It’s a windless Sunday morning and I’m sitting on the crater summit of Mt. Ngaruahoe, the Mt Doom of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, dangling my feet over the edge of the crater wall. At 7,300 feet up in the sky the view is stunning – as far as the eye can see a panorama of mountains, the violent genesis of recent volcanoes strewn all around, the far-off tectonic upheavals of the central North Island peaks, and further away on the edge of the sea the snow smeared cone of Mt Taranaki. Blue sky, lakes of silvered sunlight, red earth, green valleys of hard-won pasture, the rumpled earth torn into wild majesty by millennia of volcanic fire.
My companions join me, breathing hard after inching up the steep scree face of the mountain. Far below others are tiny ants moving across the red earth, 20 kms of trail before them. There are people here from all over the world, and it’s wonderful how happy and friendly they all are – we’re a one-world family, happiness is infectious, you can talk to any stranger. An English boy joins me, shares my lunch. I tell a Canadian couple the mountain will erupt at 2:30pm, they’d better finish their summit lunch and flee. They respond by throwing snow at me. They sit on their packs and slide down an ice field for 200 metres, the girl shrieking in terror and delight.
Its been a great week. We’ve had the Swiss meditation teacher Kailash here, a tour of Australia and New Zealand, ‘Secrets of Happiness’ talks most evenings. Post-class, snacking on curries and yellow rice, we quizz him about his life back home in the Sri Chinmoy Centre in Switzerland, his thoughts on everything from meditation to humanity’s future. We’re all fairly positive on this, though there will be some big challenges.
It’s been another topsy-turvey year, but there have been the good things. We’ve offered our ‘Hour of Peace’ program to quite a few companies in Auckland, held over 36 free meditation courses, placed Sri Chinmoy’s inspirational aphorisms in over 250 retail stores, installed peace-themed paintings in city-wide exhibits, conducted radio interviews and published 15 lengthy articles in magazines. We’ve also organised 12 fun-runs – plus our national 24 hour championship race – given out over 500 ‘Happiness’ posters, and had some great fun-filled weekends away. And Golden Grove, our Montessori-type school, is slowly spreading its wings, lots of beautiful kids preparing for life.
What lies ahead in the incoming year? A commitment to more of this, a resolve to deepen our personal meditation practise, swirling plans for new and needed enterprises, a deeper listening to where we need to point ourselves. Newness too, the further resolve to not get stuck and overly comfortable. Like the steep mountain face of our weekend adventure, the higher slopes of growing and becoming are always beckoning, calling us onward and upward, up into the beautiful clouds.
I have been browsing through the Upanishads of late, enjoying their perennial wisdom and marvelling at the common ground they share with 21st century revelations about the primary nature of the universe and with modern quantum theory. The Upanishads are a summation of the knowledge, insights and sacred wisdom of the Vedic sages and seers and date back some 4,000 years .
In his introduction to selected translations from the Upanishads, Alistair Shearer writes that the Vedic teachings propose ‘the ground of all being is an infinite and unified field of Consciousness, eternal and self-luminous. This Consciousness creates the universe from its own depths, by reverberating within itself….Thus, Veda is said to be the source of creation; it is the DNA of the universe, containing all manifest possibilities in seed form.’ The Upanishadic teachings also reflect the ancient Greek understanding of philosophy or ‘gnosis’ – the cultivation of true and sacred wisdom. Plato described such a philosopher as one who would ‘live in constant companionship with the divine order of the world’.
I do remember my own teacher Sri Chinmoy speaking of the same realities, and referring to an unmanifest world of infinite potential from which everything in the manifest world originates. He often spoke of meditation as the still space of inner silence that connects us with the unmanifest– here where the identification with mind and body temporarily cease, a doorway opens between the finite and the infinite, the drop rejoins the ocean, man becomes consciously closest to God. This is the creative space as well – silence is the nest, inspiration is the bird that ventures forth and is felt as new insight, creative originality, vision.
