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My Myanmar

Shwedagon PagodaIn 1985 I first went to Burma (as it was still known then). My father was called there on business while I was visiting his home in Singapore, so the only option was to join him. Like most fifteen-year-olds, I did not generally find anything or anywhere interesting, especially things and places that were forced upon me.

I mostly remember the dirt. Our hotel was apparently the best in Rangoon (as it was still known then), and it was dirty. I would long to wash the traffic and heat off me when we had been outdoors, but the water even came out brown from the tap. The drawers and cupboards were lined with a layer of desiccated flies.

We had a chauffeur of sorts. He chewed and spat betel nuts, grinning wide with reddened teeth like a brown-skinned Dracula. He drove a 1950s Zephyr Zodiac, so riddled with rust we could watch the road speeding under us through holes beneath our feet. It was one of the better cars, and certainly better than the buses. Too many faces could be seen pressed against the windows as we passed them; clusters of outdoor passengers too, clinging to the back steps and railings with only fingers and sandalled feet.

I just wanted to go home.

Until the day I was taken to Shwedagon Pagoda.

2,500 years ago in India, it is said Lord Buddha gave eight hairs from his own head to two Burmese merchants, who had brought him a gift of honey cakes. The hairs were presented to the Burmese king, who enshrined them in Okkalapa (as Rangoon was known then). The stupa gradually evolved into its present brick pagoda of 326ft, encased in thick gold plates donated by monarchs and noblemen.

We had to remove our shoes even to mount the long covered stairway at the entrance. People were selling things from stalls along the way: thick stems of incense or sheaves of flowers as offerings to the shrines above. Some sold little shrines for private devotions at home: images of Lord Buddha in jade or brass, or wood ready for a finish of gold leaf. To that day I had never felt such sacredness, and I was only at the gates of the shimmering palaces of prayer beyond. I could barely utter a word, and did not want to try. Breathing itself seemed almost ill-mannered.

The top was a flat tiled terrace, littered with cockroaches: dead, alive, or halfway between. Grubby children of four or five years old dogged us with cupped palms and brown beseeching eyes. My eyes were only for the gold edifice reaching up to the midday sun. That sense of completeness was new to me, and I felt the very air around me was made from it. Although admittedly with the advantage of a hotel breakfast inside me, I wondered how I or anyone could ever need more than that.

* * *

Twenty-seven years later, a very different ‘me’ is returning to a very different country, but the things that matter are still the same. Rangoon is now Yangon. Burma is now Myanmar. The labels were left over from British colonial rule, as was the directive to drive on the left side of the road. They drive on the right now, like most of the world, but the cars are still right-hand drive. Oddly I feel safer in this traffic than I would even at home. It is the people who matter most here: to me, and apparently to each other. There is a sense of unity, an inherent awareness of others as part of oneself; an awareness that Western culture seems to have long forgotten.

Budhhist Nun Yangon MyanmarThere are monks and nuns everywhere in Yangon. Everywhere. Not just in the temples and monasteries, but in the streets and shops: walking, talking, smiling, praying, asking for alms. Robed and bareheaded, some are children, some crooked with age, and all the stages between. Spirituality is not just a hobby, or some quaint archaic choice; it is as natural and essential as breathing. Here amongst the crowds and pollution, I am thus completely at home.

The British refused to remove their shoes at Shwedagon when they ruled here in the 19th Century. Could there be a greater or more symbolic insult to this country of sanctity and selflessness? I offer an inner apology on behalf of my forefathers as I place mine in a plastic bag. I am glad to feel my feet on this tiled terrace; to be nearer to it, to know it through my every nerve and sense. There are teams of slender ladies kneeling in sarongs, smiling and scrubbing the ground in methodical squares. Others sweep gently with wide brushes, in twos or threes. There is not an insect to be seen.

Yangon will be my home for two weeks, as part of a trip organised by the Sri Chinmoy Centre. Sri Chinmoy used to travel with some of his students to various countries each winter, taking a break from the harsh New York weather, and dedicating some days or weeks – whatever each person could spare – to meditation and recreation. Sri Chinmoy himself would be a fount of joyous creativity as always, sometimes spending time with us in private gatherings, or meeting with dignitaries, or offering public concerts. Since his passing in 2007 we still uphold the tradition, wintering together in warmer climes for our mutual joy and inspiration.

