Muhammad Ali: I was expecting a monster, but I found a lamb

This is one of the stories in our Story-Gems project, a collection of our experiences with our Guru, Sri Chinmoy. Project homepage »

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I was working in a very fancy hotel in a jewelry store and I heard from some boys that Guru wanted to meet Muhammad Ali.

At the time, I literally hated Muhammad Ali; I found him to be vulgar, boisterous, arrogant, and I had no interest in the man at all, no interest. But one day when I was at work, I found out that Muhammad Ali was coming to Puerto Rico and that he was going to be staying at that hotel. I thought, “Oh, God, this is my job to break the news to Guru.”

Cover of Sports Illustrated, showing Ali boxing in San Juan, Puerto Rico, 1976

He comes into the big lobby of the hotel. I am walking up and down the lobby thinking, “How am I going to approach this guy who I can't stand? I have nothing to tell him, and there is a huge wall of security.”  I'm literally walking up and down, looking at the floor, just trying to figure out how am I going to do this. Suddenly, I smack into a wall. When I look up, it isn't a wall, it’s Muhammad Ali.

I just smash right into him. I look up, and he is this big, big guy. I look up and I say to him, “I need to talk to you, I need to talk to you. I'm not a fan and I don't like boxing. I don’t even like you, but I need to talk to you.”

So, he bends down to my ear and whispers something that I cannot understand. I say, “What did you say? I don't understand you. Please tell me again, what did you say?”

He says, “Room 326.”  

“Is that your room?”

“Yes.”

“When?”

“Now.”

So I say, “I need to tell my boss that I want to be away for a moment. Please, please, wait for me.”

I go to my boss. I tell him and then take the elevator to the third floor. Right at the elevator there are two big, big security guards. They are blocking me. They don’t let me go out.  

I say, “But he asked me to come. He asked me to come.”

They say, “He is a very nice man. He really likes kids, but we cannot let you go there.”

I'm pleading with them, saying, “He told me, he told me.”  

Suddenly the door opens and a head comes out of the door like this. I tell the guys, “Look, look, look, look, he's calling me.” They turn around and say, “Boy, you're so lucky, you're so lucky.” I go in. 

He asks me to sit down. He's very soft spoken and very gentle. I'm expecting a monster, but what I'm finding is this lamb. He's asking me all questions about myself and what I do. He can’t believe my age when I tell him that I am 25. He says, “No, no, you are 19.” It was just so sweet! Then he asks, “What have you come to tell me?”

I take out my Transcendental photograph of Guru. I give him the photo and tell him, “My spiritual Master Sri Chinmoy would like to meet you.”

Ali says, “Oh, yes, I'd like to meet him. Where is he?”

“He's in New York.”

“But I am here.”

I say, “Well, do you agree to meet him? Can you give me a date and the time? He’ll be here.”  

So, he asks me if Guru could be in Puerto Rico in two days and I say, “Yes, he'll be here. He’ll be here in two days.”

Then I called Ashrita. He told Guru, and Guru called me. Everything was set. The next day Guru was in Puerto Rico with a song written and everything.

Muhammad Ali stayed in Puerto Rico for one month. When I went to tell him the next day that the meeting was set, that Sri Chinmoy would be coming at the time that he wanted, Muhammad Ali said to me, “From today on, I want you to come and see me every day while I am here.”

Then he turned to his chef and told her, “I want us to have lunch together every day.”

Muhammad Ali and Sri Chinmoy meditate together, 1977

He asked me what kind of food I liked to eat. I said that I was a vegetarian, He was so thoughtful and so, so sweet. He told her, “Okay, then you're going to cook vegetarian food for him. He will eat the food in your apartment.” So, he set it up that I would go to the cook’s to have lunch every day.

I was not able to go to the meeting with Muhammad Ali and Guru because I had to work. But Muhammad Ali had invited Guru to the training camp and I was able to go. He introduced Guru to everyone there. Then there were other meetings that happened through the years until Guru lifted him.

Another thing about Muhammad Ali was that he was an excellent poet. One of the things that he used to do when I was with him was to read me his poetry.

So, he completely transformed me from that very first meeting. He totally changed my attitude towards him, my attitude towards the sport and everything. So many things. He brought a whole new experience to me, a new world that I had no idea of.

Muhammad Ali with Sri Chinmoy, 1979

An ugly thought  
Turned him into a monster.  
A hallowed thought  
Has now turned him into a lamb,  
God’s choice lamb.

Sri Chinmoy 1