Last weekend, one of Sri Chinmoy's friends was in a city very near to one which has a large meditation center. A few of Sri Chinmoy's students took him and his family to the airport for their morning flight. After affectionate goodbyes, they departed.
Every year Sri Chinmoy goes on a Christmas Trip and from all over the world, several hundred people join the trip. In the Christmas/New Year of 1993/1994 the trip went to some of the Pacific Islands, and in early January 1994 the contingent was to be found in Suva, Fiji.
It was during this section that a swimming relay race was organised by the Germans, the girls of whom were mostly super swimmers. There were four to a team – their team comprising English Channel swimmers and triathletes such as Vasanti Niemz and Praphulla Nocker. The Australia and New Zealand girls team featured Sushmitam Rouse (from Melbourne), Subarata Cunningham, Nishima Knowsley (both from Auckland) – who were all really good swimmers – and myself (from Hamilton), who was the weak link!
In order to train for the event we went to the Municipal Pool in Suva (where the event was to be held the very next day!) and I found that I couldn’t swim a length without stopping for breath. The rest of the team effortlessly cleaved through the water and encouraged me to keep going. By the end of the session I was exhausted and my arms ached badly.
I was determined to do my very best for the team, nonetheless, and tried not to be too intimidated the next day as Sri Chinmoy and the entire contingent of Sri Chinmoy Centre members trooped in to spectate, and – as all the teams lined up – just how fit and superb the German girls team looked in their professional Olympic-standard racing togs, bathing caps and – to my sincere dread – goggles.
Anyway as the rather serious-looking timekeeping crew organised themselves (timekeepers – yikes!!) I was fervently praying that I wouldn’t bore them and the crowd too much with my performance – and then the race began! Sushmitam took off to a mighty start – cleanly and evenly matching the equally clean and even German rival team member – and together they set a clear lead early in the length, leaving all of the other teams floundering in their wake.
Glumly I mounted the diving steps – Gee it was a long way down! (I was second swimmer as the rest of my team wanted to get me over with quickly, then do their best to make up whatever I lost. That, at least, was the Plan.) As the heroic Sushmitam – neck and neck with the German swimmer – neared the wall, I was praying that I wouldn’t let the team down by too much, and I looked down. To my utter horror there was the world’s most HUGE CRAB at the bottom of the pool. I don’t mean just big – I mean HUGE! But then I was diving! Into the water! Where The Crab Was!
It is a known fact that in moments of sheer terror in humans, an automatic panic phenomenon kicks in called the ‘fight or flight’ response. Adrenalin floods your system giving you abnormal powers of reflex, enabling a rapid reaction to horrific stimuli. On the way down to the water, as the adrenalin flooded my system, my mind filled with unspeakable visions of The Crab chasing me down the pool. I hit the water already swimming, raced down the entire length and out the other end without even touching the bottom of the pool. On the way out I nearly hit Nishima who was diving in. My heart was pounding and what’s more, nothing except a direct command from God Himself would ever induce me to get into that pool again!
It served its purpose. I had totally blitzed the field and the remaining two strong members of the team (Nishima and Subarata) swam us to an easy victory. (Subarata said, “What came over you? You were like a madwoman!”)
That was the fastest length by far that I have ever or will ever swim but sadly the splits were not taken. It is the story of my life – the fastest 100 metres I have ever run was when a ram was chasing me – a hazard of taking a shortcut across his paddock – but no one was there to time that either! C’est la vie!
Jayasalini is an accomplished ultra-marathon runner, triathlete and book and article author on running, she ran numerous times the Sri Chinmoy Self-Transcendence 6 and 10 day races and an ironman triathlon. She now gives meditation classes in former Soviet Union, as well as has come to Slovenia and Brazil as an invited lecturer.
The very first time I heard the word “Meditation”, it caught my attention, but at that time I did not know its meaning. Later I found out that it relates to some spiritual practices. I was always under impression that these things were meant only for some special people and, by far, not everybody could practice it.
