by Mrinali Christine Clarke
This dissertation was
originally submitted to fulfil
the BA (Honours) requirements
at Monash University,
Victoria, Australia, 1989.
The previous chapter – the Trial – began an exploration of those steps that a spiritual aspirant must endure to break through obstacles and overcome human failings before union with his Beloved can be attained. Here, in Chapter Three, we finally come to the poet’s work which seeks to describe the experience of that Union. This is the culmination of the spiritual quest and through the final topics we witness how the English language, hewn by the divine Poet, portrays the exalted states of fulfilment and blissful absorption into divine Consciousness.
• Unconditional surrender
• Attaining the Goal: God-realisation / Self-realisation
As we all can recognise from our favourite stories, the archetypal protagonist in quest mythology is frequently sent or compelled to venture on a journey, overcome trials of courage and endurance, win a treasure, secret knowledge or powers, and return with a new wisdom which will elevate him or her above the ordinary human being. In the ever-transcending spiritual quest portrayed in the writings of Sri Chinmoy, we can recognise many of the recurring motifs of quest mythology. These universal motifs may take on a deeply personal layer of significance as they resonate with our own individual quest for identity and purpose. They may even lead us to speculate on humanity’s true hidden purpose and destiny. Indeed, we may ask if humanity’s spiritual quest for its own inherent divinity is actually the archaic prototype for all quest traditions, stemming from past aeons; a deep unconscious aspiration for a lost unity, which is even now still unfolding.
In this final chapter, I wish to show how Sri Chinmoy illustrates and documents his philosophy that the ultimate key to God-realisation or Self-realisation is unconditional surrender to the Inner Pilot or the Will of the soul – that part of the Self that is in actual fact a tiny portion of the Absolute Consciousness. We have seen that the challenge is to distinguish that inner voice from the myriad of others clamouring for predominance – the mind, vital, physical and so on. The writings of Sri Chinmoy give us an exceptionally rare opportunity to explore the final attainment and expression of union with the highest consciousness, the true Self. In addition, through Sri Chinmoy’s lyrics we can trace how he has approached and overcome the problem of using the medium of the English language to express this lofty state.
I believe that the oracy evidenced in much of the poetry of Sri Chinmoy arises from his ability to create pieces in entirety. Sri Chinmoy often wrote or dictated his work from a meditative state, explaining that he was simply engaged in ‘bringing down’ the message from a higher realm. Across the span of time he was based in New York, some 43 years, his poetry changed and became more free, economical and aphoristic in style. This gift, coupled with the almost timeless and sceneless nature of the verse, serves to highlight and emphasise the internal nature of The Quest. This in turn lends itself to the backdrop of the universal, and frames the individual experience in epic dimensions.
In this first example, “Hope-Blossoms”, we begin to see the spiritual aspirant coming to an understanding of the necessary steps towards unconditional surrender:
All my hopes will be blossomed like flowers
When I learn the language of surrender.
When I do not burn myself
In the fire of desire,
And when peace is desired by my restless mind,
Then my life will grow
Into the flower of beauty divine.1
In this brief lyric the poet suggests that surrender itself is a relatively foreign concept to humanity. Indeed, it is a subject as large as a new language, something that has to supplant the relentless reasoning of the mind and transcend the myriad wants of the life of desire. The image of blossoming flowers, yoked to the impulse of hope, inspires the imagination and contrasts starkly with oft-times destructive desires and the restlessness of human life: “When I do not burn myself/In the fire of desire”. Temptation now has to be transcended by the seeker. This consuming image of self-immolation is in stark contrast to the surrender that moves us towards a state of peace for the restless mind. The seeker is poised momentarily between the ordinary struggles in life and the life of ‘beauty divine’. It is clear that the restless mind and vital consciousness must of necessity join in the quest for the highest prize. However, it is not the indignity of a slave’s surrender to a master that is envisaged; it has be understood that surrender entails a less developed part of the self surrendering to the highest, most illumined part of the self. The sustaining image is that the poverty of human life will be supplanted. The seeker is growing into his divine nature, for as Sri Chinmoy frequently affirms: “God is our most illumined part. We cannot separate God from our existence.”2
In the following poem, we witness how much the seeker is willing to sacrifice to attain surrender. As Whitman used the idea of flight to characterise the soul – “I fly the flight of the fluid and swallowing Soul” – Sri Chinmoy uses the metaphor of the soul as a bird in flight, in some inner sky, mimicking the feeling of the aspiration or upliftment of the heart in meditation:3
Break asunder all my hopes.
Only keep one hope,
And that hope is to learn
The language of Your inner Silence
In my utter, unconditional surrender,
In Your clear and free Sky I shall be calm
The bird of my heart is dancing today
In the festival of supernal Light.4
The seeker’s mood here seems one of desperation. He invokes God as Power, imploring God to sunder all, to sever even all the fragile human hopes of ambition, ego and ignorance that separate them. The small human notions of how we can aspire to reach God by our own efforts have been discarded. The phrase ‘utter, unconditional surrender’, evokes an image of complete inner submission, almost annihilation, to achieve an absorption of the personality. It is a call for a complete separation from the ego. It brings to mind sacrifice, but again it is the sacrifice only of the lower nature, a divine transformation to reach a higher perfection. And with this relinquishment, the final boon of freedom can be attained. To be absorbed into the unknown ‘Silence’, the clear and free sky of the Supreme Being, seems paradoxically both a terrifying and compelling prospect for the subject of the poem. Yet, we see the inner being rejoicing at the prospect of the prize and we join the jubilation: the final image of expectation anticipates a celebration of the Light ‘supernal’.
It is worth digressing to a short definition poem that meditates upon the nature of ‘Silence’, which Sri Chinmoy uses to profile the lofty realms of the Absolute Being:
SILENCE SPEAKS, SILENCE LEADS
Silence is not silent.
It speaks most eloquently.
Silence is not still.
