Meeting Sri Chinmoy for the first time
December 2nd 1970 was a date that came to have supreme importance in our lives. In Glasgow it was a cold wet night, but Janani and I were heading out with some anticipation to hear a talk by a visiting spiritual teacher - Sri Chinmoy!
We knew little or nothing about Guru, but the talk, at the University’s Catholic Chaplaincy, had been advertised for some weeks, with little A5 posters around campus. The posters showed a striking photograph of the Master in meditation - we would soon come to know it as the Transcendental! In a curve around the image were the words LOVE, DEVOTION, SURRENDER, and intriguingly the lettering style was a computer font. The suggestion was that this was a teacher for the modern world, the here and now.
The poster had first been drawn to my attention by my friend and fellow writer Tom McGrath (soon-to-be Nityananda!) He had been organising events on campus, and the Philosophy Society (who were promoting Guru’s talk) had asked him to help spread the word. I remember Janani and I sitting with Nityananda and his wife Shantishri, in their kitchen, looking at the poster and saying how powerful it was. But we did not really know what to expect.
For some time I had been reading spiritual books, mainly on Zen. I had been to hear a Buddhist teacher, Rimpoche Chogyam Trungpa. I had sat with Nityananda (again in his kitchen!) chanting the Hare Krishna mantra. I was clearly seeking something - a way, a path - but what it might be I had no idea.
We came into the lecture room and were happy to see a fair number of people had turned up. Guru was standing at the back of the room in gold-yellow kurta and dhoti. He looked at us as we came in the door and I can only say I felt scanned by his gaze! I said to Janani, ‘Quite a presence,’ and we found seats near the front, next to Nityananda and Shantishri. The murmur of talk died down as Guru came to the front of the room and onto the platform where he stood a moment in silence with folded hands.
The wording on the poster had been Love, Devotion, Surrender, but the first words Guru spoke were the actual title of his talk: Divine Duty and Supreme Reward.
"God thinks of His Duty. God meditates on His Duty. Man loves his reward. Man cries for his reward…" 1
The voice was mesmerising, musical, the delivery slow and incantatory. It was like nothing I had ever heard before, and I surrendered myself to its rhythms. The talk was not a lecture in any traditional sense. Nor was it a sermon. It was a heightened spiritual discourse. It was as if Guru had entered into meditation and was channelling the words, letting them speak through him.
"In our life of realisation, duty is our divine pride, and reward is our glorious, Transcendental height." 2
I have since read the talk and found it coherent, engaging and well structured. At the time I was simply following it as best I could. At moments the words came into focus with great clarity, and I found myself thinking, That’s just right! At other times I was simply looking at Guru, letting the words wash over me, amazed at what he was radiating, his being. At one point I could see a gold light around him, but my mind tried to dismiss it as a trick of the light - my eyes must be tired, his gold robes were causing a flicker against the colour of the wall behind him. But the image persisted.
After some time - I have no idea how long - Guru was winding down, concluding.
"This is my last talk. My tour has come to an end….Yesterday I was in Ireland and today I am here in Scotland. What am I doing? I am trying with utmost sincerity to be of service to sincere seekers. Each individual has the capacity to be of service to others…" 3
He chanted AUM, powerfully, and recited a prayer from Hindu scripture. He bowed to us with folded hands, then said if there were any questions he would do his best to answer them. A few people did indeed ask questions and in his replies he mentioned his path of meditation. In what, I think, was the last question, Nityananda asked how we could find out more about that, and if we could put it into practice. Guru said, very sweetly, that if anyone was interested, they could come and see him when the meeting was over. Then he looked at his watch and said, ‘In fact the meeting is over. You can come and see me now!’ He came off the stage and went out by the side door.
I have often thought of that moment, a turning point, the resonance of that one word. Now.
There must have been a slight delay while a small side room was made available. I was aware of the Catholic Chaplain saying (with what I thought was some consternation!) that he too had seen Guru’s aura of gold light. I overheard the University’s Professor of Logic saying to one of his acolytes, ‘It’s not exactly our kind of philosophy, is it?’ (And I thought, thank God for that!)
Then it was time to decide whether to go with Guru. Nityananda and I had both been deeply impressed by Guru, could see he was the real thing. But momentarily there was some kind of resistance, the stubbornness of the male ego. What are we getting into? But while we hesitated, Janani and Shantishri were already out the door. What could we do but follow?
There had been perhaps eighty people at the talk, but just seven of us went in to the little side room.
Guru sat on a chair and we sat on the floor in a little half-circle. Again there was that sweetness as he asked us each a little about ourselves. Then he said he would meditate with us.
He gave us very simple instructions. Keep the back straight, breathe through the nose. Focus on what he called the spiritual heart, in the centre of the chest. He asked us to close our eyes and imagine a flower there at the heart centre - a rose for the men, a lotus for the women. Then he said he would meditate on each of us.
What happened then was extraordinary. There were no fireworks, nothing huge or Transcendental, simply a profound sense of lightness and peace, an opening up. We all felt it, and we knew when he was concentrating directly on us.
Later I was to read something Guru wrote:
"When you meet a genuine spiritual Master, his silent gaze will teach you how to meditate."
And that was it, exactly.
There was such a feeling of peace and light in the room. Everyone was smiling.
Guru had to leave to travel back to London and from there to his home in New York. He asked us to meditate every day and to meet together once a week as a group. He gave each of us a small Transcendental picture and told us we could meditate by concentrating on it, and he entrusted a bigger one to Nityananda to use in the group meetings.
The Master’s silent gaze…
A bright-eyed Canadian woman was accompanying Guru on his trip. We would come to know her as Alo Devi. She said we would look forward to our group meetings, like an oasis in the midst of our lives. I found it very touching. (And of course she was absolutely right!)
We said our Thank yous and Farewells and stepped out into the night.
We had found our Guru, or rather, our Guru had found us.
- Janaka Spence
- 1. > Sri Chinmoy, Beyond Within — A collection of writings 1964-1974, Agni Press, 1975.
- 2. Sri Chinmoy, AUM — Vol. 7, No. 1, 27 Aug. 1971, AUM Centre Press, 1971
- 3. Sri Chinmoy, The oneness of the Eastern heart and the Western mind, part 1, Agni Press, 2003