Newsday Interview with Sri Chinmoy

by journalist Ms. Merle English*
at Annam Brahma Restaurant Jamaica, New York


Photo by Pulak Viscardi


Newsday: I want to do a diary in the paper starting this Sunday about Mother Teresa.

Sri Chinmoy: I am still mourning my supreme loss. I have such affection, admiration and adoration for Mother Teresa, and I have received from her boundless affection and compassion. This is not the time for me to speak about myself; this is the time only to offer my deepest gratitude to her because she was so kind and compassionate to me.

She was born on the 26th of August, and she was baptised on the following day, the 27th, which is also my birthday. I spoke with her on the telephone for 15 minutes on the 26th. In India this was actually the 27th because they are one day ahead. She knew that I was going to call, so she answered the phone herself. I asked her, "Mother, how do you feel?" She said, "I am fine. I am much better." She was blessing me on the phone for my birthday, and asking me about my activities. Then she passed away on the 5th of September.

Newsday: Where did you first meet her?

Sri Chinmoy: At the United Nations. On 24 October 1975 the Temple of Understanding invited religious leaders to an interfaith meeting, a spiritual summit conference, held in the Dag Hammarskjold Auditorium of the United Nations. I offered the opening meditation and then gave roses to all the participants, including Mother Teresa. Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim was also there.

Newsday: After that first meeting with Mother Teresa, did you establish some kind of connection with her?

Sri Chinmoy: It took quite a few years to build up a connection. In 1989 a student of mine spoke with her on the telephone. At that time I was completing my 25th year of service in the West. So Mother Teresa gave this message, "God bless your efforts." Since then, we have been in regular contact. In 1994 I had the great good fortune to meet with her again in Rome.

Newsday: On what occasion?

Sri Chinmoy: She had kindly agreed to hold our Peace Torch. As you know, our Peace Run relay goes all over the world. Every two years the runners in our Peace Run carry the Torch through more than 70 countries.

During this meeting with Mother in 1994, I had a 15-minute private interview with her. Then she met with the fifty students of mine who were accompanying me. We sang songs for her.

This experience with Mother Teresa will always remain written on the tablet of my aspiration-heart. The very first thing she did showed her real humility. I was waiting for her in a very small room — smaller than the smallest. The room was very simple, with a small table and two chairs, and it had a very sacred vibration. According to Indian tradition, out of respect I left my sandals outside the door and went inside barefoot. When she saw me with only my socks, she said, "What are you doing? It is cold in here. Either you wear your shoes, or I am going to take off my sandals also and put them outside." What was more unbelievable, she was about to pick up my sandals and bring them inside to me. So I had to walk very fast, taking long strides, towards my sandals. I grabbed them and immediately put them on so that she would not have to carry them. Then she said, "Now it is all right."

I sat in front of her bowing my head, and we did not speak for two or three minutes. We were sitting face to face. Then she took my left hand and started massaging and caressing it. After that she started caressing my right hand. When the conversation started, the first thing she told me was how she has saved about two dozen women. She told me that she had gone to a jail in Calcutta to see some women of ill fame. They had been engaging in illegal activities, and the police had arrested them. They were all crying, saying, "Mother, Mother, we did not want to lead this kind of undivine life, but we were forced to do so because of poverty."

So Mother said to them, "I am taking you back. I will give you very good training." Then Mother told the jail authorities that she would take responsibility for these women.

Newsday: They let the women go out with her?

Sri Chinmoy: They said, "Mother, if you take responsibility for them, we will let them go." These women all became nuns, Sisters in her Missionaries of Charity. She said to me, "This is what love can do. The world needs only love, love, love." She herself went to the jail and freed those two dozen women. Afterwards, she gave them lots of affection, and they all joined her Order. She has done this many times. When she would hear that some women did not want to lead that kind of undivine life, she would go to the jail and bring them back and transform them. She was telling me that love can transform everybody's nature, which is so true. This was her inmost conviction. This is what she started with, and to the end of her life she kept this conviction.