It leads most perfectly. 5
The poet plays on the idea of silence not as an absence or emptiness, but rather as a substance, a benevolent communication, a movement. The term ‘eloquently’ suggests a delicacy and mastery in the state of Nirvana, the higher state of meditative fulfilment. This state is sometimes caricatured to our Western sensibility as static or comatose. For Sri Chinmoy, it is a state of wisdom, dynamic as well as ecstatic, more fecund and profound than we can envisage. Furthermore, this substantive silence has definite metaphysical qualities of intent, of leadership, inferring the eternally revealed truth, hence subtly revealing the omnipotent, omniscient Being who permeates all. It is interesting to note that Sri Chinmoy often uses the term ‘fulness’ to describe that ineffable feeling of the Supreme inside us, a presence rather than an absence, satisfying, expansive and complete. This exposition of the ‘profile’ or personality of the Divine is often drawn in delightful and surprising ways in the writings of Sri Chinmoy and will be revisited later.
In the next example Sri Chinmoy plays further with the paradoxical nature of the state of surrender for the speaker:
Whatever appears to leave us
Actually does not leave,
Whatever appears to stay with us
Actually does not stay,
Everything is a mystery
Of constant gain and loss. 6
This is a restatement of the paradox in different ways; a contemplation, which illustrates the wonderment, bafflement, even amusement of the speaker. His deepening mystification over the state of being he is experiencing illustrates to us the shifting sands of the notion of the self. Impossible to paraphrase, one can only move around the peripheral intimations: the expected loss of individuality, freedom, limitation or even materiality itself, is actually reversed in surrender. The unreachable – liberation – is the prize won, yet is it actually only rediscovered? This poem strongly evokes the ineffability and unknowability of the divine Will and purpose, particularly in relation to surrender.
The metaphor of life as a sea journey is a thread in literature that comes down to us from ancient times, employed by writers ranging from the Stoics, through to the Transcendentalist tradition and into the modern era. It is also utilised extensively by Sri Chinmoy, who portrays the Supreme Consciousness or God, as a Boatman, steering the seeker towards the Goal. Walt Whitman also uses this metaphor, portraying the ‘cheerful boatmen’ rowing across time. It is as much a metaphor perhaps for the lives that have gone before, hinting at cycles of evolution:
Immense have been the preparations for me …
Cycles ferried my cradle, rowing and rowing like cheerful boatmen.7
In the following poem, Sri Chinmoy extends the metaphor:
O MY BOATMAN
O my Boat, O my Boatman,
O message of Transcendental Delight,
Carry me. My heart is thirsty and hungry,
And it is fast asleep at the same time.
Carry my heart to the other shore.
The dance of death I see all around
The thunder of destruction indomitable I hear.
O my Inner Pilot, You are mine,
You are the Ocean of Compassion infinite.
In You I lose myself,
My all in You I lose.8
The metaphor of the sea journey for Sri Chinmoy perfectly encapsulates the human spiritual quest. The Supreme Being is the boat, the vessel, as well as the Boatman, the Inner Pilot inside man and the destination, the Goal itself. The ‘other shore’ is that haven where the heart will be fulfilled at last. All these images are blended into one to symbolise the ‘Ocean of Compassion infinite’. The Supreme Consciousness is not only permeating all, it is All. As the seeker finally becomes aware of this sublime ocean of Consciousness, he partakes of an interaction, the gift of divine Compassion. Thus, he escapes the disintegration and entropy of the death-in-life dance of the ordinary, the mundane and potentially destructive world. The self, which had been trapped in a repetitious dance of forgetfulness in death and forced to begin the journey to self-consciousness again after each re-birth, is finally absolved. The restatement at the close is a dual affirmation for the surrender of the capacities and the ego of the seeker, and the subsequent assimilation of man into God.
The following poem also suggests that the descent of Compassion is an integral part of the interchange between the seeker and the divine, but, by contrast with the dramatic portrayal in the former piece, this is a more tender and intimate portrait.
THE MESSAGE OF SURRENDER
Today You have given me
The message of surrender.
I have offered to You
My very flower-heart.
In the dark night with tears,
In the unknown prison-cell of illusion,
In the house of the finite,
No longer shall I abide.
I know You are mine.
I have known this, Mother,
O Queen of the Eternal.9
In this example, we see the poet using the characteristic Eastern invocation of God as the Mother, with its context of the sweetness and intimacy between mother and child. It becomes apparent here that the ‘message of surrender’ has originated with the divine as a form of Grace that is bestowed upon the seeker. The lines ‘In the dark night with tears/In the unknown prison-cell of illusion/In the house of the finite’ not only signify the world of human suffering and limited vision, but also the suffering that ensues for the individual seeker in his separate physical form, apart from the divine. The prison-cell of illusion alludes to the maya, the deception of the physical world, whereas the ‘house of the finite’ describes the frailty and brief mortality of the human body. The Mother, the ‘Queen of the Eternal’, in Her divine aspect of Compassion has showered Her blessings in the form of surrender itself. It is She who has wrought this miracle, bestowed the message that guides the way. The hard-won realisation is understood, “I know You are mine’, and yet again there is that sense that this was always known at some level. Once more we witness the paradoxical exchange, that it is the Supreme who will bestow the surrender before the self can be offered and before the divine in turn can be felt, realised and regained.
This exchange of capacities between the Mother and child, the Divine and human, is an intrinsic feature of the philosophy of Sri Chinmoy, emphasising in turn the equality and interdependence of both. It is this perfect, selfless love and trust between the parent and child that is held up as the emblem of the divine relationship. This simple reality, perhaps eternally known, recalled and revealed, is not only attainable by all, but inevitable, as Sri Chinmoy takes great pains to assure us over and again:
TWO HOPES OF GOD
Two hopes of God:
Man will take His place,
Man will give Him rest,
The next step in The Quest is the ultimate one, the pinnacle of spiritual and mystical experience. It is the expression of realisation itself. In the following series of lyrics Sri Chinmoy invites the reader to witness the culmination of the seeker’s journey. The Goal is at last irrevocably won, and the reader can stand with the poet on the verge of this revelation as he attempts to express the inconceivable beauty of this, the highest spiritual union. As Dr. Bennett has noted previously, any expression here must remain a severe understatement of the actual experience of God-union. Sri Chinmoy joins his forebears from many mystical and literary traditions who have dared to ‘point a finger at the moon’. His style and poetic technique have been noted by critics to have much in common with the language of Krishna’s teachings in the Bhagavad Gita, tones possessed of the same certainty and emphatic authority that are found in the traditions of Indian ‘wisdom’ literature.11 The enchanting appeal, power and beauty of the lyrics of Sri Chinmoy are heightened by the deliberate understatement and the poetic techniques employed.