My name is Smarana and I work together with students of Sri Chinmoy in a gift store in Vienna, called Sewa. It is rather a big gift store in Vienna’s busiest shopping street, the Mariahilfer Strasse, with up to a few thousand customers per day.
Truth to tell, I never had anything to do with business life and now here I am the manager, right in the hustle and bustle of a store in Vienna. We sell dignified gifts, crystals, spiritual books, household goods, sweets - in a spiritual atmosphere with spiritual music.
The idea of working together with people who meditate, and are consciously working on transforming their lives for a more peaceful and harmonious coexistence on earth thrilled me.
Where else would I get such an opportunity, to join forces with spiritual adepts that are living in the world, right in the whirlpool of Vienna, accepting the challenge of life and consciously striving for a higher goal.
Once Sri Chinmoy was asked to describe his way of living in one sentence, and the first part was, “The Acceptance of life for the Transformation of life…”. Gone are the days of retreat in a cave and the chill of peace in a secluded area. Take life by its horns, deal with the obstacles ahead, transcend them and blow the conch in the earthly battlefield.
Once a worker - a student of Sri Chinmoy's - asked Sri Chinmoy in the store, “What is the best way to offer something to a customer from our spiritual life?” Sri Chinmoy replied,” Give him a sincere smile.”
Everything that we are doing can be a part of our sadhana, can be a prayer to God, the inner attitude always makes the difference. Just remember the last time a child gave you a heartfelt smile, how immediately you felt your own heart respond and widen.
I did not want to create the impression that all the workers are already saints. We all have our rough edges and we will have to rub against each other to smoothen our corners, but there is always an underlying understanding, that is helping us to overcome issues and progress one step further. If we see it from the psychological point of few, then we can say that others are like mirrors for us. If we have a problem with him or her, we can rest assured, that there is something for us to have a closer look at. Whatever happens to us in the outer world, we always have to be grateful to others, for they help us to understand ourselves better. It is in our hands to consider a glass half empty or half full.
Gratitude carries the message of Immortality
And enters into God's Heart
To see God's universal Satisfaction-Smile.
While meeting with Sri Chinmoy's students from around the world in nearby Nepal, Ambarish took a side trip to little-visited country of Bhutan....
Our appetite was whetted with spectacular views of the Himalayas and most of the world’s highest peak, including Mount Everest. Bhutan is mostly a mountainous country with the two main cities being over 2,200m above sea level. During the 40 minute flight, the captain reminded us to keep our safety belts fastened particularly coming into land as the plane descended through the valleys where we experienced a lot of turbulence. The flight is not for the faint hearted as the pilot made several dramatic manoeuvres’ through the valleys before a fairly sudden landing. Bhutanese are proud to claim that their pilots receive special training and can get piloting jobs with any airlines in the world. It is worth noting that no other airlines are permitted to fly into Paro Airport.
Tourism is third on the list of national industries in Bhutan, behind exporting electricity and farming. The tourism industry is highly regulated where one can only visit through an official tourist agency. All aspects of your travel arrangements are set out and paid for in advance such as itinerary, hotels, meals and excursions within the country. Visa costs are very expensive from $250 upwards the final cost depending on the length of you stay in Bhutan. A group of 8 British climbers paid $24,000 for their visas. Basically, the visa is an entry charge into the country. During your stay in Bhutan, you are required to take a tour guide and a driver who take you on a detailed journey through Bhutan. Bhutan’s policy on tourism is one of ‘Low impact but high value to Bhutan’
A brief history.
In the 17th century, a Tibetan monk arrived in the area, in search of metals and managed to bring together villages and communities. As such, Bhutanese are mostly Tibetan in origin with their 11 dialects of language being a derivation of Tibetan.
