Easter Thoughts on Mercy

station-cross-002-todayThis is the first Easter since it was announced that Mother Teresa will become a saint. It’s also the ninth Easter since Sri Chinmoy passed away. That makes it a tenth anniversary of sorts.

Easter means resurrection, but the joy of resurrection comes with a knowledge of crucifixion built in. So in Bach’s B Minor Mass, we are led through the slow agony of crucifixion to experience the overpowering joy of resurrection:

We may think of the B Minor Mass as a long work, yet the crucifixion and resurrection are compressed into a few minutes of music. We know that in the ancient world, the crucifixion of Jesus is said to have taken six hours, with the resurrection occurring two or three days later.

The future is a foreign country — they do things differently there. So in our modern world the crucifixion comes after someone has died. This is true of both Mother Teresa and Sri Chinmoy. While they both lived, they faced some opposition, true. But their living presence on earth made it difficult for detractors to eclipse their profound achievements. After they died, it became easier for critics to torture them with unimaginable lies. Why do they do it?

For very ancient reasons, as I discuss in “Self-Interest, Self-Giving, Low Ethics, and High Ethics.” Low ethics loves to torture high ethics because low ethics feels it will be shown up by high ethics. It cannot compete fairly, so low ethics cheats or says that the goal is not worth reaching.

What is the goal that both Mother Teresa and Sri Chinmoy reached? The goal of compassion, mercy, and self-giving. Mother Teresa and Sri Chinmoy knew each other and understood each other well. It was because they both spoke the same language, the language of compassion, mercy, and self-giving, that they could easily be friends.

Mother Teresa and Sri Chinmoy

Mother Teresa and Sri Chinmoy

Sri Chinmoy composed songs honouring Mother Teresa, and some of his students performed those songs for her. Here’s the group Mountain-Silence performing two Mother Teresa songs (link to follow):

In the first song, Sri Chinmoy sets Mother Teresa’s own words to music:

The fruit of Silence is prayer.
The fruit of Prayer is faith.
The fruit of Faith is love.
The fruit of Love is service.
The fruit of Service is peace.

— Mother Teresa

In the second, he refers to her as “Affection-Sister, Compassion-Mother Teresa divine.”

According to Pope Benedict, “Mercy is what moves us toward God, while justice makes us tremble in his sight.” The Pope has declared 2016 a Jubilee Year of Mercy. What better time to stop torturing Mother Teresa and Sri Chinmoy with unimaginable lies? Let us instead bow to them, to their achievements, to their good hearts and immortal souls.

Mother Teresa receives a visit from Sri Chinmoy and his students

The image at the top of this post is a child’s drawing of the Stations of the Cross, from “3 ways to teach your children the Christian meaning of Easter,” by Rachel Campos-Duffy. What an interesting piece of art!

See also:
“Easter Reflections” by Sumangali Morhall
“The Sound of Music in Bengali!” (about the group Mountain-Silence)

Sidebar: David Amram on the B Minor Mass and Religious Experience

Source: Vibrations: The adventures and musical times of David Amram, 1968, The Viking Press

During that summer with Holly I had my first conscious religious experience in music. Although my background as a Jew conditioned me for a whole other kind of expression much later on, at this point in my life I was not aware consciously of my Jewishness in any musical sense. With the exception of hearing the shofar on Rosh Hashanah, and an occasional record of Near Eastern or Jewish music, I cannot remember being aware of music in any way evoking a specific religious feeling until the summer of 1948 when I was performing in the Bach B Minor Mass at the Carmel Bach Festival.

I was allowed to take ten days off from my job as a carpenter’s helper to go with Holly to this exciting festival. I played horn for some of the concerts and sang in the chorus the rest of the time. Although I had sung the choral music of Bach all through high school and had performed the trumpet parts in many of his cantatas, I only thought of the music as music and had never had any apocalyptic visions. In fact the only apocalyptic vision I ever had was at the age of seven on the beach in Florida with my mother at sunset when I told her I saw God in the sky and went racing up and down the beach until she calmed me down.

During the final rehearsal of the B Minor Mass, I noticed the pause following the unearthly harmonic progressions of Bach’s musical invention during “Crucifixus,” the part of the text where Christ is finally nailed to the cross and dies. These harmonies had always moved me in a peculiar way since the first time I had heard them, but I never gave it much thought except as part of the wealth and genius of Bach’s mind and music.

