Venu: The Flute of Lord Krishna

It is not an easy thing to fully describe and share meaningfully even one experience in our lives little alone try and express the totality of a lifetime.  A little more than a year ago, Venu, who had been a disciple of Sri Chinmoy for 40 years passed away.  His exemplary life of devotion and dedication to his Spiritual Master was unique and were it not for the exhaustive logbooks that he meticulously kept none of us could possibly understand just how remarkable his life really was.

For all those whose own lives intersected with the dynamic and powerful orbit of Venu’s, we knew at least something about how relentless and all consuming his training regime was.  You could not help but be aware of this because he seemed to be perpetually training and preparing for one event or another.  Particularly the swim run in San Diego, which was like a yearly sacred pilgrimage for him.   It was only when his journey on the earth plane had made its final lap, that those of us who loved and knew him well tried to take some fuller account of this life.  A life which always seemed to brim with enthusiasm, optimism, and tireless dedication to the inner life.

Somehow the task of cataloging his life by going through his log books fell upon Astika, who had lived with Venu for almost 40 years.  Over the course of a year he tried to take stock of  the information collected there. Which chronicled not only in fine detail the trajectory of his physical accomplishments but in a very special way illumined his inner life as well.  Astika sifted through all the meticulous details kept there and also the personal notes and photos kept within them.  This then are portions of his loving recollections of his brother friend Venu, as written in his recently published book…….Utpal

Photo taken by Sri Chinmoy

Photo taken by Sri Chinmoy

I was in the San Francisco Sri Chinmoy Centre with Venu for almost four decades, lived in the same house with him for years, ran races with him, worked side-by- side with him, talked running and cycling with him right to the end. I shared his enthusiasms for many things and took issue with him over some other things. He was my friend, a very good friend, but it wasn’t until the day I opened the pages of one of his training logbooks that I really met him face to face and heart to heart. Until that day, I had no idea at all of who he really was, nor did I possess any proper sense of the heart that beat so devotedly within his breast.

To meet Venu through the day-to-day entries of in his training diaries, is to meet ones own self face to face. It is to see and feel the rise and fall of an ocean vast energy, the same life energy that animates each and every one of us. It is to be swept along in the streaming drama of that energy. To bear witness to Venu’s struggles, to see how he managed his successes and failures, is to gain a valuable perspective on our own.

For this reason, we have made his logbooks available to everyone. The entire collection is, or soon will be, posted at the Sri Chinmoy website. I recommend them to everyone, regardless of your gender, personal interests or spiritual orientation. To open the pages of Venu’s training diaries is to take a stroll down to the seashore of this vast ocean of energy and feel the ebb and flow of it as it moved through the veins of one very good man. You won’t need to be an athlete to benefit.

Venu-and-CKG-1976

For those who knew Venu even casually, this will come as no surprise; he carefully observed and evaluated everything he did. He was a meticulous record keeper, particularly when it came to his workouts. He was a true believer in original self- knowledge; it was the only kind of knowledge he really trusted. As a consequence, he scrutinized his body’s response to exercise and diet as well as a number of other experiences very closely. Many people do this; to one degree or another, we all do it.

What separated Venu from most is that he acted upon his observations in a most disciplined manner, changing his daily routines, his diet and exercises accordingly. But beyond athletics, he changed his thoughts and opinions as well, according to an ever widening range of observations. He was a student of the hard science of yoga almost as much as he was a devotee of the yoga of love. And yet, the notations in his logbooks are almost cryptic in their brevity. He does not analyze or offer an opinion on anything, not even his own workout routine. Partly, this is because his logbooks were always meant to be a private notebook to himself. They didn’t exist to explain or narrate anything to others. The brevity of his entries was also because Venu believed that opinions were… well, just opinions. His view was that our understanding even of ourselves, much less the world, was very a subjective and individualized thing. “Reality” for him was in the numbers and the personal experience that came from generating those numbers.

