Sri Chinmoy’s long distance running life started in a simple and spontaneous way. On June 1 1978 while visiting in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park where he had just planted and dedicated a Peace tree. It was a typical late spring day, overcast and coolish. A not untypical San Franciscan day. After the formalities of the Peace tree inauguration he invited the small gathering of his students to go out and run with him in the park. They did not run far and they did not run fast but it was something new and it was a clear sign that a great shift in life in the Sri Chinmoy center was about to take place.
After the run, and still slightly out of breath, he invited all who were there to come and run the New York city marathon in the fall of the year. It was an invitation that would spread out far and wide, to all of his students everywhere. Running the New York city marathon became a tradition that continued for many years until 2002, when the marathon team then sponsored their own race in August during the yearly celebrations.
There were of course many recent events in the year leading up to June 1 1978, that had given us strong clues that distance running would become the next big thing in the center. The Liberty Torch relay had crisscrossed America just 2 years earlier and Canada’s Oneness Heart had traversed the country from coast to coast the summer before. From these events Sri Chinmoy’s students had received a small sampling of what running could accomplish both within and without. He was obviously inspired to provide even more opportunities for the young men and women in the center so that they might find opportunities to excel and transcend themselves in sport. No one realized of course that Sri Chinmoy the sprinter would soon become a distance runner himself.
What no one knew, on that cool spring day, was that an even greater opportunity for progress was soon to arrive. It would come even before most could even digest fully the significance of running the 26 mile marathon in New York.
A few of us had been fortunate enough to be just slightly ahead of the pack. A handful had run the 1976 NYC marathon and an even greater number, including myself had run in 1977. But a little more than a month after this recording was made, and probably less than a month before his 47th birthday, Sri Chinmoy offered us all a totally surprising and unprecedented invitation. Starting at midnight, on August 27th, when his 47th birthday was to begin we were all invited to run in a 47 mile race.
Many years have passed since we all heard this news. It is a distance now that is minuscule when compared to the thousands of miles that are now run regularly in many of the marathon teams scheduled events. At the time however it was such a formidable number that even the young, trained, and very fit runners could not really comprehend how it could be done. To make it even more interesting it was to be run on a course that started on the gritty cinder track of Jamaica high school and then meander around the outer block with its bumpy sidewalks, sharp turns, and the formidable Margaret Tietz hill. It was an unbelievable challenge and most had no idea what to expect. It was after all almost twice as far as a marathon. It was hard to even imagine if we could make it to the track for that last victory lap and still be able to grab the flag and make it through to the finish line.
No one can truly comprehend the totality of a Spiritual Master. Safe to say his task is to be but pure guidance, compassion and love for his disciples. He never forces anyone to do anything beyond their capacity and, he has a clear insight of what course will take us most directly and speedily to our goal. We may not ever understand him, but we do have the obligation of understanding and developing fully our relationship to our spiritual Master. This comes in many ways and over time. Principally through spiritual practices and disciplines is it gradually and steadily nurtured and obtained. Over a life time it slowly evolves and blossoms. Each day more and more is revealed but most of us have a limited capacity for serious and lengthy meditation. To transfer sedentary meditation to active distance running is another matter. It is a unique way to occupy the mind and body with the challenge of long distance while simultaneously allowing the heart to come to the for.
What I, and most of us discovered that first night we ran the 47 mile race was that this race would be like no other. It was a unique and dynamic spiritual act in its own right. True it would be hard, long, and difficult but the reward we all gained over the hours on the road were immeasurable. For many it was but one long sustained meditation. An opportunity to see that even in the most difficult things in life, our teacher, Sri Chinmoy, was in fact acting in and through us. By simply letting go of our limitations he would open up our inner unbounded capacity and we would be able to see, that in fact. nothing was impossible, if it was truly inspired from within.
But there was something more about running throughout the long dark night of the 47. Every moment you could not help but be aware that it was our Guru’s birthday. That whatever inner connection you felt or held in your heart for your spiritual teacher was almost always constantly present with each step and with each additional mile achieved on our way towards the goal. You could not help but be conscious of all the countless things that he had done to inspire your life, for the love and affection he provided, and the guidance and care that can only come from one who has accepted a deep and personal responsibility for your spiritual life. In other words it was impossible while running to not be aware of just how lucky we all were to have a true teacher, and be offered a unique and golden opportunity to help in our inner growth. And to add to all this, on 2 occasions he himself ran the full distance running with us over the course of the long dark night.
I am not sure at what moment I really understood what the 47 really meant to me. The first race was 32 years ago. I seem to recall however, that even from my first step that took us all forward, about 12:07 that night, that for me this race would be my gift to Sri Chinmoy. There was nothing I had that he needed or wanted. He was all about giving to his his students. In return the least I could offer to him was my absolute best effort and my heart’s dedication in this 47 mile race. A gift that I gave for quite a few years and is one that many still find able to give even today.
47 mile photos by Bhashwar