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.”
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.
In 1980 Sri Chinmoy was personally fully immersed in long-distance running, which he had just begun in June of 1978. He had trained seriously for the rest of 1978 and into 1979 to run his first marathon on March 3, 1979 in Chico, California. Even though he had not been running for many years prior to 1978, he had a very good athletic background when he was growing up. He was a top track and field athlete in his youth, excelling in short sprints and track races, and for two years he was decathlon champion in his spiritual community. He was an excellent soccer and volleyball player as well.
But fitness can be lost quite rapidly if an athlete does not keep up the training into middle age. Sri Chinmoy decided to bring back that fitness and even go beyond the endurance and strength he had in his youth by beginning his training seriously again at the age of 46. By doing this he inspired many younger students of his to start getting into shape, whether they had previously been athletic or not.
Training for a marathon was a serious and arduous undertaking which most of the younger students of Sri Chinmoy had not attempted up to this point. Seeing how serious and enthusiastic Sri Chinmoy was in training himself inspired many of those who either had not yet run a marathon or wanted to improve their previous marathon times. In his first year of training Sri Chinmoy ran 7 marathons within 10 months. After his first marathon of 4:31:34 he ran another marathon three weeks later in 3:55:07! That’s an improvement of 36 minutes in less than a month. That was not only an inspiration to all of his students, but almost miraculous for a 47-year-old spiritual Master and former sprinter.
By 1980 Sri Chinmoy felt that his students needed more inspiration to train and race seriously, especially in the cold winter months of the Northeast when one can easily lose fitness with the excuse that it is too cold out to train or race. That lethargic notion was soon to be shattered when Sri Chinmoy sprang a marathon on his students in January 1980 in the subfreezing weather of Vermont. He travelled up to Vermont from New York to give a concert and decided that everyone could draw much inspiration from running in the beautiful countryside. Many of his students had made the long trip up north and were used to bringing their running clothes on overnight trips. But little did anyone know that they would be running a full 26.2-mile marathon! Those of us who were prepared to run took the challenge and ran the marathon. Others helped with the administration of the race.
It was an incredibly energizing and inspiring experience for those who had not even dreamed of running a marathon in subfreezing weather. Sri Chinmoy was helping the runners conquer not only lethargy but also unfounded fear and apprehension of something as harmless as a little cold weather. It also inspired everyone to also train in the winter and to be in shape for marathons scheduled early in the year, before the summer months. After that event, Sri Chinmoy instituted this race on a regular basis in the first week of February for the next three years in nearby Hampton, New Hampshire. He himself ran this cold but scenic race twice, in 1981 and 1983, when it followed the beautiful shoreline of the Atlantic Ocean in southern Nw Hampshire.
For a few years this iconic race was popular among serious local marathoners who wanted to qualify for the famous Boston Marathon. It was one of the last marathons available to potential qualifiers for Boston, which was a difficult race to get into at that time. The Boston Marathon, inaugurated in 1896, was the oldest annual running marathon. It became so popular by the 1970s that runners had to achieve qualifying times for their age groups to get in. Since Boston is always held in April, a serious marathoner has to train throughout the winter months to prepare properly for it. Sri Chinmoy’s Inspiration Marathon was a perfect race to encourage and inspire those runners who wanted to compete in Boston, which also was not too far away from Hampton, New Hampshire.
For many reasons the Inspiration Marathon was truly a jewel of a race and a gift to all those serious runners who, at least during that time in the early ’80s, wanted to derive not only fitness but also inspiring motivation and joy in their marathoning pursuits, and thus in life as well. I am grateful to be one of those runners who still benefit from that experience. I owe a debt of gratitude to Sri Chinmoy for that race as well as many, many other races, short and long, that he inspired over the decades through his involvement in the running world.
The following article by Jogyata Dallas is reprinted with the kind permission of the IndiaNZ Outlook newspaper.
Throughout our long history, humanity has always been guided and uplifted by the lives and deeds of our great teachers and leaders, the political greats like Mikhail Gorbachev and Nelson Mandela; the humanitarians like Mother Teresa; the pioneering visionaries like Thomas Jefferson. In the spiritual realms, over long millennia India has provided us with so many of the great sages and Teachers who continue to remind us of the highest and deepest truths about our existence, the life navigators and exemplars pointing the way. These are all world figures who tower above nationality and self-interest and whose very names come to embody values and principles that linger long after their earth life, inspiring us for centuries. In the realm of these immortals, the name of one of India’s most recent luminaries shines brightly, the late spiritual master and peace-server Sri Chinmoy.
