Chinmoy, Sri

Chinmoy, Sri
Aug. 27, 1931-Oct. 11, 2007
Indian guru

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Sri Chinmoy may not be the most publicized of the spiritual masters who have come out of India in recent years, but he is probably the most respected exponent in the West of Bhakti Yoga, which he describes as "a technique for extablishing conscious oneness with God" through trance-like meditation. Since 1964 Sri Chinmoy has been living in New York City, where he conducts meditations twice weekly in the Chapel of the Church Center for the United Nations. He also leads regular meditations at the Sri Chinmoy Centre-he prefers British spellings-in Jamaica Hills, Queens, and in Norwalk, Connecticut, and on his annual tours he lectures widely and visits the fifty-odd Sri Chinmoy centers around the world. In addition to his live audiences, Chinmoy reaches thousands through the documentary film Sri Chinmoy, cable television programs, recordings, and his more than 200 books and pamphlets. Many of the publications are transcriptions of his talks.

"My philosophy is very simple," Sri Chinmoy says. "It is love, devotion, and surrender to the Almighty." Seeking only to "love God" and "bring people peace," the guru has avoided the occupational hazards to which so many "holy men" have fallen victim: inordinate wealth (he charges no fees and drives a station wagon), a mass following ("I am not interested," he says, "in collecting thousands"), personal scandal, and a Messianic complex. There has been publicity about prodigious literary and artistic accomplishments attributed to him through divine inspiration-Chinmoy writes poetry and paints pictures at breakneck speed-but a writer for Yoga and Health (June 1972) caught him main thrust: "He is not in the cash and muscle-building business of Yoga; his work is with the spirit and through the mind."

Sri Chinmoy talks little about his thirty-three years in India, as if his early private life there were simply preparation for his future public life, but from statements by him and others the general course of his youth can be traced. He was born on August 27, 1931, in Shakpura, a small village outside Chittagong in East Bengal, the youngest of the seven children of Shashi Kumar Ghose, a railroad inspector and banker, and Yoga Maya (Bishwas) Ghose. His full name is Sri Chinmoy Kumar Ghose. True to his given name, Chinmoy, which means "full of Divine consciousness" in Sanskrit, he early developed a religious aspiration, and at age twelve he entered the Aurobindo ashram, or spiritual community, in Pondicherry. Good at track and field when he was a teen-ager, he won the ashram decathlon two years in succession. But his major occupation during twenty years in the ashram was the mastery of spiritual discipline. Meditating for increasingly longer periods daily, he eventually reached the habitual meditation state called Nirvikalpa Samadhi, the highest mystical state compatible with functioning in the physical world. Revered in his native land, he might well have gone into a career as a visiting lecturer at Indian universities.

Obeying what he considered "an inner command," Sri Chinmoy left India and traveled to the West in 1964. Settling in New York, he at first held an administrative post there with the Indian consulate. In July 1966 he established his first spiritual center, in Puerto Rico, and a year later, upon acquiring his American residence visa, he began the full-time pursuit of his mission. He established the headquarters of that mission at the Aum Centre, as the Sri Chinmoy establishment in Jamaica Hills, Queens was originally called.

In his first major lecture tour, in 1968, Sri Chinmoy spoke at Harvard, Yale, Brown, and other Ivy League universities. The following year he lectured at universities and held meditations in Japan, Hong Kong, India, and the Philippines, and in 1970 he made his first European tour. Three collections of his lectures and meditations were published in 1970: Meditations: Food for the Soul (Harper & Row), My Ivy League Leaves (Sri Chinmoy Lighthouse) and Yoga and the Spiritual Life (Tower Publications). In the last mentioned he said, "Honesty and frankness are the birthright of the West. Humility and devotion are the birthright of the East. The combination of these four powers should be the ideal of a human being."

In April 1970 a group of United Nations delegates and staff members asked Chinmoy to lead them in weekly meditation sessions in the Chapel of the Church Center for the U.N. When the popularity of the meditations became established, the United Nations Meditation Group was formally organized, with Sri Chinmoy as its director, and the meditations were increased to two a week. Early in 1971 Sri Chinmoy began delivering a monthly lecture on yoga and spirituality, especially as they apply to daily life and world affairs, in the Dag Hammarskjold Auditorium at the United Nations. During 1971 the Sri Chinmoy Lighthouse published several books of lectures and writings by Sri Chinmoy, including Love Realized, Surrender Fulfilled, Oneness Manifested, which consisted of two volumes of parables, and My Rose Petals, containing talks he had given in Europe the year previous; Herder and Herder published My Lord's Secrets Revealed.

Discussing Yoga and the Spiritual Life and My Lord's Secrets Revealed in the Saturday Review (December 18, 1971), Linda Hess described them as "full of devotion, humor, childlike innocence and sweetness." After quoting some typical passages, she asked, "Cliches? Too much like church tracts? No doubt. But as I read Chinmoy's words I found much to learn and apply-psychological insights, remarks on discipline, descriptions of changing modes of consciousness." Elsewhere his literary style has been described as "aphoristic," "highly metaphorical," "fragmentary," and "worshipful."

