by Mrinali Christine Clarke
This dissertation was
originally submitted to fulfil
the BA (Honours) requirements
at Monash University,
Victoria, Australia, 1989.
In Chapter One we followed the development of The Ever-Transcending Quest through the theme of Separation from the Divine and deepened our understanding of the philosophy of the evolution of the soul that is expounded throughout the writings of Sri Chinmoy. The Trial now explores the steps of the mature spiritual aspirant as he is tested, and the intricacies of the profound inner relationship and interaction with the Supreme Consciousness.
• Trials begin
• Despair and loss of faith
• Intervention of God’s Compassion
• Nearing the Goal
• Final Temptation
The motifs I have chosen to study in this chapter are by no means an exhaustive guide for a seeker in The Ever-Transcending Quest. The subtle relationship between a seeker and his God can involve many cycles of union, and subsequent falls, extremely high experiences, with the interplay of human doubts and insecurities. There is also the role of humility, of sincerity, of faith and, indeed, of gratitude which Sri Chinmoy has on many occasions stated holds all of the divine qualities. The vastness of the work, as well as the theme, dictates that some restrictions must be imposed. Nevertheless, we can use the steps of the Trial to gain an insight into the intensity of love and longing for this final consummation of Oneness in Consciousness that the seeker is inwardly compelled to pursue.
Many of these lyrics demonstrate a complex and interesting use of repetition, as well as an artful interrelationship between poems that follow the same theme. There is often a shift in tone or point of view between poems, or even within a single poem. Some of the lyrics that describe these steps in the development of the seeker’s inner journey illustrate the darker side of human nature drawn from quite a different perspective. The portrayal of the ‘enemies within’ by Sri Chinmoy is one of profound insight. He dramatises the confusing battleground of the forces of man’s animal past set against his higher aspirations, and in so doing shines a light on our particular position in a continuum of human evolution. Far from accepting that we are now the culmination of millions of years of evolution, Sri Chinmoy indicates that we have yet much distance to cover, and that the ultimate Goal of humanity far surpasses our wildest expectations.
The teachings of Sri Chinmoy rest on the idea of consciousness at the core of the self: that there is a centre of presence belonging to each major part of the being, which will try to influence or dominate the whole. On a very basic level, the individual can be swayed or directed by these separate parts or levels of the consciousness. Without delving too deeply into the philosophical panoply of Hinduism, which outlines the system of chakras or centres of energy in the body, it does help that Sri Chinmoy has explained these aspects of the self extensively in his writings. Sri Chinmoy maintains that a human being is composed of five major parts: the soul, which is perfected and stands at the pinnacle or head of a family collective. Then follows the heart, the mind, the vital, and the physical body itself. These parts of the being are subordinate to the soul, and can be characterised in both positive and negative terms according to their level of development.
Each centre, according to Sri Chinmoy, has an important role to play in life’s evolution, as well as having a more, or less illumined nature, culminating in the soul at the zenith. It is the soul which is meant to direct or lead the other parts of the being as the soul’s consciousness is directly linked to the One, the highest Supreme or the Universal Consciousness. However, in practice we do not always allow the soul to lead. For example, the body consciousness can be well disciplined, or it can be steeped in lethargy. The mind can be positive and optimistic, inclined toward the intellect, or alternately pessimistic and negative, obsessed with the mundane. On the other hand, the vital consciousness, the seat of the emotions, can be the source of both desire, or of aggression as well as being the fount of dynamism, the driving force in life. Whereas the heart centre, being oriented closest to the soul, and most influenced by the divinity of the soul, is portrayed as the safest and the most advantageous place for the seeker to begin his spiritual journey and, indeed, to be directed forward in life from this safe harbour. This is due to the heart’s qualities and ability to completely identify itself with the higher consciousness of the soul and to become one with the soul’s higher will and purpose.
We can go some way to understanding this model by looking at the following series of poems taken, I must say, from a vast array of Sri Chinmoy’s poetry on these themes. These exhortations, addressed to God, seem on the surface to be a light-hearted and quite humorous treatment of that interaction which is really of intensely serious significance to the seeker facing inner trials. They both portray and illustrate the conflicting elements in an individual’s psyche in a quite revelatory way.
MY BODY TELLS YOU
My body tells You, Lord,
Not to scold me.
My body feels that I need
A little more rest.
I tell You, Lord,
That if I am allowed
To get up at my own time
I shall love You,
I shall serve You,
I shall even glorify You. 1
The inner battle is delineated here with the urging of the body consciousness in its most unwilling and immovable aspect, lethargy; and it reveals its own inherent weakness, never to be satisfied. Here we have the strains of a faltering anapest, cut short abruptly with the emphatic sentence endings in the second and fourth lines. Tension is created between the exhortations upward to alleviate God’s strictness, and the indulgence of the body for ever-more rest which brings us down again. The demands of the body appear plausible, yet the speaker reveals himself to be in thrall to this indulgent persona. The reasoned plea for just a little more rest, while innocent, childlike, even humourous, rings hollow in light of the exaggerated promises at the close. There is the plea to the Lord, but also a surreptitious nod at a wider Self, that self who may wake up several hours later and bemoan the loss of time perhaps? The use of the adverb ‘even’ while pointing to the inflated promise, gives emphasis to the speaker’s own self-deception; helplessly caught between the body, and the necessity of rising for the ritual of worship. The repetitions at the close are ambiguously reverent and ironical, enticing the reader into self-recognition of human weakness, and an inevitable complicity for the need of a divine scolding in a neat circular motion.