During the following section, the “Et Resurrexit,” the trumpet players had taken it easy during rehearsals because of the extremely difficult entrance for the three trumpets in D. The first trumpet player that summer was so temperamental that he would not play the part most of the time. At the final rehearsal, however, the trumpet players decided that they would really do it and after we sang the final chorus of the “Crucifixus,” there was an unearthly silence. Then the trumpets came soaring in with the great golden sound that seemed to come from heaven.

Suddenly it was as if I had seen a vision. The moment that the trumpets came in, I was overwhelmed by the feeling that someone who died had been resurrected by a God in heaven. I realized it was a combination of the impact of the harmony at the end of “Crucifixus,” the very crucial silence during which time I was able to feel Christ being taken from the cross, the sadness of all those believers who watched him and then the great glorious moment that all the believers must have felt when they knew he had been resurrected.

I went back with Holly to the broken-down rooming house we shared with other young hopeful musicians and singers. We talked about this amazing moment in the Mass for most of the rest of the night. Holly was Christian, but her religion was nothing more than a kind of relaxed area of social life. Church was a place for her to go for weddings, funerals and get-togethers. But because of that unconscious near-madness that so many Jews possess and because of the necessity to discover everything in and out of music for myself as a personal experience, I actually had a vision of what the first Christians must have felt when they discovered that Christ had been resurrected. It was the closest I ever came to being converted to Christianity.

During the performance of the B Minor Mass I waited for this moment to see if it would happen again. It occurred even more strongly this time, but after the first few measures, the first trumpet player in his excitement and egomania played so loudly and ferociously that he missed about five notes in a row. He turned to his right to the other two trumpet players as if to indicate that it was their fault and they began missing too, and his face, which had begun to turn purple from overblowing, now began to blacken with rage. Still, the moment was there and has remained in my mind ever since.

Most of the rest of the Mass I felt was much more eloquent than any speech or sermon that could be preached. I began then, at seventeen, to think seriously of how I could write a piece someday that would lend itself to my religious convictions, even though I was not sure what they were. I knew that they were Jewish, but I was not sure what the Jewish experience was and more important what my Jewish experience was or how it could be expressed through music.

David Amram

 See also:
“Bach’s St. John Passion: Crucifixion”

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Mary Murphy and WPIX-TV, Part 1

Why is Mary Murphy chasing an elderly woman down the street? The answer to that mystery next!

Forgive the tabloid TV come-on, but I assure you it’s entirely appropriate to the subject matter, which is muckraking journalism (not the good kind, which I respect). We’ll also be discussing cyberstalking, net kooks, apostate atrocity stories, and how these topics are related. We’ll take a look at a couple of well-known net kooks who engage in cyberstalking: Anne Carlton and Gary Falk. If you thought you knew all about cyberstalking, this article will cover an important angle often missed: the effect of cyberstalking on spiritual minorities. But let’s begin with a few quotes:

Cyberstalking is defined as the repeated use of the Internet, e-mail, or related digital electronic communication devices to annoy, alarm, or threaten a specific individual or group of individuals.

— “A Study on Cyberstalking: Understanding Investigative Hurdles,” D’Ovidio R & Doyle J, FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, March 2003

Stalkers are setting up websites that threaten victims or encourage others to contact, harass, or harm the victim. Some abusers encourage others to stalk their victim by posting erroneous and harassing information on websites.

“A High-Tech Twist on Abuse,” Tucker, Cremer, Fraser, & Southworth

The woman who has stalked David Letterman for five years truly believes she is his wife. She has been discovered on Mr. Letterman’s property numerous times, has been arrested driving his car and has even appeared at his residence with her own child in tow — each time insisting that she is David Letterman’s wife.

Love obsessional stalkers not only attempt to live out their fantasies, but expect their victims to play their assigned roles as well. They believe they can make the object of their affection love them. They desperately want to establish a positive personal relationship with their victim. When the victim refuses to follow the script or doesn’t respond as the stalker hopes, they may attempt to force the victim to comply by use of threats and intimidation.

“Stalking Questions and Answers,” The University of Vermont

But what happens when the victim of stalking is a member of a minority faith?

