Sarama Minoli Part 2

Yoga and Sarama were definitely a combination fit for purpose!

A while back I got a very nice e-mail from someone interested in the late great Sarama Minoli, memorialized on my blog in “Sarama – The Hound of Intuition.” So here’s more about Sarama:

She had her own Hatha Yoga studio, and according to her web site:

On July 13, 1977 we received our new name, Yoga-Life Perfection of New York, from Sri Chinmoy in a beautiful and unforgettable evening of meditation, song and recitation at our Manhattan centre. It was especially unforgettable because that was the night that the lights went out all over the city! Of course, with our Guru present we were not left in the dark! Candles were also burning for our evening of meditation and we had plenty of extra ones on hand. We thought the function would keep going until the lights went on, and Sri Chinmoy took advantage of the extra time to compose a few beautiful pieces, which later appeared in Everest-Aspiration, one of the well-over-a-thousand inspiring books he has written.

Here is Sri Chinmoy’s quote on Hatha Yoga, which is the branch of Yoga concerned primarily with the physical:

O Hatha Yoga, you are preparing me for a strong body, a sound vital, an illumining mind and a pure heart. From your valuable gifts I shall receive inspiration to take three long strides toward my life’s integral perfection and my Lord’s complete satisfaction: concentration, meditation and contemplation.

Concentration will penetrate the ignorance-world. Meditation will sit on the snow-capped mountain peak. Contemplation will join the divine lover and the Supreme Beloved in their oneness-dance.

Note: The “lights going out all over the city” part is a reference to the great New York City blackout of 1977.

Sarama was an expert bio-nutritionist, having gotten her Master’s in nutrition from the University of Bridgeport in 1984. She was also an outstanding photographer who took countless photos of her teacher, Sri Chinmoy, especially during the 1970s:

Sri Chinmoy holds the first of many public meditations at Columbia University on April 23, 1971. Photo by Sarama Minoli.

Sri Chinmoy at the opening of the Jharna-Kala art gallery on Mercer Street in NYC, March 31, 1975. Photo by Sarama Minoli.

Sri Chinmoy meets with fellow artist Peter Max at the Jharna-Kala gallery, 1975. Photo by Sarama Minoli.

You can view more of Sarama’s photographic work on srichinmoyphoto.com here, and srichinmoy-reflections.com here.

Sarama was a tremendously strong-minded and strong-willed person, famous for doing anything she put her mind and heart to. Because of her active interest in Yoga and nutrition, she remained extremely fit, often participating in sports events sponsored by Sri Chinmoy Centre or Sri Chinmoy Races. Here she is in 1997 with a group of eighteen women, doing a sports-dance workout routine for the semiannual Madal Circus held at a local public school in Jamaica, Queens:

Also dancing is Sarama’a daughter Lavanya Muller. Sarama was born in December 1926, and passed away in July 2013 at the age of 86; so she was 70 when this video was recorded. July 2020 will mark the seven-year anniversary of her passing. Her faith-experience-journey with Sri Chinmoy Centre spanned 46 years.

Comments about the video

This is just some home movie style footage with Sarama. I do think it’s a kind of stereotype buster. After all, spiritual renunciates supposedly spend all their time praying, meditating, fasting, or walking over hot coals, don’t they? I remember a friend of mine joking that such stereotypes fail to consider all the time spent deciding where to have coffee… And I remember that after meditations with Sri Chinmoy at Columbia University back in the 70s, some of the guys would go to Amir’s Falafel — a place about the size of a phone booth, but it had good, cheap eats.

The women in the video are dancing to driving, rhythmic music, are wearing pants (not saris), and seem to be having a blast! At the end of their routine they get a rousing ovation.

Madal Circus is a colourful tradition which began in 1972 and continues to this day. “Madal” means “kettledrum” in Bengali, and was Sri Chinmoy’s childhood nickname. Here, Sudhira Hay performs at a 2014 edition of the Circus. She has studied different forms of movement for over 20 years, including Yoga, northern and southern Kungfu styles, ballet, modern dance and (shown here) aerial rope:

Regular readers know my concerns, so I hope they’ll forgive me if I philosophize a bit and say that those who follow an Eastern spiritual path are often individuals who march (or dance!) to the beat of a different drummer, and find joy in a community which values them as individuals for what they achieve and express as individuals. Sarama Minoli was such an individual possessing strength of character and conviction. If one reads her own account of coming to Sri Chinmoy’s path, it becomes evident that for some people this choice is natural and right.Michael Howard

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

Of Further Interest

“Mystical Side of Running” (article) by Sudhira Hay

* * *

The False Knight Upon the Road

This traditional song makes a helpful footnote to discussions about deprogramming

I’ve always loved this song ever since I first heard some permutation of Maddy Prior and/or Steeleye Span do a version of it:

The exact lyrics vary from artist to artist, but this is how Maddy Prior sings it on the 1971 album Summer Solstice: Continue reading

Teaching children about death – Brave New World

How is Aldous Huxley’s vision of the future relevant to the present world pandemic?

Huxley published Brave New World in 1932. It’s considered one of the great 20th century dystopian novels, along with George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 completes the triad.

The clip above is from a 1980 television production. It’s short enough that we can view it multiple times — take in all the contrasts and unfamiliar elements. A vital link of relevance is the song the children sing:

When there’s no one left,
Sing a song of death;
Four and twenty corpses
Baking in a stew,
Making pretty chemicals
Just for me and you.

The song is sung cheerfully, innocently, vapidly by the children; but the character known as the Savage is horrified and responds by passionately quoting lines from Shakespeare about death. So, we’re immediately confronted by two very different attitudes toward death.