BEYOND SPEECH AND MIND
Beyond speech and mind,
Into the river of ever-effulgent Light
My heart dives.
Today thousands of doors,
Closed for millennia,
Are opened wide.12
The imagery here is carefully controlled; the jubilation understated; the emotion kept just below the surface. However, the words themselves seem to speak out with an explosive power on the vastness of the experience. The first line pushes against our intellect. Then ‘Into the river of ever-effulgent Light’ we tumble, rushing headlong over the words as though caught in the current ourselves. In the intensity of that leap of the entire being, we have a sense of falling, diving, becoming immersed in the incandescent fluidity. Then a change of speed and tone arrests us briefly as this breathtaking accomplishment is surveyed, and we stand open-mouthed and speechless at the implications. ‘Today’ echoes through thousands of doors; the knowledge of millennia is before us.
The quiet power of this imagery is evident from the implied ‘Infinity’ opening up before us. We are dazzled by the characterisation of the supreme Consciousness inferred here by the radiance of ‘ever-effulgent Light’. It is an image of heroic and divine proportions, and yet the extraordinary impression to be found at the close of this mighty achievement is one of humility. The speaker steps back and disappears, leaving the reader to partake of the achievement, the quiet elation of man standing on the threshold of eternal revelation, of aeons spread before him as a feast. Although this language appears clear and simple, the ideas are densely concentrated and philosophically evocative. Many of the previous steps in The Ever-Transcending Quest are implied and the poet conveys the experience as the culmination of a long, intricate process of evolution, both personal and universal.
In the following poem, Sri Chinmoy has used a more formal metrical structure, alternating four and five-foot iambic lines, thereby enhancing the gravitas.
No more my heart shall sob or grieve.
My days and nights dissolve in God’s own Light.
Above the toil of life my soul
Is a Bird of Fire winging the Infinite.
I have known the One and His secret Play,
And passed beyond the sea of Ignorance-Dream.
In tune with Him, I sport and sing;
I own the golden Eye of the Supreme.
Drunk deep of Immortality,
I am the root and boughs of a teeming vast.
My Form I have known and realised.
The Supreme and I are one; all we outlast.13
The speaker’s tone, formalised and elevated here by the metre, begins to enter the realm of the heroic dimension of human experience. The mantric nature of the verse thrums like a heartbeat from the very first line. With its short syllables and chanting pace, it assumes a weight of majestic authority throughout. Impetus is added with the image of the ‘Bird of Fire’ elevating the reader suddenly with the movement of flight, of unconstrained speed and freedom. The stark beauty and majesty of the image lights the imagination. The entire impression of the uplifting movement seems to inspire a corresponding feeling in the reader. In the second stanza the union with God is established as an experience of Oneness; being absorbed into the Light. The single ‘Eye of the Supreme’ infers that the third eye, the eye of knowledge is now open. This image recalls the words of the Lord Christ that ‘the Light of Your Eye’ shall flood the entire body with divine Light.
The timing and rhythm, the slower four-foot line, and then the faster pace of the five-foot line, create an elegant tension that is highly suggestive of the ability now gained of stepping back and forth between the finite human and the infinite divine perspective of the theme. Specific images work powerfully to evoke the scope of the spiritual quest: the ‘secret play’, God’s ‘Game of Life’; ‘Ignorance-Dream’ recalling the buffeting sea of human illusion in which we dwell. The fluctuating rhythm in the final line of each stanza with its pause and trochaic substitution, have the affect of arresting our attention so that we may appreciate the enormity of the achievement being surveyed. The opening of the final stanza gives a strong impression of the immensity of feeling, a reeling as of drunkenness, whereas the following line indicates the metaphor of man as a tree, both of the earth and yet capable of stretching upward into an unknown sky, the ‘teeming vast’, again emphasising that outward, expanding notion of higher realms.
There is a sense of completion in the final line, the quiet and simple statement of the significance of the mortal human consciousness attaining the Immortal. It is not attaining God the Power that is being celebrated, but the enduring nature of God the Supreme Player in His own Cosmic Game.
The following poem is another example of the paradoxical wordplay Sri Chinmoy uses to explore the idea of union with the Divine:
O Supreme, my Father-Son,
Now that we two are one
And won by each other won,
Nothing remains undone.14
This poem marries spiritual ideas from two great traditions: the idea from the Upanishads of the lover and the Beloved, the knower and the Known as interchangeable; as well as the Christian allusion to the Father-God and the Christ-Son being one entity. Sri Chinmoy’s lyrics often do this so effortlessly, bridging philosophical divides and illuminating the underlying truths of universal spiritual dimensions. As described by Dr. Bennett, the combination of rhyme and rhetorical wordplay in this poem mirrors the experience of envelopment, “Its completeness is unassailable … theirs is a mutual inhabitation.”15
The following poem also gives us a glimpse of existence in that higher realm:
I SING BECAUSE YOU SING
I sing because You sing.
I smile because You smile.
Because You play on the flute
I have become Your flute.
You play in the depths of my heart.
You are mine, I am Yours.
This is my sole identification.