Exploitation by Exit Counselors and Anti-Cult Groups

Most stalking situations are fairly black-and-white. However, the situation is sometimes complicated by societal problems of bigotry and intolerance. Cyberstalkers may be encouraged to continue their stalking behavior by certain therapists and anti-cult groups, provided that the victim of the stalking is a member of a minority faith. The quirky rationale is that the stalker must have become deranged due to “cult abuse,” and that by using the Internet as a virtual weapon, the stalker is regaining his or her self-esteem, and performing a useful function for society, which (according to this rationale) would be better off without minority faiths.

It’s a little like a joke sometimes attributed to Groucho Marx: “This guy goes to a psychiatrist because his brother has a problem. He thinks he’s a chicken. The psychiatrist answers simply: ‘Why not tell him he’s not a chicken and be done with it?’ To which the man responds, ‘I’d like to, but we need the eggs.'”

Like this, some exit counselors and anti-cult organizations exploit former members of bona fide spiritual groups. They encourage delusional thinking and troubled behaviour, as long as it advances their agenda of opposing “cults.” If a love-obsessional stalker going through the hate stage is saying vile things about a minority spiritual figure, some exit counselors and anti-cult groups will publish this material, because it helps create a climate of fear which will boost sales of anti-cult books, videos and “counseling” sessions. Never mind that the material is false, and that it will needlessly alarm parents. A frightened parent is a parent willing to shell out big bucks for a “cult intervention.”

When a member of a minority faith becomes a victim of cyberstalking, this places the victim in a double bind — first, because he or she is being stalked; second, because he or she may be non-white and non-Judeo-Christian. In such cases, the stalker’s method of harassing the victim may be to pander to stereotypes about the victim’s ethnic and religious background, and to try and enlist the less reputable media as surrogate harassers. In other words, if the victim is David Letterman, everyone will believe him when he says, “This is not my wife.” If the victim is non-white, non-Judeo-Christian, and not a media darling, some of the media will side with the stalker!

“Cyber-Stalkers and Net Kooks”

In fact, that’s exactly what happened in February 2016. Anne Carlton and Gary Falk (most recently of Willow, New York) are troubled people who’ve been cyberstalking Sri Chinmoy and Sri Chinmoy Centre for 25 years between them. (This even continued after Sri Chinmoy’s death in 2007.) They recently enlisted Mary Murphy of WPIX-TV as a surrogate stalker. Murphy was actually caught chasing an elderly woman down the street and shoving a camera in her face. The woman being harassed was a devotee of Sri Chinmoy who was walking a dog on a quiet street in Jamaica Hills. She couldn’t run very fast because she was wearing an Indian sari, which is a modest spiritual garment.

So while Anne Carlton and Gary Falk usually use the Internet to stalk and harass their targets, in this case they managed to get Mary Murphy to escalate things to physical harassment. Murphy’s style of ambush journalism is hardly distinguishable from stalking. Emily Spence-Diehl writes:

For many stalkers, the line between fantasy and reality is either blurry or nonexistent. The fantasy themes often revolve around entitlement (“you’re mine”), anger (“you’ll pay for this”), and/or destiny (“we’re meant to be together”). In some cases, the belief that the fantasy is real is so strong that the stalkers may appear more reliable and insistent than the victims. Law enforcement officers may call a stalker in for an interview who very convincingly spins a tale about the love relationship between he or she and the victim, right down to the insignificant details. Yet in reality no romantic relationship ever existed. These particular types of stalkers are referred to by psychological experts as sufferers of “erotomania;” they delusionally believe they’re in a romantic relationship with the victim that does not actually exist.

Stalking–A Handbook for Victims

In Anne Carlton’s case, she makes up a bewildering variety of stories about Sri Chinmoy; and while these stories are ever-changing and mutually inconsistent (not to speak of being inconsistent with reality), they all feature Ms. Carlton in the grand role of love interest. She’s a shameless publicity hound who’s been trying to retail her romantic fantasies to the tabloids for time out of mind. When Sri Chinmoy was approached by a tabloid in 2004 regarding Ms. Carlton, he issued a full denial, stating that he maintained celibacy. “You’re going to have disgruntled people,” said attorney Ed Hayes. “His philosophy attracts many people, and some of them are deeply troubled, some in a sexual way.”