We sometimes offer Sri Chinmoy’s music to the public during such gatherings too. Today a male choir is singing some of his songs dedicated to Lord Buddha, at Shwedagon Pagoda. Sri Chinmoy wrote over 22,000 songs of a devotional nature, describing and inspiring the human aspiration toward the divine. Some were also written to honour contemporary luminaries, others for Hindu cosmic gods and godesses, some for Avatars and saints from other world religions. Today is a prayerful offering to Lord Buddha. I hear the familiar tunes and shape the words in my heart as I face that great golden spire. I offer my thanks for this completeness, the full circle of sacredness and peace that has brought me back here.

“Taxi? Where are you going?” asks a portly man in a faintly British accent as I reach the street again with my companion. His dignity and courtesy leave us no reason to withdraw, and we tell him the address. “Very good car, this way,” he nods, with a sudden glimmer of mischief. “Forty years old. Very good car.”

The only passenger window is a panel of scratched perspex. There are no furnishings except a pair of doormats on the back seat that has long parted from its springs and cushioning. After a couple of choking rasps from the ignition, the man signals to a couple more drivers nearby, and they willingly shunt us along from behind.

“Are they going to push us the whole way do you think?” I ask my friend. All five of us are in fits of giggles; laughing not at each other, but with each other at the unfolding adventure. I am forty-one though, so I should not really joke about the car. For a moment the back window frames a pair of betel-Draculae, then two hands waving goodbye as the engine coughs back to life.

“What do you think it runs on?” I ask my friend as a strange-smelling smoke drifts up from the rusty floor.

“The Buddha’s Grace, 100%,” she replies, nodding towards the dashboard, which is itself a row of little shrines.

Yangon Market, MyanmarWe stop at a market along the way: a banquet for the senses. Some stalls are set up on little crates, but many proprietors squat by squares of canvas on the ground from which their wares are displayed. Were it to happen like this at home, it would be chaos, but there is no bustle or self-importance here. The slim and graceful locals weave along smoothly, like fish through water: neither jostling nor even accidentally brushing past me, let alone disturbing the stalls. The air is heavy with charcoal smoke and the tantalising scent of fresh fritters, mingled with durian and incense. The wares each have their own distinct dominion, and are carefully tended. Fruits are stacked in neat pyramids: pomelo and pitaya, rambutan, mango and papaya, so plump and fragrant, so bright and glossy in the sun they look like wax models.

Then back to our temporary home: a clean and friendly hotel beside Inya Lake. The sun sets behind a lattice of cloud, and the waterbirds make their final catch of the day. With my bare feet in the grass, I breathe in the vast stillness, knowing somehow that all is well in this world. Amidst the struggle and loss and chaos, we are each a part of this magnificent whole: little bricks of gold in this glowing edifice called Earth.

Thank you, my Myanmar, for reminding me.

World’s Longest Flower Garland

Last week I had the good fortune to be involved in breaking a Guinness Record: the world’s longest flower garland. The previous record was 1.6 miles in Tahiti. This was 2.15 miles: an unbroken circle of carnation blooms around Meadow Lake, Flushing Meadow, New York. It took 170 of us to thread the flower heads onto sections of wire, then to drive them around the course, connecting them end to end. It was a joyful and simple task, reminiscent of threading childhood daisy-chains in the long summer grass.

Even when the loop was complete, when I had helped make it with my own hands, and could see it with my own eyes, it was still too much to take in. We drove around the perimeter and caught glimpses of it trailing alongside a cycle path or a patch of reeds. On and on it trailed through the grass, passers-by stopping to crouch and inspect it, following it with their eyes, tracing it with their fingers to check that it was real.

The garland was the dream of Ashrita Furman, who holds more Guinness Records than anyone else in the world. Each year in addition to his other records, he dedicates a particular one to Sri Chinmoy‘s birthday anniversary.

In Ashrita’s own words:

“My friends and I have a tradition to express our gratitude to
Sri Chinmoy as he inspires us to discover inner peace, joy and strength through meditation. On the occasion of Sri Chinmoy’s 80th birthday anniversary we wanted to do something special. The huge garland expresses the deep gratitude we feel. There was an great feeling of oneness and harmony because people from 35 countries were connected by the garland in a circle symbolising planet earth.”

