Today I presented a program on Sri Chinmoy’s poetry at the Parliament of Religions, here in Chicago. It was an interesting experience for me on many levels. First of all, it’s the first time I have ever presented my Master’s poetry at a public gathering. I have recited Sri Chinmoy’s poems at Centre-related events, but I have never recited for a fairly large group of seekers. The program lasted an hour. There were about thirty people in the room.
When I got to the room, I saw there were already some people waiting. I put the vase of flowers on the front desk and said, “These are for the presenter.” Then I put one of my bags down and told them that the presenter would be back in a minute, and that he would promise to stop talking about himself in the third person. They laughed.
When I returned, I saw a fairly large group of people. Some of them were Western Sikhs. The audience was racially diverse, a mix of young and old, and almost as many men as women. A few of the women in the audience were wearing saris. Quite a few people came with notebooks. I was happy that I had actually spent some time preparing my presentation. I pulled up a chair, asked them if they could hear me, and put aside the microphone.
I began by relating the perhaps apocryphal story that when Thomas Edison invented the radio, it was his express wish that the newest communication technology should be inaugurated by transmitting the most ancient scripture- the Rig Veda. So, according to legend, he asked Max Muller, the great Sanskritist to read out those opening lines, and that would mark the dawn of the radio age:
Agni mile purohitam yagnasya devamritvijam hotaram ratnadhatamam.
I explained to the audience that this is a mantra dedicated to Agni, the fire god. But Agni also refers to the mounting flame of aspiration within the human heart. We all embody Agni when we accept the spiritual life seriously.
I then explained that mantras can be created in any language. What is most important when chanting a mantra is soulfulness, soulfulness. It doesn’t matter how many times we chant, if we do not carry soulfulness, the mantra will not help us.
We then chanted mantras together from the writings of John Keats (“A thing of beauty is a joy forever” for example, as well as “Beauty is truth, truth beauty- that is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know”) from Wordsworth (“A mind forever voyaging”), the Bible (“Daughter, thy faith hath made thee whole”). I even had them chant the word “Philadelphia” seven times, since Sri Chinmoy said many times that the name of that particular city is a mantra! People were amused by this, but they did chant it soulfully. I recommended that they think of the inner qualities of America as they chant “Philadelphia”- the city of peace and brotherhood.
I explained to them that the mother of all mantras is AUM, and that AUM refers to the tri-partite nature of God- God the Creator, God the Preserver and God the Transformer. I explained to them that many people in India have realized God just by chanting AUM. I then said that Sri Chinmoy preferred to use the term “Supreme” for God- for the word “Supreme” implies constant self-transcendence, and the Supreme is nothing if not the ever-transcending consciousness. We chanted this word seven times.
I asked people if they could feel the joy, the invigorating power of these mantras, and they said they could. I then launched into a discussion of Sri Chinmoy’s poetry, and I explained that the mantras in Sri Chinmoy’s writings could be said to fall into three general categories:
Under “Affirmations” we chanted together his great mantra “Obstructions loom large within and without. Nevertheless, like a kite I shall rise without fail against the wind.” Along with the wonderful poem from Seventy-Seven Thousand Service-Trees: “A river of enthusiasm is carrying my life to Infinity’s ocean, singing “Yes, yes and yes.” We also recited one of Sri Chinmoy “Christmas Trip” mantras: “With my tear-waves I go to God. With my smile-seas I return.”
Under wisdom, among other poems we chanted the great Service-Tree mantra, “The wisdom of all the sages: never see darkness in any human being.”
I noticed something started happening as I recited the mantras- people stopped reciting the poems with me. I did not give handouts. I asked people to practice “meditative listening”, to identify with the words, not with a piece of paper. But I noticed that after a while people stopped repeating the poems with me. It was agreed that they would recite the poems three additional times after I had said a particular poem twice. But they stopped. They just listened to me recite the poems over and over. At first I found it disconcerting, and then I opened my eyes, and I saw many of them were sitting with folded hands! Their faces were glowing, they were caught by the undertow of the poems. They just wanted to hear them and meditate.
