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.”

Compassion runs deeply through the teachings of spiritual master Sri Chinmoy (1931-2007). If the destructive power of a bomb can weigh in at 21,000 pounds, Sri Chinmoy’s creative power weighed in at 21,000 songs. Many of these he wrote in his native language of Bengali, but also translated them into English, where they stand on their own as striking poems. Here are some of Sri Chinmoy’s writings on compassion:

Ore Mor Kheya

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

Nutaner Dake Aji Shubha Prate

My heart today has responded
To the new light.
This auspicious morn has blessed me
With a new light from the Unknown.
Above my head I see the Compassion-Flood
Of the Universal Mother,
The Compassion-Flood that illumines and fulfils
My entire existence.

– Sri Chinmoy, from Pole-Star Promise-Light, Part 1, 1977

Question: Is God’s compassion the same as His love?

Sri Chinmoy: God’s love is for everybody. It is like the sun. A person has only to keep open the window of his heart to receive Divine love. When God’s love takes an intimate form, it is called compassion. This compassion is the most powerful attribute, the most significant attribute of the Supreme. God’s compassion is for the selected few. God’s compassion is like a magnet that pulls the aspirant toward his goal. It is a mighty force that guides, pushes, and pulls the aspirant constantly and does not allow him to slip on the path to Self-realization. God’s love comforts and helps the aspirant, but if the aspirant falls asleep, the Divine love will not force him to awaken and compel him to resume his journey.

God’s compassion is not like human compassion. In a human way we can have compassion and pity for somebody, but this compassion does not have the strength to change the person and make him run from his ignorant condition toward the Light. In the case of God’s compassion, it is a force that changes and transforms the aspirant and keeps him from making major mistakes in his spiritual life.

Love will stay with ignorance, but compassion will not. Compassion has to be successful, otherwise it will be withdrawn. It will stay for a few seconds, or for a few minutes or for a few years, but it has to report to the Highest Authority and say whether or not it has been successful or not. A time may come when the Highest Authority says, “It is a barren desert. Come back.” Then compassion has to fly back to the Highest Authority, the Supreme.

– Sri Chinmoy, from The Wisdom of Sri Chinmoy, Blue Dove Press, 2000

Listen to Sri Chinmoy sing “Ore Mor Kheya” from the 1977 album Peace-Light-Delight:


Or listen directly on Radio Sri Chinmoy here.

Sri Chinmoy: Peace-Light-Delight, album cover

Of Further Interest

Sri Chinmoy – I Want Only One Student: Heart
Sri Chinmoy – In Search of a Perfect Disciple
Sri Chinmoy – Love-Power, Gratitude-Flower

* * *

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.

Sri Chinmoy dwarfed by a stage backdrop developed from an acrylic painting he did on November 19, 1985. Original 30 x 22 cm. Photo by Apaguha Vesely.

Sri Chinmoy dwarfed by a stage backdrop made from an acrylic painting he did on November 19, 1985. Original 30 x 22 cm. Photo by Apaguha Vesely.

To hone in on the details, we can turn to this video (produced by Kedar Misani) of the original painting:

There is clearly a worlds within worlds quality as we move through the different sections; and while most of it is abstract, bird forms do emerge amidst a riot of colour and texture which is yet not chaotic, but reflects a balance between freedom and harmony.

One thing art critics do appreciate is an enduring vision carried out prolifically over a multi-year period. This is one of the ways Sri Chinmoy distinguished himself. What’s often overlooked is that Sri Chinmoy is (in part) a conceptual artist. In addition to his abstracts, he drew millions of birds, and was the original put-a-bird-on-it guy, as I discuss in Part 1, which includes videos of large gallery exhibits.

Sri Chinmoy was a gentle soul, yet in his art he has something to say and is extremely persistent and insistent on saying it. This makes him worth listening to. Just seeing a handful of his works in small format on the Internet hardly does him justice. In Asian art and spiritual art, we often find a convergence between the gallery space and the sacred space. It’s in the gallery space that Sri Chinmoy’s art really comes alive, creating a universal sacred space whose deity is joy. (We all need joy.)

It’s one thing to draw a few birds; it’s quite another to draw literally millions of them, so that they remain (for all intent and purposes) countless. Only when one sees those rare gallery exhibits where there are thousands of his works on display on multiple levels does one begin to get a sense of how vast his vision was, and how deeply he believed in the essential message which underlies his work: Life is beautiful! If it isn’t, put a bird on it! (Yet, even large gallery exhibits can only hold a fraction of his work.)

Most often exhibited are his paintings and drawings on canvas or paper, but he was also fond of drawing on objects such as those he encountered in his travels. While visiting Bali in 2001, he transformed ordinary objects into objets d’art by adorning them with his characteristic bird forms.

Sri Chinmoy: Bali 2001, drawn object

Sri Chinmoy: Bali 2001, drawn object

There is often a sense of playfulness in Sri Chinmoy’s work, and this playfulness is meant to disarm the viewer.

Kagoshima, 1997: Sri Chinmoy draws birds on a background containing multiple iterations of the same cat

Kagoshima, 1997: Sri Chinmoy draws birds on a background containing multiple iterations of the same cat

The latter work may make us smile and remind us of the Dada artists. In a world of mass-produced commodities, Sri Chinmoy adds his signature element — his consciousness — to something that was extremely ordinary, thus transforming it. Mass-produced cats vs. hand-drawn birds!

Sri Chinmoy: another work from Kagoshima, this one reflecting strong Japanese influence

Sri Chinmoy: another work from Kagoshima, this one reflecting strong Japanese influence

Art as Anti-Environment

There are deep parallels between art and spirituality. The secular non-art space we routinely inhabit and traverse tends to numb us and make us unaware of the artistic and spiritual dimensions of life. The secular media space of news, traffic, weather and sitcoms — as well as the physical space dominated by rectangular office blocks and subways filled with trash — these things constitute a pervasive environment which shapes our perceptions while also numbing us. That’s why environmental psychologists are fanatics for creating parks and odd-shaped spaces which liberate our perceptions and give us back our humanity.

It’s no wonder that someone with a new message to communicate may go up on a mountaintop or take followers out into the desert in order to create a liminal space — a place where change becomes possible. Society tolerates all kinds of ideas as long as they don’t lead to real change. But historically, the typical reaction to anything producing real change has been one of hostility.