Alistair Shearer notes that ‘upanishad’ is a derivative of SHAD and the prefixes UPA and NI, these terms referring literally to a ‘sitting-down-near’. He writes: ‘ In the India of their composition, no less than today, the seeker of wisdom approached a teacher, sat down at his or her feet, and settled the mind to receive spiritual instruction. Both teacher and pupil had to be well qualified for their relationship….the teacher was to be both “learned in the scriptures and established in brahman “– in other words, an enlightened being – and the pupil expected to be pure and receptive, “one who is calm and whose mind is quiet.” ‘
Today the Guru-disciple relationship remains foundational for many spiritual paths, and to anyone with an ardent hunger for inner knowledge and peace this relationship is a timeless and sacred one. The illumined master seldom coveys his wisdom through language, but more often through his ability to awaken the seeker’s soul; and through the silence of his gaze, the compassion of his heart, the qualities of harmony, poise and spiritual depth which he embodies. He is an artist of infinite patience, moulding the often stubborn material of our humanity into it’s highest possibities, and using years as his time frame. Sri Chinmoy writes:
“To achieve realisation by oneself alone is like crossing the ocean in a raft. But to achieve realisation through the grace of a Guru is like crossing the ocean in a swift and strong boat, which ferries you safely across the sea of ignorance to the Golden Shore.”
The Guru is the polestar, the bright light of knowledge . He or she makes God, the soul, the spiritual quest into living realities, revealing the deeper purposes to our life and helping us to understand what is truly important in our lives, and what is not. In a world of enchanting distractions, a culture steeped in material ambitions that so often suffocate the spirit, how lucky we are to have these exemplars pointing the way back home.
Excerpts from Sri Chinmoy’s book “India, My India.”
What is India’s inner message to the world at large? Spirituality. What is spirituality? It is the natural way of truth that successfully communes with the Beyond here on earth.
What is India’s absolutely distinctive possession? Her soul. She lives in the soul, she lives from the soul and she lives for the soul.
Where can the world find the real nature of India? In the ever-wakeful domain of the Spirit.
What has made the history of India unique? A most surprising and unusual continuity of the line of her spiritual seekers and Masters.
What does Indian spirituality teach? It teaches the world to conquer the evil of the lower nature and to go beyond the good of the higher nature.
What is Mother India’s desire? It is to transcend the human way once and for all through radical self-transmutation, and to enter into the ever-dynamic Way of God.
Religion, however mighty it may be, is not and cannot be the message of India. Her message is Self-realisation. The perfect truth of India’s religion lies in its outer and inner realisation of the One that is, of the One that is in the process of becoming.
There is no more than a hyphen between the Vision of the Vedic seers and the soul of India, and between India’s spirituality and the final spiritual liberation of the world.
Today’s India is poverty-stricken. But tomorrow’s India will be prosperous. She will be a mighty wave of hope and faith. Her very thought will be stirred with a new vision. Infinite will be the possibilities on her horizon. Her sacrifice will build a more durable foundation for mankind. She will contain within herself nationalism and internationalism, becoming the true symbol of spirituality in action. India, with her spiritual power, will wield a tremendous influence on future generations. India and India alone is the nerve centre of the aspiring world.
India is the vault of an ancient, eternal wisdom that has a universal appeal. She is also the universal reserve bank of an ever-growing wisdom, and she is destined to be the hub and dynamo of world transformation. India’s strength is not in her arms, but in her heart.
She tells the world that the realisation of unity is the only strength which can conquer the world.
In the later periods of India’s history, the saints and seers came to feel that the material life and the spiritual life could never go together, that they had to renounce the outer life in order to attain God. Hence, the external life was neglected. This led to foreign conquests and many other troubles. Even today, the attitude that material prosperity and beauty should be negated is very common in India. This accounts for much of her continued poverty.
But at present there are spiritual giants in India who feel that God should be realised in His totality, that Creator and creation are one and inseparable. They advocate the acceptance of life, the real need for both progress and perfection in all spheres of human existence. India may be poverty-stricken today, but she will progress quickly by virtue of her new awareness and her new aspiration. She has not only magnanimity of heart but also the power to bring her soul’s strength to the fore and use it to solve all her problems.
