Exploring the subtleties of Sri Chinmoy’s music with a delightful mix including flute, esraj, singing, and piano, plus detailed notes
UPDATE 5. A very happy birthday to Sri Chinmoy, who would have been 88 today, August 27th, 2019! In the music world, when we hear the number 88 immediately we think of the piano, which has 88 keys. And indeed, the piano is an instrument for which Sri Chinmoy showed tremendous fondness. He played many instruments, and imparted to each a particular quality or manner of expression. Taken together, these begin to comprise his musical oeuvre.
Sri Chinmoy was a man of action, not a dry theoretician, or a composer removed from the performance of his works. He wrote countless spiritual songs, and was very active in singing, playing, and teaching them. But though his songs represent a significant corpus, he was also known for his striking improvisations on piano and pipe organ. Often times, at the close of a concert of one or two hours in which he played his songs on a variety of instruments, he would end with an avant-garde piano improvisation.
His flute melodies are extremely pleasing to the ear — the essence of zenlike simplicity. When he played the Indian esraj (a bowed instrument similar to the better-known sarangi), this imparted a haunting, ancient quality. His singing was all heart and soul, seeming to embody the seeker’s plaintive cry to know the Divine, and to be freed from the shackles of ignorance. He himself was ever-free, but identified with the pangs of seekers.
When he sang in concert, it was as if he were bundling up the collective longing for God of his audience, and directing it as a single prayer upward to the Divine. Something more: As a spiritual Master, he was able to fulfill that prayer, to bring it to fruition. So inwardly, in the course of a concert he would play the role of both a seeker and a Liberator, carrying the collective longings of his audience Heavenward, and showering them with inner blessings from the Highest Height of meditation — throwing them into the Universal Consciousness (as he would put it). The closing moments of his meditations and concerts were indeed special for this reason. They are coloured deep blue in my memory.
He approached each of the instruments he played with a sense of discovery, spontaneity, and childlike enthusiasm, bringing out the unique qualities of each. He was fearless in the manner of David Amram, always ready to grab a new instrument and start jamming. (A photo from Amram’s first autobiography Vibrations shows him wigging out at the Fillmore East with violin and kazoo.) Like this, if someone gave Sri Chinmoy a Hawaiian slide guitar, he would not hesitate!
He was also like a quick-change artist or showman. There was always something more about him than met the eye (or ear). He was a perfect example of the artist as shaman, creating art not simply for art’s sake, but also as a means of inner awakening for both the individual and the assembled collective, the gathering tribes.
As listeners, it is always our challenge to remain attentive. There is a regrettable human tendency to replace the actual experience of art with our mental attitudes toward it. The liner notes (or our knowledge of the musical devices employed) become a substitute for hearing the music itself.
Listening to Sri Chinmoy’s flute music, we could easily be lulled into thinking that his entire message is one of peace. But he knew how to guard against complacency on the part of listeners. Just when you thought you had him pegged as a purveyor of serene flute melodies, he would rotate the circular table on which a host of exotic instruments were assembled, and choose one with a striking and unusual sound, like the African wind spinner. Or he might rise and walk over to a different part of the stage where his cello was waiting for him, and proceed to sing and play in unison, perhaps “Ore Mor Kheya”:
Ore Mor Kheya (English translation)
O my Boat, O my Boatman,
O message of Transcendental Delight,
Carry me. My heart is thirsty and hungry,
And it is fast asleep at the same time.
Carry my heart to the other shore.
The dance of death I see all around.
The thunder of destruction indomitable I hear.
O my Inner Pilot, You are mine,
You are the Ocean of Compassion infinite.
In You I lose myself,
My all in You I lose.
– Sri Chinmoy, from The Garden of Love-Light, Part 1 , 1974
Here then is a specially selected mix of Sri Chinmoy’s music as performed by the Maestro himself, and by his students. Not every track has piano, but that instrument is well-represented, including one of Sri Chinmoy’s immortal piano improvisations. Taken together with his other music, we can see how in the course of an evening he could easily span the distance from ancient to modern. He expressed not only deep peace, but also dynamism, vastness, and infinitude:
For now, you can also access this m4a audio file containing all the referenced music. Plays in most players. If you use iTunes, VLC, SMPlayer, or another chapter aware player, you can use the chapter markers to go to any track. Also see track list at bottom of this post.
Because the individual and the collective go together, I find it especially meaningful to hear the same song performed by Sri Chinmoy and by his students. There’s completion of a circle in that. The whole of his music consists not only of what he sent out, but of what was received, embraced, and understood by others. The same is true of his teachings.
Sri Chinmoy’s voice is not prettified in the manner of an opera singer or pop star, but is the true voice of a shaman — one who through spiritual knowledge is qualified to conduct the sacred ceremonies. His performance is always the most austere, but the most true. And where there is abundant truth, is that not also beauty? The spiritual truth is most beautiful in itself, without any artificial sweeteners.
Sri Chinmoy blended the boundaries between purely sacred or ceremonial music, and music which could be enjoyed simply for its aesthetic beauty. His flute music is pleasing to all, and his Bengali songs are arranged most beautifully by his students. But as with much music with sacred origins, the more you know, the richer your experience. His music is an invitation or portal to the consciousness which inspired it. When he sang a bhajan which called upon the Divine to bless and illumine each soul present, the Divine answered! No matter if Sri Chinmoy missed a note or two.
How do you listen to music? I know I always ask myself “What is the musician getting at? What is he or she trying to say?” In the final movement of Beethoven’s Ninth we hear a tremendous striving to communicate something which is beyond words, employing every possible device, but always going beyond, beyond, beyond. Like this, in his meditation, music, and poetry, Sri Chinmoy is constantly going beyond. The lyrics to his English song “There Was A Time” say:
There was a time when I stumbled and stumbled,
But now I only climb and climb beyond
And far beyond my Goal’s endless Beyond,
And yet my Captain commands: “Go on, go on!”
– Sri Chinmoy, from My Flute, Agni Press, 1972
In his philosophy, Sri Chinmoy suggests that there is a subtle distinction between the words “God” and “Supreme.” When we think of God, we may think of Him as a great but finite being; but when we think of the Supreme, we become more conscious of His (or Her) “infinite beyond” aspect.
These are ideas about the beyond, but in his piano improvisations Sri Chinmoy often seems to be dealing with the infinite in a manner far beyond words and ideas, as infinite energy, or as an endless sea with no shores. His piano improvisations can be highly gestural, with no discernible melody or harmony, but a maelstrom of notes that strives to communicate something about the vast and eternal.
Sri Chinmoy traveled widely, holding free concerts and meditations in major cities around the world. He would often write a song honouring the city or landmark he was visiting (which for some reason is making me cry remembering it). We hear a medley of five such songs: “Monticello,” “Philadelphia,” “Moskva” (Moscow), “Eternal Peace Flame” (Oslo, Norway), and “Borobudurer Bhiti Stapan” (Borobudur Buddhist Temple in Java).
The contrast between “Monticello” (arranged by the group Ganga) and “Philadelphia” (arranged by Archee Moffitt) is striking because the first uses all acoustic instruments like harmonium, recorder, and tabla, while the second makes extensive use of synthesizers. (Gotta love that classic DX7 tubular bell patch!) “Philadelphia” sounds Philip Glasslike in spots, and the revered minimalist spoke highly of the Master:
The passing of Sri Chinmoy represents the loss of one of the last of the great spiritual teachers who brought the tradition of Indian spirituality to the West.
He had a very special connection to music. In his performances, with clarity, simplicity and directness, he was able to move his listeners in a very immediate and deeply emotional way.
In his lifetime he brought tremendous joy to the people who were with him. For me, his life was a special and personal inspiration.
Though at this moment we may feel great sadness, he will always be in our hearts.
— Philip Glass
After his passing, his music has continued to live on in many, many forms, including the Songs of the Soul concerts presented worldwide by his students, where Philip Glass has been a beloved guest artist.
Returning to our mix: “Borobudurer Bhiti Stapan” (here performed by the groups Mountain Silence and Akasha) has a somewhat different character than the other city or landmark songs: first, because its subject is an ancient holy site extremely significant in Buddhism; second, because it is in Bengali, which language is (obviously) far closer to ancient Pali and Sanskrit than is English. The compact nature of Bengali lends itself especially well to spiritual poetry, as Vidagdha Meredith Bennett hints at in her doctoral thesis Simplicity and Power: The Poetry of Sri Chinmoy, 1971-1981 (footnotes omitted):
It is possible that Sri Chinmoy’s use of the compound noun has its origin in an attempt to find in English the natural analogue of the Sanskrit and Bengali forms of comparison. Gerow notes that translations from Sanskrit into English “tend to be flabby and prolix precisely where the original displays a tense compactness and is most striking in its beauty.”
In the case of Sri Chinmoy’s own mother tongue, Bengali, this compactness is inherent in the language. The formation of compounds is frequent and, in fact, the grammar of compounds cannot be distinguished from that of phrases. The words “swapan sathi,” to take an example, may be translated in an interpretive way as “companion of my dream.” Literally, however, the words read as “dream-companion,” with the two words closely intersecting. In so far as a direct English equivalent may be found for the Bengali words, Sri Chinmoy most commonly elects to keep the true form of his source language. As a result, he is able to use the compound noun to establish a greater cohesion within the English language itself. The life-principle of poetry, he would seem to affirm, does not lie in any of the norms of grammar and logic but in the interactions of words within the language.
