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The Year of Endless Surprises
In early 1998 Guru completed what was then his most prodigious poetic work—the 270 volumes of his monumental Twenty-Seven Thousand Aspiration-Plants—and so concluded an epic venture spanning more than fourteen years. It was another of those relentlessly sustained and patient undertakings which together coursed like a braided river through Guru’s life, those multiple strands of inspiration, of paintings and soul-birds, literature and music and wonderfully original things.
One evening we were with Guru shortly after the last poem in this series had been written. We asked Guru for suggestions for how his New Zealand disciples could celebrate the culmination of this vast poetic work. Guru rose and went through a doorway into an adjoining room for two or three minutes, then came back with a series of ideas that quite astonished us. It was as though he had also stepped through an unseen portal into another world where the future, the unimagined, the possible, lay awaiting its manifestation—and gathered from there a few trinkets to bring back. The first of these? That we shake 27,000 people’s hands, giving each of these people a card of poems and a sweet!
This unique challenge consumed the New Zealand disciples for some time. We visited school assemblies, announcing a handshaking-record attempt to honour Guru’s achievement. We stood at escalators in shopping malls with a microphone to introduce ourselves and, armed with a hand-held manual counter to accurately record numbers, visited universities and busy streets. We toured towns, distributed 27,000 sweets, and gave away 27,000 large cards—each carrying an explanation of Guru’s achievement and a sample sprinkling of 27 poems, like this one:
If you want to remain always happy,
Always perfect and always fulfilled,
Then always keep inside your heart
A pocketful of sweet dreams.
Everything about this unusual commemoration charmed people a lot, and left 27,000 spirit-awakening, heart-warming mementos with their 27 inspirational poems scattered throughout this peace-hungry world.
1. Twenty-Seven Thousand Aspiration-Plants, Part 6
As a brand new disciple of Sri Chinmoy, Subarata was quite sure she would never take up running. Reluctantly at first she would jog a few metres, walk a little, then allow herself to be coaxed into another short stint of jogging. Very gradually the distances increased; then came the trips to New York for Celebrations, the many races, and the opportunity to run with Guru. Very slowly, running became established in her spiritual life.
Guru’s explanations about the spiritual significance of running, and the inner and outer benefits it conferred, were deeply felt by Subarata. She noticed the development of willpower and self-discipline, the fostering of aspiration and clarity of mind, a widening world of personal possibility. Perhaps most importantly for her, running opened up an inner doorway, a portal through which she could really feel her soul’s connection with her beloved teacher. Her running became an expression, an extension of her devotion.
Although ungifted with speed, she had doggedness and patience and accepted the physical challenges as a fast track in her spiritual journeying. “If this is what I have to do to realise God,” she once said in the middle of a painful multi-day race, “then I gladly accept it. This and much more—give me more.”
Subarata brought her tenaciousness and mental toughness to her participation in triathlons and ultra-distance races. She competed in three 700-mile races—in the Septembers of 1991, 1996 and 1998—completing the distance on that final thirteen-day outing with only three hours to spare. She never saw these events as a race or competition but simply as an intensification of her own spiritual life. All her mental barriers fell away, leaving her feeling her trusted teacher very close within her heart.
Her running and her wonderful reason for running inspired many New Zealanders to tackle these great distances. (Guru’s spiritual name for her—Subarata—succinctly means “the message of inspiration.”) The New Zealand Ultra Runners Association ranked her as our nation’s second-best woman ultramarathoner of the twentieth century.
I had been divorced from my husband for about seven years. He was absolutely dreadful in his relationship with our two children and was providing very little financial help. I was so furious with him that I could not speak to him. If he phoned, I would just pass the receiver to one of the children without saying a word.
One morning I decided that I had had enough. It was time to contact a lawyer and pursue him legally for proper support.
I sat for my 6:00 a.m. meditation, and there was Guru, just staring back at me from the Transcendental photograph on my shrine 1. I immediately felt that he did not want me to call a lawyer. I was determined to go ahead with my plan and stared back at the photo. However, I had the strong inner feeling that Guru simply would not budge.