No reputable news outlet will touch the material circulated by Ms. Carlton, but some of her more salacious and hate-filled screeds do appear on anti-cult sites — particularly those run by deprogrammers or exit counselors who charge a few thousand dollars a pop for euphemistically named cult interventions.

One can feel sorry for Ms. Carlton because she’s a troubled and unhappy person, but she is NOT a victim. In truth, she victimizes others with her false accounts, which are used to incite ethnic and religious hatred.

She and her husband Gary Falk are well-known net kooks who are typically unavoidable for comment on the Internet, and will hijack any thread about Sri Chinmoy in order to post nasty comments or links to hate sites. Mr. Falk is the owner/moderator of a site which publishes material referring to the kindly (and much-respected) Sri Chinmoy as a “Bengali bastard” and a “cocksucker,” and which discusses “knocking his little head off clean from his Indian shoulders.”

Simon and Schuster author Sri Chinmoy

Simon and Schuster author Sri Chinmoy

In the twilight of his life, Sri Chinmoy was ruthlessly harassed by such grubby folk. Even as he continued to earn tributes and commendations for his numerous good works, he had to endure harassment forming a consistent pattern: absurd accusations endlessly repeated and recycled under different aliases, but absolutely zero evidence of wrongdoing. (I have elsewhere described this as a form of information terrorism.) This type of multi-year harassment comprising multiple incidents is a violation of civil rights and due process. And it’s not only the late Sri Chinmoy who is harassed in this manner, but the surviving nonprofit which he founded, and living followers by name.

I want to stress that there’s a connection between individual cyberstalkers, and hate groups which base their activities on anti-cult ideology. The group dynamics of hate groups engender victimhood, creating a demand for someone to “come forward” and willingly play the role of a victim, in order to fuel hatred and justify vigilantism. In an anti-cult context, atrocity stories portraying former minority adherents as victims are used to assuage apostate guilt, relocate blame, and justify harassment of spiritual minorities.

The individual strategy of cyberstalkers, who pretend to be victims avenging some imagined wrong, converges with the broader strategy of hate groups, who use atrocity stories as a propaganda tool to influence the media. The following quotes begin to get at the flavour of these interconnected relationships:

Dr. Lonnie Kliever:

There are some voluntary apostates from new religious movements who leave deeply embittered and harshly critical of their former religious associations and activities. Their dynamics of separation from a once-loved religious group is analogous to an embittered marital separation and divorce. Both marriage and religion require a significant degree of commitment. The greater the involvement, the more traumatic the break-up. The longer the commitment, the more urgent the need to blame the other for the failed relationship. Long-term and heavily involved members of new religious movements who over time become disenchanted with their religion often throw all of the blame on their former religious associations and activities. They magnify small flaws into huge evils. They turn personal disappointments into malicious betrayals. They even will tell incredible falsehoods to harm their former religion.

— Dr. Lonnie Kliever, “The Reliability of Apostate Testimony About New Religious Movements”

Christine Gorman:

By all accounts, the descent into delusion is gradual. Everyone has experienced slights, insults or failures at one time or another, and most people find some way to cope. Or, if they don’t, a trusted friend or family member may persuade them to forget the past and get on with their lives. But if they cannot shake off the sense of humiliation, they may instead nourish their grudges and start a mental list of all the injustices in their lives. Rather than take a critical look at themselves, they blame their troubles on “the company,” for example, or “the government” or “the system.” Often these aggrieved people fall in with others sharing the same point of view. The group helps them to rehearse their grievances, ensuring that the wounds remain open, and exposes them to similar complaints. As a result, paranoia blossoms and spreads.

— Christine Gorman, “Calling All Paranoids,” TIME magazine

The Jargon File:

Net kook is a term used to describe a regular poster who continually posts messages with no apparent grounding in reality. Different from a troll, which implies a sort of sly wink on the part of a poster who knows better, kooks really believe what they write, to the extent that they believe anything. The kook trademark is paranoia and grandiosity. Kooks will often build up elaborate imaginary support structures, fake corporations and the like, and continue to act as if those things are real even after their falsity has been documented in public. While they may appear harmless, there are several instances on record of journalists writing stories with quotes from kooks who caught them unaware.

