There is a story from India of a farmer who longed to have a great mango tree – he goes to the market and buys a small plant, then for years he tends his tree, nourishing it, watering its roots, tending it with all his love. Slowly the tree grows and flourishes, and finally begins to flower with its promise of the first mangos. Later on, the tree at last begins to bear fruit – but to his great surprise the fruit turns out to be apples – it was an apple tree, not the mango tree he had hoped for! He could have been upset and cursed the tree for having lavished all his care on the wrong tree, but instead he said, ‘Well, it is the same tree that I cared for, why would I not love it because it turned out to bear a different fruit?’
The story reminds me of the recent passing of an acquaintance of mine who never accepted the life path his child had chosen, how far away it had been from his expectations and how, right up until his death, he had harbored and even shared his disappointment with his child.
He was about to farewell forever a beautiful and exceptional daughter who had veered away from her father’s ambitions and expectations for her, and chosen a path of her own. The mango tree turned out to be a tree that bore a different fruit. But human love is often quite conditional like this, and fails to achieve an unconditional love that is wider and free of expectation, unburdening those we care for of our own ambitions and allowing and accepting the children’s freedom to choose their own life path.
At the funeral of my disappointed acquaintance, I read out some writings from the wisdom teachings of the late spiritual master Sri Chinmoy. His words would console the saddened daughter, and remind us that one of the secrets of life is that there is no real death, and that although the body is cast aside, the soul journeys on, birthless and deathless like an eternal traveler. They describe life and death as only like two rooms in a house – they are adjoining, and in one room we move about and play and work, in the other we take rest. But life is there in both rooms, and both rooms are needed. Sri Chinmoy writes:
‘We are all like passengers on a single train. The destination has come for one particular passenger. He has to get off at this stop, but we still have to go on and cover more distance. Now we have to know that this hour of death has been sanctioned by God, who is infinitely more compassionate than any human being, infinitely more compassionate than we who want to keep our dear ones. Even if the dying person is our son, or our father or mother, we have to know that she is infinitely dearer to God than she is to us.
So if we really accept and understand this, then this understanding will truly bring peace, an abiding peace, both to us and to the soul that is leaving the earth-scene.
‘We come from the infinite Life, but our stay here on earth is only for a short span of time, perhaps sixty or seventy years. But inside this earth-bound life is the boundless Life. The soul leaves the body for a short or long rest and goes back to the soul’s region, where it regains the Eternal Life, which existed before birth, which exists between birth and death, and which proceeds on beyond death.’
The daughter would eventually find the strength to free herself from her late father’s failure to accept her for who she was, the tree of a different fruit, and the truths about the impermanence and fragility of both life and love are unavoidable ones and finally bring both compassion and liberation.
Several of our marathon team members enjoyed a snowy expedition in the South Island’s Mt Arthur tablelands recently. Our hopes of hiking across the alpine tops to summit Mt Arthur were dashed by high winds, deep snow that had us up to our armpits in places, and mist.
Instead we climbed the lower mountains and explored the limestone sink holes, ‘tomos’, that are scattered about the landscape and link up to a maze of underground caverns and rivers. There are over 33 kms of tunnels and river systems one km below the mountainscapes, deep inside the Mt Arthur range, and explorers have camped for up to two weeks in the labyrinth of caves to chart their course.
Inside one of the tomos we found the ancient bones of a giant moa, an intact skeleton probably thousands of years old. In New Zealand we’re so fortunate to have an abundance of beautiful places to restore the spirit, challenge our capacity, inspire us – and humble us when we are confronted by the frailty of life if we err and fail to understand how quickly a warm day can become a cold and frozen night.
I have always felt fortunate to be a member of “Oneness-Dream”, an acapella male choir featuring students of Sri Chinmoy performing selections of his songs based on various spiritual themes and messages. We have toured to many parts of the world, performing in monasteries, Buddhist temples, ancient castles, iconic sites, famous cathedrals and places of pilgrimage in over twelve countries. Most recently, Oneness-Dream toured during April 2018 and went to 15 churches and monasteries in the Zlin and Prague areas of the Czech Republic. The clips mentioned here highlight some of our performances.