In Sri Chinmoy’s birth place of Bengal, there is a saying “A moment with the Beloved and the river changes its course”. History has proven the truth of this, how encounters with remarkable people in different fields of human life have inspired revolutions, remarkable charity, epochal change, great undertakings. They believed in us, raised us up, saw in each of us something remarkable and noble and better than what we saw in ourselves. They awoke in us a sense of great purpose and we cast aside any sense of inadequacy, instead daring and dreaming of great deeds. They may not have been involved in politics, but effected political change; never gave advice, but brought forward from within us a new clarity about our way forward, a new intensity of purpose. The rivers of lives and nations indeed changed their courses, nudged towards a brighter future simply through the power of their encouragement and conviction, their dauntless courage and the personal examples they set.
But inspiration can also manifest itself on the humble stage of our personal lives as well, in our attempts at self-improvement, tackling new challenges, finding the courage for some formidable undertaking. One such example is the recent brave effort of an Auckland athlete, Harita Davies, a member of the Sri Chinmoy Marathon team who was initially inspired after reading a book by Sri Chinmoy about the limitless potential of human beings. Harita is poised to become the first Kiwi woman to ever tackle and finish the longest certified footrace in history, the Self-Transcendence 3,100 Mile Race held annually in New York city. Described as “The Mount Everest of Ultramarathons” by the New York Times, the 21st annual event has runners circling around a half-mile city block in suburban Queens during the stifling heat and sudden lightning storms of the NY summer.
The 52 day race began on the 18th of June and finished on the 8th of August – competitors have to maintain an average of 60 miles a day, over two marathons every day for almost eight weeks! The race starts at 6 a.m. every morning and the runners can continue as late as midnight when the course closes till dawn. Only six women have ever completed the 3100 mile distance in the previous twenty events, with only one other male New Zealander ever attempting the challenging epic journey. The race was founded in 1997 by the late Sri Chinmoy (1931-2007), who pioneered many long distance events and has been credited with reviving multi-day racing, once very popular in the 19th century. The Auckland marathon team he founded hosts New Zealand’s national 24 hour championship race, and over thirty national road races and marathons annually.
Sri Chinmoy was a great believer in humanity’s potential – a philosophy he called ‘self-transcendence’ – and made headlines over twenty years ago when he predicted that the sub two-hour marathon mark would fall in the coming few decades. His prediction almost came true recently when Kenyan marathoner Eliud Kipchoge, gold-medalist at the Rio Olympics and the best marathoner in the world, stepped up to the starting line at the Autodromo Nazionale Monza race track in northern Italy and ran the fastest time ever recorded – 2 hours and 25 seconds!
Many of the 3100 mile competitors describe the race as very much an inner journey as well, a test of mental strength, self-belief, the ability to endure through countless challenges. Harita comments: “Many of us go through life wondering about what we might have done if we had dared to attempt something seemingly impossible 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”.
“Just to keep going is an incredible lesson for life, and not being deterred by obstacles. They make you stronger and really help you develop faith, confidence, patience, and perseverance, qualities that are so essential for life. I like Eleanor Roosevelts remark, that it’s better we aim too high and fall short of our goal, than to aim too low and achieve our goal, and always wonder at the end what might have been possible if we had dared to aim a little higher.”
“For me, 52 days of running is a spiritual journey more than anything, confronting in myself during the long hours of each day the frailty of the body, the stubborn resistances of the mind, wearing them down till only the trusting heart is left. Out on the road, everything is simple, everything else falls away. There is only the essence of life, only its ultimate purpose.”
Ah this cold winter. Peering outside into a dreary grey dawn, at sagging clouds and wet glistening roads and footpaths with their banks of sodden leaves; and to the east the apricot blush of sky above the harbor, its serpent tides tugging at the roots, the kelp beds. Warm bed calling me back. Force yourself out the door. Coddled head to toe out I go. On Graton Bridge, a group of overweight women thunder past me as though I’m standing still — bare arms, bare legs, tough girls unperturbed by winter. These plumes of misty breath, breath of my life, marrying me with the sky. James K. Baxter, that immensely great poet, brooding and drunken lived here, saw this tide of people scurrying to work each dawn as I do. And there, a poem of his still up on a café wall:
‘Alone we are born
And die alone;
Yet see the red-gold cirrus
Over snow-mountain shine.
