by Hashi Roberts
The Immortal Jesse Owens:
The desiring world loved you
for your outer speed.
The aspiring world loves you
for your inner speed.
I love you because in you
I see the teeming sufferings
of Mother-Earth and illumining
Blessings of Father-Heaven.”
This was Sri Chinmoy’s soulful message to the renowned Jesse Owens.
“I am an admirer of yours. I can become a very disciple of yours.” — This was the flowing offering of Jesse Owens to Sri Chinmoy.
Forty stories above the ground, on November 4, 1972, in Manhattan’s Park Lane Hotel, a memorable meeting took place. The famed sportsman and Olympic champion Jesse Owens and Sri Chinmoy met. This union of representatives from the athletic and spiritual worlds produced a philosophical discussion that was profoundly inspiring.
Jesse Owens smiled warmly as he greeted Sri Chinmoy, and both of them sat before a window, their faces framed by the clouds behind, as the discussion began. Sri Chinmoy pointed out that Mr. Owens, besides being an immortal athlete, is also the author of two books, Blackthink and I Have Changed, which Sri Chinmoy described with appreciation. Jesse Owens, who had also read some of Sri Chinmoy’s writings, replied, “I believe very much in what you do.”
They discussed the feelings of inferiority which are sometimes cherished by members of the black race, and the injustices which Jesse Owens said, “could be corrected if the black man would make some effort to go and to hear and to see and to become informed.”
Mr. Owens mentioned the importance of making an inner decision about the life one will lead, about how one is going to live with oneself. “You see, people talk about Heaven. I don’t know anybody that’s been to Heaven, but I want to live as they say Heaven is, right here on this earth.”
Sri Chinmoy, who often speaks of living in Heaven while still on earth, “Absolutely true. Heaven is a state of consciousness. When we have a good thought or a fellow feeling, when we love the world, we are living in Heaven; when we have hatred and jealousy, we are living in Hell.”
Sri Chinmoy praised Mr. Owens’ practice of giving his trophies to the needy and encouraging the young generation. Mr. Owens then mentioned his own past, his childhood in Alabama when his father worked as a sharecropper, and the hunger he experienced. He gratefully and soulfully acknowledged the help he has received. “I know that I couldn’t live this kind of life if someone hadn’t helped me. So what I want to do, first of all, is to please my God. Then I want to please the people that helped me. In order for me to please them, I must go back from where I came and give of myself, as other people gave of themselves to make it possible for me to give today.”
He continued, “Everybody is struggling to get to the top of the mountain. But you have to remember one thing when you reach the top: you’ve got to come back to the valley.”
Wholeheartedly Sri Chinmoy agreed: “We have to climb up the mango tree and then pluck mangoes and come down and distribute them to those who do not know how to climb, those who are sitting at the foot of the tree.”
It was an inspiring moment for all who were present when Sri Chinmoy added, “Your philosophy and my philosophy are totally one. Our philosophy is based on love, and when we really love, we dedicate ourselves, we devote ourselves. You love the world. That is why you are devoting yourself.” He compared Jesse Owens’ role in dealing with people, who have often misunderstood him, to that of a mother who is trying to clean a child. “The child wants to remain in clay, in mud, dirty and filthy. But just because the mother is the mother, she does not want the child to remain unclean and impure. In your case also, your people are misunderstanding you, you who are trying to help them, to elevate their consciousness.”
They spoke of the need for utilising the Grace of God, for acting on it and manifesting what God has given. Jesse Owens, speaking in general terms about God’s gifts, said, “He gave you the strength, He gave you the ability and He gave you a brain. If He gives you these things, then you don’t expect Him to run the hundred-yard dash for you, too. If He gives them to you, then you prepare, you run the hundred. Then you’ve done your share. And then He will smile upon you because you have been able to fulfil.”
