goals move. He came to believe that his ambition was a form of pride, a form of grasping desire. Better to aspire to be a humble monk, silent in an austere cell applying himself to his disciplines. The Carthusians, he heard tell, were the most rigourous order in the Catholic Curch. He saw himself alone and unsleeping in his cell. Things change. He again came to believe that his ambition was a form of pride. Better to aspire to be a humble Benedictine monk following the rule of St Benedict that had guided countless aspirants quietly towards God.
As he got older he eventually came to think that if he just spent a little less time at the bar half-way up Wyndham Street shouting at his girl-friend across the table and knocking back expensive and bizarre cocktails, perhaps he would bump into God sometime.
He had studied religion at university. He knew that what he was looking for was the ‘experiential dimension’. One of the theoreticians of religion had analysed religion into seven dimensions – ‘Ninian Smart’s Seven Dimensions of Religions’ – experiential dimension, myth, ritual, doctirine, ethics, the social dimention and . . . was it Grumpy or Sneezy?
Finally he seemed to find what he was looking for. For thirteen years, when I met him, he had been following the guidance of a spiritual Master, he had been meditating every day, he had been living a simple, spiritual life.
After all this time, surely now he had achieved some profound insights; some sublime experiences; a deep understanding of the meditative process? He demurred. He said he understood less now than he did before he started.
‘But meditation,’ I said, ‘tell me about it.’
‘I know nothing,’ he maintained.
In the end he agreed to relate a couple of anecdotes that might explain a little of his experience of meditation, though he still claimed a vast ignorance of the topic.
‘Twice a week,’ he said, ‘the group I belong to meet for a group meditation.’
He explained that once they have started meditating the doors are closed – late-comers are not welcome to blunder in and disturb the meditators.
Once he had indeed arrived late but by a strange fluke had managed to get in. He snuck into the meditation room silently. ‘I could see the meditation.’
Around the seated figures he could see a golden mist. It floated in skeins, at once milky and luminescent; pale golden light and drifting, almost-solid radiance filling the palpable silence.
On another occasion, he explained, he had been forced to interrupt his meditation, jump in a car and drive off on an errand. It was a lesson in the special and sacred nature of meditation. ‘Sometimes you forget how special it is.’ To go, without pause for assimilation or adjustment, from the meditative calm to the mundane world – it was a shocking experience. The outside world seemed to him wholly bizarre and surreal. Reality was in one of the two experiences, and it certainly seemed, he thought, not to be found speeding down the southern motorway.
I asked for more tales. He chuckled.
‘Once I used to give meditation classes. We were holding them in a slightly tatty little building that was some sort of hybrid between a hall and a church. They were evening classes, and the arrangement was that we were to pick up the key during the day and then at the end of the class a caretaker would come and collect the key as we locked up.
‘It is a fact that meditation can change the atmosphere of a place. At the end of the class the caretaker arrived. He looked about the room and asked, ‘Have they repainted in here?’ In truth, in the couple of hours that we had been there we hadn’t rigged up ladders and planks, prepared, primed and painted the walls; we had just meditated.
‘So there you are – meditation: better than interior decoration.’
He picked up his pack and hefted it onto his back. By now the strong, biting wind contained a certain amount of horizontally lashing snow. He pulled his hat down over his ears.
‘You seem to lead a blessed life,’ I said.
‘In 1650,’ he said, his words whipping away in the wind, ‘the emperor Shah Jahan saw a holy Muslim saint passing his palace. He lowered a basket out of the window and hoisted the holy man up into the glories of his royal residence. He praised the holy man for his great sanctity. The holy man demurred. He had, he explained, many undivine and highly unspiritual qualities. God out of his gratuitous kindness had simply been pleased to lift him up, all undeserving, to heaven just as the emperor had lifted him in the basket to the splendours of his imperial earthly paradise.’
My companion shook my hand in farewell.
‘Meditation,’ he said as he started with surprising vigour to jog up the scree and into the swirling grey, ‘it’s not something you work to achieve, it’s just . . . loitering outside the palace waiting for the basket to descend.’
