Sri Chinmoy answers questions about his art
Question: Up to now, it has been a marathon — a lot of paintings in a short span of time. Will you arrive at a point where you will slow down and do only one or two large, detailed paintings?
Sri Chinmoy: Unfortunately, I am a person who either starves or eats voraciously. When I start again, I will draw hundreds or thousands at a time. I do the same when I write poems. Right from my childhood, when I started writing poems, I would write twenty or thirty in one day and not write again for several days. I will do more paintings, but it will probably be in a year or two. Usually I do not have the patience to do large paintings.
I am a consciously devoted machine or instrument. He who utilises me is far beyond speed. In Puerto Rico, when I did 181 paintings in one hour and fourteen minutes, I was constantly talking on the phone and to the people around me, but I did not lose my highest consciousness or my speed. Sometimes I feel sorry for my hand because it has to go so fast.
To come back to your question, I always do things on a large scale and, as I have said before, my problem, if it can be called a problem, is quantity, while the Supreme’s problem is quality. I will go on being the Supreme’s instrument, doing things on a large scale, and He will be responsible for the quality.
Question: Many painters paint objects, like birds and flowers, but most of your paintings seem to be abstract.
Sri Chinmoy: Each painting is a reality in another world. I have seen them there, as I see you here. Some people trace things, but in my case I see things and paint them. There are many things we are not familiar with or that we have not seen on earth, so we call them abstract; but as soon as we enter into the intuitive world, we see that they are realities.
Question: In essence, you are really painting what you see?
Sri Chinmoy: Absolutely. I have been to these worlds and I know what they have to offer.
Question: Some people feel that your type of art expresses realities that have never been seen by the world before.
Sri Chinmoy: Some people may say that this sounds like flattery, but reality is reality. Out of false modesty I can deny it, but if I say these paintings are not something unique, then in later years when other spiritual Masters try to assess my painting, they will say that I captured the realities of other worlds but was unconscious of it. You cannot deny reality. In my case I do not want to say I have done it unconsciously. I am an instrument of the Supreme, true, but in this incarnation at least, I have never been an unconscious instrument.
Question: By revealing these scenes to the ordinary world, have you incurred any anger from the cosmic gods?
Sri Chinmoy: Not in the least. I went beyond these gods many years ago. When I was on the verge of realisation and just beyond, the cosmic gods and I had some wonderful fights. Now they claim me. When we start our upward journey, we get opposition from our own world — people become jealous. Then, when we go a little higher, we see that the deities that reign over these higher worlds also become jealous and try to keep down the people who are trying to go beyond them. And when one is about to realise God, he gets tremendous opposition from the higher worlds. But when the gods see that the Supreme wants this person to attain this power, they surrender to His Will. Again, among the cosmic gods there are some, like Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, who are higher than all the others. They do not create opposition; they inspire and don’t obstruct. Ten or fifteen years ago I got problems from real spiritual Masters of the highest order also, but now we are all one; they are within me and for me. Right now I get opposition only from the earth plane.
Question: Are there any other human artists who have consciously or unconsciously tried to express these other planes?
Sri Chinmoy: Some artists have visited other planes, but they do not have access to all the planes. Seekers usually only go to these planes once or twice in a lifetime, but spiritual Masters have free access to them. If one is an expert artist, then he will beautifully reproduce what he sees. In my case, sometimes I see things but cannot express them because I have not learned the artistic techniques. It is like a camera. When we take a picture with coloured film, we expect that the colour will be the same, but that does not always happen.
In school I studied art for only two or three years, and art was not part of our family. In our family we never cared for painting, only poetry; that is why I write poetry easily. If one member of my family had been a great artist, painting would have been easier for me.
If someone was great in some specific field in his previous incarnation and God wants him to bring forward that capacity again and transcend it, he will. On the other hand, if one was really great in a past life, God may now say, “You have been a great musician; now become a great artist.” I was never an artist in any previous incarnations, but because I am a Yogi, I can attain anything by using will power or occult power. It is by virtue of my yogic power that I am doing this.
Question: Once when you were showing us some paintings I had the feeling that each picture had a soul.
Sri Chinmoy: Each creation has something in it which embodies the life force. My paintings are realities of higher worlds and each reality embodies a soul. Sometimes while I am painting, I talk to the soul or the entity that the picture embodies. Many times I see that when the paintings are placed on the floor after I finish them, they talk to me. Just like the fairies that our Radha draws, they literally dance. Also, many times from the higher worlds I have gotten comments on my paintings.