Ashrita Furman (right) and Sanjaya Spettigue finish measuring the garland. Photo by Jowan Gauthier


UPDATE: AUGUST 2014, NEW RECORD OF 5 MILES!

This time the garland was made in several loops at Joseph-Austin-Field, and weighed 4000 lb. After the record was broken, the flowers were made into a little house, as part of decorations for Sri Chinmoy’s birthday, and were also shaped into Sri Chinmoy’s bird drawings.

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1

Challenging Impossibility

Sri Chinmoy Weightlifting

Sri Chinmoy

The inspirational short film Challenging Impossibility, a documentary on Sri Chinmoy‘s weightlifting, received an overwhelmingly positive response at the Tribeca Film Festival 2011.

UPDATE: Film and exhibition coming to the the UK in 2013 »

While the film forms a rich visual timeline of Sri Chinmoy’s weightlifting achievements, it also features a cast of weightlifting and other sporting personalities, such as 21st Century’s Best Built Man Bill Pearl, 9-time Olympic Gold Medalist Carl Lewis, 3-time Mr. Olympia bodybuilding legend Frank Zane, World’s Strongest Man 2002 Hugo Girard and former IFBB Chairman Wayne DeMilia. Each gives a professional and insightful technical viewpoint on Sri Chinmoy’s weightlifting, while speaking candidly on personal experiences with Sri Chinmoy as a spiritual teacher; the inner and outer inspiration he has brought to their lives in the context of their own remarkable achievements.

Challenging Impossibility Trailer:

How did Sri Chinmoy lift such heavy weights?

“As an individual I am nothing and I can do nothing. For everything that I have achieved, I give one hundred percent credit to God’s Grace…when I pray and meditate I feel that somebody else is helping me, whereas an ordinary man feels that he can only rely on himself. When he is under the weight, he thinks that he is lifting it all by himself. He has practised for so many years and developed his strength and he feels that everything depends his physical strength. But in my case, I feel I am only an instrument. There is some other power that is coming to help me. That power I call God’s Grace.”
– Sri Chinmoy, Aspiration-Body, Illumination-Soul

Why did Sri Chinmoy lift such heavy weights?

“I am trying to be of some inner service to people who want to go one step forward. They don’t have to lift 2,000 pounds, but perhaps they will take the inspiration that I am offering and make the effort to do something in their own lives which they previously thought was too difficult or impossible. In any field they can get inspiration to do something better than what they have been doing.”
– Sri Chinmoy, Aspiration-Body, Illumination-Soul

It was autumn 1998 when I first witnessed Sri Chinmoy’s weightlifting with my own eyes. He was lifting various aircraft complete with passengers, wearing a captain’s cap and golden epaulettes. ‘Light aircraft’ they could probably be called, and yet the weight was more than my mind could comprehend, even though the body of metal was plainly in front of me, and I could see the thrust of his legs as the platform cleared the ground. The feats could no more be doubted than they could be undone.

Even by 2001, having seen countless lifts, I still could not truly assimilate what my eyes were reporting. I myself was lifted overhead by Sri Chinmoy on a special platform, as part of his Lifting up the World programme, yet even though I could feel the platform rise beneath me, the inner and outer significance of what was happening I knew would take a long time to settle into my consciousness.

It is only now, ten years later, watching Challenging Impossibility, that the magnitude of this truth is starting to become clear. Somehow witnessing those lifts in person was like trying to look directly at the sun. Perhaps only through the lens of cinematography could that assimilation begin to take place in me.

More than anything, this film – itself a remarkable feat of filmmaking – reminds me never to give up on any of my own hopes, dreams or aspirations, whatever they may be. Impossibility only really exists in the mind.