Auckland - New Zealand
The premise of meditation is the very essence of simplicity. Unencumbered by complication, successful meditation hinges on letting go of thoughts, emotions and strivings. Instruction in its application is often minimal because the more you are “not doing” the better you are meditating. With the reduction of layers of sophistication and mental wanderings, meditation takes us to a place of inner stillness and a strangely fulfilling emptiness. It carries us inside ourselves and the deeper the silence the greater the benefits.
Since meditation is fed from springs of silence and simplicity, I find it oddly paradoxical that its practice applied in my life for the last two decades has reaped such a complex harvest. From doing something that the outer world would characterize as suspiciously like not doing much at all, how could it offer such multifaceted benefits? For I find that in my life meditation plays the role of teacher, ethicist, protector, tour guide, healer, friend and minister – not strictly in that order. These rich benefits fill needs inside me that no single individual ever could. Instead of saying “it takes a village” we could say “it takes meditation” because of all it offers.
I believe that this bountiful harvest inside meditation’s emptiness is linked to meditation’s ability to foster spirituality and inner communion with God. From the foundation of inner meditative silence, space is reserved in my life to hear the inner voice and wisdom coming from a source much greater than my own frail and mistake-prone ego. During meditation, my life intertwines with God and because of this deeper divine communion, meditation carries wisdom on its coattails.
This wisdom coming forth from inner stillness has expressed itself in several ways. Like a tour guide, it opens up inner vistas that remain invisible when my awareness remains on a surface ordinary level cluttered with internal mental chatter. Like a teacher, new ideas and creative solutions to problems come forward while I meditate. Like a minister, meditation often leads me to discover passages in scripture of different religions of the world. Like an ethicist, meditation invariably exhorts me to forgiveness and cautions me not criticize others when I can keep more than busy with my own self-improvement.
Like a healer, it reduces stress and produces scientifically proven physiological benefits such as lowering blood pressure, cholesterol and muscle tension. Like a protector, I have heard inner warnings while meditating. In one instance, I felt urged while meditating to find a new apartment prior to my outer knowledge that burglers were breaking into the building where I lived. In another instance, meditation carried the inner message to look for a new job prior to finding out that my area at work was targeted for downsizing. Lastly, like a lifelong friend, the inner communion with God while meditating has engendered a feeling of self-acceptance and unconditional love towards myself and the world around me.
I know of no other element in my life that makes easy work of serving so many purposes. Good marriages usually last precisely when one doesn’t seek to meet all needs only from one’s spouse. School teachers know they cannot accomplish their job without a student’s needs also being served by parents and other caretakers. In virtually all aspects of society, specialization and compartmentalization abounds. Only in meditation can we find something that rises to the task of being all things to all people. While acting in myriad ways, meditation rhymes with wisdom and offers the curious paradox that in some instances less is truly more than most.
Rhode Island - USA
Never read Proust. Ever since I was told his sentences were like miniature novels in themselves, the prospect just seemed like Too Much Work. But the title is fascinating, don’t you think? In Search of Lost Time. Ah, the imagination-bird leaves its falconer’s glove, and the plot elements assemble in your being one after another like dominoes – our hero, now in his sunset years, facing immanent death, perhaps, or perhaps some little thing has reminded him of his childhood, and he begins to wonder, reflect on a life spent Being Much Too Busy, wonder what was the point, wonder is it too late to make a difference, what would it have been like if he could live it all over again…
Somebody else will have to write that novel. One writes from experience, and thankfully I’ve no real experience of regret to draw upon. That’s what a regular practice of meditation does to you, I’m afraid. I know I once had a whole bunch of what could have been promising plot material, all those juicy what-might-have-been’s I had carefully nurtured out of the crossroads of my life, but they’re all looking a bit withered and prunelike now. Rather inconveniently, I quite like where I am now, and every twist and turn of my life I see only a golden thread leading me here, every success and misfortune I see only as an experience inching me closer to the source of my being. At some stage the voice of common sense pokes through and says, hey, let’s face it, the past is a meatless bone, stop gnawing on it. Even harking momentarily back to those days and recalling how you felt seems a pointless gesture, a trip into the wasteland.