But in one of her writings she admitted that even love cannot change some human beings. One sad experience occurred in her life. Even with her self-giving love, she could not change the nature of one particular individual who was preventing her from entering Albania to see her dearest mother. She said, "I thought that love can do everything, but love did not succeed." Her soul's conviction that love can do everything still remained, but every rule admits of exception. So here, in this one case, in spite of trying her utmost, she was very disappointed and disheartened. She could not see her mother before her mother passed away.

Newsday: After you saw Mother Teresa in Rome, you next met with her here?

Sri Chinmoy: Last year I met with her in the Bronx, and in June of this year I met with her two more times in the Bronx. On June 3rd I had a private meeting with her, and then two weeks later on June 17th, I met with her again. I was accompanied by forty of my students. They sang devotional songs for her in Bengali. She understood all the songs because she speaks Bengali. Then she invited them to come to India to sing at her Mission in Calcutta.

Newsday: Did you speak to each other in Bengali?

Sri Chinmoy: We spoke in English. I would have spoken in Bengali, but she prefers English. After that meeting, I wanted to speak to her again before she left for Calcutta. One of the Sisters in charge of the Bronx House, Sister Sabita, said she would make the arrangements for Mother to call me. Before this meeting I had spoken to Mother Teresa several times on the phone.

On the day of her departure from New York, I got a phone call from her. She phoned me from the Bronx around 11:30 in the morning and spoke to me for about ten minutes or so. But, that was not the end. Later that same day she wrote a most compassionate letter to me. Can you imagine? Around three or four o'clock, one of the Sisters from the Mission phoned us to get our proper address, saying, "Mother has written a letter to you prior to her departure." That was her last letter, her last written blessing to me. The very last time I spoke to her was on the 26th of August, when I called to wish her a happy birthday, and she gave me birthday blessings as well. She blessed me profusely. This is what she always did.

Three or four days later, when Princess Diana passed away, I wanted to have a special statement from Mother Teresa for a book I was doing about Princess Diana's spiritual dimension. I asked one of my students to phone her. She had already issued two statements, one for the royal family and one for the public. But she immediately gave another one at my request. That was my last contact with her. I did not speak to her directly, but I asked her for a comment and she gave one. At that time she mentioned again that she wanted me to go with her to China because China needs light. So many times she told me that I must come with her to China. She wanted us to go together to offer light. In that last contact, when she gave us a message about Princess Diana, she also said, "Tell him that we have to go to China." I will never forget this.

Newsday: You were in Poland when Mother Teresa died?

Sri Chinmoy: Yes. I was watching the news about Princess Diana on television. All of a sudden, they announced that they had another piece of sad news: Mother Teresa had died. I was so shocked, because she had spoken to me only a few days earlier, telling me, "I am much better, I am much better." These were her words. O God, I was watching television with my head in my hands; I was stunned.

Newsday: What do you think about the fact that these two great figures died within days of one another? One was young and one old, but they seem to have had similar hearts because Diana was trying to do some good works, and Mother Teresa always did good works.

Sri Chinmoy: Two great losses to the world, that much I can say! One Senator just yesterday said something very, very nice about Mother Teresa. He said, "We have become poorer, but Heaven has become richer."

Newsday: But do you think there is any kind of message for the world in the fact that these two women died so close to one another?

Sri Chinmoy: The message is that we have to think more about the world than about ourselves. These two women have given us one message: we have to think of the rest of the world instead of just thinking about ourselves. Both of them considered the suffering, bleeding humanity as their very own. They both wanted to be of service to the poor and the suffering.

One was 36 years old, the other 87; but they died within days of one another. What can we learn from their passing? We have no idea when our time will come. So if we want to do something good for humanity, we must not waste time, but do it now. Every moment we are on earth, we can do good things for the world. Mother Teresa got an inner call, and from Albania she went all the way to India. In Calcutta she found her true home. She was living proof that the world is one home.

Newsday: Did she ever talk to you about why she felt drawn to Calcutta more than to any place else in India?

Sri Chinmoy: Her Saviour Jesus Christ inspired her from within to go to Calcutta and serve Him there. She is the ocean of compassion and I am only a tiny drop, but let me give you an example of what I am saying by telling you something about my own life. I was born in India, and I spent many years praying and meditating there. I could have stayed in India, but my Inner Pilot — you say 'God' but I use the term 'Inner Pilot' — wanted me to come to America to be of service to Him here.

