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

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

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

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

Happy 87th Birthday, Sri Chinmoy!

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.” Continue reading

Enlighten

In ordinary conversation, to enlighten is to inform. I enlighten you on the latest box scores, and you enlighten me about the spaghetti dinner at Luigi’s. The president enlightens us about his subterranean homesick penthouse blues. His daily tweets remind us of his unenlightened state.

In the field of spirituality, enlightenment has a deeper meaning: to receive abundundant light which is all-transforming. Spiritual enlightenment can be a sudden burst of light which lasts for a few hours or a few days, or, in the case of a great spiritual figure, it can be an ultimate enlightenment which does not fade. Having learned the truth of life, this truth is not forgotten or eclipsed. The spiritual master remains in a permanently enlightened state from which he conducts his day-to-day activities. Continue reading

Compassion: The Mother of all Balms (MOAB)

Here in the U.S., there’s been a lot of excitement about a new kind of bomb that was dropped in a remote region of Afghanistan. Though I cut the cord years ago, I still watch cable news on the Net, and it seems that each channel has its own retired general burbling exuberantly about this “Mother of all Bombs.” The bomb weighs 21,000 pounds, and the generals only slightly less. 😉

Maybe it’s just me, but in a wounded world I can’t get too excited about greater destructive power. I tend to space out and think up alternative meanings for the acronym. In one of those bread and cheese places, it could stand for “Muenster on a Baguette.” (Hold the thirty-weight!) Then it hit me that in a world filled with suffering, compassion is the “Mother of all Balms.” Continue reading

Put a Bird on It! Part Two

Examining the work of Sri Chinmoy, including his abstract expressionist paintings and bird drawings. Plus, learning what he himself says about art.

The question has arisen: How seriously do mainstream art critics take the art of Sri Chinmoy? The words “mainstream” and “seriously” tend to cloud the issue; but the simple answer is that some critics do take Sri Chinmoy’s art very seriously, especially those interested in Asian art and spiritual art, and those who are curators of peace museums. He would not have had numerous gallery exhibitions if there were not some corners of the art world which deeply appreciate his visionary approach.

In the postmodern period, there is nothing resembling a single centralized authority on art. A successful artist is one who enjoys an audience which values his or her art, and which includes some favourably disposed art critics. Sri Chinmoy certainly achieved these things, as is borne out in the following video:

Deeper and more meaningful questions might be asked, such as:

– What is valuable in Sri Chinmoy’s art?
– How should we understand it?
– What is the connection between spirituality and art?
– How does he himself speak about art?

I will endeavour to answer some of these questions — not that my answers will be in any sense definitive, but they may at least shed some light and lead to other more interesting questions…

Sri Chinmoy is not the product of Western training in art, and is not responding to trends in European art. He’s not answering Picasso or Warhol or Rothko or Rauschenberg, or commenting on the century of death which was the twentieth century, or protesting by going on an art strike. He’s doing something quite different.

More than anything else, Sri Chinmoy’s work represents a magnificent outpouring of joy which bypasses the intellectual mind. Yet, we should not mistake his art for the naïve. He had a fantastic capacity to absorb different influences and to make them his own. Some of his major works can be most easily classified as abstract expressionist. Continue reading

Sri Chinmoy – In Search of a Perfect Disciple

In this fascinating story from the bhakti yoga tradition, Sri Chinmoy (1931-2007) sheds light on the master/disciple relationship.

Source: Sri Chinmoy Library

He has nobody but me

A very great spiritual Master had hundreds of sincere disciples, as well as admirers, followers, and well-wishers. Some of his disciples cherished a peculiar idea. They thought, “We will not accept anything from the Master; we shall only give everything to him.” The Master told them many times that this idea was wrong. He said that he would give them what he had, and they would give him what they had.

But his disciples didn’t listen to him. They thought that the Master would be pleased with them only if they gave him everything they had, without expecting or even accepting anything from him. To take money or any material help from him was impossible for them. In every way they wanted to feel that they would only give to the Master. They thought that they could not take even a smile from him.

Some of the Master’s disciples lived very far away from him. They had all kinds of problems with the people they depended on, especially with members of their own families. The Master used to ask them, “Why are you suffering so much? Why do you have to depend on your friends and the members of your family for help? You want to depend on others’ appreciation and admiration. You want to depend on others’ help, financial and otherwise. But you don’t want to depend on me for anything. You came into the spiritual life to be dependent on what, on whom?” Continue reading

Put a Bird on It!

Artist and spiritual teacher Sri Chinmoy drew countless birds — not just on paper or canvas, but on clocks, seashells, glass, fabric, and children’s toys.

Countless are the birds of the air, and countless are the fish in the sea. We call something countless because — even though it has a finite number — it defies our human capacity to quantify. We could start a project to count all the birds in the air, but it would take generations and by that time there would be new birds in the air not counted previously. There would be innumerable technical challenges, and who would fund such a study?

Of those things which are countless, the most countless of all is infinity. When I was growing up, math teachers liked to recommend George Gamow’s book One, Two, Three…Infinity as a way of grappling with deep concepts. It was entertaining and profound at the same time, explaining how there could be differently sized infinities. But even Gamow (half-jokingly) admitted that when you expand your thinking beyond a certain point, you’re no longer dealing with Math or Science but Divinity:

There was a young fellow from Trinity,
Who took the square root of infinity.
But the number of digits, Gave him the fidgets;
He dropped Math and took up Divinity.