SCOLDING IS NOT A HEALTHY EXPERIENCE
My mind tells You, Lord,
To scold me in private
If You really have to.
I need not tell You, Lord,
That scolding is not a healthy experience
For the one who scolds
Nor for the one who is being scolded. 2
Again, here as the mind is separated from the true self it is revealed as the culprit, but there is also the recognition of our complete and unconscious identification with the mind. As the surreptitious tone unfolds, we recognise that the mind can be crafty. The point of view becomes self-illumining, as this propensity for trickery or treachery in the mind’s self-justification is plotted alongside its plea for discretion. We have to suspect the persona, which aims to avoid any kind of exposure or humiliation at all costs. Indeed, the insinuating tone, appealing through its misguided reasoning, emerges ironically as an audacious reproach to God Himself. The mind is betrayed in the self-serving final line, placing itself and God on equal terms in this amusing exchange. We are left with an image that slips between the pompous, and perhaps a little handwringing at its own effrontery.
SCOLDING DOES NO GOOD
My vital tells You, Lord,
Not to scold me.
I know I always do something wrong,
But when You scold me
It does me no good.
After all, who has changed his life
By being scolded?
Therefore, love me, Lord,
Love me even more,
Especially when You are tempted to scold me. 3
The appeal from the vital here reveals the histrionics of a wild and unbridled child. Under the mantle of the simple, childlike language is the most marvellous play of this wilful and unrepentant part of the being, “After all, who has changed his life / By being scolded?” The demanding and recalcitrant nature of the vital predominates, and its reasoning illustrates the futility of any kind of chastisement in order to assuage and deflect responsibility. As it appeals to God for His infinite Compassion, the vital reveals its own intransigence, and we must witness and recognise the limitations of our own occasional stubbornness.
This series of poems slowly builds for us a defined, characteristic pattern of each part of the inner being and how they can influence and even manipulate us. The poet, by taking the reader through these first three stages, has forced an impasse by undermining the authority of the body, the mind and the vital. To whom, then, does the reader appeal for guidance, or what part of the inner self can be trusted? Sri Chinmoy then makes a comparison with the level of the heart-consciousness. As we are led into the heart’s offering we observe in its plea a complete change of tone, and being the last poem in the group, it adds considerable weight to the message. To the reader, the heart’s appeal seems a clear contrast in its openness and honesty, and its impact is quite profound.
MY HEART TELLS YOU TO SCOLD ME
My heart tells You, Lord,
To scold me when I do anything wrong.
What both of us want from my life
Therefore, Lord, scold me.
I deserve it; I need it.
My sense of perfection
Badly needs it. 4
The striking contrast in tone produces an immediate impact on the reader of the sincerity, humility and higher authority of the heart. By engaging the reader in the former self-recognition of a hierarchy that is deficient in its devotion, the poet elicits our acknowledgement of the heart’s capacity as the superior authority on the inner path to enlightenment. It is the heart, closest to the purity and the integrity of the soul, which is demonstrated as the only reliable and safe guide. In addition, the poem closes on the only note that is likely to kindle the Compassion of the Supreme. This adds to the weight of the superiority of the heart and its supremacy over the other parts of the inner self.
The strophic structure turns the theme back on the opening idea of the necessity for the situation — the divine scolding; and the satire on rhetoric is thus put to good use in these pieces, evoking human sympathy at the same time as it is indicating a higher, more illumined point of view. Furthermore, the use of the term ‘scold’ takes on increasingly more significance through the series, developing from undertones of a harsh parent, until by the end it is the compassionate indulgence of a lenient guide, deftly supplanting outdated religious ideas of God as judge or punisher of human error with the idea of God as helper or facilitator on the path to self-knowledge and perfection.
A great deal of Sri Chinmoy’s poetry can be read as an extended exhortation to the reader to “know yourself”. Sri Chinmoy emphasises the extent of our ignorance about the inner worlds within us in this excerpt from his lecture “Know Thyself”:
Atmanam viddhi – Know thyself. Each individual has to know himself. He has to know himself as the infinite, eternal and immortal Consciousness. The concept of Infinity, Eternity and Immortality is absolutely foreign to us. Why? The reason is quite simple. We live in the body, rather than in the soul. To us the body is everything. There is nothing and can be nothing beyond the body. The existence of the soul we consider sheer imagination. But I assure you that the soul is not imaginary. It is at once the life and the revelation of the Cosmic Reality.5
Sri Chinmoy further explores the theme of the mind as an obstacle to be distrusted on the inner journey in the following short poem, which is full of challenge to a Western sensibility that has been taught the ‘man of science’ is the pinnacle of civilisation:
NEVER BELIEVE WHAT YOUR MIND SAYS
Never believe what your mind says.
Your mind is a liar.
Never believe what your mind says.
Your mind is a beggar.
Never believe what your mind says,
Your mind is secretly digging your grave.
Never believe what your mind says.
