Sri Chinmoy’s Weightlifting Adventure
August 1983 to March 1986
by Unmilan Howard1
Who knows when this story began … and who knows when it will end? Like all adventures Sri Chinmoy embarks upon, the open invitation is always there for us to join him on his journey to the limits of human transcendence and beyond. This is a chronicle of a small part of one such continuing adventure – into the realm of Sri Chinmoy’s weightlifting achievements.
To say that this story began with Sri Chinmoy lifting 40 lbs. above his head with one hand on 26th June, 1985 is in fact only part of the truth. Sri Chinmoy has always stressed the importance of physical fitness and strength in our pursuit of spiritual progress. Ever since his days in the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Sri Chinmoy has proved that he is not just a spiritual giant, but a force to be reckoned with in athletic endeavours, as well, a modern-day ‘Pandava’2 in every sense.
Sri Chinmoy’s success as an athlete is an inspiration to his spiritual sons and daughters, and, true to his nature, he is now breaking ground in the world of weightlifting, where no man has gone before.
Kishore Cunningham (right) and me adjusting one of our
first exercise machines for Sri Chinmoy
at Aspiration-Ground tennis court.
In August 1983, Sri Chinmoy asked for 50 exercise machines to be made. All his disciples who were inspired tried to make their machines and then present them to him for approval – or otherwise. Mostly it was otherwise. Kishore Cunningham3 had an idea for a machine and suggested that together we could make it. When the machine was finished, we presented it to Sri Chinmoy. He sat in it and within minutes had completely wrecked it. “Useless, totally useless!” was his comment.
A few days later, he approached us again, laughing while saying, “That machine of yours was totally useless.” It was a challenge we could not refuse.
Instead of trying to find out what would inspire Sri Chinmoy, we asked a friend of ours to ask him what he specifically needed a machine to do. At that time, Sri Chinmoy was concentrating on his sprinting, and so “anything to improve leg strength” was the direction. We visited a couple of gyms, made quick sketches and then work began in earnest. Everyone we knew was caught up in Sri Chinmoy’s exercise machine inspiration, so it was no problem to find tools and a workshop (a subterranean store room in the basement of Agni Press4). In those few weeks the business of making exercise machines began. Little did I realise where it would eventually take me.
The first we knew of Sri Chinmoy’s serious weightlifting was when he rang his Australian meditation centres in late July, 1985. We were all gathered in Melbourne to help with two concerts which some of the good musicians among our group were performing there. Sri Chinmoy told us on the phone that he had entered into the exercise machine world with great enthusiasm and that when we came to New York the following month, there would be plenty of exercise machines to make. Just how much he was getting into weights and exercise machines was a surprise that was in store for Kishore and me.
On 7th July, just eleven days after he began this new adventure, Sri Chinmoy had progressed to lifting 50 lbs., with 60 lbs. coming shortly after, on 16th July, only nine days later. Before our arrival in New York, Sri Chinmoy was still making progress. He lifted 70 lbs. above his head on 30th July. The lift was called the ‘One-Hand Military Press’. On our arrival in New York, Sri Chinmoy quickly set us to work building machines, which always had to meet his requirements of being “cute, small, strong and yet look professional but not too complicated.”
At work in the basement workshop at Agni Press.
Photo credit: Nayak Polissar
So the ‘Sri Chinmoy exercise machine manufacturing headquarters’ was set up once again in the small room in the basement of Agni Press. This little room was to become home for the next six months. The ‘dungeon’, as it was affectionately known – since it was a room about eight feet square with a seven foot ceiling, no natural light and dripping water – was to become a hive of constant activity, producing machines with borrowed tools and resources, kindly lent by bewildered disciples. It was a world of its own, secure and friendly, where machines that were built had to be small, otherwise they wouldn't fit through the narrow door and up the stairs!
Before lifting heavy weights, Sri Chinmoy always warmed up first by lifting smaller weights or by working out on machines. The intensity with which he trained and wanted new machines was such that Kishore and I were only seen at the 1985 August Celebrations5 on four separate days. At one point, Sri Chinmoy said to us, “It is your job to make me strong. Making exercise machines will be your meditation.”
During Celebrations, he would often have competitions with the disciples to see who could lift the heaviest weight or else to see how many times he or the disciples could push a particular weight up and down. This gave him great joy and enthusiasm to continue his own rigorous training programme.
Sri Chinmoy was progressing steadily. On 13th August he lifted an 80-lb. dumbbell with one arm, followed by 85 lbs. on 6th September. His joy spilled over into the music world, and he composed several weightlifting songs for us to sing, and share in his achievements.
