Visiting Sri Chinmoy
In April, August and November each year, Sri Chinmoy would invite his students from all around the world to visit him in New York. For his students, these visits were an important chance to 'recharge the batteries', to surcharge themselves with inner peace and strength in order to face the challenges of life once more. Sri Chinmoy's passing in 2007 means we can no longer travel to see the Master in person, yet we still make the visit every April and August, as well as to mark the October anniversary of his passing.
New York for most is the capital of noise, bustle and clamour - not a place where one would expect to go to to find stillness and spiritual nourishment. Fortunately for us, most of the activities take place in the quiet Queens suburb of Jamaica Hills. The area is populated with quite a few enterprises run by students of Sri Chinmoy and the whole area exudes tranquillity as you walk around it; many who visit find themselves very reluctant to leave this area.
To cater for the increasing number of students who visit him from abroad, the meditation functions take place in a converted tennis court that was named 'Aspiration-Ground' by Sri Chinmoy, and which can now seat over 1,000 people. To many, the words 'meditation function' bring to mind rows of people in silence for hours on end, or lengthy discourses on some painfully obscure aspect of yoga - but you soon quickly come to learn that in these functions the only thing you can expect is the unexpected! To foster a sense of dynamism and flexibility in his students, Sri Chinmoy constantly varied the programme - in addition to silent meditation, we could have singing, musical performances, plays, improvisations, comedy, inspiring anecdotes - everyone is encouraged to take part at some point; spiritual progress can be made just as much in wholehearted participation as in silence. We often recieve well-known guests and visitors from the sporting, entertainment and artistic worlds, and Sri Chinmoy would inspire them with new energy and enthusiasm, sometimes by composing songs in praise of the recipient and other songs using inspiring quotes by the recipient for the words.
Singing performances form a large part of the programme. In general, every country gets the chance to perform at least once during the time they are there, and there are also many other singing groups with participants from all countries.
Walking around the neighbourhood, you are almost certain to bump into students out running; the trip gives many people the opportunity to continue their training programme, or get back into a running habit that slid away due to other pressures at home. Every Saturday morning there is a 2-mile race, and sometimes Sri Chinmoy would come to hand out prizes and give a prayer fitting to that day's race. Sri Chinmoy also encouraged those of his students who are fit to attempt the yearly Self-Transcendence Marathon, which is held in upstate New York during the August trip.
I have only highlighted here the more consistent features in what goes on; the truth is you could step off the plane and find yourself doing absolutely anything, from helping with humanitarian aid to being part of a team assembling the world's largest flower bouquet! There's even a circus! Sri Chinmoy usually gave us all of two days notice (if we're lucky) to get a circus act together, and it is a thoroughly enjoyable challenge to find and perfect an act in such a short space of time.
The one focal point amidst all these activities is Sri Chinmoy himself. Spirituality is not something that can be taught in a classroom, or through mental concepts. By far the most effective way of assimilating spiritual wisdom is to be near, and to meditate with someone who has attained inner meditative height, and who can let that consciousness flow into all his outer dealings with the world, so that every action of his becomes an example. A suitable analogy might be that of a child learning to walk - the child learns from seeing his parents walking; you don't have to give him lots of medical journals on leg muscle movements. With every visit, my perception of my teacher's realisation expands and deepens, along with my resolve to not rest on my current achievements, to go forward until the day I reach that state myself. It is obviously a different experience now that Sri Chinmoy is no longer physically here, but if anything, many of us find the inner encouragement and guidance we receive in Aspiration-Ground to be even stronger than before.
The days pass by all too quickly, and youre usually up to something right up to the moment you step into the taxi to catch the plane home...In the weeks that follow, as we do our best to share a little of the sunshine we have received in a sometimes hard and unforgiving world, we will think of these inspiring times often.
Jogyata Dallas, a long-time student of Sri Chinmoy's from New Zealand, has written very eloquently on this topic in an article describing his August 2004 trip, in which he also decribes his marathon experience. Click here for the full text.......