Most of the stories in this section were told by Sri Chinmoy on 2 December 1991. He was very fond of narrating stories from his early days in the West and he had the unique gift of being able to re-enact each circumstance so that it was vividly impressed on our imagination. Frequently, his wonderful delivery and timing would cause the entire audience to burst into laughter.
– Vidagdha (Editor)
“During the day, if you did not get a chance to laugh – even if you have not laughed even once – today is the golden chance for you to laugh and get rid of all your mental fever from depression and frustration.” — Sri Chinmoy
Table of Contents
1. The Mystery of Tea Bags
In 1964 I came to America. It was the first time I had been in an aeroplane. I was travelling by myself. I was half in this world and half in another world. At one point, the stewardess brought me a cup containing hot water. On the side was a tea bag. For the longest time I looked at the hot water and I looked at the bag. Then I saw that there was tea inside the bag. Immediately, I tore open the bag and emptied it into the hot water. Then all those little, little leaves were swimming in the cup. The whole cup was full to the brim with leaves!
I said to myself, “What is this? Is this what I am going to drink? This is not tea.”
My stupidity never ended. I made a complaint to the stewardess. I said to her, “I asked for tea but this is something else that you have given me. I do not see tea. Something else is floating on the water.”
With greatest difficulty, the stewardess checked her laugher. She saw that she was dealing with an idiot of the first water. Of course she knew that I was the one who had made the mistake, but she did not say anything. She took away that cup and brought me another cup of hot water and a fresh tea bag, but this time she put the tea bag inside the water herself and, when it was ready, she gave it to me. Then she smiled at me and went away.
When I watched her making the tea, I knew what I had done wrong. I thought to myself, “What an idiot I am!”
2. A Sea of Confusion
When I came to America for the first time on the 13th of April 1964, at Eidelwild Airport [now John F. Kennedy Airport], I was literally thrown into a sea of confusion. I had come from the tiniest town of Pondicherry to the capital of the world, New York. Was it not farther than the farthest from my imagination-flight that twenty-seven years later the capital of New York, Albany, would become a Sri Chinmoy Peace Capital?
It was late afternoon. My boat was plying between incapacity and helplessness-shores. All on a sudden, an Indian gentleman came up to me. He said to me, “I see you are completely lost, and I am here to help you.” He carried my suitcase and brought me out to where my sponsors were anxiously and eagerly waiting for me.
Alas, although I have been in the United States for the past twenty-seven years, I am still swimming in the sea of confusion. I see no shores. I do hope that one day the unknowable shore will become unknown and then, finally, it will become not only knowable but also known by me. How eagerly I am waiting for that red-letter day!
3. Learning to Ride an Escalator
When I went to the United Nations building for the first time, I was only two weeks old in my American life. My sponsor’s mother, who was all affection and compassion for me, took me there. First she took me to the visitors’ section and very lovingly showed me how to step on the escalator. In spite of her wise and compassionate instructions, I did a semi-somersault. Luckily, at that time my athletic heart was strong enough to brave the experience.
And then she took me to a young lady who was talking about the UN. At one point she said to the guide, “Hey, young lady, why do you have to speak so fast? My Indian son cannot understand a thing. So, for God’s sake, speak slowly so that he can understand you. What is the use of bringing foreign visitors here if they cannot understand you?”
4. Crossing the Border into Canada
When I went to Canada for the first time in 1964, in spite of having a diplomatic passport, I was delayed for a long time at the border. The officials asked me many, many unnecessary questions. What an experience! But God has compensated by giving me over two hundred devoted Canadian disciple-children.
5. A Similar Experience
Quite recently, on the 29th of October 1991, I was in the Frankfurt Airport on my way back to New York. I was having serious problems with the authorities. For no rhyme or reason, they were harassing me. One security guard was asking me so many questions.
“What hotel were you in?” he asked.
“Just a moment. Let me ask my students,” I replied.
“No! You answer the question yourself. I cannot allow you to ask other people!”
I said, “Sir, I do not know. But my students will easily be able to tell.”
Just then an Indian man who was also an official came up to me and immediately spoke to me in Bengali. He said, “I am taking care of you.” He took me here and there, from desk to desk.