Bhutan is 70% Buddhist, the signs of which are very visible from the country’s emblem, artwork, ornamentation, iconography and temples throughout. The harmony between religion & state is very evident – The Fortress complex in the capital, Thimphu houses both government buildings, crown jewels and a Buddhists monastery.
In 1907, a monarchy was established which still exists today. In the early 70’s the 4th King introduced the concept of ‘Gross National Happiness’, GNH. This is perhaps why Bhutan is best known.
The King, commissioned a Canadian sociologist to formalise the tenets of this philosophy, namely an index to measure the happiness of people and to set out measures to create harmony between spiritual and material well being.
In 2008, the 5th King, then aged 28 amended the constitution and paved the way for the first modern democratically elected government in Bhutan with the main focus being the implementation of GNH.
Eight general contributors to happiness:
physical, mental and spiritual health
social and community vitality
Some statistics (2008):
Similar in size, area & shape to Switzerland
Population – 700,000
70% Buddhist & 20% Hindu
Main source of income - exporting hydro electrical power, mainly to India.
Bhutanese speak 11 dialects / developed forms of Tibetan.
National Sport – Archery
National Flower – Blue Poppy
National Animal – Takin (looks like a cross between goat & cow)
Smoking has been banned
Only 5% of population have internet access
Only 10% of population have telephones
70% live on subsistence farms
There are no traffic lights in Bhutan
Bhutan also claims to be the only ‘Carbon Sink’ country in the world, i.e. Bhutan produces more energy than it uses. The amount of electricity generated from hydro electrical stations far exceeds that of the energy value of oil and gas imports.
Trade / neighbouring countries
Bhutan’s biggest trading partner is India. India imports Bhutanese electricity and in return Bhutan imports cars, food and the like from India. Bhutan relies on India for the construction of infrastructural projects such as roads, bridges and dams. Higher education in the areas of the humanities and life sciences takes place in Bhutan but for higher degrees in engineering, Bhutanese travel to India.
Influences and traditions
Aside from the Buddhist tradition which is deeply rooted in every day life, most Bhutanese speak Hindi and watch Indian TV, Bollywood movies, Indian soap opera, etc. There are no American fastfood outlets such as MacDonalds, Kentucky, Fried Chicken of cafes such as Starbucks.
It is against their beliefs to kill any animals – all living creatures are sacred. However, that those not mean that they are vegetarian – Bhutan imports meat, fish and poultry from India.
Mountaineering is not permitted. The last expedition took place in the mid 80’s when a British team climbed their peaks – out of respect the climber stopped shot of the peak by a few yards. In Bhutan, they believe it is inappropriate for man to stand on top of a mountain as this invokes negative spirits to descend to earth and claim the souls of their deceased.
Polygamy is permitted in Bhutan, but in practice is very rare as the man, in order to support more than one wife needs to be very wealthy. Divorce is also permitted. Once divorced, a woman with a child / children is very unlikely to re-marry as Bhutanese men will not accept her child / children from her previous marriage.
Impressions / conclusions
First impressions usually establish your level of expectations for your entire experience - the very clean, relaxed environment in the airport was impressive. And this was a reflection of Bhutanese people generally. People are very polite and courteous and see you as a guest in their country, to which they are there to serve. GNH is a reality – Bhutanese people appear genuinely content. They display a broad cultural and educational diversity with dignity, sweetness and generosity of spirit.
Two gracious smiling Bhutanese kids speaking good English serving coffee to a visitor can more than articulate the objective of this commentary.
It wasn’t following proper etiquette. The dog had given a short, happy bark and was standing there wagging his tail, ready for a pat. He was not strictly following the doggy code of behaviour that every dog is instinctively born with (which I knew well because up until I was 14½ years old my family had handled many dogs) and a slight variance could offend and earn a small nip. There were rules and he wasn’t following them. We had not formally met - I had sized up this confident middle-sized dog and was willing to bet that I had never seen him before in my life - and he was being way too casual. So I ignored him. So he barked again, “I’m here!” I was surprised because dogs do not usually make a social gaffe like this – their keen sense of smell remembers better than their sight, and he was treating me very familiarly. I was in a tricky position. The dog had obviously made a mistake and if I bestowed the pat, the shock of understanding could result in a horrified yip or even a bite. On the other hand, I didn’t want to hurt his feelings so I looked at him, smiled and said, “Hello little doggy!” He was really happy and wagged so hard his whole body wiggled. He moved closer to more easily facilitate a patting. However I did not, for I did not know him, and he yapped again.