Ideally, a sacred space such as a church or temple should be a place where change is possible; but this is not always the case. In Jesus’s time, the temple had become ossified and was not the best place to present a blueprint for creating a more compassionate society.

A museum can be a sacred space. Critic and curator Germano Celant wryly observes:

Art is the new religion of today. When you go [to an avant-garde museum], you don’t understand, but you trust. That’s what the religion is about — you have to trust because it’s in the museum!

BBC presenter Michael Wood notes:

Our works of art appear to have become ruins. Only our perception is real, and our senses are bombarded with the images and sounds of media which inform us, but do not transform us. In a society saturated with data, the function of the artist is no longer to depict events, but rather to reawaken our perception.

This reawakening of perception is a shared concern of both artists and spiritual teachers.

When Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount, people got something from this which they weren’t getting from their temple at the time. The temple had become a commercial space due to the activities of the money-changers. There, it was business as usual. In the physical space of the temple, Jesus did not find the openness or suspension of disbelief which would have allowed him to create a sacred space. Therefore, he spoke upon a hillside. Had there been a museum handy, perhaps he would have chosen that!

Like a great music that puts to shame lesser musics, the sacred space is innocent in itself, but reveals by contrast that which is profane or devoid of true meaning. The truths we encounter in the sacred space — whether we call them spiritual truths or artistic truths — may put us in conflict with the conventional and mundane. This is so because the conventional and mundane is not actually a passive or neutral environment, but rather a place where messages are being blared over loudspeakers, only we have grown deaf or numb through constant exposure.

Insipid elevator music is propaganda, smoke-filled rooms are propaganda, political speeches which say nothing are propaganda, commercial advertisements are propaganda. Together these things speak of an existence ruled by production, consumption, procreation, entertainment, technological enhancement, and miracle drugs. It makes no sense, yet there is little time to ponder it. The space for artistic and spiritual enlightenment either does not exist, or else has been banished to some remote location we must consciously seek out. I would say the latter is the case.

This is the subtext of François Truffaut’s vastly underrated film version of Ray Bradbury’s novel Fahrenheit 451. There, in the mainstream everything has become topsy-turvy: Instead of putting out fires, firemen burn books. The only remaining option for people of refined sensibilities is to seek out an alternative community which still values art, literature, and spiritual insight.

Fahrenheit 451

Fahrenheit 451 — ending

There’s a paradox here: On the one hand, we need only look within. On the other hand, it’s difficult to find support for the inner journey while fully ensconced in the noisy hubbub of the mainstream.

In Marshall McLuhan: Theoretical elaborations, Gary Genosko writes that “McLuhan sees art as creating a conflict which results in making things intelligible. He even suggests at one point that environment is propaganda until dialogue begins…”

When the artist does something new and unexpected, this initially creates confusion and conflict; leading to protest and condemnation, but eventually to dialogue. Finally, in the course of trying to understand the artist, we do get an intelligible picture. We gain insights previously lacking because we were stuck in an environment which constantly (but invisibly) reinforced a trite, propagandistic view of reality. But by creating an “anti-environment” (or sacred space), the artist ultimately liberates us. This is similar to the spiritual teacher who challenges our preconceptions and ultimately ushers in a new consciousness.

Genosko writes: “The question becomes whether the hateful contraries are in a work or whether a work forms a hateful contrary to [conventional] reality.” This is similar to questions asked by sociologists about new religious movements. Most movements do not intentionally advocate some contrarian ideology for the express purpose of entering into conflict with society. Rather, like the artist, they offer a fresh perspective which is interpreted with hostility by the mainstream because it’s different, not immediately understood, and viewed as threatening. We can consider the Sermon on the Mount in this context. The ideals Jesus commended were not hateful in themselves — far from it! But they threatened what was then (and to some extent, still is) the established order. The order of the day remains self-interest; most individuals and nations continue to pursue it single-mindedly. Still, there has been some progress.

Henri Rousseau and Sri Chinmoy

Gary Genosko also writes: “Humour and even amateurism become anti-environmental modes for McLuhan in The Medium is the Massage. Humour and amateurism both apparently undercut the ‘official’ and therefore take the present environment, which is invisible, and suddenly make it visible…” We can use this concept to better understand painter Henri Rousseau — and via Rousseau, Sri Chinmoy.

Rousseau was neither a member of the official school, nor a true member of the avant-garde. But he was embraced by the avant-garde because his works had a slightly humorous, amateurish quality, yet were filled with freshness and originality.

Henri Rousseau, his 1897 painting Sleeping Gypsy, and a trope by The Simpsons 100 years later

Henri Rousseau, his 1897 painting Sleeping Gypsy, and a trope by The Simpsons 100 years later

Unlike the core of the avant-garde — who were rebelling against things they had learnt — Rousseau was not schooled in the official style. He was a self-taught painter who followed his own visions and inclinations. His originality does not speak of rebellion, but rather a charming naïveté. He achieves uniqueness not by rejecting something, but by being true to his inner self. As his friend and fellow painter Robert Delaunay said: “He didn’t establish his style by comparison or out of obedience to style. It came from his spirit. His art is old, and also very modern.”

The same can be said of Sri Chinmoy’s art and music. He was not schooled in any Western tradition, and is not rebelling against anything. Rather, by being uniquely himself he manages to create an experience of extraordinary power for his audience — always depending upon their receptivity and openness. (I will enlarge on this shamanic aspect in Part Three.)

In Monty Python’s Life of Brian, there’s a send-up of the Sermon on the Mount in which a bunch of quarrelsome stragglers at the fringes of the audience fail to get much beyond “Blessed are the cheesemakers!” Yet, one cannot judge the underlying value from such stragglers. To understand what an artist or spiritual teacher is saying sometimes requires preparation, study, and (of course) interest and eagerness. Sri Chinmoy writes, “A life with no imagination is a life of imprisonment. With the wings of imagination, we must try to fly into the Beyond.”

