Sri Chinmoy’s Weightlifting Interview

Questions by Marty Gallagher, editor and publisher of Strength Review Magazine, accompanied by Hugh Cassidy, former world powerlifting champion. The interview takes place at the Washington Monument, Washington, DC, before Sri Chinmoy’s Peace Concert.


Marty Gallagher: What essentially is your philosophy with regard to making progress?

Sri Chinmoy: Ours is a positive way of thinking. We feel that every day we have to go into our heart-garden and get inspiration. There we try to see a beautiful rose — not yesterday's rose, but today's rose. The petals on yesterday's rose are dry and withered. But today's blossoming rose will be fresh. Then tomorrow we will go again and try to see a new rose.

The past is gone. Yesterday it was fresh; today it is not fresh. Today we have to see something new and fresh. This is how we can get inspiration. We cannot go on with yesterday's inspiration. Yesterday's inspiration was needed for yesterday, but today's inspiration we need for today. We have to always look forward and enjoy the beauty, fragrance and purity of today's flower.

Often, when people first hear about my weightlifting achievements, they try to exercise their power of imagination. They say, "Perhaps he can do it." But then, when they allow the doubting mind to come forward, their imagination-bird's wings are clipped and its flight is over. Then they start doubting me and criticising me.

As an individual, I am nothing and I can do nothing. For everything that I have achieved, I give one hundred per cent credit to God's Grace. I do not have the physique of a bodybuilder. In my youth I was a sprinter and a jumper, but I never cared for weightlifting. Only three or four times a year I used to practise lifting twenty pounds. And here in America, when I started lifting dumbbells off the ground, I found it extremely difficult to lift over forty pounds because it was not at all in my line.

But I entered into this new field with tremendous determination and every week I was progressing — going up from 40 to 50, 60, 70, 80, 90, 100 pounds. After 100 pounds, I was unable to progress any further because it is difficult for me to bend. Then a student of mine from Australia made a support rack for me so that I could start with the weight at shoulder height. He said, "Since you cannot bend, perhaps you will be able to continue if you do it this way." So I tried and he was right. From 100 I went to 200,300,400, 700 — up to 7,000 pounds. We have photos; we have videos. And many people do believe it.

Hugh Cassidy: And yet none of them have tried it.

Marty Gallagher: That's incredible!

Sri Chinmoy: No, they do not try. With regard to my calf raise, one very prominent powerlifter had absolutely no doubts about my 2,000-pound calf raise. He said he believed it because so much of weightlifting depends not on physical power but on mental power. I call it Grace. I am saying again and again that it is not my physical power; it is my prayer-power that enables me to lift up such heavy weights. But you can call it mental power or anything you want to call it.

I have lifted an elephant, a truck, a helicopter, a plane, a sailboat and all kinds of things. People have seen with their own eyes that the weight has gone up. Some people are saying that because of the laws of physics, it is not the full weight that I am lifting. I am not claiming to lift the full weight. Let us say it is 75% or even 50% of the weight. A 3,000-pound elephant is standing in front of you. You try to lift it up. Even if the actual weight on my shoulders is 50%, that is 1,500 pounds. Let others try to lift up 1,500 pounds.

Many weightlifters and bodybuilders have seen my standing calf raise machine with 1,400 pounds on it. They could easily have asked to try it. I would have had no objection. If it is such an easy thing, then let them try. But nobody has asked me.

About a month ago I was in Germany. There I met Jusup Wilkosz who was recently Mr. Universe. He invited me to come to his gym. I have never seen such a beautiful and well-equipped gym. And it was so clean! He had a calf raise machine there. I asked him how many pounds he could lift on it. He said, "I can only do 500 or 600 maximum. My students cannot do even 400." Then he asked me to try it. I had just finished a full breakfast and I did not have any warm-up. But I had been practising with much heavier weights on my own machine, and I knew I would not injure myself. So I just stood in front of him and lifted 860 pounds, which was all the weight he had available for that machine. Then he said to me, "This is not physical power. This is your spirit. Your spirit is doing this." It is absolutely true. I call it God's Grace, but he calls it spirit.