Similarly, she could have remained a nun in Albania, but she was prompted from deep within by Somebody to come to India. In her case, Somebody means the Saviour Jesus Christ. In my case I use the term 'Inner Pilot'. He commanded me to come to America the Beautiful to be of service to humanity. The entire world is His House. Each country is like a room. For several years I happened to live in one particular room. Then He said, "Now you must go and live in another room." So I came to this other room, but it is in the same mansion.

Newsday: That is sweet — the idea that service can be offered wherever you're called, because it is all one world.

Sri Chinmoy: It is one world. If my Inner Pilot says, "You come and serve Me here," how can I say no? If I have love for my Inner Pilot — which I do — if I want to give my life entirely to please Him in His own Way, how can I have a different idea?

Newsday: What memory of Mother Teresa stands out most in your mind?

Sri Chinmoy: What stood out for me from the first time I met with her privately was her compassion, affection and concern. First she wanted to bring me my sandals. Then, as soon as I sat down, she started caressing my left hand and right hand. The very first thing she shared with me was the story about the women she had saved. Her message is love and compassion. Her life-boat plied constantly between two shores, two destinations: love and compassion.

It is very easy to criticise human beings; everybody can do that. But let us see how many people can go out and work with lepers and people with AIDS. We can talk in a general way about helping the world, but if we have to face one dying person, we will not go. We do not even want to go near a hospital unless our dearest ones, the members of our immediate family, are very sick. Otherwise, even when our friends are in the hospital, we just send flowers. In Mother Teresa's case, the whole world became part of her immediate family. But Mother Teresa took people from the street, from the very gutter! Was that not her infinite love and compassion? She is at once humanity's flower-heart and Divinity's fragrance-soul. From my personal experience I can say that this moment she was like my sister and the next moment she was like my mother. When I bowed to her, she would put both her hands on my head, like a mother blessing her son. She had every right to place her palm on my head and bless me because at that time she was playing the role of the mother. Then, the next moment, she would play the role of the sister and demand that I come to China with her to help her, or she would look at me with utmost affection. At that time she was like an older sister looking with such love and appreciation at her little brother.

Newsday: She looks like a person who was very jovial.

Sri Chinmoy: Absolutely! Her divine humour was always aimed not at hurting people but at alleviating their suffering. When somebody is suffering, you can cut a joke to hurt him. Again, you can cut a joke only to relieve him of his pain. When a dear one is in the hospital, first the relatives pray and meditate for God to cure him. Then they speak to the sick person about light things, absolutely unimportant, mundane things so that they can relieve his tension. Otherwise, if they start talking about deeper philosophy, the patient's illness may only get worse!

Newsday: Exactly! It will make that person feel a little bit easier. Mother Teresa must have been fond of you.

Sri Chinmoy: She was very fond of me! We have so many pictures of her pouring her affection into me. From each of our meetings we have many pictures showing how she was blessing me, showering me with her affection and appreciating my activities. Always she told me that she was praying for me every day, and she told me to also pray for her. Even on my birthday she said, "I am praying for you, and my Sisters will pray for you. You also must pray for me." Every time she spoke to me she told me to pray for her.

Newsday: That is what Jesus said, too.

Sri Chinmoy: It is an emotional demand. As I said, we were like mother and son, brother and sister. So she would tell me: "You should do this, you must do this. You must come with me to China."

Newsday: Was she aware of the difficulties for you to go there?

Sri Chinmoy: No, I did not tell her that. I only said, "Mother, when the time comes I shall definitely accompany you."

Newsday: You met her successor, too?

Sri Chinmoy: Her successor, Sister Nirmala, is so nice to me, so kind and affectionate. When I went to see Mother Teresa in the Bronx, she came up to me and introduced herself: "I am Sister Nirmala." I had known about her, so I had brought a gift for her. She was with Mother Teresa when I gave Mother this book that I had written about her (showing book). So I shall keep a connection with Sister Nirmala. I have already sent a message to her.

Newsday: You gave this book to Mother Teresa?