Suddenly his owner appeared. “I’m really sorry about this – he’s usually so shy with strangers. He has never done this before.” I said, “It’s all right – I really like dogs.” The owner removed the dog and I heard him being ordered into the car. I was outside my downstairs flat, packing my own car, which was parked behind the dog owner’s car. The dog owner was finishing a visit to the upstairs flatters. I felt something on my leg. Looking down – the dog was back! Standing next to me with one front paw extended, resting on my leg. I was really baffled. His owner was calling him and he moved away for a second, then came back, rearing himself up on his hind legs, balancing himself with one front paw on my leg – and looked up into my eyes with a puzzled, slightly hurt expression. That was too much. I patted him. Really properly. I scratched his neck and everything – and he was ecstatic! He wagged his tail so hard and licked me as far as he could reach. Then his flustered owner appeared, grabbed him and shut him into her car, apologising profusely, “He has never done this before. I’m so sorry.” Out of the back window the dog was looking at me and I waved to him. He looked at me adoringly and wagged violently back.
Back at my car, packing it for an outing, I heard the dog owner and upstairs flat lady talking about it, bewildered about the dog’s behaviour. “He has never been here before except for that time you went away when you first got him...” The penny dropped.
All of a sudden memories flooded in and I flushed hotly with embarrassment. I had been out-polited by a dog!
A little over a year before, I had uprooted my life from Hamilton and moved to Auckland. The small downstairs flat had been available immediately and I started looking for a premises to open a café in. In the meantime I was taking a small business course and getting the requisite hygiene certificate and behind-the-scenes organising and planning necessary for such a venture. I was also doing voluntary work for the Sri Chinmoy Centre, flyering for their free meditation classes – sitting in on those same classes and even teaching some classes myself! As well as errands – like delivering Sri Chinmoy’s books to libraries all over Auckland, which helped me to orientate myself in the enormous metropolis that was my new home. (I had some terribly lost – but ultimately beneficial – experiences along the way!) At 2pm each day I would arrive back to my flat, prepare some lunch and a cuppa, and enjoy it sitting on the back step, having some peace.
One day shortly after arriving in Auckland, I sat on my step and heard a small mournful yodel. Upon investigation, it was a tiny puppy. Having no idea where it could’ve come from, I called it and it came over. After a hug and a small comforting suck on my fingers, it fell asleep in my arms. It was out cold for a full 20 minutes, then it awoke and made it’s stumbly way upstairs. Obviously the people in the flat upstairs had very recently acquired it – but in my eyes (having had a lot to do with puppies during my childhood) it was just a spot young (by maybe a week or two) to be removed from it’s mother. I thought nothing more of it until the next day when he came for a pat, a cuddle and another 20 minute nap in my arms. At exactly the same time every day for two weeks, that was the routine. And then he came no more. And I missed him. Fearing something had happened to him, I asked the upstairs flat. They had only been looking after him for a friend who had been called overseas suddenly, immediately after acquiring him. So that was it. I sent the puppy my love and goodwill in my prayers and that was that. Until now, over a year later, when the grown puppy had shown more courtesy than I had, and remembered me!
So again he was remembered in my prayers, only this time I felt more confidence in his future. As the polite and alert little gentleman he has turned out to be, he will go far.
This article originally was written for the BBC website
Meditation is silence, energising and fulfilling
The nice thing about being up early in the morning is the stillness, the silence. The hustle of the day hasn't really started, and it's a good time to just sit, quiet and meditate.