See the song “Dhire Ati Dhire Man Jangal” (discussed further down), which includes the compound nouns “mind-jungle,” “Forgiveness-Eye,” and “World-Lord.”
Because Sri Chinmoy is a gifted poet in both Bengali and English, his best translations of his most significant poems are absolutely outstanding! Why? Because he does not merely translate. Rather, he re-imagines the Bengali poem in English, so that it becomes a significant poem in its own right. (See “Ore Mor Kheya” above.) His groundbreaking 1972 volume My Flute includes many such translations.
Another example of things coming full circle manifested in 2016, when a bilingual edition of The Garden of Love-Light was published, including (for the first time) the Bengali script. (See this article in The Indian Panorama.)
Without diving too deep into the ethnomusicology weeds, we can note that like fellow Bengali Rabindranath Tagore (whose songs the Master greatly admired), Sri Chinmoy employs lines of different metric lengths. So while much of “Philadelphia” is in 4/4 time, the words “Liberty Bell” bring in two bars of 5/4. “Karuna Mayer Jyotir Dulal” (here arranged and performed by Temple-Song-Hearts) is a striking example of this phenomenon. The piano introduction alone tells us we’re in for a bumpy ride, mapping out as:
4/4 + 4/4 + 5/8 + 7/4 + 7/4 + 7/8 + 3/4 + 7/8 + 3/4
Others might count it differently, but still: Not even the Mahavishnu Orchestra in its heyday adopted a metric cycle this ambitious! (In songbooks, Sri Chinmoy’s songs are usually notated without barlines, but when groups arrange them, barlines become more of a practical necessity.)
“Sabai Amai Pagol Dake” (performed by Aspiration-Flight) and “Jago Paran Jago” (the Sri Chinmoy Bhajan Singers) are further examples of the polyrhythmic quality which Sri Chinmoy’s style of plainsong can take on in group arrangements. At the opposite end of the spectrum, “Borobudure” and “Peace: Humanity’s Flower-Heart” bring out the more monastic quality. See also In Vastness-Peace, a CD recorded in the churches of Iceland.
Directly preceding “Peace: Humanity’s Flower-Heart” is Sri Chinmoy singing “Peace In My Flying Soul.” It’s a song in that it has words and a melody — indeed, the melody is quite exquisite in the way that it modulates further afield and then returns perfectly to its starting point in circular fashion. Sri Chinmoy did not painstakingly construct a melody; the melody often came to him all at once in a flash of intuition. When we hear him sing “Peace, peace, peace… Peace in Heaven, peace on earth, peace in every human life,” this is a chant for peace or invocation of peace.
Peace is not just a concept or the absence of war, but an actual quality of God which we can experience directly. When he invoked peace, peace descended upon the hall in boundless measure. At public events, you might see some people who were not used to receiving peace with their heads bobbing. But those more experienced in meditation would relax their body and mind, but maintain a slender thread of alertness so that they could drink in this delicious peace. In this way, they were able to enjoy the Peace Meal that the Master Chef was preparing for them.
So, Sri Chinmoy’s music has this dual nature that it is the outer expression of a powerful inner force, a blessingful force. When he would go off to the United Nations to give a “concert” — arriving with his collection of instruments both familiar and exotic — we should understand that he was really conducting a blessing ceremony in which music and sound played an essential role.
Perhaps it is science which makes us think that if there were a God, He would be formless to the point of being antiseptic. Yet, the inner world is filled with beings who have their distinctive forms and qualities. The Goddess Saraswati plays the vina. Why does she not play the saxophone or harpsichord? Because it is her nature to play the vina. She has always played it.
Sri Chinmoy’s nature as a spiritual teacher, visionary, or shaman, is that he imparts his teachings not just through talks on philosophy (of which he gave many), but also through art, music, and poetry. Why? Because that is his nature. We should not so much question it as marvel at it!
Sri Chinmoy’s music is like a garden which we can enjoy for its simplicity and beauty, or if we are so inclined we can learn the names of all the different flowers and analyze how they are arranged. Retaining our simplicity, we can yet begin to recognize certain key Bengali words which recur: karuna is compassion, shanti is peace, ananda delight. (The Bengali language has different classes of words, some of which are Tatsami, meaning “same as in Sanskrit.” See also this brief comment from Sri Chinmoy himself.)
The music of India is rich in scales (or more properly ragas) which can sound exotic to Western ears. Statistically, Sri Chinmoy does not make much use of the more exotic flavours, but since he wrote thousands of songs, we can discover notable exceptions. One such is “Chinta Amar Amai Kare,” again arranged and performed by Temple-Song-Hearts. In Western music theory, the melody might be described as alternating between the Double Harmonic and Major scales.
Another class of songs worthy of mention is the bilingual songs. Sri Chinmoy’s bilingual fluency dates back to his ashram days, when he became close personal assistant to noted Indian savant Nolini Kanta Gupta, translating many of the latter’s articles from Bengali to English for publication in the English-language journal Mother India.
Years later, Sri Chinmoy would provide beautiful English translations of his own works. But there is a special class of songs (usually short) where he weaves Bengali and English together in the same song. These possess a unique charm all their own, as we can see from “Pit Pit Mit Mit Sanjher Tara” (sung delightfully in rounds), the cheery “Gan Likhi Ami,” “Dhire Ati Dhire Man Jangal” (offered in two contrasting versions), and the soaring “Everest-Aspiration,” whose melody literally peaks!
Pit Pit Mit Mit Sanjher Tara
Pit pit mit mit sanjher tara sanjher tara
Atmahara heri tomar sudha dhara
Twinkling, twinkling evening star, evening star!
Watching the flow of your nectar-delight,
Myself I completely lose.
* * *
Gan Likhi Ami
Gan likhi ami gan geye jai
Nidra dekha nai
Ganer majhare parama shanti
Charama tripti pai
Songs I write
I keep singing
Sleep remains unseen.
From my songs, I receive peace sublime
And satisfaction deep.
* * *
Dhire Ati Dhire Man Jangal
Dhire ati dhire man jangal
Bishwa prabhu khamar nayane hase
Slowly, very slowly in my mind-jungle,
The Forgiveness-Eye of the World-Lord
* * *
Gauri shankara dan
Open my heart’s silver door
Dao more aji amarar bhor.
O highest mountain peak!
Janame marane karo nirvik.
* * *
In some cases, the Bengali and English may not have been composed in the same instant, but appear close together in the same songbook, and are combined by the performers. For example, “Pit Pit Mit Mit Sanjher Tara” and “Twinkling, Twinkling Evening Star” appear nearby in the collection Your Face Is My Dream. But in “Everest-Aspiration,” we see the two languages tightly interwoven. After each English line, Sri Chinmoy pens a rhyming Bengali line.
A solo sitar medley by master of the instrument Adesh Widmer rounds out this section of the mix, underscoring the melodic interest inherent in the songs.
Sri Chinmoy’s music-world is rich in beauty, and there is always more to discover. I hope these notes, initially written in haste, will help you in your journey of discovery.
I began this article feeling tired and thinking that I could find no good words to say. I am grateful that some words did come, and that listening to Sri Chinmoy’s music inspired and uplifted me. May it do the same for you, dear Reader!
The views expressed are my own, and do not represent any other person or organization.