Upon the upland road
Ride easy, stranger:
Surrender to the sky
Your heart of anger’
The dark sky droops like a soggy canopy, each step is a triumph of will — if I can reach Remuera Village without stopping I’ll be satisfied. Under my breath singing my today’s favorite song — ma eseche, ma eseche, ‘Mother you have come….’, my invocatory mantra. I like the aloneness of running, its simplicity, splashing across the waterlogged parklands in my muddy shoes, chilled feet leaving my signature tracks in the muddy grass like the spoor of a night animal, talking my foolishness to God. Ma eseche…yes you have come, we are cradled by God.
At my morning shrine Guru’s words spiral off the page of a book…. “Spirit is creative, conscious existence. What is matter? It is anything but lifeless, mechanical substance. Matter is vibrant energy which deliberately hides within itself life and consciousness”.
It is remarkable that spiritual masters — and here, Guru himself — ‘see’ into the fundamental nature of reality and the discoveries of quantum physics, that ‘vibrant energy’ and consciousness are the ground of all being and the very matrix of the universe. Everything material emerges from the infinite unmanifest, the sub-strata of potentiality, and consciousness itself manifests the worlds of our external and internal experiences. These insights imply a mind-created, dreaming universe and were self-evident even to the sages and yogis of past millennia.
Guru often spoke as well of the cosmic energy pervading everything, its accessibility to the receptive athlete, and that if there is a tug-of-war between strength and power, power will always win, ‘for the source of power is infinitely greater than the physical strength that any human being can have.’ Reading of these revelations, remembering them while running today, I was wondering how to take the quantum leap, how to run a sub 3:30 marathon in August, fill my being with the vibrant energy of the cosmos. Is it too late to reactivate this superannuated body and race away to a stunning age category victory? If I dream this, then perhaps, perhaps….
Kanala is here from Austria, a whirlwind sprint around the country, four centres and cities, five sitar concerts in a clutch of days. We take him out to Auckland’s west coast forests in the early hours for an amble in the 60 miles of plantations. This sweet clean air, the sea sighing all around us in the sound chambers of forest, the unburdening calm of a high sky and these undefiled hours. The lovely freedom of wanting nothing else. Wet spear grass, the dusty pollen of the yellow flowering ragwort, ocean combers breaking, echoing up in the tall canopies of pines, sometimes a silent urgent hand pointing up ahead — there! — the flick-flicker of a white rump darting away silent through the trees, a hind and fawn. I am thinking of the shape of my life, of things sensed in the seas proximity, the unbreakable perimeters of my nature, a sense of despondency that I have not ventured more. The trail recedes away but will not take me any closer to an understanding of these things.
Consider this evening’s gifts, the fading light above the rim of earth and the streets filling with my human family, seen but never to be known, though I would like to single out a stranger or two, saying “can we talk for a while?” Stare out the window, complain of the weather, of the wind bludgeoning the manicured pampered trees along Karangahape Road.
In his book The Outer Running and the Inner Running Guru writes: “Unless you touch something every day, it does not shine. Often I have told people to touch the furniture in their homes every day. As soon as you touch something it gets new life. If you are aware of something, immediately it shines and gets a new luminosity. If you have good health, if you touch your health every day, it gets new life.”
So I go out, Thursday’s trot around a block or two, my feet pattering and rhythmic on the sidewalks, seeing all the familiar desperate things, eateries steaming up, the pubs with their lonely cargo and I remember Roethke’s poem, his line ‘agony of crucifixion on barstools’. Yes it does seem like that. Three miles then home.
I like to run early when the dawn comes, the slow gray light flushing up into the black canopy, a city slumbering and quiet. This is the hour of the songsters, the thrushes and blackbirds — and sparrows have the streets, squabble over scraps. In the human world only a few homeless ones are about, stirring in their damp blankets and newspapers. Hunched on a park bench, sometimes they curse me — I am too privileged, too remote to be accepted.
I don’t need an alarm to awaken — one of our disciples, unfailingly on time, visits the centre early and I hear the little sounds of movement, the subtle shift of energy in the darkness. The building squeaks and creaks, awakens like a sentient being.