Modern India will always keep the spirituality that was born countless years ago. It is true that human beings have become ultra-modern, so they may not or cannot or do not want to be strict with their spiritual life. There are millions and millions of people not only living abroad but also in India itself who do not care for self-discipline. So in that sense you can say there is not the same degree of self-discipline as there was before. But when we are speaking of real spirituality, there is no difference between ancient spirituality and modern spirituality; spirituality in its pristine beauty will always remain the same whether it is found in the ancient world or in the modern world.
She had always been moved and deeply touched by Sri Chinmoy’s comments about the spiritual value of giving, and at some heartfelt and intuitive level felt that she really understood what this meant and how it worked in that preternatural inner world where everything connected, the giving that enabled receiving, of love deepened by desirelessness, the happiness she had known in penury, and how gratitude attracted grace and humility won power, the polarities and opposites all interwoven, the paradoxes untangled and resolved. So for many years she practiced non-attachment, made a point of giving away as much of what little was hers, especially the things she most cherished. Like the splendidly serene stone image from that roadside stall in Asia, which more than anything she had ever seen embodied the feeling and flavor of enlightenment, its utter detachment and unshakeable calm.
When she held it in her palms, the partly open eyes watching her but withdrawn within, it comforted her, it was her own future Self. It lay at the heart of her life and summoned some intimation of her own final purpose, that freedom which was the only thing that had ever really interested her in the endless verisimilitude of life. The cold yellow stone warmed her heart, its meditative half smile soothing, hushing the mind – its composure was eloquent and breathtaking and beautiful. Only her own guru had surpassed this image – she recognized in her smiling teacher that even greater attainment that cannot be described or grasped …its orbit from the familiar earth too far away to understand.
Till one day even this she gave away, a gift to someone she really cared for. When it had gone – there was only the pale mark on her shrine where it had sat – she knew that she had gathered it even more closely into her heart and that the act of giving it away had brought it closer, its consciousness now a part of her. The carved yellow river stone smiled through her eyes, meditated in the dawn stillness, watched peacefully her own unfolding life, and her life ending. The enlightenment stone was the last thing my wife Subarata ever gave away before her passing.
I went for a long run early on a Sunday morning, partly to have some time out and also to sort out some of my life’s issues.
On my way back from my run I saw a seagull on the tidal flats of Mangere harbour with a plastic bag around its wings. I climbed down on to the estuary to help it but it kept flying away – but the more the seagull tried to get away from the bag, the more wet and muddy and crippling the bag became. Soon the gull could hardly fly or move at all.
I saw my chance and walked out onto the muddy flats, my legs disappearing up to my knees. As I got closer, the tired entangled gull would try to move away, determinedly dragging its bedraggled self forward and I with equal determination pulling my limbs through the mud toward it. Eventually I flung myself forward and managed to grab the end of the bag, toppling face down in the mud.
I carefully held its head and gently unwrapped the bag. The gull was just a young one with juvenile brown feathers – the other older gulls were watching intently. Finally the gull was freed and flew back to its flock and I made my way back to the shore, looking like some sort of mud monster from a horror film. Lots of stares and comments as I ran back home through the streets of a busy shopping centre.
As I ran back home I thought how much me and my problems were like the gull and its plastic bag. I was trying to get away from this thing on my own back, never realizing how attached to it I was, how entangled and immobilized by negative thoughts and emotions. Like the gull evading its rescuer and going out into the muddy waters of the tide, my own mind was turning away from the things that would really help me.
I have been a student of meditation for 12 years now and I still have times, though fewer and farther between, when my mind gets caught in negative traps. Over the years I have learnt ways to avoid getting caught in these mental ‘plastic bags’ and to simply watch them float by, unaffected. I have learnt how to quieten the mind and connect with a wiser part of myself, with my spiritual heart.