Start Time – Track No. – Artist – Title – Source
00:00:00 – 01 – Sri Chinmoy – “I Came To Your Lotus Feet” – from The Life-River (CD)
00:01:15 – 02 – Sri Chinmoy – “Ore Mor Kheya” – from Silence Speaks (CD)
00:05:51 – 03 – Temple-Song-Hearts – “I Give” – from Temple-Song-Hearts XIII (CD)
00:09:02 – 04 – Srinvantu – “Swarupananda” – from RadioSriChinmoy.org
00:11:25 – 05 – Temple-Song-Hearts – “Swarupananda” – from Temple-Song-Hearts (1st cassette)
00:14:28 – 06 – Sri Chinmoy – “Swarupananda” – from Music Meditation (CD)
00:15:24 – 07 – Temple-Song-Hearts – “Bhoy Kena Bhoy” – from Temple-Song-Hearts XII (CD)
00:18:44 – 08 – Sri Chinmoy – “Jaya Jaya Jaya He Niranjana” – from My Japanese Heart-Garden (CD)
00:20:15 – 09 – Gandharva Loka Orchestra – “Jaya Jaya Jaya He Niranjana” – from concert recording
00:23:55 – 10 – Arthada & Friends – “Jharna-Kala” (short version) – from Om Shanti (CD)
00:27:47 – 11 – Blue Flower – “My Sunlit Path/Ecstasy-Flood” – from Blossoming (CD)
00:31:35 – 12 – The Blue-Gold Shore of the Beyond – “Om Taranaya Namaha” – from Taranaya Namaha (CD)
00:34:08 – 13 – The Four Universals Singers – “Farewell” – from RadioSriChinmoy.org
00:40:04 – 14 – Temple-Song-Hearts – “Karuna Mayer Jyotir Dulal” – from Temple-Song-Hearts (1st cassette)
00:43:09 – 15 – Sri Chinmoy – “Ami Jabo” – from Silence Speaks (CD)
00:50:15 – 16 – Tanima’s Group – “There Was A Time” – from Songs of the Soul (CD reissue of 1975 cassette)
00:52:08 – 17 – Sri Chinmoy – “Chinese Gong Improvisation” – from 107 Blue Heart-Boats (CD)
00:53:41 – 18 – Shindhu – “Hasir Prabhat Sanga Habe” – from Eternity’s Dream (CD)
00:57:39 – 19 – Sri Chinmoy – “Finnish Harp Improvisation” – from 107 Blue Heart-Boats (CD)
00:58:18 – 20 – Aspiration-Flight – “Sabai Amai Pagol Dake” – from Ascending Cry (CD)
01:01:32 – 21 – Sri Chinmoy – “Hiya Pakhi” – from Flute Music For Meditation (CD)
01:03:30 – 22 – Sri Chinmoy – “African Wind Spinner Improvisation” – from My Prayerful Salutations To The United Nations – Part III (CD)
01:04:05 – 23 – Sri Chinmoy – “Piano Improvisation” – from 107 Blue Heart-Boats (CD)
01:10:32 – 24 – Ganga – “Monticello” – from Sacred River (CD)
01:14:00 – 25 – Archee & Friends – “Philadelphia” – from RadioSriChinmoy.org
01:17:26 – 26 – Temple-Song-Hearts – “Moskva” – from Temple-Song-Hearts Collection 1 (CD)
01:20:45 – 27 – Shindhu – “The Eternal Peace Flame” – from RadioSriChinmoy.org
01:24:48 – 28 – Mountain Silence – “Borobudurer Bhiti Stapan” – from Be Thou My All (CD)
01:25:44 – 29 – Akasha – “Borobudurer Bhiti Stapan” – from unidentified cassette
01:30:47 – 30 – Ganga – “Pit Pit Mit Mit Sanjher Tara” – from Sacred River (CD)
01:33:51 – 31 – Japaka Orchestra – “Gan Likhi Ami/Songs I Write” – from Songs of the Soul Compilation 1 (CD)
01:39:04 – 32 – Agnikana’s Group – “Dhire Ati Dhire Man Jangal” – from In My Heart-Sky (CD)
01:41:48 – 33 – Bartika’s Group – “Dhire Ati Dhire Man Jangal” – from RadioSriChinmoy.org
01:43:54 – 34 – Sri Chinmoy – “Everest-Aspiration” – from The Peace Concert/Concert De Paix (CD)
01:46:13 – 35 – Adesh Widmer – “Everest-Aspiration/Rama Raghava” – from Joy of Sitar (CD)
01:48:09 – 36 – Temple-Song-Hearts – “Chinta Amar Amai Kare” – from Temple-Song-Hearts (1st cassette)
01:51:07 – 37 – The Sri Chinmoy Bhajan Singers – “Jago Paran Jago” – from Songs of the Soul Compilation 1 (CD)
01:53:45 – 38 – Sri Chinmoy – “Peace In My Flying Soul” – from My Prayerful Salutations To The United Nations – Part I (CD)
01:56:37 – 39 – Shindhu – “Peace: Humanity’s Flower-Heart” – from Sacred Dawn (CD)
02:02:18 – 40 – Sri Chinmoy – “Rainstick Improvisation” – from India: World-Cynosure – Part 2 (CD)
02:03:45 – 41 – Ananda – “Sundara Hate” – from Ananda (CD)
02:07:02 – 42 – Sri Chinmoy – “Medley with He Gopal” (bowed/plucked psaltery)” – from My Japanese Heart-Garden (CD)
02:10:43 – 43 – Sri Chinmoy – “He Gopal” (singing with electronic keyboard) – from Bhajan Balika (CD)
02:12:11 – 44 – Sri Chinmoy – “Ocarina” – from 107 Blue Heart-Boats (CD)
All compositions by Sri Chinmoy, except “Rama Raghava” (traditional text), “Jago Paran Jago” (words by Ahana Chinmoy). “Moskva” originally in English, translated into Russian by a student of Sri Chinmoy.
* * *
News flash! 8 men and women brave NYC elements in world’s longest certified foot race
(Pics/videos to follow.)
For 48 days now, ultra runners from around the world have been competing in a race which lasts for 52 days and 3,100 miles. Why? For the love of running, and to experience the joy of self-transcendence. It all takes place around one extended city block in Jamaica, Queens, where runners must average 60 miles per day for 52 days in order to complete 3,100 miles, running lap after lap.
Mind-boggling, right? But of this year’s 8 competitors, 7 have run the race before. Speedy Finnish postman Ashprihanal Aalto is a 14-time finisher. For Harita Davies, who hails from Christchurch, New Zealand and is the only woman competing this year, it will be her second try; and third time out for Nirbhasa Magee, an Irishman who makes his home in Reykjavik, Iceland.
Other contenders come from as far away as Austria, Russia, Slovakia, and Bulgaria to brave the summer heat and indulge their passion for running really long distances.
This ultra event (now in its 23rd year) is the brainchild of Sri Chinmoy, an Indian-American spiritual teacher who believed that perfection of the body can aid in perfection of the soul. He himself was an avid athlete, and encouraged his students to integrate running into their spiritual practice, while using the benefits of meditation to stay calm and focused during long runs.
The race was featured in Sanjay Rawal’s 2018 film 3100: Run and Become, which connects the spiritual running practices of Navajo runner Shaun Martin, the Bushmen of Botswana, the Buddhist monks of Mount Hiei, and students of Sri Chinmoy. View the trailer here: https://vimeo.com/266754781. According to Rawal (himself a Sri Chinmoy student), “running is a prayer and a teacher and a celebration of life.”
Day 48 has been a banner day for those concerned, because this morning Ashprihanal Aalto reached his 3,100-mile goal with a time of 47 days, 1 hour, 39 minutes, 34 seconds. That makes him a 15-time finisher and 9-time winner. After a month-and-a-half of ultra running, featherweight Aalto looks as though a good wind might easily carry him aloft. But joy will do that for you also.
There is no cash award, but friends, admirers, and well-wishers line up to greet each finisher, and the sense of joy is palpable. Bells are rung and songs of victory sung. This year, one woman offered Aalto a small stuffed puppy dog as a prize — this in addition to the traditional garland of flowers, certificate of appreciation, and custom-baked cake with a message of congratulations.
No golden earring — as worn by sailors who’ve managed to circumnavigate Cape Horn — but finishers of the Self-Transcendence 3100 know they’re members of an exclusive club. Only 43 people have done it in its first 22 years.
This year, Aalto got a little extra (well-deserved!) appreciation in the form of congratulations from the Finnish Consul General, and reporters turned up in unusual numbers. The Bergen Record of North Jersey did a wonderful 3-minute video profile which also included an outstanding interview with veteran Race Director Rupantar LaRusso.
There are 4 days left before the race ends on the evening of Tuesday, August 6th. Of the 8 starters, 1 (Aalto) has already finished, 5 more are on track to complete the entire distance by day 52, and 2 more will probably keep on running till the cutoff, but may fall short of 3,100 miles.
Sidebar: Weather proves tough for tough competitors
The Sri Chinmoy Self-Transcendence 3100-Mile race has an illustrious history, with numerous records being broken for time, distance, age, and gender. Ashprihanal Aalto nailed World Best Time with his 2015 finish, done in an astounding 40 days, 9 hours, 6 minutes, 21 seconds. He averaged 76.776 miles per day (123.56 km), under favourable running conditions.
But though Aalto has just chalked up another victory in 2019, this was far from his best time. 2019 will see relatively few records set, largely due to the weather, which has been abysmal!
The race began on Sunday, June 16th, with rain, rain, and more rain. Day after day of rain. Then for a change, a little more rain! (as the old song goes). You might think all that rain would cool the runners off, but it also makes them soggy and heavy, and increases the likelihood of blisters. The lack of sunshine can be a mood-dampener as well.
Finally, the rain went away for a bit, but returned on the heels of Hurricane Barry. A couple of beautiful, springlike days followed — perfect weather for running. But as it turned out, that was the Weather Gods’ version of rope-a-dope. They were just lulling the runners into a false sense of comfort — if you can call running 60+ miles a day anything resembling comfortable.
Then came the great heat wave of July 2019, with maps that seemed to invent new shades of vermilion just to warn folks how sizzled, fried, clam-baked, and London-broiled they would be. No exemptions for vegetarians.
The NYC Triathlon (with entrants in the thousands) was cancelled due to extreme heat and humidity. But the brave 3100 runners soldiered on, with their health closely monitored, taking breaks as needed.
The early leader in June had been Vasu Duzhiy of St. Petersburg, himself a three-time winner. But by the time the July heat wave hit, blisters and a sore Achilles had forced Vasu The Invincible to drop back to third place. Ashprihanal Aalto was in the lead, with Nirbhasa Magee nipping at his heels.
Then the heat wave struck, and this is where Aalto’s years of experience finishing this seemingly impossible race paid off: Unbeknownst to observers (and apparently invisible), a finely-honed gear change mechanism lurks within his pencil-thin frame. He magically switched gears and found a pace that he could sustain in the sweltering heat, suffering far less than other runners.
Nirbhasa Magee hoped to stay close and continue to challenge Aalto; but alas, the heat affected him. He couldn’t seem to adjust as well as the more seasoned Finn. He took a short break in the oversized receptacle for runner immersion (dubbed “Big Bertha”), which helps cool down fatigued runners.