The Jargon File

Matthew Johnson:

Consciously or unconsciously, hate groups draw on a number of basic psychological mechanisms to attract and indoctrinate believers. It’s important to teach young people to recognize the elements that distinguish ideologies of hate from legitimate discourse: the characterization of one or more groups as “the Other,” and a narrative of victimhood.

“The Other,” which is dehumanized and portrayed as being simultaneously inferior and threatening, is at the heart of all messages of hate. These groups justify their hatred by portraying themselves as being victimized by the Other; the ultimate example of this is often the accusation that the Other is responsible for the loss of the group’s proper place in the world at some time in the past. Besides teaching young people critical thinking skills, we can also fight online hate by helping them to develop empathy.

— Matthew Johnson, “Preparing youth to deal with hate on the Internet”

Elissa Lee and Laura Leets:

Increasingly, hate groups have used the Internet to express their viewpoints, sell their paraphernalia, and recruit new members. According to William Pierce, “Fiction or drama gets much more inside the head of the person who is experiencing it because the reader or viewer identifies with a character.” Pierce’s enthusiasm for fiction displays how hate groups have begun to use narratives to influence others and to promote their vision. Historically, narrators have often intended to persuade their audiences of their points of view or the legitimacy of their claims with stories. The power of storytelling lies in its ability to make an argument without eliciting mental resistance. Empirical studies have supported this claim with findings that narratives elicit fewer counterarguments and less resistance to persuasion. Narratives, especially fictional stories, may raise less scrutiny and suspicion through suspension of disbelief and identification with the protagonist’s mental perspective.

— Elissa Lee and Laura Leets, “Persuasive Storytelling by Hate Groups Online,” American Behavioral Scientist

It’s clear that both individual cyberstalkers and hate groups use fictional stories to target their victims. The Internet is particularly prone to socially constructed realities (or hoaxes) which simply don’t jibe with the fact-based reality journalists are supposed to be concerned with. This converges with the problem of “confirmation bias,” in which a reporter buys into a false story because it confirms her ingrained prejudices about a minority group or spiritual figure.

As discussed earlier, when a member of a minority faith becomes a victim of cyberstalking, the stalker’s method of harassing the victim may be to pander to stereotypes about the victim’s ethnic and religious background, and to try and enlist the less reputable media as surrogate harassers. It’s the duty of responsible journalists not to allow themselves to be used in this manner, and certainly not to actively join in the harassment, as PIX11’s Mary Murphy did. In “Better Reporting on Religious and Ethnic Minorities,” I write:

There are organizations which seek to “educate” the public that minority religions are to be hated, feared, discriminated against, and generally treated like lepers. Journalists sometimes uncritically accept and reproduce this type of material because it resonates with their own beliefs, or because they fail to identify the genre and investigate the source. In short, journalists are sometimes taken in by people who claim to be “cult experts,” but are not regarded as such by bona fide scholars of religion.

As publications have grown increasingly wary of atrocity stories circulated by anti-cult groups, such groups have turned to third party technique  to drive home their message. Particularly where claims are potentially libelous, journalists need to drill down to ensure that sources are credible — not engaged in astroturfing or merely repeating what they’ve heard.

Suppose you locate Internet material claiming that some minority spiritual figure is a “criminal.” Well, in what jurisdiction was the criminal complaint filed, and what was its outcome? If someone is portrayed on the Internet as committing crimes left and right, but in the real world there’s not a single police complaint, then clearly the rhetoric doesn’t match the reality. A person may be portrayed hatefully on the Internet, but articles in local newspapers may establish him or her to be a jewel in the community, through the recitation of facts not rhetoric.

Good journalists know that people claiming to be victims can lie as much as anyone else. Like Elvis sightings earnestly recounted, false stories of abuse take on an increasing air of reality to people who endlessly repeat them to each other within the closed environs of an anti-cult group. This is a psychological phenomenon known as “imagination inflation.”

Claims by individuals who are (explicitly or covertly) engaged in anti-cult activism need to be carefully checked and verified. This is so because activists often take actions which make them major stakeholders in a narrative. They can easily reach the point where they’re so personally invested in a false narrative that they reflexively insist on its truthfulness, all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding. They may want to be seen as heroes or avengers, but if the underlying narrative is false, then they’re vigilantes harassing an innocent person or group. Their willingness to believe the narrative thus becomes bound up with their own self-esteem and professional reputation.