Sri Chinmoy liked to go to gymnasiums or sports stores to try out new machines which might develop his muscles. Some of these machines would have cost many thousands of dollars, so he would ask me “Can you make?” Out would come the pencil and paper and a few quick sketches and rough measurements were taken. He would also shop for novelty exercisers or just something new which would give him joy and a change from all the regular weights. He would go everywhere without the least bit of concern, which I have to admit was not exactly how I felt going into these places. Some of the gyms in those days were pretty rough. It's no wonder Sri Chinmoy said many people would prefer to train at home on their own exercise equipment, if they could.
Eventually a video machine was set up in Sri Chinmoy’s home gym so that he could record his workouts and see his progress. Sometimes he would show his disciples some of his best lifts, especially his new personal records. In this way, he was able to teach us the meaning of true determination (as well as frustration), and what concentration could do for us in our own self-transcendence. He often said that his mind does not believe what he has done, but his heart knows that it is true.
Sri Chinmoy would always meditate before attempting his lifts and he would always offer his gratitude prayer to the Supreme after his success or failure. It is all divine Grace, he used to say.
Because of Sri Chinmoy’s injured knee and bad back, it was difficult for him to lift weights from the ground. He wanted to know if there was any way that he could either repair or strengthen these weak points in his body.
Agraha6 found a place that tested leg muscles and knee joints and then showed how they could be strengthened. The tests revealed that Sri Chinmoy was weaker in his right leg and that his overall strength in his legs was such that an ordinary person in this condition would be getting around in a wheelchair or classified as a cripple! They gave Sri Chinmoy some exercises to do using very light weights strapped to his ankles or using weight shoes. (He had already been doing these exercises, but without the weights.) They stressed to him not to use heavy weights but to use very light weights and few repetitions for a short time, and to slowly increase the repetitions over a month or so and gradually increase the weight by five pounds as he got stronger. It sounded as though the process would take a very long time. Sri Chinmoy felt that if the muscles around his knee could become stronger, they would support him better so that he could lift heavier weights without feeling unstable.
We felt sorry for Guru. But, in return, he showed us how to overcome even the biggest obstacles. He asked Himangshu7 to make him extra heavy weight shoes, and another exercise machine had to be built to perform these same exercises. Sri Chinmoy was soon using 100 lbs. on the machine and doing lots of repetitions. His persistence once again defied scientific diagnosis and examination. They were inevitably defeated by heart-power and determination.
Because Sri Chinmoy was training so much, it was important to keep new machines coming so that he would not get bored or frustrated with his training. He always got inspiration as well as fresh enthusiasm and joy from new exercise machines.
Sometimes we would try hard to get another machine finished – only to be met by frustration and delays.
When Sri Chinmoy received a new machine, it instantly became a part of him and if we had to take the machine back for alteration, it would be like taking a child’s favourite toy away from him. It became a game to see if we could get the alterations done on the same day and deliver it back before he retired for the night. It gave us such joy to see our Guru happily experimenting with his new machine.
It was the job of Databir Waters8 to keep Sri Chinmoy supplied with metal weights and also to keep a lookout for any new exercise machines that he could find. Soon Databir noticed that in many cases the plates did not, in fact, weigh what they were supposed to, so he would weigh each one before buying them. How disappointing it would have been if Sri Chinmoy had lifted 100 lbs. only to find that it weighed 95 lbs.! That is why some of Sri Chinmoy’s lifts have the odd one pound or half a pound weight added to them.
Rupantar La Russo (right) and me installing the safety apparatus
known as the 'cage' in Sri Chinmoy's home.
He was starting to lift such heavy weights now that it was becoming hard for us to help him by manually handing him the dumbbells. Apart from it being dangerous, especially if we lost our concentration for even just a second, he wanted to be able to lift weights whenever he wanted to, and not just when we were available to help him. One day he asked if a machine could be made to replace us, and so was born ‘The Cage’.
If ordinary human beings lift a really heavy weight, we would usually be satisfied with lifting it once, but not so with Guru. His goal for Christmas 1985 was to lift 50 lbs. forty times. But he took everyone by surprise and became stronger so quickly that he was able to accomplish this goal on 6th October, two and a half months ahead of schedule.
So when one goal is reached, you set another. That is his philosophy. Now it was to be 50 lbs. lifted 50 times and 100 lbs. lifted from the ground above his head, both by Christmas.