Magee is still on track to finish second, with a current ETA of Saturday, August 3rd at 3 p.m. That would be a new PB for him. He finished third in the 2017 edition of the race, with a time of 48 days, 16 hours, 47 minutes, 1 second. He stands to shave off about 8 hours.
Harita Davies is the only woman competing this year. (I tried to place bets with the London betting shops that she’ll come in first in her division — but sadly, no takers.) She had hoped to finish with a new PB, but like Magee was slowed by the heat. A new PB is still within her reach, but is less certain post-clambake.
Her previous time on first attempt in 2017 was 51 days, 12 hours, 48 minutes, 14 seconds. Davies looks to come in sixth overall, beating two of the men who — despite noble efforts and some outstanding days — have nevertheless struggled to keep pace. But no one doubts they’re gaining valuable experience, both athletic and spiritual. Interviewed in mid-July 2017, Davies had this to say:
What will the 2020 Self-Transcendence 3100-Mile Race bring? Probably #1 on most people’s wish list is a hint of a smile from the Weather Gods.
Official Race Site (daily updates and live webcam)
The 3,100-mile race around a New York block (BBC article)
A Diva Who Is Not Above Walking 3,100 Miles (New York Times article)
At 3,100 miles, the longest footrace in the world tests the mind (Bergen Record article)
Perfection Journey – 3100-Mile Race (Utpal Marshall’s blog)
* * *
Shedding new light on the contributions made by this immortal teacher and his musical oeuvre
I am so grateful today, April 13th, 2019, to write something about Sri Chinmoy, the great and good spiritual teacher, musician, poet, and artist who came to the West exactly 55 years ago today.
I am grateful because I feel that Sri Chinmoy saved my life many times over (though I hardly deserve it). I was and am a poor student, but Sri Chinmoy always reflected such an effulgence of light that even the dullest student could not fail to absorb some of it and be changed by it.
And by God’s Grace, I think I have some inkling into how much he willingly suffered in order to be of help to those who sought out his spiritual guidance. As human beings, you might say we are half-devil, half-angel. Or you can say that when we try to go one step forward and become spiritual, then we discover the destructive tiger within us that wants to keep us in its den at all cost.
By challenging humanity to change for the better, to embrace ideals of peace and divine love, Sri Chinmoy had, at times, to endure the hatred of the world. And in offering a helping hand to those who specifically asked him to help them change their nature, he had to endure hatred, at times, even from his own disciples — from the destructive tiger within them.
Human nature is fickle. Today, and for a few days (or weeks or months or years), someone wants to become spiritual. But after a time, the same person may lose interest and intensity, or may fall victim to desire. At that time, they may hate and blame the spiritual teacher for taking them away from worldly life — forgetting that it was they themselves who asked the spiritual teacher to guide them, and they who assured him that they were ready and eager for the spiritual life.
A simple truth: Those who wrong or betray a spiritual teacher may hate him because deep down they know they have wronged him. I was reminded of this simple truth by a scene from an old movie: Ice Palace (1960), based on the novel by Edna Ferber.
Sadly, it is human nature to sometimes hate those whom we have wronged. But today, April 13th, is a day of celebration. And to celebrate the 55th anniversary of Sri Chinmoy’s arrival in the West, I want to offer 5 songs by Sri Chinmoy. These are not just any songs, chosen casually. Rather, they are a gateway to understanding the richness and depth of expression found in his artistic oeuvre.
The 5 songs lay the groundwork. But in addition, there’s a sixth bonus track, and what a track it is! — a medley incorporating all 5 songs, strikingly arranged and masterfully performed by Gandharva Loka Orchestra. This is a large international ensemble of singers and instrumentalists dedicated to performing Sri Chinmoy’s music on a grand scale:
As a lifelong student of music, I’m very excited about sharing these songs in this particular format. It’s so gratifying to hear the individual songs, then see how they’re combined contrapuntally and polyrhythmically in such a powerful and joyous fashion. If there’s one concept that shines brightly from this experience, it’s the idea of call and response. Whether in gospel music or jazz, call and response is the essence of communication. And in the lives of great spiritual teachers, we see that it’s also a matter of call and response. The message of one enlightened soul is so electric that it lights the way for thousands of seekers who then take up that call and lend their own voices to it in richness and harmony.
When I hear Gandharva Loka Orchestra’s striking arrangement of Sri Chinmoy’s songs echoing through the large hall, and met with thunderous applause, I feel dynamically energized, but also I feel a sense of completion. I hear over a hundred people crying out (in essence): “We have heard your call, and now we are singing back to you, with immense gratitude, the songs you have taught us.” The cycle is complete.
More About The Songs
Sri Chinmoy was a prolific composer of spiritual songs in Bengali and English. These five songs are in Bengali, with English translations for two of them given by the composer:
I lead my poor vital along teeming roads
To discover happiness birthless and deathless.
I see Your Beauty’s Feet
Shining and scattering their radiance
Inside a tiny twig of my hope-world.
A perfect stranger am I now
To the tired and sleeping life.
The confines of the hope-empty Sahara
Will never be able to imprison me.
My heart-door is completely open.
O my sweet Lord Supreme,
Come and enjoy Your Ecstasy’s Dream
On my heart-swing.
Do come driving Your Light-flooded Chariot,
On the flower-decorated purity-road.
And the moment You come,
Do make me lose my division-self
And make me one with Your
The character of these two songs is completely different. In the first, the seeker is still wandering through the desert, and only catches a glimpse of the spiritual Reality that will eventually liberate him. In the second, she is well along the path of Bhakti Yoga, and with open heart is enjoying a feeling of sweet devotion and oneness with her Lord Supreme.
These contrasting moods are strongly developed in the arrangement by Gandharva Loka Orchestra. There are elements of world music and jazz fusion: a large orchestra and chorus, tabla accompaniment, a Chinese erhu solo, and an amazing soprano sax solo by Premik Russell Tubbs, who listeners may know from the Mahavishnu Orchestra. Like any great band, Gandharva Loka Orchestra combines fantastic arranging skills with tremendous freedom on the part of individual soloists. Yes, it’s spiritual music, but it also swings.
These tracks collectively comprise a half-hour odyssey into Sri Chinmoy’s music-world, and begin to get at the variety of musical expression he fostered, both in his own compositions and performances, and in the way he inspired his students to form groups reflective of their individual style and musical experience.
There is always more to discover about Sri Chinmoy’s music, and I hope this brief introduction has sparked your interest. Thank you for reading!
0:00 “Sonali Jyotir” performed by Arthada and Friends
2:42 “Mishe Phulla Dale” performed by Sri Chinmoy
3:56 “Oi Akashe” performed by Akasha
7:01 “Sukhero Lagiya” performed by Sri Chinmoy
9:34 “Chitta Dolai” performed by Mountain-Silence
11:39 Medley performed by Gandharva Loka Orchestra
* * *
BETA VERSION What can one say after such beautiful music? Except that it helps explain why I write in favour of freedom of religion and religious tolerance, because only when these things flourish can we enjoy the fruits. Here, the fruits are beautiful music and a presentation filled with light by women who come from different countries across a borderless Europe. But did you notice what language they are singing in? The language is Bengali, which was Sri Chinmoy’s mother tongue.
When the world is at peace and there is freedom of movement, people are free to gather what they find beautiful and meaningful from the world’s cultures, to create something uniquely their own. What wonderful music with which to celebrate International Women’s Day!
Now, I’m going to switch gears, because this Women’s Day happens to be the 15-year anniversary of a groundbreaking event. In March 2004, members and supporters of Sri Chinmoy Centre began a discussion focused on women’s issues, with women sharing how they came to Sri Chinmoy’s spiritual “path of the heart,” what it means to them, what their daily lives are like, whether it’s a safe path to follow, how spiritual seekers are viewed by society, and overcoming negative stereotypes.
The need for such a discussion perhaps requires explanation. Many Americans (and indeed, people around the world) have a good working knowledge of things like how to drive a car and get a license, how to do their taxes, how to finance their homes, how to carry on a trade or business, as well as the rules for popular sports like baseball, basketball, and football. They also have some knowledge of politics and world affairs, which they get from newspapers, TV, and (increasingly) the Internet.
Yet, over the decades there has developed a split between the secular sphere and the religious or spiritual sphere. These two spheres were originally meant to work together to foster the experience of life as a coherent whole. Business and government would be conducted largely in the secular sphere, while each individual would be free to join the church, synagogue, or temple of his or her choosing (or none at all). People who made similar choices would form church groups or spiritual communities of various sorts. This did not put them at odds with the secular sphere, because the two were complementary. (Ideally, they still are.)
Without over-analyzing the phenomenon, if we fast-forward to today we can see that the secular sphere and the religious sphere often seem to be at odds. Much of life in the mainstream is now lived in the secular sphere, and those who make spiritual choices are often portrayed as the “religious other” — to be distrusted, feared, even hated and discriminated against. How society came to this point is a long story, and a great many books have been written on the subject.
My purpose here is not to assign blame, but simply to observe some of the symptoms, and to point out that education is one of the cures. I will then provide excerpts from the 2004 Sri Chinmoy “Question For The Women” discussion thread as an example of how better information about spiritual groups can lead to a lessening of tensions and misunderstandings. Continue reading
This gallery contains 13 photos.
