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.
One spiritual memory that lingers from the long ago is a time of solitude I experienced in my mid-twenties. Four decades have passed since those solitary months when I was living in a very remote area of the North Island, a walk from a gravel road-end across a hazardous swing bridge then a further mile, trudging with supplies along a rough track. A small cottage awaited these exertions, no electricity, no phone and a rudimentary shower and water supply flowing down from a hillside spring.
I was employed to build deer fences around the wild acres of virgin forest and regenerating scrublands, and left entirely to my own resources. In this remote place I had a dog and a horse as my only companions and spent six months at a time without seeing another human being. In summer the only sounds were the harsh, daylong chirruping of the cicadas or the wind moving at night through the treetops, a sound as though the forest was breathing, sighing; in winter the rain falling, sometimes snow, rendering my route out to civilization impossible with fast running creeks and slips blocking the roads.
Away from all of the distractions of the city and society, interesting things begin to happen. Your senses slowly sharpen and become attuned to the living ecosystem all around you; you begin to feel the language of the forest and its creatures, and measure the impact of your presence there in the response of the animals you encounter; you sense changes coming in the weather, the transition of seasons, the presence of danger. Far away from your fellow man, you feel your vulnerability and the precariousness of life, how easily a small mistake can mark your end. Out here, no one would find you. Caught out at night and lying on the forest floor under a huge canopy of stars, you discover humility, fear, the boundaries of your nature, the beauty and frailty of living, gratitude and prayer, a sense of enormous mystery.
One lovely gift from this time was the discovery of what I now call meditation. I would sit on the cottage porch as the sun went down, and there was this long incoming silence of the night. With nothing to engage my attention, I began to discover an inner stillness – the evening silence was a mirror and my mind began to empty itself of all thought. All the distractions of the world had no place to disturb me, and I began to connect to some fundamental part of myself – pure being, pure consciousness. I felt my inner silence to be a kind of language, a talking to the universe. The boundaries of my human self were dissolving – I began to feel something eternal about my fundamental nature, and a widening sense of a mysterious kind of love.
I have never forgotten those formative, solitary years. I became a seeker of knowledge and spiritual understanding, and the longing to travel further and deeper along this inner road of knowledge has never left me. In my daily meditations the sense of communicating through silence with a grace-filled universe is very strong, and so too the understanding that this the only really important thing in my life.
It has been a joyful year of travel for some of us. Over Christmas we met up with international Centre members in Ubud, Bali – here we are before a commemorative statue of Sri Chinmoy in a beautiful outdoor garden. The ‘Dreamer of Peace’ bronze work was sculpted by the renowned English artist Kaivalya Torpy as a tribute to his lifelong spiritual teacher. I later met up with friends in Iceland, here seen with a musical prodigy friend called Hridananda who teaches composition at the university in Reykjavik. What a great country, its huge volcanic landscapes spreading out to every horizon, those big massifs of upthrust lava silhouetted against the sky, and in summer the endless daylight, the ever-present sun.
We travelled on to New York where our Auckland Centre members had gathered to honor Sri Chinmoy’s birthdate. Here we joined with Sri Chinmoy Centre members from around Australia to perform a very complicated, beautiful arrangement of one of Sri Chinmoy’s songs to an audience of over 600 people. Many of us also ran the marathon which our team organises every August, and some went on only two days later to compete in our midnight to dawn 47 mile race! Towards the end of our stay, two concerts in Manhattan were organised for the public, one featuring the Russian folk celebrity Boris Grebenshikov – full houses at both.
En route home, Auckland meditation teacher Muslim Badami along with an Australian friend and myself teamed up in LA, hired a car and drove north to the Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks in northern California, camping for a few days in different places. Encounters with bears, hikes and trail runs way up to 10,000 feet. The photo here shows only the bottom part of one of the largest redwood trees in the world that we also encountered. And the following picture shows Muslim seated on a rock on the Big Sur coastline, a great 100 mile drive along the Pacific seabord.
In New Zealand our members love the outdoors – two groups walked the Heaphy Track from opposite directions, swapping cars at their completion after four days of wonderful weather on this great hike. Here is the girls four person team, and my own small mens team which had two teenagers from south Auckland’s Golden Grove school out on their first long adventure. On the left of my team photo is Vajin Armstrong, three times winner of the annual Kepler Challenge trail race in Fiordland National Park, and one of the best ultra runners in the world. Needless to say he ran the Heaphy as a training run.
We hope to have adventured over all seven of the Great Walks by years end – next up will be the Milford Track!
Remember, if you are in Auckland or Hamilton next month don’t miss the visit from Zurich by the wonderful meditation teacher Kailash Beyer – he is giving talks on ‘The Secrets of Happiness’ in both cities and is a truly inspirational speaker.