September had departed and October was disappearing fast. It seemed that nothing could stop Sri Chinmoy, not even time itself. Disciples were kept busy trying to contact professional weightlifters and bodybuilders to find out their training tips to help Guru get stronger. He tried a number of their suggestions, even their eating habits, and slowly he began to formulate his own diet and training schedule. And, indeed, something was working, for he was losing weight and yet getting stronger. The spiritual and the physical were working in unison.
On 8th October 1985, Sri Chinmoy lifted 96½ lbs. 15 times, followed by a further 6 times and then another 20 times. Joy was in the air and he now felt confident that because he was able to lift this weight so many times, he could easily lift 100 lbs. at least once, if not more.
Sometimes he would play tricks on his mind, like using wrist weights while he lifted the big dumbbells and then telling himself that all he was lifting was a 90-lb. dumbbell instead of 91, 92 or 93 lbs.
Sri Chinmoy was always stressing that in anything we undertake, it is important to set a goal. When we reach that goal, we get such joy and enthusiasm that it will carry us to our next goal. But we should be careful not to set our goals too high and out of reach. We should have intermediate goals to reach our major goal. Otherwise, if we can’t reach our major goal, we will get frustrated and we might give up altogether.
Sometimes, while he was practising weights or doing some other thing, he would just stop and suddenly he would be in another world. You just knew that he had important inner business to attend to.
It was strikingly noticeable when some disciples were attempting to swim the English Channel that year. I could consciously feel Sri Chinmoy taking away their pain and fear so that they could accomplish their enormous task. I know Guru does this for all of us all the time, but it seemed so noticeable to me on that occasion. His concern knows no bounds.
Sri Chinmoy would train at all hours of the day and night. He wanted machines built to fit into his bedroom so that if inspiration struck at an odd hour (is there such a thing for a spiritual Master?) he would be able to work out without going downstairs.
Some professional weightlifters were commenting that his muscles were not growing in size because they were muscle-bound from too much exercise and not enough rest. But Sri Chinmoy kept up his intense training programme. He might not have had the muscle size of some of these body builders and weightlifters, but his strength was still rapidly increasing – to a point where he would soon overtake most of them in strength.
Sri Chinmoy would train early in the morning, while we were all asleep, and again at about 8:00 AM, not forgetting to go out for his regular walk and also to practise his musical instruments in between the two workouts. Later in the day, he would work out around 3:00 or 4:00 PM in the afternoon, and finally sometimes between 9:00 PM and midnight, when time and his busy schedule permitted. No other weightlifter, not even a super-athlete, could keep this intensity of training, six days out of seven, for months on end, with only two hours’ sleep a day to re-energise the body.
Sometimes it would happen that I was putting a machine together or altering one in Guru’s house and he would go upstairs to rest. I don’t know how much rest he would take, because soon the sound of weights could be heard going up and coming down with a gentle thud on the floor upstairs.
At Aspiration-Ground tennis court on 9th October 1985, he lifted 106¼ lbs. above his head with one hand, and then did several repetitions. This became the famous poster which many gymnasiums requested copies of. They felt it would inspire people to transcend their own efforts when they saw someone of Sri Chinmoy’s age lifting such a massive weight.
At this stage – and not knowing anything about weightlifting records – I was starting to wonder if he had nearly reached the goal he was aiming for. Besides, the exercise room in his house was now about as full as it could ever be with exercise machines and weights. But I still had a lot to learn about Guru’s determination. It was really only the beginning.
Until now Sri Chinmoy was still playing tennis and having evening meditations at Aspiration-Ground because the weather was quite mild. His tennis improved as he became stronger, especially his serve, and he was able to move around the court with an agility we had not seen for quite a while, not since the days when he was sprint training. But the vigorous games sapped his precious energy, energy much needed for his weightlifting, and so he cut back on tennis playing in order to use the energy for his weight training.
During Sri Chinmoy’s busy day – which included meetings, meditations, solving his disciples’ inner and outer problems and weight training – he still managed to find time to practise his music for upcoming Peace Concerts in the United Kingdom and Europe. And, even while he was on tour, he found time to train, using a leg exerciser at interval time and after a concert.
Bipin9 was particularly good at packing weights and dumbbells for travelling into little innocent-looking red tool boxes. One of these might weigh 50 lbs. or more, depending on the size of the dumbbell! And while Sri Chinmoy was away, machines were being converted from round weights to rectangular pin weights, so that he wouldn’t have to lift them on and off a machine to alter the poundage.
Assisting Sri Chinmoy with weight training after
a running race at Flushing Meadows Park, NY.