Finally, in my heart, I asked Guru, “I can see that you don’t want me to proceed, but what shall I do?”
Immediately came the inner reply, “Forgive him.”
“Forgive him?” I asked in astonishment. “He’s been so bad, absolutely horrible and totally irresponsible. He doesn’t deserve to be forgiven!”
Again Guru said, “Forgive him.”
Finally, I gave in. I said, “All right. Since you whom I love so dearly are asking, I shall try to forgive him.” I sat at my shrine, entered deeper into my meditation, and tried to let go of my anger.
1. the picture that we, as Sri Chinmoy’s disciples, use as a focal point for our meditation practice
I became a disciple when I was living in Toronto. In March of the following year, I was invited to New York for a weekend with some of the Toronto disciples who were driving down. It would not be the first time that I had seen Guru, but it was my first time in New York. I had written a poem for him and asked a fellow disciple, with whom I was staying in New York, how best to give it to him. She suggested that I order some flowers at the Garland of Divinity’s Love, a disciple-owned flower shop, and put the poem in a card to be delivered with the flowers.
When I entered the shop, I was immediately impressed with the beauty of all of the flowers inside—especially the enormous roses and the exquisite “gratitude” orchids. Nevertheless, I was a bit shy, as a fairly new disciple, and felt that it would be somewhat ostentatious for me to send Guru such big flowers, as if to say, “Look at me!” I told myself that I should order something “modest.” And anyway, in my mind, the flowers were merely the vehicle for the delivery of the poem. So I chose some simple purple asters (the flower of my birthday month) with some lovely smelling eucalyptus branches.
While waiting for Guru to arrive at that evening’s function, I could see my own flowers with a number of other arrangements on the table by his chair, which was on the stage. As soon as he came in, he sat down, looked at the flowers (though he did not read any of the cards), and began to meditate in silence.
After some time, he said, “Anyone who has ever written a poem for me, come up and read.” Quite a number of people went up and formed a line on the stage. One by one they went up to the microphone and read a poem from the designated book. I did not go. The disciple who had recommended to me that I send the flowers was encouraging me to go up, knowing that I had included my poem with them. But I still felt very shy, and felt that it was not appropriate for me, as such a new disciple, to go up with all the others. I said to myself that I should be “modest”— again using the same word that I had while in the flower shop.
Guru was always far over the horizons of my comprehension—and what I could comprehend was always wonderful and breathtaking.
I often marvelled at those hundreds of times that Guru walked alone onto a concert stage before audiences of up to 18,000 people, folded his hands together over his heart, and simply by standing there, through the force of his love, the power of his meditation, his abandonment to God, brought a hushed, pin-drop silence to the entire auditorium. His tranquility, absolute poise, and the great achievement of his God-realisation were felt by everyone.
Then I would marvel at how he would sit in front of an unfamiliar piano or pipe organ with absolutely no idea of what he would play, no sheet music, no keyboard training, no mind or anxiety, entirely trusting in the higher worlds of music to pass through his fingers⎯the same surrender to God.
Guru’s personal example in this area of his life—which he also demonstrated in everything, everywhere—taught us much. He wanted us to understand our own capacity to uplift and serve the world, to live cocooned in God-trust, our confidence and power resulting from our growing oneness with him and God.
Once I was very touched by a small incident that occurred prior to a Peace Concert in Auckland. I went to Guru’s dressing room backstage to let him know that the hall was full and all was ready—there were 3,000 people waiting expectantly in the auditorium. I imagined Guru would have at least a little of our human apprehension or pre-concert nerves, but instead he looked at me with absolute attentiveness, calmly and so lovingly.
“Are you all right, Jogyata?” he asked, and looked deeply at me, wanting me to tell him of anything that might be troubling me. He was about to walk out in front of a packed concert hall and play for two hours, but his only concern was my welfare! I was amazed and tears came to my eyes.
The Master is
His torrential Heaven-blessings,
And his Heaven-concern
For his disciples.
When I was around 20 years old, I went through a difficult period in my young life. I had just graduated from school, a new chapter of my life was beginning, and I was quite unsure of what to do with myself.