As in the Tawana Brawley case, some people may incorporate a false narrative of victimhood into their personal biography. This can lead to a web of lies from which they find it difficult to extricate themselves, because the lies have been externalized (there now being an interest group which bases its activism on the lies).

Yet, some people do manage to disentangle themselves and admit that their claims of victimhood were actually confabulations produced by suggestive therapy or support group pressures — or that they hurled false accusations out of anger. In a 1998 New York Times article, Joseph Berger writes:

Stacey Hoehmann said her accusations against her father grew out of a lie she told a friend in her simmering anger at her father’s strictness. That lie, she said, “spun out of control.” Soon, she said, she felt compelled to invent lurid details so she would not be branded a liar. “They kept wanting more and more details,” she said. “I didn’t know what they were looking for, so I made stuff up.”

See also Meredith Maran, “My Lie: Why I falsely accused my father.”

Attorney-activist Alton Maddox, Jr. was eventually suspended from practicing law for his role in the Brawley case, essentially because he continued to push a false narrative even after he had reason to know it was false. See “The Lawyer’s Duty to Check Facts,” where Joel Cohen notes that “a lawyer cannot be ‘intentionally ignorant.’” Unfortunately, reporter Mary Murphy may face little penalty for airing a false story which she should have known was false (since she was unable to confirm it, and it flies in the face of reliable sources). Long live tabloid TV!

Why do reporters keep acting in such a low and unethical manner? Because sensation drives ratings. If we want a more civil society, we need to stop giving out Emmys for crap. We get the behavior we reward.

Note: Anne Carlton and Gary Falk are two of a handful of people involved with anti-cult groups who mercilessly cyberstalk Sri Chinmoy and Sri Chinmoy Centre. Celia Corona-Doran (a.k.a. Suchatula Cecelia Corona) is another about whom I have written previously. Her modus operandi is similar in that she tries to entice journalists into publishing anti-cult hate material which is false, but which appeals to a certain bigoted mindset. See:

“Can Salon Learn From Rolling Stone’s Mistakes? Part 1”
“False Salon Story: What was said at the time”
“Understanding Media: The Smear Campaign”

Michael Howard

The views expressed are my own, and do not represent any other person or organization.

This post is Part 1 in a series. Read Parts 2 and 3 here:
“PIX11’s Mary Murphy: Stalking The Truth (but lies will also do)”
“PIX11’s Mary Murphy: So You Think You Can Lie”

Sidebar: Reconciling claims made by different Tribune Media properties

Tribune Media owns/has owned a number of different properties. Some of them, like the Chicago Tribune, engage in “legit” news reporting, and have a staff of reporters covering specialized subjects. Others, like WPIX-TV, are more tabloid-oriented and tend to evoke the old line about general assignment reporters being equally ignorant in all areas.

Manya Brachear Pashman is the Chicago Tribune’s religion reporter. Her qualifications include a master’s degree in religious studies from Columbia University. She has covered two Popes, and the Dalai Lama’s visits to Chicago. When Sri Chinmoy passed away in October 2007, she wrote:

Guru inspired harmony, French toast

I am hungry and heartbroken. Victory’s Banner, a popular Roscoe Village brunch spot run by the disciples of a New York-based guru, will remain dark this weekend as the sari-clad restaurateurs observe an eight-day vigil of meditation, song and poetry recitation in memory of Sri Chinmoy, their spiritual leader. The world peace advocate died of a heart attack at his home Thursday while awaiting word on whether he had won this year’s Nobel Peace Prize.

A spiritual guru to thousands around the world, Chinmoy opened scores of centers to spread his gospel of peace and harmony around the world. As a facilitator of peace meditations for the United Nations, Chinmoy was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition that his “ceaseless work … crystallizes his belief in the unity and affinity among nations and the individuals who inhabit them.”

Chinmoy, who was 76 when he died, wrote more than 1,600 books of prose and poetry, composed more than 20,000 pieces of music and played more than 800 Peace Concerts in venues like Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall. But he never claimed to be a master musician. In fact, he often would falter and improvise on stage. For him, music was a gateway to meditation. Physical fitness was a path to harmony.

That’s why at the age of 55 he picked up a barbell and soon after founded the Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team, which sponsored events that included the world’s longest footrace, the 3,100-mile Self-Transcendence Race.

