Notes From A Diary - August 2004
Experiences and impressions while visiting Sri Chinmoy in New York.
Midsummer in New York. Our small contingent of runners from the Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team in New Zealand are about to touch down at JFK Airport for two weeks of races, musical performances, meditations, even an amateur circus! Out of the plane window the evening lights and urban canyons of Manhattan recede away along famous avenues into haze, then we're banking across sprawling suburbs, sweeps of ocean, then touchdown. The baggage carousel is dotted with familiar faces from our global family – 1,000 students of spiritual teacher Sri Chinmoy, drawn from over 40 countries are converging on New York to compete in our annual Self-Transcendence Marathon.
Now my host and long-time local friend bundles me into his car and I'm whisked along a busy expressway into a quiet street in Queens, home for the next fortnight – then sleep, much needed after the 22 hour journey from Auckland.
Friday, August 25th
Marathon day! My alarm clock sounds at 4am after 3 hours of light sleep and I wander a few blocks through the empty streets to join others for the one and a half hour ride upstate. At dawn we disembark sleepily from a convoy of ageing yellow buses – before us now a calm lake, three miles in circumference, oak-fringed and dotted with small groups of waterfowl. Sri Chinmoy arrives, climbs slowly onto a small dais at race start. Against a backdrop of still trees he stands quietly in meditation, bringing to the excitement of our 900 strong field of runners a sudden quiet, an intensity of purpose, a sense of sacred journey. We all know the trials that are to come and the silence that has now fallen is not a perfunctory one, a mere absence of voices, but a drawing to the fore in each of us of the inner resources, the power and grace of spirit.
For this pastoral scene with it's pleasant vistas of water and shady canopies of green boughs will soon go unnoticed as the miles of the marathon take their toll. Once past the limits of our training and preparation, we will each confront our private demons of failing body, mind or will – and then attempt to transcend these in our striving to excel.
Seated race-side in a low chair, Sri Chinmoy watches us run by, pride, love, concern and encouragement in his face – I love this recurring encounter and my steps quicken each lap as I see and pass by this inspirational figure and feel his silent blessing, the huge force of his relentless spirit. His words ring in my heart, a mantra of self-transcendence – "There are no limits to our capacity because we each have the infinite Divine within us." Undertrained, I am spent by 20 miles and now begins my own test of character and grit.
Yet it is here at the very limits of body, mind and will that the gateway into another world lies open, beckons, a world beyond the everyday comforts which so constrain the flight of spirit. At this intersection of self and Self, man and God, body and soul, where flesh cries out to spirit and the finite touches the infinite, here it is that we peer into a mystic realm and glimpse the deeper capacities within us, a region where inner power and cosmic energy can be accessed and revive a failing body.
Now at journey's end, people are cheering and clapping each runner and I wobble over the finish line – someone places cell salts and a drink in my hand and I lie on the grass in a cocoon of gratitude and relief, staring up into a great vault of blue sky. I am reminded of the Chinese proverb: "Every treasure is guarded by dragons" and now the marathon behind me and dragons banished, the treasure of a quiet jubilation fills my heart.
Later at an evening function, showered and sumptuously fed, we all pass by a microphone and announce our marathon times – some have taken an epic seven hours to complete the 42 kilometres but Sri Chinmoy treats first and last alike, appreciating the winners prowess and dedication as much as applauding the unflagging determination and will of those last to finish. That night we all sleep like babies.
Today is Sri Chinmoy's birthday, a high point in our lives and always a day to remember. We are invited down, country by country to file past the seated Master and I slip into a long procession as we slowly shuffle forward. Thirteen hundred people are here, the men in white – thankfully, for the temperature is rising – the women in a bright multitude of colours and wearing saris on this special occasion, a traditional garment honouring the sacredness of spirituality itself.
In the absolute silence of this meditation we are stilling our minds, summoning our deepest receptivity, preparing ourselves for this moment when our hunger for happiness, freedom, enlightenment, grace – whatever aspiration each of us has and brings – is seen, responded to, perhaps fulfilled in this encounter with a true man of God. "A moment with the Beloved" goes the proverb, "and the river changes it's course". Yes, the beatitude of a compassionate glance, the capacity of a genuine spiritual Master to remove the karmic fetters and obstructions of millennia – the samskaras spoken of in the Buddhist texts – can change the course of a life in a fleeting moment. We all know this and bring to the solemnity and sacredness of this occasion our highest sincerity and aspiration.