Let’s start again. At the risk of making the novel sound like a thinly veiled autobiography, let our hero have some period of existential uncertainty faced with the mortgages and company cars of early adulthood (a brief one, we hope, for existential uncertainty can be an exceedingly unpleasant business) and then stumble across some means of prayer or meditation or reflection, something that nourishes his soul. Let him have good days and bad days, days where his inner being flies like an albatross and others where it squats apologetically like the long-condemned dodo; only let him keep at it. Slowly but surely they arrive, a trickle of kings bearing gifts across the desert; a little peace, a little joy, a sense of purpose, a drawing out to one’s fellow man; then what? What now of our enigmatic title? A recherché. Perdu. Something he knows is there, deep inside him waiting to be uncovered. But not time, I hear you remark. Peace, joy, bliss, the source of all these things, but not time.
Hear me out. Meditation and prayer do their work noiselessly; they purify, simplify, separate the important from the unimportant, and imperceptibly overboard slips each regret, fear, doubt, without even a splash. Most importantly of all, though, goes the desire for personal gain. Our hero is an Extremely Lucky Man, for there are not all that many truly happy people out there. He is beginning to realise this, and the empathy he has developed through his practise with his fellow beings walking this earth with him is making him feel that perhaps he can do something, there is some little capacity he can offer to heal the division and disharmony that cleaves us apart, for he knows now that his own self-expansion and the betterment of humanity are one and the same.
And that is when his meditation is finally brought into the world. The most ordinary snippets of his conversation, even his smile pours goodwill into everyone he meets. The search for lost time begins in earnest, not in the past but in each and every moment, every decision between betterment and mediocrity, every habit of lethargy and procrastination overturned. Only a few decades left on this mortal coil and so much to do; the human lifespan seems so pitifully short once one has finally found a use for it.
OK. That’s the plan. Someone will still have to flesh all this out into book form, as long as they know of course where the lion’s share of the royalties are going.
Dublin - Ireland
Over three intervals in late May and early June, 2001, Sri Chinmoy – poet-luminary and spiritual teacher - wrote seventy short poems that were published under the interesting and hugely appealing title ‘If I could start my life once more’. These poems became his 70th birthday gift to us all. While contemplating September’s Inspiration-Letters theme (the vast panorama of meditation) my eyes fell upon this enchanting and irresistible title in my bookcase and I devoured its contents with much relish and head-nodding. Here I would find such charming little gold nuggets of wisdom that what might have been the burden of my task became a joy...
If I could start my life once more,
I would be seriously in love
- Sri Chinmoy
One of the fruits of meditation is self-knowledge – and one of the gains of self-knowledge is a growing understanding of our soul’s promise and purpose on earth. This rarely comes as a sudden revelation but emerges instead over a handful of years, a precious fruit ripening on our life-tree or a slow and gradual dawn. Impatient to find our way, our soul’s divine tasks, we often feel frustration at the murkiness of our future, the uncertainty of our way forward, but everything is a readying, a preparation for what will come next.
In my own first years of learning meditation I felt such a growing urge to do something, an awakening purpose of the soul, and along with my equally restless companion Subarata, repeatedly petitioned Sri Chinmoy to liberate us into the future that was stirring inside us. He would say ‘Soon, soon - but not yet, not yet…’ and three long years would pass before his ‘Now, where would you like to go?’ sent us off, two slingshots released from their restraints and flying away to a distant shore. It was here in New Zealand that we would begin to attempt our God-manifestation-victories and fulfill our souls’ promises.
Years later an ailing Subarata would embark alone on a journey to an even more distant shore. But all this lay hidden from us then, the heartaches, griefs and smiles of the unknowable future.
If I could start my life once more
I would never miss my God-Invitation-Hours.
- Sri Chinmoy
On our path the disciples’ first daily God-Invitation-Hour is their 6am meditation – God invites us and we invoke God, a mutual entreaty. This and hopefully other daily interludes at our shrines provide the inner foundations of discipleship, the blossoming and transcending impulse towards God. Spiritual masters are like meteorologists or weather forecasters – they clearly see the patterns of inner weather that impact on all of humanity, warn us of advancing storms or urge us on through balmy times of temperate weather.
