In the first year of my PhD I became Sri Chinmoy's student. Prior to that I had completed a BSc, an MSc and had worked for a little over a year at MAF Technology (Ruakura) as a senior research associate.
It was at that time that I met and became closely involved in the study of what was to become my PhD research topic, which was looking at endocrine systems to ascertain aspects of the physiology of bone development in growing mammals. Thus I found myself armed with a new and exciting research topic and enrolled at the University of Waikato, with a prestigious scholarship from MAF Technology, in whose modern-ish laboratories I was to perform the research, and where I had allocated office space and access to a well-equipped scientific research library. Brilliant!
However my family circumstances were in the throes of upheaval. All four of my grandparents, as well as my Nana's mother (my great-grandmother) had just up and died and my uncle – a very wise and kind man to whom we all looked for guidance at this time – was stricken with leukaemia. Several months before he died he advised us to learn how to meditate. He said that, "Meditation brings you close to God!" So my mother and I both attended free meditation classes that were being offered as a community service by the Sri Chinmoy Centre. And we enjoyed them so much, we joined the Centre ourselves!
When my uncle died he left us to the guidance of the wise, kind and universal philosophy of Sri Chinmoy, with which we have been happy and safe for many years now. But I digress... this is really a story about my studies and how meditation augmented and ultimately completed my research.
Every Sunday afternoon for more than three years I would drive to Auckland from Hamilton (which took 1 hour and 47 minutes), attend meditation night at the Centre, and drive back late at night. Over these three years I also went to New York several times to attend Sri Chinmoy's special celebrations, which were most funfilled and fulfilling events.
At this point I had better mention that these trips were much against my main PhD supervisor's advice and wishes! He felt that they were fruitless exercises and were distractions from the main focus of my life, which he felt was my budding scientific career. At one stage he called me into his office to rant at me about it! I calmly pointed out that these trips had not slowed my studies down, and I had also always met my work deadlines – and he had to agree! This was a small victory. I had noticed changes, though, with the passing of time. My focus shifting off my direct studies had side effects that I could never have imagined had I been outside of the situation. I found my perspective clarified and I became more liberal in my technical discussions and in decisions regarding my research directions – and I started coming across as a flexible and (in some instances) clever thinker! In short, my meditation life made me more philosophical, and as I was studying for a Doctorate of Philosophy degree, this was very useful.
However the full meditation-derived benefits to my study came as the end of my research drew near early in 1994 when thesis writing (sketchily begun as research was carried out) began in earnest. For any research project (or degree involving one) there is not really any clear end, what with new avenues of research developing and suggesting themselves, as the main line of research grows and evolves. The project itself is usually not clearly set out at the beginning as, with progress, results determine further directions, in which way the study takes form. The end of a fruitful project - like the one I was working on - was when enough data had accumulated for a sizeable thesis.
However I had reached the end of the time for the research grant under the terms of the MAF scholarship, and I was also scheduled to go to New York for 12 days in April, which was one week away. I had worked hard to complete the comprehensive requirements for laboratory work so as to be at leisure to write the thesis intensively when I got back – freshly inspired – from overseas. How wrong could I be? My supervisor called me into his office (uh oh) and Laid Down The Law! He told me that if I went away at this point (when he felt I needed to focus for a few months on intensive thesis writing) my grant (already near the end) would be terminated and there would no longer be office space for me when I returned!! (Talk about a Drama King!) His intention was to pressurise me to cancel my trip to New York so that I would not lose my "Focus" on the project, in which MAF had a vested interest.
I was silent in that meeting, knowing that my whole career was on the line. On the line also was a post-doctoral fellow position at the University of West Virginia that I was negotiating for and which would be secured should I successfully finish my PhD within the next couple of months. Unknown to my supervisor I was also extremely reluctant to cancel my trip to New York – in fact, that was not an option. My sense of values had changed regarding what was important to me, and this trip to New York was. I viewed the trip as beneficial to myself personally, as well as to my work, in a way that I was not ready to impart to my supervisor, whose values were not the same. So I went home and prayed. Actually, I prayed really hard – a fervent and sincere prayer – asking for guidance and strength as I was about to forfeit everything I had ever worked for. If it was indeed God's Will then the whole PhD thesis would have to be written in less than a week (which is impossible!) or I would have to walk away from everything, here and now. (I was praying for the surrender and peace of mind to do this very thing, for the thesis writing task was actually impossible.)
