Bali, Bali, Bali

by Animesh Harrington

 

It is sunset. Far mountain peaks catch the last rays of light; a wash of colour spreads out across the evening sky; waves of calm, lap the motionless shoreline; and the rush of daily life dissolves in an ocean of irresistible peace.

Nature is offering its final blessing for the day as the ephemeral glow of twilight gently lifts the heart to prayer.
 

 

It could be any one of a thousand summer evenings that have graced this special island for centuries. But for me, this tranquil close of day marks the final farewell to our stay in Bali.

Like old friends, memories of the past five weeks have gathered, eager to share these fleeting moments. Some images parade past with the bold clash of a gamelan orchestra; others, delicate and serene, leave their faint impressions like a whispering stream of flute music.

 

January-February 1991

 

 
“It is as if Sri Chinmoy is playing with a miniature solar system. Each shotput, once it takes flight, looks like some heavenly body suspended in infinite space.”
 

It is just before 6 a.m. when Sri Chinmoy arrives at the beach entrance of the Kartika Plaza Hotel. A team of assistants, ‘the shot-put boys’, have already set up Sri Chinmoy’s practice area. It is of a makeshift design, drawn out on hardened sand. There is no throwing circle, no stop board, just a simple line marking the place from which Sri Chinmoy will throw. In front of this point, each metre, between 6 and 12 metres, has also been marked with a line and a small flag. To the side of the throwing area, shot puts of varying weights have been arrayed.

The official weight of an Olympic shot put is 16 lbs. The shot puts Sri Chinmoy will be throwing today are: 6, 8, 12, 16, 22, 27, 31, 35, 40 and 50 lbs.

Sri Chinmoy, retaining as always a meditative consciousness, does not talk as he takes the first shot put in his hands. With a tremendous thrust, he launches the weight into the air. There is absolute silence until the shot put hits the sand.

He walks up to the farthest mark and turns around. Outwardly he gives little attention to where the shot put has landed. Sri Chinmoy, it seems, is spanning some other inner world as he slowly walks back to his seat.

He takes a drink from his table and rises again for the next attempt. Like this, he will practice for two or more hours. It is as if Sri Chinmoy is playing with a miniature solar system. Each shot put, once it takes flight, looks like some heavenly body suspended in infinite space. One could easily imagine that the moon and the planets had come to earth for a time, just to rest for a moment in Sri Chinmoy’s hands.

***

The heat and humidity in Bali can be devastating, especially for Westerners. Just running a few miles in the early morning takes its toll. Yet most mornings, after an exhausting workout throwing shot put, Sri Chinmoy plays tennis.

This morning, at the courts of the Hotel Sanur Beach, Mahiyan takes up his usual position, ready to face Sri Chinmoy's relentless play of volleys and drop shots. It is not unusual to see Mahiyan looking pale, and dripping wet from perspiration.

Today though, Mahiyan is close to exhaustion. The scene is reminiscent of a time in Sri Lanka, when Sri Chinmoy himself was so severely affected by the heat that he suffered extreme dehydration and life-threatening cramps. However, the match is nearing its end and the game plays on as Mahiyan staggers across the court in chase of the ball.

Finally, Sri Chinmoy unleashes the winning point. Mahiyan almost falls from the court and sits, slumped and motionless, in the shade by the wall. The vision of Mahiyan, his hand loosely clutching a water bottle, eyes cast toward the heavens, the involuntary gasp of his breathing, his mind uncluttered by thought, is a scene from an epic battle in the Mahabharata. He looks like an ancient martyr, crumpled, worn and helpless, who has given his all for a great cause.

Sri Chinmoy takes two cups from his table and walks towards Mahiyan. He leans down and offers Mahiyan his drinks. A gleam of gratitude comes to Mahiyan’s eyes. Sri Chinmoy says nothing as he turns and walks away. Mahiyan rests back against the wall, melting in the afterglow of Sri Chinmoy’s smile.

***

The Bali International Yacht Club, while not exactly Newport, is about as international as you could get in the far, far East of the Indonesian archipelago. Nevertheless, it is true to its tradition – it is home to noble seafaring souls from around the world.

The local variety of yachts look to be almost shipwrecked as they sit tilted against the horizon in the shallow inlet. Our chartered sailing ship, the ‘Matahari’, is luckily anchored in deeper waters of the bay and we are ferried out to it in a small motorboat.

As we set sail, it is as though we are continuing an eternal boat journey. It could be the Nile, the Hudson or the Elbe: Sri Chinmoy sits by the side composing songs, the skyline moves slowly by, the rush and spray of water dissolving earthbound time.

The captain, who has already become a friend, will in the course of the next few weeks dedicate his boat to world peace with a plaque inscribed: ‘Sri Chinmoy Peace Boat’.

***

The shot put boys dressed as clowns, jump and smile, dance and sing their way through Sri Chinmoy’s most recent composition:

  Marvellous, marvellous, marvellous
Oriental Circus, Oriental Circus!
Charming, thrilling and daring,
Loving, caring and self-giving.
Oriental Circus, Oriental –
Sweetness-heart transcendental.
 
