Last August I spent 10 days in New York. Most people visit the Big Apple to see the sights, go shopping or because they love the buzz of the place, but my trip was for a different purpose. Ironically, it was to escape from the hustle and bustle of regular life and re-focus on my inner journey.
New York is probably the last place one would venture to seek quietude, yet in the sunny suburb of Jamaica, Queens – home to spiritual master Sri Chinmoy – exists a world where problems are dissolved, batteries are recharged and worries are obliterated.
Born in East Bengal (now Bangladesh) in 1931, Sri Chinmoy moved to New York in 1964 after spending more than 20 years in intense spiritual practice. Today, he serves as a spiritual guide to students worldwide, encouraging a balanced lifestyle that incorporates the inner disciples of prayer and meditation with the dynamism of modern life.
Each April and August, students of Sri Chinmoy from over 60 countries travel to Queens to spend time with their teacher. Referred to as ‘celebrations’, the gathering is not what one would expect from a spiritual sojourn. We do not sit in silence for hours on end; nor do we listen to long, drawn-out lectures on philosophy or self-development. Instead, a programme of spiritually orientated activities is organised, and everyone gets a chance to take part.
Many of these activities comprise performances put on by both local and visiting students, and include spiritual plays, musical concerts and vocal recitals. The musical events are based on devotional songs written by Sri Chinmoy, some of which are in English, but most in his mother tongue – Bengali. Everyone gets a turn to perform, and you don’t need to be a pro to get involved.
Activities commence around 12-noon and continue into the late hours, with breaks for (vegetarian) meals. It is effortless to maintain a meditative feeling in this atmosphere bathed in harmony and light.Here you can literally feel the layers of ‘garbage’ fall away – fear, insecurity, anger, etc. And it is during these surreal periods, when time seems to stand still, that you get a glimpse into reality from a divine perspective.
Time is broken up with more energetic pursuits like a circus, early morning two-mile races, a 47-mile race, and a marathon, which this year saw over 700 students participate in. And for those of us who did not run it, there was plenty of scope to help. On Sri Chinmoy’s path the body is considered the temple of the soul, so physical fitness is taken seriously. Sri Chinmoy says, ‘If the body is strong and healthy, it can receive the message of the soul and we can become a perfect receptacle, a perfect instrument.’ For those who are unable to run, other forms of exercise are advised, such as yoga, walking or swimming.
In effect, the entire experience of celebrations is like one long meditation, whether we are performing, watching others sing, laughing at a circus act, running, eating or chatting with friends. It’s a time when we spontaneously live in the heart rather than the mind, and this is encouraged by Sri Chinmoy, who advocates the ‘path of the heart’ as the simplest way to make rapid spiritual progress.
I have been a student of Sri Chinmoy for just over 18 years and made my first trip to Queens in 1987, when I was 23. Since then I have flown to and fro numerous times and I find each visit unveils new meaning.
This August there were a number of highlights for me. An area of Sri Chinmoy’s work that I get much inspiration from is the Lifting Up The World With a Oneness Heart project, which is an award given by Sri Chinmoy to recognise individuals from all walks of life who are contributing something valuable in their field of work. During a ceremony, Sri Chinmoy literally lifts the recipient overhead using a specially constructed platform, in a symbolic gesture of oneness with their uplifting achievements. To date, several thousand people have accepted the award including Heads of State, diplomats, spiritual and religious leaders of many faiths, distinguished achievers in the arts and in literature, Nobel laureates and world-class athletes. On this occasion I witnessed the lifting of the tallest man in America, tennis-open players and well-known musicians.
Another highlight was the 27th August, which is Sri Chinmoy’s birthday. This year we celebrated his 73rd year and as a gift from his students he was presented with a record-breaking bouquet of 101,000 multicoloured roses.
The day was a most memorable one – Sri Chinmoy meditated on each of us, one by one, bestowing his gratitude and blessings.
As we dispersed for the night armed with edible gifts and flowers, my stay was nearing its close. I was surcharged with inspiration and enthusiasm, ready to re-enter my life’s new challenges and opportunities.
Sri Chinmoy does not ask much of his students. His only fee he says is aspiration or a sincere inner cry. And with that he can help seekers discover and nurture their inner treasures – peace, light, love, cheerfulness and joy.
Article by Paula Bartimeus
Paula is a member of the London Sri Chinmoy Centre