A tennis player, long-distance runner and eventually champion weightlifter, Chinmoy credited his inner peace and strength to an outer strength demonstrated by his ability to lift thousands of pounds. With the aid of a special contraption, he raised trucks, elephants and single-engine planes inches off the ground. He also lifted celebrities including Rev. Jesse Jackson, comedian Eddie Murphy and several Catholic bishops. The Wall Street Journal labeled him the “Stunt Man of the Spiritual World.”

But more notable was Chinmoy’s ability to uplift people spiritually with his poetry, prose, music, meditation and yes, menus. He promoted a vegetarian diet. In Roscoe Village, his disciples run Victory’s Banner restaurant and a bookstore where they offer meditation courses and friendship.

In fact, few weekends go by when I don’t stop at Victory’s Banner for “my usual,” a tasty tofu scramble called the Eggless Wonder. Not only are their breakfast specials worth the wait, but so are the intriguing conversations that almost always unfold before I pay the bill.

While I never had the opportunity to meet Chinmoy, I have gotten to know his followers over the years. I will miss breakfast on Saturday. But my heart goes out to them as they mourn a man whom they credit for having a profound influence on their lives—a legacy that hopefully will last for many years to come.

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Comment: You see, she just gets it because she has the chops in religious studies and is a genuine seeker herself, whereas Mary Murphy is totally clueless. Murphy’s massive blunder believing Anne Carlton is the equivalent of believing that the woman stalking David Letterman was really his wife.

One of the differences between reputable publications and tabloids is that reputable publications are concerned with accuracy, even when (or perhaps especially when) covering spiritual minorities. But tabloids tend to pander to hateful stereotypes about the religious Other, and to portray minority adherents as “folk devils” in order to spur reader interest.

Tribune Media also publishes the God Squad articles by Rabbi Marc Gellman, which he used to co-write with the late Monsignor Thomas Hartman, affectionately known as “Father Tom.” To see what Rabbi Gellman and Father Tom had say about Sri Chinmoy, please browse to “Father Tom, The God Squad, and Sri Chinmoy.”

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More About Me

cambodian-boatman-by-michael-howardThis personal blog is happily not about me and my daily life, but about things that fascinate and inspire me — including music, poetry, art, and spirituality. It’s also about finding time to laugh out loud at Britcoms, and speak up for truth on subjects that surely demand truth.

Still, I hope the reader would learn something about me from the way I write about the artist Picasso, or Chinese female vocalist Chyi Yu, or the tragic attack on Charlie Hebdo.

When I first started this blog in September 2014, I wondered if anyone would even read it, and whether I’d find the words to express my thoughts and feelings on issues I’ve subsequently tackled. As I limbered up the writing apparatus, I also narrowed down the focus and zeroed in on issues that are personally important to me, such as religious freedom.

Now that I find I do have at least a few readers, some of them are curious about the exact vantage point from which I write on certain issues. For the benefit of those readers, let me clarify that I’m not a member of Sri Chinmoy Centre or a spokesperson for the group. I am a fan, admirer, or well-wisher of Sri Chinmoy, with whom I did study meditation many years ago. That was a very enlightening experience which I’m proud to stand up and “own.” I remember countless beautiful meditations and concerts with Sri Chinmoy, and often being moved to tears in his presence. I will always remain indebted to Sri Chinmoy for teaching me the most important life-skills which I lacked: love of God, and gratitude to God.

Sri Chinmoy saved countless lives, and one of them happens to be mine. He saved my life by reaching beyond my pain, doubt and confusion, and simply opening my heart — as easily as you or I would turn a key in a lock. He was a genuine spiritual Master who had the power to give spiritual experiences, to put seekers in direct contact with the Divine. He did not merely speak about Peace. When he meditated, he filled the hall with Peace so that all those who were seeking Peace were divinely satisfied.

As an ordinary human being, I may find it difficult to live this truth 24 hours a day. But I feel honour-bound to at least speak up for truth, especially since I’ve noticed that some people speak falsely about Sri Chinmoy or try to discredit him. For me, to be true to my own experience is essential, or how could I ever hope to be true to myself? Conversely, I find that those who falsify their experience and portray Sri Chinmoy negatively tend to become increasingly troubled in their nature, being out-of-sync with their better angels.

