When I came to my best friend Arthur's apartment for the first time many years ago, I saw a framed picture of a man wearing a white garment. His eyes were looking up towards the heavens and he had the most peaceful smile on his face. I asked him who that was to which Arthur answered "That's Sri Chinmoy, a spiritual leader." Little did I know at the time how influential this man was, not just to thousands of people around the world but to the boy standing next to me.
Sri Chinmoy, one of the most notable gurus in history, had a humble start. He was born in a small village in Bangladesh in 1931. He lost his parents to illness at the tender age of 12. But amidst the hardship and poverty, he started to meditate. He spent 20 years in intense spiritual practice at the Sri Aurobindo ashram until 1964 when he got a calling to bring meditation to the people of the west.
Young Chinmoy srichinmoyphoto.com
Spirituality in Queens, NY
He began to open up spiritual centers, first in Puerto Rico, then in NY. These spiritual centers provided free meditation classes. Eventually, he established facilities in 50 countries around the world. But the main location, which has been called the Aspiration-Ground, lies in Queens. To many disciples like Arthur, it became a second home. Arthur's mother brought him there at the age of six where he was able to participate in numerous activities, such as drama and sports. People from all walks of life, from all religions and backgrounds, gather here to explore their passions and celebrate their differences. Part of the beauty of these programs lies in the fact that they are completely free. The center gets its funding from the sale of Chinmoy's art. Throughout his career, Chinmoy had written 1,500 books, 115,00 poems, and 20,000 songs. As if that wasn't impressive enough he painted 200,000 works of art and performed almost 800 peace concerts.
Work at the UN
In April 1970, UN Secretary-General U Thant invited Chinmoy to conduct "Peace Meditations at the United Nations." For the next 37 years, he continued to work with the UN, leading meditations, peace walks, lectures and meetings with staff and ambassadors. Arthur, while attending an art festival at the UN dedicated to the guru last year, actually got the chance to meet the General's daughter, Daw Aye Aye Thant.
Nelson Mandela was an avid supporter of Chinmoy's work. On April 13th, 1999 he expressed his gratitude in a letter to him, writing "Your work has inspired spiritual growth, resilience and well-being, especially in view of the present and unprecedented onslaughts against humankind...Yours is a voice of reason that we all must heed." Other influential figures that revered him included Mother Teresa, Princess Diana, Mikhail Gorbechev, Yoko Ono, as well as many celebrities like Carlos Santana and Susan Sarandon.
Chinmoy and Mandela srichinmoyphoto.com
In addition to encouraging a vegetarian and celibate lifestyle, Chinmoy believed that extreme physical activity can nurture one's spirituality.
I asked Arthur about the importance of sports in Chinmoy's philosophy and he told me this:
"Guru believed in Self-transcendence, improvement of yourself to compete only with your previous best, and he is a great example of this philosophy. Running helps me transform into something greater than my yesterday self. Setting new goals makes me transcend my past records in running. It helps conquer my mind where I start becoming and believing with my heart and I share this dynamic joy with other people."
Chinmoy also taught meditation to the boxer Muhammad Ali and Olympic sprinter Carl Lewis. But besides helping athletes, Sri Chinmoy used sports to inspire everyday folk. He organized the Peace-Run in 1987 which, unlike other relays and marathons, is not meant to raise money but simply to unite the world. Every year, it takes place in different countries. The runners stop by schools and summer camps to educate children about the importance of peace and diversity. To spread this message of peace, runners pass a torch for all people to hold and meditate on as the symbol of unity.
Peace Run in Great Britain peacerun.org
There are countless stories of Chinmoy performing miracles and bringing people back to life. One man reported that he got his brother out of a coma just by singing. Another woman recalls how saying one of his prayers when her car started to spin saved her from a near fatal collision. He was also very knowledgeable about herbal and folk remedies. His athletes rely on this, often turning to bowls of dandelion greens and aloe plants to heal their injured muscles.
In 1991, Chinmoy founded the Oneness-Heart Tears and Smiles organization which distributes aid and educational supplies to countries around the world. This summer, Arthur had the opportunity to intern at this organization. They had asked children around the world to send drawings thanking essential workers. The drawings were printed on hundreds of banners and hung around in hospitals and bus stops in various countries. It is without a doubt that even after his passing, Sri Chinmoy's legacy of kindness and peace continues through his students. Now more than ever, we need to be reminded of these principles.
Watch Arthur's interview with Sanjay Rawal, director of 3100 Run and Become, a film about the Peace-Run.