'Concern is not a mere dictionary word'

Vijaya (centre) after her successful swim, with Alison Streeter and Kevin Murphy. Alison and Kevin are the 'Queen and King of the Channel', with the most individual female and male channel swims.

On 9 September 2007, Vijaya Claxton, a student of Sri Chinmoy from New York, became the oldest American woman to swim the English channel. This story is told by Sahana and Bahula, who were her assistants on the support boat, and Nilima, who was keeping Sri Chinmoy informed of Vijaya's progress that day.

Sahana: Vijaya made several attempts to swim the English Channel. On one occasion I was on the boat as one of her helpers. She was close to finishing, and had been swimming parallel to the French coast because she could not break through the tides and get to shore. Finally, we saw the lighthouse which signaled the end of the coast. The pilot came out and said, “Whatever you guys do—praying or singing—do it. But if she misses that lighthouse, then there’s nothing I can do. She’s in the open sea, and we’ll have to pull her out.”

I immediately called Nilima, who was at Sri Chinmoy’s house with a small gathering of disciples. Vijaya had been fighting and fighting for nearly 22 hours and now everything was very, very close. At any moment she could be thrown into the open sea. Within minutes of Sri Chinmoy’s being informed, the pilot came out and said, “I can’t believe what just happened. The current changed direction. We’re putting the dinghy out.”

'My silence is my highest offering'

In 1989 a one-mile loop around the spacious acres of the Auckland Domain was dedicated as a Sri Chinmoy Peace Mile, and our city mayor, parks authorities, and various Olympians and notables came to welcome Guru. This occasion linked Auckland to a worldwide family of over 800 locations dedicated to peace globally—parks, cities, mountains, historical sites, and places of beauty on five continents, called Sri Chinmoy Peace-Blossoms. Named after the project’s inspirer, the network of Peace-Blossoms was simply intended to provide focal points for peace in local communities.

In Auckland a blue and white plaque had been installed, offering both a measured mile for joggers and runners and providing an inspirational quotation about peace for passersby.

The brass band from a local girls’ school had also been invited to add a little colour to the occasion—unwisely, as it turned out—and they belted out a series of strangely incongruous Christmas carols, months away from Christmas and all hugely out of tune. At every apparent lull in the proceedings they would start up again, as though responding to some invisible cue—we often had to wave our arms at them to stop!

As well, one zealous player always ended her efforts with a loud protesting blast on the trombone as if someone had trodden heavily on her toes. The intensity of Guru’s presence was mixed with a comical element, as though two different worlds had confusingly come together—though Guru himself was hugely relaxed, seeming to enjoy this strange mélange.

How I learned my most important meditation-lessons

I think that I learnt all of my most important lessons in meditation by simply observing Guru, just by being there around him. “God does not expect you to be perfect. He just expects you to be available.” Yes, just being available was almost enough.

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Sri Chinmoy taught his disciples mainly through silent meditation

I tried to feel that what I saw and felt in him was also within myself. So you begin with imitation, imagining inside yourself that self-same calm, that poise, detachment, radiant peace. Then imagination becomes a slowly blossoming reality, you can feel these qualities growing inside yourself – beneath the dross of imperfections, your little divine Self remembers and stirs. Guru was a mirror – look hard and often enough and there you are, smiling back at yourself.

Guru taught us many things that are simply not found anywhere else, little secrets unique to our path. And not just taught but brought them into our consciousness as the living breath of our discipleship, drilled us over and over until each lesson had sunk in. ‘Soulfulness’ for example – where else is this found? In our singing – “Be more soulful!” In our meditations – “Please be more soulful!” Or filing slowly along in a walk-by procession – soulfulness!

To be as close as possible to the consciousness of our own soul – its sincerity, purity, humility, sweetness – and then to maintain this as long, as deeply, as often, as consciously as possible in our lives.

The gift of gratitude

My most recent experience of gratitude occurred in a spiritual dream. We were at Aspiration-Ground, the meditation garden were we all meet in New York, as a very important play was about to begin. There were a lot of disciples there, as well as quite a few guests. Guru was standing next to the guests for a photo, and the media gallery was huge, with sixty to seventy videographers and photographers.

Guru then asked me about getting into Pilgrim-Dream-Museum, the house next to Aspiration-Ground where he hosted distinguished guests. I looked up and saw that it was already open. I told Guru, who began walking up there. I was behind Guru, watching him as he moved through the crowd and noticing the surprise and devotion of people as they saw him approach.

When we arrived at Pilgrim-Dream-Museum, I was overcome with a beautiful sense of gratitude at being given the opportunity to serve Guru in this simple but important way. Guru did not go inside but just moved around, giving me time to fully immerse myself in this powerful feeling of gratitude. I awoke with tears streaming down my face, knowing that this awesome experience was gratitude.