In writing about many different subjects, lately I’ve been finding that posts about Sri Chinmoy and Sri Chinmoy Centre are especially dear to my heart. After all, there are probably hundreds of books about Picasso, and Chyi Yu has probably sold millions of albums in Taiwan, China, and the Chinese diaspora. I love writing about those topics (and hopefully finding new insights), but how much am I really adding to the existing store of knowledge?

By contrast, I like to believe that some of what I have to say about Sri Chinmoy is genuinely new and timely. Failing that, it at least weighs in on the side of truth — and I feel that spiritual truth has become hard to hear in our society due to excessive materialism.

Though not about my daily life, this personal blog represents a continuing effort to find out what moves and inspires me and what I have to say. Lately, I’ve been writing a lot about Sri Chinmoy. I have no idea whether that trend will continue, but if it does, well and good. That would represent progress for me in knowing what’s important to me, what I care about. I’m sure that even if I digress into other topics, Sri Chinmoy is someone I will always return to, because his teachings are deep (even if I am shallow), and there’s always more to discover about his music, poetry, and art.

There are no barriers to entry. No matter who you are or where you are, whatever your religion or non-religion, you are free at this moment to see things anew with fresh eyes. As Sri Chinmoy himself writes:

Beyond speech and mind,
Into the river of ever-effulgent Light
My heart dives.
Today thousands of doors
Closed for millennia
Are opened wide.

— Sri Chinmoy, as quoted by Alan Spence in a BBC article on Hindu meditation

Michael Howard

About the image at top: “Cambodian Boatman” by Michael Howard, based on a video by Niriha Datta. This is a recoloured photograph, or more precisely a recoloured video frame to which art effects have been applied. I did three versions in Dynamic Auto Painter, then combined them in Photoshop, adding dramatic lighting to bring out the textures.

Sundar Dalton: The Barber of Samadhi

Sundar Dalton is a barber by profession. That in itself is not remarkable. But Sundar Dalton is also a poet. How many barbers do you know who are poets? (Limericks don’t count.)

Speaking of Limerick, Sundar doesn’t hail from there. He comes rather from Northern Ireland — Belfast to be precise. He’s lived in New York over 30 years, but his poems speak of a richer history still:


Alone in Glasgow Central Station
On a cool day in July I went
Into a coffee-house and ordered cappuccino.

As I sat there waiting with time
On my hands how welcome and consoling
That happy mixture of warm milk –
The first taste of all – and strong coffee was.

Looking round the cheerful crowded room
My eye was caught by a bust,
Porphyry and cream,
Whose baroque curls and philosopher’s
Beard I recognized, from coffee table
Books on Rome, and the illustrations
In serious histories, to be those of
The Emperor Marcus.

And I thought how almost nineteen
Hundred years earlier he himself may
Have stood at this very dear green place
And watched the legionaries build
The Antonine wall from Forth to Clyde.

I remembered reading in a book, or a book review,
How for centuries after his death
The peasants on the great Antonine
Estate at Lanuvium celebrated his
Birthday still and lit lamps before
An ancestral Image such as this.

Born Annius Verus, nicknamed by Hadrian
Verissime, the most true, he was an index
There for me of Scotland’s happy return
To that great realm of wide humanity,
Brotherhood, Freedom and Equality
And all the schemes of English Oligarchs
Their bastard and unrightful kings undone.

– Sundar Dalton, from Panorama

Sundar is a student of meditation master Sri Chinmoy. I jokingly call him the Barber of Samadhi because Samadhi is an advanced state of meditation in which one is said to experience great bliss — almost like getting a really good haircut.

Sundar first met Sri Chinmoy in Dublin a long, long time ago, and is happy with the spiritual lifestyle that he chose. He swims and runs pretty much every day, meditates every morning, and tries to sing some spiritual songs.

Recently, reporters (not unlike English Oligarchs) barged into Sundar’s barber shop and demanded to know: “Where is the Barber of Samadhi? We want to interview him. It seems he is perhaps the wisest man on earth!” Sundar did grant them a short interview.


There once was a barber named Sundar,
Who hadn’t a lolly or Dove Bar
He always ate healthily,
And as age crept on stealthily,
He found he could run like a racecar!


Sundar Dalton clasping the World Harmony Run torch, 2009

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