One aspect of the contemporary avant-garde is directness of expression, and a willingness to explore new techniques to achieve it. If one views videos of Sri Chinmoy improvising on piano or pipe organ, one sees that his technique is quite avant-garde, including liberal use of fists and elbows. When one opens one’s ears and one’s heart to his music, one discovers unparalleled directness of expression. The great leap for the listener is to catch a glimpse of what Sri Chinmoy is trying to express. Then one can never doubt his genius.

It is the same with his painting. By being uniquely himself and expressing a rare vision with directness, he manages to go beyond easy categories. Frances Morris — curator at the Tate Modern — says of Rousseau:

He can never be confined to any of the conventions or avant-garde structures that surround him. So, although he aspired to be an academic painter, he wasn’t an academic painter; although he was in some ways appropriated by the avant-garde, he was never really an avant-garde painter; nor can he be confined by terms like primitive, or naïve, or a Sunday painter. And therefore, he’s never been put to bed. And in a way, each generation, I think, can and has rediscovered Rousseau for themselves.

Like this, Sri Chinmoy has the potential to be discovered by successive generations. One of his aphorisms is “Simplicity is an advanced course” (shades of Picasso). He delighted in drawing his signature bird forms on ceramic plates, clocks, children’s toys, and seashells:

Sri Chinmoy: Bali 2001, seashells

Sri Chinmoy: Bali 2001, seashells

He didn’t do this to be froward or puckish, but because it brought him (and others) innocent joy. His art encourages and fosters the same type of consciousness which is also open to receiving profound spiritual teachings — not profound in the sense of “difficult to understand” (like Schopenhauer), but profound in the sense that they reflect an enlightened awareness. Paul Jenkins, interviewed about Sri Chinmoy’s art in 1975, said:

Was Monet a beginner? Was Picasso a beginner when he was about to die? The artist is always rediscovering the child. I don’t mean that he is childish, I mean he finds the child aspect. And we must remember also that Freud said that to be creative is to be prodigious. And that’s one thing that is misunderstood in the art world. Everybody feels that the fewer things you do the better you are. Not from Freud’s standpoint. To be creative means to be prodigious.

Peace Run 2016: Two Missouri schoolchildren receive a poster of a Sri Chinmoy painting for World-Harmony on behalf of their entire school. https://www.peacerun.org/us/news/2016/0516/1639/

Peace Run 2016: Two Missouri schoolchildren receive a poster of a Sri Chinmoy painting for World-Harmony on behalf of their entire school. https://www.peacerun.org/us/news/2016/0516/1639/

Sri Chinmoy’s art reflects “beginner’s mind” — a much sought-after quality which is difficult for most of us to achieve because it entails unlearning so much of what we had learned previously. When we contemplate his art we are shaping our consciousness to comprehend the sublime truths which he also expressed in poetry:

Revelation

No more my heart shall sob or grieve.
My days and nights dissolve in God’s own Light.
Above the toil of life, my soul
Is a Bird of Fire winging the Infinite.

I have known the One and His secret Play,
And passed beyond the sea of Ignorance-Dream.
In tune with Him, I sport and sing;
I own the golden Eye of the Supreme.

Drunk deep of Immortality,
I am the root and boughs of a teeming vast.
My Form I have known and realised.
The Supreme and I are one; all we outlast.

— Sri Chinmoy, from My Flute

A very happy 85th birthday to Sri Chinmoy, whose legacy continues on after his physical death.

sri-chinmoy-animated-gif2


Sidebar 1: Sayings of Sri Chinmoy and other artists

Sri Chinmoy sometimes preferred giving concerts, art exhibitions, or live demonstrations of painting to giving talks on spiritual philosophy; and I suspect this is related to the ability of art and music to bypass our ordinary, prosaic thinking and create a sacred space which gives rise to poetical perceptions.

Renaissance artists like Da Vinci and Michelangelo believed that to create a Divine work of art, they first had to transform their human minds into the Divine Mind. Then the Divine Mind would shape the clay, chip away at the stone, or place the ideal colours on the canvas to create a Divine work of art. Sri Chinmoy offers a similar theory of poetry:

“In order to write a poem, the poet must transport himself to the sphere of the Muse and lose himself there. He has to be like a flame that burns away everything but itself.”

Henri Matisse said:

“I don’t know whether I believe in God or not. I think, really, I’m some sort of Buddhist. But the essential thing is to put oneself in a frame of mind which is close to that of prayer.”

Sri Chinmoy said:

“If my paintings are beautiful, then it is because I am trying to keep my heart always beautiful. My paintings are the outer expression of my heart’s prayer-beauty.”

Sri Chinmoy, July 2006, Kamakura, Japan. Shortly before his 75th birthday, 75 of his acrylics on paper were exhibited at the Kōtoku-in Buddhist Temple. See http://www.tokyoartbeat.com/event/2006/1FB7.en

Sri Chinmoy, July 2006, Kamakura, Japan. Shortly before his 75th birthday, 75 of his acrylics on paper were exhibited at the Kōtoku-in Buddhist Temple. See http://www.tokyoartbeat.com/event/2006/1FB7.en

He grew up in an ashram setting where music-making was a natural activity in which everyone could participate according to his skill. The subtext of his free concerts is let us discover together. His heart is in the audience, for the audience; and the audience gets the most joy from opening their hearts to his many modes of musical expression — discovering along with him. He says similarly of art:

“Most of the time when I paint I get a kind of inner joy and a kind of inner discovery. When I paint, I discover something which I did not know before.”

Claude Monet says:

“Every day I discover more and more beautiful things.”

Henry Ward Beecher says:

“Every artist dips his brush in his own soul, and paints his own nature into his pictures.”

Albert Einstein says:

“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed.”

Sri Chinmoy says:

“God the Musician is divinely and eternally mysterious. Man the musician is humanly and temporarily marvellous.”

The reader may observe that I speak of Sri Chinmoy’s music, art and poetry somewhat interchangeably. I do not do so out of carelessness, but because they are intimately connected. When one enters into Sri Chinmoy’s sacred space, one finds bird forms, bird references, and bird imagery everywhere. He sometimes opened concerts by playing the dove ocarina — a flutelike instrument in the shape of a dove. His was blue ceramic.

