Guru Leads Youths to ‘Divine’ Work

By David Burke

NEW YORK (AP) — Joining the work values of the Protestant ethic with the spiritual ideals of their Indian guru, a group of young people have established an unusual business community here.

At the request of their guru, or spiritual guide, they have given up their jobs in the white- and blue-collar worlds and used their savings to open a restaurant, book store, and a number of other small shops, which they call “divine enterprises.”

“The main purpose is not to make money, though of course we have to eat,” explains Jonathan Roberts, 22, a former truck driver and now proprietor of the Garland of Divinity’s Love flower shop.

“Our guru teaches us not to renounce the world but to work to transform it from within. He brings us peace and serenity, and we try to offer some of this to people coming to our stores.”

Roberts, like the other shopkeepers, is a disciple of the Indian spiritual master Sri Chinmoy, who guides them in meditation and spiritual practices several evenings a week. Their guru, who has published a number of books and holds weekly meditations at the United Nations, has about 20 spiritual centers around the world.

So far, there are eight different enterprises, all located within a block or two of one another near their guru’s home in the Queens borough of New York.

Virtually a self-contained business-spiritual community, they include a stationery store, health food shop, record store, restaurant, book store, flower shop, boutique and printing and publishing company. An ice cream parlor and craft shop are to open shortly.

The disciples work long hours, scraping to make ends meet, and sometimes earn less than they did at their former jobs.

“If I had been here for myself, I would have closed up in frustration a longtime ago,” says Roberts. “But I feel I’m working for a higher cause.”

Loren Hein, who owns the Divine Robe Supreme boutique with another disciple, says she prefers this work to her old secretarial job because “it allows me to harmonize my outer and inner life.”

Sri Chinmoy’s picture hangs in several places, and his writings are available alongside the clothing, jewelery and religious items. The owners meditate in the store before opening each morning.

“We try to make this place special,” explains 21-year-old Miss Hein. “We give it love and attention and try to bring it joy. Our guru tells us to treat it like a living entity, like a child, and not just a business.

In one case, a 24-year-old woman gave up the relatively easy life of a housewife when the guru asked her to open a vegetarian restaurant so people could have a spiritual environment in which to eat.

Now she works 12 hours a day, doing all the cooking, dishwashing, and serving, with an occasional assist from other disciples. “The first few weeks I wondered how I could go on,” says Eve McLaughlin. “But Sri Chinmoy never asks you to do something, without giving you the capacity.”

The restaurant, named Annam Brahma, meaning “Food is God,” has lost money during its first three months, she says. Her husband, jazz guitarist John Mc Laughlin, keeps it solvent with money from his concerts.

Why does she do it? “When you take a spiritual master, you must accept what he says.

“It’s just like when you learn about math at school, you accept what your math teacher says without question because he knows what is right.”

Published in The Washington Post, Saturday, Jun. 8, 1972