Interview by The New Yorker magazine
at an exhibition of 70,000 Dream-Freedom-Peace-Birds, Soho, New York
Interviewer: Is there one thing that inspired you to do all these small drawings of birds?
Sri Chinmoy: I am a truth-seeker and God-lover. I pray and meditate. From my prayer and meditation I receive inner messages and inner inspiration to compose songs, write poems, draw and do various other things. This inspiration carries me. I try to receive inspiration and aspiration from within, and with this inspiration and aspiration I try to be of service to mankind in various ways.
Interviewer: So as part of this inspiration, did you feel that birds were something that you should draw?
Sri Chinmoy: For me, 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. As I said before, I am a truth-seeker and a God-lover. I feel that inside each of us there is an inner existence that we call the soul. The soul, like a bird, flies in the sky of God’s Infinity. When we think of birds flying in the sky, we are reminded of our own soul-bird flying in the sky of Infinity.
If we buy a cage and put a bird inside it, the bird is limited. But if we release the bird, it will fly high, higher, highest. When the bird is flying in the boundless sky, there is no limit to its flight. Similarly, when we live inside the mind, we are encaged by limited, earth-bound thoughts — undivine, impure, destructive thoughts. But when we live in the soul, we are able to fly in the sky of divine freedom. Through prayer and meditation we become simple, sincere, humble and pure. We feel that we can go beyond our ordinary, silly earth-bound thoughts and fly in the sky of divine illumination and perfection.
Interviewer: By sharing these birds with the public, are you trying to inspire people with that message?
Sri Chinmoy: It is exactly so. Let us say you have gone to the market and bought a mango. Now you feel that if you can share it with the members of your family, you will get more joy than if you eat it all by yourself. Similarly, I have received some inspiration from my Inner Pilot. I feel that He is the one who is drawing these birds in and through me, according to my receptivity. I am only His instrument. Since He has given me the inspiration to draw, I feel it is my bounden duty to share this inspiration with others, for I take the whole world as one family.
We are trying to see the Divine inside each human being. If I see something beautiful and divine in you, then I will be filled with the inspiration and aspiration to be of service to you. And if you see something beautiful and divine in me, then you will be filled with the inspiration and aspiration to be of service to me. In this way we are inspired to become good citizens of the world and to serve one another. Otherwise, we exist only for ourselves. As individuals, no matter how many things we get or how many of our desires we fulfil, we will never have lasting happiness unless and until we see that others are also happy. We can never be satisfied with our own happiness because true happiness has to be all-encompassing. If everyone does not have it, I cannot have it either. Even if God fulfils all my desires, still I cannot be happy. For I will look around and see that somebody else is unhappy. And how can I be happy when I see that my brothers and sisters are not?
These birds remind me of a happiness that is all-pervading. I look to this side and see birds, and I look to that side and see birds. No matter in which direction I look, I see birds, and this gives me a childlike happiness. Think of a child inside a beautiful garden. The child does not stay at one place. He looks at one flower and appreciates its beauty and fragrance. Then he runs to look at another flower. He gets tremendous joy in moving from place to place and seeing the beauty, fragrance, light and delight inside so many flowers. Everywhere he goes inside the garden he is happy, happy, happy. But if he remains confined to one place, he will not be happy.
In exactly the same way, we human beings move from one place to another appreciating the different flowers in God’s life-garden. One flower is called America; another is called India or France. But these are just names and forms. Beyond the name and form comes the reality, which is all oneness. We all belong to one family, and we get tremendous joy when we share our heart’s love and delight with the other members of our family. So that is what I am trying to do with my drawings.
Interviewer: Does it make you happy to see people looking at your exhibit and walking through it?
Sri Chinmoy: It is my own inner feeling that when people look at the drawings, they get a certain sense of peace. I have observed a few visitors and have heard quite a few of the comments that they have made. When they look at these birds, they feel a sense of peace. What more can I offer to humanity? As a human being, the greatest reward that I can have is the opportunity to be of service to mankind. If I see that somebody is getting an iota of peace from my service to mankind — from my drawings, from my paintings, from my songs, from my poems or from anything else that I do — then I feel that I have accomplished something. I feel that I have been able to share my inspiration and my aspiration with others.
