A quarter century ago I recognize the intensely personal but also revolutionary nature of Sri Chinmoy’s writings on spirituality. This was a spirituality that soared above the divisions of religion, and potentially rendered religion obsolete! A spirituality eminently suited to our times. His explanations of the different levels of consciousness that jostle for predominance inside each individual; perceptions of the Ultimate Goal of life, and the Higher consciousness that permeates the universe simply made sense, even seeming to preempt the direction of quantum physics.
The broad scope of his work was exhilarating – philosophy, literature, music, artworks and the importanceof physical fitness to receive the higher light of meditation into the body, departing from the usual portrayal of a Guru and path to enlightenment. It was clear that it would take many decades to understand and absorb his teachings, and by 2007, his oeurve had more than doubled.
The question was how to investigate such vast material. An overview was needed to begin some sort of dialogue with a man who had reached the summits of transcendental heights, and was, in a way, too far beyond our understanding. The Quest theme seemed to fit, and yet even that fell short. Sri Chinmoy always smashed through barrier, and so too an even higher view of the Quest was necessary – the Ever – Transcending Quest was the only way to explain his Beloved Supreme and the continuing evolution of consciousness. It was the interdependence between the Supreme and the human that captivated me. This book is a tentative exploration.
Mrinali C. Clarke, while studying English Literature at Monash University, Melbourne, in 1986, became a student of Sri Chinmoy. Immediately, she knew she had found her direction. She wrote her honours thesis on his poetry. At that time IIA was not a high enough result to continue studying, so she decided to concentrate exclusively on the writings of Sri Chinmoy, and the life of meditation. Recently she has begun writing articles on the philosophy of Sri Chinmoy, and given talks, on his music at the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Melbourne in 2009, and on his poetry at the Australian Catholic University, Sydney, 2013.
It Gives Me great pleasure to pen this short foreword to the literary analysis of the poetry of Sri Chinmoy by Mrinali Clarke. This study is quite a tour de force. Few would know what an accomplished and prolific poet in his own right Sri Chinmoy was, if he is much known at all outside of certain circles of meditation.
Over the years I have dipped into the poems of Sri Chinmoy that have graced my bookshelves; these works came to me from a number of sources, from students and friends who have had close associations with Sri Chinmoy such as Kishore Cunningham, who for decades has directed the Sri Chinmoy Centre in Melbourne, Australia, and Dr Vidagdha Bennett, who I came to know through her Ph.D. thesis on Sri Chinmoy's literary work that (completed at The University of Melbourne, and cited in this work).
I had the rare privilege also of attending a public event some two decades back in Melbourne when Sri Chinmoy visited Australia, and regaled a full house in a theatre-hall with his melodious singing and recitation of poems from his prolific output. I gained a favourable impression of an adept dedicated to spreading the message of peace and love to the world.
I was also aware that Sri Chinmoy introduced meditation sessions and ran regular meetings at the United Nations assembly. Indeed, the peace Initiatives that he engaged in through the many years he lived in New York and travelled throughout the world, register a legendary contribution, alongside the dedicated work of Sri Aurobindo, Gandhi, H. H. Dalai Lama, Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King Jr.
Further, there was another side to Sri Chinmoy that also always intrigued me and that was his connection with music, and teaching that music had the capacity to uplift and change consciousness. It was common knowledge during my university years that Sri Chinmoy had some considerable influence on two of my favourite modern instrumentalist musicians, Santana and John McLachlan (of the Maha Vishnu Orchestra); in fact, I still have in my possession, a cherished vinyl LP of these two collaborators on an album called "Love, Devotion and Surrender", the back cover with a photograph of the two maestros of modern guitar either side of Sri Chinmoy.
Apart from that, I would consider myself a novice and a dilettante when it comes to the plethora of the immensely rich collection of poems and amazing other literary productions that Sri Chinmoy has bequeathed to the world. Hungry to learn more about how Sri Chinmoy composed his poems, what literary traditions he drew from, and where did the roots of this poetical compositions could be said to be found, I welcomed, the opportunity to read Mrinali's work, and encouraged her to publish and further expand her output towards journal articles.
I have come to appreciate, as I hope the readers of this study will also do, the gift that Sri Chinmoy seemed to possess in composing rather pithy, short poems that are more playful than they are technical unlike some of the modem poems our secular times tend to be. One is reminded here of the short shloka forms in Sanskrit kavya (poetry), in alamkaras (aesthetic evocations), as well as mantra-chants and lyrics from devotional compositions of savants such as Kabir, Mirabai, Surdas, Tulsidas, Tukarm, and, closer to our times, Sri Aurobindo (in his magnum poetical work Saviin). Mrinali alludes to the metaphysical and transcendental poets from Western traditions, specifically the works of Whitman, Emerson, and Dickenson.
