Sri Chinmoy's one-person play performance
In 1973 Sri Chinmoy gave a one-person performance of the first act of The Son, a play he had written about the life of the Saviour Christ. Janaka Alan Spence, a poet and novelist who later became Scottish Writer of the Year, was there in the audience that night. This is his experience.
I remember sitting many years ago in an auditorium in New York city. It was very late, on a hot summer night. I was very tired. Yet I found myself deeply moved by what was happening on stage, where Sri Chinmoy was performing, solo, the first act of his play "The Son", a dramatisation of the life of Christ. But to call what I was watching a 'performance' would be to limit it. Rather, what was unfolding on that stage was a sustained meditation, a revelation of the most profound spiritual truths.
That opening scene takes the form of a dialogue between God the Father and God the Son, in which the Son is being prepared for his mission on earth. By playing both parts, Sri Chinmoy gave at the same time a stunningly simple literal interpretation, and a poetic dramatisation, of Christ's statement "I and my Father are one."
There are further surprises in the short scene, which packs a great deal into a few minutes of stage time, as Sri Chinmoy sheds new light on important areas of speculation. He brings his own spiritual insight to bear on the theme of predestination, the Father telling the Son to be a mere instrument. He addresses the doctrine of Incarnation, placing Christ alongside the other great 'Avatars', Rama, Krishna and Buddha. He suggests that during Christ's 'missing years' he was to spend time in India, receiving spiritual instruction.
And not least, he offers a radical reinterpretation of Christ's "I am the Way..." (This interpretation, if universally accepted, would contribute immeasurably to religious tolerance and understanding!)
I suppose none of this is surprising. Sri Chinmoy is one of the best known and best loved of contemporary spiritual teachers. It is on the strength of his own inner realisation that he can shed such light on the Christ story, developing the great themes of that first act through the play as a whole.
His comments on the Beatitudes for instance - again rendered as dialogue, the Father explaining the aphorisms to the Son - go straight to the heart of Christ's message. No mere gloss, these passages are poetry in their own right, enhancing our understanding of the originals. Something old, familiar and well loved is suddenly seen in a fresh light, from a different perspective.
FATHER: Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
JESUS: Wonderful, Father.
FATHER: Son, it means that if a man has a tremendous sense of superiority, he will lord it over others, but if the same man feels that he is weak and helpless without Me, then he will develop a deep sense of humility. This humility will make him one with all human beings on earth. His universal oneness is the strength that will enable him to claim the earth divinely and supremely.
So too, in the rest of this beautiful play, we come to feel Christ's love and compassion, his forgiveness, and most of all, his surrender. "Be thou an instrument" is the central message of the play, finding its echo in Christ's "Thy will be done." And we glimpse through Christ's eyes, from the height of that awareness, the astonishing truth that all the characters - Judas no less than the others - are acting out their necessary roles in a great unfolding drama.
This review was originally published in a Sri Chinmoy Centre magazine, 1973.