In 1994 the entire year was one long golden spiritual summer – a time of unprecedented opportunity for all seekers of every path to make extraordinary progress. In January of that year Sri Chinmoy spoke at length of the remarkable coming months and invited us to meditate seven times a day – seven God-Invitation-Hour opportunities – telling us of the great benefits this would bring.
In the midst of our lives, in taxis, on buses, at work, at mealtimes we tried to prioritise our 7 x 5 minute meditation-invitations as though racing towards a suddenly palpable goal. 1994 was an express freeway and we were all taking the fast lane to Heaven.
If I could start my life once more,
I would enjoy only the silence breath
Of my God-Aspiration-Ecstasy.
- Sri Chinmoy
Sri Chinmoy tells us – and he really does know firsthand - that God is all delight. Since meditation gradually reveals our soul’s oneness with God, the first intimations of this oneness can bring a little whiff of ecstasy. This has proven true even for a worst-case scenario student like me.
Once, reclining in the back seat of a car while driving somewhere in upstate New York, I had such a feeling as this come upon me – still mind, silence-breath, a sudden random joy like the surprise of a summer rainbow. I forgot who and where I was, where I was going and everything became still - inside me a rapture of pure consciousness like a light suddenly turned on. It was a little inadvertent moment of grace and I was overcome with a lovely delight.
Advanced practitioners of meditation can ride the silence breath of their God-aspiration to these and much higher planes of ecstasy at will. Too much of this though and we might be disinclined to attempt our God-manifestation-victory responsibilities. That is why Sri Ramakrishna withheld from his closest and dearest disciple, Swami Vivekananda, the knowledge of his true nature, his soul’s God-oneness delight. Had he become too immersed in this ecstasy the soul would have left the body and gone straight back to its home high above, his work on earth undone.
If I could start my life once more,
I would become every day
A new morning rose
In the garden of the universe.
- Sri Chinmoy
Every day most of us do, say and think lots of little things that are in some measure regrettable - our spiritual journey becomes burdened and delayed by their weight. We gather up these samskaras or residues like a bee gathering pollen and these become an energy, a force that accumulates and impacts on our consciousness. The good news is that all this stuff can be discarded each day – we can rid ourselves of these debilitating burdens and start afresh. With precisely this in mind Sri Chinmoy has written a number of mantric songs that he encourages us to sing with great sincerity each morning – they ask God the Father or Mother to forgive us and if we can sing these redemptive prayer-chants with an absolute and soulful sincerity, the slate is wiped clean! In your meditation or in your singing you can begin to feel when this has happened – it is quite clear. If through your songs or your God-Invitation-Hours you can really cry out and run towards God like a child, God the Mother/Father will enfold you, unburden you – you will every day become a new morning rose in the garden of the universe.
If I could start my life once more,
I would have equanimity as my name
To brave the buffets of life.
- Sri Chinmoy
Sri Chinmoy once reassuringly said ‘I sincerely admire you people, I know how hard it is to be a disciple’. Part man/God/beast how we struggle with the polarities and complexities of our human nature, the shadows and light as we walk our long road to happiness. In the late 80’s, a rookie disciple with lots of rough edges and equanimity as unlikely as a Martian invasion, I came across a revelatory comment by Sri Chinmoy that propelled me forward on a personal fast-track: ‘Every action of ours should be to please God and not to gain applause. Our actions are too secret and sacred to display before others. They are meant for our own progress, achievement and realisation.’