Published in Vegetarian Living NZ Magazine
By Dr.Toshala Elliott from The Blue Bird
Summer is a great time for bushwalks, hiking, camping, picnicking, going to the beach, and doing all sorts of fun outdoorsy things that take advantage of the nice weather and temperate climate. You have probably noticed yourself that many, many, many, many, many people agree with that. At the beach, for instance, you often have to pick a path carefully around browning bodies and groups of people, and get out of the way of little kids tearing down the beach desperate to get their little bare feet off the burning sand. And it is the season when famous tracks – like the Routeburn, the Kepler and the Milford – are trekked or jogged over by many groups of vista-loving enthusiasts, both national and international. One such beauty-spot that is visited annually by many overseas tourists as well as locals (usually when it is warm) is Lake Waikaremoana.
In the Sri Chinmoy Centre there are people from all walks of life, a fair sampling of cultures, and a plethora of tendencies. These range from those who like going to cafés for brunch, go shopping and take high tea, to those who are….. well, let’s just say ‘rugged’ and leave it at that. A group in the latter category, for instance, decided to go for a three-day trek around Lake Waikaremoana last July. Mind you, they had the place to themselves, and I mean completely – they met no one else for the entire trip. Which is 46km or so of scenic but mountainous rough track in the heart of the vast and largely trackless Te Urewera National Park – a wilderness of jumbled hills and mist-shrouded valleys in the central North Island.
Eleven intrepid Auckland boys set out on their perilous quest. (I would like to clarify here that eleven also came back!) “Gorgeous scenery,” commented one of the boys, Jogyata Dallas, “We followed a trail meandering through ancient forest clothed in lichens, mosses, tree ferns, orchids, coral fungi, then took a three day hike up onto a tilted limestone escarpment jutting 3,500 feet above the great lake.”
Their expedition leader was Dave Mason who has been vegetarian for 25 years and vegan for the last three.
He is an outdoor education instructor and, with the Lake Waikaremoana Walk as part of his curriculum, he has introduced many groups of senior high school children to the walk. Not only do the children have the experience of the great outdoors, but whilst under Dave’s supervision, they also experience being vegetarian for three days. On this particular quest, though, our group of chaps were all experienced vegetarians.
They started off by taking a water taxi to Hopuruahine, then trekking 15km to the first overnight hut at Marauiti, situated beside the lake. Dave said that the best plan is always to eat the heaviest stuff for dinner on the first night to lighten up the main part of the load. So saying, on this trip the first dinner was brown rice and a curry made with tofu, chickpeas, fresh veggies (like mushrooms, broccoli and carrots) coconut cream and korma curry paste. In order to do the cooking they toted along little camping stoves with gas bottles. The vegan dessert was cocoa rice balls and fruit salad with soy milk.
In the morning they had porridge of rolled oats and dried fruit, accompanied by steaming mugs of delicious hot chocolate. On the second day’s march they had 21km to cover, and on the way they munched on snacks like muesli bars and self-selected scroggin of nuts, dried fruit, ginger and chocolate.
Because it was very cold, Dave had planned for all of the meals to be hot ones, so they stopped en route and brought out the camp stoves again for a lunch of hot noodles, cup-a-soup and Uncle Bens rice, all of which were selected because of their short cooking times. Which was nice because they were cold and not wanting to stop for too long, and it rained.
Nature-loving Jogyata was in his element. “There are hundreds of stunning places here, mostly unvisited, unmapped, unknown – caves and sinkholes, waterfalls, giant hardwoods dating back to the time of Christ, mossy streams filled with grandfather trout, places of great beauty that man has never seen,” he rhapsodizes.
“Snow fell as we reached Panekire Hut – just on dark two red deer hinds ghosted across the trail in absolute silence and melted away invisible into the trees. The water here is the elixir of life, mineralized by the earth, polar-cold and prana-rich, filtered down through mountainsides of mosses, Garden-of-Eden pure – even hardened aquaphobics stoop at every passing stream, fill their palmed hands in reverence.”
*1 While our boys suffered no ill effects from drinking this water, DOC recommends that all stream water is boiled before consumption.
At Panekiri Hut they fired up the woodfire stove to combat the extreme cold, tonight’s meal comprising Backcountry freeze-dried meals (which now have a choice of four vegetarian flavours, Dave says). As it was Dave’s birthday, one of the boys produced a birthday cake made at The Blue Bird.*2 They feasted with mismatching socks hanging limply over them, hopefully drying for the next day’s trek.
*2 Note from The Blue Bird’s head chef: “I would like it to be known that I had no idea that the cake – a medium-sized vegan chocolate – was going to be squashed into a backpack and hiked up a mountain. When they got back the boys assured me of three things regarding the cake: (1) It was incredibly battered; (2) It was delicious; (3) They enjoyed it.”