Then he asked me who I am. I said, “I am just an ordinary person.”
He said, “You cannot be an ordinary person. You have so many admirers. I asked one of them your name and he said you are Sri Chinmoy Kumar Ghose. This is a Bengali name and that is why I started talking with you in Bengali.”
Everything he was doing for me. He took my carry-on bag and went with me to the plane. I was about to enter into the plane when he said, “I am taking you onto the plane to see where you are sitting.”
The officials allowed me to enter without showing my ticket, but when he tried to get on, they asked him for his ticket. He showed his badge, but even then they would not let him on the plane. So he showed them something else from his pocket. He started dancing in front of them and scolding them. “You idiots! I have been working here for so many years.” I was a little amused that they were harassing one of their own workers.
He took me to my proper seat. Then he said something to the stewardess about me. Immediately the stewardess became so kind to me, even though I was not in first class. She asked, “May I get you anything? Is everything all right?”
Then, before he left the plane, the man said to me, “You cannot be an ordinary man. So many people are admiring and adoring you. You cannot be an ordinary man.”
6. The Enchanting Soul of Puerto Rico
When I went to Puerto Rico for the first time in 1965, I stayed in the Sea and Sun Guest House facing the Caribbean. The most enchanting soul of Puerto Rico appeared before me and we had a most fruitful conversation. Pointing at the sea, the soul said, “This is the saddening confusion-mind of Puerto Rico.” Then, showing the sun, it said, “This is the climbing aspiration-heart of Puerto Rico.”
It seems to me that my beloved Puerto Rico is still the same. My heart and I are all for the great success and good progress of Puerto Rico.
7. Pronunciation Difficulties
I went to Connecticut for the first time at the beginning of 1965. I went to visit the elderly aunt of one of my students. During the conversation, this particular aunt said to me, “Young man, how is it that you have been here in the States for about a year and you do not know how to pronounce Connecticut? Instead of saying ‘Con-NET-i-cut’, you are saying ‘Con-NECT-i-cut’.”
Even now, to my amazement, some of my Indian friends who live in Connecticut say ‘Con-NECT-i-cut’. Believe it or not, the father of an Ashram friend of mine came and stayed in Connecticut for almost a year. And when I met him in the Ashram after he had returned, he pronounced it ‘Con-NECT-i-cut’.
Since he and his son are close friends of mine, I said to him, “Luckily you do not have anybody to embarrass you. When I went to Connecticut for the first time, an old lady corrected me.”
8. My Love for Japan’s Beauty
When I went to Japan for the first time in 1969, as soon as I landed at the Tokyo Airport, I said to the soul of Japan, “Towards the end of World War II, you came to destroy me. Japanese planes were bombing Chittagong like anything. You were able to destroy our father’s bank. It turned into a pond. You were able to destroy our house in town. You wanted to destroy my life, but you could not destroy me. Now I am coming to destroy your ignorance.”
For three months we suffered so much at the hands of the Japanese. Always there was fear, fear. We could not sleep at night. One Japanese pilot was shot down and landed in a paddy field just three or four miles away from our village.
One supreme revolutionary of Mother Bengal – Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose – singlehandedly saved Bengal. He was there in Japan. He said to the government leaders, “What are you doing? This is Bengal. This is my birth place.” And the Japanese stopped the bombing of Bengal.
Now I like Japan so much. My love for Japan’s beauty, inner and outer, can only be felt by my heart and never, never expressed in words.
9. Entering France
When I went to France for the first time in 1970, I landed at Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris. There one immigration officer said to me, “How is it that you do not have a visa?”
I said to him, “I enquired in New York. I used to work at the Indian Consulate there. They told me that if you are going to stay in France less than two days, then you do not need a visa. I am going to stay in France less than two days.”
The officer said to me, “No, you cannot enter. You have to go back.”
Either he saw my sad face or he felt my sad heart. Anyway, he said to me, “Let me see what I can do for you. Can you speak to the Indian passport officer at the Indian Embassy in Washington, DC?”
I said, “Certainly I can.”