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Progress Is Not A Prisoner Of Time: The 47 Mile Race 2014

You tell the world:
Progress, progress, progress!
Progress within, progress without.
That progress is not and cannot be
A prisoner of time.

Sri Chinmoy, Gorbachev: The Master-Key Of The Universal Heart, Agni Press, 1990

Guru792

Photo by Shraddha

Sometimes there are moments that are so sweet and precious that we never want to let go of them.  But time, as it always does, and of course as it must do, eventually snatches at the edges of our memories.  The past cannot hold on to us for long.  At best we can only extract from our trans-formative experiences that which can enrich and prepare us for the next challenge.  In so doing we lighten our burdens and leave behind hopefully, at least some of our imperfections and doubt.

For those who want to dedicate themselves to living on a spiritual path there is no stopping, there is only progress and moving forward.  The beyond does not tire, the dream reality of tomorrow continually beckons to us, the summit of perfection will always be our ultimate destination.

In 1980 the 47 mile race was still very new and very challenging. For the students of Sri Chinmoy there was always a powerful incentive to run the race just as there continues to be one now.   At the stroke of midnight on August 27th it was Sri Chinmoy’s birthday.  There was no better offering to your spiritual teacher than to run the very race that he created.  One in which for 2 years straight, both in 1979, and again in 1980 he ran the 47 himself.

In that race in 1980 he ran 1 hour and 15 minutes faster than he had the previous year.  His time was 11:27:24 and because of his physical ailments he would never run the race again.

What also happened on that remarkable night was that Virendra ran a time of 5:09:30. As someone who came in 5th that year and was just a little more than an hour behind I have a very real sense of just how remarkable Virendra’s achievement really was.

virendra-finishing

Photo by Shraddha

Two years ago when asked about that night Virendra said,

“It is an offering from my side and it is grace from Guru’s side.  I couldn’t have done it without it.  I remember once about 2 hours in where I had my focus really solid.  I was kind of in autopilot, and I was running and running.  I didn’t have a single idea how many miles I had run or what the pace was.  I remember looking down at my legs and saying, wowwww, who is making these run?  They are just going by themselves.  I remember telling the counters, I don’t want to hear any splits.  I don’t want to hear my marathon time.  I don’t want to hear anything.  Just wake me up with one lap to go.  I had no emotional attachment to that race whatsoever.  It was a job that had to be done and that is it.”

“I am so happy to have that kind of treasure to put at Guru’s feet.  I really felt at that moment how big it was.  We were chasing 6 hours and then out of the blue comes this 5 hours. I remembered thinking, Guru is going to like this.”(laughter)

sign-vajin

Now it is 34 years later and no one has even gotten close in those many years, that is except Vajin.  Who 2 years ago at age 32 made a very serious attempt to surpass Virendra’s achievement.  “The funny thing was that I was hoping to break the record, than I don’t have to do it any more.  (laughs)

“But that’s not how Guru works.  He doesn’t want things to come easily.  He wants you to work for things.”

At the time he also said, ““I am definitely going to try it again. ” He was just 1 minute and 26 seconds off the record.

“It is so satisfying because you put so much into it. It means so much having Guru run this race and Guru run with this flag. This race has a special consciousness. There is no other race that can compare to this. It is a race purely for the soul and for the spirit, and for our Guru. For me it is such a significant race to do. I mean to come here and share it with my brothers and sisters from all over the world.”

 Progress:  A short film of Sri Chinmoy running the 47 mile race in 1979 and 1980

There is no end to our inner progress, no end to our inner progress. Progress, progress, progress! My Guru, your Guru, everybody’s Guru is the Supreme. I tell you in all sincerity, the Supreme Himself is progressing. Now, can we believe it? We cannot believe it. Our mind will not believe it. How can the Absolute Highest be progressing? Infinity we cannot measure, Eternity we cannot measure, Immortality we cannot measure. But when God, out of His infinite Bounty, opens up our third eye, we can see that God Himself is progressing. Not only on earth and in Heaven, but in His own highest Reality, I tell you, God is progressing, progressing.