“I do not give up,
I never give up,
For there is nothing
In this entire world
That is irrevocably unchangeable.”
– Sri Chinmoy, Twenty-Seven Thousand Aspiration-Plants, Part 3

Find out more…

7

The Jewels of Happiness

“To buy a spiritual book takes ten seconds. To read that book takes a few hours. To absorb that book takes a few years. And to live the truths thereof may take not only a whole lifetime, but a few incarnations.”
~ From “The Supreme Secret of Meditation” by Sri Chinmoy

I have bought shelves-full of spiritual books over the last couple of decades, many of them by Sri Chinmoy. This latest release of Sri Chinmoy’s writings, published since his passing in 2007, is already amongst my favourites. One thing I especially love about Sri Chinmoy’s spiritual teachings is their disarming simplicity: one could almost claim them as one’s own existing knowledge… and yet the longer the words unfold and the more sincerely one tries to internalise those truths, the more apparent it becomes that although they are easily read, they are not so easily lived – at least not on a day-to-day or minute-to-minute basis. Then that’s something I love about spirituality: there is no beginning and possibly no end – only progress. I’m the sort who enjoys journeys as much as destinations, so that progress its own adventure. I would make so bold as to say anyone – regardless of cultural or religious background – could open this book and discover something uplifting or inspiring. While universal in its simplicity, it is boundless in its depth, and vast in its appeal.

You can buy The Jewels of Happiness, published by Watkins, at Amazon.com
Or if you’re in Blighty, you can buy The Jewels of Happiness at Amazon.co.uk
…and so on…

1

Temple-Song-Hearts Go Way Up North

Seems this site has lain neglected for a whole year now, while I’ve been writing elsewhere. Rather than a tedious round-up or a list of more specific apologies, I thought I’d highlight a favourite event of the last twelve months: singing Sri Chinmoy’s music in Norway and Iceland, with Temple-Song-Hearts.

It was my first time in either country. Oslo gave a chance to visit the Eternal Peace Flame and the statue of Sri Chinmoy that I had only seen in photographs (even though I designed its website a couple of years ago). There was also an opportunity to visit both branches of The Fragrance of the Heart (whose website I also had the honour of making a while back too!). Both cafés are far more divine and uplifting than their virtual counterparts, and the photographs of the coffee do it no justice at all.

Bizarrely, I was homesick for Iceland when I came back home. There was an otherworldly beauty and freshness that far north, an intimacy with nature, and an unbridled sense of hospitality. We were spoiled with attention and comestibles, from the minute we stepped out of baggage claim. No sooner had we entered the lunar landscape outside than we were welcomed to the cosy restaurant run by students of Sri Chinmoy: Ecstasy’s Heart-Garden (which… doesn’t have a website). Roving ceramicist and barista, Vilas Ed Silverton, has painted this glorious childlike mural outside. (He has a very nice website… but it’s not one of mine).

Then just down the road is Sangitamiya, Reykjavik’s own World Music Shop. Although I’ll probably never be considered an instrumentalist, I was keen to visit, having just finished making Sangitamiya.is! I love the way the buildings are usually made of corrugated metal, then painted in a festival of colours – often with more fantastical murals on the side. This one stands alone on one of the main shopping streets – always sky blue, even when the skies are cardboard-grey.

Pictures cannot conjure up the sounds inside that shop by any means; it’s a playground for the ears! One simply cannot worry in such a place… or even think at all. Somehow after listening for a while, the Bagpipes seem to blend fine with the Ukelele, and that with Harp, then they all join the assortment of percussive experiments. I’m happy just to hear them, and to look at their shapes.

Our concert was at the Fríkirkjan – a gorgeously simple corrugated church overlooking the Tjörnin lake. Not the ancient, chilly sort of church, but a sort I had never witnessed – one flooded with natural light and a general air of joy. It was a happy and holy place – lovely to sing into – and filled pretty much to capacity for the concert, with around 150 people.

I suppose we were only there for 24 hours, but as it was July, it didn’t get dark, so it felt like longer. There was just time for some sightseeing, and a trip to the Blue Lagoon on the way to the airport: a natural spring of earth-warmed water, rich in therapeutic minerals. Our visit was enhanced by accidentally (I promise!) using the VIP changing rooms, when we had only paid the normal rate. We only realised our serendipitous mistake when comparing notes with other friends who had gone at a later time, and who reported a scene of din and clamour with as much personal space as one might find in a supermarket queue. We did wonder why we had to climb over a red chain on the way out that had not been there on our way in. Despite our misdemeanour (or perhaps partly because of it), a week’s worth of refreshment and rejuvenation had somehow been squeezed into those last 2 hours, and more than a lifetime’s geothermal silica. Iceland was that beautiful, even I was able to take a decent photograph along the way!