The choir’s first tour, in 2011, was offered in Iceland – ten concerts in the space of a week – and it became clear that what the choir had to offer was something very special – a beauty and simplicity, an intensity that went beyond performance into something deeply inspirational and uplifting. Over the next few years the choir regrouped to undertake similar tours to different parts of the world – Myanmar, Scotland, Ireland, USA, Italy – culminating in this year’s visit to the Czech Republic.
Sri Chinmoy regarded music as a unifying and universal language accessible to all, and a powerful medium to encourage a more peaceful world. He commented: “The universe itself is music. Unfortunately, most of the time we do not hear the music of the universe… But in everything, if we can become aware of it, there is music. Everything in God’s creation embodies music. We can hear it only when we dive deep within.
God is the Supreme Musician. It is He who is playing with us, on us and in us. We cannot separate God from His music. The universal Consciousness is constantly being played by the Supreme Himself, and is constantly growing into the Supreme Music. God the Creator is the Supreme Musician and God the creation is the supreme Music. The musician and His Music can never be separated. The Musician Supreme is playing his Music Supreme here in the universe.”
Auckland’s active interfaith movement was recently on show when the Sri Chinmoy Centre organised a memorable and inspiring evening of music on Monday, May 28, 2018. Ten local performing groups representing various spiritual traditions came together for a free concert of peaceful, meditative music at the Fickling Centre in Mt Eden. Singers and instrumentalists from Sikh, Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, Tzu Chi and various other musical traditions shared an evening highlighting both the diversity of Auckland’s cultures and their spirit of co-operation. The evening concert – ‘Sounds of the Sacred’ – was filled to overflowing and offered an experience of inner peace through music.
Interfaith initiatives have a long history. The 1893 Parliament of World Religions, where the great Swami Vivekananda spoke and came to prominence, is often regarded as the birth of the modern interfaith movement and the most inclusive gathering of people of all faiths and traditions in history. Yet initiatives go back much further, even to the 16th century and beyond when in Mughal India, the Muslim Emperor Akbar promoted and encouraged tolerance and respect for other faiths and controversially married a Hindu princess.
Encouragingly, in our modern world there is a growing accommodation and a widening acceptance and goodwill towards the many faces of religion, and sporadic extremism and religious wars only remind us of their folly and cruelty.
Sri Chinmoy, who for four decades led the inter-denominational ‘Peace Meditations at the United Nations’, spoke of the need for ‘oneness’ and of the loving quality of the human heart:
“In religion, just as in all other aspects of our life, the feeling of our oneness-heart has to prevail. If we live in our oneness-heart, we will feel the essence of all religions, which is love of God. True religion has a univ
ersal quality. It does not find fault with other religions. Forgiveness, compassion, tolerance, brotherhood and the feeling of oneness are the signs of a true religion.”
Interfaith efforts are evident in many world forums including the United Nations, where the promotion of tolerance, peace and mutual respect is enshrined in the UN Charter and its Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The United Nations also has interfaith breakfasts, sports competitions and cultural programs, and includes spiritual activities as well, such as the ongoing ‘Peace Meditations at the United Nations’ bi-weekly program for UN delegates and staff.
Speaking of the inner, spiritual dimension of world peace, Sri Chinmoy writes:
“There must be a great synthesis between the inner life and the outer life. The inner life wants love, and the outer life wants power. Now we are all exercising the love of power. But a day will come when this world of ours will be inundated with the power that loves. Only the power that loves can change the world.”
‘Sounds of the Sacred’ was also supported by the Auckland Interfaith Council, and included among the performers were local Mt Eden duo Monk Party; an instrumental/vocal women’s group from the Sri Chinmoy Centre; choirs from St Marks church groups; Sikh Youth performers; the Sathya Sai International NZ organization; and musicians from the Family Federation for World Peace.
If your idea of pure joy is a trail race involving a lot of mud, rain, stream wadings, steep and seemingly endless hills, inching through a pitch black 300 metre long limestone cave, and navigating 22 or 35 kms (depending on your degree of insanity) of slippery farm tracks, you’d have loved our recent April 28th adventure competing in the Waitomo Caves Trail Run in New Zealand’s North Island.