Your mind tells you that God is somewhere else,
That God is someone else other than you. 6
Sri Chinmoy uses his favoured technique — a group of related emphatic statements, aphorisms that explore and delineate the mind’s limitations, each level building on the last to a final illuminating point. At first, the reader might react with surprise and even alarm: ‘a liar’, ‘a beggar’? These are strong and confronting statements, for almost all of us identify quite closely, indeed indiscriminately, with the mind as the self. Nevertheless, the insistent and compelling repetition is seductive and, by the third stanza, ‘secretly digging your grave’, we begin to be drawn into doubt. We are invited to recognise, albeit reluctantly, this negative propensity of the mind, the uncertainty and vacillation, the fears and anxieties that wear us out, worry us ‘to death’, the ‘nails in the coffin’ as it were. We recall our own experiences with the often-perplexing dilemma of being in ‘two minds’ and we are perhaps ready to hear the speaker out.
The close of the poem then achieves an easy triumph. Having been compelled into a gentle admission of the mind’s continual dialectic as self-limiting or self-defeating, we are now presented with our own real self, the divinity within. We have learned as children that ‘the Kingdom of Heaven is within’; we are called back to this truth in spite of the mind’s critical tendency to reason it away. This final appeal is both aesthetically pleasing and of inarguable clarity — that we are in fact God, and it challenges the reader to a re-appraisal of the ‘self’, by bringing him out of the mind, and into the higher vision of the poet. The mind can now be seen for what it is, one of the trials to be overcome: the trial of self-doubt. The reader is led back to the instinctive feeling of a truth that can only be perceived inwardly. It is both affirmation, and revelation combined.
Sri Chinmoy’s extraordinary rhetorical power is illustrated further in the following poem. The reader is again enticed into a new awareness of the divine by a confrontation with the human weakness of fear. The mind’s fear becomes another significant trial in the seeker’s inner journey towards the truth of his real nature.
I AM AFRAID OF BEAUTY
I am afraid of earth-beauty.
It is nothing but ugliness.
I am afraid of Heaven-beauty.
It seems it is all-devouring power.
I am afraid of God-Beauty.
It tells me that it will eclipse
My long-treasured individuality. 7
Oddly enough, the solemnity of tone is undercut by the emerging timidity of fear itself, which is inherent in the repetition. As we progress from the certainty and rejection in the opening, ‘It is nothing but ugliness’, to the interpretation of ‘It seems’, to the final note of distrust of the persona ‘It tells me’ at the close, we begin to see an abstraction, an absurdity. The attitude of the speaker illustrates a point of view that is simultaneously aware of a higher point of view, but keeps withdrawing from it through fear. The compound noun ‘earth-beauty’ framed between fear and ugliness is constrained. It brings us up short when we expect to soar at the splendours of the creation itself. This juxtaposition through the eyes of fear illustrates the faltering human steps and misapprehensions of the spiritual vision by focussing on the timid and negative.
Nevertheless, the oft-quoted view of the world reality as ugly is too simplistic, ungenerous and pessimistic here. We have to mistrust this persona. Again, the vision presented as ‘Heaven-beauty’ proposes another level of existence, a glimpse of the beauty of another, an ethereal world of the immortal soul, but the image is rendered incongruous by the attributed ‘all-devouring power’. We are once again questioning this stance with our own confidence that Heaven must be a benevolent power. The antithesis of ‘God-beauty’ is also envisioned through the persona of fear. This fear of the loss of individuality expresses one of the innermost insecurities common to humanity, fear of annihilation. However, there is a simultaneous call to another inner instinct of humanity for unity, for enlargement. The tension between the two viewpoints snaps and we respond by recoiling from the limitations. We recognise our own weaknesses, we also recognise the challenge to fear as an undignified and unworthy motivation. It is an open invitation, indeed a challenge to put aside fear and aspire to the ideal of oneness on a heroic scale.
The reader here is once more compelled to summon his or her own inner depths of faith in the search for a real and deeper truth. This key technique of leading the reader constantly to appraise and reassess his own inner spiritual assumptions and responses recurs over and again in much of the poetry. It is only apparent by extensive reading of the work just how persuasive and influential on the psyche of the reader this can be.
The trial now enters another level: as ignorance and alienation overcome the seeker, he enters into the dangerous territory of despair and loss of faith. It is again of interest to recall Snyder’s verse here, particularly those poems he wrote after visiting India, though it would seem that Snyder’s observations have their genesis more in a political context. He says, “It became clear that ‘Hinduism’ and ‘Buddhism’ as social institutions had long been accomplices of the State in burdening and binding people, rather than serving to liberate them.”8 The following lyric by Sri Chinmoy, however, addresses the unknowability of the Divine in purpose and intention, emphasising the limits of the human point of view in the midst of darkness:
BEYOND MY IMAGINATION
In the temple, in the mosque, there is no light.
How can I believe that this is what God wants?
How can God allow His children to be helpless,
Orphaned, lame and destitute?
I know not.
It is beyond my imagination. 9
Here we can also find anguish and despair, but no underlying bitterness, as in the assumptions of Snyder. Instead there is as well as perturbation, a humble acceptance, even wonder. Initially, there is disbelief, and we can feel a painful railing against the seeming injustice of God’s detachment. Then, in his lament, the poet must surrender to the unknowable. The two simple statements at the end, with their brevity and finality, ending with the word ‘imagination’, somehow give the piece an open ending, swinging between despair and vaster, uncharted realms. Is the poem pointing a finger at this despair, or is it simply indicating the unfathomable divine purpose?