Common sense or what Indian philosophers call laukika- jnana (para-vidya) is questioned for its boastful claims and shown to be demonstrably lacking in what lies beyond its understanding and reaches, both within and without. But what is equally more enticing and seductive, I might say, about Sri Chinmoy's poems, is the style he has evolved, in particular his own unique use of compound nouns playing the role of gerundives and simple adjectives that are able to do the work of an entire phrase, and strategically "hit-the-spot" moving the reader quickly to the next line that, in a short few words, brings the poem to its crescendo. In this context, the haiku comes also to mind. No complex hermeneutical devices have to be provided to get to the sense and the particular nuance intended; the meaning as it were flows out directly in the very first reading: the word is the meaning. I wish to give an example of what I might suggest is my favourite that speaks to the philosophic style and innovative literalism that Mrinali analyses and gives expression to in her study:
Does our own age fear a new spiritual voice? Lawrence was talking of a new voice to he found in the early American classics, while Sri Chinmoy's poem here indicates that same instinctive aversion in relation to the new spiritual experience. How relevant then are Lawrence's comments in relation to the poetry of Sri Chinmoy at the end of the twentieth century and the beginning of a new millennium?
A common criticism of metaphysical poetry is that it is only understood by the initiated. If the poetry of Sri Chinmoy is placed in that category then it may also be restricted by traditional standards and expectations of the genre. Traditionally, literary evaluations tend to concentrate on poetic complexity or multiplicity in a way that masks or fails to uncover what really may be a distinctively new voice of the age, particularly in this case in relation to spiritual poetry. Sri Chinmoy has intimated that the reading of his poetry and prose can be utilized as a method of entering into a higher state of consciousness for the novice, the seeker or the reader; in effect, a method of contacting or awakening the reader's own inner pathway into this higher, more universal plane of consciousness. This in itself is a revolutionary innovation.
The idea of a poetic voice expressing or evoking pure consciousness is, of course, a paradoxical problem, for it raises the conundrum - how can one express in mere words an experience of such a subjective metaphysical nature, or, in other words, how does one "express the inexpressible"? The daunting nature of such a task has, however, never discouraged the artist or writer from attempting it. If we witness the poetic stance of George Herbert, John Donne, William Wordsworth, Walt Whitman, Gerald Manley Hopkins and Emily Dickinson, they are all in some degree attempting to relay their own experience of the relationships between the body and spirit, time and eternity, matter and consciousness; and to explore the most complex and intricate secrets of the essence of existence. They each devised a tailored style and form arising out of their own unique needs and perceptions. Sri Chinmoy also has endeavoured to forge a new style and a new language to express the particular vision of his transcendental experiences.
Sri Chinmoy came to the US in 1964 with the express inner compulsion to offer the fruits of his own realisation to the Western world. His philosophy emphasizes a kind of marriage between Western dynamism and Eastern spirituality - a path which promotes self-transcendence through the inner peace of the heart." In his attraction to the dynamic nature of Western culture, Sri Chinmoy leaves behind the spiritual views of the past whereby one must practise meditation alone and shut off from the world." I will argue that the spirit of the poetry of Sri Chinmoy is a natural progression from, and an extension of, the American Transcendentalist tradition, and I will concentrate on making any points of comparison with poets that I view in this context.
Sri Chinmoy's poetic language is highly distinctive in comparison to many other styles, particularly in devotional poetry.
It denotes a rather more innocent approach, rather than sophistication; not so much building on past traditions but taking universal themes and starting afresh. His use of the most basic, and simple language and tropes, brief lyrics, even aphoristic or haiku-styled poems, allows for the portrayal of very intimate but singularly significant moments in the spiritual journey of an individual. These moments then often tend to indicate a larger and more unified context of spirituality - the vision he holds of the absolute oneness of the universe. The personal and the universal are always present in each other.
In this introduction I shall discuss this very characteristic feature of Sri Chinmoy's poetry: the distilling down to a specific concept, which in contemplation then expands the awareness into the inferred reality beyond the physical world. I shall also look at the simple style and language used by Sri Chinmoy to see in what manner and to what extent they reflect the message he wishes to convey. Furthermore, I shall outline the criteria for the particular poems chosen for the study from the prolific poetic works available, indicating why I think they are representative and centrally related to the wider vision of Sri Chinmoy's transcendentalist teaching.
For the most part, the poetic language of Sri Chinmoy is stripped bare of intricate nature imagery, or complex and extended metaphorical tropes. Additionally, the poet uses traditional forms of rhyme and metre quite sparingly, preferring instead the contained brevity of the lyric form in the style of free verse. However, Sri Chinmoy does use the more common metrical forms and rhyme schemes for certain vital themes, as I will show in Chapter 3. In any case, he never fails to maintain his brevity of style and, coupled with the subject matter of the spiritual path, this adds to the heightened austerity of the tone. As Alan Spence has indicated, there are very few things of a material or concrete description in the poetry of Sri Chinmoy, and those things which are to be found, are used as an archetypal code, a symbolic language of man’s inner spiritual life.
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