Before I went to New York for Guru´s Birthday Celebrations in August 1996, I wrote him a long letter, telling him all my thoughts and worries and, most importantly, about my “not so perfect behaviour” of the past which was not up to the standard of a good disciple.
When I arrived in New York, the Celebrations were in full swing. As usual, there were many activities and functions with hundreds of disciples from all over the world. Guru was, as always during these days, very busy. I was quite uncertain if and when Guru would say something to me about my serious letter.
Then one day at Aspiration-Ground (the private tennis court where we all met), after Guru had finished playing tennis, he went down to the gully behind the court where he sometimes did his sprinting training.
I was sitting in the bleachers, when quite unexpectedly one of Guru´s attendants approached me to give me the message from Guru, that I should wait about ten minutes, then join Guru down in the gully.
Have you ever had the feeling that everything is just perfect? Where every moment feels almost larger than life? With Guru it was like that—every single second was so precious and beautiful.
Guru loved to listen to songs when he was in the car. He would often listen to a tape or a CD of someone singing songs written by Rabindranath Tagore. One day a few disciples, including me, were driving in the car with Guru when a song by Tagore came on that Guru loved. I watched in awe as his right hand danced here and there while Guru sang the song along with the singer. It was exquisitely beautiful, with his hand just dancing in the loveliest motion.
On such occasions Guru would always get something for us to eat—like a piece of pizza, something sweet, or some other kind of snack. He would give it to us as prasad—food specially consecrated by a spiritual Master—with his own hand, which always felt like an extra-special blessing.
Guru had absolutely no need for himself. All he wanted was to give joy to us. Even on a simple car trip he always wanted to give something to us, and this was quite moving.
With the Master
Is a soulful hope
And a fruitful promise.
In 2003, the Oscar-winning actress Helen Hunt was invited by Sri Chinmoy to be honoured for her professional successes, by being lifted overhead as part of the “Lifting Up the World with a Oneness-Heart” programme.
On the day she was lifted in 2003, I had the privilege of driving her to and from her residence in Manhattan. On the way to the lifting ceremony, she had asked me if she might have a private interview with Sri Chinmoy. I was sure that he would consent, so I took the liberty of telling her that Sri Chinmoy would be happy to do so.
Helen was a long-time meditator and understood the significance of meeting a spiritual Master. After lifting her, Sri Chinmoy invited her for a private interview in the large garden where he had outdoor meditations with his students.
After about thirty minutes, Helen came away looking very serious. She got into my car and drove back to Manhattan in complete silence. Later, when I mentioned that Helen had been totally silent, Sri Chinmoy replied, “Perhaps she took my advice seriously.”
Sri Chinmoy did not say what he and Helen had spoken about, but he said that he had given her encouragement and told her he would pray for her.
Our Divine Enterprise, Victory’s Banner Restaurant opened in Chicago on Father’s Day of 1999. When we opened, our Chicago Centre made a collective commitment to give our Guru good news every week, and gratefully, we had lots of good news to report! In general, each week our business grew and grew, and I was happy to share that with Guru.
After the tragic events of 9-11, Guru cancelled all our activities for the public. No classes, no concerts, no manifestation at all. It was perhaps in May of 2002 when Guru said to me that he thought the time had come that he could again do a concert and requested me to plan a concert for 7000 in Chicago.
We quickly reserved the UIC Pavilion in Chicago. Apparently that window of opportunity closed because a little while later, Guru reduced the number to 4000. As Guru has said many times, “Man proposes, God disposes”. Then again later to 1500, and his last message was “Make it small. Just invite friends and family.” By then we had a healthy amount of reservations which yielded a concert at the Palmer House for about 1500-1700.
At that time, we also moved into our new Centre where we reside today. So out Guru came to visit our new Centre and restaurant, with a concert in between. He visited the restaurant in the afternoon of Aug 3 2002. As Guru walked into the restaurant, the disciples sang the Morning Prayer song to welcome him. Sitting in direct line of Guru’s vision was Ida Patterson.
