Salvation – a short film exploring NYC snowscapes

Now released on YouTube

Although I made brief mention of it in a post on Storm Emma and the Meaning of Snow, I’d like to officially announce the YouTube release of my short film Salvation:

While I’m only an amateur videographer, and the means brought to bear for Salvation are exceedingly modest, I can nevertheless point out a few things about the film.

It first and foremost uses the language of visual images, sound, and music to say what it wants to say.

Though my primary purpose was artistic, it does call attention to the plight of New York City carriage horses, who work in all kinds of harsh conditions (including snowstorms).

The film begins by showing a dense crush of passersby on a midtown Manhattan street during a blizzard. We hear the tinkling of a bell, and as the crowd thins out, we see that the sound is coming from an African-American Salvation Army worker with a collection box to which no one seems to be contributing.

The next sequence is of Pomona, the Goddess of Plenty, who stands atop the Pulitzer Fountain there in Manhattan’s Grand Army Plaza. Like the Salvation Army worker, she looks cold, forlorn, and forgotten in the snow. We can still hear the bell tinkling faintly in the distance.

The third sequence shows carriage horses; and just as we saw clouds of steam coming from the nostrils of the Salavation Army worker, we likewise see clouds of steam coming from these equine nostrils, and hear the metal clink of their fittings. One horse hollows out the snow around its front hooves to push back the cold.

In the middle of the carriage horse sequence we cut away to Nike, the Goddess of Victory, as she appears high up in a gilded-bronze sculpture by Augustus Saint-Gaudens depicting William Tecumseh Sherman.

The fourth sequence begins with a brief shot of two men fencing indoors during the same blizzard, adjoining tall picture windows from which we can still see the snow falling. We hear the metal clink of blade on blade, but the men are tethered to body cords (as is the custom in sport fencing), just as the horses are tethered to their carriages. We cut briefly to more shots of the Goddess of Victory, and then to the final sequence, which is vintage footage of black stallions running free in an open field in the midst of a snowstorm. (This less than 30 seconds of film is adapted from the BBC documentary The Big Freeze about Britain’s harsh winter of 1963.)

After completing the final edit, for those who might ponder the meaning I offered these words:

What does salvation mean to a man? To an angel? To a horse? Is snow the great equalizer?

About the music

From 30 seconds into the film until the end, we hear the music of spiritual master Sri Chinmoy arranged and performed by the duet Silence and Sound, consisting of Kushali Tarantsova (violin, vocals) and Rageshri Muzychenko (keyboard, vocals). The song is “Param Pitar Charan Duti Barai Madhumoy” from their 2006 CD Playing My Heart-Violin, recorded and mixed in Kiev, Ukraine and released on the JRC label.

I’m so happy with their music, which could not be more perfect if they had produced it specially for the video (they did not).

Sri Chinmoy wrote thousands of songs, mainly in Bengali and English. Ten years after his death, not all of them have been translated or made readily available — though many have, due to the diligent work of his students.

This song is one of 150 from the 2002 songbook Bahir Jagate, Part 1. Most of these have not been translated, but the Bengali reads:

Param pitar charan duti barai madhumoy
Param pitar dibya ankhi asim kripamoy

To aid us, here are some Bengali words and phrases with their English equivalents:

param pitar – Supreme Father or Absolute Lord
charan – feet
barai – great, intense, or deeply
madhumoy – sweet or blissful
dibya – divine
ankhi asim – infinite Eye
kripamoy – compassion

So we can guess that this is a mantra invoking the Father Supreme, taking refuge at His feet of intense bliss, and His divine, infinite Eye of Compassion.

Sri Chinmoy wrote this song on December 26, 2001. Many of his “param pita” songs written during the Christmas period are Christ songs. Indeed, there is a whole book of them from 1990 called Jesus the Seeker, Christ the Saviour with a mix of English and Bengali entries.

If the recording I chose for Salvation is plaintive or even sad as rendered by Kushali and Rageshri, this need not be true of other “param pita” songs. Sri Chinmoy’s students organize Songs of the Soul concerts around the world. While visiting Mongolia in 2017, Pavaka and Nelson recorded this sunny version of “He Param Pita Bishwa Bidhata Ami,” accompanied by a beautiful HD video in which horses also figure prominently:

It’s so good I want you to see it, even though it puts my video to shame. (In fairness, mine is based on analog footage shot in 1995, when Hi-8 was thought a fairly good “prosumer” format.)

Here’s a medley of two more “He Param Pita” songs by Sri Chinmoy:

The titles are “He Param Pita He Param Pita Ami Je” and “He Param Pita He Param Pita Dharar.” (A quick search reveals about three dozen such songs to his credit). These two are performed in monastic style by an unnamed group, though it could be Oneness-Dream, which in 2016 toured churches in Ireland performing Sri Chinmoy’s songs in a manner like to Gregorian chant:


So how does all this relate to the concept of salvation? Well, people use the word in different ways. To truly achieve salvation (from ignorance, bondage, and death) is an extraordinary achievement. I cannot claim any such thing. But in the small, human sense of what salvation means — or perhaps in the sense of what salvation means to a horse tethered to a carriage — I feel that knowing Sri Chinmoy has saved me from a life which would have been as dull and plodding as a workhorse’s. By his Grace I have seen and felt things beyond my imagination, and he has given me hope that I might one day at least grasp the concept of salvation, even if achieving it is presently beyond me. I gratefully dedicate the film Salvation to Sri Chinmoy, who inhabits my dreams (the best ones, anyway).