Five runners from the Auckland Sri Chinmoy Centre recently competed in this great event and enjoyed themselves immensely, traversing the amazing limestone studded hills with their outcrops of wind sculpted stone.
The spirit and power of place was overwhelming and humbling – the landscape seemed like an ancient battlefield, filled with giants and Titans and strange Beings turned to stone. Across the green landscapes and ridgelines the fists of rock reared up into the sky, resembling fleeing invaders lurching back to the sea after some mythological battle, now frozen mute and turned to stone by some fatal curse. Were they stranded there at daybreak, a raiding party from some barbaric underworld undone by the sudden dawn, or defectors from the faraway mountain fortresses seeking refuge in the dark forests? It was Lord of the Rings stuff! But the mute limestone features would not soften or speak as we passed.
Mother Nature threw everything at our brave few – rain, wind, cold – but our runners relished the challenges and placed well in the event. Movement and meditation belong together. We were exulting in the freedom of wellbeing, the beauty of landscaps, the wonderful camaraderie of the running fraternity, the silence of the hills, the dance of this wonderful life.
Because you are greater than you know. Meditation gradually introduces us to a hidden, deeper and remarkable part of our nature that is usually veiled by the endlessly busy mind and our immersion in the dramas of everyday life. Regaining control of the mind, learning inner stillness and silence, is the beginnings of a whole new self-discovery. We have a mind, but we are much more than mind. Our deeper spiritual nature is a source of great capacity and power.
Because you can be happier than you are today. One of the early-on benefits of meditation is a growing happiness – you’ll wonder ‘Why am I feeling so good today?’ Outer happiness is always dependent upon people and circumstance, and thus changeable; inner happiness is one of the lasting fruits of meditation, and is unaffected by outer circumstances entirely. Happiness is really an inner achievement, a rediscovering of the soul’s joy in existence itself.….
Because inner peace is your life’s most enduring treasure. Peace is another of the fruits and benefits of regular practice, like the fragrance of an inner flower. It comes in different forms – inner calm, equanimity in the face of life’s challenges, egolessness, a widening capacity for love and kindness. Peaceful people are very powerful people.
Because you’ll find your life’s deepest purpose. Every human being is unique, with different gifts and purposes – inner stillness won through meditation reconnects us with an inner wisdom, the heart’s intuitive intelligence, a clarity about our own special direction in life. Meditation is a life-navigator, shows us where to go, gives us the courage and freedom to follow our own unique path through life.
Meditation will upgrade your health! Stress, tension and negative emotions silently erode our life-force, but as we decrease these negative influences through our meditation practice, the positive health benefits become very apparent – increased vitality, a greater sense of general wellbeing, better sleep. Happiness and inner peace are powerful health factors and restoratives.
A new relationship with the world. The way we feel and function in our outer life is determined to a very great extent by our inner life – our happiness, our confidence, our moods. We often have little power to change events in the outer world, but we can change the way we react to them - our whole experience of life is colored by our own consciousness. Meditation balances the inner and outer worlds and brings out the bright colors of our nature – joyfulness, serenity, loving-kindness, strength. These emerging positive qualities reshape our very experience of life, for everything starts within.
A ripple in the pond. Our own daily meditation also has an effect upon the world, since in the vibrant web of energy everything is connected. Every thought and action spreads out into the world like a pebble tossed in to a pond. If you are able to achieve a calm and quiet mind, you will be bringing peacefulness, calmness, tolerance and beauty into the world around you. Your own deepening peace is the highest thing you can do for our troubled planet. “Be the change you want to see in the world” as Gandhi put it. This is also the teaching of quantum theory – consciousness is the ground of all being, the universe is a single conscious entity, we are its ongoing architects and creators.
The concept of soul. ‘What did your face look like before you were born?’ asks a Tibetan master of his disciple. To the mind the question is nonsensical, but not so for the instinctive intelligence of the heart. The puzzling inquiry reminds us of some essence of ourselves that is neither body nor mind, something birthless and deathless that never ceases to exist. The teachings of all the great sages and pathfinders over the centuries also share this belief in the reality of the human soul – and it is in the silence and stillness of meditation that its wisdom and guidance can most easily be felt and experienced. In everything of life – decision-making, problem solving, the search for fulfilment and happiness – our access to our intuitive, deeper Self is the key to showing us our way forward, with meditation training us to reconnect with these deeper capacities.