There’s a distinction between the subject/object distance sometimes found in European art music, and the communal experience of music growing out of the Vaishnava tradition and the Indian music schools. One way of understanding the more communal view comes via the concept of “Trilok,” explained here by Brooklyn-based arts organization Trilok Fusion:

Trilok in Sanskrit means three worlds. In Indian mythology the three worlds are heaven, earth, and the world beneath the ocean. As artists we consider the three worlds to be the world of the performer, the audience, and that abstract space where the performer and the audience meet to achieve a sense of harmony.

Here again, the concept of the sacred space — which is not a static space, but an active environment where learning and growing takes place.

One imagines that when Plato taught the “Metaphor of the Cave” to students, he did not ask them to copy it by rote, but rather opened up a sacred space in which their minds might grasp the possibility of life beyond the cave.

Peace Park, Hiroshima is a sacred space. It’s also a counter-situation made by artists. Marshall McLuhan quotes early twentieth century metaphysician and curator A. K. Coomaraswamy: “We are proud of our museums where we display a way of living that we have made impossible.”

As the world is ravaged by war, peace becomes something we find in the museum. In the age of the electric, outside and inside disappear. The global community of artists and seekers dedicated to peace becomes a museum without walls. We bring Peace Park home with us, cleverly hidden somehwere near our aorta, unattested to by customs declarations. We recreate it where we are.

Someone once inquired of a Far Eastern Zen master, who had a great serenity and peace about him no matter what pressures he faced, “How do you maintain that serenity and peace?” He replied, “I never leave my place of meditation.” He meditated early in the morning and for the rest of the day, he carried the peace of those moments with him in his mind and heart.

— Stephen R. Covey, from The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

sri-chinmoy-blue-bird-august-2003


Sidebar 2: Paul Jenkins and Sri Chinmoy

Paul Jenkins and Sri Chinmoy, 1975

There are many ways of understanding Sri Chinmoy’s art, not least of which is to approach it directly, or to encounter it in its natural habitat — that is to say, the sacred space. But for those who prefer a more traditional art history approach, once can begin to understand some facets of Sri Chinmoy’s art via Paul Jenkins.

Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton recently quoted a Mexican proverb which says: “Tell me with whom you walk, and I will tell you who you are.” Those who walked with Sri Chinmoy were often fellow poets, musicians, and artists who shared an interest in meditation and Eastern philosophy.

One of these was Paul Jenkins (1923-2012), the American abstract expressionist painter, who studied with Sri Chinmoy in the 1970s, and appears in two short films about Sri Chinmoy from the period. In one, he discusses Sri Chinmoy’s painting; in the other, he talks more about Sri Chinmoy and meditation, as well as demonstrating his own style of painting at the time, which was a type of action painting (or pouring) guided by meditation.

In 1973, Jenkins created Sri Chinmoy, a silkscreen which uses a photo of the guru as its core element, to which Jenkins adds patches of super-saturated colour:

Sri Chinmoy, by Paul Jenkins (1973)

Sri Chinmoy, by Paul Jenkins (1973)

One could draw arrows (albeit disjointed arrows) from Jackson Pollock, to Paul Jenkins, to Sri Chinmoy. Yet, Pollock and Chinmoy represent polar opposites whose approach to abstract expressionism differs greatly in both philosophy and practice.

Pollock was an innovator, but also a volatile personality who struggled with alcoholism and tragically died in a car accident in 1956 at age 44. There’s a sense in which he broke painting wide open in the late 1940s and early 50s, but his style of “action painting” could be difficult to control, and by its nature did not offer an obvious route to further development. In some ways Pollock’s style was a violent reaction to conformism in the era of the gray flannel suit.

Paul Jenkins befriended Pollock and learned from him; but Jenkins was of different temperament. He gradually came to explore the connection between meditation, movement, and painting. He relished freedom and the chance meeting of paints on canvas; but unlike Pollock, Jenkins preferred to paint in smooth, flowing motions, acting from a calm, meditative center and guiding the flow of poured paint with his cherished ivory knife.

Sri Chinmoy was not explicitly an action painter, since he did not typically drip, pour or splatter paint. Yet, he often worked with tremendous speed, completing even large works in one concentrated painting session with not a single misstep or erasure. The significance of this approach is given in a quote from Helen Frankenthaler:

A really good picture looks as if it’s happened at once. It’s an immediate image. For my own work, when a picture looks labored and overworked, and you can read in it — well, she did this and then she did that, and then she did that — there is something in it that has not got to do with beautiful art to me. And I usually throw these out, though I think very often it takes ten of those over-labored efforts to produce one really beautiful wrist motion that is synchronized with your head and heart, and you have it, and therefore it looks as if it were born in a minute.

As a meditation master, Sri Chinmoy is king of the beautiful wrist motion synchronized to head and heart. This shines through in both his abstracts and his more calligraphic bird drawings. The latter were also done with great rapidity, so that what we see especially toward the end of his life are great clouds of birds or bird gestures, drawn with such fluidity and rapidity of motion that they seem ready to fly off the canvas.

Soul-Bird drawing by Sri Chinmoy, January 1, 2006 No. 5, courtesy http://daily.srichinmoyart.com/2016/03/06/bird-drawing-by-sri-chinmoy-1-1-2006-5/

Soul-Bird drawing by Sri Chinmoy, January 1, 2006 No. 5, courtesy http://daily.srichinmoyart.com/2016/03/06/bird-drawing-by-sri-chinmoy-1-1-2006-5/

Returning to the earlier referenced 1985 acrylic, we can say that on a local level Sri Chinmoy uses techniques similar to those of action painters to achieve fortuitous collisions of colour and texture, and to create a sense of driving energy and synthesis. Yet, looking at the painting as a whole, it’s not a collision or explosion, but rather reflects a calm guiding hand.

In Sri Chinmoy’s abstract expressionism we find a tremendous outpouring of emotion, but never any violence. He is not obsessed with filling the canvas to maximum density through collision, but with orchestrating local areas of chaos into a symphonic whole. There is movement but also stillness; density but also space. Comparing details of his 1985 acrylic with Paul Jenkins’s Untitled I (1983), we can see similarities in the broad gestural brushstrokes and areas of textured paint.

