Spiritual leader and peace activist
Wednesday 17 October 2007
Chinmoy Kumar Ghose (Sri Chinmoy) spiritual leader, teacher and peace activist: born Shakpura, India 27 August 1931; died New York 11 October 2007.
Popular mythology tends to imagine a guru – in the word's original and proper Hindu sense of spiritual adviser or teacher – as a placid and mostly sedentary figure. Not so Sri Chinmoy, who wove vigorous exercise into a meditational system that preached peace and inner harmony and gained him thousands of disciples worldwide, as well as admirers ranging from the last Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, to the Olympic champion Carl Lewis and the soul and jazz singer Roberta Flack.
And of what other spiritual leader from the Indian subcontinent, Christendom or the Islamic world could it be claimed that he (or she) not only produced countless thousands of books, poems, songs and drawings – but also ran ultra-marathons, swam the English Channel, shoulder-pressed 7,000lb on a special apparatus and publicly lifted trucks, planes, houses to underline the urgency of boosting humanitarian aid?
Such, however, was Sri Chinmoy. Some derided his activities as gimmickry. Others claimed he ran a sinister cult. More fundamentally, his success reflected a paradox of the modern age, where official religion has manifestly failed to provide answers to the world's problems, leading man's unquenched spiritual thirst to seek less conventional outlets. By the end of Chinmoy's life, the meditation centre he ran in the New York borough of Queens claimed 7,000 disciples in some 60 countries.
Born the youngest of seven children, in East Bengal, now Bangladesh, he was orphaned in 1944 at the age of 12. That year Chinmoy entered the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, a spiritual community near Pondicherry in South India. There he spent the next two decades practising the Ashram's version of "integral yoga" – meditating, writing, exercising and working in the community, as part of the search for self-knowledge, self-liberation and union with the supreme spirit.
These ideas he took with him when in 1964 he followed an "inner command" and moved halfway round the world to New York City. There he worked initially as a clerk in the Indian consulate, and quickly opened his meditation centre, in Queens. His fame and following steadily grew. By 1968 he was giving talks at Yale, Harvard and other leading universities. In 1970 he began to hold regular meditation sessions at the United Nations, the body he believed offered the best hope of international peace and reconciliation.
In 1987 he founded the World Harmony Run, a sort of global relay for peace. By then a knee injury had long since put paid to his running. Instead he threw himself into weight lifting – hoisting planes and trucks as well as famous individuals, from Nelson Mandela and Jesse Jackson to Hollywood celebrities and Japanese sumo wrestlers.
The stunts, as some of them most certainly were, generated publicity. But Chinmoy's athleticism underlined a deeper point: that physical activity played a vital part in the search for enlightenment. "His life was all about challenging yourself and being the best you can be," Carl Lewis said.
Some challenges were curious indeed. A special section of the Guinness Book of Records could be devoted to the accomplishments of his followers. Take Ashrita Furman, a health-food store manager, who in 2004 pushed an orange a mile with his nose in 24 minutes 36 seconds, under the gaze of Chinmoy in person, and has covered five miles on one-metre stilts in slightly over 39 minutes.
But however frivolous, these achievements were vindication of his belief that everyone is capable of things they believe to be beyond them. For Chinmoy, a particular person's religion was immaterial. "You call it Christianity, I call it Hinduism, somebody calls it Judaism and somebody else calls it Islam," he would say. "But there is only one religion . . . there are many branches of the religion-tree, but there is only one religion, and that religion is God-realisation."
The path lay through harmony and enlightenment, to reach what he called "the ever-transcending beyond". Progress towards that goal could never end, "for God himself is inside each of us and God at every moment is transcending his own reality".
- 1 This 'woman calls police to order pizza' story isn't going where you're expecting
- 2 Axe wielding man shot dead after attacking four New York policemen on busy street
- 3 Watch what happened when food critics were unknowingly served McDonald's
- 4 Jimmy Carr's Oscar Pistorius joke goes a bit too far at the Q Awards
- 5 Ottawa shootings: Bruce MacKinnon's cartoon is the perfect tribute to soldier Nathan Cirillo
Renee Zellweger on plastic surgery rumours: 'I'm living a more fulfilling life and I'm thrilled that perhaps it shows'
FCKH8: YouTube reinstates provocative anti-sexism video showing young girls swearing
Axe wielding man shot dead after attacking four New York policemen on busy street
This 'woman calls police to order pizza' story isn't going where you're expecting
Jimmy Carr's Oscar Pistorius joke goes a bit too far at the Q Awards
Of course, teenage girls need role models – but not like beauty vlogger Zoella
Cameron is warned 'no possibility' of UK reducing immigration and that bid to bring in quota on migrant workers would be illegal
Support for EU membership 'at highest level since 1991' with most Brits wanting to stay 'in'
Thousands with degenerative conditions classified as 'fit to work in future' – despite no possibility of improvement
Attacks on 'Ukip Calypso' show how skewed people’s priorities are
London bus driver 'kicks gay couple off for kissing'
£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...
£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...
£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...
£47,334 - £59,058 per annum: Coventry University: The Centre for Agroecology, ...