A Journey to the Heart of a Continent
THE RELAXED MANNER in which he moves does not immediately suggest the intensity of his purpose. He has a casual effectiveness about his style whether on the running track or in the concert hall. Like a true master, he has the art of making the most difficult things look easy.
Thousands of runners today know of the positive effect Sri Chinmoy has had directly or indirectly on running throughout the world, but few know much about him.
Sri Chinmoy was born in Bengal, India in 1931. While still a child he had many deep mystical experiences and at the age of twelve entered an Ashram, where he spent the next twenty years practising meditation, perfecting his inner vision and reaching that rare state of oneness with God that various traditions call Enlightenment or God-realisation.
Sri Chinmoy would have been content to spend the rest of his life in a samadhi trance, maintaining only the thinnest connection with the physical world. But an inner command that he leave India and offer his realisations to aspiring humanity brought him to the United States in 1964. Since then, over 80 Sri Chinmoy spiritual Centres have been established throughout the world.
For Sri Chinmoy, the inner life of meditation and the outer life of dynamism go hand in hand. “Our goal is always to go beyond, beyond, beyond,” he says, “There are no limits to our capacity because we have the Infinite Divine within us.”
Besides meditating for several hours a day and guiding his various Centres, Sri Chinmoy conducts twice-weekly meditations at the United Nations, delivers lectures and holds concerts throughout the world. He has written over 600 books, painted over 140,000 paintings and composed over 5,000 spiritual songs and musical compositions. His output to date is staggering and there is no end in sight. Amidst these multifarious activities, he still finds time to run and inspire others to do so as well.
Running, possibly more than anything else captures the spirit of Sri Chinmoy’s philosophy of self-transcendence. Sri Chinmoy’s interest in sport dates back to his days at the Ashram in India, where he was a top-ranked sprinter and, for two consecutive years, decathlon champion. He continues to train daily and, although his speed is not what it used to be, he delights in setting new goals for himself and occasionally competing in international veterans’ competitions.
For five days in September Sri Chinmoy visited Australia. The schedule was, as expected, full. Meetings, Concerts and Runs, all took their turn in the transcending days of Sri Chinmoy’s fleeting tour.
Inspiring Presentations — Aspiring Ovations
September 11th, Tuesday Morning
It is a chilly September morning in Melbourne. There is a 6 km race at 8 am and already, just as dawn is breaking, a crew of helpers are busy setting up the course. The race is just one of a series of races put on by the Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team; one of over 200 that are conducted each year worldwide. They are organised with the customary accuracy, efficiency and friendliness, which has become the hallmark of Sri Chinmoy events. Today’s race is something special, however: the person who has inspired these events and given running a whole new dimension and direction, Sri Chinmoy, is here. Ostensibly he has come to Australia to give a concert, one of 20 ‘Peace Concerts’ he is performing this year around the world. His concert in Los Angeles during the time of the Olympics attracted over 6½ thousand people and there is already concern that the reserved seats outnumber the 2,000 seats in the hall. But that is tomorrow. Today, running is the main priority.
The run is a modest affair — no big bands, no sponsors — just 100 runners, a small group of representatives from the thousands of people in Australia who have taken part in the Sri Chinmoy Races over the years. As the starting time draws closer the anxious runners are introduced to Sri Chinmoy. With head bowed, Sri Chinmoy holds a minute of silence. For the runners, it is a moment of poise, of concentration, of will and energy absent of distractions. For Sri Chinmoy, it is a moment of gratitude that he is able to be of service to the running community. A few days later on stage at Dallas Brooks Hall after holding 2 concerts in the same evening for a total of almost 3,000 people, Sri Chinmoy will once again offer his gratitude in silence. This time he will add this soulful tribute:
“Australia, My Australia,
My Beloved Australia,
I bow to your Inner Pilot Supreme,
I bow to your Fullness-Soul,
I bow to your Oneness-Heart,
I bow to your Vastness-Body
With my soulful Gratitude-Heart.”
As the race begins, Sri Chinmoy decides to run with the runners. At present, he is badly injured. He jogs and walks a painful 2 km and happily withdraws. His hope is to be in condition for the World Masters Games to be held in Rome next June. Yet as with all runners, Sri Chinmoy has to bear with, though not necessarily surrender to, the dictates of the body.
The race concludes, and 10 minutes later Sri Chinmoy is walking casually into the VIP rooms at Olympic Park Stadium. He is the guest of honour at a breakfast with distinguished runners. Ultrarunner Tony Rafferty is there and so is triathlete Rohan Phillips. Terry O’Halloran of Australian Runner magazine presents Sri Chinmoy with an ‘Award of Excellence’. For the next 5 minutes, Terry stands motionless as Sri Chinmoy unreservedly praises him for his services to the sport of running. Typically, Sri Chinmoy accepts the award with humility, saying:
“Runners are smilers. He who runs, smiles. He who smiles most, becomes. What the universal life is meant for is happiness, happiness within, happiness without. This is the sole message of the running world. Here, delight you have given me and I am offering you this same delight. This delight will cover the length and breadth of the world. Each athlete will become part and parcel of this universal delight.”