— George Gamow

The Upanishads say:

Infinity is that.
Infinity is this.
From Infinity, Infinity has come into existence.
From Infinity, when Infinity is taken away, Infinity remains.

After reciting this passage in a 1971 Yale lecture, Sri Chinmoy continued:

Creation is the supreme sacrifice of the Brahman. Creation is by no means a mechanical construction. Creation is a spiritual act, supremely revealing, manifesting, and fulfilling the divine splendour of the Brahman. The divine Architect is beyond creation, and at the same time manifests Himself in and through creation.

— Sri Chinmoy, The Upanishads: the Crown of India’s Soul, Agni Press, 1974

On earth, we are limited by the finite. We cannot create anything which is literally infinite. But by knowing the infinite, we can speak of the infinite in our creations. We can point to the infinite, approximate the infinite, give a taste of the infinite even within the finite. Continue reading

Sri Chinmoy – Love-Power, Gratitude-Flower

How can a spiritual figure love us more than we love ourselves? What role does gratitude play in receiving divine love?

Source: Sri Chinmoy Library

An Indian spiritual Master, who was living in the West, one day went to the hospital to visit a disciple who had met with a serious car accident. Although the disciple was in much pain and could hardly move, he was overjoyed to see his Master. “Master,” he said, “I feel that I have been helped considerably since my accident by your occult and spiritual healing power.”

The Master smiled. “You know, one of your spiritual brothers asked me yesterday if it was your past karma that brought on this accident or whether it was due to an attack of hostile forces. I told him that it was definitely an attack of hostile forces. The hostile forces are much more alert than the divine forces, even though the divine Will always wins eventually. The hostile forces are like children who go on and on pinching their father like a monkey, thinking all the time they will weaken their father. But they are wrong. Just one slap from their father and it will be all over. But they still go on and on pinching. When a divine soldier is attacked by hostile forces in this way, he is actually strengthened, rather than weakened. It gives him added strength.”

The disciple replied, “Master, I feel that this accident was worth every moment of pain for the experience it gave me. For the first time in my life I really felt and realised how much love you have for me. I saw that this love you have, that the Supreme has, is infinite, it is all-encompassing.”

“This is absolutely true, my son,” said the Master. “I am always telling you and the other disciples that I love you infinitely more than you love yourself. The mind won’t believe it, but it is true.” The disciple asked, “Master, how is it possible for you to love us more than we love ourselves?” Continue reading

Sri Chinmoy Encyclopedia Article

Making sense of a teacher whose contributions were both diverse and prolific

Sri Chinmoy reading from his aphorisms for The New Millennium

Sri Chinmoy reading from his aphorisms for The New Millennium

There are many articles about Sri Chinmoy in bona fide print encyclopedias, and most are good (like this one). Recently I revisited an archived “community” article written in encyclopedic style and last updated in 2008. It comes from an emic or inside perspective, and reflects a nice balance between biographical facts, significant quotes, and understanding Sri Chinmoy’s “path of the heart” in historical context. Proof that emic accounts can sometimes be more accurate than etic ones. It includes good footnotes and many details not found elsewhere.

From reading other encyclopedia articles about Sri Chinmoy, I gather that one challenge is to understand what’s unique about his teachings, and how they relate to the Hindu tradition from which he emerged. At the same time, a purely historical or philosophical approach might fail to catch the spirit of a movement which is lively, colourful, musical, and vibrant. Sri Chinmoy is an eminently quotable writer, so an article jam-packed with quotes is a definite plus. Continue reading

Sumangali Morhall: Auspicious Good Fortune (audiobook)

YouTube description:

Introduction to the audiobook Auspicious Good Fortune, a spiritual memoir by Sumangali Morhall.

Has your life ever flashed before you? Sumangali Morhall chased everything Western society taught her to pursue: material wealth, academic success, and even the perfect relationship, only to discover something deeply significant was still missing. A sudden near-death experience opened her eyes, and her life began anew. Left with nothing and nobody to rely on, her inner strength blossomed and her spiritual search began in earnest. Her journey led her to study meditation with Indian spiritual Master, Sri Chinmoy: a direction she could never have imagined. Sumangali reveals the arcane practice of learning from a contemporary Guru in lively detail, shedding light on misconceptions while remaining candid about her own initial doubts. Heartwarming, courageous, and beautifully crafted, this spiritual memoir follows a Western woman learning the ways of the East, and putting them into practice in her modern world: an ordinary person leading an extraordinary life.


Sumangali Morhall with Sri Chinmoy

Sumangali Morhall with Sri Chinmoy

Sri Chinmoy – I want only one student: heart

A story about the power of silence and the significance of the spiritual heart.

Source: Sri Chinmoy Library

There was once a spiritual Master who had hundreds of followers and disciples. The Master often gave discourses at different places — churches, synagogues, temples, schools and universities. Wherever he was invited, and wherever his disciples made arrangements for him, he gave talks. He gave talks for children and for adults. He gave talks for university students and for housewives. Sometimes he gave talks before scholars and most advanced seekers. This went on for about twenty years.

Finally there came a time when the Master decided to discontinue his lectures. He told his disciples, “Enough. I have done this for many years. Now I shall not give any more talks. Only silence. I shall maintain silence.”

For about ten years the Master did not give talks. He maintained silence in his ashram. He maintained silence everywhere. He had answered thousands of questions, but now he did not even meditate before the public. After ten years his disciples begged him to resume his previous practice of giving talks, answering questions and holding public meditations. They all pleaded with him, and finally he consented. Continue reading