HOWEVER – and very suddenly – a Fire (for want of a better word) lit inside of me – very intense, very concentrated. I was drawn up as if by an unseen Hand and started to type frantically. I was focused and absolutely clear, fast and accurate, and the thesis started to form beneath my flying fingers. I filled up disks with information, correctly typed and formatted, and discussions and theories – as well as stored information from my brain – were lucidly and effortlessly discussed and retrieved. New concepts (that would never normally have occurred to me) were thrown about with ease and a comprehensive and complicated scientific document formed. Do not be deceived – this did not happen in a couple of hours – it happened over five days and five nights. Data and information were collated from MAF and the University and diagrams and photographic illustrations were also assembled from different places. All the time, at every second, my whole being was filled with the same, unabated level of intensity and purpose that guided me – and in that short time, my thesis became ready to submit! The Impossible had occurred. What should, by rights, have taken months instead took days. What is more, during this time (since the Fire took over) there was no sleep. I worked the whole time and there was no tiredness, even though I never lay down or rested for over 120 hours. Indeed, I felt refreshed! But it was as if I was just watching the whole procedure, fascinated. And here comes the icing on the cake – my supervisor was impressed by it and said that it was the best PhD thesis to have come out of his department to date! And some of the discussion points – he said also – were brilliant!
When I read the thesis myself a couple of months later (before my oral exams) I marvelled at the well-rounded and clever conclusions that had been drawn, the extrapolations from the information garnered during research were extraordinary and left me breathless. I know that I was not responsible for producing that superb piece of work. I just observed whilst it was being assembled. I am not being humble or modest when I say that I personally was not up to that standard scientifically – I am merely stating the truth. For some reason this work was meant to be done and – for want of a better description of proceedings – my being was just an instrument.
After my oral exams were successfully behind me and the PhD degree conferred, I then walked away from that particular career and embarked upon another. People ask how on earth I could become a café worker after doing top-level scientific research and that I must miss it... but no! I have never had a pang or looked back. The café I work in, The Blue Bird, is no ordinary place – it is a place that tries to offer a tiny bit of Sri Chinmoy's world to everyone who enters it. His music, philosophy and meditation can be heard, seen and felt in the ambience of spirituality that we try to create there.
The sudden loss of my close-knit and loving family no doubt changed my perspective on life, and my mother and I found comfort in the all-embracing philosophy of Sri Chinmoy. Everyone in the world is your brother or sister and there is a universal thread of unity and oneness in everyone and everything that is none other than God. This is God's Playground and He is always there, but unobserved. However, in your direst moments of absolute need, He may reveal Himself, and moments like that leave you changed forever. That there is disharmony amongst the people of the world means that there is much work to do. However small or menial my current work is, it does in a small part address the disharmony of the world, and this has been a more rewarding and fulfilling turn to my career than I can express.
Most of us have had meditative moments at some time in our lives often without realising what they are – moments when all the usual preoccupations and thoughts of the mind fall away, leaving us with an experience of calm, clarity, delight. Perhaps you were walking along the seashore and in that moment of nothing to do, nowhere to go, surrounded by the vastness of ocean and sky you experienced the silence of pure consciousness, the stillness of the self within.
Such moments offer glimpses, as though through a small clear window, into a deeper part of our being. Meditation is the attempt to uncover all of these qualities within us, to penetrate beyond the mind to gain an awareness of who we really are.
"Meditation is absolutely necessary for those who want to have a better and more fulfilling life. If you feel that you are satisfied with what you have and what you are then you need not enter into the field of meditation. But if you feel that there is a barren desert deep inside your heart, then meditation is the answer. Meditation will give you inner joy and peace of mind."
Most of us think of ourselves in terms of personality, profession, body and mind, large or small, but these aspects mask a deeper reality – for we are not just a human being having a spiritual experience but a spiritual being having a human experience.
Most forms of meditation have this belief in our divine potential as a starting point, and then follow a method to reveal and develop it.
There are often misconceptions about meditation, and topics like kundalini, astral travel, ESP, occult and psychic powers, clairvoyance and levitation have become associated with meditation in a misleading way. For these pursuits are like kindergarten toys when compared to the benefits and joys of pure meditation, which has as its primary motive the discovery of our higher nature, our soul's vastness and joy, the divine within us.
When the soul's will power is expressed, it is like a huge wave in the sea. Immediately it inundates the entire consciousness. Once the soul's will is expressed, you are bound to feel that your inner consciousness is inundated with divine energy, inner joy, inner delight, inner power and confidence. Everything negative is swept away by the surge of the soul's force.