Extended Greetings — Transcendent Meetings
September 14th, Friday Morning
Sri Chinmoy’s visit to Canberra is unscheduled. Upon arriving he is happy to hear that a meeting with Pat Clohessy, the Australian Institute of Sport’s Distance Coach, will be arranged and he also expresses interest in visiting the running trails of Stromlo Forest, the training ground of Australia’s top distance runners.
First stop is the Australian Institute of Sport where Pat Clohessy coaches a group of the nation’s best athletes. The meeting today is one of great respect and admiration. Both Pat Clohessy and Sri Chinmoy express the similarity of their approaches to running and life in general.
Pat Clohessy: “I’m very honoured to meet you, I think we have a lot in common; a lot of your principles, encouraging people to run, to participate, to relax and enjoy running as a lead up to getting satisfaction from it. I think this is very important. You’ve inspired a lot of people.”
Sri Chinmoy: “We are in the same boat. You have inspired so many people, you have become immortal.”
Pat Clohessy: “I think we all get satisfaction out of working with other people and so forth. I think we share that. I get satisfaction out of whatever a person’s level is. Just from the fact that they’re interested in running and in physical fitness and in relaxation and perhaps group running too. I think that’s fundamental.”
Sri Chinmoy: “Among the great athletes, who has inspired you most?”
Pat Clohessy: “Among the Australians, I think John Landy has made a tremendous contribution to athletics — to have combined his vocation with running and he always had time to help other people. I think he did a tremendous amount for Australian athletics and not only Australian athletics but world athletics. And at a time when a lot of people felt that you have to give up everything to run, Landy combined a very successful teaching, study and business career with running — and also he used nature to advantage. Up at Timbertop he ran in the mountains and then came back and ran world records.”
Sri Chinmoy: “In those days only 2 names struck us most — Bannister and Landy.”
Pat Clohessy: “I think it’s important that you don’t have to win to contribute greatly to helping others.”
Others present at the meeting, include some of Sri Chinmoy’s students from around Australia and America, eager to hear more of the great coach’s advice.
Databir Watters: “Do you have any recommendations for going below 2:30 in the marathon? The best of us are about 2:40.”
Pat Clohessy: “You have to look at individual programmes. Some of you may be training very hard and might be near your limit there. I’ve had a lot to do with people around the 2:40 mark and they seem to improve a lot when they get out and race.
“Maybe you people are already doing that but if you’re not, I think you can gain a lot from regular racing, getting experience, getting to know yourself over 10,000 metres. I suggest that people run club races and other fun runs and races to get experience, confidence and speed through racing.
“I think obviously you’ve got to do the long runs, which probably most people do anyway but you also have to do recovery runs.”
Sri Chinmoy asks about interval training.
Pat Clohessy: “Yes, but I don’t think interval training is the key. I think a little bit of it is good, but too much of it can get very boring and I find I tend to advocate running in the forest, in natural conditions with a little bit of interval running and racing. People get to know themselves by getting out and racing. They know their strengths and weaknesses and it’s very good experience.
“Sebastian Coe said something interesting to me, along your lines. I congratulated him on his run in the 800 [L.A. Olympics] where he finished 2nd and he said he was satisfied, he ran well but he just wasn’t good enough so he accepted defeat. About the 1500, he said that he had run his main race and now he could relax and he went out and won it ... not to feel great pressure to win races, just to do your best. I think if you do that then if you’re meant to win, and you have the ability to win, then given the situation you can produce it.
Sri Chinmoy presents Pat Clohessy with a book, and Pat congratulates Sri Chinmoy: “Not only on your contribution to running but to a whole way of life which has inspired so many people. You and your group have put relaxed running on the map here in Australia and around the world.”
As Sri Chinmoy walks slowly across the concourse at the front of the Institute he expresses his thoughts on the meeting. The qualities of Pat Clohessy have obviously impressed him: “He is gentle and at the same time dynamic, a combination of gentleness and dynamism. He has a soft and kind heart.” As well, many other unexpressed sentiments confirm that Australian running is in good hands with a coach like Pat Clohessy.
Elevating Places — Celebrating Races
September 14th, Friday Afternoon
Mount Stromlo has achieved world fame for the scientific achievements of the Mt. Stromlo Observatory, but there are other inhabitants of the mountain these days that the world is taking notice of — runners, Australia’s best.