He was very nice. He examined my spine and massaged my knee and gave me lots of advice on what to do for my knee pain. And he has no doubts about my weightlifting. He accepts my 7,000-pound one-arm lift and my 2,000-pound calf raise.

Marty Gallagher: Some weightlifters are critical because they are too ego-filled.

Sri Chinmoy: My whole purpose is to be of service to mankind and this I can do only through inspiration. I get inspiration from my prayer, and this inspiration I try to offer to my friends and dear ones. This is my whole purpose in life. I have written thousands of poems. In hundreds of places I have given musical performances. I have also composed thousands of songs. It is all for inspiration.

Some people may want to enter into competition and defeat others. But right from my childhood, I have been only competing with myself. If I can compete with myself and improve myself, I will become a better person. And if I become a good person, Mother Earth will be so happy, since she will be blessed with one less undivine person. I want to increase my capacities, I want to go beyond and beyond, so that others will be inspired to do the same. This is the message and the inspiration that I am trying to offer.

As soon as we compete with others, we forget our oneness. When we compete, we try to win by hook or by crook and our undivine qualities come forward — jealousy, pride and all kinds of negative things. Then we get unhappy experiences.

Hugh Cassidy: I think it would be great if some champions would lay their egos aside and take on this attitude — the feeling that they don't have to compete with others or challenge others, but just find out what they themselves can do.

Marty Gallagher: In the weight world, the problem today is the way young lifters make progress. When they can no longer go beyond the capacities of the body, they take drugs. And that is a dead end; it's an evil. We know that the way to overcome this drug problem is through the mind, through spirituality. But to get that message out to the young lifters is so difficult. That is why we were so pleased when word of your lifts first came out.

Sri Chinmoy: I am extremely grateful to you. This very thing I call inspiration. There is one gym in San Francisco where they keep two or three of my weightlifting pictures on the wall. Young weightlifters concentrate on my picture and make progress. For days or weeks perhaps they cannot lift something; but after looking at my picture they are able to lift it. Because they believe that I can do it, they feel that they also have the capacity to do it.

This is the kind of inspiration that I wanted to offer through my weightlifting. Competing with others does not serve any purpose. People who want to increase their capacity can seek inspiration from others.

Hugh Cassidy: When you do that, you have to believe in the other person.

Sri Chinmoy: Believers will always believe and disbelievers will never believe, no matter what you do. They will say it is magic or deception. How can you ever prove anything to them? There are many, many things you cannot prove. Right now I cannot prove God to you, but I do know that God exists. My faith in God is infinitely stronger and more fruitful than any proof I can offer you. For me, God is a living Reality. Although I cannot show God to you, that does not mean that the Reality of His Existence is less. I know He exists because I feel Him, I see Him, I talk to Him.

If I have eaten a most delicious mango this morning and I am unable to prove it to you, who cares? You may think I am fooling you, but I will simply say, "You remain satisfied by calling me a liar, and I will remain satisfied that I was lucky enough to eat the mango."

In this world we are all running after satisfaction. Some people get satisfaction by doubting me and speaking ill of me, and I get satisfaction because God's Grace was able to accomplish something in and through me. So each of us is satisfied. Why do we all have to have the same kind of satisfaction? I like water; you like milk. As long as you get milk and I get water, it is fine. But you cannot say that water is very bad and I have no right to tell you that milk is very bad. When I say that my drink is nectar and your drink is all poison, then the problem starts.

My whole approach is through love. Just before I lifted the elephant, I went to the elephant and said, "You are my friend, you are my heart's friend, you are my soul's friend, you are my life's friend." Somebody else might come and try to frighten the elephant, but that is not my way.