Tom McMorrow reported on one of Chinmoy's meditation sessions at the U.N. in the New York Sunday News of September 12, 1971: "He ascends to the pulpit and chants three times: 'There is nothing worth knowing but the soul; there is nothing worth becoming but God.' …After the chant, there is silence, a silence which at last week's session filled the U.N. chapel for forty minutes. The yogi, in a trance, looks out over the people, and as he gazes into one pair of eyes after the other, there would seem to be a sound in the air, though there is not. Certainly something is there. He comes down slowly…from the pulpit and approaches the people, who gaze upon him, transfixed." A similar report was given the following year by Irene Backalenick of the Bridgeport Sunday Post (March 19, 1972) after a visit to the Sri Chinmoy Centre in Norwalk: "He was clearly in touch with a higher power and unaware of the world around him, with his eyes rolled back in his head and his lips moving rapidly."

In a second tour of Europe, in 1972, Sri Chinmoy visited several spiritual centers that had sprung up as a result of his first visit, and he had a private audience with Pope Paul VI in Rome. During 1972 the Sri Chinmoy Lighthouse published The Garland of Nation-Souls, the first collection of the yogi's Dag Hammarskjold lectures; My Flute, a collection of his poetry; The Upanishads: The Crown of India's Soul; and The Vedas: Immortality's First Call. In the same year Frederick Fell Inc. published Arise! Awake!; Thoughts of a Yogi, and Aum Publications issued Discoverers of the Light. The following year Rudolf Steiner Publications issued Sri Chinmoy's Commentary on the Bhagavad Gita: The Song of the Transcendental Soul.

The pace of Sri Chinmoy's activities became dizzying in 1974, when he lectured in each of the fifty United States, toured Eastern Canada, and wrote 1,000 poems-published as Europe Blossoms by Aum Publications within the year-during a visit to Europe. On that European trip he conferred with the late Erskine Childers, then President of Ireland, and President Kristjan Eldjarn of Iceland. Ninety-four publications by Sri Chinmoy, most of them transcriptions of oral material, were issued during 1974, all of them by Aum Publications except one, The Inner Promise, which Simon & Schuster issued. Among the Aum books was Beyond Within, an anthology brought together for use as a text in a course on Chinmoy's teachings offered by the University of Connecticut.

"Just for the joy of it," as he explained at the time, Sri Chinmoy used his yogic powers of concentration to write 360 poems in twenty-four hours in May 1974, and he surpassed his own record by writing 843 spiritual verses in a twenty-four hour period in November 1975. Meanwhile, in 100 days, between November 19, 1974 and February 26, 1975, he completed 10,000 works of art, representations, he said, of realities of the inner, spiritual world, executed "to inspire and feed" his "spiritual children." Within a year the art works numbered 100,000, ranging from whimsical pen-and-ink drawings to dreamlike abstract acrylics and delicate watercolors.

Sri Chinmoy's meditation services, wherever held, are generally structured alike: the playing of soothing Indian music before a flower-decorated altar in an incense-filled chapel; the appearance of the master, who, dressed in a colored, diaphanous silk robe, sits cross-legged on a large chair, and who eventually begins the chant of Aum, the Sanskrit syllable for the divine sound that accompanied the creation; after silent meditation, a brief reading by Chinmoy from one of his works; perhaps a brief question and answer period, or the singing of a hymn; individual blessings; and, finally, a quiet filing out.

Unlike the disciples of some other yogis, those of Sri Chinmoy are not guaranteed instant "knowledge" or vision of divinity through the meditation sessions. "It takes time," Chinmoy says, "one has to study seventeen or eighteen years." Of his close disciples he demands meditation at least twice daily, conservative grooming, a vegetarian diet, freedom from drugs, a new name (an Indian one, selected by him), and chastity (to which the already married are allowed to move gradually). Disciples often run business establishments with names like the Blessing Light Supreme Bookstore and the Divine Robe Supreme Boutique. The master has no financial connection with the businesses, and he does not demand that his disciples share their profits with him and the centers-but they often do so. Most of his more distant followers also make "love offerings." The house organ of the Sri Chinmoy movement, distributed to and through the many centers, is called Aum Magazine.

The Bhakti Yoga taught by Sri Chinmoy transcends all religions, including his own Hinduism, as he often points out: "When we deal with God alone, this transcends all boundaries…. When I ask people for total commitment, the commitment is to their inner life with God, not me personally." While he does not dismiss the value of Hatha Yoga (basically physical yoga), he sees it as "a kindergarten school of the spiritual life…. If through the proper use of meditation and concentration you can come to that state [a quiet mind], what then is the use of Hatha Yoga? …If I know how to meditate, I will automatically discipline my physical body."

Sri Chinmoy is a broad-shouldered man of upright posture, five feet eight inches tall and weighing 140 pounds, with a complexion that has been variously described as "pale gold" and "mahogany," close-cropped, diminishing hair, and a dulcet voice, in which he speaks clear, if halting, English. His magnetism is that of a father figure, at once benign and strong, who strikes an immediate affinity with those in his presence. According to the Yoga and Health article, "For those who are on his wave length, he 'beams' strength…with such effect that even with their eyes closed, some people actually shake as his gaze passes over them." Explaining the strange transformation that takes place in his dark, shining, deep-set eyes as he moves into his trancelike state, he says, "There are seven higher planes of consciousness. Like a bird I fly from one to another. My eyes move as I enter each one."

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