One day, shortly after Sri Chinmoy’s return from his European tour, he was sitting on the couch on his front porch, gazing out the window. It was a beautiful day outside and a jogger ran by. He turned and said, “There is nothing quite like running. When you run everything is inspiring you to run. The wind in your hair, the birds, the trees, flowers, grass …even the footpaths and houses are all urging you to run. But here I am lifting inconscient weight, something that I used to avoid doing in my Ashram days.”
He went on to say that the leg exercise machine was helping his lower back as well as his legs and he felt that one day soon he would be able to run again. Of all the machines we have made for Guru, I thank the Supreme for this one.
I couldn’t contain the joy of knowing that he might run again, and told several of my friends what he had said. They were overjoyed also, and at the first opportunity asked him if it was true. Guru’s answer was, “How do these rumours get started? Some disciples I can tell things and they don’t believe, but other disciples take everything I say as being true.” At first I felt embarrassed, but then I was filled with gratitude.
After Sri Chinmoy had successfully lifted the 106¼ lbs. above his head the first time, he continued using this weight to practise with. He asked me if it was possible to lower the weight cage so that the 106¼-lb. dumbbell would hang one inch closer to the floor, giving him a better starting position. All I could think of doing was to cut one inch out of each of the legs and re-weld them back together. But this would mean taking the cage away and bringing it back at a later time. Other things had to be done first, so I went away trying to think of an easier way to lower the cage.
Later in the day, Sri Chinmoy said, “Unmilan, we are both brainless! It is so easy to lower the weight. We just place a one-inch sheet of plywood on the floor for me to stand on.” He was laughing and then he said, “It is like when the dog barks. We run and run and run instead of climbing up the tree!”
Sri Chinmoy worked and worked with his weights until his muscles became too sore to work any more, and he would then take rest. During this rest period he used to practice his musical instruments. He would play four or five instruments and then work out again, take another rest and practise again. None of his other activities suffered while he kept pushing forward with his weightlifting manifestation. Things like music were just placed into another time slot.
Early one morning, I woke up feeling sad and depressed without knowing why. Later in the morning I found out that Guru had been working out on the hyper-extension machine (the roman chair) doing stomach and back exercises, when the machine lost balance and fell on top of him. The Supreme saved Guru from a nasty accident but Guru had hurt his calf muscles, and the next few days found him limping everywhere, just when it seemed that he would be running well again.
The injury eventually healed with the help of massage and he was soon walking and running again in the mornings. Guru maintained his exercise programme, minus the leg exercises, for a few days. The intense training on upper body muscles was continuing unabated, with Guru still practising instruments for the coming concerts, as well as writing new songs, poems and reading all his mail. It never stopped!
By October 29th, Sri Chinmoy was able to one-arm press 106¼ lbs. 12 times, followed by 28 times and 12 times. Then he had a significant inner experience. His soul told him that more repetitions were needed. So he set a programme to do seven reps seven times with the 106¼-lb. dumbbell.
Whenever he was about to lift his heaviest weight, or go for a ‘PR’, every noise in the house had to be stopped, and pin-drop silence maintained. These ‘transcendence lifts’ required every ounce of Guru’s powerful concentration. He says that he tells the weights to become as light as a feather so that he can easily lift them.
On November 1st, he successfully transcended his own record again by lifting 117 lbs. This was to become the starting point of his next goal, which was to one-arm press 150 lbs. while having a personal bodyweight of 150 lbs.
“Is there no limit to what Guru can do?” my mind asked.
Sri Chinmoy would occasionally have weightlifting competitions. He did it for the joy it gave to us all, and to see us struggling with weights that he had far transcended months ago. But he stressed that we should not try lifting these weights without him being there, unless we were already lifting weights seriously, since we could cause ourselves injury. He said that men should not lift more than 50 lbs. and women not more than 20 lbs.
In one of these competitions, Shephali10 defeated all the boys by lifting the heaviest weight in the calf-muscle machine. Then Sri Chinmoy got us to see who could lift a 120-lb. dumbbell from the floor to waist height. He himself could not perform this lift, but those of us that tried could. He felt embarrassed, but our success was only because our lower backs were stronger than his. “Sometimes embarrassment is good,” said Guru, “because it makes us try harder.” And so this became another goal he set for himself – to lift 100 lbs. from the floor to above his head.
The machines that were made for Sri Chinmoy all had weights in them that were well above his strength at that time. It seemed that he was having a competition with the machines to see how fast he could transcend their limits. As he got stronger and stronger, there was not one machine that did not require extra weights to be added to the weight stack. With some machines, it took Guru a matter of weeks to use up all the weights, some took only days, and one took only two hours for him to conquer!