We begin meditation with a variety of different motives – to relax more, to sleep better, to overcome stress or personal difficulties, to explore more of our inner life – but along the way find that we have embarked upon an immense journey. For meditation is the expansion of our consciousness and there is no end to the progress we can make.
Many other seekers have passed this way before us, some journeying to the farthest frontiers of self-awareness. These inner travellers are the spiritual masters, the mystics and pathfinders who appear in every age to guide and inspire humanity. Like expert climbers who have reached the highest peaks, they come back down to guide us quickly and safely to our own highest heights. Sri Chinmoy is such a guide, a spiritual master who has explored the furthest realms of consciousness. His teachings on meditation offer a profound wisdom and a guiding light to truth seekers everywhere who seek a higher and more fulfilling life.
When you begin learning meditation, don't simply meditate to have nice experiences. Meditate to make progress in your life journey, to nourish and foster your spiritual growth, no matter how long it takes, and to deepen your soul’s conscious oneness with realise God. Like a fruit slowly ripening on a tree, the benefits of your practise will mature and ripen and one day manifest themselves in all aspect of your life. Have patience, determination, discipline.
When learning how to meditate, you must learn first how to concentrate, to bring the energies of the mind to focus on a single point like a magnifying glass harnessing the sun. Simply to still the mind for a few minutes is difficult. Try it! More than ever before you will become aware of how busy the mind is – like a river flowing by, a river of thoughts, daydreams, fantasies, desires, memories. There are breathing techniques, mantras, visualisations and other techniques to help in this process. Meditation follows quietly in the wake of these skills, which lay the foundations. We tend to look for spectacular results, to evaluate our progress, but each attempt at meditation is itself progress – rather like running a marathon, each step we take is bringing us closer to our final goal. Resistance and difficulties are a natural part of our struggle to make progress – they are the limitations of our consciousness which we are trying to transcend.
Self mastery and God discovery are the only two things that each human being on earth must take seriously.
Everything else can be taken lightly.
If you learn to meditate, there are many benefits. You will have more dynamism and energy, more joy in your life, more capacity to cope with this world. You may suddenly need less sleep, and yet sleep better; have more awareness and compassion for others; lose your anger, aggression and frustration or your insecurity and fear. You will slowly gain access to your soul's qualities, which are all perfection, and feel yourself guided from within. Your whole life will begin to change. Your practise of meditation is also the highest thing you can do for others.
People often ask about the merits of following a spiritual path, or whether it is necessary to have an advanced teacher or guru. There are many paths to the top of the mountain and you need to feel with your heart which particular path is meant for you. Certainly if you wish to move quickly in your spiritual journey the support of a group and a living meditation master is an immense advantage. If you wish to fly a plane, learn to use a computer, become a doctor or physicist, you accept a teacher till your own proficiency is established – how long would it take you to master these skills without one?
Realising your highest potential is far more difficult than any of these and a spiritual master will dramatically accelerate your progress; his or her role is to inspire, awaken your aspiration and hunger, remind you of your real purpose and undertake the responsibility of leading you to your highest potential. "Our goal," my own teacher Sri Chinmoy writes, "is always to go Beyond, Beyond, Beyond. There are no limits to our capacity because we each have the infinite divine within us." Once you enter into your teacher's boat, then it is the problem of the boatman to take you to the golden shore.
If you have not meditated before try this simple exercise: find a quiet place in your house where you will be undisturbed for the next ten minutes, remove your shoes and sit with your spine reasonably straight. Simply notice your breathing for a few minutes and when your mind is calmer breathe in peace, a feeling of serenity and calm and imagine all your restlessness and negative qualities leaving you. Don't be disturbed by external sounds – these will always be there – just dive within. Cultivate an absolute stillness in your body, mind and breath. Let your mind be like a calm clear sky; if thoughts come don't attach any significance to them. If you can empty your mind even for a short while you will feel more peaceful and meditative. With practice all your life can be your meditation.
Every story needs a beginning so this one will begin in 1989. It will chronicle a family crisis – or rather a series of family crises – culminating in the annihilation of two entire generations of my family in a relatively short length of time! But I am getting ahead of myself.
Underneath our differences, personalities and individualities lies a very familiar oneness, a deep love and a unique understanding. I feel this with every person that I have begun to know on Sri Chinmoy’s path - the ‘path of the heart’.
From any room on the thirteenth floor of this hotel you can look right across the rambling city of Chiang Mai with it's smoky urban sprawl and golden temple spires, across the maze of roads and alleyways that teem with a million lives, right across the evening haze to the pale blue skyline of wandering mountains framed like a watercolour in your window pane.