Two details from a Sri Chinmoy acrylic, November 19, 1985

Two details from a Sri Chinmoy acrylic, November 19, 1985

Untitled I (1983) by Paul Jenkins

Untitled I (1983), by Paul Jenkins

Western civilization has tended to progress through violent trends and counter-trends. The artist is often expected to be a rebel who explicitly sets himself in opposition to society and flouts even its most basic conventions and requirements.

Yet, in much of Asia art is understood to be a natural part of life, as is spirituality. The spiritual artist need not act out a stereotypical role as rebel. His goal is not to destroy society, but to gradually transform and enlighten it.

In recent centuries, one division in Western thought has been that between the intellectual and the spiritual. The art world is not unaffected by this division. Because Sri Chinmoy is a spiritual artist who values spontaneous expression of the heart, his work may seem less accessible to those critics for whom art is primarily an intellectual pursuit (and a secular one at that). This may contribute to the view that Sri Chinmoy is a non-mainstream artist.

But Sri Chinmoy did what artists do: He continued to devote a huge portion of his time to painting over a period of decades, produced an astounding number of works which reflect his unique vision, and gathered a community around him which is eager to see his work in galleries and contemplate its meaning. Sri Chinmoy also taught: not painting, but meditation and philosophy of art. Here Paul Jenkins explains what he takes from Sri Chinmoy:

(If the embedded video doesn’t play, view on DailyMotion here.)

The art world has its trends, such as secularism. None of the articles I’ve read about Paul Jenkins mention his studies with Sri Chinmoy or the 1973 silkscreen. But these things clearly exist, and have their own life and meaning apart from what anyone says (or fails to say) about them. The same is true of Sri Chinmoy. As a spiritual artist, he may sometimes be marginalized by segments of the secular art world, but this in no way detracts from the value of his work, of which Edith Montlack said:

As an artist, I do admire very deeply his sense of colour, the rhythm in his strokes, his lovely compositions, the sunny light that emanates from his canvases. I feel that his art has a tremendous way of inspiring and uplifting the viewer. So from that point of view I do feel that his art is extremely important in this twentieth century. And I think it will leave a very great mark in the world of art for the future.

As trends shift over the centuries, I believe Sri Chinmoy’s work will be rediscovered at a time when society has found a more beneficial balance between the secular and the spiritual. Future generations who are more keenly aware of the significance of spiritual art (and the genius of simplicity) will treasure that which some of Sri Chinmoy’s contemporaries have passed over far too quickly.

In the meantime, those who appreciate spiritual art today will continue to bask in Sri Chinmoy’s glorious achievements.

A bird painting by Sri Chinmoy from 1975

Michael Howard


Special thanks to Kedar Misani, without whose videos and photos of Sri Chinmoy’s artwork this article would not have been possible. Visit Kedar’s YouTube page here.

Profuse thanks also to Priyadarshan Bontempi, chief curator of SriChinmoyLibrary.com, which houses an extraordinary collection of Sri Chinmoy’s writings, as well as a growing number of book covers. Visit Sri Chinmoy Library and you’ll always discover something new!

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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?”

Their immediate answer would be, “To depend on the Master — on God.” But in their day-to-day activities they always wanted the Master to depend on them in every way, and they did not want to be dependent on him at all. For everything the Master needed, they expected him to call on them for help, but they did not give their Master the joy of having them depend on him. This way it went on for many years.

One day the Master had to scold his disciples. He said, “If you feel that it is impossible for you to accept help from your Master in the physical world, then how do you expect spiritual help from him?”

The disciples said, “Well, peace, light, and power — these things we can expect from you, Master. But other help, material help, help in the physical world, we cannot expect.”

“Then why should I take help from you?” the Master asked. “Why should I be indebted to you? You give me money, you bring me fruits, you offer me a few earthly objects. Do you not feel that in this way you are consciously or unconsciously, directly or indirectly, binding me? If you feel that by giving you my earthly assistance and concern I am binding you, then I can also say that you people are binding me with your material help. But this is totally wrong. What I have to give, I will give. What you have to give, you will give.”

Still they didn’t listen to him. One day the Master invited thirteen of his most dedicated, devoted disciples, and said to them, “I will now tell you something most private and important.”

The disciples were delighted that their Master had something to tell them. Then he started pointing them out, one by one, and appreciating all their good qualities. “You are so nice, so kind, so divine. That is why you have so many friends, so many admirers. The whole world will one day appreciate you because you are so divine. The whole world wants you and needs you.” In this way he appreciated twelve of the disciples, saying that they were very great in every way. He told them that they had wonderful magnanimous hearts, and that their souls were extremely developed. All kinds of appreciation he offered to twelve of his disciples. The disciples were bloated with pride.

But the Master did not at all appreciate the thirteenth one. This disciple said inwardly, “I am sure that there is a reason why the Master is not saying anything about me. I know that if he ignores me deliberately, it is all for my good. My Master would never consciously try to hurt me.”

Finally the Master said to the twelve disciples, “There are hundreds of people on earth to appreciate you, and whose appreciation you will be happy to hear. Now I wish to say that this thirteenth disciple of mine has nobody but me. He knows this truth; he feels this truth; he lives this truth.

“You people have the world; you have lots of things. Today if I leave you, you will continue your life, because you have many helpers, many admirers, and many flatterers. With their help, appreciation, and admiration you will be able to live on earth. But this disciple has nobody but me. If I die, then he is dead all at once. Now, according to me, the one who is entirely dependent on the Master is by far the best. He also has many good qualities, but one good quality surpasses all his other good qualities. He feels that I am his own, his only, and that for everything he has to be dependent on me alone. You have many, and many have you. But he cares for and needs nobody but me. That is why he is my very own. Without me he is helpless and hopeless in every way. You people are not helpless without me. You can go on with your lives without me, but he can’t. His whole consciousness is focused only on me. Without me he does not exist.