Interviewer: It is very peaceful, despite the fact that it is in the middle of New York City.
Sri Chinmoy: It is quite peaceful. There is only one thing that we need here on earth and that is peace. Everything else is meaningless and useless. We can get name, fame, prosperity and everything on the outer plane. But if we do not find peace in the inmost recesses of our heart, then we will never be satisfied. Only peace can give us satisfaction. To find this peace we have to dive deep within and pray and meditate. I feel that when people look at my drawings and find peace, this helps to bring forward their own soul’s qualities and thus increase their own wisdom and joy. When they look at these birds and see them flying in the inner freedom-sky, this increases their own heart’s joy.
Interviewer: When I approached you earlier, you were sitting and drawing. Is this how most of these were done, just sitting?
Sri Chinmoy: Yes, just sitting. Usually when I draw, I try to be in a contemplative mood — in a prayerful, soulful consciousness — and I do not talk. Usually I draw early in the morning when I am all by myself, or when I am inside the car. But sometimes I also draw when people are moving around and I am in the middle of the hustle and bustle of life.
Interviewer: Do you have a bird in mind when you draw?
Sri Chinmoy: I have nothing in mind. I try to keep my mind as empty, vacant and tranquil as possible. The outer mind is like the surface of the sea. On the surface, the sea is full of waves and surges; it is all restlessness. But when we dive deep below, the same sea is all peace, calmness and quiet. It is there that we find the source of creativity.
I do not use the mind when I draw because the process of thinking binds us. When I use the mind, I become bound and limited. As soon as we think of something, we are binding ourselves. The mind is binding us precisely because it has not yet learned the art of self-giving, which is all expansion. It is the inner heart, the aspiring heart, that has learned the art of self-giving. As soon as we enter into anybody’s heart, even if that particular person is our so-called enemy, we will immediately feel that he is also trying to become a better person. But when we enter into somebody’s mind, O God, we see that he is trying to destroy us. And if we enter into our own mind, we see that we also have the same destructive thoughts. That is why our minds are always clashing. I want to lord it over you; you want to lord it over me. When we live in the mind, we only want to exercise our supremacy. But when we are inside our hearts, we only love one another; and at that time the question of supremacy does not arise at all. We can solve our problems by always trying to remain inside our heart and feel our oneness with one another.
These birds reflect the heart’s oneness. They represent unity in multiplicity. Each bird is different, but when you look at them, you feel unity. A tree has so many leaves and flowers, but they are all part of the same oneness-tree. Here there are 70,000 birds, but as soon as we think of the bird-consciousness, it becomes one bird. The bird-consciousness represents the consciousness of our soul’s inner freedom.
Interviewer: Will you continue to add to this number?
Sri Chinmoy: Yes, I have been drawing more birds every day. Today I have completed 76,000. It is my wish on the 19th of November to exhibit 100,000 birds in Ottawa. About 19 years ago I entered into the art-world in a hotel room in Ottawa. There I did my first drawing in the West. I have students in Canada and every year they observe the anniversary of that first drawing which was a rose. This November it is our plan to have a huge gallery that will house 100,000 bird drawings. I do hope that by the end of October I will be able to complete them.
Interviewer: Will you also exhibit your acrylic paintings?
Sri Chinmoy: Only a few selected paintings will be on display.
Interviewer: Do you have any sense of what your next project will be when this is over?
Sri Chinmoy: I do not know what is going to happen unless and until my Inner Pilot tells me what He wants me to do. On my own I do not know because He is the Doer in me. According to the capacity of my receptivity, through my prayer and meditation, I try to receive His Messages. He knows everything infinitely, infinitely better than I do, and at His choice Hour He will tell me to do this or to do that. I know that when the time comes — we call it God’s Hour — it is He who will direct me.
Interviewer: Did you call Him your Inner Father?
Sri Chinmoy: Yes, I call him my Father or my Inner Pilot, the Pilot of my life-boat. I take life as a boat and I feel that He is steering it towards the supreme destination — the Golden Shore. He is the Supreme Pilot and He is steering our life-boats to the Golden Shore.
Published in Sri Chinmoy Answers, part 3