She comes to the Centre every morning around 3:30 am, the holy hour, for her early three hours of meditation. She is quiet as a falling feather but the old wooden floorboards and creaking joists betray her, shift and sigh as she passes my room. In her hour long walking meditations, her slow circling shuffle around the great room, she claps her hands together just once when thoughts come, a novel rebuke to her mind. Lately she has found a tiny brass bell shaped like the corolla of a golden flower, and rings it to alert herself when her mind trails sleepily away. I hear it from far away, ting-a-ling-ling, ting-a-ling-a-ling. I like lying awake in the early morning’s silence, feeling the sincerity and the quest for God impressed in to the darkness, and from time to time the tinkling of the penitential bell like a call to remembrance and prayer.
I remember in the 80’s there was a TV series, all about the Shaolin monks, called Kung Fu. The enlightened master tested his disciples’ progress by having them walk across a rolled out length of rice paper — when enlightened, supposedly their footfalls would leave no trace. Our walking is a register of our consciousness: some have little awareness and walk into the meditation room like elephants, ponderous, the whole room trembling. But at night she walks past my door like a wraith, silent as a shadow, leaving little imprint on the rice paper. Only far away in the other room I hear her thoughts, the clap of hands or lately the muted ting-a-ling rebuke of the tiny brass bell.
We held a public race today in the drizzle — 150 people come. After prize-giving they dawdle and talk, eat porridge under the tent, enjoy the camaraderie that running elicits. You can talk to any stranger — ‘how was your time today?’ The winners so uplifting to watch, shining with rain as they pass, the girl glissade-smooth, almost floating, the boy all muscular concentrated power. Effort and transcendence have made them happy, they smile, their hearts shine. Guru likens running to a family picnic — body, vital, mind, heart, soul all fed and satisfied — and to the perennial journey, the ultra-marathon back to God. I am the marathon Guru, he said. We gather to watch the children’s 1.5 km event, the way they flew down the hill at top speed, all enthusiasm and unrestrained joy, a sprint, the gauntlet of parents and adults all huge smiles.
Last night in the Centre we were talking about the need to be a disciple at every moment, and that consciousness is our main manifestation — standing in the street, buying an apple, sitting on a bus, be a disciple. This week one of our girls, simply walking down a road, had been asked by a discerning stranger, ‘Are you with the Sri Chinmoy Centre?’ So today at the race we are all smiles, we are smiling at everyone and practicing our karma yoga.
I have been good, run every day. In my morning book Guru asks me… “Why is it that in you the inner cry has increased, whereas others are still fast asleep? It is because God has inspired you. It is not that you just come out of your house and decide to run. No, something within you, an inner urge, inspires you to go out and run. And who has given you that inner urge if not our Beloved Supreme?”
I profess to being truly grateful for the enduring gift of fitness and the grace of inspiration in my inconsequential life. Sinews, bones, muscles still work — I have been granted an extension. Although now in my sixties, some days I feel as though I’m twenty years old, I could run forever along the promenade above the Hauraki Gulf, lope out along the headland and watch the ocean-going yachts battering through the chop and big green swells of open seas, or head west with a knapsack and run the empty mountain roads that rollercoaster through forests of overarching ferns, tall kanuka, white blossoming clematis, the earth’s incense, breathing the pungent and fragrant spices of the soil.
My running reflects my nature a lot, I like the same circuits which I revisit, the streets and mountain trails, riversides and parklands, secure in these familiar places. My wider life is circumscribed like this, the perimeters quite narrow and defined, the repetition of days that welcome familiar things. There are the other circuits we travel as well, revisiting the great stations of human life — loneliness, anxiety, remorse, hope, desire and anger. We see them in each other, but do not talk of them, accepting the old covenant of silence.
Don’t we each have too in our lives a personal standard or feeling by which we measure our living and our satisfaction? Perhaps it is the standards and expectations of our souls. For me running is a barometer of all this, the litmus test of my risings or fallings…it keeps me at a certain level, ensures that I maintain this personal standard. In the complex landscape of a busy and multi-faceted life, running is a constant, like eating, sleeping, meditating, an essential ingredient underpinning the physical and spiritual, and without this the other things might weaken or falter.