He went on, “If he takes responsibility for you, then I shall let you stay for three days without a visa.”
O God, he dialled the number in the USA for me! I spoke with the secretary of the passport office. I told her, “I have to give a talk at the American College in Paris.”
She said, “No, no, you cannot enter the country without a visa.”
Then the secretary asked me my name. I told her, “Chinmoy Kumar Ghose. I come from Bengal.”
She said, “My boss is also Bengali, Mr. Mukherjee. You do not have to worry. I will talk to him.”
Then her boss came on the line and began speaking with me in Bengali. Then he wanted to speak with the French officer. God knows what he said to the French customs officer, but the French officer just smiled at me and said, “You can go.”
Then he said, “You do not know how to wear a tie.” He very kindly fixed it for me and said, “Now you look like a real gentleman!”
10. This is My Place
I went to Switzerland for the first time in November 1970. I was supposed to give a talk at the American International School in Zurich. It was evening and I was standing outside a flower store.
With utmost delight, I said, “This is absolutely my place, my place for God-manifestation. Here I see and feel inner power and outer strength.”
The spiritual receptivity of Switzerland in its inner openness and outer fulness conquered my very breath.
11. My Predicament at the Governor’s Residence
In 1972, I went to see the Governor of Puerto Rico, Luis Ferré. He was very, very kind to me. Governor Ferré was extremely fond of playing the piano, and he played for me on this occasion. I knew nothing about the piano. Even now, I know nothing about the piano. But, in spite of knowing nothing, I highly appreciated his performance.
Then he asked his attendant to bring us breakfast. We sat at the table. There was pineapple juice, fruits, a complete breakfast. I had never used silver before. I did not know which hand to use for the spoon and which hand to use for the fork, right or left. The Governor asked me to please start.
I said to him, “Please start.” Neither one of us would start before the other. I was totally helpless. Two of my students, Kanti and Bansidhar, were also present. So pathetically I was looking at them and praying to them to start. Inwardly I was begging them. But how could they start before their spiritual Teacher?
Finally, I was looking at them so pitifully and helplessly that Governor Ferré’s soul felt my predicament and he started first. I looked at his hands and I did exactly as he did. In that way, I was saved.
How he conquered my heart with his love and kindness, Governor Ferré!
12. Unique American Names
When I went to Arkansas for the first time in 1974, to give one of my fifty-state university talks, just two or three minutes before the talk, a professor at the University of Arkansas came up to me. He said, “Sri Chinmoy, you are a godly man. I am so happy that you have come to our university to illumine us.”
I said to him, “I am so happy to come to ‘Ar-Kan-SAWS’.”
The kind-hearted professor most kindly said to me, “Sri Chinmoy, it is pronounced ‘Ar-Kan-SAW’, not ‘Ar-Kan-SAWS’. This has nothing to do with your spiritual wisdom, which you have so kindly come to share with us.
Even now, some of my younger students correct my pronunciation. On the whole, boys do not dare to correct my unbearable pronunciation. But girls lovingly and compassionately correct my pronunciation.
In the case of the word ‘magnificent’, I used to put the accent on ‘mag’ and would say ‘MAG-nificent’.” They told me, “No, it is ‘mag-NIF-icent’.”
For ‘unique’, I used to say ‘U-nique’.” They said, “No, it is ‘u-NIQUE’.”
These two words perhaps I pronounce correctly nowadays, But, alas, when it comes to ‘Massachusetts’, I still fearfully perspire when I have to pronounce it correctly!
13. The Soul of Australia
When I went to Australia for the first time in 1976, as soon as the plane landed at the airport in Perth, the soul of Australia and I began our inner colloquy.
I said to the soul, “In India, every day we hear about cricket between Australia and India. For an Indian, as soon as we use the word ‘cricket’, it is all Australia. There is no other place. Now, you have defeated India many more times than India has defeated you.”
I went on, “I will play a game where nobody will win or lose. It is a totally different kind of game. It is God’s Game. There is no cricket here. You do not have to worry about winning or losing. Here there is no competition; there is no rivalry. It is all oneness. It is our oneness-game. I have come here to devotedly offer my light to you.”