Read in this order, the poems lead us with deepest feeling into the seeker’s decline, and this next poem reflects on the knowledge of loss in the inner world. It seems to be expressing the seeker’s overwhelming anguish and puzzlement at being found bereft of his usual companion of faith:
I KNOW NOT WHY
My mind suffers badly
Because I do not invoke You.
Alas, I cry and weep.
Insufferable are my pangs,
Yet I know not why I do not long for You. 10
The seeming simplicity of this lyric disguises a more formalised anguish. Again we are removed from the mind, the mind is the sufferer, and yet the language offers an unparalleled depth of heart-feeling. The archaic cry ‘Alas’, the long syllabic ‘Insufferable’, and the vibration of ‘pangs’, which are then organised around the seeker’s reticence, echo the helplessness and hopelessness of his inability to fathom why there is still no longing. We can read between the lines and see that for the seeker, it is the longing in itself that will bring relief; therefore, his intransigence is all the more pitiable. This formality is emphasised in the syntax of the final line and recalls other poets who have used this distancing device. Emily Dickinson writes:
After great pain, a formal feeling comes —
The Nerves sit ceremonious, like Tombs —
The stiff Heart questions was it He, that bore,
And Yesterday, or Centuries before? … 11
We can see here that same cavern of emptiness and inertia. The following lyric by Sri Chinmoy also illustrates a haunting message of the seeker’s despair presented with a series of rhetorical questions. Their imploring tone tails off wistfully at the close without resolution.
BY WHOSE TOUCH
By whose touch does the lily smile
And open its beauty-bud?
Whose moonlit beauty
Do I see in the lily?
Who is the Eye of my eye;
Who is the Heart of my heart?
Alas, then why do I not see Him,
His Face of transcendental Beauty,
Even in my dreams? 12
In the opening image the relationship between the lily and the moon is portrayed with poignant and ethereal beauty — the moon being an expression of the divine animating quality of light, and the lily responding by blossoming with a satisfying smile. This intimacy portrayed between a simple flower and the divine is then contrasted with the seeker’s corresponding lack; an inconsolable alienation from this source of love. The longing for intimacy — the divine touch — imparts an envious hunger to the speaker. The simple presence and instinct of the life-force in the lily contrasts with the complicated fluctuating presence and absence in the human seeker; but the surpassing beauty of the divine is withheld. It not only admits of the perception of the divine in the human, but also of the divine as the perceptor; God and human as One, “Who is the Eye of my eye; / Who is the Heart of my heart?” The plaintive cry at the close places the lily back into unconscious nature by accentuating humanity’s conscious aspiration and search for divinity. However, at the same time we understand the futility of expecting to apprehend the divine through the reason of the mind or even of the senses. We are left with the impression of helplessness, grasping at straws, at the mercy of capricious dreams.
The ultimate expression of the fall into despair is attained in the following poem. Although it speaks indifferently of the loss of faith and direction, the point of view is undercut by a subtle self-irony at the close.
I HAVE NOTHING
I have nothing.
I have nothing to show or tell.
I have no spirituality, no worship,
No meditation, no adoration;
Around me are only inner pangs and
Dust, clay and ash.
I am satisfied with the world of
matter and desire.
I am compelled to be satisfied with little,
I have nothing. 13
Paradoxically, the enveloping structure and short, sharp repetitions seem to express both dread and defiance in the face of the seeker’s failure in the spiritual quest. The emotionless phrasing draws us into the undertone of stress to the point of paralysis. And yet the seeker, when turning back to the secular world of matter and desire, and forced to compare it with the wealth of the spiritual life of worship, adoration and meditation, must find it wanting. It is the world of matter and desire, which are characterised as the ‘little, very little’ at the close. The low pitch and cutting sense of rhythm and assonantal half-rhyme, express the overwhelming sense of loss as a cry from the abyss. The chanting tone gives emphasis to the oblivion caused by the loss of spiritual aspiration at this level: ‘I am compelled …’ illustrates both a position of stubbornness as much as a position that has been forced onto the seeker; he is cornered. The spiritual life, strewn with pain and failure, has been put aside. There seems no way out. Yet there is still a sense that this seeker is not really satisfied with the dust, clay and ash of a faltering spirituality.
This poem illustrates the seeker at his lowest ebb. The ‘Dust, clay and ash’ gives us a powerful impression of the bitter taste of failure. It is now that the Grace of the Supreme Being must intervene to once again motivate the seeker. This intervention of the Supreme’s own Will allows the seeker to realise and experience divine Compassion before the quest can be continued. This is not, however, a passive stage by any means. As the lyrics illustrate, there has to be a complex interaction between the seeker and God the Supreme to overcome despair.
The descent of divine Compassion is characterised by the following two poems. As an expression of interior meditations on the nature of divine Compassion, they effectively bring forward the humility of the speaker like an action and its subsequent response. Sri Chinmoy again uses a simple metaphorical trope to expand the language into metaphysical expression. The inner experiences on the threshold of the highest human achievement of the divine, as here expressed by the poet, take the reader empathetically upward to a new level of awareness, both of the power of humility, and of the nature of the relationship with God.
WAVES OF YOUR SMILE
If and when I think that I shall not
invoke You any more,
I shall not even look at You,
But shall keep my eyes shut
And thus derive happiness,
I see You touching my eyes
With the waves of Your Smile.
I know not, Beloved, how and why
You are so close to me today.