Before I lift very heavy weights in my house, I go and touch each plate before I lift it. I can show you on the video. I touch each plate and try to establish my friendship with it, for even an inanimate object has pride. If you are my friend, then you will have no objection if I lift you up. As your friend, I can beg you to do something and you will feel obliged to do it. But if I am your rival, you are under no obligation. If I act like a commander and say "Stand up!", why do you have to listen to me? You will say, "Who are you to tell me to do something?" Then it will be like fighting with an enemy — challenging the weight or being challenged by the weight. The weight will say, "You cannot lift me," and I will say, "I can lift you." At that time, the weight will be like a rival and, as soon as I hold it, there will be a competition between me and the weight. I will say, "I am going to lift you up," and the weight will say, "Who are you to lift me up?"

That is not my approach at all. Instead I become one with the weight itself. My whole approach is one of friendship and oneness. I am trying to be of service on the strength of oneness. So whether it is an inanimate object or an animal or a human being, my whole purpose is to establish oneness, oneness, oneness.

Oneness starts with the members of your family. Then gradually, gradually, you establish your oneness with your neighbours, associates, countrymen and, finally, with the whole world.

Marty Gallagher: You have offered us such good advice. We are going to apply it!

Sri Chinmoy: We take the body as a temple, and the soul inside the body as a shrine. Without the shrine, the temple has no value, Again, without the temple, where can we keep the shrine? If we leave it in the street, people will destroy it. So this body, which is supposed to be the temple, has to be kept clean and pure. But how can the body have purity when the mind is so impure? If my mind enters into rivalry, jealousy and competition, then it is only separating me from you. But if my mind tells me that you are my friend, then we will establish our oneness.

If the mind is a problem, some people say that we have to discard the mind completely. If the vital is a problem, if the vital is aggressive and destructive, they say we should cast aside the vital. If the body is a problem, if the body is lethargic, they say we should renounce the body. This is the way of separation.

But we can also take a positive approach. Instead of rejecting the mind, if we can make the mind clear and pure, and teach it to think positively, then our mind will be a great help to us. If we can ask our vital to become constructive and dynamic, then it can do many good things for us. And if we can ask our body to work for God, sleeplessly and breathlessly, then it will be a tremendous help to us.

This is our way of approaching the inner and the outer life. Others may offer a completely different approach. There are many different roads that lead to the Goal. We cannot say that others are wrong and they cannot say that we are wrong.

Marty Gallagher: Earlier you were saying how you went and touched the plates and became friendly, as it were, with the plates. What other things do you do before you lift? What do you think or not think?

Sri Chinmoy: Before I lift, I do not think at all because, in general, thinking weakens us. When we are lifting heavy weights, we need the power of concentration. It is like this: let us say I am inside my room and I hear people knocking at the door. I have no idea whether they are my friends or my enemies. So what do I do? I say to myself, "Whatever I have to do inside my room, let me do first. If these people are my real friends, they will wait for me. If they are my enemies, their pride will come forward and they will say, 'It is beneath our dignity to waste our precious time here'. Then they will go away. But my good friends will be sympathetic and say, 'Perhaps he is doing something very important and that is why he is not opening the door'. So they will wait for me indefinitely."

When I am lifting heavy weights, at that time I do not allow any thoughts, whether good or bad, to enter into me. I only pray for God's Grace and then surrender to His Will. I fold my hands and say, "I would like to become a faithful and devoted instrument of Yours." Human power is so limited; it cannot lift more than a few pounds by itself. It is the divine Power in me, which I have brought to the fore through my prayer-life, that has enabled me to go from 40 pounds to 7,000 pounds.

We have to believe in a higher Power. If we do not believe in a higher Power, then we cannot go beyond our capacity. It is like being in a tug-of-war. When one individual is fighting against another individual, it can be very difficult since each may have the same strength. But if more people come to their rescue and begin pulling with the other contestants, then each team will have greater capacity.

Similarly, when I pray and meditate, I feel that somebody else is helping me, whereas an ordinary man feels he can only rely on himself. When he is under the weight, he thinks that he is lifting it all by himself. He has practised for so many years and developed his strength and he feels that everything depends on this physical strength. But in my case, I feel that I am only an instrument. There is some other power that is coming to help me. That power I call God's Grace.

Marty Gallagher: We work a lot with young lifters. What advice would you give to them?