This touched me deeply, a thunderbolt of understanding and I suddenly felt gratefully free of any wish for acknowledgement regarding any of my actions. Later, having served my equanimity apprenticeship in minor challenges – advancing baldness, unwarranted personal attacks on my saintly character, major dental problems, unemployableness, the multifarious blooms of unhappiness – I was at last put to THE BIG TEST. A major three month project I’d worked on came to a successful conclusion and someone else handed the results to Sri Chinmoy. ‘Marvelous, marvelous!’ he exclaimed, beaming at the good news bearer and assuming that this person had done all the work. For a moment I grappled with the unholy desire to snatch the nearest microphone from its stand and announce ‘EXCUSE ME EVERYBODY COULD I HAVE YOUR UNDIVIDED ATTENTION FOR A MOMENT PLEASE – ACTUALLY IT WAS ME, YES ME WHO DID THAT, OKAY. THANK YOU! AS YOU WERE!’ But instead I wrestled this impulse down and soon felt triumphantly detached, beached on the calm shores of equanimity.
In coping with the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune – the ‘buffets’ – a sense of humor really helps. It’s also good to spend more time at our shrines to harmonise our inner and outer lives more, and in trying to convince ourselves that Somebody really loves us. Yes, I know, I have trouble convincing myself of this too, but deep down I do believe it’s true – and all the Avatars agree with me on this!
Another thing that helps is an unswerving belief in enlightenment. On a really bad day when you feel far away from God, your Guru, all of humanity, your handful of friends, and your whole raft of reassuring beliefs doesn’t work, you can still practice your equanimity and look up at the sky and breathe in the vastness and peacefulness of the cosmos and know that one day, one day, you’ll be free of all this. But to go back to my earlier story and Guru’s lovely remark about secret and sacred action, try working on a Centre project for six months then not telling anybody, certainly not your teacher, what you have done – only God knows and He’s staying quiet to test you. This is pure unconditional service - karma yoga – with absolutely no expectation or hope of recognition or sly self-promotion. This way you can realize God in about two months, instead of the leisurely six month program you’ve probably settled for. Fasten your seat belt, you’re on a roller coaster ride to Heaven.
Auckland - New Zealand
When I returned from the World Harmony Run last year, I cleaned out my room throwing out lots of useless junk- old clothes, broken alarm clocks and sentimental keepsakes that had long lost their value to me. I also took a long-planned trip to Germany, caught up on my correspondence and launched Inspiration-Letters with the help of my friends. The energy that I got from running across the country for world harmony and peace I applied at home. That six-week long running adventure was actually a kind of meditation that uplifted me and transformed my life.
Meditation isn't just sitting with folded hands in front of our shrines. We can turn every action of our lives into a kind of meditation. But I still think our daily practice is essential to maintain equanimity. When we consecrate a little time each day to reflection and prayer, I think we eventually get sharper, more discriminating and more careful. We can tell the real and the true from the false and the flaky.
Carl Sagan once said something like that it is through human beings that the universe is aware of its own existence. I like this idea, that through our spiritual search and growth we can offer the whole world more self-awareness. That's a great motivation.
I love Cezanne and Beethoven so much because they created art that reflects a deep spiritual awareness. They both slaved and struggled to get exactly the right effect, the right shade of color or tone, so as to be totally authentic to their own inner voice. Would that more artists could follow their example!
I'm really grateful to Sri Chinmoy for his clear and simple teachings about meditation. He writes that meditation is a totally normal practice and can help us to become stronger and happier people.
I began to meditate not only to find God but also to become a better writer. Meditation has enabled me to write in a more natural and spontaneous style. Interestingly enough, I find that I can meditate and write at the same time, to a certain extent. I mean, after ten years of practice in meditation, I've learned how to put that equanimity, poise and profundity to good use in many fields, and especially in creative expression.
In his immortal introduction to the English edition of Gitanjali by Rabindranath Tagore, William Butler Yeats writes: 'We write long books where no page perhaps has any quality to make writing a pleasure, being confident in some general design, just as we fight and make money and fill our heads with politics- all dull things in the doing- while Mr. Tagore, like the Indian civilization itself, has been content to discover the soul and surrender himself to its spontaneity.'
Meditation is a key to a more beautiful and fulfilling life. There's no end to our self-discovery. If our aims in life are high and elevating, then why should our lives also not be beautiful and fulfilling? Meditation is a good and practical way of living your dream and making your dearest hopes come true in the here and now.
Philadelphia - USA
Photograph by Pranlobha Kalagian