I was what you call a classic unconscious seeker. I was an ordinary person in high school. I was an athlete, but I never heard of spirituality, meditation, yoga or anything like that. I went to university and I was a good student. I didn't do anything crazy, never tried any weird stuff, and was just an ordinary person.
I love to read though. I always enjoyed reading. I was an English literature major, and in my last semester I had to choose my courses. I chose a course which I knew nothing about, on Eastern religions.
A new collection of Sri Chinmoy's writings was released recently, titled Being Our Higher Selves: Guide to a Fulfilling Life and compiled by Bhadra Kleinman from New York. As the title suggests, the book is themed around the ageless question: how do we live the life that brings the most satisfaction to our soul?
Over his five-decade service, which included peace meditations at the United Nations as well as talks and lectures at universities and spiritual gatherings around the world, Sri Chinmoy was asked many of the questions that we all share - how we can have lives that are fulfilling, filled with delight and love? How we can move on from the past? And how can we bring our best selves to the fore? His answers are practical and heartfelt and awaken a sense of inner possibility which is often easy to forget in our daily lives.
'Always say things in such a way as to inspire people, not discourage them'
During the tenure of the first Victory’s Banner Restaurant, 1981-86, I would attend all the Christmas trips, which lasted two to three weeks back then. Sukantika, my spiritual sister who served as manager of the restaurant, would work overtime to cover my absence, so whenever Guru took his smaller European trips during the year, I would make an effort to send Sukantika.
Although the restaurant was always financially strapped, one year we were really hurting and didn’t have enough funds to send Sukantika on the mid-year European journey. I felt badly about this, and one day approached Guru on his porch, explaining that we didn’t have enough money and asking if it was absolutely necessary to send Sukantika. He said, “It is all a matter of consciousness. If her consciousness is going to fall, then she should definitely go. Consciousness comes before money.”
“Okay,” I replied, “I’ll tell her that.”
“Oh no, don’t tell her that!” Guru clarified. “Tell her that if she can keep her same good consciousness as it is and not go, then she doesn’t have to go.” Then he clarified, “The very suggestion that her consciousness may go down will serve as a seed to cause it to go down. Always say things in such a way as to inspire people, not discourage them.” It struck me how careful Guru is, down to the last word.
There is not a single seeker
Who cannot inspire others.
There is not a single seeker
Who cannot be inspired by others.
Five or six years ago I was running in London in front of Kensington Gardens. A car came so close to me that I got frightened and jumped onto the sidewalk. A man came out of the car and said, “We are your disciples.”
Then the whole family came out. It was Kaivalya, Bhavani and their two boys. I did not recognise them, even though they had already come to New York. Now I know the family so well.
If I can smile like that, it's worth becoming a disciple
I came to the United States from India at the age of twenty-seven. I came to Miami for my higher studies. I had started meditation in India on my own, reading some books. But even though people imagine that everybody in India meditates, that's not the case. I did not know a single person my age who meditated.
I was still hungering for a spiritual community when I came to Miami. There was a friend and classmate at the university who would bring me meditation books. She was going somewhere for meditation. She brought me Guru's books Beyond Within and Father and Daughter and other books that she had from where she went to meditate. The books really connected with me. I felt it was exactly the way I imagined meditation would be. It was focused on the heart. I was dying to go for meditation classes. This was 1993.
Finally in 1994, I started going for meditation classes. It took a while. My first meditation class was exactly what I had imagined. At the end of the meditation, I got to meet with the teacher, who was Durjaya from the Miami Centre. I still remember talking to him after the class. My soul was so happy that I was shaking like a leaf.
If I could remember this in my daily life now, I'd be a very high soul
Guru visited the running shop Run and Become in London. Many disciples came—too many—and we couldn't get everybody inside. Guru was sitting by the till with the owners Ongkar, Vinodini, and their two girls, Shankara and Dipika. Guru asked that we stop letting people in. I was asked to be the guard at the door.
Then a very famous ultra-distance runner from Scotland called Don Ritchie came to see Guru. Now, how am I to tell Guru that he is here? I just concentrated very hard at the door. I looked at Guru and concentrated. I don't know about the third eye; I was just concentrating. I was very serious, very strongly telling Guru from inside, “Guru, please listen to me. Don Ritchie is here to see you.” Guru looked up and said, “So Don Ritchie is here. Bring him in.”
