It had started out as an ordinary, multi-use building in one of Ottawa's better shopping districts. The ground floor had been a bar, with subdued lighting and plush, intimate booths. Upstairs was a Mexican restaurant, where businessmen gathered for lunch over margueritas and enchiladas. Above that were offices linked by computers and fax machines to the world of commerce and finance.
When the old tenants left, fixtures and furnishing had been removed, leaving large holes in the walls; rugs had been ripped up, scarring the floors. During the months the building stood vacant, what little remained had fallen into disrepair: paint had begun to fade and chip; dirt built up in the empty rooms. The electricity and heat had remained on, keeping the building alive; but everything else was dead, cut off from the pulse of the city's life. Then one day the disciples came in with their brooms and hammers, with their buckets of plaster and paint. Added wiring was put in, bringing light to the darkened hallways. The half-dead building was infused with fresh energy and new aspiration.
When everything was ready, the birds arrived – finding homes in the various nooks and crannies. Their strange nests made of metal, plastic and glass – proliferated up the stairways and onto the different floors. Immersed in their own world, the birds shaped the consciousness of the building to their own likeness. As they performed their daily activities, doing whatever it was they did – kicking out their legs, raising up their beaks, flying or diving or spinning across the walls – this brick building was transformed into a giant nesting ground, a real fount of divinity. Here one could find a world of lightness, of subtle movement, of whimsical freedom – a whole universe of light and delight hovering just behind the physicality of things. Sri Chinmoy's 100,000 Dream-Freedom Peace-Birds, converging at this new gallery, had transformed this spot into a place of wonderment.
The gallery stood like something magical in the midst of an ordinary Ottawa shopping area – as though a piece of Heaven had broken off from the sky and fallen to earth. And then Sri Chinmoy came, bringing the full splendour and depth of his inner Reality to this fluttering bird-world. He drank in its beauty but gave more than he took, flooding the place with such intense light that the gallery became not just a piece of Heaven but a Palace of Divinity, a golden shrine that seemed it could shine forever.
For hours and hours Sri Chinmoy remained there – the entire evening of the 17th (of November) and a good part of the following day. Even the second day, as he sat in his chair drawing birds, he seemed unable to get up and leave for his next appointment. As far as Sri Chinmoy was concerned, this gallery was the centre of all things and there was nowhere else to go. But time does not stop indefinitely, and after a while Sri Chinmoy rose and flew off to New York like a bird himself. The Ottawa visit was over.
Eventually the drawings will be taken down, put in boxes or stacked on shelves in Perfection-Surprise. Some business enterprise will take possession of the gallery, adapting its consciousness to its own needs. But long before the new owner opens his doors, the light and divinity that had once shone so brightly will disappear, and in a very real sense the building will be dark again.
From the highest perspective, of course, the light from the gallery will remain forever – if not in the building then in the hearts and souls of those who visited it. But from a human point of view, when the eyes cannot see and the hands can no longer touch something, the soul's knowledge brings little consolation. God in Heaven is not enough for us; we also need God on earth. The birds were divinity manifested. For a few short months they shall hover in the earth atmosphere, transforming everything around them, and then they will vanish. Sri Chinmoy's presence amongst us is like that too. For a few fleeting years he is with us in the physical, and then like the paintings he too will go. But while he is here, earth remains a place of absolute Heaven.
So for me the gallery with its exhibit of 100,000 birds was a kind of metaphor for everything Sri Chinmoy represents, and this was my experience: a sense of overwhelming beauty and divinity; the realisation that such moments are the most precious I shall ever know; and most of all, a feeling of immense gratitude for being given this opportunity to experience Heaven so deeply during the brief period it lives on earth.
– End –
Copyright © November 1993, Chidananda Burke. All rights reserved under Creative Commons license.