In one Form You are my Mother
And Father eternal,
And Consciousness-moon, Consciousness-sun
The union of God-realisation is characterised here by overlapping images of song, then of smile, each state of the Supreme calling up a similar ecstatic response in the speaker. The imagery alludes to portraits of Lord Krishna playing upon his flute. God is portrayed as the Supreme Musician and the poet/seeker as the instrument in order to illustrate the idea of total surrender to the Will of God. However, the image is also suggestive of children both playing with innocent delight. The poem moves from delightful praise of a personal Companion-God, through the intimacy of identification and then to a contemplation of the infinite aspects of the Divine Being, as Father in the West, Mother in the East, containing the dualities of purity and dynamism, justice and compassion. The rhythm accompanies the theme by opening with quite lively, short, stressed lines, gradually entering longer and more intricate patterns until the final line stretches into an endless, mesmerising syllabic structure – ‘Consciousness-moon … All pervading.’ It is a stunning completion and we are left with the impression of sound ringing across the solar system, or light expanding as the speaker relinquishes all identity to become the child of Light.
The following poem, “The Absolute”, is one of Sri Chinmoy’s most celebrated expressions of the mystical union with God.
No mind, no form, I only exist;
Now ceased all will and thought;
The final end of Nature’s dance,
I am It whom I have sought.
A realm of Bliss bare, ultimate;
Beyond both knower and known;
A rest immense I enjoy at last;
I face the One alone.
I have crossed the secret ways of life,
I have become the Goal.
The Truth immutable is revealed;
I am the way, the God-Soul.
My spirit aware of all the heights,
I am mute in the core of the Sun.
I barter nothing with time and deeds;
My cosmic play is done.17
Alternating four and three-foot iambic lines, rhyming abcb, give a measured sense of completion and solidity of form. Again, the extraordinarily stark impact of the lack of personality, allied with a sense of ubiquitous ‘presence’ is everywhere apparent, giving the poem an acute euphonic cohesion. When a reader enters into the poem by reading it aloud, the oratorical impact is majestic. Dr. Bennett suggested that the rhetorical mode may well be man’s natural choice of speech under certain spiritual stresses or conditions.18 It is evident that the integrity of form here is perfectly in harmony with such absolute terms – ‘realm of Bliss’, ‘Truth Immutable’. The exultation and triumphant tones are held in balance by the simplicity of statements: ‘I face the One alone / … I have become the Goal’. The profound assertion ‘I am the way, the God-Soul’ brings dramatically to mind the spiritual achievements of other Masters. It is striking in its artless sincerity, revealing to us an entirely revolutionary possibility, that this state is indeed attainable in our lifetime, and in such a way that we witness the inherent realisation through eyes of both awe and humility.
A reconciliation of the small ‘I’, the ego, which has been held suspended in the opening lines, purified, illumined and divinised, then melts into the ultimate image of fusion in the final stanza: ‘mute in the core of the Sun’. In this simple designation of the absolute state of Eternal Consciousness, the self has been extended into pure Being, and the final lines emphasise that the wealth of time and eternity, mortality and immortality, the finite and the Infinite have been integrated. There is no further need for speech, no more bartering with karmic consequences, ‘time and deeds’; the end-game, the cosmic game has been resolved forthwith. The force and profound assurance of the speaking voice which here stems from the tones of incantation inherent in the formalised grammar and syntax is irresistible. The peace and ecstasy of the heights of God-union are merely hinted at by the imagery and sounds of the internal rhyme: “A realm of Bliss, bare, ultimate … A rest immense I enjoy at last.” We are invited to finally witness and contemplate the mysteries of life laid bare.
In discussing “The Absolute”, Alan Spence commented that “poetry described as ‘mantric’ actually evokes the qualities it describes”, and he goes on to relate the experience of a Scottish writer, Tom McGrath, while reciting this poem. The writer was attempting to illustrate the failure of English to express a ‘peculiarly Indian sensibility’. He was subsequently shocked to observe the exact opposite result of the experiment:
The words sprang from my lips and sounded in the room with an authority that was awe-inspiring. It became clear that we were listening to a voice speaking from the absolute pinnacle of human experience, and speaking directly from it. By the time we reached the closing lines, we were both dumbfounded. Not only had we heard a great poem, but we both felt we had been in the presence of a consciousness the nature of which filled us with the deepest humility and reverence.19
Again it is a profound example of how the lyrics of Sri Chinmoy can affect the reader, enlarging our comprehension of what is possible, drawing us up into the experience of the higher consciousness ourselves.
Of the Transcendentalists, I feel it is Thoreau, the self confessed ‘mystic, transcendentalist and philosopher’ who best understands the seeker striving for union with God as our destiny, and its implications:
Then idle Time ran gadding by
And left me with Eternity alone;
I hear beyond the range of sound,
I see beyond the verse of sight, -–
I see, smell, taste, hear, feel, that everlasting
Something to which we are allied, at once our
maker, our abode, our destiny, our very Selves; ….
It doth expand my privacies
To all, and leave me single in the crowd.20
Thoreau is sensible of the Oneness of being, the inner worlds beyond and the promise of union with that eternal consciousness, in such a poignant way that places him alone in his time, yet he knows his limitations, the distance he has yet to cover in the journey:
I would give all the wealth of the world, and all the deeds of all the heroes, for one true vision. But how can I communicate with the gods who am a pencil-maker on the earth, and not be insane?21
The receptivity of the Transcendendalists in the 19th century was remarkable. They positioned themselves outside religious restrictions and sought to break down the narrowness of their era. It would be interesting to surmise whether this was a necessary step in the evolution of the collective consciousness of America for, after all, it is the supreme Consciousness that is evolving in and through the human. Those who came later and attempted to ‘place’ them in religious contexts were perhaps missing the point. Although we are speaking here of an experience that goes beyond intellect, even beyond being classified as religious, it also seems too dismissive to relegate it to the ‘metaphysical’.
Whilst the Transcendentalists were effectively beginning to break down the restrictive barriers of religion, Sri Chinmoy has gone beyond such barriers. His knowledge demands that we see the advent of the higher consciousness in our lives as completely practical, inevitable, and, in fact the opposite, its suppression as negligence or even a kind of madness! What becomes clear from this point is that there need never again be any intermediary standing between the Lord Krishna and his sannyasin, the Lord Buddha and his devotees, the Lord Christ and his followers. We simply need to own and claim that Bird of Light, the Inner Pilot in our own breast.