Perhaps all this is just a mistake. 14
Here we witness the seeker at his lowest ebb, shunning aspiration itself. The petulance of the child, eyes tightly shut, and stilted tone of the opening, blossoms into wonder as despair gives way under the confrontation with the image ‘waves of Your Smile’. This metaphorical expression is commonly used by Sri Chinmoy to characterise a communication from the Supreme; and suggests both a permeation, as of radio waves, as well as a palpable interaction. The image of the touch of the eyes with the waves of God’s own Consciousness seems to have the effect of magically opening them to the Light. It captures for us the rapturous encounter with divine Grace.
The seeker is seen to respond simultaneously with humility, surrender and bewilderment. The slow movement of syntax, postponing the main clause, mimics the re-awakening of the seeker’s spirit. As it builds up to the powerful image of supreme Compassion, the artificial resistance of the opening is transformed into the intimate acknowledgement of endearment and mystery at the close. Human nature, just as apt to ask ‘what have I done right?’ as ‘what have I done wrong?’, can never fathom this divine Grace.
It is interesting to note that both Whitman and Snyder also use the symbolism of the sea as an aspect of God’s presence, its liquidity serving to characterise the permeation of consciousness or peace. Snyder’s poem, “Burning Island” makes an interesting comparison here:
O Wave God who broke through me today 1
Then, as it slips into a series of word associations, it seems to lose its intimacy,
Gods tides capes currents
flows & spirals of
pool & powers 15
While behind the vision of Snyder is the idea of Oneness, he is more often concerned with the social order, and gets caught up in the outer world, rather than the inner. Molesworth makes a note that Snyder’s vision is actually limited by his reformist function,16 while, in comparison, Sri Chinmoy is more interested in communicating a vision of God which is both deeply intimate and expansive at the same time. In this next poem, Sri Chinmoy illustrates that the battering a spiritual seeker receives from a sceptical and negative world can actually be softened and diffused by the descent of divine Compassion.
When I am insulted,
When I am humiliated,
You strengthen me with Your Compassion-Power.
You come to me carrying the dawn in Your Hands
To replace my life of sorrow.
My heart’s secret tears
Create endless sufferings in Your Heart.
I know one day You will come to me;
Therefore, today everything that I have and am
Is dancing with joy. 17
This experience of compassion is portrayed as interactive rather than passive; the blessing producing the response of strengthening the seeker to be an effective agent in the world. Life is renewed and even replaced, ‘You come to me carrying the dawn in Your Hands’. How can the reader ever fathom the mysteries that the Supreme is giving the seeker here? The beauties of the universe, the creative life-force itself is hinted at, as the Supreme comes with humility, with His All, to give to the seeker in exchange for his ‘life of sorrow’. The human dimension is transported out of the insignificance of a modern philosophical context, as an individual in a meaningless universe, and carried into the realms of the divinely heroic. In this poem, God becomes the servant in His own Divine Lila, and the tears of humanity are not separate, but God’s own. The form of the poem — short, sharp, self referencing lines, alternating with longer lines indicating God — gives an unusual rhythmic outreaching effect, and confirms the extra dimension that has been given to the seeker by the presence of the divine in his life. The poem ends on a note of quivering optimism for the union to come.
The following lyric on compassion also touches on some of the keystones of Sri Chinmoy’s more Eastern philosophic teachings: of reincarnation, the evolution of consciousness, and of God and man as equal partners:
I BUTCHERED YOUR IGNORANCE
When I thought I was the doer
Of all my deeds,
I turned to mist,
I became the emperor of giant failures.
My soul came to the fore,
Consoled my visionless ignorance.
God made His Appearance supreme “You fool, be not wedded to impossibility’s
I waste not a leaf.
I butchered your ignorance wild for you
To equal My Transcendental Throne.” 18
These short, emphatic statements of confession by the human speaker at the opening seem feeble and are in stark contrast with the power and colour of the speech of God at the close. Here we see the strongest and most startling expression of man’s delusion: firstly that he is alone, and secondly that only he is responsible for his actions. Here we witness the refutation of existential man, containing the visionless ego, who becomes ‘the emperor of giant failures’ when divorced from his divinity. Even the choice of the word ‘emperor’ recalls that greatest of conquerors who seemed to overreach himself in the end. God finally comes forward to ordain man with his raison d’être. In fact, God states emphatically that it is absurd to think of the two as separate: “impossibility’s lifeless beauty”, as though man were indeed simply a body of lifeless clay without the divine animating force.
As with many of these poems, the particularity of the poet’s own experience is blended with the universality of the lyric ‘I’ with which the reader identifies. As the poem progresses into an intimate and powerful reprimand by God, the reader participates in the ensuing transformation, becoming aware of the height of his own Goal in all of humanity’s destiny. This is a strong example of Sri Chinmoy’s consummate lyrical process of organising the experience from each different perspective into an experience of growth and illumination.