 

The audience is a troupe of circus performers who had entertained us the night before. Now, in this unusual reversal of roles, Sri Chinmoy is honouring the ‘Oriental Circus’ in a very special way.

There is something of the atmosphere of a children's birthday party here at the Bali Gardens Hotel today, which is understandable as most of the circus performers are in fact children, orphaned children.

During the past twenty years, the kind heart of the circus manager, Tony, has become home for many children who have lost their parents. He takes loving care of them and they have become part of his travelling circus family.

Outside in a small amphitheatre, Sri Chinmoy’s weightlifting platform has been set up. One by one the circus performers come up on stage to be lifted. Occasionally Sri Chinmoy lifts two or three of the younger children at once, much to the amazement of their circus friends.

After the lifting, Sri Chinmoy, who also lost his parents at an early age, gives a touching talk to the children: “You may not understand now what I am going to say, but when you are older Tony will tell you...”

Sri Chinmoy’s heart says it all and the children respond with spontaneous joy. As their final tribute to Sri Chinmoy, the younger children (the youngest is only four-years-old) give a display of acrobatics with all the talent and professionalism of veteran circus performers.

***

On several occasions, Sri Chinmoy appreciated the “simplicity, sincerity and purity” of the people and the land of Bali. Their religious tradition has imbued them with something unique. The Balinese have a natural friendliness, openness and spontaneous happiness, which affects everyone they come in contact with.

The General Manager of the Kartika Plaza Hotel is one such person. Living and working each day with the open-hearted Balinese people, as he has, has given him an immediate receptivity to Sri Chinmoy’s message.

On arrival at the Kartika Plaza Hotel, Sri Chinmoy was accorded a welcoming honour reserved only for royalty. The departure ceremony could easily have been intended to honour a god.

Assembled in front of the hotel’s main entrance is a 30-piece gamelan orchestra. Dressed in traditional uniform of yellow, red and gold they sit and kneel with complete repose. They have been playing now for 20 minutes or more. The soft murmur of gongs, bells and drums conveys an anticipation of the magic about to unfold.

The music, with precise intonation and control, rises to a deafening crescendo of pitch and flailing rhythms. Then from the height of thunderous intensity, the sound drops like gentle evening rain from the edge of a cloud as a quiet temple-like atmosphere once more resumes the play.

The dancers who have been patiently waiting by the fountain at the side move out in front of the orchestra and the performance begins. Sri Chinmoy has arrived.

The General Manager is looking on with justifiable pride. (The dancers and musicians are all part of the hotel staff.)

Sri Chinmoy is escorted slowly down the steps to where the procession has formed. He is flanked by honour guards on all sides and is engulfed in a ribbon of colour and sound as he is walked in stately grandeur down through the decorative gateways and gardens to his waiting car. As Sri Chinmoy bows to his hosts in gratitude, he is showered with flower petals. The musicians have stopped, yet the peal of gamelan bells still echoes in the air, as if the gods themselves have continued to play.

***

Mr. Astawa, Assistant Manager of the Kartika Plaza Hotel, had a significant dream about Sri Chinmoy even before Sri Chinmoy had arrived in Bali.

He dreamt he was in a most luminous room with disciples and there he saw Sri Chinmoy smiling at him.

Today Mr. Astawa has been invited to meet with Sri Chinmoy. The singers have just finished learning a special song about Mr. Astawa, which Sri Chinmoy spontaneously composed for the occasion. Mr. Astawa arrives and is ushered to the front where Sri Chinmoy is seated.

As the singers start to sing, the dream and the reality come face to face. Mr. Astawa is completely overwhelmed by a flood of his heart’s joy and gratitude. With his head bowed in humility and hands folded in prayer he asks if he can become Sri Chinmoy's disciple.

Sri Chinmoy smiles. The dream continues…

***

At the airport, Sri Chinmoy’s Balinese disciples have been waiting to offer their last goodbye to their spiritual Master. Also here are the General Manager from the Kartika and his wife. Amidst the swirl of activity, they stand, smiling and chatting with us, bowing to Sri Chinmoy and completely taken by the occasion.

Meanwhile, at the Kartika Plaza Hotel, there is a lasting tribute to Sri Chinmoy carved in stone, which was dedicated by the General Manager. He has named the gateway by the beach, ‘Sri Chinmoy Peace Gateway’.

***

Our Christmas trip has come to a close. Still, the achievements will forever be remembered:

Sri Chinmoy composed 400 songs, wrote 3,200 poems, lifted 53 people (8,018 lbs.) in less than 1½ hours, received an award naming him ‘Ambassador of Peace’, as well as an honorary Doctor of Philosophy degree from Dwijendra University. There were Peace Boats, Peace Gateways, Peace Gardens, Peace Concerts … and Peace Dreams.

 

– End –

 

This article was originally written in 1991.

Copyright © Animesh Harrington, 2010. All rights reserved.