As I mentioned at the outset, I have imposed my framework of the Quest, the separation, trial and return upon the writings of Sri Chinmoy for my own purposes. What will be most astonishing to understand now is that we must turn this entire journey of the Quest so far, on its head! The steps of The Ever-Transcending Quest in the poetry of Sri Chinmoy have been a useful device to illustrate the journey of life toward enlightenment for the seeker, and as a kind of blueprint for humanity. However, it must be stated that the poems were not written in this order. In fact, Sri Chinmoy wrote many of these, the highest of his God-realisation poems, as a very young man in the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry, India.
Sri Chinmoy recounts in his writings that he was no more than a youth when he regained his occult powers and knowledge of previous spiritual incarnations. In July 1944, at the age of twelve, after both his parents had passed away, he entered the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, and at the tender age of thirteen achieved the heights of his God-realisation.22 He explained his early experiences were like ‘revising a book’ that he once knew very well. He recounts many stories from his teenage years: his vision of the cosmic goddess Saraswati who came to him and played her vina, then smashed it to pieces and threw them into him, signifying that she had given him her musical abilities. Another recounts his story of ‘the Lord of my own heart’ emerging from his heart as a breathtakingly beautiful, luminous golden boy, to speak with him. Another tells of the cosmic god Agni, his magnificent golden appearance and form and how it changes due to the way people perceive him; and of Agni’s power, compassion and significance in the world.
Here is an extract from his account of an experience at the age of fourteen,
“Whenever I had the opportunity, I flew to the edge of the ever-blue sea and took my seat there in solitude. My bird of consciousness, dancing slowly, rose to the sky and lost itself up there.... I drank deeply of Ambrosia and was floating on an illumined ocean. It seemed that I no longer existed on this earth.”
However, he explains, something suddenly put an end to this experience, and he began to feel it was all a useless childish dream, and he could not even go on with life, when:
“A sudden flash of lightning appeared over my head. Looking up with awe and bewilderment, I found above me my Beloved, the King of the Universe looking at me. His radiant Face was overcast with sorrow. ‘Father,’ I asked, approaching him, ‘what makes Thy Face so sad?’ ‘How can I be happy, My son, if you do not wish to be My companion and help Me in My Mission? I have, concealed in the world, millions of sweet plans which I shall unravel. If My children do not help Me in My Play, how can I have My Divine Manifestation here on earth?’ Profoundly moved, I bowed and promised: ‘Father, I will be Thy faithful companion, loving and sincere, throughout Eternity. Shape me and make me worthy of my part in Thy Cosmic Play and Thy Divine Mission’.” 23
It could be regarded as well nigh impossible to assess either the spiritual achievements or other accomplishments of such a figure as Sri Chinmoy, unless one has the same height of spiritual accomplishment and awareness. Nevertheless, the maturity is evident for all to see and feel in the poetry. Later of course the simplicity and sincerity is evident as well in his illumining talks and lectures, plays and stories which all serve to guide us back into the heart consciousness. Reproduced below is the earliest known draft of “The Absolute”, written around the age of 25 years, and almost exactly corresponding to the final version that he published in New York in 1972:
No mind, no form, I only exist;
Now ceased all will and thought.
A final end of Nature’s dance
I am It whom I have sought.
A realm of bliss ultimate, bare;
Beyond both knower and known.
A rest immense I enjoy at last;
I face the One, alone.
I have known the secret ways of life,
I have become god-soul.
The Truth immutable is revealed
I am the way, the goal.
My spirit aware of all the heights,
I am mute in the core of Sun.
I barter nothing with time and deeds
My cosmic play is done.
So few changes! It was not necessary for Sri Chinmoy to work and re-work over his drafts. It would be reasonable to assume that the transcendental accomplishment of Sri Chinmoy, as found in his lyrics and other writings, stops here at the highest achievement. After all, the ‘Goal is won’, the God-realisation attained, and his ‘play’ he claims is done. Is this not the point at which the Master removes himself from the real world, and becomes a recluse? Sri Chinmoy received an inner command from his Beloved to go to the West at 32 years of age, after spending 20 years serving his spiritual community, writing and deepening his spiritual achievement. This would have been no small undertaking for one who had spent almost his entire life in a sheltered spiritual community. Obediently he accepted this directive from his Inner Pilot. This ‘little Indian village boy’, as he called himself, began an extraordinary adventure in one of the most intense and cosmopolitan of modern cities, New York, in 1964.
Baffled at first by the West, he took the guidance of his Inner Pilot at every step. And these steps led to his life’s work, the manifestation of his light and realisation. It was an extraordinary mission. He simply began by pouring his light out into the world. His Inner Pilot inspired him to fill every waking moment with writing, painting, composing music, entering the physical world of sport, travelling to every corner of the globe to meditate with those who felt inspired by his presence. He became, in effect, a divine ambassador.
Never ceasing to write poetry, Sri Chinmoy expressed the manifestation of his achievement in such a myriad of ways and so profusely it will no doubt confound future generations. His comment to the critics was that quantity and quality were both necessary. He developed and extended his talents into many and diverse activities, both as an inspiration to humanity to transcend its limitations by tapping into the hidden power of the inner life, and as a way of making concrete the higher spiritual realities.
In his poetry, we can discern and follow this imperative to illustrate and articulate the Supreme’s Will through the now perfected human instrument:
Where Peace once sang
I became my Father’s flowing Grace.
Where Love once sang
I became my Father’s glowing Face.
Where Truth once sang
I became my Father’s master Race.24
The poet is here beginning to reflect on the end result of his realisation – the miracle of the achievement of the highest knowledge. He uses a semantic and phonetic paradigm to elaborate on the very complex transformations that have taken place on the spiritual level to illustrate his multi-level experience. The analysis of the lyrics is difficult: the poem is enigmatic, indeed. We can try to ponder the possibilities: is it that the speaker was first the recipient, and then becomes the bestower of divine peace, love and truth?