Question: Would an artist have a better understanding of your paintings than an ordinary person?
Sri Chinmoy: Not necessarily. I know many artists and musicians. Either they are extremely spiritual or they like to criticise and find fault with other people’s work. An artist may or may not be kind and have brotherly feelings for other human beings. Dulal’s sister is an excellent artist, and she feels that my paintings are good. But there are many artists who will criticise me or be jealous of me. If an artist sees that someone else is climbing up his tree, he is often afraid that he will be surpassed, so he becomes jealous.
Again, my expression of ideas is one thing, and an artist’s understanding is another. Most of my paintings are not representations of something we see in the outer world, like a bird or a tree. An abstract that I have drawn — which is a reality in another world — another artist may discard because it is beyond his capacity to enter into the realm of that painting. Sometimes when I draw a bird, you may see something wrong in it. There another artist will act like a real judge, and criticise it. But the force that has created these paintings will not remain dormant; it will burst forth. Then my art will not be compared with others’ art because it is a different kind, and there will definitely be some people who will appreciate it.
Question: Is it true to say the human mind as we know it was surpassed? Was it your highest aspect that saw the things that you have painted and you only used the human mind to capture them on paper?
Sri Chinmoy: It was not the human mind, believe me. When I was touching the brushes and choosing colours, an intuitive magnet pulled me. If you had asked me what colour I was using, my earthly mind could not have told you, because I was in the intuitive world. If I touched blue, it was not that I was thinking about it. Here on earth leaves are green, but when I am drawing a tree that does not mean I will choose green, because in other worlds things frequently have different colours than they do on earth. So when I paint, since I become an instrument, I am compelled to choose certain colours.
Question: Given what you just told us, do you think in ten or fifteen years people will accept this as a different form of art?
Sri Chinmoy: Until recently, when poets wrote poetry they were expected to follow certain rules. If there was no rhyme, there was no poetry. Now poets use blank verse. In the field of art also there are some fixed mental attitudes, but these will also change.
Question: Most of your paintings have been small. Will you do larger ones?
Sri Chinmoy: I will do larger ones only by persuasion. I am fond of small ones but my disciples beg me to do larger ones. I understand why — people appreciate them more. However, I prefer small ones.
Question: Why can’t the small ones be enlarged?
Sri Chinmoy: I would be happy if they were. The small ones are spontaneous. They have come to me right from the beginning. If the Supreme changes His Mind, however, I will do more larger ones.
Question: You have worked in many media since you started painting. Which is your favourite?
Sri Chinmoy: My favourite is acrylic.
Question: What is the particular quality of acrylic that you like?
Sri Chinmoy: Its brilliance and density. If something is dense and intense, it usually has no brilliance, but acrylic is different; in acrylic I find both. It shines and is also dense. It is delicate and yet solid.
Question: Are the colours that you see inwardly much more brilliant than what you paint?
Sri Chinmoy: They are much more brilliant and in much more variety. India is very poor and the United States is very rich, but I have seen colours in India which do not exist in America. Similarly, in the inner world the colours that I see are much more brilliant and there is a much greater variety.
Question: Sometimes some of the great artists and poets of the past have done works that seem to have been divinely inspired, but their lives did not seem to be spiritual. How is it that one’s life can be undivine and his work divine?
Sri Chinmoy: Just because each individual has a soul, there is the possibility that once or twice during a person’s life the soul may come to the fore and then God can manifest in and through the particular poet or artist. The individual has not done it. When he was working on his masterpiece, his soul came forward and one could say that momentarily he became a saint of the highest order. When the soul comes forward, this happens.
The Supreme is not bound by anything. We think that if a person has a bad character, the Supreme should look down on him. But the Supreme sees Himself in all His creation. Who is having the experience in and through the person? The Supreme. The Supreme’s unconditional Compassion does not depend on what a person does in the outer life. Although a person may not be saintly, as long as he is sorry for his weaknesses, at that time the Supreme’s Compassion knows no bounds.
It is one thing to achieve something and it is another to remain in a divine consciousness. Sometimes when a person reaches the height of spirituality, a kind of pride enters into him. Someone else may have inner aspiration, but be weak. How do we know if these undivine people did not have an inner urge to become divine? If we enter into them, we may see that they did. We cannot judge these artists by their outer life. One may lead a bad life for a long time, but there may be purity within him which will eventually come to the fore and then he will become the flower of purity. On the other hand, someone may lead an austere life, yet not be pure.
Published in AUM – Vol. 2, No.12, 27 December 1975