“If a disciple depends entirely on the Master for everything on earth and in heaven, then the Master claims that disciple as his very own. Others may get peace, light, and bliss through their own meditation, their own spiritual life. They may be admired, appreciated, and even adored by many people. But they won’t be able to have the deepest intimacy with the Master. This kind of disciple who has nothing and nobody, on earth or in heaven, but his Master, is really the peerless jewel in the Master’s heart. He constantly aspires — aspires in every way — only to depend on the Master’s smile, the Master’s grace, the Master’s concern, the Master’s compassion. He can never be useless and lazy. Far from it. When one aspires constantly with a burning inner flame, one will grow into ceaseless love, dedication, devotion, and surrender. Then he will feel that he is getting everything from the Master: physical help, vital help, mental help, and spiritual help. If a disciple is blessed with that kind of awareness, then the Master can be truly pleased with him. The Master feels, ‘He needs me at every step. He is doing his best, aspiring. What more can I expect from him? In his constant aspiration he knows that I am the Source; it is from me that he receives and will receive everything. He most devotedly claims me as his very own. And I proudly claim him as my very own.'”

— Sri Chinmoy, from In Search of a Perfect Disciple, Agni Press, 1972

sri-chinmoy-in-search-of-a-perfect-disciple

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.

The last movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony runs about 26 minutes in human time. But within that time, worlds within worlds open up for the listener, and the experience of infinity becomes immanent, palpable.

Gustav Holst, in the closing strains of his orchestral suite The Planets, was likewise able to convey a sense of countless years in the life of the planet Neptune.

In his poems, Sri Chinmoy often speaks of infinity, and of endless days with “no dole, no sombre pang, no death in my sight.” He writes:

At last I know my age.
My age is Infinity’s page.1

and

Above the toil of life my soul
Is a Bird of Fire winging the Infinite.2

He also writes:

Birds have a very special significance; they embody freedom. We see a bird flying in the sky, and it reminds us of our own inner freedom. Inside each of us there is an inner existence we call the soul. The soul, like a bird, flies in the sky of Infinity. The birds we see flying in the sky remind us of our own soul-bird flying in the sky of Infinity. While looking at the birds, feel that you yourself are a bird; you are your soul-bird flying in the sky of infinite Light, infinite Peace and infinite Bliss.3

A bird painting by Sri Chinmoy from 1975

A bird painting by Sri Chinmoy from 1975

This connection between birds, flight, and infinity is a pervasive feature of Sri Chinmoy’s artistic oeuvre. It’s also present in his music — particularly his piano and organ improvisations which are filled with a maelstrom of notes that would be nearly impossible to transcribe, and which call forth a sonic impression of infinity.

Yet, we may fail to notice infinity in his bird paintings and drawings due to the inherent limitations of the formats in which they are presented. On the Internet, we may see a few of his works, or perhaps a short video showcasing more still. And while such presentations may communicate both spiritual and decorative elements, they stop short of communicating the conceptual nature of his art.

It’s one thing to draw a few birds; it’s quite another to draw literally millions of them, so that they remain (for all intent and purposes) countless. Only when one sees those rare gallery exhibits where there are thousands of his soul-birds on display on multiple levels does one begin to get a sense of how vast his vision was, and how deeply he believed in the essential message which underlies all such paintings and drawings: Life is beautiful! If it isn’t, put a bird on it!

 

 

Sri Chinmoy traveled widely and often used native materials in his art. His Oslo exhibit displays a riot of iridescent colour, while the one in Kagoshima reflects a more sparse, calligraphic style, well-suited to zen meditation:

 

In Bali, he amassed an amazing collection of objects on which to draw, including a cheap knockoff Charlie Brown & Snoopy clock:

Sri Chinmoy draws on Charlie Brown & Snoopy clock. Photo by Kedar Misani.

Sri Chinmoy draws on a Charlie Brown & Snoopy clock. Photo by Kedar Misani.

Here are a few more videos which hint at the countlessness, vastness, and infinitude of Sri Chinmoy’s art:

 

 

It’s clear from these videos that though Sri Chinmoy created countless paintings and drawings, he did not do so mechanically but from a state of rapt creative attention, investing himself fully in each brushstroke.

sri-chinmoy-animated-brushstrokes

Collector Robert Scull (1916-1986), interviewed in 1975 at the Jharna-Kala Gallery on Mercer Street, said: “It’s an incredible output, and I think that that amount of paintings done in two months must be coming from a deep autobiographical well of images and feelings.”

sri-chinmoy-jharna-kala-painting-1_v2Artist Paul Jenkins (1923-2012), interviewed on the same occasion, said: “The abundance! Yes, there are many watercolors, but what’s here is an abundance of color, abundance of images, abundance of things that come through your mind when you meditate. And I don’t look at them with a tough eye, say like an artist art critic. I look at them for what they are: for his joy.”

sri-chinmoy-blue-crayon_v2

In presenting Sri Chinmoy with an award from Manhattan’s School of Visual Arts in June 1976, the late Brian F. Gormley described his work as “art cleansed of all the ambitions and desires that we too often see in the art world.”

sri-chinmoy-soul-birds-20-1-2006-2Sri Chinmoy died in October 2007, and a few years later the comedy series Portlandia created a stir with its “Put a Bird on It!” sketch, gently satirizing the artistic spirit informing some good Portlanders. That concept re-echoed through the blogosphere in March 2016 when a Portland rally for presidential candidate Bernie Sanders was unexpectedly visited by a “sparrow to believe in”:

 

But Sri Chinmoy was the original put-a-bird-on-it guy:

sri-chinmoy-soul-bird-objects-1He really did it and meant it and lived it, and one of his talks is rumoured to have received a similar (benign) avian visitation.

During a peace ceremony in Malta in 1991, he released doves into the air as a symbol of the commitment to world peace made by the leaders assembled on that day:

In his concerts, he performed on an ever-changing variety of instruments, including the dove ocarina. Sumangali Morhall describes a concert she attended in September 2005:

The maestro arrives, and the hush finds new depths. The opening meditation is a silent overture, creating most seemly and serene environs for new sounds to take flight.

The blue ceramic dove is first as always, like a sweet ethereal invitation to another realm, then the esraj with its seamless husky call; one note yearning for the next. A western flute somehow echoes in a bass octave, doubling its mellow melting warmth, yet still mirroring the surrounding silence. A dance of strings: the curled smiling sunny tones of the sitar follow those of smaller things responding brightly to Sri Chinmoy’s touch.

Delight is not just in the sounds themselves, but also in the physical beauty of each instrument, and in the grace with which they are handled to draw forth their truest, sweetest, and most powerful voices. Sri Chinmoy’s image on the screen portrays the depth of meditation holding the source of every note. How haunting the harmonium; the notes hanging as backdrops in the air, and then Sri Chinmoy sings… I feel only heart then; one vast affirmative in that striking yet mellifluous flow of sound and expression.