Sri Chinmoy could now do a pull-over from behind his head with 120 lbs., and in the seated bench press machine he could press 140 lbs., 10 times. On November 3rd, he lifted 131½ lbs. in military press fashion, 22 times. This was only two days after lifting 117 lbs. When he completed the lift, he very soulfully spoke these words:
“The Compassion-Light of my Beloved Supreme has made me lift up 131½ lbs., 22 times. For everything in my life, I entirely, entirely depend and depend on the Grace of my Beloved Supreme, and this is what I would like all my disciples to do. For everything they should and they must entirely depend on the boundless and unconditional Grace of our Beloved Supreme.”
He went on to say that he never dreamed that one day he might be strong enough to be able to lift his own bodyweight with one hand – his Indian bodyweight was always around 131 lbs. from the ages of thirteen to thirty-one. Guru said, “I am so happy. Let my happiness enter into all my spiritual children, the same happiness. I would be grateful if they could transcend my happiness. First, they have to embody my happiness, and then they have to transcend it. Transcendence is our only goal.”
One day Sri Chinmoy was inspired to do a typical bodybuilder pose. Savyasachi11 took a photograph. The picture was blown up and then auctioned to the highest bidder. At a function to celebrate Sri Chinmoy’s 131½-lb. lift, Madal Bal bid the highest for this powerful, yet sweet and beautiful portrait.
In the course of time, every room in Sri Chinmoy’s home became an exercise room. If he wanted to exercise while talking with disciples, he would exercise on the porch using either exercise machines or free weights (dumbbells). If he wanted to do a serious workout, he would use the main exercise room. In the meditation room there sat a 100-lb. chromed dumbbell for lifts from the ground. And upstairs the second bedroom was also transformed into a small exercise room where he could work out. Even his main bedroom had an exercise machine in it.
He would tell us, “If you are inspired then you are energised and you do not need to sleep for so long. Your mind says to go to sleep and it will wake you up … but it never does. Instead, it tells you that you need more sleep.”
Sri Chinmoy only takes sleep for two hours each day and in this way he can accomplish the many things he has to do. He advises us to always play tricks on the mind and do what inspires you and not what the mind wants you to do. If you are tired, take a shower or wash your face, especially the ears and eyes, put on the TV in the background to create a noise, sing loudly and out of key – do anything to stay awake.
When Sri Chinmoy wakes up, he meditates before anything else. Then he warms up in preparation for lifting weights. His arms move from side to side, up and down, to loosen the muscles and get the circulation going. Then he takes his position underneath the dumbbell that is suspended in the cage. He simply holds the weight for a minute or two, concentrating and mentally preparing himself in pin-drop silence. Suddenly the concentration, determination and sheer strain all burst into action and a powerful groan signals the start of the upward journey of the weight. For a very brief moment, it is held up, at the top of his straightened arm. His shoulders are square, back perfectly straight and left arm stretched parallel to the floor. Then the weight comes down, only to be halted and then made to move upwards, again and again and again. Suddenly the surge is over and the weight comes back down for the last time into its cradle, crashing like thunder.
The strain is over and the look of pain on Sri Chinmoy’s face quickly changes to a smile and laughter. The power in the room is tangible. Then, prayerfully, he offers his gratitude to God.
This was the scenario on November 12th, 1985. He had just lifted 140 lbs. We had the feeling now that he was strong enough to lift anything he wanted.
Sri Chinmoy lifting 155 lbs. on November 18th, 1985 at the age of 54.
His bodyweight on that day was 154 lbs.
On November 15th, Madal Bal12 flew me to Germany and Switzerland for a week to prepare me for the job ahead – manufacturing exercise machines in Australia and exporting them to Madal Bal for sale in Europe. Before I left, Guru said he would wait until my return before he lifted his next goal: 155 lbs.
On November 18th, he telephoned me in Switzerland to tell me that he had lifted 155 lbs. 10 times and then another 14 times. He said, by way of explanation, “My determination could not wait for your return and so with your soul’s permission I lifted it early.” I was deeply touched and overjoyed.
Sri Chinmoy’s determination was such that he would keep trying for days and days to lift a weight, even if at first he could not budge it, and put full effort into trying until the capacity was there to do it.