* * *
Remembering the beloved spiritual teacher, musician and artist with a joyful music mix and slideshow
Sri Chinmoy’s birthday was always a joyful occasion, a perfect opportunity to celebrate. The celebrations continue, although he passed away in 2007. He lit a bright torch, carried it for many years, and taught others to hold it aloft. So many people around the world are celebrating on August 27, 2018, the day when Sri Chinmoy would have turned 87.
My way of celebrating was to make this video as an introduction to Sri Chinmoy’s music world:
I say “music world” because Sri Chinmoy is a world unto himself, and his music is best understood by listening with an open heart, rather than theorizing with a critical mind. Listening brings its own rewards and leads to understanding.
I say “music world” because inside Sri Chinmoy’s music is his art — his painting and drawing. All his creations emanate from a deep spiritual well, and one can approach that well from many directions, like a circular fountain which has a myriad of little footpaths leading up to it.
Music, art, concert posters, and photographs are all ways of making inroads to reach that centre of consciousness from which Sri Chinmoy always acted. But the divine secret is that this centre of consciousness does not belong to any individual, but is our collective consciousness, to be realized. It is the Supreme’s consciousness of Light and Delight.
It is fitting, then, that the music mix begins with “Supreme Chant” — a melody which Sri Chinmoy composed to the word “Supreme” — and that it ends with Sri Chinmoy chanting the word “Supreme.”
In between, we can begin to glean something of the vastness of Sri Chinmoy’s musical oeuvre from the main selection, which is a medley of his songs performed by Gandharva Loka Orchestra, culminating in a magnificent counterpoint. Truly, his music is “vaster than the sky,” and a thunderous pipe organ improvisation from Riverside Church punctuates this point.
There are many facets to Sri Chinmoy’s musical manifestation — so many that we can only catch a fleeting glimpse in the 38 minutes of this video. I hope to create other videos which bring out different aspects. A great wealth of Sri Chinmoy’s music is available online at Radio Sri Chinmoy. Special thanks to them, and to the musicians, photographers and videographers who made this non-commercial production possible.
A very happy birthday to Sri Chinmoy! Wishing peace and joy to everyone around the world who is celebrating this day!
The views expressed are my own, and do not represent any other person or organization.
(Photos to follow.) No, it’s not a World Cup playoff, but there’s still an international flavor to the Sri Chinmoy Self-Transcendence 3100 Mile Race. Known as the longest certified footrace in the world, it pits stellar ultrarunners against daunting distance, as well as brutal heat and drenching downpours. It all takes place around a half-mile loop in Jamaica, Queens, but runners travel from as far away as Russia, Israel, Slovakia, and Scotland to compete.
The 2018 winner in the Men’s Division was Vasu Duzhiy of St. Petersburg, Russia, who finished Tuesday night, July 31st. He ran a distance of 3,100 miles in just under 45 days — not the first win for this solid competitor who’s nearly as consistent as Roger Federer.
The only American among this year’s starters was Yolanda Holder — a pedestrienne or race walker who was the surprise sensation of 2017’s race. With her unique style, she’s known as the Walking Diva; but this year, Ms. Holder had to retire after 1,200 miles due to foot problems.
In a field of many talented athletes, one standout is William Sichel, who hails from Sanday — a tiny island with a population of 550 located in Scotland’s Orkney Islands. The busy streets of Queens are a far cry from the quiet, pastoral setting of his home.
With Viking determination, Mr. Sichel is challenging not just heat and thunderstorms, but also the rigors of advancing age. 64 and a cancer survivor, Sichel’s the dark horse hero of 2018, unable to beat the frontrunners, but turning in an inspiring performance, and likely to set numerous records, including one for oldest competitor to run all 52 days.
In 2014, Mr. Sichel successfully completed the Sri Chinmoy 3100 in 50 1/2 days at age 60. This year, he’s been averaging 56.5 miles per day — less than the 59.6 needed to finish in the allotted time. He would need to up his average to 70 miles a day for the final 10 days of the race — an almost superhuman task, but not impossible for a competitor who’s shown superhuman toughness and come-from-behind prowess in the past. He ran 70.8 miles on Day 1, so no one counts him out!
Sometimes dubbed the “Scottish pocket rocket” and credited with “a mind of iron” (but a kindly disposition), Sichel is competing against 5 remaining runners who are members of the Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team — likened to the running monks of Japan for their combination of spiritual and athletic discipline.
The Self-Transcendence 3100 Mile Race was conceived by Sri Chinmoy (1931-2007), a spiritual teacher who was active in many fields, including athletics. Since its inception over two decades ago, the race has attracted mostly students of Sri Chinmoy, but other exceptional athletes are invited annually. In addition to Sichel and Holder, this year’s invitees included Kobi Oren, the noted Israeli ultramarathoner who came to a searing second place finish on Thursday, August 2nd with a time of 46:03:24:48.
The competition is friendly, and runners are urged to view the race as a competition with themselves, to transcend their previous capacity and gain spiritual insights, drawing on untapped inner depths to achieve the seemingly impossible. Race co-director Sahishnu Szczesiul says of the 3100:
In multi-day races there are fluctuations in performance, feelings of highs and low, abject despair, and undiscovered elation. These races reflect the struggle to survive another day, to assess effort but not to associate with the pain and sweat, but rather, conserve the energy for the next group of laps, or hours, or even stretches of days. Take a power nap, or stretch the stiff legs, and try again.
Interviewed in 2015 by RunUltra.co.uk, William Sichel emphasized the mental discipline needed to run such a long race:
My body adapted very well and I started running further and further each day as the race progressed. But mentally I found it to be the most enormous struggle especially when things were going against me and it looked like I wouldn’t finish in time. To regain mental control I had to narrow my focus right down to just being aware of my breathing, only thinking of the next lap and never, ever thinking past the current day! Simple as that.
Perhaps this explains why ultramarathoners are more likely to be in their forties or fifties than their twenties. Physical strength is important, but is not the only factor. To run 3,100 miles requires special qualities of mind and heart which must be cultivated over decades.
One-pointed concentration on a goal is also the point of intersection between the athlete’s world and the spiritual world. The total commitment needed to run the equivalent of two marathons a day for 52 days seems to demand coping skills not acquired until middle age.
William Sichel has above average coping skills. In 1997, he was diagnosed with testicular cancer. Two months after surgery he was back in training, soon setting distance records for Great Britain and Scotland.
His second bid for the Sri Chinmoy 3100 was scheduled for 2017. But on June 12th, the day before he was due to leave for New York, his wife Elizabeth received news that she had been diagnosed with lung cancer. He withdrew from the race and cared for her until her death 24 days later. Now, in 2018 he’s back facing the ultimate running challenge.
Though Sichel’s temperament is cool, he runs best when the mercury stays below 95 degrees Fahrenheit. The long, excruciating heat wave which ushered in July affected his time, and the volley of thunderstorms which closed out the month further dampened his performance. According to race updates, he has now completed 2,830 miles in 50 days, but can’t reach 3,100 miles by the deadline. Still, no bookmaker would give odds that Sichel will quit before Day 52. His many fans in Orkney (and throughout the running world) would be sorely disappointed!
If the Self-Transcendence 3100 Mile Race is a hero’s journey, William Sichel is a torchbearer of the life-affirming aspect. He remains a hero whether or not he manages the full distance this second time around.
The race ends on the evening of August 7th.
More about William Sichel on Perfection Journey.
UPDATE 1: William Sichel continued to run, and by Day 52 achieved a total of 2,904 miles.
Sidebar: Self-Transcendence 3100 Mile Race – Women’s Division
Surasa Mairer of Austria and Kaneenika Janakova of Slovakia are duking it out for first and second place in the Women’s Division, with less than 25 miles separating them.
In 2015, Mairer broke the long-standing women’s record set by Suprabha Beckjord in 1998. Beckjord’s time back then was 49:14:30:54, but 18 years later Mairer topped it with a time of 49:07:52:24 (6 hours and 38 minutes faster).
Mairer’s record was not nearly as long-lived as Beckjord’s. Two years later, Kaneenika Janakova raised the bar for women’s times by acing the Sri Chinmoy 3100 in 48:14:24:10. Now, in 2018 these two record-setters are competing for top spots. Indeed, after Yolanda Holder had to withdraw, they’re the sole remaining women. But due in part to adverse weather conditions, neither are challenging their personal bests. Both are expected to finish on Day 52.
Interviewed in 2017, Kaneenika Janakova echoed William Sichel’s view of the need for mental toughness:
It can be very challenging to control the mind and the thoughts during this race. What I do not want to think about is the distance and the number of days or weeks I have to spend on the course. If I do that it gets very hard because all my mind wants to do is to find the reasons why I should not be doing this race. In order to avoid this I have to trick my mind.
In Janakova’s case, she relies on meditation and going “inside the heart”:
As much as the physical preparation is important, for me it is equally important to devote time to practice meditation. Meditation helps me tremendously to calm and control my mind and also helps me to be more aware of my abilities and believe in my true potential coming from inside. Running and meditation complement each other in my life. I try to quiet the mind and go inside the heart. The heart doesn’t calculate or plan anything. It is just full of joy and eagerness.
What will the 2019 pilgrimage of 3,100 miles bring? Better weather, we hope, and another year of auspicious good fortune for those who dare to challenge impossibility.
UPDATE 2: Both Surasa Mairer and Kaneenika Janakova reached their goal of 3,100 miles on Day 52, at times running through heavy rain and thunderstorms. They were the only female finishers this year, placing 4th and 6th overall in a field of ten starters.