It may be trite to say that Huxley was concerned with the ways in which people might misuse science. Perhaps (more accurately), he saw that people have surprisingly little control over how technical innovations reshape human society and human psychology. Much of what he predicted was eerily prescient, not necessarily in the exact forms things would take, but in the cheapening of human life and human death — the reduction of the human being to its chemical components only. Continue reading

A quick introduction to the music of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan

Now is the time to discover the driving rhythms and uplifting vocal stylings of this world famous Qawwali artist.

Photo courtesy Real World Records

I was very fortunate to first hear the music of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan in the early 1990s. This was thanks to Garama Masala, a weekly radio show devoted to the music of South Asia, then hosted by Anastasia Tsioulcas on Columbia University’s WKCR. The show lives on under the new name Raag aur Taal, and Anastasia Tsioulcas is now a reporter for NPR Music. (Quoting Hecky Brown from The Front: “It’s nice when something nice happens to someone nice.”)

If you’re saying to yourself: “Qawwali? That’s all Greek to me…” don’t worry. This will be a quick and painless introduction, as easy as taking a bite out of a paratha to see if you have a taste for South Asian cuisine (or might like to acquire one). Without further ado, here’s one of the best pieces by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan readily available on the Internet:

Like anything new, it helps to open yourself to it, give it a chance, even embrace it. This piece has gotten about 4 million hits on YouTube. There’s definitely something going on, but what is it? To quote a classic line from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid: “Who are these guys?” Continue reading

Prayer and Meditation in a Time of Suffering

Can these things be of any help, or are they just pipe dreams?

There are two different ways of looking at prayer and meditation: We can say they are like medicine for what ails us, or we can say that they bring us peace, light, and joy.

When beset with worldly problems, we feel that in spite of believing in the things of this world, we need some relief from worry and anxiety. This is always true, but even more so in a time of world crisis, when there is much sickness and despair. At that time, no matter where we turn our eyes we see problems, problems, problems! But if we look within, if we practice prayer and meditation, then we get some relief from worry and anxiety, and we are better able to cope with the burdens of daily life. This is a practical approach, a good approach, but it does make prayer and meditation seem like medicine which we only take when we are ill.

The other approach is to make friends with the inner world, to feel that the inner world belongs to us, for us to claim as our own, in good times and in bad. We do not ignore or shun the outer world, nor do we blame it for not being perfect; only we say that the inner world has more light and truth than the outer world. Therefore we can get peace, light and joy from the inner world which we cannot get from the outer world, even under the best of circumstances.

These two different approaches are like two different attitudes toward God. In one approach, we are like children playing in a playground. We enjoy the slide, the sprinkler, and different types of games. But then if we fall down and scrape our knee, or if there are terrible thunderstorms, we run to the Playground Manager, who takes care of our injuries and consoles us so that we can go on playing.

But as we grow in maturity and gain insight, we realize that the playground is limited in what it can offer us. At the same time, something higher and deeper calls to us. God dried our tears and helped us to go on living in the worst of times, but should we only see His Face once or twice in this lifetime, during periods of crisis? He who has consoled us faithfully and unerringly is our Eternal Friend.

So, whether we turn to prayer and meditation in a time of need, to help relieve suffering, or whether we do so because we want to grow in wisdom and joy, and to be close to our Eternal Friend — either approach is right, depending on the individual. These approaches are not mutually exclusive. Often, people reach a crisis point in their lives where they desperately need spiritual help. Then, even after the crisis point has passed, they continue on with spiritual practice because they see the benefits. Continue reading

Nature, the Super Moon, the Coronavirus, and Charles Ives

Nature presents us with contraries, opposite poles, also known as antipodes…

On Monday night, as I made my appointed rounds through the streets of the city, suddenly I noticed the remarkably bright full moon, so close, so distinctive. With a faint mist surrounding it, it almost seemed to have its own corona. It took me by surprise, and once aware of it I had to wheel ’round many times to contemplate its pristine beauty, till finally the moon was eclipsed by gathering clouds.

I cannot say for certain, but it may be that our moon and sun are imitations of a moon and sun which are more beautiful to behold in some higher world. That is my hope, belief, and intuition.

As a race or as a species, we indulge in chauvinism, imagining that our moon and our sun must be best. But there is another theory or observation which says that many things found in this world of ours arise in imitation of things found in higher worlds.

There, nature flows in abundance. It is not built up from physical stuff, but flows directly from the mind of God, with no dirt or bugs, and no planes flying overhead. That is how it can be more beautiful — intimate, like a little wood, and yet we sense that its lakes, rivers, and forests could go on forever.

In our present world of opposites, we cannot fully enjoy the sun and moon at the same time in the same sky, for always one will be waxing while the other is waning. But in the spiritual sky, the sun and moon shine together, in a world higher than ours which is more subtle, and not racked by the extremes of opposites which plague our mortal existence. Continue reading

O Little Town of Shandaken

O little town of Shandaken,
Small-minded with a passion;
How prejudice was ladled out!
But truth and insight rationed.

Those who spoke with lies and hate
According to their nature,
The Cosmic Fates shall recompense
To suit their dwarvish stature.

To slander one so innocent
Is ignorance phenomenal;
The minds of townsfolk thus engaged
Descended to the animal.

Though dogs may bark and cats may yowl,
And men may fight all day,
The proud and noble elephant
Continues on his way.

Michael Howard Continue reading

Sri Chinmoy Birthday Music Mix, August 2019

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.

Sri Chinmoy as many remember him: in the spiritual and musical spotlight. Photo courtesy https://au.srichinmoycentre.org/articles/piano

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. Continue reading

The Sri Chinmoy Self-Transcendence 3100 Mile Race 2019

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.” Continue reading

Happy 55th Anniversary, Sri Chinmoy!

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. Continue reading

International Women’s Day: Temple-Song-Hearts music group and more


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! Continue reading