by Abhinabha Tangerman

Muscles of the Guru swell for peace



Not all the unusual things deemed common in the exciting and mind-altering sixties have escaped everyday life. The Beatles may have ended, the flower-power withered and men’s hair length returned to above the ear: the gurus have remained. Indian enlightened masters, who in the wake of Beatle George Harrison have tiptoed into many a teenage brain, have over the course of the years permanently nestled in Western society. With Baghwan [Osho] as most famous representative.

Yet the times change for gurus as well. Sri Chinmoy, hailing from Bengal but a resident of New York since 1964, shows how an enlightened master as a campaigner for world peace can successfully key into new trends. At first glance, there is nothing unusual about him. Shortly before his visit, his disciples distribute flyers showing a slender man dressed in traditional Indian garb, holding a flute to his lips. Old news, is the first thing that comes to mind.

But when Sri Chinmoy presents himself to the press on Saturday night, just before his peace concert, it is another man than the one gracing the brochures. No garments, but a flashing sports outfit draped with a fashionably padded coat in light blue and yellow and a lilac polo short barely visible underneath. Yet not only the clothing is different. His posture is also much less fragile than the picture suggests; the sturdy neck and broad shoulders remind one rather of the muscles of a boxer than the corporeal casing of a guru.

Next to the table from where Sri addresses the press a structure to lift standing weights is positioned. Two signs indicate that the weight to be lifted is the same as the guru’s own. Although the set-up features prominently during question time the guru does not give a demonstration, despite an announcement. But if we are to believe the documented information moving such weights is a simple task for Sri Chinmoy. One year ago the master astounded the world by raising a dumbbell weighing 3200 kilograms with one arm in front of 24 witnesses in New York. Seemingly an impossible achievement.

Inner source

Yet he casually dismisses sneering questions suggesting his performance is more akin to a circus act. “Physical fitness can help us in our inner life. The body must first become a pure and perfect instrument of the inner and the spiritual. I am not a bodybuilder and neither a weightlifter. I am a seeker of truth and a lover of God. My inner and outer secret is prayer and meditation. The capacity to lift these weights comes from an inner source.”

Apart from developing these remarkable physical capacities, Sri Chinmoy has also found time to write 700 books, compose 6000 songs and create 140,000 paintings. He also played many church organs all over the world, including the one in the Vatican. From the tower of the Grote Kerk [Dutch church] as well several tones have spread out over the city last Saturday, a follower reports. “Sri Chinmoy has set himself the goal of playing on 100 big church organs,” she adds full of admiration. It seems the guru and his disciples primarily believe in the magic of big numbers. He shrugs if a quick calculation is presented that he must have made ten paintings a day since he was 16 years old. “Go and see for yourself in Manhattan. There they have exhibited 20,000 of them,” he says somewhat irritable. When a next question is not forthcoming the mind of the master temporarily leaves the room. The neck bends, the eyes half close and turn away. Meditation or demonstration?

Although every now and again a little cynicism is expressed during the reception, the appreciation of Sri Chinmoy in America is huge. Ever since the days of U Thant he meditates every Tuesday and Friday in the chapel of the United Nations building in New York. People like Pablo Casals and Leonard Bernstein praise his musical gifts and creativity. And luminaries like Muhammad Ali, Coretta Scott King and Pope John Paul II pose with him in newspaper photographs. Sri was active in the pop scene as well. He saved rock star Carlos Santana from drugs and alcohol.

The peace concert in the Congresgebouw reveals Sri’s current followers. Mostly youngsters, many of whom come from surrounding countries, especially Germany. The Prins Willem-Alexander hall is unable to house them all. A great number has to stand outside disappointed. Sri remains unperturbed under the scramble in front of the doors. In a dazzling orange brocade garment, he elicits serene melodies from a host of instruments. Gently flowing tones that submerge a great part of the hall into meditation.

“Through a healthy body and meditation, you can transcend yourself. You will more easily achieve better things,” states the enlightened master. His followers, most of them in white, are dressed in sportswear or something looking like it. When Sri plays they fold their hands devotedly under their chin. They meditate for peace, a healthy body and better achievements. Sri Chinmoy is the guru of the eighties.

Why not?


Sri Chinmoy in action as a weightlifter in the US [left]
The peace concert in the Congresgebouw (World Forum concert venue) [right]

Published in the Dutch newspaper, Haagsche Courant, in The Hague, 14 March 1988