My spiritual teacher Sri Chinmoy – a man I've known for over 30 years – expresses it beautifully:
Meditation is silence, energising and fulfilling. Silence is the eloquent expression of the inexpressible.
The key word here is energising. That quiet place inside us is a source of tremendous strength.
When we meditate what we actually do is enter into the deeper part of our being. Meditation is like going to the bottom of the sea, where everything is calm and tranquil. On the surface, there may be a multitude of waves, but the sea is not affected below. In its deepest depths it is all silence.
To enter into that place, now, first thing, is to tap that strength inside us, let it sustain us through the day.
When the waves come from the outside world, we are not affected. Fear, doubt, worry and all the earthly turmoils will just wash away.
Just take a moment, to breathe. Breathe slowly and evenly. Use your imagination, feel you're breathing out all the rubbish you want to let go of. Feel you are breathing in pure energy.
Meditation is silence, energising and fulfilling.
Sri Chinmoy tells a story about a pious man who studies the scriptures devotedly, and likes to discuss philosophy with a scholar who comes to visit him. They earnestly discuss the path to spiritual liberation, but deep in his heart, the man knows this endless talk is not bringing him any closer to attaining his goal. Now, it happens that the man has a little caged bird in his room, and he likes to hear it sing. But one morning he notices the bird is not singing at all, it has fallen completely silent. He speaks to the bird, tries to coax it, but it makes not a sound. Eventually the man opens the cage door and the bird, in an instant, escapes, flies out of the cage, through the open window of the room, and soars into the infinite freedom of the sky.
The bird taught his master an important spiritual lesson. Silence liberates!
We can talk endlessly, argue, discuss, debate. But the real truth of things, we discover in silence. Eventually we have to hush the mind and its chatter, discover that vastness in our hearts and soar into it.
That image of the bird in flight, going beyond the mundane, is at the heart of one of Sri Chinmoy's devotional songs:
Bird of my heart,
Fly on, fly on.
Look not behind.
What the world offers
Is meaningless, useless
And utterly false.
Bird of my heart,
And it recurs in one of his simple, beautiful, mantric poems:
My Lord, a tiny bird
Claims the vast sky.
Similarly the finite in me
Longs to claim
Your Infinite Absolute.
Silence liberates. Meditation speaks
Some years ago I edited a little collection of writings on meditation by my teacher, Sri Chinmoy. I called it The Silent Teaching. I wrote in the introduction that the title might seem strange, even paradoxical. To the mind accustomed to regard teaching as instruction, or practical demonstration, the notion that such a process can be silent, wordless, might be difficult.
But in discussing meditation, we are moving in a realm where, traditionally, truth is communicated directly, in silence, by a look, a gesture, a touch.
One of the best-known examples is Buddha's Flower Sermon. The Buddha came to address a large gathering and his lecture consisted of holding up a flower! One of his followers, Maha Kashapa, responded by smiling, and Buddha said in that moment the disciple had received everything. The teaching is not conveyed in words, he said, but in silence.
But beyond that again, he realises our own 'real teacher' is deep within.
Your mind has a flood of questions. There is but one teacher who can answer them. Who is the teacher? Your silence-loving heart.
This 'silence-loving heart' is receptivity itself. It is our capacity to be still, be open, and simply listen. The mind has all the questions. The heart has, and is, the answer.
Meditation speaks. It speaks in silence. It reveals that our life is Eternity itself.
The blossoming of our indomitable inner will
I've been talking a lot about silence. (And that's a typical paradox in itself – talking about silence!) But clearly there are different levels and qualities of silence.
There is an Indian story about four monks who decide, as a form of spiritual discipline, to maintain a day of silence. That way they can be more focussed and concentrated, not waste their energy on smalltalk or get into useless arguments.
