In a letter to Sri Chinmoy in April 1972, my father wrote, 'You have indeed instilled in the minds of hundreds of people here the moral and spiritual values which both of us cherish very dearly. I shall always cherish the memorable occasion of our meetings at the United Nations." ... I feel fortunate to have known Sri Chinmoy and to have been in his presence many times, and to have known many members of the Group.
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Chinmoy was the youngest of seven children, born in Shakpura, Boalkhali Upazila, in the Chittagong District of East Bengal, British India (now Bangladesh). He lost his father to illness in 1943, and his mother a few months later. Chinmoy began his serious practice of meditation at the age of 11. In 1944, the 12-year-old Chinmoy joined his brothers and sisters at the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry, where elder brothers Hriday and Chitta had already established a presence. It was Chitta that gave Chinmoy his name which means 'full of Divine consciousness'.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Chinmoy continued giving lectures and talks at universities around the U.S. on spiritual topics. In 1974 he gave lectures in 50 states at 50 universities, and these lectures were published as a six-part book series entitled 50 Freedom-Boats to One Golden Shore (1974). In the 1970s and 1980s he traveled around Europe, Asia, and Australia lecturing at universities, resulting in the publication of The Oneness of the Eastern Heart and the Western Mind. Chinmoy has also published books, essays, spiritual poetry, plays, and commentaries on the Vedas.
According to Chinmoy, in 1964 he was prompted to move to the United States in response to a "message from within" to be of Service to people in the West searching for spiritual fulfillment. With the help of Sam Spanier and Eric Hughes, American sponsors connected with the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, he emigrated to New York City.
In 1966 Chinmoy opened a Sri Chinmoy Center in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Up until the late 1970s the main Chinmoy study centers were in New York, Florida and the West Indies. Over the next few decades Sri Chinmoy Centers were opened and established in multiple cities in the US, Europe, Australasia, South Africa and South America eventually totaling 350 centers worldwide. In 1973, the New York Times wrote that Chinmoy was "revered in India as one of the few holy men to have reached Nirvikalpa Samadhi, the absolute highest level of consciousness".
In 1970, Chinmoy began giving twice-weekly non-denominational peace meditations at the United Nations for UN delegates, staff, and NGO representatives. In 1976 he stated, "The ideas of the United Nations are universal peace and universal brotherhood, and the ideals of the United Nations are a oneness-world-family and a oneness-heart."
Spiritual Teacher Frederick Lenz became a follower around 1972, but in 1981 he broke with Chinmoy and became a guru on his own. Spiritual author Lex Hixon was a member of the Sri Chinmoy Centre in the 1970s.
Santana and McLaughlin stayed with Chinmoy for a number of years before leaving. In 1973 they released an album based on Chinmoy's teachings, titled Love Devotion Surrender. McLaughlin was a Chinmoy follower from 1970 to 1975. In 1971 he formed the Mahavishnu Orchestra, named for the spiritual name Chinmoy had given him. McLaughlin introduced Santana to the guru, and Santana and his wife Deborah were subsequently Chinmoy followers from 1972 to 1981. Santana said, "Without a guru I serve only my own Vanity, but with him I can be of Service to you and everybody. I am the strings, but he is the musician. Guru has graduated from the Harvards of consciousness and sits at the feet of God." Santana released three albums under the spiritual name Devadip – meaning "Lamp of God", "Eye of God", and "Light of God" – that Chinmoy gave him: Illuminations (1974), Oneness (1979), and The Swing of Delight (1980). In 2000, he told Rolling Stone that things soured between him and Chinmoy in the 1980s. Santana emphasized that he took much that was good from his years with the guru, even though when he left, Chinmoy "was pretty vindictive for a while. He told all my friends not to call me ever again, because I was to drown in the dark sea of ignorance for leaving him." In 2017 Santana told Rolling Stone, "I'm really grateful for those 10 years I spent with that spiritual master."
Chinmoy began painting in 1974 during a visit to Ottawa, Canada. He called his artwork "Jharna Kala", which in Bengali means "fountain art". Chinmoy's artwork is inspired by the themes of universal oneness and universal peace.
According to his followers, Chinmoy composed thousands of short musical compositions, written with lyrics primarily in Bengali and English. Many of these have been published online under a Creative Commons license at Sri Chinmoy Songs (lyrics and sheet music) and Radio Sri Chinmoy (audio). He released two albums in Jamaica on the Studio One subsidiary label Port-O-Jam. In 1976, Chinmoy released a meditative album on Folkways Records entitled Music for Meditation.
In 1977 the Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team was founded; it holds running, swimming, and cycling events worldwide, from fun runs to ultramarathons. Its precursor was the 1976 Liberty Torch Run, a relay in which 33 runners marked America's bicentennial by covering 8,800 miles in 7 weeks through 50 states. This concept was expanded in 1987 to become the Sri Chinmoy Oneness-Home Peace Run. The Peace Run is generally held every two years, and the first was launched in April 1987 at the World Trade Center in New York City.