Running too is a happiness of sorts, a celebration of life and that aspect of life which is movement and dynamism and will — and running confers life as well. Running is the battle against ignorance — it challenges the reluctant mind, the bed-loving body, the gravitational descent into age and infirmity and ordinariness — and masters them. Running, although in the physical, exercises the soul’s further-reaching will.
Guru reminds us: “If you want to run fast, faster, fastest, then you have to simplify your outer life, your life of confusion, your life of desire, your life of anxiety and worry. At the same time, you have to intensify your inner life, your life of aspiration, your life of dedication and illumination…. Your own higher self is the goal that your lower self has been searching for.” (ibid)
With practice, running can also be meditation. Some days when I’m failing miserably at my shrine, I head out for big open spaces, sing songs or chant or talk to God. And coming back over Grafton Bridge today I see one of Baxter’s poem, ‘To our Lady of Perpetual Help’, in that loyal café window — the last few lines tingle in my mind like this lovely sunrise:
Us who walk the burning slum of days
Not knowing left from right. I praise
Your bar room cross, your star of patience.
Contributor: Ksenia Kala
For many years I sincerely hoped for a life of progress, but I never felt progress to be a part of my reality. All my attempts to fill my life with something meaningful had never reaped any solid fruit, despite bringing lots of excitement in the preliminary stages. Instead my life journey has always seemed a slow, progressive downfall.
At some point, I started giving up on the dreams of being sincerely happy or having peace of mind. These dreams I carried with me since I was a child through the teenage years, but the more time passed by the less likely it seemed that my dreams would ever become a reality.
I have always loved art and music in all their forms. I listen very carefully to what the artists express through their creations and to some extent can identify myself with their art. In modern music I felt and heard so much pain, suffering and hopelessness, and through my love for the artist’s creation I became absolutely identified with the reality being offered. Many of these negative qualities entered into my life and lingered there, like unwanted guests outstaying their visit and bringing a life of self-created pain.
Deep within I could feel that I was on a very wrong journey, that negative living isn’t the way. I was conscious of the fact that things like a glass of wine, a smoke, the usual worldly things that console us, were not the solution. These are the means that every young person is widely exposed to, especially if you hang with the artistic crowd.
I was crying for change and new hope, but the willpower to do anything about it was nowhere to be found.
Looking back I can happily remark that the darkest hour is just before the dawn.
The first ray of sun came into my life when I felt that I should learn to meditate. I began to practice on my own, lying down with eyes closed and listening to guided meditations. To be frank, I derived little benefit from this approach but the idea that I can gain a peace of mind through some sort of practice was now planted in my mind. I had gained a tiny ray of hope, enough to keep me going further. I read a book on meditation techniques written by Sri Chinmoy and seemingly by chance came across a class where I could properly learn to meditate. I was focusing on things I liked about the place and the people who were teaching meditation.
A second and more powerful wave of light came into my life when I realised that meditation is like any other discipline, requiring regularity and prioritising. So I joined the spiritual path. In the beginning, the requirements of the path were quite a challenge, but coming out of my life of ignorance and depression was a great unburdening for me at that time.
Like a sunrise, the light that came as a result of my regular practice was illumining for my ego and mind, and in fact, I could myself growing into something new. The light has transformed my stubbornness and idleness into a dynamic energy. This dynamic energy I can best describe as a constant inspiration and a capacity to do things you love. This energy you cannot get from protein shakes, muesli bars and coffees, and not even through listening to your favorite album. The dynamic energy gained through meditation is way more everlasting and powerful. This power isn’t the one you get when you are hyped up and rushing into something, it is rather a solid inner strength that assists you on your journey of perfecting yourself.
One of the most sacred truths has been revealed to me at this point is that real power comes from within – nothing everlasting comes from without.
In the very beginning of my journey I was only asking to gain hope for a personal bright future, but through the practice of meditation with my Guru, I found hope not only for my own life but also for the entire humanity.
Dylan Thomas’s immortal lines ‘Do not go gentle into that good night /
Old age should burn and rave at close of day / Rage, rage against the dying of the light….’ are most appropriate for the oldest of Sri Chinmoy’s New Zealand disciples. Her name is Harshani, a spiritual name given to her by her Guru many decades ago – my knowledge of Bengali and Sanskrit is little but her name embodies some inner aspect of ‘delight’.