* * *
What makes people hunt other people like animals, or hunt animals for that matter? Let’s explore a clip from the movie Targets, a UK demo against fox hunting, a great song from The Pentangle, and a rare reference to the Hunt Saboteurs in Doctor Who. But first this bunny hugger rabbits on a bit…
I feel like I’m in a grim version of Groundhog Day where every day I wake up to another school shooting, the latest in Santa Fe, Texas.
A talking head stressed that people in the community often feel like they’re to blame in some way, but said they’re absolutely not to blame — the only ones to blame are those who continue to oppose sensible gun laws. Though largely true, this is an oversimplification. We desperately need sensible gun laws, but the kind of society we have collectively created is also a factor in random acts of violence.
Our society is increasingly impersonal, based on material goods, mass entertainment, and high technology. Because we’ve not been able to agree on certain core values, we fail to teach them to the children in our schools. We need to help children foster peace, insight, compassion, and a sense that each human being has worth because he or she is created in the image of God. Or, if the latter idea about God has become too controversial, then let us at least teach them that there is something at the core of the human spirit which is noble, and that in spite of quarreling, in spite of suffering at each other’s hands, we must not harm human life or wantonly take the life of another.
I had to arrive at these ideas through some effort — certainly my parents and schoolteachers never explained them to me, though there were one or two teachers who created a caring space in which positive human values emerged naturally. And later on in life, as I began to consciously explore spirituality, I had a wonderful teacher in the person of Sri Chinmoy, who was a fount of all those good qualities with which we would hope to imbue our children.
But like many from my generation, I had already suffered greatly in adulthood before discovering these truths. It is much better if children receive good grounding in spiritual or (as a fail-safe) humanistic values before they have to confront the challenges of the adult world, which may include brutal competition to survive economically, as well as temptations to merely anesthetize oneself. There are many factors underlying the present opioid crisis, but certainly two factors are the sense of hopelessness which some people feel, and the view (reinforced by endless TV commercials for wonder drugs) that chemicals are the way to solve our problems, regardless of dreadful side effects (masked by pictures of puppies romping, children playing, kites flying, and lovers holding hands).
I suppose a third factor is the ultra-rationalist belief that we are merely collections of chemicals, that consciousness is a phenomenon which arises from chemical reactions, and that when our bodies die, our consciousness, our entire existence, dies with it. Some other time, I’ll discuss at length the “God delusion” and simulation theory as further hindrances to spirituality. The point is that these various views of human life as essentially meaningless estrange us from those truths which we need in order to value each other, to recognize the sacredness of human life, and to come to feel deeply that we would never want to kill a fellow human being.
I’m sometimes critical of our political leaders — the present batch in the White House being particularly corrupt and unenlightened. But I can also see things from their point of view. These are people who subscribe to materialism (perhaps having inherited it as their default view), and who feel driven to strive for money and fame — much more than any of us actually need. Lacking grounding in higher values, they are obsessed with money, sex, and power, and are eager to destroy each other in order to scramble to the top of the scrap heap.
Without making this another rant against Donald Trump, one thing I hear repeatedly from talking heads is that he’s never had to pay a price for doing dirt to people. His (possibly ill-gotten) riches have allowed him to pay off those he’s wronged (when forced to), like enrollees at Trump University. His campaign of hatred against the noble Barack Obama has not hurt Trump appreciably, nor has his womanizing. To the extent that the president is a role model for the nation, this particular role model confirms the worst materialist suspicions: that you get ahead in life by being a creep and throwing your weight around. Do it to the other guy before he does it to you! Truth is whatever the guy with the biggest megaphone, biggest bank account, and biggest army says it is! In this sense, it may be argued that materialism leads to authoritarianism.
But again, a critical issue is that there are seemingly no consequences for wrong action. The reason human justice is often harsh — amounting to years of torture in subhuman conditions — is that we do not collectively understand or believe in the law of karma. We view things from a narrow human time frame, and mistakenly assume that because someone like Donald Trump can act like the worst sort of blaggard and yet become president, therefore we should adopt a crude, materialist view of life. This is the lesson our children learn by osmosis from Trump’s ascent to power.
Spiritual insight tells us, however, that just because we do not see the punishment with our human eyes does not mean there is no punishment for wrong action. In this life we may act like the worst kind of corrupt king, but in the next life we may be born a blind beggar who has to fight with dogs for scraps of food.
When we throw out many spiritual insights acquired over the ages — including the insight that “As you sow, so shall you reap,” this has destructive ripple effects throughout society, including an increase in a particular type of mass shooter psychosis. Here, a person is seized by the notion that he will kill dozens of people and then kill himself, and that will be the end of it. He does not realize that for causing unimaginable suffering to dozens of people, he himself will have to undergo terrible suffering — if not in this world, then in the next.
So, to come back to my original point, there will always be a small percentage of insane shooters; and sensible gun laws can limit the amount of damage they inflict. But to the extent that we collectively subscribe to the view that human life is meaningless and valueless, and that there are no lasting consequences for wrong action; and where we construct a technocratic society devoid of human empathy; and where we fail to teach our children ideals of peace, love, and compassion, and fail to instill in them a proper understanding of the laws of the universe (which exist independently of our human codes and statutes), then we do bear some limited responsibility for mass shootings.
Of course, I don’t mean this in a fundamentalist “fire and brimstone” sense. I mean simply that we share in the societal environment we create. If we pollute that environment instead of tending to it with care, we may end up with freak weather conditions or mass shootings. We need to be more conscious of what we do, and not inflict harm through carelessness.
As a child, I had Grimm’s Fairy Tales, some of which were truly horrifying. I still remember the mean girl who “trod on a loaf.” She pulled the wings off flies, and then in hell the flies settled on her and could not fly away because she had pulled off all their wings.
There’s a lesson in environmentalism here. As human beings, we are collectively stewards of this beautiful planet which God created, or which arose spontaneously from His Soul. As president Kennedy remarked in a famous commencement address at American University in 1963:
Let us not be blind to our differences — but let us also direct attention to our common interests and to the means by which those differences can be resolved. And if we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity. For, in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.
Much of the speech in question dealt with peace. This brings me back to a theme I’ve oft sounded in response to mass shootings: Peace studies. It will help us to recognize (one might even say “admit”) that in an increasingly technocratic age, what we lack is compassion, insight, empathy, and inner peace. To recognize this is a kind of breakthrough; for only when we recognize the lack of something do we consciously seek it out, find methods to cultivate and attain it. To realize that we are presently lacking in certain core qualities which make us truly human is not to take a negative or defeatist approach. Rather, it is to take a positive, proactive approach to diagnosing our present malaise — of which opioid addiction, random shootings, and political corruption are only symptoms.
The qualities which we presently lack cannot be forced on society or on any individual; but as individuals we can become more conscious, and so help to foster a more conscious society in which hatred is less, injustice is less, and children grow up feeling loved and protected rather than like walking targets.
Segueing into the promised media clips: Targets was the name of a 1968 Peter Bogdanovich film dealing with the inexplicable (and impersonal) quality of mass shootings:
2018 is (ironically) the fifty year anniversary of Targets, but we are still dealing with the modern “flattening effect” or loss of empathy. The film is more complex than a one-dimensional study of a social phenomenon, however. It features multiple perspectives, and includes Boris Karloff as Byron Orlock, a retiring horror actor who is nonetheless a principled, old-school gentleman repulsed by violence in real life — but who tells a chilling story in this scene:
Learn more about Targets (which is partly based on real life mass shootings) from these two insightful YouTube reviews:
From hunting human beings we transition to hunting animals. The royal hunt plays a grand role in the history of England; and of the various political factions which exist in the UK, monarchists and Tories are perhaps most inclined to support a continuation of that tradition, while British Labour tends to champion animal rights.
Arguably the best British folk group from the late 60s/early 70s was The Pentangle, and their 1969 album Basket of Light included a remarkable flight of fancy called “Hunting Song”:
Much as I love it, the lyrics contain an element of cruelty:
As I did travel all on a journey
Over the wayside and under a dark moon
Hanging above a mountain
I spied a young man riding a fine horse
Chasing a white hart and all through the woodland
Head of a hunting party
And there followed after ten kings and queens
Laughing and joking, the white hart they’d seen
Bloodied running into the bushes…
Perhaps this cavalier, privileged attitude on the part of the hunting gentry is what spawned a counter-movement known as the Hunt Saboteurs (or “Sabs”), who first emerged in the winter of ’63 and continue on to this day, interfering in hunts by various physical means.
A rare (if fleeting) tribute to the Hunt Saboteurs occurs in the 1989 Doctor Who story “Survival” — the last story broadcast during the “classic” period. There, Ace (played by Sophie Aldred), visits her old stomping ground of Perivale in West London. Most of her friends have mysteriously disappeared, but one friend (Ange, played by Kate Eaton) is still around, looking waiflike with her collecting tin for the Sabs:
The story is interesting for a number of reasons, not least that it serves up an inversionist view of hunting, with catlike creatures on horseback hunting humans! (More here.)
Fast forward to 2017, when Prime Minister Theresa May threatened to end the UK’s ban on fox hunting, thereby spawning some lovely, creative, colourful, and humourous demos by animal rights activists:
While it’s always risky to characterize or stereotype entire movements, I think many animal rights activists are motivated by a sense of compassion and caring, and an insight that we are all fellow creatures on this planet. We should treat each other well and not hunt each other. In short: No more targets!