Elsewhere in his writings, Sri Chinmoy emphasises that the soul is divine, the soul is the representative of God the Supreme, and that the Supreme can and does speak through this vessel. Over and again we witness Sri Chinmoy taking great pains to update these ancient Vedic truths for Western sensibilities, that human beings need to recognise the reality of their divinity and the One Consciousness that we share:
“Man and God are eternally one. Like God, man is infinite; like man, God is finite. There is no yawning gulf between man and God. Man is the God of tomorrow; God, the man of yesterday and today.” 19
So we see in the former poem the different levels of the being delineated: firstly the initial recognition that it is the Supreme who is living and acting through the physical manifestation of life on earth; that the Supreme is ultimately both the doer and receiver of all actions and consequences. This is a common theme in the ancient Hindu writings, indeed it is the fundamental lesson of Krishna’s lecture to Arjuna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra in the Mahabharata. Secondly, that the key to the pathway of transformation is the soul, the Inner Pilot as Sri Chinmoy terms it, and God’s spokesperson as it were. Thirdly, the reference here to Kipling, ‘I waste not a leaf’,20 in which Sri Chinmoy recalls the kernel of his own philosophic truth of the reincarnation of souls for the evolutionary process. Finally, inherent in the pronouncement of God, is that familiar thread that it is God who is guiding the Cosmic Game, that He is the one who has raised humanity from the animal world, and will be the one to raise humanity into the next level of evolution, to equal His own Consciousness. It is an extraordinary achievement in such a short piece.
With the operation of divine Compassion, the seeker is now able to make faster progress in the Trial towards his goal of God-Realisation or Self-Realisation. The following group of three poems is chosen to illustrate the state of the seeker as he once more begins his journey, aspiring towards spiritual union with his Beloved. They demonstrate the poet’s skill with a language that is not his native tongue, with simple direct statements, expressing this new faith and assurance on the inner journey.
THE DARK NIGHT
The dark night has at last ended.
I have now seen You
Inside the depth of my heart.
I do not know what magic abides inside me.
Around me is the desert,
Yet I am not parched with thirst. 21
The poem’s strength is in its calm and considered acceptance, as if after a long storm. There is also a humble expression of wonderment at the realisation that the divine goal, the prize is actually near, indeed to be found within. It intimates this revelation with quiet certitude. The poem acknowledges a partial enlightenment that there is indeed magic within. In addition there is the allure, the promise of the unknown depths yet to be discovered. The eternal and recurring motif that what man seeks is himself is restated with a new emphasis, a new simplicity, and all else is relegated to the desert. At last for the seeker, here is a truly thirst-quenching, fulfilling knowledge. Again I quote from Sri Chinmoy’s philosophic writings where he indicates that this attainment of the highest is by no means a passive action, but instead relies upon an intricate relationship between human aspiration and divine revelation:
“Who is God? God is an infinite Consciousness. He is also the self-illumining Light. There is no human being who does not own within himself this infinite Consciousness and this self-illumining Light. God is not something to be obtained from outside. God is that very thing which can be unfolded from within. 22
The next poem also beautifully illustrates the poet’s simplicity in expressing these tentative forays into illumination and into a state of union with the highest consciousness:
THE SWING OF DELIGHT
Hope-river flows, hope-river flows.
In the lap of the unknown
Is the river of smile.
At every moment I cry and weep with hope;
Again, it is I who dance with my Lord
In the swing of delight. 23
The imagery here is so strongly characterised — hope as a flowing river — it induces the heart of the reader to leap. After the drought of despair, the reader can both visualise and participate in the experience of the release of tension into the flood of the Infinite Consciousness. The divine Being characterised as a river of smile, the associations with the purity of water, the flowing nature of consciousness, blend into the notes of happiness, and unbridled joy. The seeker is carried along on this river of hope, after the long and bitter struggle, into a realm where delight swings us into the air. The lap of the unknown, with its tones of a maternalistic or paternalistic aura embracing the child, gives us an image of a divine Parent playing and dancing with us. Bennett24 often notes that Sri Chinmoy formulates a new mode of expression to characterise these unfamiliar states of the higher consciousness, a form so simple that it belies its scope.
In comparison however, the following poem illustrates a more mature and emphatic assurance of the meeting place between the seeker and God that is to come:
OUR MEETING PLACE
O Lord, my Master-Love, how far are we,
How far from ecstasy’s silence-embrace?
Heavy is my heart with sleepless sighs and pangs;
I know my bleeding core, our meeting place. 25
This lyrical invocation expresses a dramatic, meditative plea to the Supreme from the seeker nearing the end of his journey. The tone is impatient with anticipation, as the seeker has already claimed his ‘Master-Love’. In the marriage of these two terms, Master is softened, and love is validated; Love becomes the Master and the metaphor for God-union and the promise of blissful fulfilment. A state, constant but not static, is evoked by the term ‘ecstasy’s silence-embrace’, and a deepening, uplifting movement is imparted to the image. The pace with its steadiness and stresses in the centre of lines produces an inexorable rhythm. There are further syllabic delays in the third line, which break the cadence and accentuate the feeling of heaviness, of plodding. The final emphasis of the last line illustrates the length and difficulty of the journey, implying the courage and heroism of battle, ‘my bleeding core’ an image alluding as much to the violence of the inner transformations as to the grief of separation. The mood of the speaker, however, betrays his impatience and implies that God Himself may be holding back.
This suspicion of a deliberate delay is clearly voiced in this extract from another poem, one that portrays the divine Mother as the Godhead, which is more of an Eastern philosophical trope rather than the Western preferred Father figure:
How long more shall I cry, Mother?
How long shall I cry
In a dark room alone, loving You?
You know my secret thoughts,
You know my heart’s eagerness.
Why does dark death torture me every day?
How long will you delay, Mother?
