Beyond speech and mind,
Into the river of ever-effulgent Light,
My heart dives.
Today, thousands of doors, closed for millennia,
Are opened wide.
Sri Chinmoy 1
"You will like him," said Nasser, a Professor-colleague of mine at the University of Moncton in New Brunswick, a small province in eastern Canada. He was referring to the fact that every Sunday morning in the fall of 1986, one of Sri Chinmoy’s students would drive from the Halifax meditation Centre – located two hours away – to offer his spiritual Master’s message of inner peace and harmony to local seekers, inviting them at the same time to join Sri Chinmoy's "Path of the Heart."
Seven or eight people would come and learn how to meditate; each session would end with a few treats that he would offer us. Strange to my eyes: he comes, pays all of his own expenses, never asks for a dime and offers us some food as well. Every week he also brings a few meditation books and tapes. No sales pressure, though: they are there for us to look at or to buy, if we choose to. He surely did not pay his trip expenses with the books sold during those September sessions!
That morning, as soon as he arrived in the classroom (which had been transformed into a meditation hall), he put a Transcendental Photograph of his Master, Sri Chinmoy (whom he referred to as Guru) on a small table in the University of Moncton’s Education building. He set up another table with the books and tapes. Before settling down to meditate, though, he said something like: I would like to stretch a little after such a drive. Why don’t we all go for a run?
I thought this was a little bizarre, to say the least: we come here to learn how to meditate, and he takes us out for a run...this is crazy, was my mind’s initial reaction. As usual in my case, the first reaction was not necessarily the most illumined one. But my heart’s response was positive.
Seeing him run was a treat. He ran with such grace, such elegance, such light. Although I wasn’t a runner at the time, I could appreciate the agility of what looked like a feather-like series of synchronized movements that he seemed to thoroughly enjoy. His feet barely touched the ground; he ran like a deer, or like a gazelle! (I learned later that Guru had told him he had been a gazelle in an earlier life.)
So my mind was judging his actions – and him as well – but my heart was opening up. How many times thereafter this kind of mind-heart dialogue occurred, I cannot say! My critical mind, coming from a human perspective or an academic viewpoint, would think: These things are crazy. A deeper voice, in loving silence, would whisper: This is beautiful. It is the food my heart and soul need. Gradually I was being introduced to the language of surrender.
But that Sunday morning, I was definitely not ready to surrender... Meditate, sure! Surrender? No way! So the idea, suggested the gazelle-runner, was to silence the mind, to transcend the mind and get to the heart, home of the soul. To go beyond... to dive into a river of spiritual consciousness. How? In silence, he suggested.
I went back home that Sunday morning with an audio tape by a female singing group from Sweden, whose voices made you believe, if you simply closed your eyes, that you were listening to angels descended directly from Heaven.
"This meditation group offers free workshops," I told my family upon returning home to my suburban home. "This is unbelievable!" My wife replied, "Are you sure this is not another gimmick, like that other meditation group we went to? Remember, we ended up paying $500 for the two mantras they gave us? And besides, we badly need this money to feed the kids."2 She was right! We were not rich; I had just completed my doctoral thesis, and this five-year task, without a paying job, had been quite expensive. We needed money for our young children, the house, the car... But in my heart, I wanted to continue, to explore, at least, this message of inner peace.
So the following morning, before the kids got up (this had to be early, because our son was an early bird), I sneaked out of bed, went into the basement, created a little space in my office area, sat on the floor, and started reciting AUM, trying to empty my mind of all thoughts, like the running guy had suggested. I quickly realized that my mind was a bottomless source of ideas. One thought goes, one hundred others come... My preliminary conclusion: in my case at least, the unending parade of ceaseless thoughts is simply impossible to master.
And then the famous doubt-delegation poured in. Yes, my family was right. This is nonsense. Plus, this cannot be free... there is surely something fishy there. And so much for emptying the mind, anyway. After all, I need my mind. In my work as a professor, this gift-of-God mind is my bread and butter. In a university, the mind is king of kings. Plus, Descartes was right: "I think, therefore I am." If you stop to consider it, there is not even an argument: God gave us this faculty so that we could put it to good use, constructing a logical world, full of enlightening discourses, deductions and conclusions. So much for a Sunday morning dream and the Monday morning wake-up... Except for the little voice, which came to me in the initial words of Sri Chinmoy’s poem, The Absolute:
No mind, no form, I only exist
Now ceased all will and thought...3
No, we can’t live without the mind, obviously. But then the inner voice responded: Have a childlike heart. Remember how peaceful you were when you were a child, looking at a flower, looking at your mother. Be a seven-year-old child and see the world, see yourself, see others, with different eyes, the eyes of the heart. So, on the following mornings, I continued to sit down and try to silence the mind. One of the joys of meditation was listening to the Swedish girls’ tape; these songs carried me to great experiences of light and bliss.
But my mind always came back with questions: What the heck was the running freak talking about? It’s time to return to real life... the life where nothing is free. The kids need bread and butter. How can a meditation centre survive on selling a few books and tapes? Definitely, this stuff is not made for a married man, sole breadwinner of the family. In today’s society, nothing is free. I thanked my family for bringing me back to reality. And it was true: how could this guy give away free the mantras of AUM, Shanti and Peace, offer free meditation classes, and afford a 400-km trip to talk to a few seekers on a Sunday morning?
No, I thought, I am not like Jonathan Livingston Seagull, who wanted to spend his life flying. I have to be in touch with reality, be a breadwinner and a responsible father. I travel so much. I attend meetings and conferences, here and there, all over the place. Besides all this, I have to admit that I find mental activity fulfilling... Better to just be realistic and stop this fantasy-world where you empty your mind of thoughts. Thoughts are needed for the world to evolve, for science to continue its progress... and for my ego to continue its journey towards becoming a full professor!
But still, I decided to continue to explore what the gazelle-guy had to offer. And a few weeks later, in spite of all my doubts and tribulations, I submitted an application to become Sri Chinmoy’s disciple. I wrote down a few words about my little self, the inner search that had been calling me for so long, my daily Hatha yoga exercises during the past ten years. As I learned later, the letter and a photograph of me were sent to Queens, New York, home of Sri Chinmoy. In late October of 1986, the answer came from Halifax: "Congratulations, Sri Chinmoy has meditated on your photo and has accepted you as his disciple! You are invited to go to see him in Queens, very soon."
Oh, oh, another weekend away from home! This sounds great, but there is friction in the air. I am excited, but very apprehensive... A Guru in my life?
The awakened consciousness of man is visibly tending towards the Divine. This is a most hopeful streak of light amidst the surrounding obscurities of today. This is a moment, not merely of joining hands, but of joining minds, hearts and souls. Across all physical and mental barriers between East and West, high above national standards, above even individual standards, will fly the supreme banner of Divine Oneness.
- 1. Sri Chinmoy, Supreme, teach me how to surrender, 1975
- 2. The purpose of reporting these anecdotes is not intended as any disparagement of my ex-wife. On the contrary, she remains a very good friend to this day. It is simply to illustrate the challenges faced by many people, including myself, when embarking upon a spiritual journey - questions from family, friends, and work colleagues are quite challenging, particularly in our Western world. These considerations make the initial commitment very difficult. I’ve seen the same kind of problem come up with other seekers many times over the years.
- 3. Sri Chinmoy, My Flute, Agni Press, 1972
- 4. Sri Chinmoy, Yoga and the Spiritual Life