Now suddenly I am looking into the eyes, the face, the extraordinary beauty of a human consciousness that has merged entirely with God and gone, quite simply, beyond all human comprehension. Inside my mind, like a bell, I hear the vedic mantra Tat twam asi – 'That thou art' – or what I have within, or what I shall become. The thought is comforting and looking for what seems like an age into the calm and loving eyes – eyes that see into every part of my being – I try to feel that in Sri Chinmoy I am seeing the highest possibility of myself. Yes, to see in another the highest flowering of the Divine is to more fully understand the final end of one's own life quest. Beyond all book knowledge, all speculation, all discussion, there, in front of you, a face steeped in God, a being at the end of all journeying, at the summit height of all striving. Deeply moved I slowly walk away, feeling inside me the lovely benediction of the Master's lingering smile and with it the promise of my own liberation. One day, yes, we too shall fulfill our promise to realise and reveal God on earth.
2pm – Lunch is served
Platters of Indian curry, rice, mango lassi and delicious sweets. And now a lovely concert, with Sri Chinmoy performing on sitar, esraj and piano. These solo performances invite audiences beyond a merely passive entertainment into an interactive oneness where performer and listener are co-participants in something they each help to create. Here the outpouring of a music saturated with the serene consciousness of meditation, offered to an audience willingly still in mind and open of heart, creates an energy and a force for inner peace that is tangible But Sri Chinmoy's music is also known for it's wonderful revelations of power – and this afternoon we would witness this firsthand. Seated in front of a grand piano Sri Chinmoy paused as though awaiting or invoking a higher force. Watching, I felt a moments profound admiration at the extraordinary inner poise that he clearly had – and would need – to perform a twenty minute spontaneous piano improvisation in front of 1,300 people, with absolutely nothing other than God-reliance as his guide. Sri Chinmoy himself would simply be an instrument and the music flowing through him would come from a higher world. Like the wind passing through an empty flute, or the sap rising up into the branches of a tree, he would simply convey a current of sound, energy and beauty as a channel of the Divine. Face still, body upright and full of a calm repose he began to play, hands flying over the keys in a cascade of sound. Resounding chords and sweeping arpeggios followed moments of sublime and barely audible sweetness – fingers, arms, elbows, fists were used, thundering away in glorious abandonment in an unfettered fountain of creativity. He was brushing aside the constraints and conventions of Western music and dazzling us with a demonstration of an absolute freedom from all form, all mind. This was pure creativity, music flowing directly from the Source.
That night, some beautiful tributes from world leaders are read out honouring Sri Chinmoy's birthday and his forty years of service in the West. Many are profoundly moving and show a deep appreciation of this most remarkable of lives.
The days fly by – there is a sense of existing in some dimension of time that is not of this world, existing in a haven of spiritual energy and light created by the aspiration of a thousand seekers and the grace of a single illumined master. We feel too a sense of urgency and velocity – two intense weeks here can offer the benefits and progress that only many years of meditation and unguided effort might yield on one's own. And such a blend of modernity – sports, fitness, activity, dynamism – with ancient disciplines – prayer, chanting, a bhakti's focused devotion to the goal, a striving in meditation's silence to more fully unveil the secrets of the soul.
Now departure day arrives and van loads of Sri Chinmoy's students are vanishing out to regional airports and dispersing across the globe to far-away, often remote cities, to lives rooted in other customs. How strong the sense of unity amidst this multiplicity of faces, languages, cultures. For we are a family in spirit and the bonds that join us so often run deeper than those of physical kinship or propinquity. We share the same commitment to the ageless quest that lies at the heart of all human life and raises it up above the ordinary into the realm of the sacred – the quest for God realisation. "There is my life" wrote novelist Lawrence Durrell, "and there is the life of my life." Yes, this journey of awakening is the life of our lives. Leaving the Aspiration Ground for the last time to catch my own flight home, I do not say goodbye to anyone. My Indian cab driver tells me a joke and I ask him "Do you know Sri Chinmoy, he is from your country?" He replies "Oh yes, Guru Chinmoy, he is the great saint from India. It is good to have him in our midst."