I realised that the experience of gratitude is purely a gift. It almost seems counter-intuitive because I always thought that gratitude was something that a person offered to someone else. But no, true gratitude is a beautiful, fulfilling experience that God just gives. There seems to be very little a person can do to earn it—at least as far as I can figure out. I am just hoping that if I value it, then it will come more frequently.

On the other hand, the experience of gratitude was so powerful that I am not sure if my outer awareness could deal with it. For me, it has only fully happened either when I have been in trance (once) or in a spiritual dream (twice). In each case, it felt like I was being inundated in the blast from a fire hose—it was absolutely overwhelming.

If you have gratitude,
You must realise
That your gratitude has come
From God Himself.

Sri Chinmoy 1

'I am the marathon Guru'

In April 1982, one evening Guru inquired of those present if any of us were proposing to run in the Boston Marathon, only two days away. Nobody was. Clearly disappointed, he asked whether any of us would now do so – about a dozen of us raised our hands, myself goaded into acquiescence by my impulsive friend Simahin, and we filed past our smiling Guru on the stage. I was astonished by this sudden turn of events and amazed by my own mad act of abandonment – my first entirely unintended marathon!

The next night around 9 pm we caught Guru’s old blue bus for the overnight trip and now there we were, start time for the great Boston race, untrained, unregistered and looking for an opportunity to vault over the starting area’s picket fence without officials seeing us when the gun sounded.

We flew down the hill at a fantastic pace, trailing the greatest marathoners on the planet. I cast aside all common sense in the exhilaration of these first few crazy, high-velocity miles, impervious to all misfortune. But misfortune eventually came – and at 20 miles I remember slowing to a walk and shuffling up the aptly named Heartbreak Hill, much chastened by this first experience of ‘the wall’.

Racing down our avenue of dreams, we had felt like champions, that first thrilling mile a gauntlet of cheering, rapturous crowds – but with 42 kms of America’s countryside behind me, I limped across the line in 3:20, Simahin close behind me.

Sri Chinmoy in training

During our bus ride back to Queens, Guru asked us for stories. “I am the marathon Guru,” he said to us, half-jokingly, “and all of you will have to run at least one marathon before you go to Heaven.”

Then he told us how pleased he was with the handful of runners who had accepted his challenge and how much progress we make when we run. He added that our willingness and our cheerfulness were much more important than our timing in the race.

Simple blessings

My first significant experience with Sri Chinmoy was at the Seattle airport in 1996. I was just five years old at the time.

My sister and mother and I had gone to visit him along with a bunch of other Seattle disciples, because his itinerary brought him there for a few hours. At that time, you were allowed to go into the gate through airport security without a ticket.

At one point Sri Chinmoy had offered prasad (blessed food), and I was in the line to take some. He called me over to stand next to him and pulled my arm to have me sit next to him. We were facing a crowd of people, just the two of us. I remember the very surreal feeling of being with someone so “famous,” and how wide and vast his consciousness was. I felt it stretching out into Infinity, filling the room and the building and city and entire world. I felt like I was a little drop next to the ocean, and his infinite heart was pulling me inside. I also felt his voice in silence inside my own heart, echoing “we are the same.”

Sri Chinmoy with Antara-Prabhat, his sister and mother

At the place where his hand touched my arm, a very powerful vibration like a solid bolt of energy was tingling and electrifying my body like a conduit. In retrospect, I feel this is one of the moments he “initiated” me, or gave me a direct taste of the experience he’s having all the time. And I can say with full confidence and utmost certainty that that moment has been with me wherever I have gone, and will remain with me no matter what I do for the rest of my life!

'See, sometimes the Supreme speaks to me'

After a wonderful meditation session on Australia’s Gold Coast, Sri Chinmoy was heading towards the elevator. He saw a bunch of us boys, looked at us pointedly and said, “What, no frisbee?” Now, please understand that this is a fairly rare comment for Sri Chinmoy to make, and it seemed somewhat incongruous. However, it was also extremely welcome. What better thing to do after a beautiful meditation than to run around on the beach with your friends playing the great game of Ultimate Frisbee.

Fifteen minutes later about twelve of us were fully immersed in an intense battle of Frisbee down on the beach. As we were about to begin the next point, I saw two boys from the other team running into the surf. The next thing I saw was them carrying Kritartha, a Czech student of Sri Chinmoy, out of the ocean with quite a deep and nasty gash in his calf muscle. I ran back to the hotel and borrowed a van to take him to hospital.

I went into the function room to explain the situation to Guru. That was the first time I had ever given news like this to Guru, and it was fascinating to watch his reaction. He was very focused, and with each nuance of the situation he would take it in and meditate for a second or two.  The gist of the news was that the injury happened while Kritartha was surfing and is a fairly common occurrence in these waters. The cut was quite deep and there may have been muscle damage. If so, they would then need to cut the leg further to stitch the inner muscle. Fortunately, this turned out not to be the case, and I am convinced it was due to the force that Guru put on the situation.