This happened to me several times during my discipleship and my relationship with Guru. Several times I needed to say something to Guru. I did this very thing [inwardly speaking to Guru], and he always responded in the same way. If I could remember this in my daily life now, I'd be a very high soul.
I wish to hear Your Nectar-Message.
Therefore, I always remain inside
The garden of my heart.
You wish to hear my inner message.
Therefore, You remain inside air all around me.
Your life's responsibilities compel you to develop inner strength
Whenever I visited Guru in New York, it was usually an escape from my responsibilities in Chicago. With that escape came more opportunity to meditate, and maintain what appeared to be better spiritual discipline.
Therefore, I was surprised when Guru told me that when I am in Chicago, I make more progress. This was exactly contrary to my perceptions. So I said, “Guru, you know, I don’t see it. You say I make more spiritual progress back in Chicago. I don’t feel spiritual progress in Chicago. I feel nothing but struggle, nothing but difficulty.”
And he said, “No, no, no, it’s not like that. Think of the weightlifter. The weightlifter lifts weights. Now, you can take all the weight off the barbell and the weightlifter says, ‘Oh, look how easy it is for me. I can lift the weight so many times.’ Now, put weights on the barbell. Immediately he will see it is much more difficult to lift. But in which way is he developing more strength? When the barbell has weights, of course.” He added, “True, it is more difficult to lift. But at the same time, he is developing more strength. In life, what are your weights? Nothing other than your life’s responsibilities, or you can call it your duties. Your life’s responsibilities are the weights. So when you go back to Chicago, you assume your life’s responsibilities, and it is these responsibilities that compel you to develop inner strength.”
When our restaurant, Jyoti Bihanga, had only been open for a short time, we were not making a profit yet. I went to New York to ask Guru what to do. Should I declare bankruptcy or something else? I had papers with me with the figures on how much we owed and what our income was and all of that.
When I asked Guru about bankruptcy, he did not look at any of my papers. He said, "Mahiyan, you have to be like a warrior and fight. Pay this amount." Guru gave me an amount and said, "Pay this amount every month to your creditors."
It was much less than they were asking, but I contacted them all. By divine grace, they agreed to the amount that Guru told me to give. After maybe seven or eight years, the debts were fully paid. The amount Guru had given me was the maximum that we could pay and the minimum that the creditors would accept. It was perfect.
Your doubtful mind
To boss you around.
God Himself has chosen
Your faithful heart
To be your only boss.
I first came to New York as a disciple in August 1996. I came to the Celebrations and got to meet the disciples from Miami when all the Florida Centres were performing for Guru.
Tilvila very excitedly told Guru that I was from Bengal (the same region of India that Sri Chinmoy was from). Guru looked at me and asked, "What is your last name?" I said, "My last name is Palit." Now in India, by somebody's last name, you can tell which part of the country they're from and their caste and everything else.
Then he asked me, "Where are your parents?" Unfortunately, I had lost my parents about two years, maybe a year and a half prior to becoming a disciple. It was still very raw, very difficult. I remember standing in front of Guru and not wanting to answer that question, but I had to say, "I don't have parents."
I think this was one of the very, very special moments. Guru just paused for a second and I felt love that was thick like butter, engulfing me completely.
Guru said, "I don't have parents too." His love, his concern, his blessings just sort of descended all at once and completely filled me up.
When I was younger, I decided to travel around the world. I went to Greece and lived on a boat and sailed around all the islands. I went to Israel and lived on a kibbutz and learnt about socialism: it's like an ashram in some ways, it’s a co-operative farm. I learnt that socialism is very difficult to practise. Also, I became interested in reincarnation; when you accept reincarnation, politics looks different. It's not so important.
I went to Africa and then across the sea to India. I was a wandering sadhu. I had many adventures in India, which I'll talk about at another time. But something important happened. I read the Ramayana and I visited many beautiful, beautiful places. But I didn't find the spiritual truth that I'd been looking for.
When I got on the aeroplane to come back to Europe, I prayed to God. I said, why haven't you revealed your Truth to me here in India? I got on the plane, and as it took off, there were complimentary magazines, Time magazine and Newsweek magazine. I opened the page and read a review of a concert at Carnegie Hall with a British jazz musician called John McLaughlin. He was called Mahavishnu. He had very short hair and was dressed in white. He dedicated the concert to his Guru Sri Chinmoy. I felt a bell ringing in my heart.