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You can say that God is absolute. That is true, absolutely true. But in His absolute Reality also, progress can be made. When God used His Vision to create the universe, His Vision was always Self-Transcendence, Self-Transcendence.

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Therefore, the terms that we use—Infinity, Eternity and Immortality—He far, far exceeds. God’s Infinity we cannot believe; our mind will never believe it. The mind can only believe so much. The heart, on the strength of its identification, can go very far. But if we are in the soul-consciousness, we see that the Absolute Supreme Himself is expanding, diving deeper and climbing higher.

 

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World’s Largest Flower Garland…The Amazing Things You Can Do When You Are In Your Heart

“We are trying to break the record for the world’s largest flower garland.  So we have 185,000 stems of carnations freshly arrived from Colombia.” …. Pavaka

flower3

The sun has just started to brighten up the large playing field in Queens.  Many hours earlier around 5 am Pavaka, had gone and picked up the huge mountain of boxes from a warehouse. Now that the boxes, filled with cool carnation flowers are stacked by the gate.   The real job of breaking the Guinness record has just begun.

beginning4

It is not something that Ashrita has not attempted before.  Being the man with the most Guinness records period he continually scours the book looking for new challenges.  But this record is uniquely special.  Tomorrow would have been Sri Chinmoy’s, his spiritual Masters 83rd birthday.

So he, along with the help of Pavaka, and gradually increasing crowd of fellow student disciples are attempting to do something which is not just record breaking but really awe inspiring.  It will take a lot of work, it will not be easy, and as the day progresses it gets hotter all the time.

beginning

Pavaka says, “we had gotten the record 2 years ago.  I think it was 2 and 1/4 miles I think, and that was since broken.  So now we are trying to get it back.  I believe it was broken in India.”

Photo by Jowan

Photo by Jowan Old Record

“The 185,000 flowers is what we calculated would give us a 5 mile long garland.  Which would really break the record.”  Pavaka explains that the flower tops will be cut off of each stem and then a slim wire is inserted through a section of tightly bunched flowers.  This in turn is connected to another section, and so on.  This will continue until all the flowers are looped around the perimeter of the field.  “So it is not like it is 5 miles of a single strand.  There is a wire going through the whole thing.  We are going to assemble it in 3 foot segments.”

Pavaka actually works in the flower import business and he tells me he is familiar with the very farm in Colombia where the flowers were grown.  He told them that he wanted flowers for a special project.  “So they sent us very short carnations, at a very good price.  Those flowers flew from Colombia last Monday to Miami.  A week ago they were cut.”  He says that the short stems meant the flowers were less expensive to ship and also that only the blossoms will be used.

“Carnations are one of the hardiest flowers out there.”

 

pavaka-teaching2

I ask him, as one who works all the time in the flower business what he enjoys about this project.  “I am personally doing this as a volunteer.  It is quite a unique project and everyone working in the chain of it was quite interested in what we were doing.” There is also, to add to the pressure, a time limit on how long the project can take.  Pavaka says they have use of the field only until 1pm.  Now just 6 hours away.

He says he will stay no matter how long it takes.

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Jai Hind…..An Adaptation of ‘The Descent Of The Blue’

What did you think of the show tonight?

“I had very little expectations, because there were so many uncertainties, but it came off very well.”  Still wearing his wig of long flowing white hair Kaivalya answers me. Minutes earlier he and his 2 sons, along with a large cast had just taken their bows before a large and very enthusiastic audience.

kaivalya-bowing

I caught up with him as he was making a hasty exit from the performance space and heading back to his room in order to change out of his costume.  Taking quick strides up the hill he was approached every few meters by excited and happy audience members, who would either call out their congratulations, or reach out to shake his hand.  He is clearly moved by all the very real and fervent enjoyment that so many had for his project. Which was the once only performance of a  play entitled, Jai Hind (Indian independence victory slogan), based on a play by Sri Chinmoy called, The Descent Of The Blue.