My meditation has brought me many benefits – a more peaceful, healthy, dynamic life; a deepening connection with a compassionate and loving God; a growing inner happiness. And although, like the seagull, I might at first want to turn away and hide from God when I am in difficulty, I am always in awe at how quickly my wings become untangled and I am free to once again fly in the deeper wisdom of my heart.
In this analogy it humored me that as rescuer of the gull I was playing the role of God. Then I thought to myself – ‘who rescued who?’ The gull was reminding me of an important lesson – and was God in fact playing a little game with us?
How ironic that I had to wade through a sea of mud to see things more clearly!
Pip Speedy (Auckland)
Pip is a teacher at Golden Grove Primary, a new and vibrant Montessori school in Onehunga. She is also a keen and talented actor, runner and race walker. She often volunteers her time to work as a clown at children’s events to help fund the free meditation class programme offered by the Sri Chinmoy Centre. Photo of Pip is taken from a recent World Harmony Run in New Zealand.
They had been coming to our meditation classes for quite a long time and described themselves as Persian, not Iranian – they had immigrated from Tehran and seen many terrible things. We liked them very much and they and our class team met often. Hamid had dark wavy hair and looked like a film star – his wife Shiree had unusually deep, hypnotic eyes and you would look into them as though looking into a limpid ocean, trying to see what lay in the depths. They were both very spiritual and were in turn most animated and most attentive when we talked of our path, of remarkable experiences, encounters with masters.
Our new friends were quite wealthy and spent many months looking for a house to buy. After almost a year of fruitless searching, Hamid was very disheartened by the endless succession of overpriced houses, setbacks, dubious real estate agents and haggling. Thoroughly despondent, he sat in a park one day and talked to God. He remembered a grove of olive trees in his childhood home and how he would lie beneath the summer boughs laden with their pale fruits. “Somewhere on this planet” he said to God,”can you not find me a home? Find me a home with five olive trees in the garden and I will take this as a sign, as your gift and your love for us”.
One month later they looked at a place outside of their preferred area in a small town 45 minutes north of Auckland. It was just an impulse. But the price was very good, the owner extremely nice, a garden ran down to a quiet stream and there were native birds everywhere. The owner said to them “Recently, a month ago, I had a strange urge. I am not fond of gardening and spend little time outside, but I found myself wanting to plant five olive trees in the garden. Why olive trees, why only five, and why would I feel this sudden inner prompting? But I obeyed the strange impulse and planted them. Here they are”. Yes, there they were, God’s five olive trees, a little grove of young plantings in the back garden, only a month old.
Hamid bought the house immediately, his heart singing. He and Shiree planted a sixth olive tree as thanks and as their acknowledgement, and they have given their olive grove a Persian name which translates roughly as ‘dream fulfilling sanctuary’.
They are very happy there. When we say goodbye to them, they say another very short Persian word that means ‘I submit myself to all that is beautiful in you’.
Life is full of charming and also poignant moments. Yesterday for example I was buying a few vegetables at my local Asian supermarket, a ramshackle and unkempt affair bustling with Thai, Korean, Chinese and Polynesian people jostling over bargains and loose pallets of apples, mandarins, grapes, fresh coconuts from the Pacific islands. I managed to add a last enormous bunch of perfect and cheap bananas to my basket then queued up at the checkout. Behind me an Indian lady was wrestling with armfuls of groceries and dropping first a bag of apples then her money, then a whole bag of Chinese gooseberries fell to the floor. They burst from their bag and spilt across the aisle like golden marbles and several of us began to help the poor lady recover them. To reassure the lady that all was well I said to her ‘Where are you from?’ She said ‘My name is Farina and I have just come from India.’ Then she asked me if there were any more bananas in this place, they were her favorite fruit, but I said there were not.
Outside in the street I saw Farina waiting for a bus and she called out to thank me for helping her. Referring to the spilt fruit she said ‘I have had a bad day. I arrived here to find my husband has left me and I know nobody. I am frightened for the future and I keep dropping everything.’ Then she began to cry. I felt sad and we sat there for a while. I said to her ‘Farina it is not really a bad day. I want you to have my bananas too, just to prove it.’ I was remembering what Sri Chinmoy once said, that anything worth having is worth sharing as well. Farina started to laugh, and I put the bananas in her bag. I told her, ‘Endings are also beginnings – today is a great day that you will remember.’