So for the rest of the program, I just recited each mantra five times, or even more, and the people just meditated. For the next section, “Esoteric vision”, I chanted another Service-Tree poem:
“God’s first smile was born the day humanity awoke to His Light.”
Anthropologists and paleontologists struggle to determine the origins of the human species, but I think this poem has the answer. The moment human beings became aware of God is when the human race emerged from the animal kingdom. This moment in time marks the separation of the human beings from the animals. Human beings awoke to the Light of God, and that Light elicited God’s first Smile. But this journey has no beginning and no end- the awakening of humanity and the Smile of God are in eternal synchronicity. They are eternal compeers and travelers forever.
I also recited Sri Chinmoy’s immortal mantra:
“The descending fire descends;
The ascending fire ascends.
The smile of Light
Watches their tasks divine
From across the empty space
Where the hands of ether
Salute the golden mystic sun.”
(From “The Wings of Light”)
People seemed taken aback by this poem. I asked them to identify with the reality that Sri Chinmoy is offering here. Where are we? We see the smile of Light watching ascending and descending fires- but where? Where “the hands of ether” are. But the “hands of ether” are doing something. What is it? They “salute the golden mystic sun.” I recited this poem five times. I asked them if they agreed with me that a poem like this embodies meditation. They felt it absolutely did.
Then I chanted mantras that Sri Chinmoy has written, associated with other Masters. I picked three poems from Sri Chinmoy’s play on Jesus Christ “The Son”:
And also his immortal mantra for Lord Buddha, which is actually his translation of one of his own songs!
I concluded by chanting some of my favorite mantras from Sri Chinmoy’s 1974 collection The Golden Boat:
I finished with two poems. First, from the “Garden of Love-Light”:
And then “The Dance of Life”:
I bowed to them, and I looked around the room. Once again, every face was shining with light. People felt Guru’s consciousness, his living presence, and they folded their hands and bowed most soulfully.
One woman asked what the goal of our path is, how we would define transcendence on our path. She said it was obvious that on our path we accept society and the world. I agreed with her, and I recited two poems from Seventy-Seven Thousand Service-Trees that I thought were illustrative of our path:
“Inner wealth is to be acquired for distribution, and nothing else.”
One young man told me that he will now incorporate spiritual poetry into his sadhana. He had never thought he could make soulful poems part of his life-breath, but that I had convinced him. He said he felt honored to be in the presence of such divine devotion. I told him that his words meant a lot to me, and that the essence of our path, the life-blood of our path is devotion, bhakti.
One woman asked how spiritual Masters know when to set mantras to music, so I sang for her two songs, by Sri Chinmoy dedicated to different Masters:
I told him that “Jishu Avatar” has a Middle Eastern feeling, which makes sense since Christ was a Jew. I also said that the melody of “Namo, namo…” sounds very Buddhist, in its hypnotic rhythm. I explained that a God-realised Master like Sri Chinmoy has access to every Master, of every tradition, and can evoke the consciousness of that Master in mantra and song. I also explained the esoteric meaning of the Buddha song, how the song includes so many epithets to Lord Shiva, as the Buddha, like Shiva, embodies “Achapal”- the unchanging, or “Sthir”- one who is forever still.
One woman asked why I seemed to sing or intone the words as I was reciting. I explained to her that these poems are in fact really mantras. When we chant a mantra, we enter into a meditative state, and in that state, we will begin to express the words in a different way, as they are no longer coming from the mind or the tongue, but from our inner existence.
One man asked what comes first- the chanting or the soulful feeling. I told him we can start chanting any mantra we like, and we can enter into the soulful reality of the words. Again, we can start with a soulful heart, and then let that soulfulness guide our chanting, while keeping ourselves open to whatever inner secrets or experiences that mantra might have in store for us.
A few people in the audience called my presentation life-transforming. I told the audience that they had changed my life, too.