Michael Howard

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

Sidebar: Sri Chinmoy’s universal teachings

For the sake of clarity, I should explain that Sri Chinmoy’s teachings are universal in nature. He embraces the Neo-Vedanta view that there is truth in each religion. He emerged from the Hindu tradition, but composed songs honouring many spiritual figures, including Sri Krishna, the Buddha, the Christ, Sri Ramakrishna, Sri Aurobindo, Mother Teresa, and many others.

Sri Chinmoy is a teacher who epitomizes vastness. This post brings out one small facet, namely his “param pita” songs. Broadly speaking, his philosophy is Eastern philosophy. (See, for example, his Eastern Light for the Western Mind.)

His path includes an emphasis on meditation on the heart.

Of Further Interest

The Sound of Music in Bengali
Jesus is Born – in a world of many faiths
Radio Sri Chinmoy – Songs Devoted to Jesus Christ
Shindhu performs “Param Pitar Charan Duti Barai Madhumoy”

Barber’s Adagio For Strings (YouTube)
Hearts and Flowers (version 1) 1908 Orchestra (YouTube)
Hearts and Flowers (version 2) Mahavishnu John McLaughlin (YouTube)
Alice in the Snow I

* * *


Storm Emma and the Meaning of Snow

I know it can be dreadfully inconvenient, but snow can also be unimaginably beautiful — a forced timeout by God which fades all our earthly scenes, earthly dramas to white.

After all, we human beings can make a dreadful hash of things, and a really good snowstorm feels like wiping the slate (or griddle) clean. In the midst of a great blizzard, one gets a feeling of Eternity — like it might never stop snowing and perhaps that would be for the best. Who ever heard of anyone starting a war in the middle of a snowstorm? Better that we should all seek comfort around a warm fire, and recognize our smallness compared to Nature — not to speak of God, of whom Nature is only a small portion.

It is best in a snowstorm — even if you are a citydweller — to locate some region of parkland, however small, where you can look on the falling snow without seeing automobiles or other signs of civilisation.

There is an individual occurrence of snow, and then there is the archetype of snow. What we want to do is move from the individual to the archetype. Everything has its essential nature, and the nature of snow is that it is holy. Believe in this, and contemplate the falling snow as it blankets even one lone tree.

When you are certain you know what snow means, then widen your gaze and take in more of the sights around you:

Wait! That is too fast! What we need is a more leisurely sojourn through the snow:

What is the meaning? You can make your own meaning. But ask yourself these questions: What does salvation mean to a man? To an angel? To a horse? Is snow the great equalizer?

In a December 1993 episode of Northern Exposure (set in the mythical town of Cicely, Alaska), radio DJ Chris in the Morning reads a fragment of an 1869 poem by John Whitaker Watson:

I can only wish all readers everywhere a (belated) Bon Hiver! as I vicariously enjoy Britain’s “inclement” weather.

Michael Howard

First Snow – Grace Ellen Morton

* * *

Alice in the Snow I

A Christmas in July video gift to my readers

There’s beauty all around us, but we sometimes need to be in the right place at the right time to see it!

Then, as aspiring artists, we try and find a way to share what we’ve seen so that the edited view communicates strongly.

It took me a surprisingly long time to get this short video of the Alice in Wonderland Statue in a snowstorm just the way I wanted. I hope you find as I do that it communicates peace, beauty, and an unseen world that seems to have its own life when no one’s looking.

The best haiku writers are said to gently eavesdrop on their subjects, so that the impression you’re left with is of the thing itself. When filming, I longed to merge with the winter scene so that there was no me anymore, and what was left was simply nature unfolding of itself, for itself.

An ambitious (and pretentious) longing — one that can only be hinted at in this short video. I actually have lots of footage of sculptures in the snow, so much so that the thought of editing it all is daunting. I once did a roughish edit (to VHS tape) that expressed some of what I would like. I remember a particular day when I spent from morning till evening filming in the snow, and Nature made such a strong impression on me that later that evening I felt as though the snow were still falling in my mind.

Time seems to expand in a really good snowstorm, and it’s wonderful to surrender to that sense of monumentality — the feeling that it has always been snowing and will always be snowing; that the amount of snow which could fall is infinite; that it might easily bury the Empire State Building or even all of civilization, leaving only whiteness.

melting snow
an old woman in black
feeds red-tailed squirrels

* * *

More About Me

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Michael Howard

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

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’s Opening Meditation at the 1993 Parliament

A silent meditation with much light in evidence!

Dateline: April 10, 2013
Source: Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions

Interfaith Reborn

The modern Parliament of the World’s Religions began twenty years ago in Chicago. A 100-year celebration of the first Parliament of the World’s Religions in 1893 became a revival for global interfaith. There and then, we declared the mission we continue today; convening global citizens of spirit and faith, connecting a network of worldwide communities, and enabling the dialogue among us to transform into action. The collective goal over these years?

A just, peaceful, and sustainable world.

Looking back to move forward this year makes now the time to revisit our roots, learn from our history, and step into our future wired for progress.

Sri Chinmoy was officially invited to hold the opening meditation at the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago on August 28, 1993.

Parliament of the World’s Religions, 1993 from Vasudeva Server on Vimeo.

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