— Sumangali Morhall, “Sri Chinmoy’s World Harmony Concert, Hamburg”

Although it’s possible to count the numerous concerts Sri Chinmoy gave over a lifetime of service, these concerts were made up of countless spiritual moments in the lives of seekers — experiences which are recorded on the tablet of their hearts. As striking as were Sri Chinmoy’s outer achievements, they are nothing compared to his inner achievements, which can never be quantified.

Sri Chinmoy holding a white dove (from SriChinmoyPhoto.com)

Sri Chinmoy holding a white dove (from SriChinmoyPhoto.com)

When we think of infinity, we tend to be overwhelmed and not to think of beauty in the same breath. But in Sri Chinmoy’s song “O Beauty-Infinity” (here performed by Blue Flower), these two qualities go together:

Sri Chinmoy taught that God is infinite; but perhaps more important to the many persons of artistic temperament who gathered around him, he taught that God is “beautiful, more beautiful, most beautiful. Beauty unparalleled in the garden of Eden.”4

In the inner world, beauty and infinity make two most charming companions.

Michael Howard


Special thanks to Kedar Misani of Switzerland, who has posted many excellent photos and videos of Sri Chinmoy online. Visit his YouTube page here.

References:

1Sri Chinmoy, “My Name, My Age, My Home” from My Flute, Aum Classics, 1998 (1972)
2Sri Chinmoy, “Revelation” from My Flute, as above
3Sri Chinmoy, from Sri Chinmoy Answers, Part 36, Agni Press, 2004
4Sri Chinmoy, “O My Lord of Beauty” from My Flute, as above

Other items you may enjoy:

“A Magnificent Obsession” by Dr. Vidagdha Bennett
http://www.srichinmoy-reflections.com/magnificent-obsession

“The Strange Birds of Ottawa” by Chidananda Burke
http://www.srichinmoy-reflections.com/birds-of-ottawa

“Spiritual leader draws seven million Peace Birds” by Julie Gunther
(updated link to follow)

“United Nations Displays Sri Chinmoy’s Paintings” – Newsweek
http://www.newsweek.com/united-nations-displays-sri-chinmoys-paintings-88321

1975 Documentary on Sri Chinmoy’s Painting and Philosophy of Art
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6KqmG8eOraw&rel=0

“Bird Imagery in Secular and Sacred Music” (group discussion)
http://www.srichinmoyinspiration.com/forums/10652

sri-chinmoy-soul-bird-objects-2

* * *

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?”

“When you think of yourself, you think of all your anxieties and worries. You think that your life consists of what you have to do, whom you have to speak to, what you have seen and so forth. But in the Eye of the Supreme, that is not your life at all. Your life is your receptivity — how much you are capable of receiving His Love, Peace and Delight.

“One of my disciples said to me the other day, ‘I can believe that you love me and I love you, but when you say that you love us more than we love ourselves, is it not just something nice that you are telling us?’ Then a few days later that disciple had a dream and in this dream he saw that with all the incidents in his life, with all that he had done and achieved, he had built a house. But gradually, gradually this house began to crumble; everything fell away from him and he saw how meaningless all these incidents were. He felt totally lost. But then he saw me standing there with my love for him. Only when he had become totally one with me and I had become totally one with him did he feel any joy, peace or fulfilment.

“Everyone feels that his life is made of these incidents — his daily routine — but I wish to say that these things are merely experiences that we have while we are living on earth. In order to live in God something else is necessary. In order to live in God, we have to know how much love we can receive, how much light we can receive from the Supreme.”

“But Master,” said the disciple, “I still don’t understand exactly why you can love me more than I love myself. I’m sorry. I know you do, but I’m not sure exactly how.”

“My son, the reason is this. You see yourself as a human being, full of ignorance. So when you think of yourself, you think of ignorance. You do not see yourself as another God; you see yourself as a half-animal. When you are insincere you think you know everything and when you try to be sincere, you think that you are full of ignorance. But you should know that what God is, you also are. Only when you are in your absolutely highest consciousness do you think of yourself as a chosen instrument of God. This knowledge of who you really are is what you are now crying for. I love you constantly and infinitely because I always know who you are. I know you not only as an instrument of the Supreme, but as the Supreme Himself. There are times when I am looking at you and the other disciples when I am not seeing the Supreme in you; I am seeing the Supreme Himself. You won’t believe it, but I see you not as a human being with the Supreme inside you, but as nothing other than the Supreme. I see this with my human eyes, without even using my third eye.

“I love the Supreme, who is your real reality, infinitely more than you can love the human being you consider yourself to be. So if I see you as the Supreme, how can I not love you, as I love myself — not as a human being but as I see myself through my realisation — as the Supreme? You may think that you are your problems, that you are the details of your life, and so you cannot love yourself most devotedly. You will be able to love yourself only when you are in your highest, when you feel my presence inside your heart. But I am loving you constantly. Here is the proof. Most of the time you are thinking of something else — your job, your wife, your children — but I am constantly thinking of you. You think you are loving yourself — your family, all that is your life — but your attention is divided. Always you are thinking of other things. But my attention is never divided. It is constant love for you.”

The disciple had now totally forgotten his pain. “Master,” he asked, “does the secret of being conscious of this love lie in gratitude?”

“Yes, absolutely. But the unfortunate thing is that our human mind feels that gratitude is something inferior. We feel that when we offer gratitude to God, because He offered us something first, we are doing something inferior. If someone has done something for us, naturally we will show him our gratitude, but we feel that the power of gratitude is inferior to the power of giving.

“But God sees Himself and us as one. He feels that He is giving what He has — Love and Compassion — and we are giving what we have — gratitude. Our power of gratitude is every bit as strong as His Light and Love-power, but we feel that it is inferior because He offers us His Light and Love first. In the beginning of the Game, He gave us what He wanted to give us, which is gratitude, and He kept for Himself His Light. Now, the Role He has is to offer us Light and our role is to offer Him gratitude. He is playing His Role, but we are not playing our role. Now, if we return to Him what He has given us, we are playing our role and if He offers to us what He has kept for Himself, then He is playing His Role. Our role is in no way inferior to His Role. When He is giving us His Light and we are giving Him our gratitude, then only can we manifest.