Jesse Owens mentioned the importance of “showering what you’ve learned” upon others, and Sri Chinmoy extended this idea into the realm of love. “It is the very tendency of Love, inner Love, to spread. But if you don’t begin, as you say, then how are you going to see your own reality? People won’t see their all-pervading reality unless and until they have offered their love.”
Mr. Owens detailed his exhausting schedule, which will take him to seven states in two weeks because of his business commitments and his lecture tour. An experienced and competent speaker, he honoured Sri Chinmoy by asking if he might be able to quote his writings during the lectures he will be giving, because, as he told Sri Chinmoy, “You say it so much better than I say it.”
Sri Chinmoy presented Jesse Owens with a shield inscribed with the dedication quoted at the beginning of this article. Mr. Owens was pleased and moved by this tribute to his aspiring soul.
Sri Chinmoy later described the loving relationship among his disciples which transcends all racial barriers. “They are pure brothers and sisters. One can give his life for the other. It is only because of love that they have felt that God is dearest to them. I tell them it is not because He is Omnipotent and Omnipresent that He is dearest to us, but because He is all Love.” He illustrated this by applying it to Jesse Owens’ own family. “You were dearest to your daughters, not because you had physical strength, or because you had become the world champion, but because they found in you infinite love. Even if you had not become the world’s fastest runner, they would not have cared. They would have cared only for your love.”
At this point, the searching soul in Jesse Owens responded with the sincere words quoted earlier, “I am an admirer of yours. I can become a very disciple of yours." He added, “I love what you’re doing. I believe in what you’re doing.” He also spoke of his desire to “cultivate the bond of love” that he had found flowing between Sri Chinmoy’s heart and his own.
“My heart will overflow with gratitude if that bond of love is cultivated,” Sri Chinmoy answered. He mentioned that they share the same cause, the same goal, although they are manifesting their philosophy in different ways. “You are helping mankind with your love, and I am trying to do the same thing in my own way.”
Jesse Owens responded, “I’ll take my road. I will preach my belief in your philosophy. I will talk about it. I will quote your philosophy because this is what people need.” He explained that he gives his speeches to offer “either motivation or inspiration.” He noticed that Sri Chinmoy had inspired those of us present and many others. “You’re inspiring these young people, motivating them to the bigger, better side of life.”
Sri Chinmoy said, “We are true spiritual brothers, and it is the role of the elder brothers to show the younger ones where the Father is. So you and I are showing the younger ones who want to know where Light and Truth lie. Truth is Love. Love is Truth.”
Mr. Owens humorously commented on the difficulty people have in understanding this philosophy: “It’s very simple, it’s nothing complicated, not at all. And this is the trouble. If it were complicated, maybe they’d comprehend; but it’s so simple that they can’t catch it.”
Sri Chinmoy then showed some pictures taken of himself in athletic competition many years ago. Jesse Owens gave his competent advice and appraisal of Sri Chinmoy’s capacity on the basis of these historic pictures. “Pretty good form. You have to bring the hands in a little closer,” he commented on a photo of Sri Chinmoy in starting position for a sprint. And of Sri Chinmoy pole vaulting, he said, “Well, you’re better than I. I could never do the pole vault.”
After our delighted laughter, Sri Chinmoy presented two pictures of himself in meditation to this soulful athlete whom he had admired for so many years. At sight of Sri Chinmoy in his Transcendental Consciousness, Mr. Owens said reverently, “I’d like to carry that in my bag all the time. That’s wonderful.”
Following a few more minutes of conversation, Sri Chinmoy donned his coat and we took our leave of Jesse Owens and of the room which had seen such joy and oneness. This meeting was the fulfilment of Sri Chinmoy’s long-cherished dream. For some twenty-four years he had admired and wished to meet Jesse Owens. Their joy and gratitude in meeting and in sharing their soulful ideals with each other inundated us all.
— End —
1. Hashi Roberts coordinated the meeting between Sri Chinmoy and Jesse Owens.
2. This article was first published in
Copyright © 1972, Hashi Roberts. All rights reserved under Creative Commons license.