Chinmoy began weightlifting in 1985, at the age of 54. His weightlifting included a creative array of objects and machinery designed to challenge his strength and ability. His message to the public in his weightlifting endeavours was that anything is possible if one is able to put aside the limitations of the mind. Bill Pearl, former Mr. Universe, acted as Master of Ceremonies at many of Chinmoy's strength exhibitions. Introducing one of Chinmoy's weightlifting exhibitions in 1999, Bill Pearl wrote: "Today you are going to see some amazing feats of strength that I myself – and I have been in the industry for fifty-five years – would not even attempt to perform." Chinmoy said his motivation for lifting was to inspire others, especially those of an older generation. In 2006 he stated, "If I can inspire anybody in this world, then I feel that my life is meaningful. With my weightlifting, I am offering my physical strength to inspire people."
In 1987 Sri Chinmoy inaugurated the Sri Chinmoy Oneness Home Peace Run, a symbolic relay style run for peace through many countries of the world where runners carry a flaming torch representing harmony. Sri Chinmoy described his concept as a "grassroots effort for peace". The ‘Oneness Home’ theme of the Peace Run, is that people are all peace-longing citizens on one single planet.
In 1991 Chinmoy initiated the ‘Oneness Heart Tears and Smiles’ humanitarian Service which sends food and Medicine to those in need. The organisation, which as of 2007 served 136 countries, began with members of the Sri Chinmoy Centre distributing humanitarian aid to needy children and adults worldwide. It works with NGOs or governments, and provides health, medical, and educational supplies to recipient nations. It is served by health professionals and private volunteers on five continents, in programs which provide disaster relief, regional development, and health and medical supplies. The ‘Kids to kids’ program sponsored by the Oneness Heart Tears and Smiles encourages school children to prepare packs of school supplies and toys for disadvantaged children in other communities.
Chinmoy's efforts to promote inter-faith harmony resulted in him being invited to open the Parliament of the World's Religions in Chicago (1993) and Barcelona (2004) with a silent meditation. During the 2004 Opening Meditation, he said: "During my opening meditation I am praying for the oneness of all religions."
Chinmoy travelled widely, and dedicated his many activities and the events he founded to peace. He met with world figures, and was often described as an ambassador of peace. Chinmoy met Mother Teresa on five separate occasions. On their second meeting in Rome, Italy during October 1994, Chinmoy presented her with an award. During the ceremony Mother Teresa said to Sri Chinmoy: "I am so pleased with all the good work you are doing for world peace and for people in so many countries. May we continue to work together and to share together all for the glory of God and for the good of man." Chinmoy met with Princess Diana of Wales at Kensington Palace on May 21, 1997.
In a program created in 1998 known as 'Lifting up the world with a Oneness Heart', Chinmoy lifted people of inspiration while they stood on a platform overhead. Chinmoy described his motivation: 'I lift them up to show my appreciation for their achievements,' Among some of the 7000 people he lifted include: Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, Muhammad Ali, Sting, Eddie Murphy, Susan Sarandon, Roberta Flack, Yoko Ono, Jeff Goldblum, Richard Gere Helen Hunt. Twenty Nobel leaureates and a team of sumo Wrestlers were also lifted.
Chinmoy died from a heart attack while at his home in Jamaica, Queens, New York on 11 October 2007. Mikhail Gorbachev wrote that his death was "a loss for the whole world" and that "in our hearts, he will forever remain a man who dedicated his whole life to peace."
According to the Sri Chinmoy Centre, Chinmoy published over 1,300 books including 120,000 poems. Many of these poems are aphorisms – a short but complete spiritual poem or verse, such as "We are all truly unlimited, if we only dare to try and have faith." Chinmoy also published some volumes of longer more classical style poetry. In 2001, Chinmoy recited his poetry at the United Nations, as part of a UN sponsored event of promoting "Dialogue Among Civilizations Through Poetry". On 11 September 2010, three of Chinmoy's poems on hope were recited by New York Governor David Paterson at a ceremony to mark the ninth anniversary of 9/11.
In April 2011, a documentary film about Chinmoy's weightlifting titled Challenging Impossibility was featured at the Tribeca Film Festival.
He did not charge fees for his spiritual guidance or music performances. He was respectful towards all religions and religious figures of the world. He attracted an estimated 7,000 students in his lifetime. His path was a contemporary spiritual system of yoga, practised under the guidance of a guru, or spiritual Teacher. Chinmoy advocated brahmacharya – celibacy – for both married and unmarried devotees, and focusing on experiencing inner spiritual joy rather than pleasure. According to a 1987 article in Hinduism Today, Chinmoy as a yoga spiritual master was an unmarried celibate. Unlike in some other older traditions, Chinmoy taught that a complete withdrawal from the world was not necessary for spiritual progress, but rather "a gradual and total Illumination of life".
His abstract paintings are a mixture of acrylics and pen drawings. Chinmoy used a wide variety of sponges, brushes and colours to paint in a unique spontaneous mystical style with a lot of vigour, strong movement and rhythm. Chinmoy has said that when he paints he finds a spontaneous flow of creativity from the stillness of his meditation that allows him to follow an inner inspiration or ‘streak of light’ to follow. In December 1991 Chinmoy started a new series of art-work entitled "Dream-Freedom-Peace-Birds" or ‘Soul Birds’. The bird drawings are often simple zen like sketches that have either one bird or in some paintings hundreds of birds in one large drawing. The soul bird drawings, Chinmoy stated, symbolize humanity's heart cry for freedom.