With the lack of hot water and amenities, the daily ablutions entailed a chilly dip in the lake. By the end of it, all eleven boys were malodorous, unkempt, sporting three-day beards and muddied socks, but singing the glories of nature and inwardly cleansed.
After the trip, a swim in a hot river heated by volcanic underground magma.
These are among the most beautiful landscapes on earth, these wide braided shingled valleys, golden miles of tussock, this canvas of mountains. We are meandering across Arthur’s Pass, an almost empty road connecting the coastlines of the South Island, four runners from the Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team. Moana comes into view just before sunset, a cluster of holiday baches on the edge of the treacle colored waters; Lake Brunner, tannin-dyed from the earth sap of millennia.
And here, such a commotion of birds, their evening chorus, the rivalry of songsters, of bellbirds, tuis, blackbirds. A weka struts our lawn, a wood pigeon gorges on pollen in the flowering broom tree; all night the signature lapping of this Westland lake, the ancient mantra of its undisturbed silences. Across the darkening lake and beyond the scribble of distant shoreline trees mountains loom, their summits hidden, cloud mantled.
Sukhajata fries canned beans, creates a rudimentary salad, uncorks kombucha – a fire in the open grate gathers us together in the front room of this old railway cottage. A flurry of wood spiders flee the smoke. Meditating together in the quiet night, only the moreporks heard in the lovely stillness.
At dawn a local tells me of local things as he ties a quail feathered fly to his trout rod, mentions the tangle of logs at the bottom of the lake. 100 years ago they towed the giant logs from the milled and ravaged forests by barge across Brunner’s chop, losing many to the lake bottom. They lie there today, 1000 year old monarchs still intact and perfect, swaddled in a balm of mud and leaves, their beautiful flame colored timbers mineralizing in the darkness, awaiting resurrection in some possible future as petrified testament to the sad holocaust of a long gone age.
Keith picks up a greenstone relic on the sand and rock foreshore, an ancient Maori cutting tool, malachite, sharpened unmistakably at both ends. It lies snug in the palm of your hand, perfect, and you feel a sudden kinship across centuries of time – it confers a bond with a vanished people and you close your eyes as though to summon those dead faces of the past.
Later, in pouring rain we climb the steep Carol’s Hut track in the Southern Alps that winds up almost vertically through drenched forest. 2,500 feet above the now distant valley the fog drowns everything from view. How majestic and humbling these stunning mountains – though how unforgiving if you err.
In my early years of exploring meditation and the little known subject of reincarnation, I came across a rather discouraging description of the long passage of time the soul supposedly takes from its very earliest entry into the earth arena until its full blossoming in God-realization. Imagine, said the words of an old Indian text, a beautiful white bird flying to a large lake once every several thousand years and taking away a single drop of water in its beak – the length of time it takes for the bird to empty the lake is a description – metaphorical of course – of how long it takes for this journey to be concluded, for realization or self blossoming to be won.A rather bleak thought! But encouragingly, it did add the further comment that for those who have a curiosity or an awakening interest in spirituality, the lake is almost empty and the long journey of the soul is not in front of us but already behind us. My own teacher Sri Chinmoy had a rather more encouraging view of all this, and saw will power and intense aspiration as the key forces that govern the time we will take to achieve that final yoga or union with God. It is in fact we who decide how long our journey will take, not a pre-determined destiny. In the words of Sri Aurobindo: “Fate can be changed by an unchanging will.” Sri Chinmoy saw every kind of spiritual quest as something precious, every faltering effort at meditation a step towards illumination, each truth seeker an awakening soul setting forth….and laid out very clear guidelines that would add velocity and direction to our journey. Like the map of a beckoning new world, he plotted out the requisite steps for us to take, offered us guidance in our great search for happiness, and helped us navigate the uncharted perils and shoals of our lives. He filled us with courage and purpose. Among Sri Chinmoy’s vast collection of musical compositions is the popular song ‘Dak eseche’ – translated it tells us, the path travellers, ‘Call has come, call has come, God is calling you’. Its message is simple – we are meditating because our souls are responding to a call from God, from the universe. Always feel gratitude when you meditate, he often reminded us, for gratitude will always help you feel the sacredness of your spiritual life. It is always a pleasure to share the key secrets of meditation with seekers and students in our free workshops around New Zealand – and to pass on to them the view held by all the great teachers, that they have each reached a very special point in their life journey. God has tapped them on the shoulder….’wake up!’ In the image of the bird and the receding waters of the lake, the long journey is now largely over, the goal almost won. “In our birth” Sri Chinmoy reminds us,” life lives in the body. In our death, life lives in the spirit……We are our own fate-makers.” Author : Jogyata Dallas (Auckland, New Zealand)