“When you feel gratitude, feel that a flower, a lotus or a rose, is blooming inside of you, petal by petal. And when you feel tremendous gratitude, then feel that the flower has totally blossomed.”

“Master,” said the disciple, “I am deeply grateful for this experience that I have had, even though it was a hostile attack, for I have learned and received so much from you in and through this experience. I know now that your love-power is the only thing on earth that can totally fulfil me and I pray that one day my gratitude-flower will totally fulfil you.”

— Sri Chinmoy, from Love-power and gratitude-flower, Agni Press, 1975

Sri Chinmoy

Sri Chinmoy

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.

He was active in a number of fields: meditation, music, poetry, art, athletics, humanitarianism, and peace studies. Another challenge is to explain how these diverse activities fit together within the larger context of his teachings. This is an area where an emic account can hopefully shine.

Beginning from any facet of Sri Chinmoy’s artistic output, one may gradually experience a “worlds-within-worlds” quality similar to late period Beethoven. A friend once told me a story about a man who was visiting the U.S. from a foreign country. He stopped by Sri Chinmoy Centre to learn more. He was very inspired, but as the day wore on he became a bit bewildered because there was always more about Sri Chinmoy to take in. “You mean he paints too?” is the quote that stuck in my mind. 🙂

Sri Chinmoy painting

Sri Chinmoy painting one of his Jharna-Kala (“Fountain-Art”) abstracts

If you’re interested in an encyclopedia style article which tries to pack Sri Chinmoy’s worlds-within-worlds quality into something you can read in a few minutes, then check out this PDF:

Sri Chinmoy Community Article
https://ethicsandspirituality.files.wordpress.com/2016/01/sri-chinmoy-community-article-53.pdf

Disclaimer: I was one of the contributors to the article. 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.

Immediately the disciples made arrangements at many places. They put advertisements in the newspapers, put up posters everywhere to announce that their Master was going to give talks once again and hold high meditations for the public. The Master went to these places with some of his favourite disciples, who were most devoted and dedicated, and hundreds of people gathered together to listen to the Master and have their questions answered. But to everyone’s wide surprise, the Master would not talk at all. From the beginning to the end of the meeting, for two hours, he would maintain silence.

Some of the seekers in the audiences were annoyed. They said that it was written in the newspaper and in the posters that the Master would give a short talk and answer questions as well as hold a meditation. “How was it that he did not speak at all?” they asked. “He is a liar,” said many, and they got disgusted and left the meetings early. Others remained for the whole two hours with the hope that perhaps the Master would speak at the end, but he closed the meditations without saying anything. Some of the people in the audiences felt inner joy. Some stayed only because they were afraid that if they left early others would think that they were not spiritual, and that they could not meditate at all. So some left, some stayed with great reluctance, some stayed in order to prove themselves to others and very few stayed with utmost sincerity, devotion and inner cry.

It went on for three or four years this way. There were many who criticised the Master mercilessly and embarrassed the disciples, saying, “Your Master is a liar. How do you people justify putting an advertisement in the paper that your Master is going to give a talk, answer questions and hold meditation? He only holds meditation, and we don’t learn anything from it. Who can meditate for two or three hours? He is fooling us, and he is fooling himself.”

Some of the close disciples were very disturbed. They felt miserable that their Master was being insulted and criticised. They pleaded with their Master again and again to give just a short talk and to answer a few questions at the end of the meditation. The Master finally agreed.

Now on the next occasion, the Master did not actually forget, but he changed his mind. He went on meditating, and this time instead of two hours, he conducted meditation for four hours. Even his close disciples were sad. They could not get angry with their Master, for it is a serious karmic mistake to get angry with the Master. But they were afraid that someone from the audience would actually stand up and insult the Master. In their minds they prepared themselves to protect their Master in case some calamity took place.

When four hours had passed and there was no sign that the Master would either talk or close the meeting, one of the very close disciples stood up and said, “Master, please do not forget your promise.”

The Master immediately said, “My promise. Yes, I have made a promise to you people, so now it is my bounden duty to give a talk. Today my talk will be very short. I wish to say that I have given hundreds of talks, thousands of talks. But who heard my talks? Thousands of ears and thousands of eyes. My students were the ears and the eyes of the audience — thousands and thousands of ears and eyes. But I have failed to teach them anything. Now I want to have a different type of student. My new students will be hearts.

“I have offered messages at thousands of places. These messages entered into one ear and passed out through the other, all in the briefest possible moment. And people saw me giving talks and answering questions. Just for a fleeting second their eyes glimpsed something in me and then it was totally lost. While I was speaking about sublime Truth, Peace, Light and Bliss, the ears could not receive it because the ears were already full of rumour, doubt, jealousy, insecurity and impurity which had accumulated over many years. The ears were totally polluted and did not receive my message. And the eyes did not receive my Truth, Peace, Light and Bliss because the eyes saw everything in their own way. When the human eyes see something beautiful, they immediately start comparing. They say, ‘How is it that he is beautiful, his speech is beautiful, his questions and answers are beautiful? How is it that I cannot be the same?’ And immediately jealousy enters. The human ear and the human eye both respond through jealousy. If the ear hears something good about somebody else, immediately jealousy enters. If the eye sees somebody else who is beautiful, immediately the person becomes jealous.

“The ears and the eyes have played their role. They have proved to be undivine students, and I could not teach them. Their progress has been most unsatisfactory. Now I want new students and I have new students. These students are the hearts, where oneness will grow — oneness with Truth, oneness with Light, oneness with inner beauty, oneness with what God has and what God is. It is the heart-student that has the capacity to identify itself with the Master’s Wisdom, Light and Bliss. And when it identifies itself with the Master, it discovers its own reality: Infinite Truth, Peace, Light and Bliss. The heart is the real listener; the heart is the real observer; the heart is the real student who becomes one with the Master, with the Master’s realisation, with the Master’s vision and with the Master’s eternal light. From now on, the heart will be my only student.”

— Sri Chinmoy, from The ascent and the descent of the disciples, Agni Press, 1974

Sri Chinmoy

Sri Chinmoy