2

Ashrita’s Everywhere


Last night I was telling someone about Ashrita Furman’s Guinness World Record for holding the most Guinness World Records, and within an hour I discovered there were two articles in the UK news about his self-transcendence feats on the very same day. Not sure if that syncronicity, serendipity or spooky coincidence, but it’s definitely something beginning with ‘s’.

I’m familiar with Ashrita’s constant stream of record-breaking as he’s a fellow student of my meditation teacher Sri Chinmoy. He attributes his incredible capacity to the daily practice of meditation according to Sri Chinmoy’s teachings. Although I say I’m familiar with his records, it’s pretty hard to keep up, let alone remember all the facts and figures, and each one is more mind-blowing than the next. The Daily Mirror has listed all 98 of his current records in a handy list:

Daily Mirror Article 6th August 2009

The Telegraph has this full length article:
Telegraph Article 6th August 2009
and Photo gallery

Read more about Ashrita at Ashrita.com
Read about one of Ashrita’s World Records on Sumangali.org

11

Irish Joy

i_11I spent last weekend in a country house just outside Dublin, an international gathering hosted by the Irish Sri Chinmoy Centre. As always we were treated like kings and queens, or at least lords and ladies of the manor in this case. The bucolic scenes, the healthful feasts, the air full of sweet green aroma, were all welcome condiments to the staple of meditation, games and singing to which we all look forward at Joy Weekends.

i_41Pavitrata Taylor took some very classy photos as always, a larger selection of which you can see at Pavitrata.com. Joy Weekends are an integral part of life as a student Sri Chinmoy; a chance to get together with people from other Sri Chinmoy Centres, to share inspiration and a lot of fun.

OTHER JOY WEEKENDS:
A Day of Joy in the South of France
A Day of Joy in the North of France
A Day of Joy in Ireland
A Day of Joy in Scotland
A Day of Joy in Wales
A Day of Joy in England

6

Temple-Song-Hearts Tour of France

Last week I was fortunate to join Temple-Song-Hearts on their tour of France. Temple-Song-Hearts is an all-female ensemble solely performing the music of spiritual master Sri Chinmoy. We gave concerts in Montpellier, Paris and Nancy, and enjoyed a very warm reception at each venue. Here is a photo from a Temple in Nancy. There will be a full report soon at Temple-Song-Hearts.org

C’est moi 4th from right 🙂

MORE…

Listen to Temple-Song-Hearts at Temple-Song-Hearts.org

Buy the latest CD at CDbaby.com or iTunes

Listen to more of Sri Chinmoy’s music for free at Radio Sri Chinmoy

2

Sri Chinmoy’s 48,000 Birthday Candles

48000 candles by Susameepan KalbitzerMost people would have to wait until their 48,000th birthday to have this many candles on their cake, but not spiritual teacher Sri Chinmoy.

Ashrita Furman is one of Sri Chinmoy’s students, and also (not-so-coincidentally) happens to hold the Guinness World Record for holding the most Guinness World Records. This 48,000-candle cake was his 86th record, a symbol of gratitude to Sri Chinmoy on what would have been his 77th birthday.

Sri Chinmoy, who passed away last October, advocated self-transcendence — going beyond one’s own perceived boundaries in any field, competing with oneself rather than with others for self-improvement. This latest record by Ashrita and friends is literally a glowing example of such a philosophy!

48000 Candles by Piyasi MorrisOn the 27th of August an international team of 200, led by Ashrita, spent many hours counting and placing 48,523 candles on the 52 x 17 foot cake. Near midnight 80 assistants lined up around the cake with blow torches, knowing they had a span of only 2 minutes to ensure all their candles were alight simultaneously.

I was fortunate enough to be standing only a few feet away in the intense heat and electrifying atmosphere. Multi-coloured wax poured off the cake in strange rivers under the table, and I realised only then how fine the timing was.

The assistants had a large and dense rectangle of candles each to light, as they could not feasibly stand closer to one another whilst wielding blow torches. As they started near the centre of the cake and worked steadily towards themselves on the outside of it, the lit candles melted rapidly. The first would burn out soon after the last ones were lit, so the window of time in which the world record could be claimed was very slim.