Their itinerant activity makes them hard to track down over the miles of forest trails. So it is, that an initial meeting with Nick de Castella, Gerard Barrett and Derek Froude is rather by chance.
A breakfast is being arranged for tomorrow at Canberra’s ‘Oneness-Home’ restaurant in their honour. However, with their twice-a-day training schedules and tomorrow, being Saturday, the breakfast is rescheduled to brunch at 11 am. And in return for our offer, some of us are invited to join in the Saturday pack run.
Horrifying thoughts of 3-minute per kilometre pace, over the gruelling hills of Stromlo, rush to the forefront of our minds. We do have a legitimate excuse though — a 10-km race had already been planned for Saturday morning on the less testing terrain of the Sri Chinmoy Running Trail alongside Lake Burley Griffin. We explain the situation and agree to come along after the race, but, of course, after such a tough event we’d only be good for a few kilometres.
September 15th, Saturday Morning
Sri Chinmoy at the Sri Chinmoy Running Trail in Canberra by Lake Burley Griffin.
He holds a bag of biscuits and candies — prizes for the runners.
The 10-km Sri Chinmoy Running Trail in Canberra follows the lake edge from Acton Ferry Terminal for 5 km to the pine forest and returns along the same course.
Regular runs are held over this unique, gently undulating course. Although the freeways are only metres away in places, the long sweeping straights and particularly the pine forest near the turn around give you the impression of running in a mystical wilderness.
Sri Chinmoy starts the race and is driven to the 2-km point and encourages the runners as they pass. After 3 km more of hard running, Sri Chinmoy again appears. At the 5-km turnaround, he hands out candy to each runner. 5 km later, back at the start/finish, still chewing, we are greeted once more by his same encouraging smile and a handful of biscuits!
As the last runners cross the line we are just in time to drive to Mt. Stromlo before the Saturday morning training run begins. It is 9.00 am and Stromlo Forest comes alive. Runners are milling around and talking; the sun is warming the chilly mountain air. Tight muscles and stiff joints begin to loosen up as they catch the shafts of sunlight streaming between the gaps in the pine trees.
Rob de Castella arrives. He flew in from Sydney last night and, like clockwork, he is here ready to put in another morning run with his friends. He has met Sri Chinmoy before — in New York, a few years ago. This morning’s meeting holds fond memories for them both. In the late American summer of 1981, after winning the BMW 15 km Race, Rob attended a function held by Sri Chinmoy at the United Nations. While he was in New York, Sri Chinmoy composed a song about him, which was sung at a special function where ‘Deek’ was the guest of honour.
Rob de Castella and Sri Chinmoy before an .jpg at Deeks Drive, Mt. Stromlo, Canberra.
A few months later after Rob had returned to Australia, Sri Chinmoy spoke to him by telephone. It was on the eve of his departure to the Fukuoka Marathon in Japan that Sri Chinmoy said to him that he was capable of running 2:07. History recorded that Rob de Castella ran the fastest time ever on an out-and-back marathon course and came within 18 seconds of breaking the 2:08 barrier. Today, the pressures of international competition, particularly the Olympics, were distant, as Deek seems happy to be able to take a relaxing run in the mountains of Canberra once more.
Personal Stories — Universal Glories
September 15th, Saturday Mid-morning
Today, Oneness-Home vegetarian restaurant plays host to some of Australia’s best athletes — Nick de Castella (2:15 marathoner), Gerard Barrett (2:11 marathoner), his wife Shane Barrett (2:45 marathoner), Derek Froude (2:11 marathoner, from New Zealand — ranked 2nd only to Rod Dixon), Sue Cook (previous world record holder in race walking), her husband Bruce Cook (top-ranked walker) and Len Henderson (2:19 marathoner, better known as associate editor and writer for Australian Runner magazine).
The runners are obviously enjoying themselves as they talk about their favourite subject — running. And Sri Chinmoy delights in the stories they tell. Sri Chinmoy’s students too are eager to know more about the training methods and experiences of these top athletes. And so, as the private conversation moves to open discussion, the brunch becomes lunch. Questions are directed to each of the guests and their answers provide a most interesting insight into the world at the top.
After the meeting, as casual talk once more prevails, Nick de Castella asks Sri Chinmoy what is the difference between him and Gandhi. Sri Chinmoy answers that Gandhi was really great and in comparison he is nothing. Nick de Castella replies, “If I had asked Gandhi that same question, his answer would have been the same!”
Leaving Canberra, Sri Chinmoy flies back to Melbourne and then onto Japan to hold another ‘Peace Concert’. A universal man fulfilling a universal need — Peace within, Peace without.
— End —
This article was first published in Runners: Oneness-World Harbingers magazine, pages 30-35, Jan-Feb 1985.