Well, everything goes well throughout the day. They go about their tasks feeling very virtuous and showing each other great respect. Then towards evening, it starts to get dark, and one of the monks, who is busy preparing food, says "Somebody should light the lamp". The second monk turns to him and says, "You spoke!" The third monk says, "Will you two shut up!" And the fourth monk says, "Now I'm the only one who hasn't broken the vow of silence!"
Maintaining even an outer silence – keeping our mouths shut – is more difficult than we might imagine. Much more difficult is maintaining an inner silence – the absence of thought. (Just try not thinking about anything for a minute!)
Yet, as my teacher Sri Chinmoy says, there are deeper levels again. He talks about the outer silence and the inner silence, then about the inmost silence.
This silence is not just the absence of sound. It is not even the absence of thought. It is the blossoming of our indomitable inner will.
It is that dynamic quality which characterises true meditation:
Beyond speech and mind,
Into the river of ever-effulgent Light
My heart dives.
Today thousands of doors
Closed for millennia
Are opened wide.
Meditation is not an escape exercise
Recently I went to a performance by American artist Laurie Anderson. In the middle of the show she made a point about silence. She stood quite still, centre-stage, held total silence for a couple of minutes. The silence was fairly comfortable – this was a sophisticated audience, we knew our minimalism, our John Cage – this was one of those silences, right? Then she made the point that when that happened on radio, or even worse, on TV, it was cause for panic. Dead air! The void had to be filled!
Socially too – round a dinner table say – if a silence falls there's a nervousness, a clearing of throats, before someone kicks in with 'Say... I, uh... saw this show on TV...' In such situations, there's a fear of silence, an embarrassment, a sense of feeling exposed.
And it's true, I think, at a deeper level, that silence is something we fear. Dead air. Fill the space. Switch on the TV. Plug in the headphones. Shout down the mobile phone. Anything rather than face the emptiness, for that would mean facing ourselves.
Meditation is that very act of facing ourselves, accepting the silence.
Sri Chinmoy writes:
Meditation is not an escape exercise... The seeker who meditates is a divine warrior who faces suffering, ignorance and darkness and tries to establish the kingdom of wisdom-light.
And with perseverance, we reach the depths of our being, our true self.
When we meditate, what we actually do is enter into a vacant, calm, still, silent mind. We go deep within and approach our true existence, which is our soul.
The eternal Now is the only reality
At the start, I quoted from my teacher Sri Chinmoy, talking about meditation as a diving deep within. Here is another passage where he expands on that idea:
How do we meditate silently? Just by not talking, just by not using words, we are not doing silent meditation. Silent meditation is totally different. When we start meditating in silence, we feel the bottom of a sea within us and without. The life of activity, movement and restlessness is on the surface, but deep below, underneath our human life, there is poise and silence. We imagine this sea of silence within us, or we feel that we are nothing but a sea of poise itself.
And the ideal is to carry this poise into everyday life. The spiritual life is one of balance – silence at the heart of action, but also dynamism at the heart of silent meditation.
Sri Chinmoy once described the difference between prayer and meditation as follows: 'When I pray, I talk and God listens. When I meditate, God talks and I listen'.
Meditation is that listening, attentively and in silence, to the voice of the Absolute within us.
There is a special way to listen to the Voice of God, and that is to meditate in silence. Then there is no tomorrow, there is no such thing even as today. It is all now. The eternal Now is the only reality.
In this April in New York on a cold wet day, Sri Chinmoy invited his seven hundred or so visiting disciples to a walk-by meditation and prasad in front of his house.
A steady downpour had led to the cancellation of our function at Aspiration Ground; instead we would receive this walking meditation blessing. A long line stretched for over three blocks, and we inched forward under umbrellas and a bright assortment of raincoats while light rain fell.
Sri Chinmoy sat before the window in the porch of his home in Queens and for over an hour concentrated on the slow procession of disciples as they came before him, a passing parade of souls from all over the world, braving this winter cold for these precious moments.