I don’t mean to be simplistic. With slogans like “Save a fox, hunt a Tory,” protesters are obviously embracing an element of class warfare. And as with all movements, animal rights can devolve into fanaticism or the assumption that “We are absolute good, you are absolute evil.” At one time, culling the fox population through hunts perhaps made more sense than it does today.
Earlier I mentioned TV commercials we have in the US made by drug manufacturers, where a long list of scary side effects is recited while viewers are shown pictures of puppies, children, kites flying, and lovers holding hands — certainly no pictures of the actual health catastrophes being enumerated! In other words, propaganda.
Likewise, the notoriously anti-liberal Daily Mail ran a pro fox-hunting spread with seemingly dozens of high definition colour photos. Lots of puppy dogs licking children’s faces, pretty ladies and handsome gentlemen in full riding regalia (including UKIP’s Nigel Farage), but not a single dead fox. Just sayin’…
Apart from all the politics, I must say I find it easier to identify with the beautiful people who turned out for the anti fox-hunting demo — though I suspect that somewhere among them might have been Edina Monsoon wearing one of her more eccentric outfits.
This first person account titled “Adventures in Mock Fox Hunting!” is less visual, but more informative.
Not to digress, but our curious commercial culture is such that generic nouns are frequently appropriated by companies for their own ends. In searching Google for “mock fox,” I had to wade through a number of commercial listings before getting to “the real animal.” FOR FOX SAKE!!!
And to really not digress, we could move from mock foxes to mock turtles, like the one Alice encountered in Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. This in turn inspired a song by the Bruford band called “Fainting in Coils:
As a youthful maniac in search of ultimate guitar chops, I was led not only to Mahavishnu John McLaughlin, but also to the slightly-less-well-known Alan Holdsworth, who did some of his best work with Bill Bruford’s group. (Their styles are somewhat opposite: McLaughlin tends to pick every note (like Django Reinhardt), while Holdsworth (who also plays violin) makes extensive use of legato technique.) But there’s no way I’m going to get from there back to my original topic, so no point even trying. Heavens to Murgatroyd! (Exit, stage left.)
The views expressed are my own, and do not represent any other person or organization.
“Not a very efficient way to hunt, is it? All that noise and pantomime just to slaughter one little animal.” — Doctor Who (Sylvester McCoy) from “Survival”
* * *
Celebrate the dawn with the music of thirteen different artists…
I hope you enjoy this peaceful morning meditation music:
The styles and instruments may differ, but these thirteen artists are all performing variations on the same song: “Usha Bala Elo” by Sri Chinmoy. Judging by the number of recordings, it’s one of the most popular songs among his students.
Usha bala elo
Dhire aji dhire
Slowly, very slowly,
The virgin dawn appears
In the very depths of my aspiration-heart.
This beautiful song with its simple melody is very enjoyable to sing. Usha means “dawn,” and can also refer to the Goddess Usha, who is celebrated in the ancient Rig Veda, where she is identified with the dawn and described as a bringer of light.
In poetry and song, we need not choose a single meaning. We can enjoy the superimposition of the outer and inner meanings. In the outer world, we can imagine the first rays of the dawn softly illuminating the sky, and in the inner world we can feel a new dawn, new light, new consciousness appearing in the depths of our heart.
April 13th is a special day for those who admire Sri Chinmoy (1931-2007). On April 13th, 1964 he arrived in the West and began a remarkable decades-long career as a teacher, composer, musician, poet, artist, athlete, and humanitarian.
Of the versions performed here, two merit special attention because they are medleys. Master sitarist Adesh Widmer begins with “Usha Bala Elo,” but also works in other tunes by Sri Chinmoy. And arranger Paree Atkins creates a rich tapestry for large ensemble, beginning with another of Sri Chinmoy’s dawn songs: “Andhakarer Bakka Chiri”:
Andhakarer bakka chiri
Khulche ushar toran oi
Jaya dhwani kare sabe
Khoka khuki achhish koi
Arun ranga charan phele
Usha rani ese
Khelar chale anlo tene
Ajana ei deshe
Behold, tearing the heart of darkness,
the door of dawn opens.
O children, where are you?
Sing, sing the divine glory.
The queen of dawn descends
with her morning rays.
She has dragged me down
into this world unknown.
Paree incorporates both the original Bengali and the English translation into her choral fantasia, adding a welcome dynamic element to the mix!
Artists and Links
These are the artists performing “Usha Bala Elo”:
Many, many thanks to Sri Chinmoy, to the artists performing his music, and to Radio Sri Chinmoy, where much of this music is freely available. (It is truly a treasure trove.)
This year, April 13th happens to fall on a Friday. But after a peaceful morning meditation, we need not surrender to bad luck or Fright Night. The light of the dawn can carry us through to the evening, and at day’s end we can enjoy sweet, peaceful dreams.
The views expressed are my own, and do not represent any other person or organization.
* * *
The demonstrations in which hundreds of thousands of people have participated — many of them students — demanding sensible gun laws, is a very positive development. It represents a countervailing force against the sheer money power and bullying power of the gun lobby. It remains to be seen whether these demonstrations will have a lasting political impact, and will ultimately achieve the goal of meaningful reform.
Many of the reasons why we need sensible gun laws are painfully obvious — both to Americans, and to friends of America like Great Britain. The latter is one of several Western nations which have enacted strict gun laws, and as a result have seen gun violence plummet dramatically. No thinking person can question the basic connection between the mass proliferation of firearms and a spiraling murder rate.
It is especially fitting then, that our young people are rising up to question the political and moral corruption which keeps both gun sales and gun murders at astronomical levels — fitting not just because young people are often innocent victims of gun violence, but also because young people bring a fresh perspective unstained and unsullied by the base motives which have led us to the present morass.
Young people are shepherded through active shooter drills at school, and in neighborhoods like South L.A. (as demonstrator Edna Chavez points out) they learn to duck bullets before they learn to read. So they’re angry about this wholesale, bump-stocked destruction of their innocence. They rightly observe that in an atmosphere of fear, even those not directly impacted by gun violence in the form of losing a friend or loved one nevertheless feel the intense psychological pressure. If they are angry, and are speaking up with anger, this is understandable. But is there anything beyond the anger?
On the one hand, political action for a worthy cause is admirable; on the other hand, political movements are less than perfect. There’s always a certain amount of sloganeering, emotionalism, and “rah-rah, hooray for our side.” These things are inevitable, and don’t invalidate the underlying cause. Some people can be forgiven if, with respect to a particular demo, they ask not “What are the organizing principles?” but rather “Which bands are playing?” After all, social bonding is part of the process of amassing political power.
One summer when I was just a tiny tot, my aunt paid my way to go to day camp. On the daily bus ride, the camp counselors would sing endless renditions of “Blowin’ in the Wind”:
A good protest song is definitely worth its weight in gold, and can help both inspire noble idealism, and galvanize opinion on concrete issues. To this day, on the issue of gun control I trot out this old Tom Paxton ditty, often introing it as “Wayne LaPierre Sings”:
Has anything changed? I think so. To understand what, we need to know about the madness of crowds. Over time, the population becomes enamored of — and subsequently disenchanted with — various fads, some of which can be long-lasting. After a decades long experiment with the mass proliferation of firearms, it may be argued that we are, as a nation, beginning to turn the tide. The learning curve is finally bending in the direction of insight that more and more guns do not lead to a safer and safer society, but rather to a society in which our children grow up in a state of perpetual trauma. In this respect, the slogan “Enough is enough” is perfectly apt and signals a definite inflection point (we hope).
A Spiritual Perspective
To some people, the concept of spirituality seems remote or pie-in-the-sky. This is understandable, since spirituality is mostly not taught in our schools; and when it is, it’s sometimes the “believe this or go to hell” variety.
Yet, spirituality is connected with peace and peace studies. Peace is a quality, and peace studies is an organized effort to find ways of bringing peace to our troubled world.
From a spiritual perspective, gun control is not just about reducing the number of guns, but also about changing the mindset which leads us to adopt violent solutions to basic human problems. One of the tools used in peace studies is meditation, and this NBC story on meditation in the schools shows just how effective a tool meditation can be:
What do I mean when I say that peace is a quality? If you go to a certain restaurant, you know they specialize in items like burgers, salads, or shakes. In God’s shop there is peace, light, and joy. You can eat as much as you want according to your appetite.
Peace does not mean simply the absence of war or conflict. Peace is a quality which we can imbibe through our prayer and meditation. When we drink deeply of peace, so many human problems are solved! And also, when we drink deeply of peace, we see more clearly what things need to be done to improve our lives, to improve society. When we drink deeply of peace, we see that this decades long obsession with guns, guns, and more guns is total insanity! It is an unnatural fixation which comes from man’s destructive mind and destructive vital.
Again, when we drink deeply of peace, we are taking in something which is natural, just as some people prefer natural foods rather than heavily processed foods. For gradual, lasting change to occur, we need to drink in peace in abundant measure, and learn from the experience of peace how we can make a world in which our children feel safe and loved, not angry and betrayed.