Sri Chinmoy: The young lifters and bodybuilders must find an invisible friend who will help them. They must feel that there is Somebody who is eager to help them. They cannot see Him with their eyes, but they can feel Him inside their heart. Many things we cannot see but we can feel.

Let us say that yesterday some young students lifted 200 pounds. They must feel that they have got this capacity from God. If they cannot give credit to God, they should at least give credit to an invisible friend. Or let them say there is a higher force.

They know their own body because they have worked with it for a long time to develop their muscles. But do they also know what their mind can do? When they have a negative thought, they become so weak! Again, when they have a positive thought, how strong they become! While they are lifting, if they think of their rivals, they are bound to fail. At that very moment, they should not think at all. But if they have to think, they should think of their coach who is helping and encouraging and inspiring them.

The best thing, however, is not to think of anybody, but to become one with the weight itself. If the weight and I have become friends, then we do not need anybody else. But if I cannot take the weight as my friend, at least let me think of my coach — that he is so kind to me and is always trying to help me. And if I cannot think of my coach, then at least let me think of the joy I get from lifting and not of somebody else who perhaps is stronger than I am.

There are so many ways we can improve if our mind is trained to think in a positive or divine way. We have so many friends within us and around us. We have to accept the world as our friend, and not as our enemy.

Marty Gallagher: How do you know the moment to actually grab the bar and lift?

Sri Chinmoy: There are various ways I can know. I do not lift the bar until I feel that my thought process has completely stopped and I have become another plate. When I am touching the plates one by one before I lift, I am establishing my friendship and oneness with them. I identify myself so completely with them that I feel I have become the weight itself. If I have become the weight — if I am the body and the weight is my hand — then I can easily raise it.

Marty Gallagher: So many of our lifters lift with aggression and that is why they need huge bodies to lift the weights; whereas, if they were harnessing their real capacities, think of the weights they could lift with these huge bodies!

Hugh Cassidy: Yes, isn't it ironic that most of the lifters in the world are the ones who challenge the weight? They're not the ones who become friends with the weight.

Sri Chinmoy: That is their mistake. A challenge is like a special kind of anger. If I am angry with you, my nerves are weakened. Each time we challenge someone, we inwardly weaken ourselves. But if we establish our oneness with someone, then we get that person's strength.

That is what we are doing with our prayer-life and meditation-life. When we pray and meditate, we are getting God's Strength. It is not that we are stealing it; only we are establishing a free access to it. If you and I have become friends, then immediately you will give me what you have and what you are and I will also give you what I have and what I am. So both our capacities are increased. If I challenge you, I will come with nine dollars and you will show that you have eleven dollars. But if we show our oneness rather than our rivalry, then my nine dollars and your eleven dollars become twenty dollars.

Marty Gallagher: How often do you recommend that a person meditate? Should he meditate before he lifts and for how long?

Sri Chinmoy: Absolute beginners should not meditate at all; they should concentrate. For an absolute beginner, meditation is a difficult process. There are three rungs in the spiritual ladder. The first rung is concentration, the second rung is meditation and the third rung is contemplation.

In my case, I can do all three because I have been practising for many years. But a beginner has to first learn concentration. When he concentrates, his concentration must be on the tiniest part of the weight that he is trying to lift. Suppose I am trying to lift 200 pounds. On one side of the bar is 100 pounds and on the other side is 100 pounds. When I am concentrating, I will focus my attention on my wrist or on my hand, and try to feel the whole weight there. I will not think of the plates on either side. Everything has to be felt at the spot where I am concentrating. While I am concentrating, I have to feel that the weight is smaller than the smallest — no matter how big it is.

But when I am meditating, at that time I will have to see the whole picture — the plates, the bar, everything. Then, when I am contemplating, I have to establish my total oneness with everything — with the plates, with the bar, with the entire apparatus.

Hugh Cassidy: What about breathing?