48000 Candles by Jowan GauthierNot only did they need a steady hand and nerves of steel, but a decent pair of lungs; as the whoops of success went up, each assistant had the job of blowing out all of his own candles! (I hope they remembered to make a wish.)

At the height of this spectacle, strings of sparklers went off along the back of a huge arch adorned with pictures of a smiling Sri Chinmoy. Meanwhile the audience of around 1100 sang “Happy Birthday”.

Visit Ashrita.com for more of Ashrita’s latest escapades, including slicing apples mid-air and drinking Tabasco sauce. “Don’t try this at home”, as they say! Previous records to honour Sri Chinmoy’s birthday include constructing the world’s largest pencil (76 feet), building a 20-foot high cake and assembling the largest flower bouquet (101,791 roses)

Photos by Susameepan Kalbitzer, Piyasi Morris and Jowan Gauthier (click images to see close-ups)

14

Boris Purushottama Grebenshikov

Boris Purushottama Grebenshikov pays tribute to Sri Chinmoy at the Royal Albert Hall

The Song-Bird of St Petersburg pays tribute to Sri Chinmoy at the Royal Albert Hall

Boris Purushottama Grebenshikov is a living paradigm in the world of music and poetry, justly lauded in his Russian homeland and throughout the world. Tapping the ‘infinite silence’ within as a source of his prolific creativity, his songs are his direct interpretation of the universal musical consciousness.

No wonder then that he found in Sri Chinmoy a profound inspiration. With almost 1600 books to his name and over 22,000 songs, here was a Spiritual Master who shaped his own life’s service from the very fibre of music and poetry, singing the songs of Heaven into the ears of the earth.

Sri Chinmoy was born in East Bengal, 1931. Following an inner calling he moved to New York in 1964, to be of spiritual service and inspiration to the west. From then until his passing in October last year, his meditation brought forth a wellspring of creativity in many fields.

Sri Chinmoy met Grebenshikov in 2005, and offered him the spiritual name Purushottama. A unique friendship blossomed from there. The immediate bond between teacher and student was exceptionally deep given its outer brevity; a recognition and reflection of true inner harmony. In Grebenshikov’s own words:

“Before meeting him I could never imagine I would see with mine own eyes the enlightened spirit operating from within the frail human body. It made me realize we do not really understand how strange it is to be fully realized in the world that misunderstands Divine realization. And I am endlessly grateful for his love and unflinching selfless courage.”

As part of his soulful service, Sri Chinmoy offered over 700 free public concerts in the span of his life, which he dedicated to World Harmony. London’s Royal Albert Hall ranked among the most notable venues, where he last performed in October 2003. In this same spirit, and at the same venue, Boris Purushottama Grebenshikov paid tribute to him last week.

Under a 14-foot portrait of Sri Chinmoy, flanked by statues of Ganesha and Saraswati, the setting was an Indian garden at night. An enclave of trees and glowing candles waited on a backdrop of winking galaxies. Hoards jostled outside for a place in the hall, peering over galleries high up into the roof to catch a glimpse of the artist. The legendary Song-Bird of St Petersburg entered with a smile of joy equal to his air of poise and humility. As he took centre stage his audience could not have been more attentive, appreciative, or more alive with electric anticipation.

Some 20 musicians joined him, mostly from the Indian and Irish genres, and some of the finest in their fields. Two were from Grebenshikov’s original band Aquarium, which dates back to the early 1970s. The tabla talked in rhythm to four Irish bodhrans; a sarangi sang sweet melodies over a group of classical strings. The fiddle, tin whistle and Uillean pipes carried on an Irish banter with such unbounded effusion, precision and harmony, that the crowds could not contain their shouts of delight.

All the while Grebenshikov was an ocean of depth, speaking through an acoustic guitar as if it were a part of himself. His singing voice itself was, as always, an exquisite blend of strength and sensitivity; ageless and imperturbable wisdom with a sweet and heart-melting centre. The essence of the poetry, although mostly in Russian, could be felt even by the uninitiated, such was its earnest delivery.

The songs vaulted from pin-drop soulfulness to ebullient joy, via countless spirited forays into new musical realms. They stopped neither at folk, nor jazz, nor rock, nor classical, nor world music, but spun into a whirl of all these, where no division or identity could be defined, where music sprang forth unbounded and unadulterated from its source.

