1973 was a watershed year for my inner life. It was a time of sorting through various occult arts and study. Personal meditation practice had become more focused. My musical tastes were expanding into new directions, as well.
Music provides a mental backdrop to our lives. This has been especially true ever since the proliferation of electronic reproduction and broadcasting of popular music. Youth, especially, tend to relate to music and musicians to a considerable degree.
The first musical offshoot happened when I became hooked on Carlos Santana’s album “Caravanserai”. It’s music was a complete departure, in style, from Santana’s earlier music that had energized my youth. “Caravanserai” set the stage for music that totally captivated me next.
Carlos Santana collaborated with (Mahavishnu) John McLaughlin, on an album titled, “Love, Devotion, Surrender”. The album represented a drastic departure from Santana’s earlier, salsa styled crossover latin rock. I listened to the new album continuously, in the car, during the long commutes to and from work.
“Real tolerance is compassion in disguise. When we have real tolerance, the seeker in us sees the expansion of his loving heart, his illumining soul and his fulfilling goal.”–Sri Chinmoy
The obsession with “Love, Devotion, Surrender” caused me to investigate the sea change behind Carlos Santana’s vibe. It turned out that Santana had become deeply interested in the music of the fusion band “The Mahavishnu Orchestra” and lead guitarist John McLaughlin. McLaughlin, in turn, introduced Santana and his wife, Deborah, to guru Sri Chinmoy. Chinmoy accepted Carlos and Deborah as disciples in 1973. That same year, Carlos Santana and John McLaughlin recorded the album.
I wondered, “Who is this mysterious guru who influenced one of my favorite musicians?”
Sri Chinmoy was the youngest of seven children born in East Bengal (now the nation of Bangladesh) in the village of Shakpura, on August 27, 1931 as Chinmoy Kumar Ghose. After the death of his father in late 1943 and his mother in early 1944, the Ghose children entered the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry. Chinmoy claimed that two years later, at the age of 14, he had attained full enlightenment.
“Judge nothing, you will be happy. Forgive everything, you will be happier. Love everything, you will be happiest.”
Chinmoy’s official biography says his next 20-years were spent practicing meditation, work in the ashram’s industry, and studying Bengali and English literature. Chinmoy said that he translated works of the head of the ashram, Nolini Gupta, into English.
Chinmoy had natural athletic ability, as well. He was encouraged to hone and enjoy his interests in athleticism by his elders at the ashram. When he wasn’t meditating, Chinmoy was the captain of the football (soccer) and volleyball squads. He also claimed to enjoy cricket. In addition, Chinmoy authored essays, poetry, and wrote devotional music.
Chinmoy claimed to “hear a message from within” that he should become a teacher to people in the West who were seeking spiritual attainment. With the help of American sponsors, Chinmoy emigrated to New York City, in 1964.
Upon his arrival in the US, Chinmoy was employed as a junior clerk at the Consolate of India. He was encouraged and supported by his supervisors and colleagues to give talks about Hinduism. By the mid and late 1960s, Chinmoy received invitations to lecture, from universities, and even the United Nations.
“Love of the limited self, the very limited self, is another name for human love. Love of the entire world is another name for divine love.”
Just as youth of the late 1960s and early 1970s had become interested in Eastern and Indian philosophy and religion, Chinmoy attracted the attention of musicians. John McLaughlin, in particular, was to become very important to Sri Chinmoy. McLaughlin had a budding interest in Indian philosophy and had been reading the books by different teachers and yogis. His eventual choice of guru was Sri Chinmoy.
Chinmoy gave McLaughlin the name “Mahavishnu”. With Chinmoy’s spiritual inspiration, he formed the jazz-fusion group “The Mahavishnu Orchestra”. Then, in 1972, he introduced his new friend, Carlos Santana, to Chinmoy, as mentioned earlier in this post. The intro happened during one of the regular, weekly United Nations prayer meetings. The guru dubbed Santana, “Devadip” or Light of the Lamp of God. It was at this point that Mahavishnu and Devadip planned the collaboration album.
During this period, Sri Chinmoy expanded his reach by opening more meditation centers and expanded the scope and number of his writings and lectures. Many of his talks were accompanied by musical concerts.
The lectures and concerts took Chinmoy around the world. His United Nations resume enabled him to meet with international leaders. The media described him as an “ambassador of peace”.
The guru never charged monetary fees for his services nor concerts. During his tours, Chinmoy taught his contemporary, blended version of yoga and meditation. Some estimates place the number of his disciples at some 7,000. What attracted many of his followers was Chinmoy’s departure from the traditional practice of seclusion. He said that withdrawal from the World is unnecessary for spiritual growth.
McLaughlin and Santana weren’t the only popular figures in Chinmoy’s circle of influence. The guru also advised Olympic gold-medalist Carl Lewis. Lewis acquired meditation techniques and was encouraged in his athletic practice by the guru. In turn, Lewis said that his spriritual growth had been boosted by his association with the guru.
Chinmoy and his followers became known for their feats of athletic endurance, as well. In 1977, members of the Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team swam the first of more than 40 crossings of the English Channel. Their other accomplishments included ultra-distance running. One event was the Self-Transcendence 3100-Mile Race. Long distance bicycling was included in the mix and some mountain climbing events, as well. One devotee, Ashrita Furman, is the only person in history to hold a hundred Guiness world records. He credits Chinmoy’s meditation techniques for giving him the inner strength to do so.
The guru was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize in 2007, by members of the Icelandic Parliament, several Czech professors, and two others.
On October 11, 2007, Sri Chinmoy suffered a heart attack and died at his home in Queens, New York.