Making friends with the universe. We start meditation with self-effort, but over time we come to understand that all effort – like the law of attraction – seems to attract grace, as though everything needed is gifted to us by a benevolent universe. Spiritual masters call this ‘grace’. The direct experience of this can shunt years of skepticism and agnosticism to one side and open our minds to a mysterious and beautiful and responsive universe, to the idea of a creator or presiding intelligence behind the appearances of what we call reality. Here a whole new science of meditation awakens – ‘bhakti yoga’ – where the finite is now conjoined with the Infinite.
Meditation as sacred quest. From cradle-rock to last breath we live in a busy, enchanting and all absorbing world – the ability to stay in touch with our spiritual purposes, the quest for happiness and enlightenment and God-discovery, is rarely uppermost in our lives. Meditation is a reality check, reminding us of what is truly important in our lives, and equally, what is not. It lifts our lives above the everyday necessities and needs – eating, sleeping, working, surviving – and reminds us of a deeper truth and purpose, the great quest that lies at the heart of all human life, and the great happiness and liberation that will be won at the end of all striving.
Fitness has been a theme in the Sri Chinmoy Centre over the past month or two, with a number of us having a shot at some great trail runs – the Tarawera trail race near Rotorua with distances up to 50km, the recent Riverhead Rampage multi-distance run out in Woodhill forest near Kumeu in Auckland, and then again last weekend’s Motutapu/Rangitoto island event. This last one had us in the half marathon option, a fairly tough course that included the highest climbs over the trig points on both islands, long hills, rocky lava fields along Rangitoto’s foreshore and some great fast downhill stretches through the narrow forest tracks.
It’s great to have challenges, and I remember Eleanor Roosevelt’s comment that to live fully, every day we should attempt something that scares us. So I’m looking ahead next to April’s Waitomo ultras down in the Waikato, the longer distances being 22km and 35 km. If that sounds easy, take a look at the topography and the elevation profiles for this event – the hills are endless!! Eleanor would be proud of me.
Some of our keen trail runners are having a bash at Mt Ruapehu’s Ring of Fire threesome relay earlier in April,2018, three person teams covering some 22km each around the mountain’s flanks, and one or two doing the whole distance solo. Our youngest runner likes the other quotation about challenges: “A ship in harbor is safe, but that’s not what ships are built for”.
So we’re all heading out into the uncharted open seas and exploring what we’re capable of.
Running offers these insights along with many other benefits conferred. And as a meditator, I always notice the relationship between fitness and training and the flow-on effects into my spiritual life, the greater ease of cultivating a still mind, still body, slow breath.
Not to mention how the disciplines of training and eating really well take us up to a level of wellbeing that’s really amazing – energy, self-belief, inspiration to take on other kinds of challenges and to live life as fully as we can.
Reprinted with the kind permission of IndiaNZ Outlook newspaper
Three champions: Harita Davies, Alison Roe, Abhejali Bernardova
The national Sri Chinmoy Centre hosted a rare sports presentation last month that brought together two remarkable women athletes to venues in Auckland and Wellington in what proved to be inspirational occasions for the audiences. The two evenings were part of a “Meetings with Remarkable People” national series of free talks, in which outstanding men and women share their experiences and encourage others to tackle their own life’s dreams and challenges. February’s recent talks were titled ‘Challenging Impossibility’ and featured two extraordinary achievers : Czech ‘Oceans-7’ ultra-distance swimmer Abhejali Bernardova, and Kiwi runner Harita Davies, the only NZ woman to ever compete in and complete the world’s longest certified running race, the gruelling, New York based 3,100 mile ultra.