Beyond this silhouette is Myanmar, a border of dark forest. In the strangely arcane light of evening the mountains above Chiang Mai resemble a huge dark moon rising over the rim of earth, their slow crescent curve the blue-grey bulk of a silent close-by planet.
All the sounds of the evening city merge into a roar like a great swollen river and you sit at your window and watch everything flow by and all the pageantry of life. In the hotel courtyard a flag moves slowly in the breeze and now the memory of a Zen koan comes – is it the wind that moves, the flag that moves, or the mind that moves? Today up on the flanks of those far-off mountains I walked along a leafy trail where sutras etched in grey river stones reminded us to wake up from our long sleep and search for Truth.
"What does this mean?" I asked a Thai couple who also paused to reflect on the unfamiliar lettering. "He who watches over his mind shall escape the snares of Mara and Illusion." And this one? "O seeker of the Way, find the freedom beyond all suffering." Why do these things always send a shiver down to the soul? You know the answer because all your life has been nothing but a search for freedom and all these signposts and echoes of Reality thrill you.
So here you are half a planet away from your home, sitting on a slab of stone in the warm afternoon sun with these epiphanies rolling about inside your head. My brown cap shades my eyes. A good place to meditate, obey the grey stone and watch the mind. I recall an image from long ago, the mind likened to a buffalo that wants to eat the rice plants (sense objects that give pleasure), the one who knows and watches as the owner of the buffalo. The buffalo is allowed to roam free, but you watch over the buffalo and shout when it comes too close to the rice plants – if it is stubborn and will not obey you, you hit it and send it away with your stick. "He who watches over his mind will escape the snares of Mara."
When the mind is drawn by desire to things of the world you watch it, knowing that these attachments will not make you happy – you turn the mind away with your practice of meditation. Eventually, through training, the buffalo mind stays away from the rice plants and you become tranquil and undisturbed by this enchanting and changing world.
I always hear
Inside my soul's heart-garden.
The concern of a spiritual Master for their disciples demonstrates an unwavering love and an undying solicitude that itself can be cause for great wonder. I recall Sri Chinmoy demonstrating this some years ago, on one of our Christmas trips to Asia, when in the early hours of the morning he began calling up his disciples in the hotel and singing their names over the telephone – a spontaneous and lovely blessing for the soul.
It was a lovely, gratuitous minute or two, to be woken from sleep – not the sleep only of body and senses but the unawakened state of the soul's long centuries in samsara – and to feel oneself summoned from both states of unmindfulness by the voice of the master was the sweetest thing. Given the quite large number of disciples, there was no certainty that Guru would call you, yet hope ran high nonetheless.
(Guru is a Sanskrit word meaning 'the one who illumines' – although my own Guru, Sri Chinmoy, always tells us that the One who illumines and the only real Guru is God, we refer to Sri Chinmoy as 'Guru'. Among the many wonderful teachers I have met, he is the one who has accepted responsibility for my illumining and I am certainly the one who needs illumining – posthaste!)
But one night I learnt that, working alphabetically through the name list of those on our trip, Sri Chinmoy had reached the J's – glancing at the same list I saw that I was one of very few 'J' candidates and concluded that my chances of a late night call were very high indeed.
My sources told me that Guru had not always been very pleased at some of the responses he had so far received – unaware that it was the Master himself who was calling, some unfortunates had probably been grumpy at the early morning call and had not exactly been in their most receptive frame of mind. On the 'J' night I prepared myself with a longer than normal evening meditation, inwardly rehearsed what I would say if the phone rang and, finally satisfied that I was in my very best consciousness drifted off into a hopeful, even expectant sleep. I was ready!
At 1:30 am the phone rang – I shot bolt upright in bed, paused briefly to summon my best consciousness, then picked up the phone on the third ring. "Good morning!" I intoned in my most divine voice, "this is Jogyata speaking."
Alas, it was a call from New Zealand! Slightly annoyed by this worldly intrusion I eventually replaced the phone and again went back to sleep. At 3:00am the phone rang again and expecting a follow-up call from New Zealand I took the phone from the side table and was about to mildly rebuke my inconsiderate caller when I paused, just in case, and switched over to a more polite "Good morning this is Jogyata speaking", adding inanely, "how may I help you?"