S.R. Levin may offer a guide to poetic analysis in this instance: ‘the poem generates its own code, of which the poem is the only message – the syntagms generate particular paradigms and these paradigms in turn generate the syntagms in this way leading us back into the poem.’25 Perhaps the best response we can make, and the instinctive one, is to respond with the heart.
It is with that quiet voice, confident, assertive, that Sri Chinmoy gently states the paradox that the human and the Divine are one and explores the inevitability of this destiny for humanity. If we revisit the idea of the quest, where the traditional hero must return to society with some kind of benefit or prize, it is easy to equate this with what Sri Chinmoy terms ‘the fruits of realisation’. Often he stated that some seekers manage to touch the tree, others climb up to the top of the tree, and still others climb down again to share the fruits with humanity. The latter, is what he calls ‘manifestation’. It is possible that no other Master has spent so long and worked so arduously to establish such a permanent imprint of this higher light.
One of Sri Chinmoy’s significant aims through his creative expressions is to provide instruction for his disciples. Sri Chinmoy’s extensive writing; 22,000 mantric songs; and many thousands of paintings, which can be used as mandalas for concentration and meditation. Taken as a whole, they detail every step of the seeker’s journey and map the realm of inner experiences. In addition, extensive question and answer series have been published which cover a vast range of topics from the highest spiritual perspective. His major volumes of poetry include the Ten Thousand Flower-Flames series and Twenty-Seven Thousand Aspiration-Plants. Much later in life, Sri Chinmoy began the Seventy-Seven Thousand Service-Trees. Targeted towards the sadhana of the spiritual aspirant, many of these poems fall into the classifications of the rhetorical modes: ‘Docere’, ‘Delectare’ and ‘Movere’. Sri Chinmoy was able to fully identify with the hearts and minds of his students, and every joy and sorrow, triumph and failure they experienced along the way. In return, he offered his inner strength and wisdom:
If you have a disturbing thought,
Then come to me.
I shall give you my challenging will.
If you have an impure mind,
Then come to me.
I shall give you my pure heart.
If you have an uncomely body,
Then come to me.
I shall give you my beautiful soul.
If you have an unsatisfied life,
Then come to me.
I shall give you my satisfied God.26
This poem appeals on a deep and personal level to the ‘dis-ease’ of our modern life: our disturbed thoughts often arising from the daily bombardment of our mind with worldly impurities, or our constant clamouring for distraction, for satisfaction. They are contrasted with the strength and dignity of the poet’s promise: “I shall give you…” The reader is reassured by his measured and honest offering of solace, refuge and succour. It is the tendency for a downward inflexion at the end of each second and third line, mirroring the rhythm of ordinary speech and repetition that gives this poem a tone of quiet assurance, confidentiality and deliverance. Here then is our sanctuary and a means to our own peace and fulfilment. We have a direct sense that these are not inflated promises, an instant fix, nor are they for everyone indiscriminately. The emphasis is always on the subordinating conjunction “If”, the supposition that there are some who find life wanting. Humility shines through the choice of expression. We are encouraged to open our eyes to what it is possible to receive from a Self-realised master, the God-representative who is accessible if we so choose. Our lasting impression is of a ‘satisfied God’, an appealing but also revolutionary notion for us to consider, as we have often been taught to view God as one who finds us wanting. Sri Chinmoy often displays great humour and sometimes irony in his expression of the dilemmas and paradoxes facing the spiritual teacher, largely because such a personage can be so often misunderstood or dismissed in the world. This is one such example:
Although I teach, I am the cap of fools;
Although I love all souls, a fiend am I.
I am not strong, yet for the weak I fight;
At will I sell myself and myself I buy.
At every pause my life I contradict.
To me are ever the same all truths and lies.
To me the earthly beings and He are one.
We fly in His Bosom vast, in us He flies.27
This poetic meditation on the dilemmas facing the master of spiritual attainment begins with a lighthearted lament, and then builds towards a contemplation of the inevitable interdependence of the human and the divine. There is a weight and even-tempered nature to the paradox, emphasised and echoed by the even break of the caesura in each line, and the cadence of the speech. It is impossible to paraphrase effectively, yet like Sisyphus we are impelled to try: is this the teacher’s stance when he knows that he will be ignored, misunderstood, even derided? Is this lover of souls also one who must be detached to become the taskmaster? Or, is he the one dispensing compassion on behalf of the Supreme, the barterer, for recognition and publicity for The most Renowned of all Beings? Or, is this the bartering of the seeker’s ignorance for the illumined light of the master?
In the second stanza, we find the one who envisions ‘karma’ which simply put means action, or the equivalent of our ‘truths and lies’, sees our fate as inevitable and necessary because the real ‘actor’ in us is the Supreme Himself. And we are left once again with that final image of the interconnectedness of existence, the symbiosis of man and God. This poem is brimming with spiritual nuances inherent in the position of the master who undertakes to teach and try to make the supreme Consciousness manifest in a world that is so unaware and ignorant of the workings of the inner divinity in life. We can only commiserate with such self-mockery!
Again it brings to mind Emily Dickinson who also dilates on the paradoxical nature of the Oneness of reality in her work: ‘One and One — are One — / Two be finished using ….“28 In the poem below, she indicates the reciprocity of the effort:
Each — its difficult Ideal
Must achieve — Itself —
Through the solitary prowess
Of Silent Life — 29
Emily Dickinson shares with Sri Chinmoy an intensity in brevity. They both have a unique style which lends itself to the expression of the transcendental. On occasion, however, Sri Chinmoy extends our comprehension into something more encompassing, our own personal quest, challenging us and gently guiding us to consider and experience the level of the heart consciousness. His poem becomes an instructional tool for the illustration of our own divinity. Often he indicates that we stand on the brink of a new Golden Age, a time when man will recognise his equal standing as a partner of God in His highest Aspect.
Here is an example of Sri Chinmoy as the seer-poet illustrating the significance of the 21st Century in the evolution of humanity, taken from his book The New Millennium:
The fulfillment of the mind
Has been the hope
Of the past few centuries.