How long will You delay? 26
We have to ask now, what more does the Supreme demand of the seeker? What is the reason or the grounds for the Supreme to delay that final gift of the ultimate union? In this next poem is the portrayal of what can be viewed as a final step in the Trial series, the theme of temptation:
LOVE IS THIS, ALSO LOVE IS THAT
Love is the road that leads
Our souls to union vast.
Love is the passion-storm
That sports with our vital dust.
Love’s child is emotion-flame.
Love’s eyes are freedom, fear.
Love’s heart is breath or death.
And love is cheap, love dear. 27
Here we can find a contrast being set up between divine and human love, and the distinction is quite sharply delineated. The simple opening statement refers to love as the path to God-union, of each individual soul with its higher Source. However, the subsequent aspects of human love are drawn in a disjointed and more poignant way: the ‘passion-storm’ of love; the overwhelming nature of passionate human love, that ‘sports’ or toys with our feelings — something that seems not only ephemeral, but out of control; and the highly suggestive use of the word ‘dust’, evocative of the ruins or remains in the wake of a storm or fire.
The elaboration in the second stanza confirms this emerging unequivocal view by the poet that it is human love that emerges as deceptive, transient. ‘Love’s child’, the inevitable consequence is ‘emotion-flame’, a mere chimera. Both impart images of immaturity, something that flares up intensely and dies out quickly like a passing childish tantrum. The enticing semantics following, ‘freedom, fear’, juxtapose these contrary but simultaneous dispositions, and again ‘breath or death’, intimate its risk and possessiveness, or fulfilment and denial. The final line seems to clinch this sobering delineation of love in the poem, the illusion that love can be bought and sold, not returned, or even discarded. The curtain is drawn back on the capriciousness and uncertainty of the human love relationship. And yet there is also a hint that divine love itself does not come too easily or too cheaply in the human quest for the ultimate love.
The need for human love is in many spiritual traditions the strongest and most trying ‘temptation’; we recall the Lord Christ’s Temptation here. In The Quest it is meant to avert the seeker’s gaze from the highest goal, the final prize, and here we see its limitations. It is exposed as conditional, belonging to the physical world, tied to our life’s limited breath and therefore destructive in its possessiveness compared to the eternal union to be found with the Divine. The throwaway last line refers us back to the slightly flippant note of the title. As a definition poem it recalls the technique of Emily Dickinson, who often plays with paradoxical images in her definition poems;
Experience is the Angled Road
Preferred against the Mind
By Paradox — the Mind itself —
Presuming it to lead
Quite Opposite — How Complicate
The Discipline of Man —
Compelling Him to Choose Himself
His Preappointed Pain — 28
Experience here is ‘Angled’, alluding to both angular and tangential; as well as perhaps pre-ordained rather than thought out or planned by the mind, for the mind always believes itself to be sovereign. Dickinson illustrates here those grey areas of the mind, where the mind convinces itself it wants the opposite ‘pains’ and perhaps we learn an unexpected lesson. Perhaps the final stanza intuits a definition of the law of karma as suggested in Eastern philosophy: that it is the soul that is really sovereign, and the soul that chooses. The experiences of life are, in fact, pre-ordained.
Although the following poem can be placed either before or after realisation in the Quest, I have used it here to interpret and characterise another temptation for the spiritual seeker, that of the call of the secular life:
THE BOAT OF TIME SAILS ON
The sky calls me,
The wind calls me,
The moon and the stars call me.
The green and the dense groves call me,
The dance of the fountain calls me,
Smiles call me, tears call me.
A faint melody calls me.
The morn, noon and eve call me.
Everyone is searching for a playmate,
Everyone is calling me, “Come, come!”
One voice, one sound, all around.
Alas, the Boat of Time sails on. 29
The charm of this piece lies in the repetitious structure of the fantastical call to come and play, from every corner of existence. The world with its myriad charms, even the seduction of humanity’s endless joys and sorrows. All is animated with the inner light of consciousness itself and the allure is magical, for yes, we are all ‘searching for a playmate’. However, it all melts into the speaker’s conscious awareness of the unity, the oneness of existence and hence he is compelled to resist. The seeker’s imperative is to disengage from the beauty of multiplicity so to speak, and recognise his own pressing duties in the face of time and the Goal in the Cosmic Game.
One final poem illustrates the dangers to be had in the temptation of settling for fulfilment in any one aspect of existence available to the human spirit and again here we revisit the structure of our own inner hierarchy of being:
Loves to be swayed by the wind of emotion.
Loves the prickings of desire.
Loves the confines of the finite.
Loves to be in the galaxy of saints.