It was Sri Chinmoy in person! He sang my name to me, a lovely ascending meditative chant and I sat there on the bed, eyes closed, absorbing something quite indescribable, this freely given benediction, marvelling at my sublime good fortune. It was a wonderful and joyful experience, one of those golden moments when the soul is bathed in light – inside me a tiny doorway had been opened and I could feel my soul's delight, a remembering of Self and my eternal existence rekindled by this awakening grace. Then a last quiet incantation, a click and Guru was gone.
I was sure I would easily remember the clear notes and simple melody in the morning and sang the song a few times over to capture it – but in the morning when I again awoke the exact melody was gone.
Two weeks later, now in the 'S's, Sri Chinmoy called my wife Subarata – wisely she afterwards sang the song of her name into a tape recorder while the melody was clear in her mind and even today we can sing her song with fidelity to detail. But the song of Jogyata has now been lost in the mists of time.
When it feels right to give something a go – seize the opportunity!
Helping two of my very special friends in multi-day races have provided some of the highlights of my life. My friends would be running distances ranging from a six day race to the 3100 mile race run - up to 52 days. Being there for a runner 24 hours a day, assisting them with whatever they need to keep them moving around the course is a fantastic experience.
Although I loved helping the runners it never crossed my mind for more than a fleeting second to enter a multi-day race myself - until one day. The 7 Day Race organized by the Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team had just been changed to a 6 Day Race to be held in May the following year on Ward Island in New York. When I heard about the race this time something deep, deep inside me said - "You should run it." My mind barked "What!"
I had had enough experience with my mind not to let it have a say, it had never thought a training run for more than 2 miles was necessary. I started training in September with daily runs of an hour and longer runs in the weekend. In February I started apple picking so the training schedule changed from running to apple picking for the next two months. This unorthodox training suited me well. I was on my feet all day not only strengthening my legs but getting an upper body workout as well. The added strength helped later in the race when I combined race walking with running. One of the best training aspects apple picking offered me was that I needed to concentrate 8-10 hours a day on a repetitive activity, perfect preparation for running a 1 mile loop course for 18+ hours a day.
I arrived in New York with not much of a game plan. Other runners were discussing what mileage they would do and different strategies. My strategies were to pray a lot, just keep putting one foot in front of the other, stay in a cheerful frame of mind and a good mileage to aim for seemed to be over 300 miles. Music played a very big part in keeping my mind occupied. (Sri Chinmoy's music and River Dance worked well.)
With a lot of Grace I had a fantastic race. Despite 5 ½ days of rain I had no blisters, no lingering injuries and stayed happy for all but 1 mile of the race. Someone was looking after me!
When my mind comes up with every excuse under the sun not go to out for a run and I reflect back on the 6 Day Race, I am still amazed that I covered 2 marathons a day for six days. I am very grateful I seized the opportunity offered and went way beyond where my mind thought I could go.
Spiritual masters communicate with those around them in many secret ways – especially with those that have, or are destined to have, some inner or outer connection with the Master, such as becoming his disciple. In dreams, visitations, meditations, through sudden inspiration or lucid moments when the soul peeps out, this communication occurs, bypassing language and mind.
Even to those slow to comprehend such things – I often count myself here – the evidence of this inner reality mounts up over the years. In 1980, for example, at the very beginning of my journey I sent a grainy photo of my wife and myself – sitting cross-legged in a painful half lotus on a wooden floor – to enquire of Sri Chinmoy whether his spiritual path was meant for us. It was, but I still needed convincing, a laggard mind trailing well behind the front-running soul.
In a rare and subsequent dream one night, he came to me exactly as I would see him later and asked me to sing three songs in Bengali. And in my dream, seated around a long table with forgotten others, I promptly rose and sang these required three songs in this language of which I knew not a single word.
In the morning, awakened, I was filled with a strange delight and knew something most significant had taken place, as is usually the case with dreams involving spiritual Masters. Three months passed and now I was in New York, dream long forgotten, seated in a public school auditorium for my first encounter with Sri Chinmoy and an evening of meditation. Later he began teaching songs, inviting us to learn and sing, and I gamely joined in, jotting the words down on a pad and trying to stay in tune.
Then a revelation, the floodgates of memory opening and I was recognising with complete clarity that the three songs I was singing were the three songs I had sung so fearlessly and perfectly in my months-ago dream.
Then more. Filing by with others to accept an item of fruit from the seated teacher, he glanced at me as he placed an orange in my hand and said with a very broad smile “Well?” The reference to the dream and the reappearing songs was unmistakable. Now I was smiling too, smiling at this first glimpse into a new world of mystery, wonder, reassurance and delight.