Sri Chinmoy: It was my birthday present to her. I dedicated the book to her and gave it to her personally when I saw her in June. Then she gave her blessings for the book. On the first page she wrote, "God bless you," and put her signature there. I took that page and gave it to the printer, and it was inserted into a later edition of the book. For about fifteen minutes Mother Teresa browsed through the book in front of me. A few days later when I spoke to her, she said she had liked it very much.

Newsday: You gave her this book not knowing that in a short while she would not even be around anymore!

Sri Chinmoy: If we do not pray and meditate, then we have to do everything ourselves. But if we pray and meditate, then God does everything for us. I knew nothing, but God knew what was going to happen. Why did I write the book and offer it to her as a birthday present in June? Her birthday is in August, so I should have given her the book in August. But something within me was telling me, "The sooner the better!"

When I called her on my birthday, I got her last blessing. This will remain in my memory. I will treasure this last blessing that I got on my birthday. Then, three or four days later when I wanted a statement from her about Princess Diana, she gave me one. It appeared in my book about Princess Diana.

Newsday: When did you publish this book about Princess Diana?

Sri Chinmoy: A few days ago. I had an interview with her on the 21st of May — just three months before she died. Then she wrote me two letters in June, three letters in the month of July and her last letter on the 7th of August — not even a month before she left the body.

Newsday: This is amazing!

Sri Chinmoy: Her last letter mentions Newsday. Your newspaper said she was the Queen of American hearts, so I sent her a copy of the Newsday clipping. Also, I was grateful to be an instrument in arranging her last interview with Mother Teresa. She first met with Mother in 1992 in Rome. This year she wanted to meet her again, but she was unable to track her down. So I said that I would be responsible for making arrangements because I was going to have an interview with Mother. When I told Mother Teresa on the phone that Princess Diana wanted to see her, Mother said, "Tell her to come to New York." But Princess Diana wanted to see Mother in Europe. Then Mother Teresa was joking with me, saying, "If she does not want to come to New York to see me, then tell her to come and see me in Calcutta." So I wrote to the Princess and gave her Mother Teresa's phone number and address in the Bronx. Then she phoned up Mother and finally saw her.

Newsday: That is amazing, amazing! God seems to have put you in the position to touch these two people's lives.

Sri Chinmoy: It is not that I touched their lives but that I was given a golden opportunity to be of service to them. God wanted Princess Diana to bring her spiritual dimension to the fore. In my case, at the age of four I started praying and meditating. And at the United Nations I have been offering my prayers to the entire world-community for the last 27 years. Princess Diana had so many good qualities, but her prayer-life had not come to the fore. She did so much work for charity, for the poor, for the sick; but she also had another aspect, a spiritual aspect. That is why she wanted to see Mother Teresa and why she invited me to come and see her at Kensington Palace. Otherwise, she could have said, "Oh, I do not care for spiritual people." But her heart cried for God's Love and Light, the Light that Mother Teresa saw and served in Jesus Christ.

This same higher power made it possible for Princess Diana and I to meet just before her passing. For years I had wanted to meet her, without success. How did I succeed at the eleventh hour? It is because of the intercession of a higher power. And with Mother Teresa also I developed such a close connection in the last few years of her life. I first met her in 1975, but many years passed before I saw her again. It is because at that time it was not necessary. But when God's choice Hour struck, we became closer than the closest.

And with Princess Diana, if I had not had that first and last interview, we never would have gotten to know one another. Plus these letters! How could one imagine that she would write on the 7th of August and three weeks later leave the earth-planet? After the 7th of August I doubt that many people received letters from her. And perhaps very few people had private interviews with her after the time I met her in May.

Newsday: That's right, exactly! But apparently she was reaching out, too, in wanting to meet with you, and with Mother Teresa so soon afterwards.

Sri Chinmoy: Right! She was the one who asked me to make arrangements. She said, "I cannot track Mother Teresa down." I said, "I will do it." So I did it. I was the instrument, but her heart wanted to have the meeting. Otherwise, when I said to her that Mother Teresa is so kind and affectionate to me, she could have said, "Yes, yes, I am also an admirer of hers." But why did she say, "I want to meet with her. Can you tell me how I can meet with her?" She could have stopped at saying, "Yes, yes, I have deep admiration for her," but she was so eager to meet with her. Something inside Princess Diana was prompting her.