For the moment he still eerily resembles the great Indian spiritual Master Sri Aurobindo.  The loud roar of approval from the crowd of several hundred, who had just watched his performance over several enjoyable hours  seems to still linger in the warm still air of this New York night.  It was an unequivocal triumph, but it was also a performance that resonated with an even deeper meaning.   For it was in many ways a promise at last fulfilled.  One that had taken its natural rich course of 15 years to finally arrive on the auspicious night of August 25th at the Aspiration Ground in New York.

Descent-of-the-Blue“In 1999 Sri Chinmoy phoned me up directly, and he said, I want you to do, Descent of the Blue.  Take as much time as you like.  3 hours, 4 hours, 5 hours, what do you think?”

“I said, I don’t know Guru.  He said use as many people as you like.  Spend as much money as you like but do a very big production.  So I said fine.  It was the fall and Sri Chinmoy wanted it in August.  I can’t remember the time sequence but I was calling people all over the world.  Particularly people who looked Indian to take part.  I was preparing and researching, and reading books and going to the Sri Aurobindo society in London.”

But then an unforeseeable set of circumstances arose that winter and the project was shelved, for what appeared to be an indefinite time period.  Gradually slipping away out of reach and almost tumbling into oblivion.

The passing of Sri Chinmoy in 2007 could easily have been the absolute end of any hope of the production ever finding its way to the stage.   Kaivalya however never completely gave up hope, as it was clearly something direct and significant that his Spiritual teacher had asked of him.  But over time his once powerful commitment had been reduced he says to just a small inkling.

But like so many of the great seeds of inspiration that Sri Chinmoy carefully planted and nurtured in the hearts of his students this one was to finally find new life.   He says that while visiting Portugal in early 2013 he performed in a short performance where he played the part of Sri Aurobindo.   Someone remarked afterwards.  That they liked the play but that they had also seen and enjoyed Kaivalya years earlier portraying Sri Aurobindo  in another play.  His reaction to their compliment, “my heart leapt, You know, you are right.”

Sri Chinmoy_at_samadhiIt was in 1958 while still living in the Sri Aurobindo ashram that Sri Chinmoy had written the original play, The Descent Of The Blue.”  He and his brothers and sisters had first come there in 1944.  He was just 12 years of age when he first arrived.  From then until he left the ashram in 1964 he grew up and developed in its very powerful spiritual, cultural, and athletic environment.

Sri Chinmoy’s play is a devoted and soulful appreciation of the life, of not just one of the towering figures of India, but also one, who through his divine wisdom, was also a source of inspiration to the world.  Sri Chinmoy was able to capture the transformation of a man from Indian revolutionary to one who became an enlightened spiritual teacher to the world.  A task in which the young Sri Chinmoy was uniquely placed, living in Pondicherry, to carefully and devotedly write about.

Between 1958 and 1962 the play was originally published in installments in an ashram publication.  In 1974 it was published intact some 10 years after Sri Chinmoy had established his own spiritual community in New York.  But now as Kaivalya pondered the challenges of at last bringing a lengthy play to a western audience, he came up with the best possible strategy.

“So I handed over the directorship to my son, (Devashishu), who has more energy than I have.  Both sons in fact said it is much too long a play for one evening.  So why don’t we split it in half.  We will do the political bit now and next year in August we will do the super mind bit.  I said fine.”

devasishu

“So Devashishu took over the directorship, and he wrote in bits to explain what was happening politically, he added lots more.  So the play was completely rounded off.”

For several days leading up to the big night Devashishu was rehearsing the play in a large back yard a few blocks from the performance space.  I spoke with him earlier.

boys2

“The project is a performance based on a play by Sri Chinmoy called The Descent Of The Blue.  It is the story of Sri Aurobindo a great Indian Spiritual Master, who was Sri Chinmoy’s master.”

Abhinabha plays the young Aurobindo

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