After the 155-lb. lift, just like after the 106¼-lb. lift, the phones went wild with comments from all over the world. Weightlifters, bodybuilders, athletes, musicians, politicians, doctors and ministers were all eager to offer him praise and encouragement. Some were so overcome that they were lost for words. All this helped Sri Chinmoy to persevere and set new goals, especially comments like: “I see no limit to what this man can do because of his connection with God” or “he can easily go on to even larger weights with his power of concentration and determination.” For some, Sri Chinmoy’s spiritual height was forgotten or perhaps unseen, and the achievement was seen only in superhuman terms. But others knew and felt that it was his indomitable spiritual qualities that enabled him to perform such tremendous feats of power and strength. In Sri Chinmoy’s life, everything flowed from the inner to the outer.
In just under five months, he had progressed from 40 lbs. to 155 lbs. Meanwhile, his bodyweight had decreased through strict dieting to 155 lbs, and he was now poised to lift, with one arm, more than his body weight – a feat that all weightlifters agreed was bordering on the unbelievable. His goal was now to lift 170 lbs. With such heavy weights being used, a second cage was built to enable him to practise for the 170 lbs. by warming up with the 155-lb. weight first. It was hard for me to comprehend that 155 lbs. was once his goal, and now it was being used merely as a warm-up lift!
The remaining days of 1985 were very busy for Sri Chinmoy … on the anniversary of his paintings, he painted 150 small and 70 large new pieces; he continued to hold UN meditations and special meditations in Washington DC; he met with a number of important people and composed songs to honour them; he held a seven-hour meditation and concert where he played on 21 musical instruments; on Wednesday nights he held public meditations, and there were many more daily activities happening in the ten days after he lifted 155 lbs. It was Thanksgiving Day and he still had the 5-day ultra-race to direct and many concerts to perform before Christmas, but the intensity never for a moment caused him to pause in going for his 170-lb. goal. Quite the contrary, he thrived on the pace and the challenges ahead. “You have no idea how many times I have tried and how many times I have failed,” he said, “but I do not give up.”
Sri Chinmoy lifting 170 lbs.
By November 30th, twelve days after lifting 155 lbs., he had succeeded in lifting 170 lbs. with two hands four times, but he had not been successful in then changing to one hand to do repetitions. He commented, “My biceps are so weak, while my triceps are so strong. We try to hide our weaknesses but our weaknesses come forward so that we can strengthen them.”
Until now he had always lifted the weights with two hands. Then he would change to one hand at the top of the lift and begin to one-arm press. But on December 1st, using only one arm from start to finish, he lifted 101¼ lbs., 127 lbs. and 132 lbs. – all within an hour. This was a major breakthrough and a very special day for Sri Chinmoy. Three days later, he lifted 145 lbs. in the same way, using only one hand. At a function that evening, he showed a video of himself doing all these lifts and explained, “Today I have tried something new. Without taking any help from my left hand, I only used my right hand on the lift. Meditate. Identify with me. My aspiration and my Beloved Lord Supreme’s Compassion – how they go together.”
A book was made detailing all these lifts. Some of the pictures clearly show the pain and strain his physical body was going through.
The next day he was determined to lift 120 lbs. from the floor to his waist, while an audience looked on. He said, “So what if I am embarrassed, it helps us to become strong to fail now and again.” Sri Chinmoy did not have to feel embarrassed on this occasion. He made the lift and another goal had been reached.
Still I kept making machines, all day and sometimes all night. For me, nothing else mattered. Guru said to me, “Your devoted service and my determination have enabled me to lift these weights. Without these machines, there would be no joy.”
We are all divinely special and unique. While I was making machines for Guru, some disciples felt miserable that they couldn’t please him to the extent that I was at that time. But what they did not know was how envious I was of them, seeing how much they were spreading the news of Guru’s achievements across the world, while all I was doing was making machines. Such is our fate when we live in our minds, instead of our oneness-hearts!
In Si Chinmoy’s home, he now had 170 lbs. in one cage, and 127 lbs. in the other. Three times he would practice pushing the heavier weight upwards, using two hands. Then he would go to the 127 lbs. and pump it for five repetitions with one hand. Then back to the 170 lbs., this time trying to move it using only one hand. Bit by bit, it moved one inch, then four inches, then it finally surrendered.
Sometimes I would ask myself what I was doing half way around the world making exercise machines, sometimes working fifteen to twenty hours a day. Why was I doing it? The answer was simple … for a smile, a very special smile. To me, there was no smile on earth like this one. It was like the smile of the Beyond, filled with divine love and joy. In the ordinary life we work for money but we are never satisfied, and we soon want more money. When we get more, we are still not happy. But Guru’s smile was completely satisfying. There was nothing in the outer life that could give me that same reward, that indescribable feeling of oneness and gratitude.
