By Sujantra McKeever
The current world record for the men’s running of the 26.2 mile marathon is 2 hours 5 minutes and 42 seconds (as of 1998). The 2 hour and 30 minute barrier was broken in 1925. In 1969 Derek Clayton of Australia broke 2 hours and nine minutes. In the past 35 years only 5 minutes and 40 seconds has been taken off that record. 18 men have run under 2 hours and 8 minutes.
An excited hush falls over the crowd of 600 men and women as spiritual teacher Sri Chinmoy quietly enters a high-school auditorium in Queens, New York. The next day, 370 of his students will be at the starting line for the 26.2 mile New York City Marathon. Many of his students who are not running will be helping at the aid stations and finish line.
Sri Chinmoy, poet, musician and athlete, is 67 years old, stands 5’7″ and weighs 144 pounds. He walks humbly to the front of the room wearing a red and blue track suit, carrying a handful of papers. They are part of a literary marathon he is currently working on which, when completed, will span 77,000 poems. Sri Chinmoy takes his seat and smiles.
Students of Sri Chinmoy have gathered from over 25 countries to spend the weekend with their teacher and take part in the New York City marathon. This evening’s activities the night before the race included story telling, music and meditation. Sri Chinmoy meditated with the runners in groups according to how fast they anticipated running the race. He began with the slowest runners. As it turned out, the slowest runner would take eight hours and 30 minutes, while the fastest, a young man from Russia, would complete the race in two hours and 28 minutes.
At last the fastest runners-those trying to break 3 hours sat down to meditate. Sri Chinmoy looked over the 18 athletes and fell into a deep, meditative silence. A feeling of peaceful yet powerful energy swept through the room. The runners had spent many months in preparation for this race. Through the power of meditation the nervousness and anticipation was being transformed into dynamic enthusiasm and focused excitement. A profound silence and joy coursed through minds and hearts of all present.
Emerging from his meditation, Sri Chinmoy opened his eyes, looked over the runners and began to speak on one of his favourite running topics: the sub two-hour marathon. For the next 20 minutes, he talked about his heart-felt conviction that it is possible for one of his students, or someone else, to break the two-hour barrier. He said it could be done on 60 miles a week of training if a certain state of awareness and consciousness can be attained. Sri Chinmoy gives utmost importance to the role that spirit and mind play in sports, creative undertakings and daily activities.
In his youth Sri Chinmoy was a decathlon champion in his native India. Since coming to America in 1964, he has worked tirelessly to unite the spiritual ideals of the ancient East with the modern
Western world. He conveys his message through art, prose, poetry, music, meditation and athletics. He performs his meditative music in concert to millions around the world always without charge.
Sri Chinmoy loves athletics. He has run 22 marathons and participated in several ultra-marathons. He is also an avid tennis player and weightlifter. He inspires his students to organize running races for their local communities around the world. These races include track and field competitions for senior citizens, two-mile fun runs, marathons, and ultra-marathons ranging from 12 and 24-hour races to 3100 mile multi-day races.
Everyone in the room listened delightfully as Sri Chinmoy began to speak on the sub two-hour marathon, an achievement many deem impossible. The intensity was heightened because he said that one of them could be the person to break the two-hour barrier. Sri Chinmoy then began to elaborate on four achievements necessary to create the state of consciousness to run such a race. The ideas he offered can be applied to any activity in which one wishes to excel.
1. Sri Chinmoy said that during training runs, the athlete must consciously offer gratitude to Mother Earth. Over the years he has consistently pointed toward gratitude as an emotion by which individuals can reach their highest potential. “Gratitude,” he writes, “is a miracle-action in us. This miracle-action strengthens our physical body, purifies our vital energy, widens our mental vision and intensifies our psychic delight.”
By ‘Mother Earth’ Sri Chinmoy refers not just to the physical planet upon which we live, but also to the deeper Spirit, which creates, sustains and transforms (through birth and death) all of creation. God, according to Sri Chinmoy, has two aspects: masculine and feminine. It is the feminine aspect, which brings forth and sustains existence and ourselves.
2. The second idea Sri Chinmoy spoke of is that the runner must aspire toward, attain and sustain peace of mind. Peace is another quality to which he gives utmost importance. Sri Chinmoy often refers to himself as a ‘student of peace’. He has said, “No price is too great to pay for inner peace. Peace is the harmonious control of life. It is vibrant with life-energy”. The athlete must learn to tap into this ‘life-energy’ if he or she wishes to transcend past performances. It is only through a calm and serene mind that this energy can be found and then utilized.
The great American sage Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Nothing can bring you peace but yourself.” True peace springs forth when our mind is calm and tranquil. Sri Chinmoy says that lasting satisfaction and calmness stem from true detachment. This detachment is not from daily responsibilities, for these we must embrace to be good and true citizens of the world. The detachment he speaks of is from the thoughts, which steal away our inner peace.
Sri Chinmoy notes, “The greatest misfortune that can come to a human being is to lose his inner peace. No outer force can rob him of it. It is his own thoughts, his own actions that rob him of it.”
In order to attain peace in our minds, we must rise above fear, jealousy, insecurity, anger and any other destructive thoughts that threaten the potential stillness of our minds.
An uplifting silence prevailed over the runners as they listened to Sri Chinmoy’s words. He was describing a path toward a reality overflowing with potential. The surety of his vision has many times challenged and defeated convention. As Einstein said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”
3. The third issue Sri Chinmoy addressed is the necessity for the runner to have purity in the vital. In Sri Chinmoy’s philosophy, the ‘vital’ describes the emotional and sexual dimension of the human being. Purity is clarity, calmness and a focused intensity toward one’s goals. By bringing purity into our vital energy, we can realise and utilize the unlimited source of energy from which we are created and to which we are all connected.
Sri Chinmoy describes this purity as “the feeling of a living shrine deep in the inmost recesses of your heart.” Purified vital energy becomes manifest as enthusiasm and eagerness, two qualities essential for success in any noble endeavour. As the poet Tennyson wrote: “My strength is as the strength of ten because my heart is pure.”
Sri Chinmoy paused and looked out at those gathered for the race. Earlier in the day they had spent four hours putting together the 31,000 bag lunches that are given to the marathon runners as they cross the finish line in Central Park. Many of those present would assist runners after the race and help pick up trash in the park till late the next evening.
4. The fourth and final piece of advice Sri Chinmoy offered is the necessity of bringing discipline into the physical body. Without discipline in the body, one merely rides the pendulum between pleasure and pain. Many people spend their lives doing little else but seeking comfort and pleasure and trying to avoid pain. In order to bring forward our highest potential, we must transcend and transform the body’s desires so that our spirit can utilize the body to manifest our unimagined capacities. This is best summed up in a poem by Sri Chinmoy:
You can enjoy a limitless life of glory
If you do not allow
Your life to be bound
By your body’s rules and regulations.
A ‘limitless life of glory’ dawns when we experience the undying spirit, which is the essence and source of our physical existence. The seeker-athlete can learn to infuse the physical consciousness with the spirit’s unimaginable force. It is that force which will uplift the runner to new levels of speed and endurance.
Sri Chinmoy finished speaking and gently closed his eyes. A pin-drop silence enveloped the room. Once more he became absorbed in meditation.
All of the team members, save two or three, completed the race the next day. They had been offered more than encouragement and inspiration the night before. They had been shown the golden keys to unlock their true potential as runners and as human beings. Gratitude, peace, purity and discipline are those keys. Who will have the courage to unlock the door?