Harshani has resisted going into ‘that good night’ for an amazing 90 years and today, Monday, March 13th, 2017, she celebrates a milestone in her long earth journey, nine decades and counting. Harshani was among the very first to respond to Guru’s mission opening up in NZ – many decades ago as a beginner on the North Shore at our ‘learn meditation’ public classes, she often described seeing a serene yogi figure, a young man in a brown simple dhoti, seated on the floor amongst us. She was surprised that I could not share this vision of our teacher in his subtle form. I told Sri Chinmoy of these experiences when he first saw a photo of her – Guru confirmed that these experiences were absolutely authentic, describing their significance in more detail.
Harshani had many inner experiences, not uncommon among those who have a very pure heart and mind along with faith and simplicity – including a conversation in the early hours of one morning with the spirit or soul of Mt Eden, our inner city volcano. She was so delighted by its beautiful rainbow appearance and the visitation. She often saw beings and beautiful entities from other realms, and we knew these experiences to be real, glimpses into other realities that we often sense but seldom clearly experience.
In Mathew 2, there are the lines: ‘Well done, thou good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ I’m sure Harshani’s undiminished loyalty and discipleship, her life of unwavering discipline and sadhana, will one day earn her a high place among the lokas of her spiritual master’s many worlds – a good and faithful servant who will have won much grace and will surely enter one bright day into the joy of her Master.
‘Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.’
I can recall several occasions when spiritual master Sri Chinmoy spoke of the soul’s world, that mystic place beyond our everyday comprehension where souls depart to at the time of death – and again arrive from when returning to the earth arena. He spoke familiarly of the souls that visited Him in the inner worlds, not only the souls of His disciples – both living or passed away – but the souls of others inwardly close to Him but outwardly unknown to us; souls connected to Him from other lives; family members; devoted souls not outwardly following His spiritual path but uniquely connected in some way. My sister Jill was probably one of these, meeting Sri Chinmoy only twice in person but inwardly retaining a lifelong faith and devotion, a touching, unswerving loyalty that He would have cherished.
Jill passed away in December, 2016 after a three-month decline through cancer. She had decided against chemotherapy and conventional treatment, and was equally uninterested in other possible cures. She was tired and wanted to leave, surrendered to whatever might happen.
When Jill learned of her condition and of her little time left, she began tidying up her life before the final departure, the journey from which she would not return. She discovered an elderly handyman who made cheap plywood coffins in his garage, an initiative popular with those happy to bypass the usually expensive conventions of the death industry. The garage was called ‘the coffin club’ – when she visited her physical measurements were taken, preferences and budget chosen, then once completed, Jill’s plywood coffin was collected by a friend and taken away for safe keeping in the back of an old panel van.
At the coffin club Jill met a number of interesting people whose lives like her own would soon be over. The coffin club encouraged its clients to express their individuality, to paint the themes of their lives on their caskets. A local hunter painted his coffin in camouflage greens and browns, with deer antler coffin handles; a bike enthusiast had Harley Davidson motorcycle insignia pasted over his box; and a young ballet dancer with an incurable condition had Swan Lake dance scenes painted around her coffin and pink ballet shoes affixed to the top. She wanted to be dressed in her Swan Lake attire when lowered into her tiny plywood box, her last resting place – she said that when she met God she wanted to dance for Him, dance her part from the ballet Swan Lake.
Jill painted her coffin a lovely sky blue and I was asked to provide some of Sri Chinmoy’s avian drawings – those lovely bird sketches representing the beauty and simplicity of the human soul – to place around the coffin. These she cut out and glued all over it. She was so happy, feeling these would fly away with her at the time of her passing, like accompanying friends or guardians, bringing her back home.
This article was written by Sri Chinmoy Centre authors for the monthly IndiaNZ Outlook newspaper and features here with the paper’s kind consent.
It is very interesting getting older. The mantle of senior citizenship has fallen upon my shoulders and with it a raft of unfamiliar things – the free bus pass, being called ‘Sir’ more and more often, senior citizen entitlement emails from well-meaning government agencies, driver’s license compulsory eye testing, and much, much more to remind me of the twilight years.
Ageing, from an economic perspective, is also seen as a problem. The very economic stability of New Zealand is called in to question by economists, statisticians, social planners and health care providers – how can we sustain these burgeoning costs, the national burden of ageing?