As a finale, Grebenshikov offered a bhajan he wrote in Sanskrit for the goddess Saraswati, and a loving song in the ballad style, which he wrote for Sri Chinmoy during one of their earliest meetings. The Sri Chinmoy Centre Choir accompanied him on the refrain:

“O, Guru Sat, we may be far apart,

O, Guru Sat, forever in my heart.”

It was a poignant end to a magical evening; an evening whose spirit seemed to have no age, no beginning, no end; no limits or worldly boundaries of any kind. With simplicity and utmost self-giving, Boris Purushottama Grebenshikov offered a tribute to his teacher which was at once fittingly grand, heartfelt and joyous.

IMAGES:

Portrait of Boris Purushottama Grebenshikov by Antonov Pavel

LINKS:

More about the concert at GrebenshikovConcert.com
Review by Tejvan Pettinger at SriChinmoyBio.co.uk

Photographs of the event by Pavitrata Taylor at Pavitrata.com

18

About Sri Chinmoy

Sri ChinmoySri Chinmoy is a spiritual teacher, who dedicated his life to serving humanity through his prayers and meditations, as well as his musical, artistic, sporting and literary works.

He was born in 1931 in East Bengal. At the age of 12 he joined a spiritual community in South India, spending his time in deep meditation, service, and sports, and attaining a very high level of spiritual realisation. In 1964 he received, through his meditation, an inner calling to bring his spirituality to the west. From then on he lived in Queens, New York, and now has over 300 meditation centres all over the world. His teachings give a very practical approach to meditation and the spiritual life, demonstrating how meditation need not be restricted to the Himalayan caves, but can be woven into western and modern life.

From 1970 to his passing in 2007, Sri Chinmoy held weekly meditations at the United Nations. Even well into his 70s he travelled around the world offering free concerts, of which he gave over 700.

An accomplished athlete in his youth, Sri Chinmoy practised weightlifting until the age of 76, in the hope of inspiring others to transcend their physical boundaries. He is the inspiration behind the World Harmony Run as well as many races worldwide, from 1 mile to the longest foot race in the world: the Self-Transcendence 3100-mile Race.

Sri Chinmoy was a prolific writer throughout his life. From short meditative aphorisms to in-depth spiritual questions and answers, plays and ancient instructive stories retold for the modern world, he has published around 1500 books in several languages.

Music played a very significant part in Sri Chinmoy’s life. He performed on many musical instruments, and wrote over 20,000 songs, in English and his native Bengali.

Sri Chinmoy passed away on October 11th, 2007, leaving behind a legacy of spiritual teaching and creative works of inspiration.

To find out more about Sri Chinmoy please visit SriChinmoy.org »


How I became a student of Sri Chinmoy

First picture of meDespite its intensity, nobody remembers being born. Everyone uses their first breath to cry. Raw sound, cold, movement, pain, exhaustion, separation from the source, are too much to bear at once. There is no strength of one’s own to call upon, and nothing certain or familiar on which to depend. Abraham Lincoln, Queen Victoria, Albert Einstein, Muhammad Ali; however mighty they became, each arrived naked and alone, and they cried.

My primal bewilderment stayed with me longer than theirs, and perhaps longer than most. The cry silenced, but was always there. Life was a fast road and the human vehicle seemed so fragile on it. I saw pain in others and felt it as my own. I grew no armour in my thoughts or senses.

I was a morbid child – my first dream in colour was of death. I lay awake in fear of everything, craving the release of sleep, but dreading my own dreams more than waking life.

“Empty your mind,” said my mother, “think beautiful things or have no thought at all.”

So I made my first tiny flame of peace inside. It lit my world a little in that strange perpetual night; spilled into the darkness so at odds with my safe and gentle circumstances.

I worried about life and the end of it, about the world and myself in it, about being small and about growing up. I worried that God had forgotten me on earth. That’s perhaps the strangest thing. I was raised an atheist but always secretly believed in God: that there was more to life than earth, that death was not the end of it. Thank God for that.

It was a vague belief though, like a church bell ebbing and gathering on a faraway breeze, or a photograph faded almost to obscurity. There was nobody to sharpen the image for me. To admit to another that I believed in God, and needed to feel closer to Him, would have seemed weak. Delusional even. Like admitting that I couldn’t handle myself.