Newsday: What a wonderful thing! Just in time!

Sri Chinmoy: She met with her in the middle of June. Then, within a few months both were gone. So it was all God-ordained. When we pray and meditate, God does everything for us.

Newsday: That's just simply amazing. You are so right. When you tune into a higher power, things happen.

Sri Chinmoy: The higher powers do it for us because we are their children. Children know nothing. Parents know what will give the children joy, so the parents do it. Children only know how to cry. The rest is done by the parents.

Newsday: This has been really wonderful! Just absolutely wonderful! Will you be here for the rest of this week, or will you be travelling again soon?

Sri Chinmoy: I have just returned from Oslo and Warsaw. I was giving Peace Concerts there. I dedicated the Oslo concert to Princess Diana and the Warsaw concert to Mother Teresa. On the stage at Warsaw we had huge pictures of Mother Teresa.

Newsday: Mother Teresa brings together both the spiritual life and the life of service.

Sri Chinmoy: She was a woman of prayer plus service. Mother Teresa always said, "Pray for me, pray for me, pray for me." In her, God wanted to unite service and prayer. In Diana's case, she was a woman of service — service to mankind. In my case, I pray and meditate first, and I also serve. I have been to so many countries offering Peace Concerts. Mother Teresa also did both. Every day she prayed and, at the same time, she served.

Princess Diana was young; she did not get the time or opportunity to enter into the prayer-life. That is why she did not take the prayer-life so seriously. But the service-life she did take seriously. At every moment she went here and there — to Angola, to Yugoslavia, to Pakistan and other places. She took the service-life more seriously, whereas Mother Teresa took both prayer and service seriously.

Newsday: I am really happy that I made an effort to come, because this is far more than I expected. I think that we have touched on an aspect that nobody else has really dealt with — the connection between the three of you. It's amazing.

Sri Chinmoy: God brought us together. Mother Teresa was at the end of her life and Diana was at the prime of her life. We three were like a triangle. I came in between, like a devoted bridge between the two.

Newsday: You brought them together. That is more fascinating than the mind can even encompass.

Sri Chinmoy: The mind can never comprehend the inner realities. The mind is very limited; it is only a collector of information. With our mind we have read many books and talked to so many people on earth; but we have only collected information. Real knowledge and wisdom come from prayer and meditation — not from books. Otherwise, the professors and teachers would have been ruling the world. But they would have only misguided us. The more we remain in the mind, the more we are misguided. But if we can live in the heart, we are lifted up.

When we are in the mind, it is like being encaged; all the windows and doors are closed and we cannot go beyond it. It is like a prison cell, and we want to come out of it. But when we are in the heart, it is like being outside in a beautiful garden. So it is up to us. We can live in our own mind-prison, which we have created; and again, we can live in our own heart-garden, which is also our creation. If we are in the mind, the prison cell welcomes us; if we are in the heart, the garden welcomes us.

Newsday: That's right. Exactly! Sri Chinmoy, I cannot tell you how happy I am now that we had this conversation.

Sri Chinmoy: We are sailing in the same boat. So many reporters have come, but they have not opened their hearts so beautifully and spiritually the way you have done. With one hand we cannot clap. Two hands are needed.

Let me autograph this book for you. (Sri Chinmoy signs his book about Princess Diana and draws seven birds.) Seven is for the seven higher worlds. There are seven higher worlds. When I die, when you die, we shall have to go to the seven higher worlds.

Newsday: And I was born in the seventh month, too. This is wonderful. Thank you. Thanks are not enough. You know how I feel. I appreciate this.

Sri Chinmoy: Everything happens at God's choice Hour. These things could not have taken place if God's Hour had not struck. One was in Calcutta, one was in England and one was here in New York. See how God united us because of our love for Him. If we love God, then God brings everything together.

Newsday: I believe that, I really do. This is why I am here.

* Her full-page article appears in the 'Queens Life' section of the Sunday edition on September 28th. 

Published in Mother Teresa: Humanity’s Flower-Heart, Divinity’s Fragrance-Soul, part 3