Yet the last decades of our life should number among our best, and have much to offer others. In an essentially materialistic culture such as ours, one dominated by technology and worldly ambitions, we value information much more than the wisdom that ageing and experience bring – yet wisdom remains a hugely critical factor in life management, in true knowledge, the ability to step back to discern what is really meaningful and what is not, to see the larger view, to listen more to the heart. And wisdom is one of the few things in human life that does not diminish with age.
Although an overtly religious nation, we are not an essentially spiritual one – our world view is secular and focused on material values, our belief systems founded upon science rather than belief. Ageing for this reason carries a great anxiety about death, for most people see death as an end to everything, a source of dread. Conversely, what pervades many other cultures is the view that the soul continues on after death, an unbroken journey that alternates between the co-existing realities of the physical and spiritual realms. “The secret of life” writes spiritual master Sri Chinmoy, “is that there is no death”. And in the immortal lines from the Gita, Krishna reminds Arjuna: “Even as a man discards old clothes for the new ones, so the dweller in the body, the soul, leaving aside the worn-out bodies, enters into new bodies. The soul migrates from body to body. Weapons cannot cleave the soul, nor fire consume it, nor water drench it, nor wind dry the soul.”
In India in former times, people entering into the last third of their life would traditionally set aside worldly matters and spend their remaining years in spiritual practices – meditation, contemplation, seeking the community and wisdom of yogis, illumined teachers and sages. Ageing was a time of unburdening, liberation, the acquisition of deeper knowledge, a preparation for the ongoing journey, the search for enlightenment or God – but in a society without these spiritual foundations, death is often an experience of fear and anxiety and a wrenching time of loss. In the west we are still largely deprived of the consolations offered by Buddhist teachings – the impermanence of all things yet the ongoing life of spirit – or the presence of the Jivatman (soul) in the Hindu wisdom teachings. “Many births have been left behind by me and by thee, O Arjuna! All of them I know, but thou knowest not thine” as Sri Krishna said to his dearest disciple Arjuna.
In the West, most efforts at prolonging our youthfulness are based upon our identification with the body and its attractiveness, the cult of physical beauty – yet spiritual practices instead encourage the wellbeing of the body as the vehicle in which the soul progresses and ‘ripens back to God’. We want to prolong life in order to continue our spiritual quest as far as we can in a strong and healthy body, in this precious incarnation when we are awakening.
In his popular book ‘Death and Reincarnation’ Sri Chinmoy writes: “Life after death is inevitable. If there were only one life on earth, then it would be impossible for us to accomplish the things that we have to accomplish. In one incarnation we cannot fulfil our aspiration: we cannot reach the Highest. So here we have life and then we pass through a tunnel which we call death. There we take a little rest and then we come back again. If there were no reincarnation, then no soul would be able to manifest the ultimate Truth. In one incarnation it is impossible.”
“Death should not frighten us; it is not our enemy. We go through death in order to come back to life with renewed energy. Death is an unfamiliar passage, so it frightens us. But we have nothing to fear from death. It is only a temporary rest. When the soul leaves the body after death, there is a transitory period. The soul leaves the physical and flies away from the body-cage. From the physical it enters into the subtle physical, then into the subtle vital, and so on until finally it goes to the soul’s world. There the soul takes rest. All the soul’s achievements are kept here intact in Mother Earth. Then Mother Earth gives them back again when the soul returns to work for God on earth. Nothing is lost except time…”
In his well-known poem Intimations of Immortality the English poet Wordsworth concurs
“Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting: The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star, Hath had elsewhere its setting, And cometh from afar: Not in entire forgetfulness, And not in utter nakedness, But trailing clouds of glory do we come From God who is our home.”
For those with an interest in reincarnation, there are interesting writings on the subject at:
The Old Ghost Road– named in memory of the 1880’s gold rush era – is a newly opened mountain bike and hiking trail in the north west corner of the South Island. Several of our members spent four days recently hiking this great walk, enjoying two days meandering from the Buller Gorge carpark over the 85km trail to the other side on the west coast. Day one, 25kms uphill to the forest edge and open tops, a long and vista-filled climb through switchbacks and earthquake scarred mountains, scree slides tumbling down into tannin-colored streams and deep valleys.