After I told Guru all the news, he inquired, “Why were you on the beach? Were you surfing?”  “No,” I replied, “We were playing Frisbee like you said we should.”  Guru looked at me fixedly and with a twinkle in his eye said, “See, sometimes the Supreme speaks to me. It would have been much harder for him if you all had not been there.”

I mumbled something in agreement, while wondering if there was ever a time when the Supreme actually did not speak to Guru. I personally do not think Sri Chinmoy uttered a single word or even thought a single thought without it coming from the Supreme.

God’s watchful Eye
Is protecting my life
Every day.

Sri Chinmoy 1

  • 1. Seventy-Seven Thousand Service-Trees, part 28, 27894, Agni Press, 2002

How I Learned from Sri Chinmoy

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The way my Guru Sri Chinmoy affected me, in a large sense, is how we are all affected by each other’s consciousness. When you spend time with someone who is really happy, you come away happier than you were before.

Why do we choose someone as a friend? It is because we feel reinforced by their presence. This may not be conscious, but there is an inner kinship, and you are touched by that person’s life. You feel a sense of well-being in their presence. Of course, the opposite is also true. So on a very casual basis, all of us are affected by the consciousness of those around us.

Driving Sri Chinmoy in Chicago, 1998

With a spiritual Master, however, it is also more than that. To be in the presence of someone whose spirituality is that powerful lifts you. You walk away spiritualised by the encounter regardless of its nature. With a spiritual Master, you try to soak in what they are constantly emitting. This is something that has stuck with me throughout the years about Sri Chinmoy. 

'Christ has stolen her heart and brought it now to me'

Dodula: I was a happy nun at my convent. I had friends and was successful in my job working with children. The institution where I worked and lived was situated by the lake with a view of the mountains. I felt like I was at the zenith of my life. No outer circumstances could have made me leave the convent.

In 1988, I was taking an advanced training course at the University of Zurich so I could serve as a therapist for children with behavioural problems. I was hoping the course would help me to serve these young people better. I was looking for teachers whose theories reflected life; however, with the majority of the professors, I did not see any correlation.

One evening after the lectures, I was on my way out when I saw a poster in the foyer that said “Introduction to Meditation.” I thought to myself, “When I studied here in my younger years, this topic was unknown. But the Bible says, ‘Try all and keep the best.’” So I decided to attend and see what the evening had to offer.

The lecture was given by psychologist A.K. Beyer (whom I now know by his spiritual name of Kailash). In his case, I felt that word and deed went together. After the lecture I registered for an upcoming meditation seminar.

Gunthita: When Dodula first came to Kailash’s lecture, she was dressed in her black nun’s costume. To everybody’s surprise, she was one of the ten people who signed up for the follow-up. Kailash spoke the first evening, and I continued the remaining three evenings. Kailash told me that in case this nun continued for the entire course, I had better not speak about how to become a disciple, in order to avoid problems with the church. Sure enough, she was one of the few people who stayed until the last class.

Right from the beginning she was so open to Guru. She loved his Transcendental photograph; she said it was always smiling at her. She bought many books, which she also gave to her nun sisters and the Mother Superior. She also bought quite a few pictures of Guru and put them up in her little room.

When I was in New York, I was inspired to tell some of the experiences she had with Guru’s music and with the Transcendental picture in connection with the children she was teaching. The stories were as beautiful as fairy tales, but they were real! Guru’s only comment was: “Is she not a disciple?”

I answered: “No, Guru, she has been a Catholic sister for 27 years!” Guru just smiled compassionately at my stupid answer.

Guru's curveballs

During my first Celebrations in New York, Guru had all the young disciples come up to him who had been on the path less than two years, which included me.

As we youngsters came up to Guru, he would throw a candy bar as means of blessing us, which we had to catch. He loved to do this as a joyful, childlike way to interact personally with each person in line. I remember thinking that it would be extremely important to not drop the bar, which in my mind seemed tantamount to squandering the Master’s blessings. Most disciples before me in the line had no problems catching the little bars, as they came sailing in graceful arcs out of Guru’s hand.

However, when my turn came Guru gave a little flick with his hand and the bar flew short of its anticipated course. I grasped after it and hit it with the back of my hand, tossing it higher into the air. As it came down a second time I reached for it again unsuccessfully. The candy bar was now making frantic somersaults in mid-air, about to unceremoniously drop to the floor, exposing me as the most unworthy disciple in the crowd.

In a last, frantic attempt I reached for it again. Fortunately, this time I managed to snatch it from its wayward course. My heart was pounding in my chest as relief washed over me.

I made it!

From the corner of my eye I looked at Guru and thought I saw a hint of a smile.

Unbeknownst to me then is that I had just witnessed Guru’s first curveball, which he threw at me. Over the years, more curveballs followed, moments where Guru would shatter my expectations, steer me off a mind-planned course and force me to improvise, which often meant a return to the fluid spontaneity of my heart.

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