Sri Chinmoy used to say that when we work for him it must be with a feeling of unconditional self-giving. And sometimes we work for a while with this attitude, until the mind consciously or unconsciously begins to demand something for our work, even if it is for him to smile at us. But if he smiles at us when we want him to, we may drown in our pride. He knows what we need to make the fastest progress, and he will supply us with that need at the right moment. In the battle of life we can embody the negative forces or the positive forces, whichever we choose.
The year was fast drawing to a close and it seemed that things were happening at a much faster pace. Boxes had to be made to take Sri Chinmoy’s weights to Japan, and he himself was extra busy preparing for the trip and practising for the concerts scheduled there.
On December 10th, Sri Chinmoy officially named his one-arm lift ‘The Body, Heart and Soul One-Arm Press’. He established a set of rules and guidelines that were printed along with some pictures illustrating the newly-founded lift, which is similar to the traditional one-arm military press. The main points of Sri Chinmoy’s lift are:
- The dumbbell must be pressed overhead in a continuous motion to a full-arm extension, where it is held for three seconds.
- During this manoeuvre, the spine must be erect and the torso may not rotate.
- The knees may bend slightly, but not more than two inches from a vertical, straight leg position.
- If a power rack (cage) is used, the dumbbell must be free of contact with the rack at full arm extension.
On this same day, he changed his routine to cook a 13-course meal for a group of disciples who had been trying to guess when he would lift the 155-lb. weight. Guru was in a joyful and playful mood, and at one stage he was mixing and patting a very large pot of food with his hands, saying, “Food is God and so I am playing with God!”
There were two special dishes, one extremely hot and spicy dish for the boys, which he said would purify our minds and illumine our hearts, and an extremely bitter dish for the girls to take away their insecurity and jealousy.
Counting reps for Sri Chinmoy in Japan.
It was time for Sri Chinmoy’s trip to Japan. His luggage may have not looked big but it was weighty. Besides the ordinary luggage, which included a number of musical instruments and three entire exercise machines, there were seven small boxes and six small tool boxes, each weighing from 40 to 70 lbs., depending on the size of the dumbbell inside. So everyone got plenty of exercise when it came to moving Guru’s luggage, especially the baggage handlers at the airport!
On the plane trip, Sri Chinmoy did not rest. He did 700 push-ups in the aisle and also used several hand exercisers that he carried with him. In each location we stayed at, he had a separate exercise room to do his workouts, and a set of weights and exercise machines were set up in the hall where we gathered for functions.
When we first arrived in Japan we had to load everything onto buses. But Japanese buses don’t have luggage compartments and so the luggage had to fit around the seats of the passengers! Barely a space was left. The driver of the bus was laughing at the never-ending stream of luggage. Then along came the small tool boxes. He still laughed, but you could see the shock on his face as he helped to lift them, wondering how such a small box could weigh so much.
While he was in Japan, Sri Chinmoy did not get as much exercise as he might have at home in New York. But a combination of different types of exercises and the enforced rest probably did his body a lot of good. It did mean, though, that he couldn’t lift 170 lbs. while in Japan because there was no cage to protect him. Without the really big weights, we had no idea whether his strength was increasing or decreasing. But he did find several new exercise machines in Japan and a few of the ones we had left in New York soon appeared with the late arrivals.
Sri Chinmoy competed against himself on the new machines: using an exerciser that measures the amount of pressure it takes to squeeze the hand together, he went from 30 kg to 42 kg (approximately 70 lbs. to 95 lbs.). On another machine, he would stand and bend over, grabbing a handle which he pulled upwards. It measured the amount of weight he could pull up from the floor. He started on 60 kg (130 lbs.) and in thirteen days was able to lift 90 kg (close to 200 lbs.). Sri Chinmoy used to complain from time to time that he was losing strength because he could not work out in his gym, but I could see that he was definitely getting stronger in other muscles.
In all, he performed nine concerts in Japan, and was constantly active, meeting people, writing new songs, travelling, practising musical instruments, running and walking, and still finding time to fit in weightlifting. Moving from city to city, travelling on buses and trains did not stop this ‘divine dynamo’ from transcending. He had been practising lifting 86 lbs. from the floor to shoulder height for about ten days, and then for about five days lifting 91 lbs. to shoulder height. On January 5th, he lifted 91 lbs. from the ground to above head height and then one-arm pressed it five times.