Now the fulfillment of the heart
Will be the hope
Of the next generation
And of all generations to come.
Indeed, this will be a unique
Of the 21st Century to humanity.30
I believe this tendency in the writings of Sri Chinmoy is unique and of revolutionary significance for both the interpretation of the past as well as preparation for a future.
I have aspired to show how poems of manifestation move towards the unveiling of the equality and interdependence of the supreme Consciousness within the physical world. However, there are entire categories of poems which move beyond this stage, illustrating the ever Self-transcending nature of the Supreme Being Himself, not only in and through the creation, but within His own Transcendental ‘Dream’. Here is an amusing example, which gives insight into the Divinity having a healthy sense of humour:
TOMORROW’S SUPREME SURPRISE
Yesterday’s supreme surprise:
Today I shall realise God.
Today’s supreme surprise:
Tomorrow I shall become another God.
Tomorrow’s supreme surprise:
The day after tomorrow I shall resign
And give back to my predecessor
Sri Chinmoy comments:
Human consciousness is limited, earthbound; it gets joy in the finite. Divine consciousness wants to expand constantly … always an ever self-transcending goal because God is constantly transcending Himself. Even though He is limitless, He is also making progress. 32
One fascinating aspect of Sri Chinmoy’s prolific outpouring which is worthy of note is the wonderful characterisation of his relationship with the Divine Being, his Beloved Supreme, through what may be termed ‘conversation’ poems. There is a diverse array of these poems sprinkled throughout his work. They are intimate exchanges, glimpses into a higher perspective. They may portray conversations between the seeker and God, the son and Father, the daughter and the Supreme. There are even some which consist of questions and answers between the Yogi and the entity of death. These pieces have a fascination, a charm and enchantment of their own which is difficult to ignore due to the perceived impossibility of a human being ever partaking of such encounters. They seem to draw back the curtain of eternity, infinity and immortality to give us a rare glimpse of that higher realm of being. They make us step back thoughtfully in appreciation and contemplation of this higher point of view, and reconsider our own assumptions and certitudes about life. Most often in the question and answer formats they display a language of authority, and tonal amplitude to reveal a fascinating sense of the personality of God.
“My Lord, I am singing.”
“Fine, that is what pleases Me.”
“My Lord, I am dancing.”
“Wonderful, that is what enchants Me.”
“My Lord, I am suffering.”
“No, My child, you are not suffering.
That is not true.
What is happening is that you
are having a series of experiences.
Furthermore, try to realise that it is I
who am having all the experiences
in and through you.”
“My Lord, is there anything sweeter than
“Yes, My child, gratitude is by far sweeter than forgiveness.”
“My Lord, is there anything more fulfilling than the feeling of oneness?”
“Yes, My child, when you feel that you are the Eternal Lover and I am your Eternal Beloved, and when you feel that I am the Eternal Lover and you are My Eternal Beloved, the feeling of oneness is supremely transcended and immortally fulfilled.”
“My Lord, I know that You don’t have to read any books. Nevertheless, have You read a few books, or should I say any books?”
“My child, I have read only three books in all My endless Life.
The first book I read is called Life, written by your mother, Infinity,
The second book is called Realisation, written by My son, Eternity.
The third book is called Manifestation, written by My daughter Immortality.”33
The interaction here is not a simple creative device or contrivance. It is, in fact, an articulation, a record of an exchange. The divine Entity is revealed in an exchange replete with ease of intimacy, with simplicity and authority. The persona thus expressed holds within it an unmistakable stamp of authenticity. We are brought up short with the explication of a divine Will that, it is claimed, can never be fathomed or understood. Yet, with some surprise, we have to admit it cannot be easily refuted.
Lord, I seek and You hide.
I seek because without You
My life-flames do not and cannot burn.
Now Lord, tell me,
Why do You hide?
“Daughter, I hide because
My hiding intensifies your seeking.
It gratifies your loving,
Glorifies your achievement
And immortalises your enlightenment.”
My Lord, is there any time
When You do not love me?
“Yes, My child, there is a time.”
When, my Lord, when?
“When you think that you are not
A budding God.” 34
We find a purity, plausibility and authority embedded in the play of language between the speakers, validating and explicating eternal truths, and yet gently mocking of humanity’s foibles. The charm and enduring patience of the divine voice are difficult to ignore, promoting understanding, even sympathy for the Supreme’s point of view. It evokes, inevitably, an awakening within us at a very deep level, one that must reject outmoded caricatures of a demanding deity and with relief welcome new ideas of an intimate and accessible friend. Again, when read in the context of Sri Chinmoy’s larger body of work, it entices us to explore and synthesise these inner and higher worlds, expanding our own point of view.
As the writing style of Sri Chinmoy developed, his poetry became more concise, aphoristic and mantric in quality. Sri Chinmoy mentioned many times that at first, upon adopting the English language, he felt it could never embody sacred mantra in the same way as Sanskrit or his native Bengali. However, in time he changed his mind. He realised that all languages could be bent towards the sacred mantric quality that he desired. His lyrics became shorter, and yet still retained that epic breadth of the poet who stands at both the foot of the tree and can send his consciousness flying upward to the top in a heartbeat. Sri Chinmoy’s last great project, Seventy-Seven Thousand Service-Trees, perfectly embodied his direct relationship with the world at large, as he would take the daily moods, doubts and failings of individuals and transform them into a poetic lesson, an illumination with universal application for daily recitation. Here is a sampling:
The moment the light of the soul
Enters into the heart. (No. 4,335)
No more shall I light
In my aspiration-life. (No. 21,204)
My Lord tells me
Time and again
That I need a special kind of silence
To understand His Whispers. (No. 29,404)
When we bow
To the Supreme in us,
Not only do we melt His Heart,
But also we give Him
A new hope and a new promise. (No. 34,435)
If I do not place myself totally
Inside the Heart of my Lord Supreme
How can I ever claim Him to be
My own, very own? (No. 21,222)
When I start counting my mistakes
God becomes extremely furious.