Some of our team members
We were the only ones there, and true to its name we came across the remnant billies, pans, old boots and moss covered mining debris, ghostly relics of those who had labored here over 130 years earlier.
Tannin-colored wide river after rain
Two of our party, both great trail runners, came in from the opposite side and ran the trail in two days, a mountain marathon each day! We travelled light, oatmeal breakfasts, quinoa and lentils for dinner, power snacks to nibble on for energy. Water is everywhere, crystal clear, mineralized by the earth, filtered by mosses and soil, prana-rich, pure and life-giving – we drank greedily from every mountain stream and rockface.
More mountains, dark valleys, deep silences
Wekas, kiwi, bellbirds, blue duck, robins were quite plentiful, but as everywhere now in NZ the birdlife in the great forests has been devastated by predators –the great cathedrals of red beech and podocarps that were once filled with daylong birdsong are now largely silent. Yet mountains and solitude always lend themselves to meditation, so quite often up on the granite peaks and lookouts we stopped for a while to enjoy the deep silences, looking out over landscapes that all around showed no sign of the impact of man. Far-off, the snow capped silhouette of the Southern Alps ran across the horizon like a jagged pencil sketch against a pale sky.
Alpine hut up on granite promontory
It’s refreshing and humbling to spend time away from our cities and urban lives, to leave behind our cellphones and gadgets and usual preoccupations – a week on the trail and the mind’s chatter slows, dormant senses begin to stir, silence becomes something to relish rather than avoid. Nature’s great distances and silences bring us back to a deeper understanding of ourselves, help us to glimpse into other realms and reconnect us with the haven places of the spirit.
If you travel from Denpasar to Ubud on the lovely island of Bali, a cab ride through paddy fields and small villages cluttered with bikes and motorcycles, you will be amazed at the miles of roadside stalls offering wooden and stone carvings, the gauntlet of cosmic gods and goddesses. They are everywhere, testament both to a thriving tourist trade and export industry, but also to the living spirituality that pervades Balinese society. If you stop somewhere to explore, you’ll meet Buddhas and bodhisattvas, Hindu deities – Vishnu, Ganesha, Brahma, Shiva, Mother Saraswati – and fierce Balinese guardians, the serpent Taksaka and Rangda, and Surya the sun god. Everywhere are the household shrines or padmasana where incense and flowers are offered every morning, and reverence shown to the spirit and ancestor worlds.
I stopped at one such place. An old man was fashioning a serene Buddha face out of soft yellow riverstone, its lovely variegated layers of ancient sediment patiently being transformed into a calm, meditative deity, eyes half-closed as though lingering still in another world, a nascent deity emerging from the mineral world to inspire and uplift the world of men. The old man was absorbed in his work and I understood that he could not capture the consciousness he was trying to sculpt from stone if he did not feel it within himself.
And such is the deeper purpose of these carvings. Like a mirror of another possible self, they encourage us to emulate, remind us of a forgotten divinity that sleeps in every human soul. Prayer, meditation, contemplation, mantra, devotional song, the guru, the multifarious expressions of the spirit – they all bring us back to the great perennial questions: what is my essence, my purpose; how to leave behind suffering and find a lasting happiness; how to know God; how to attain the great calm of this figure I hold in my hands, the serene detachment of this statue on my shrine?
During my frequent trips to visit my own teacher, the Indian master Sri Chinmoy, he would often call us from our seats to pass by him in single file, a walking meditation.
At first I could only marvel at the consciousness I felt in him as I passed by, this extraordinary being radiating such a love, ancient-ness, wisdom, peacefulness, attainments too far over the horizon for me to comprehend. Then I came to understand more deeply, and as I walked very slowly past him I tried to feel within myself what I saw in his face, to know that I am also this, this is what I will become.
‘Enlightenment’ or ‘God-realisation’ are only dreams for most of us, concepts that are remote and other-worldly – an encounter with a spiritual master is the single most powerful catalyst to bring these ideas into our direct personal experience. They reach out to us in dreams, in our deeper meditations, in a living encounter, in the various unique ways where our hearts and minds are open, and the veil that separates our world and theirs is very thin. But the roadside carvings in Bali and the statues and deities and gurus we encounter are also powerful reminders of our spiritual quest, focal points of meaning in our lives, carrying the promise that one day we too will blossom into living gods and graceful beings ourselves.