Guest speaker and Czech swimmer Abhejali Bernardova outlined the rare feat of attempting the seven great ocean challenges. She had completed the previous six most challenging crossings over the past ten years, including the North Channel (Ireland to Scotland), the Molokai Channel (Hawaii), the English Channel, the Catalina Channel (USA), the Tsugaru Strait (Japan) and the Strait of Gibraltar (Spain). Among numerous other remarkable swims Abhejali had completed was the Robben Island to Capetown crossing in South Africa, a stretch of water known for its dangerous sharks. The rules of the Open Water Swimming society require that the Ocean-7 crossings must be swum without the aid of a wetsuit, and the attempts accompanied by an official witness.
Despite rough seas and strong currents making any chance of a crossing very difficult, Abhejali Bernadova last month succeeded in swimming the Cook Strait and became the 10th person in the world to complete the seven oceans challenge. She completed the swim in 13 hours and 9 minutes, arriving at the tip of the South Island around 9.20pm. For several hours during the swim, and only six miles from the South Island, Abhejali was fighting merely to hold her position and not be pulled back towards Wellington. Finally, around 6pm when the currents settled she was able to continue making headway.
The window of opportunity is always a small one in attempting the Cook Strait crossing, as swimmers can only make their attempt during either the full moon or on the half moon. At these times the currents and tides are at their calmest. With cyclone Gita hitting New Zealand three days earlier, Abhejali had to cancel an earlier attempt due to rough seas – as it was, Abhejali battled high swells, seasickness and painful stings from jellyfish encountered in the water.
Abhejali’s most arduous swim was the Molokai Channel off Hawaii, a 22 hour epic in strong currents and with seasickness preventing her from being able to eat or drink and regain energy. Remarkably, she completed each of these seven great swims on her first attempt. While 348 have completed the seven summits challenge – the scaling of the world’s seven highest mountains – so far only nine swimmers have completed the ‘Oceans-7’ challenge. Also a Czech 24 hour, 100km and 6 day race running champion, Abhejali is now the 10th person, 4th woman and first from a landlocked country to do so. The first woman to complete the challenge was Swedish Anna Carin Nordin.
Abhejali was crewed on her swim by several friends and also Harita Davies, who in 2017 became New Zealand’s first woman to compete in and complete the world’s longest race – the Self Transcendence 3,100 mile race inspired by spiritual master Sri Chinmoy. Both women share a practice of meditation learnt from Sri Chinmoy, who inspired many people to believe in their unlimited potential and reach unprecedented goals. Harita also spoke at the ‘Challenging Impossibility’ evening and talked about her recent 3,100 mile epic. She jogged and ran over 96 km every day for 54 consecutive days in an ultra event described by the New York Times as “The Mount Everest of Ultramarathons.” The 3100 ultra has runners circling around a half-mile city block in suburban Queens during the heat of the summer, and only six women have ever completed the 3100 mile distance in the previous twenty events. Only one other New Zealander has ever attempted the challenging epic journey.
The two speakers showed footage of their respective achievements and shared inspirational stories, nutrition and training tips, and insights into our limitless potential when mind/body/spirit can work together. Harita comments: “Many of us go through life wondering about what we might have done if we had dared to attempt something daunting and difficult. 3100 miles really frightened me, but I decided to venture into that frightening place and challenge myself and see what I could learn. It’s one of the best and happiest and most amazing experiences I have ever had. For a spiritual Master like Sri Chinmoy to give such importance to physical endeavors signifies a new direction in spirituality. It acknowledges the great contribution that the body is capable of making to the ultimate perfection of our human life.”
Sri Chinmoy writes: “At every moment we have the golden opportunity to go high, higher, highest on the strength of our inner mounting cry. Each time our aspiration, our mounting cry, touches the highest pinnacle, it is fired again. The goal that it touches need not and cannot be the ultimate Goal, for today’s goal is tomorrow’s starting point. Again, tomorrow’s goal will be the starting point for the day after tomorrow. There is no end to our realisation. There is no end to our self-transcendence…. In order to transcend, two things are of paramount importance: our personal effort and God’s Grace. By personal effort alone, we cannot transcend ourselves. Again, God’s Grace will not do anything unless and until we are receptive. If we can receive God’s Grace and properly use it, then only can we reach the Highest. A sincere seeker is transcending his previous reality at every moment. Like a potter who accepts clay and moulds it into something beautiful, a spiritual seeker accepts the life of ignorance and tries to transform it with his inner wisdom-light.”