He says to me:
Have you nothing else to do?” (No. 38,009)
Each human being
Has to do only one thing:
Unmask his divinity. (No. 36,391)
We can easily live our lives
Without speaking ill of
The rest of the world. (No. 40,031)
God is fully blossomed
In the depths of our hearts,
But our eyes
Fail to see it. (No. 46,205) 35
Although the style still holds traces of the rhetorical, Sri Chinmoy’s tone and the point of view are more modern, direct and aphoristic. The poems command the seeker to step directly into the viewpoint of the poet, the perception from God-heights. Sri Chinmoy explained that a spiritual master must identify with suffering humanity, as well as show the way to the higher point of view. As a student, I felt this ability many times on a personal level, as Sri Chinmoy would sweep the room with his gaze before giving morning prayers. I imagined him plucking the problems, emotions and hidden obstacles from our hearts and minds, before giving them back to us as the day’s lessons, amazing us with the expression and appropriation of our own dilemmas. In a talk given in Malaysia, Sri Chinmoy reflected:
For thousands of things that I have said over the years, I will be sadly, badly misunderstood. There are many, many prayers, countless prayers that I have given in which I use the words “my” and “I”. These prayers are not at all applicable to me. I identify myself with other human beings, and then I give the prayers.”36
Sri Chinmoy has often written interesting commentaries on art, the artist and consciousness. His understanding of inspiration and the Muse also give us an insight from the highest spiritual awareness of the workings of the mind – and as he often explained, although we are at the mercy of the Muse, a God-realised soul has the ability to catch and use the Muse at his sweet will. He comments here on the fact that art, poetry, can be a manifestation of a higher level of consciousness:
When you get a poem from the higher vital world, you will get the feeling of what you call a surge. It is like a very, very big wave, a huge wave, that washes ashore from the ocean. It covers the length and breadth of everything and washes away all impurity and everything else it touches. But when you get a poem from the illumined mental world, even if it just touches you, immediately you feel a sense of illumination in your entire being. 37
Many of Sri Chinmoy’s insights will have far-reaching ramifications both for literary criticism and artistic creation. The path that he carved is unique. Far from shunning the physical world, he taught us that we must accept the world for the transformation and the divinisation of the world. This path of Sri Chinmoy stands like a lighthouse for humanity, blazing a way forward and encompassing all aspects of the physical world. It is, in fact, a significant new approach to spirituality, which can easily absorb the central truths of all religions while placing the responsibility clearly upon the individual. Sri Chinmoy continually emphasises that each person must be given complete freedom to find their own path to enlightenment, to the Supreme Consciousness. It is of course the Dream, the ever-transcending Will of the Supreme consciousness in his Cosmic Game.
Gazing into the future
I have come to learn
That the world will one day
Succeed in bringing down
Infinity’s Light from Above.38
In conclusion, I come back to the original question – why is it so difficult for humanity to hear a new voice? Why has it been so difficult for humanity to understand and utilise the basic truths that the spiritual masters have expressed time and again down through the ages – that the universe is permeated by a higher consciousness and that we are all manifestations of that force?
1 J.M. & H. Roberts, Eds. Selected Poetry of Sri Chinmoy, p.60
2 Sri Chinmoy, Samadhi and Siddhi, p.23
3 Justin Kaplan (Ed), Walt Whitman: Complete Poetry & Selected Prose, p.63
4 Sri Chinmoy, The Garden of Love-Light, p.46
5 Sri Chinmoy, Lord, Receive This Little Undying Cry, p.123
6 J.M. & H. Roberts, op.cit. p.59
7 Ibid. p.80
8 Sri Chinmoy, My Flute, p.60
9 Ibid. p.89
10 Sri Chinmoy, When God-Love Descends, p.43
11 Bennett, op.cit. Ch.3, p.118
12 J.M. & H. Roberts, op.cit. p.1
13 Sri Chinmoy, My Flute, p.47.
14 Alan Spence (Ed), Between Nothingness and Eternity, p.60
15 Bennett, op.cit. p.106ff.
16 J.M. & H. Roberts, op.cit. p.41
17 Alan Spence, op.cit. p.62
18 Bennett, op.cit. p.8
19 Alan Spence, op.cit. p.9
20 Henry David Thoreau, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, Penguin 1998 Edn, p.139
21 H.D. Thoreau, op.cit. p.112
22 Sri Chinmoy, Astrology, the Supernatural and the Beyond, p.7 Aum Publications, 1991 Edn.
23 Sri Chinmoy, Awakening, 1988, Citadel Books, Scotland, p.49.
24 Sri Chinmoy, My Flute, p.51
25 S.R. Levin, Linguistic Structures in Poetry, p.41
26 Sri Chinmoy, Meditation: Man-Perfection in God-Satisfaction, p.2
27 Sri Chinmoy, My Flute, p.75
28 Emily Dickinson, Final Harvest, No. 314, p.191
29 Inder Kher, The Landscape of Absence: Emily Dickinson’s Poetry, From No. 750, p.75
30 Sri Chinmoy, The New Millennium, Agni Press, NY 1999, p.50
31 Sri Chinmoy, Europe-Blossoms, p.484
32 Sri Chinmoy, Samadhi and Siddhi, p.1
33 Sri Chinmoy, God’s Secrets Revealed, Herder & Herder, NY 1971, pp. 45, 81, 84.
34 Sri Chinmoy, God Is – Selected Writings, Aum Publications, NY 1997, pp. 11, 25.
35 Sri Chinmoy, Seventy-Seven Thousand Service-Trees, series, Agni Press, NY 2000-2007
36 Sri Chinmoy, talk January 9, 2006, Kijal, Malaysia printed in Beyond Likes and Dislikes, Agni Press, 2012, p.74.
37 Sri Chinmoy, Poetry: My Rainbow-Heart-Dreams, Germany 1993, p. 51
38 Sri Chinmoy, Seventy-Seven Thousand Service-Trees, Vol. 31 No. 30,594