Upon learning he had received the 1997 Hindu Renaissance Award at his 66th birthday celebration in New York, Sri Chinmoy modestly proclaimed to 1,300 followers who had come from around the world for his jayanthi, "To be a true Hindu is to become the beauty of Hinduism's Heart and the fragrance of Hinduism's Soul, and also to be a sleeplessly self-giving life to the world community. I am praying to my Lord Absolute Supreme to make me a perfect Hindu. It is a great honor." And a prayer for us all.
Starting in 1990 Hinduism Today has honored one saint each year who has most impacted the faith and spread its vastness, compassion and profundity across the globe. Past renaissance winners are: Swami Paramananda Bharati ('90), Swami Chidananda Saraswati ('91), Swami Chinmayananda ('92), Mata Amritanandamayi ('93), Swami Satchidananda ('94), Pramukhswami Maharaj ('95) and Sri Satya Sai Baba ('96). Sri Chinmoy was an easy choice for 1997.
Since his arrival in America in 1964 "on inner orders," the Bengali yogi has quietly emerged as one of the most dynamic and innovative spiritual leaders on the world scene. The yoga he teaches is at once strictly traditional and progressively modern, dynamically Hindu and decidedly universal. It is a synthesis of devotion, intuitive knowledge and dedicated action, with a distinctive emphasis on effective living through the surpassing of self-imposed limits. Sri Chinmoy lives this teaching himself, as demonstrated by his herculean achievements--some without precedent--in the areas of music, writing, art and athletics. He may be peace's greatest evangelist, through his Peace Concerts, International Peace Run and meditations he leads at the United Nations.
Guru, as he is affectionately known, spends most of his time looking after a few thousand far-flung followers with whom he maintains a close, personal relationship and of whom he requires responsiveness and tangible spiritual progress. Followers work in the world in normal careers, meeting weekly without fail for darshan and satsang. Guru's headquarters is no big ashram on a hill. Instead of congregating in a single facility, followers have homesteaded one square mile in Jamaica Hills on New York's Long Island. Outwardly there is little to distinguish the area as the hub of 350 Sri Chinmoy Centers on five continents. Only a handful of stores, such as Guru Health Foods, and Garland of Divinity's Love florist shop, offer evidence of their presence. But this is where Sri Chinmoy has lived since 1968, and this is where his followers have put down their roots to be near him. In a modest dwelling on a quiet street, he has composed thousands of poems and songs, sketched millions of paintings and weight-lifted a kazillion pounds.
Devotees are not hard to spot on the street, however. They are the ones radiating a brightness born of the celibacy most follow strictly. Most are single, and many are in superb physical shape, able to complete, and even win, the grueling ultra-marathons--races above 100 miles and up to 3,000!
Sri Chinmoy's spiritual achievements eclipse his outer feats, vast as they are [see box below]. The marrow of his path is mystic communion with the Absolute within through prayer and meditation, approached with an ingenuous purity, tinged, like his kaleidoscopic wardrobe, with an enchanting other-worldliness. According to disciples, before age 13 he had a spiritual experience during which he recalled the past-life attainment of the ultimate state of God Realization, simultaneously reexperiencing that illumination in this life. In his consciousness-raising book, The Summits of God-Life: Samadhi and Siddhi, Guru writes, "God-realization, or siddhi, means Self-discovery in the highest sense of the term. One consciously realizes his oneness with God. As long as the seeker remains in ignorance, he will feel that God is somebody else who has infinite Power, while he, the seeker, is the feeblest person on Earth. But the moment he realizes God, he comes to know that he and God are absolutely one in both the inner and outer life. He sees God both in the finite and in the infinite; he sees God as both personal and impersonal. And in his case, this is not mental hallucination or imagination; it is direct reality."
In a 1994 interview with Hinduism Today, Sri Chinmoy was asked, "How should we serve God?" He replied, "You are destined to serve God the creation. If I know my Father is all for me, can I not have faith in Him that whatever I need He will give me? Be like a child. The child knows only how to cry. The mother comes running to give milk to the child. The child is not using the term, 'milk, milk,' or something else. His only job is to cry. Similarly, I'm crying to God only to make me a good instrument of His use.
CONTACT: SRI CHINMOY CENTRES INTERNATIONAL, 84-43 164TH STREET, JAMAICA, NEW YORK 11432 USA
One Yogi's Odyssey
Sri Chinmoy Kumar Ghose was born on August 27, 1931, in Shakpura, a small village in East Bengal, India, which is now part of Bangladesh. He was the youngest of seven children. Upon the death of both his parents in 1944, at the age of 13, he entered the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry. There he lived for 20 years, immersing himself in intense prayer and meditation (14 hours on some days), writing poems and songs, practicing sports and becoming ashram decathlon champion.
In response to an inner command, he came to New York City in 1964 to serve aspiring seekers in the West. He initially held an administrative post at the Indian consulate but left after three years to devote himself fully to spiritual pursuits. The first Sri Chinmoy Centre was inaugurated in Puerto Rico in 1966. His first lecture tour in 1968 took him to eight major universities.
In 1970, at the invitation of then UN Secretary-General U Thant, Sri Chinmoy began leading twice-weekly peace meditations at the UN for delegates and staff. These have continued uninterrupted to the present day.
His literary output increased immensely in the 1970s when he commenced work on what would become tens of thousands of poems, hundreds of books and thousands of spiritual songs in Bengali and English (including one song honoring Hinduism Today). He completed and exhibited tens of thousands of paintings during this prolific decade.
His interest in sports intensified, not for competition, but as a means of overcoming self-imposed limits. The Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team was founded in 1977. Today it sponsors more than 500 track and field events and a 3,100-mile foot race--the world's longest--and enjoys the support of Olympic athletes such as Carl Lewis.
The first Peace Concert dedicated to world peace was performed in Cologne, Germany, in 1984. Other concerts followed in several countries. His 1995 Prague Concert drew 15,000 seekers. He completed his 500th Peace Concert in 1997 with a performance at London's Royal Albert Hall. His efforts toward world peace have resulted in meetings with dozens of international leaders, including the King of Nepal, the Prime Minister of Britain and Soviet President Gorbachev.
Sri Chinmoy began weightlifting in 1985 and achieved several world records. In 1987 he lifted an unprecedented 7,063-pound weight with one arm (left). The next year he began his "Lifting Up the World with a Oneness-Heart" program, honoring luminaries (now more than 2,000) from various walks of life by lifting them overhead on a special platform.
Inspired by his various activities for peace, government officials around the world began dedicating cities, mountains, lakes and other natural wonders or historical sites (over 1,000) to the cause of peace in Sri Chinmoy's name.
In 1991 Sri Chinmoy began his "Dream-Freedom-Peace Birds," depictions of the human soul in the form of birds. By 1997 he completed (right) an astonishing seven million bird drawings. To celebrate India's 50th year of independence in 1997, he held 50 peace concerts, performing on 50 different instruments in the last. He has received numerous awards and honorary degrees, including Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan's Gandhi Peace Award.