From the strict spiritual point of view nothing is ultimate. Everything is transcending. We call something ultimate according to the realisation of our goal. But tomorrow we can climb up and stand on top of the reality which we yesterday considered as the ultimate and perfect it. Today’s ultimate consciousness has to be transcended by tomorrow’s more intense aspiration.”
I have always felt a deep gratitude for my enduring love of running and those long ago first encounters with that great inspirer of running, Sri Chinmoy. One of the simple truths about our lives is that most of us might never have laced up our sports shoes and become runners at all had it not been for him. He introduced us to the dormant athlete in each of us, inspired us to challenge great distances, and created a modern spiritual path that encouraged physical excellence along with the practice of meditation in a most successful, dynamic way.
An excellent sports achiever and marathoner himself, Sri Chinmoy always saw in us our deeper undiscovered capacities, something better and larger than what we saw in ourselves. He inspired us, encouraged us to tackle great challenges, gave us self-belief and a sense of wonderful possibility. We became runners and musicians and channel swimmers and mountaineers, we dared to attempt great things. Our fitness gave us strength and confidence, a foundation of wellbeing – we walked and ran through long nights of heat or rain, toed the start line at marathons, ran multi-day epics that banished the word ‘impossibility’ from our thoughts. All those possible selves that we might never have discovered, the unlived lives, the dormant possibilities he awoke! Sri Chinmoy hugely changed our lives!
His comments and profound insights about the spiritual significance of running, the many benefits conferred, are illumining for anyone interested in happiness — and who among us has not felt a growing mastery over mind and body, a more intense aspiration, an elation that is the soul’s joy, a widening world of personal possibility? Perhaps most importantly for us, running has opened up an inner doorway, a portal through which we can sometimes glimpse and feel the boundless potential that all the wisdom teachings speak of, and that we are truly unlimited if we only dare to try and have faith.
August 2017 marked the 40th anniversary of the founding of the Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team, and some of the following memories and stories gather together a few tribute stories and treasures from our worldwide family of runners. May the next 40 years of the Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team bring the beautiful sport of running to countless people, inspire the many awakening truth-seekers of the world, and bring Sri Chinmoy’s message of self-transcendence to an ever-widening audience of receptive hearts.
“We run. We become. At every moment we are running to become something great, divine, sublime and supreme. While we are becoming, we feel that we are in the process of reaching our ultimate Goal. But today’s Goal is only the starting point for tomorrow’s new dawn.”
— Sri Chinmoy
In the early 1970s, Guru’s visits to Puerto Rico were always a full-on experience of pure joy and excitement. In those days, we would see him nearly every day.
One evening, out of the blue, Guru asked us all to meet him early the next morning in a nearby park to “take exercise!” Little did we know that this first morning session with our Coach Supreme was only the beginning of a new wave of dynamic athleticism that would grow into one of the defining qualities of our Path.
We were certainly a motley crew that morning in the park, having stayed up quite late the night before. We groggily stood before him in a wavering line following his lead in all manner of exotic stretches, jumps, twists and hops! Guru was in such great shape, so limber and full of joyful energy as he led us through the exercise repertory of his ashram days. For most of us, on the other hand, this was the first time we ever did this kind of thing to our protesting bodies!
On that hot and muggy tropical morning, we soldiered on, following Guru as he did his favourite run-skip-twists through the park. When it was all over, we dragged our aching, limping bodies into the nearby ocean for some well-deserved healing therapy!
That morning was soon followed by short races around the block, with Guru cheering us at the finish line with stopwatch in hand, giving everyone tips and encouragement, planting the seeds for a lifetime of integral spiritual fitness. Soon, training for the New York City Marathon and putting on races for the public began. The floodgates were now open!
Today, the source of hundreds of Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team events around the world, the unparalleled 3100-mile race, and our Path’s central mantra of “self-transcendence” can, in a sense, be traced back to such humble beginnings as that tropical morning’s exercise session in the park, led by our very own Champion of Champions.