Loves the life of unhorizoned vision-skies. 30
The five-tiered hierarchy of the self, as Sri Chinmoy characterises it, is set up in such a way that a rhetorical question must silently be formed by the reader — who do I identify with here? Each part of the inner being seems to be struggling for supremacy; even the heart is shown to have its limitations, satisfied with ‘the galaxy of saints’. The ever-striving and transcending nature of the soul shows the highest vision and the most perfect harmony to be achieved. Humanity’s nobler aspirations, always declining to be confined, naturally gravitate towards the freedom of ‘unhorizoned vision-skies’, the limitless nature of the soul. In the following Sri Chinmoy further explains his immeasurably profound insight into the mystical inner life of man and again implores us to open our eyes to the hidden meaning of life:
“Deep inside us there are seven lower worlds and seven higher worlds. We are trying to transform the lower worlds into luminous worlds, worlds of perfection, and, at the same time, we are trying to bring the higher worlds into outer manifestation. Some of the higher worlds we already see operating in our physical world, on earth. First comes the physical, then the vital, then the mind, then the plane of intuition or the intuitive mind, then the overmind and the supermind. After the supermind comes Existence-Consciousness-Bliss — Sat-Chit-Ananda. If you know how to observe them, you can see that some of these worlds are already functioning in you.” 31
In reality, these lyrics can be seen as a series of vignettes of the inner life, each one the expression of a momentary intuition of far reaching consequence, with not a little significance for Western understanding of spirituality. In Bradbury and McFarlane’s work, the comment is made on Modernist lyrics that “are given by a slow underground process of psychic development, often only discernible in retrospect. To write a series of lyrics is more like keeping a spiritual diary than anything.”32 This seems an apt description of the lyrics of Sri Chinmoy.
In this chapter, the organisation of the poetry has charted an inner journey of the individual spirit through trial, both apparent and concealed, while at the same time enlarging and illumining the scope of The Ever-Transcending Quest for the highest Consciousness. I feel the series as it is organised here, illustrates that the poetry has much more significance as a body of work than any single poem taken alone can reveal. The cumulative effects of the techniques of the poet, in such archaisms as rhetoric, repetition and revelation, work as a strong force compelling the reader to further investigation of the adventure of The Quest, and their own inner responses to the revelatory philosophical content.
As the reader follows the development of each step in The Quest, so he is called upon to make ever-deeper responses to the literary materials he is presented with. The literary materials themselves become more complex and demanding with each layer, especially in the next section, the Return, and, therefore, are more insistent upon a more complex response; a response that may entail challenging many previously hard-won ideas and beliefs. In any case the lyrics have such a compelling power that the reassessment is often made surreptitiously, automatically, in the reading. As Barthes has observed, the reader is “a changing ensemble of social and aesthetic values, attitudes and forms of consciousness”.33
Within the framework of the poetry of Sri Chinmoy, as Bennett notes, “In some poems, the effort of comprehension itself would seem to signify a kind of spiritual growth.”34 Of course in the mythology of the quest, the archetypal hero must return home with some kind of treasure, or transformation through knowledge that will in turn be of benefit to those around him. In the next and final section — Return — I will explore in the poetry the attainment of the goal of God-realisation or Self-realisation by Sri Chinmoy, the ultimate spiritual fulfilment, and what the poet indicates as its significance for all of humanity.
Read Chapter Three ...
1 Sri Chinmoy, Lord, Receive This Little Undying Cry, p. 8.
2 Ibid. p. 9.
3 Ibid. p. 11.
4 Ibid. p. 11.
5 Sri Chinmoy, Lecture “Know Thyself”, University of Puerto Rico, printed in The Inner Promise, Simon & Schuster, 1974, p22.
6 Sri Chinmoy, When God Love Descends, p. 28.
7 Sri Chinmoy, Lord, Receive This Little Undying Cry, p. 6.
8 Gary Snyder, Earth House Hold, op.cit. pp. 114-5.
9 Ibid. p. 261.
10 Ibid. p. 160.
11 Thomas H. Johnson (Ed), Final Harvest: Emily Dickinson’s Poems, p. 73.
12 J.M. & H. Roberts, op.cit. p. 6.
13 Sri Chinmoy, The Garden of Love-Light, p. 42.
14 J.M. & H. Roberts, op.cit. p. 17.
15 Gary Snyder, Regarding Wave, p. 33.
16 Charles Molesworth, Gary Snyder’s Vision, p. 32.
17 J.M. & H. Roberts, op.cit. p. 43.
18 Sri Chinmoy, The Dance of Life, p. 35.
19 Sri Chinmoy, Yoga and the Spiritual Life, p.1.
20 I quote Sri Chinmoy’s own reference in a public lecture ‘Is Death the End’, University of Kent, Canterbury on 11/11/1970, printed in The Inner Promise, p. 167:
“Kipling’s immortal utterance runs:
They will come back, come back again,
As long as the red Earth rolls.
He never wasted a leaf or a tree
Do you think he would squander souls?’
Each incarnation is leading us toward a higher life, a better life. We are in the process of evolution. Each incarnation is a rung in the ladder … Man is progressing consciously and unconsciously …”
21 J.M. & H. Roberts, op. cit. p. 26.
22 Sri Chinmoy, Yoga and the Spiritual Life, p.7.
23 J.M. & H. Roberts, op. cit p 27.
24 V.M. Bennett, Simplicity and Power, The Poetry of Sri Chinmoy, 1971-1981, Aum Publications, 1991
25 Sri Chinmoy, My Flute, p. 46.
26 Extract from untitled poem by Sri Chinmoy, The Garden of Love-Light, p. 39.
27 Sri Chinmoy, My Flute, p. 85.
28 Thomas H. Johnson (Ed).) Final Harvest, (No. 910) p. 219.
29 Sri Chinmoy, My Flute, p. 48.
30 Sri Chinmoy, The Dance of Life, p. 26.
31 Sri Chinmoy, The Summits Of God-Life: Samadhi And Siddhii, p. 8.
32 Bradbury & McFarlane (Eds.), Modernism, p. 320.
33 Roland Champagne, Literary History in the Wake of Roland Barthes, p. 48.
34 Bennett, op. cit. p. 47.