On January 7th, Sri Chinmoy surprised us all by doing 2,230 push-ups in 59 minutes 34 seconds. I was one of three counters for this feat. While he was doing the push-ups, he asked some singers to sing fast spiritual songs. The whole audience remained in a soulful and prayerful consciousness. This was to be Sri Chinmoy’s first teeming surprise for 1986.
Sri Chinmoy arrived back in New York on January 13th. On January 14th, he attempted to lift the 170-lb. dumbbell – but it did not move. Guru said that he had used only 60 to 70 per cent of his strength. The next day he tried again. The weight started going up so fast we all felt that he would succeed, but it was as if the Supreme did not want it done on this day and so it never reached the top. On this day, Guru said that he used 90 per cent strength. He was smiling, as if to say, “It is only a matter of time.” The very next day the weight surrendered to him on his fifth attempt.
Sri Chinmoy said, “Prayer-power can do this. In any walk of life, concentration and determination have to be brought forward. Do not be satisfied with failure.” And, again, he often said, “How many people would just give up!”
All the fears he had about losing strength in Japan were swept away with this lift. But still his bicep muscles never increased their size of 14 inches when flexed. He longed for 15-inch biceps, but the growth of the muscles seemed elusive. There seemed to be no outer increase in size to match the increase in strength and power. Guru would do every exercise he could think of to increase their size. Then he would measure them again. Poor Guru would look at us and shake his head in disbelief.
Even mathematics did not apply to Guru. We tried unsuccessfully to predict when he might lift a weight, projecting a date from his past progress. But Guru being Guru, sometimes he would be weeks or even months ahead of schedule.
His muscles may have not measured any bigger, but they sure looked bigger. When he rolled up his sleeve to play esraj or cello, you could not help noticing his powerful arms. And when he was playing tennis, his legs looked just as strong and developed.
In all that Sri Chinmoy accomplished with weights, he never went backwards. In running you can go up and go down, losing fitness through injury or losing your edge, but with weights he went from strength to strength. He always warmed up first on lighter weights before he tackled the heavier ones, and this might be one of the reasons why he never suffered an injury while lifting. He knew intuitively what to do, and this was undoubtedly the best protection of all – the Supreme’s inner guidance.
“I do weightlifting and all that, but I have to be frank, compared to my inner power it is a drop,” Guru told us.
Sri Chinmoy reaches his 'goal' by lifting 200lbs. on March 6, 1986. But this was just the beginning…
On January 20th, Sri Chinmoy had the 170-lb. and 200-lb. dumbbells placed in the cages so that he could ‘warm up’ on the 170 and begin pushing on the 200. The next challenge was on again. When he first started lifting weights, who would have thought his goal would be as high as 200 lbs.? Only the Supreme knows where it will end.
I left New York for Australia after seeing Guru lift the 200-lb. weight up one inch. I felt that this 200 pounds of inconscient weight was on the move to meet its destiny with Guru’s goal. And then, six days into the miracle month of March, Guru transcended his own personal record yet again with a lift that surpassed all others – he lifted the 200-lb. dumbbell in the true style of the Body, Heart and Soul One-Arm Press.
– End –
1 Unmilan Howard is an Australian sheet-metal worker who was instrumental in every aspect of Sri Chinmoy’s weightlifting. He personally designed and built many of the machines that Sri Chinmoy used.
2 The Pandava brothers were heroic figures in the Mahabharata era of Indian history.
3 Kishore Cunningham is a sports event organiser, writer and editor from Melbourne, who assisted the author with the original manuscript, on which this article was based.
4 Agni Press is a small printing press in Jamaica, Queens. At that time, it was solely responsible for publishing Sri Chinmoy’s books.
5 Every year for two weeks during August, Sri Chinmoy’s students from all over the world gather in New York to celebrate his birthday, which falls on August 27th.
6 Dr. Agraha Levine, from Seattle, was another key figure in Sri Chinmoy’s weightlifting. He is also the author of many insightful articles about Sri Chinmoy’s various lifts.
7 Himangshu Kosachek is a former gymnast from the New York area who, at times, custom made running shoes for Sri Chinmoy.
8 Databir Waters, a former wrestling champion, assisted Sri Chinmoy in various aspects of his weightlifting.
9 Bipin Larkin was one of Sri Chinmoy’s close attendants and the major builder of Aspiration-Ground tennis court.
10 Shephali Burke is one of the three women who run Annam Brahma Vegetarian Restaurant in Queens, New York.
11 Savyasachi Brown was a close attendant and driver of Sri Chinmoy.
12 Madal Bal is a business enterprise run by Sri Chinmoy’s students in Switzerland, Austria, Germany, the Czech Republic and several other European countries.