Thirty-four years ago, in 1962, Ida Patterson was absolutely the first human being or truth-seeker or God-lover to see something in my eyes. She told my boss Nolini-da. One afternoon I entered into Nolini-da’s room where I used to work and Nolini-da said to me, “Look what this American lady, Ida Patterson, saw in you. This morning when she came here to speak to me, you told her that I was not available, and she saw such things in your eyes. Your eyes mesmerised her.”
I said to Nolini-da, “Ida Patterson? I do not know who she is.”
Then I became friends with her. So thirty-four years ago she saw something inside your Guru’s eyes. Thirty-four years ago she told Nolini-da her experience, and still I cherish it.
Guru gave his first talk in Minneapolis, where Ida lived. Famously (I believe), nobody came.
Ida Patterson had such tremendous affection for me. She knew me in the Ashram, and in December 1965 she invited me to Minneapolis to give talks. I went there to spend a week. She lived on Dupont Avenue.
My first talk in Minneapolis was a fiasco! I was supposed to give a talk on reincarnation. Ida had promised me that many, many people would come. But nobody came. She was the only listener. I gave my talk to the walls.
I remembered that one of Sri Ramakrishna’s dearest disciples, Swami Brahmananda, once gave a talk and nobody came. He said that he was so happy because he got such receptivity. He said, “The walls did not argue with me. At other times when I give talks, people ask such rubbish questions.”
In my case also, I gave my talk. Ida sat by the door the entire time with the hope that somebody would come. But nobody came.
Back to Guru’s visit to the restaurant. As Guru entered, hearing the Morning Prayer song being sung, Guru paused with folded hands, but immediately after it was finished, He rushed over to Ida sitting on one of our bright yellow benches.
Privately, on a piece of paper Guru drew Ida’s spiritual name, “Sukhukee—The very darling of the Divine Mother.” He called Sukantika over and told her she had 10 minutes to get it framed. Sukantika ran over to the Centre a block away, unframed another picture and inserted what Guru had given her. She succeeded in her task.
Ida was then and always very motherly towards Guru, comfortably touching his hand or shoulder. Guru was equally comfortable with Ida.
That night, Guru had a beautiful, and intimate concert at the Palmer House auditorium. This was the same location where he opened the Parliament of Religions in 1993, and the same Palmer House which served as home to Swami Vivekananda’s famous speech to the Parliament 100 years earlier.
It was a glorious weekend for all of us here in Chicago!
Clarence Clemons was the “Big Man” of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, the saxophonist who was a founding member of one of the most popular rock bands of all time. The creative fire that sparked between Clemons and Springsteen provided the original inspiration for the band and continued to sustain its energy for decades. Clarence Clemons was introduced to meditation and to Sri Chinmoy by Grammy award-winning producer Narada Michael Walden, at a time in his life when, by his own accounts, Clarence was just drifting with no clear purpose.
I was invited as a guest at a recording session with the two of them, and Clarence had me bring a letter to Sri Chinmoy asking to become his student. Sri Chinmoy gladly accepted him as a student and embraced him as part of his spiritual family. He gave the “Big Man” the spiritual name Mokshagun, Bengali for “Lord’s All-illuminating Liberation-Fire.”
In his book, Big Man: Real Life & Tall Tales, Mokshagun said that the name gave him his sense of purpose. Sri Chinmoy told him he was on earth to bring joy and light to the world and to destroy ignorance. He always kept a picture of Sri Chinmoy on his saxophone stand onstage and in ‘The Temple of Soul’, his private sanctuary that he took on the road with him. Here’s how he described his first meditation experience: “I looked at myself in the mirror and couldn’t believe what I saw. I was so clear. I was like brand-new, even my eyes were like diamonds. I started to laugh and couldn’t stop because I felt so good. I had found something. I had found peace, and that makes me a really different person.”
Mokshagun had a remarkable inner experience with Sri Chinmoy while going under anesthesia for knee surgery in 2008, after Sri Chinmoy passed away. I visited him after the surgery and Mokshagun reported, “Guru appeared to me and said, ‘Let’s go for a walk.’ We walked together and spoke of many things.” I had the sense that this spiritual visitation brought him great peace and comfort.