But this peace is not just for adults, and the solutions will not come only from adults. The more our children feel the psychological pressure of violence all around them, the more they need a safe space where there is quiet time and they can experience peace. And the more they see that this inner peace is indeed an ingredient in solving the problem of outer violence, the better prepared they will be to create tomorrow’s institutions based not on turning schools into prisons and teachers into armed guards, but on patterns of association involving love, trust, and insight.
Now, there are even deeper spiritual reasons why we need gun control. Our world was created by God. He was one, He was silent; but He wanted to become many in order to know the meaning of His silence. So He created the Cosmic Game, in which matter is thrown out from His soul, and takes billions of years to evolve back into conscious Divinity. This is the Cosmic Game, of which we are part.
Our world is a reflection of something which is, at its root, perfect. This is the great secret which peace can teach us, silence can teach us. Presently, our world is an imperfect reflection. But gradually, gradually, over the long arc of time, it is evolving toward perfection. So we get the most joy when we consciously participate in God’s Cosmic Game in the way that He intended; not by collecting more and more guns, but by expressing more and more self-giving.
Meditation can take us very far. In meditation, we can catch a glimpse of the higher worlds. There, the beauty of nature springs directly from the mind of God in infinite abundance. There are no guns there, and no need for guns.
If we know we are evolving toward something higher, then we can have a kind of blueprint for what we want to achieve in society. The golden future is fast approaching, but we are late in making ourselves fit to receive it, live in it. The future beckons us, but in order to fully embrace it we must renounce our foolish attachment to guns and weapons of mass destruction.
Change occurs not just on an individual level, but also on a macro level. The micro and macro influence each other. If, as individuals, we are able to cultivate more peace, then we can also affect institutions in a positive way. Likewise, when institutions charged with fostering the health and well-being of society reach the unmistakable conclusion that gun control is necessary, they can educate and influence individuals.
Let us hope that we have passed a milestone point in history, and are moving away from armaments and toward the firmament!
Anger and slogans are part of politics, but for lasting change something more is needed. We need to cultivate peace, and we should not lose faith in humanity despite setbacks. Spiritual master Sri Chinmoy writes:
India’s greatest spiritual politician, Mahatma Gandhi, said something very striking. He said not to lose faith in humanity. We have to take humanity as an ocean. There are a few drops in the ocean that may be dirty, but the entire ocean is not dirty. According to him, we must not judge humanity by the limited experiences we usually get when we associate ourselves with limited persons around us. We have to be careful, but at the same time we have to have faith in humanity. If we lose faith in humanity, then we are doomed, for humanity is an actual limb of our body.
— Sri Chinmoy, from A Hundred Years From Now, Agni Press, 1974
To bring about a more peaceful world, we need to become students of peace. That is how Sri Chinmoy always described himself. Looked at from a spiritual perspective, gun control is part of a broader effort to create a world based on principles of peace.
A peace benediction from Sri Chinmoy
Sidebar: Save The Country
If you are a student of peace, then you are in the same boat as singer/songwriter Laura Nyro, who sang “In my mind I can’t study war no more”:
* * *
Now released on YouTube
Although I made brief mention of it in a post on Storm Emma and the Meaning of Snow, I’d like to officially announce the YouTube release of my short film Salvation:
While I’m only an amateur videographer, and the means brought to bear for Salvation are exceedingly modest, I can nevertheless point out a few things about the film.
It first and foremost uses the language of visual images, sound, and music to say what it wants to say.
Though my primary purpose was artistic, it does call attention to the plight of New York City carriage horses, who work in all kinds of harsh conditions (including snowstorms).
The film begins by showing a dense crush of passersby on a midtown Manhattan street during a blizzard. We hear the tinkling of a bell, and as the crowd thins out, we see that the sound is coming from an African-American Salvation Army worker with a collection box to which no one seems to be contributing.
The next sequence is of Pomona, the Goddess of Plenty, who stands atop the Pulitzer Fountain there in Manhattan’s Grand Army Plaza. Like the Salvation Army worker, she looks cold, forlorn, and forgotten in the snow. We can still hear the bell tinkling faintly in the distance.
The third sequence shows carriage horses; and just as we saw clouds of steam coming from the nostrils of the Salavation Army worker, we likewise see clouds of steam coming from these equine nostrils, and hear the metal clink of their fittings. One horse hollows out the snow around its front hooves to push back the cold.
In the middle of the carriage horse sequence we cut away to Nike, the Goddess of Victory, as she appears high up in a gilded-bronze sculpture by Augustus Saint-Gaudens depicting William Tecumseh Sherman.
The fourth sequence begins with a brief shot of two men fencing indoors during the same blizzard, adjoining tall picture windows from which we can still see the snow falling. We hear the metal clink of blade on blade, but the men are tethered to body cords (as is the custom in sport fencing), just as the horses are tethered to their carriages. We cut briefly to more shots of the Goddess of Victory, and then to the final sequence, which is vintage footage of black stallions running free in an open field in the midst of a snowstorm. (This less than 30 seconds of film is adapted from the BBC documentary The Big Freeze about Britain’s harsh winter of 1963.)
After completing the final edit, for those who might ponder the meaning I offered these words:
What does salvation mean to a man? To an angel? To a horse? Is snow the great equalizer?
About the music
From 30 seconds into the film until the end, we hear the music of spiritual master Sri Chinmoy arranged and performed by the duet Silence and Sound, consisting of Kushali Tarantsova (violin, vocals) and Rageshri Muzychenko (keyboard, vocals). The song is “Param Pitar Charan Duti Barai Madhumoy” from their 2006 CD Playing My Heart-Violin, recorded and mixed in Kiev, Ukraine and released on the JRC label.
Sri Chinmoy wrote thousands of songs, mainly in Bengali and English. Ten years after his death, not all of them have been translated or made readily available — though many have, due to the diligent work of his students.
This song is one of 150 from the 2002 songbook Bahir Jagate, Part 1. Most of these have not been translated, but the Bengali reads:
Param pitar charan duti barai madhumoy
Param pitar dibya ankhi asim kripamoy
To aid us, here are some Bengali words and phrases with their English equivalents:
param pitar – Supreme Father or Absolute Lord
charan – feet
barai – great, intense, or deeply
madhumoy – sweet or blissful
dibya – divine
ankhi asim – infinite Eye
kripamoy – compassion
So we can guess that this is a mantra invoking the Father Supreme, taking refuge at His feet of intense bliss, and His divine, infinite Eye of Compassion.
Sri Chinmoy wrote this song on December 26, 2001. Many of his “param pita” songs written during the Christmas period are Christ songs. Indeed, there is a whole book of them from 1990 called Jesus the Seeker, Christ the Saviour with a mix of English and Bengali entries.
If the recording I chose for Salvation is plaintive or even sad as rendered by Kushali and Rageshri, this need not be true of other “param pita” songs. Sri Chinmoy’s students organize Songs of the Soul concerts around the world. While visiting Mongolia in 2017, Pavaka and Nelson recorded this sunny version of “He Param Pita Bishwa Bidhata Ami,” accompanied by a beautiful HD video in which horses also figure prominently:
It’s so good I want you to see it, even though it puts my video to shame. (In fairness, mine is based on analog footage shot in 1995, when Hi-8 was thought a fairly good “prosumer” format.)
Here’s a medley of two more “He Param Pita” songs by Sri Chinmoy:
The titles are “He Param Pita He Param Pita Ami Je” and “He Param Pita He Param Pita Dharar.” (A quick search reveals about three dozen such songs to his credit). These two are performed in monastic style by an unnamed group, though it could be Oneness-Dream, which in 2016 toured churches in Ireland performing Sri Chinmoy’s songs in a manner like to Gregorian chant:
So how does all this relate to the concept of salvation? Well, people use the word in different ways. To truly achieve salvation (from ignorance, bondage, and death) is an extraordinary achievement. I cannot claim any such thing. But in the small, human sense of what salvation means — or perhaps in the sense of what salvation means to a horse tethered to a carriage — I feel that knowing Sri Chinmoy has saved me from a life which would have been as dull and plodding as a workhorse’s. By his Grace I have seen and felt things beyond my imagination, and he has given me hope that I might one day at least grasp the concept of salvation, even if achieving it is presently beyond me. I gratefully dedicate the film Salvation to Sri Chinmoy, who inhabits my dreams (the best ones, anyway).
The views expressed are my own, and do not represent any other person or organization.
Sidebar: Sri Chinmoy’s universal teachings
For the sake of clarity, I should explain that Sri Chinmoy’s teachings are universal in nature. He embraces the Neo-Vedanta view that there is truth in each religion. He emerged from the Hindu tradition, but composed songs honouring many spiritual figures, including Sri Krishna, the Buddha, the Christ, Sri Ramakrishna, Sri Aurobindo, Mother Teresa, and many others.
Sri Chinmoy is a teacher who epitomizes vastness. This post brings out one small facet, namely his “param pita” songs. Broadly speaking, his philosophy is Eastern philosophy. (See, for example, his Eastern Light for the Western Mind.)
Of Further Interest
The Sound of Music in Bengali
Jesus is Born – in a world of many faiths
Radio Sri Chinmoy – Songs Devoted to Jesus Christ
Shindhu performs “Param Pitar Charan Duti Barai Madhumoy”
Barber’s Adagio For Strings (YouTube)
Hearts and Flowers (version 1) 1908 Orchestra (YouTube)
Hearts and Flowers (version 2) Mahavishnu John McLaughlin (YouTube)
Alice in the Snow I
* * *