But nobody knew anyway. Nobody knew where we are, or even how far the universe goes. Nobody knew for sure what happens after death. Nobody knew where God is. It didn’t seem to bother anyone, and that bothered me most of all.

I blundered through my teens as well as anybody can, still haunted by fears I couldn’t name, increasingly sensible to the vulnerability of a world I didn’t understand. As I grew, so did the dark. I was trapped in it, a slave to my own fear. The faint memory of God was swallowed in it too, and I was terribly alone.

Luck has a habit of following me, especially when I need it most. A lady where I lived had taught herself to meditate, and gave me some books so I could do the same. She talked about God naturally, like a friend. The picture grew in clarity again, in brief glimmers.

Through each attempt, I collected strength beyond my own ability, harvesting happiness from an orchard much more bountiful than my own – an orchard of sweet fruits that went on forever, where it was always summer. I dared remember that my life is not a solo voyage, but piloted by Someone bigger. At last I could breathe, as if for the first time.

One day I turned against fear, and it dissolved, like a serpent made of smoke. God had not forgotten me; I had been forgetting Him.

I was a fair-weather friend to God though. Meditation was difficult. Although I practised every day, my efforts lacked vigour, unless I was desperate or in trouble. I reached an agreement – a sort of dual tenancy – with the serpent of smoke. It was always there, but it would keep to its own quarters. God lived somewhere upstairs, and I was often too idle to climb there – perhaps calling a perfunctory hello from the second step each morning.

Courage came then from more comfortable sources: the sort you can buy in a bottle or a pill, that you can win through fickle friendships and small outer victories. It was a cheap happiness, and like most imitations, it fell apart after a few years. I chased it all over the world, but arrived back where I started, and that time with nothing.

I suppose it was a new birth, a blessing in the form of annihilation. There was an accident which nearly took my life. Soon after that I had no money, no job, no family near me, no friends, no home, barely any belongings, and not a shred of hope or self-esteem. I was helpless as an infant, and I cried a good deal.

I knew I had to learn to meditate properly. I had to find someone who knew how to do it and could show me. I dug out the books the lady had given me and tried a new exercise: The Spiritual Guide. It started with imagination, as all visualisations do. I waited on a beach in my heart for someone to come and teach me, and eventually he did.

He was a beautiful Indian man, all softness and sweetness, but with the strength of a galaxy contained in a human form. He loved me, as if he had known me always. He listened and understood, without judgment or harshness. He encouraged me – sincerely, not indulgently, and not in words, but in silence, releasing wisdom and peace like fragrances. I had only to breathe them in.

Here was someone who knew. He knew God. Anything I did not understand, he already knew. He did not need to tell me; the fact that he knew was enough for me, to see it and feel it in him. He contained all opposites, extremes of all I had longed for: subtlety and certainty, beauty and practicality, and most of all, immaculate poise.

He did not answer me or solve anything directly, but having sat with him, I knew what to do in life, and felt the strength to carry it out. Over the span of a year I gained a good job, a car, and a beautiful home. I was safe and healthy, challenged by the world but no longer terrified by it.

I wanted to learn more, to meet with others who knew meditation’s secrets. I wanted to practise with them, find new techniques, exchange experiences. The Sri Chinmoy Centre was the first and only place I found.

Sri Chinmoy and Sumangali at Mongolian circus, Turkey 2006I thought it had been my own imagination. How could such a man exist on earth as the one who had sat with me every day that year? There he was, in photographs and videos. He had come to life. He had been there all along. I could read his words and sing his songs. Eventually I could sit in his outer presence, as I had done so many times in my heart.

I cannot account for my good fortune. I am small and full of imperfection, but divine love touches all creation like the fingers of the sun. Luckily we need not wait to deserve it.

In Sri Chinmoy I found answers to questions I had not yet formed. In his brief life of 76 years he gave to all equally and abundantly: not what was deserved but what was needed. In poetry, in songs, in physical demonstration and silent meditation, he made maps for us: maps of immediate inner lands, and others we will not reach for a very long time.

Sometimes I miss him. I had ten years to become attached to the luxury of his living presence. But I know he has given me much more than I need, and much more than all the world can give me. When I miss him, I know I need only sit in my heart and he will come to me.

About life in the Sri Chinmoy Centre »

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