Then another lady who had been at the checkout came and began talking to Farina. I said goodbye and told her, if you get into trouble you can call me. The bus stop was adjacent to the front entrance of the Sri Chinmoy Centre and I lifted up the grill and went inside. Next morning when I went out, there inside the grill was a large bunch of bananas and a note from Farina that simply said ‘Since yesterday, so much kindness everywhere – thank you for helping in my new beginning.’
The more we pause to reflect and look behind the veil of appearance and seeming in life, the more we see God’s little game unfolding and how touching and marvelous everything really is.
She comes in 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, creak 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.
Auckland can be a moody city. My recent forays into west Auckland on a bicycle have revealed some of its more dynamic moods. I have realised that a bicycle isn’t just a handy way to get around, or a nice way to get fit, a bicycle allows me to experience Mother Nature in all her pure beauty and majesty. Riding up through the hills of West Auckland, the Waitakere Ranges, is always a treat. The distances can be long and the hills sometimes seem to go on and on without end, but each moment of the journey reveals something new.
It begins in suburbia in the tiny village of Titirangi, where coffee drinkers huddle together to chat and enjoy a cuppa. From here the road becomes the aptly named, Scenic Drive, winding up through pockets of native forest interspersed with hideaway homes. Further on the road passes the Waitakere Ranges Visitor Centre and at this point one leaves behind suburbia for a while and enters into beautiful native forest.
Huge trees – Kauri, Rimu and Kahikatea – cloak the road creating a sylvan avenue worthy of a great kingdom. This is always my most enjoyable part of the ride. Somehow the raw purity of the landscape enthrals me. On some days the trees are astir with the ferocious roar of westerly gales, while on quieter days, one can hear the clear sweet warble of a Tui melodiously resonate through the tranquil silence. Eventually the road reaches its highest point at the top of the ridge, some 400 metres above sea level. The view from here is panoramic. Far below the city stretches out with the Harbour Bridge and CBD neatly silhouetted against the silvery waters of the island clad Hauraki Gulf. The return trip, nearly all downhill, is brief. The thrill of speed envelopes me and the tranquillity of the forest is soon lost in the rush of the wind whistling past my ears.
Instead of experiencing the world through a pane of glass like a passive passenger in a car, these trips give me a chance to experience what it means to be alive first-hand. How similar this is to embarking on the journey of meditation where I often leave behind all the troubles and challenges of my outer life and enter into a world of childlike purity where everything seems to vibrate with joy and light. It gives me a sense of how precious each day of my life is and how fortunate I was to stumble upon meditation all those years ago.
Sri Chinmoy wrote a very beautiful song on cycling (click the link for the musical score):
What is our whole universe made of? And what or who made it? Science can put things into a very interesting perspective: Our universe is made of matter (anything that occupies a space and time) and a slight proportion of ‘something else’. By the way, that slight proportion is almost 80% of the Universe. And we don’t know exactly what it is.
We do know that matter is made of atoms, and atoms are incredibly small. They are so small that inside a millimetre, you could fit 20 million of them! And atoms are not like tennis balls. In fact, atoms are made of smaller particles, called subatomic particles, electrons orbiting a nucleus made of protons and neutrons. But the proportion of these particles is simply incredible. Imagine that the nucleus of an atom was one millimetre wide. In proportion, the electron would be fairly close to it, right? Not quite. If the nucleus of an atom was a millimetre wide, the electron would be 0.5 km away. That’s right, the whole “atom” would be much bigger than a football stadium.
What’s more amazing, what makes you think that science is scraping the surface of the very nature of God, is that all that space between the nucleus and the electron is empty. Completely empty. Or not, because then how come that emptiness is holding the whole Universe together?
How can “nothing” give meaning to everything? And why is 80 percent of existence “something” that has to be there in order for the Universe to exist, yet it’s “nothing” in the logical way of speaking?