Sri Chinmoy: As you know, when you want to lift up a heavy weight, it is easier to do so when you are breathing in. It is always good to take deep breaths, not shallow breaths. When I lift very heavy weights, I take three very deep breaths before lifting. The best thing is to feel the breath or the life-energy in your spiritual heart and in your forehead. While you are concentrating, you can feel the same life-energy inside your wrist or inside your palm. It is life-energy that enables us to lift. So when I breathe in, I always feel that my life-energy is inside my forehead and, when I concentrate, I feel it is inside my wrist.

Marty Gallagher: Are you talking about the spiritual third eye?

Sri Chinmoy: Yes, the third eye. Always feel that your power is coming from there. Our will-power is not in our arms or in our shoulders. The will-power that is governing the whole body originates in the third eye — between the eyebrows and a little above.

Weightlifting students who have not been practising meditation should learn how to concentrate. For them that will be easiest. Then they should learn to meditate. In the beginning, if they do not concentrate, they will not be able to bring to the fore their own inner strength. Strength is always there inside us, but the way to bring it to the fore is through concentration and meditation.

Marty Gallagher: How does meditation differ from concentration?

Sri Chinmoy: When we concentrate, we focus on something smaller than the smallest. When we meditate, we meditate on something larger than the largest.

We concentrate on a tiny drop, but we meditate on the vast ocean or the sky. Meditation is vastness, absolute vastness. And contemplation is something far beyond both of these. Contemplation is oneness.

I am extremely, extremely grateful to both of you. I feel that if we can work together positively, there will be countless people who will believe us and who will be able to derive inspiration and benefit. I know that there are some people in the weightlifting world who feel threatened by my approach to weightlifting.

Marty Gallagher: There are people who build careers on the negative and there are always other people who will get malicious pleasure from reading their comments.

Sri Chinmoy: Some people will say that the moon is so beautiful, it gives us light, inspiration and joy. Again, there will be others who will say that there are so many spots on the moon, or that it is not as bright as the sun. Still others will say that even the sun is losing its energy and after a few centuries there will be no sun. Some people will always look at the dark side, but we want to look at the bright side. If we take the positive side, then we make progress. We feel that people who constantly criticise the world and see the negative side of things are unconsciously destroying themselves.

We are trying to become better citizens of the world, and for that we have to go beyond our present capacities. Whatever capacities we have are not enough. We have to become better in every way. By criticising someone, in which way are we becoming better? My right hand can lift up a heavier weight than my left hand. But will I criticise my left hand? Will I say, "Look, why do I have to keep you? You cannot lift as much as my right hand, so the best thing is to chop you off!" Am I such a fool? Because I have established my oneness with both my right hand and my left hand, in no way will I feel that my left hand is inferior. The left hand and the right hand have to go together, like the older brother and the younger brother in a family. If the older brother can lift 200 pounds and the younger brother can lift 20 pounds, the older brother will not feel that the younger one is inferior. If he has sincere love for the younger one and sympathy with him, he is so happy at the younger brother's achievement. Also, he knows that his little brother will be able to make progress and one day he, too, will lift up 200 pounds. And the little brother on his part will feel so happy that his own brother is able to lift 200 pounds.

So this is how we establish our oneness. The older brother could have said, "It is beneath my dignity to identify myself with my younger brother and count his 20 pounds with my 200 pounds." But if he is a good person, he will not do that. He will say, "My little brother has done 20, so now we have 220 pounds in our joint account."

Marty Gallagher: Even a child can see farther if he is sitting on his father's shoulders.

Sri Chinmoy: You are absolutely right. In the long run, it is the haters of mankind who will be the losers, not the lovers of mankind. It is the lovers of humanity who will do something worthwhile for the world and for themselves. Only by positive thinking, by bringing the positive qualities of human beings to the fore, will this world be able to make progress.

Marty Gallagher: You have given us much to think on. Would you be so kind as to give me an autograph for my young children? They asked me for it. As I was walking out the door, my young son came up and said, "Could you please get Sri Chinmoy's autograph for me?"

Sri Chinmoy: I shall gladly do it. I am so grateful to you for coming to see me. You have been extremely, extremely kind to me, and my gratitude is the only thing I can offer to both of you.

Published in Aspiration-body, illumination-soul, part 3