Our early disciple years
I think my first trip to New York and physically seeing Guru was in April 1981. I knew then with certainty that Guru was an extraordinary spiritual master. When I returned to Adelaide, my erstwhile home, the path filled my life and governed everything I did. Guru’s photo I had been given as a new disciple became imbued with the presence and personality of the living Master – in my meditation it brought back the quintessential purpose of my life and summoned my keenest aspiration.
Guru had invested a little of himself in both Subarata and I – the ‘emanation’ or ‘inner being’ he spoke of assigning to every disciple he accepted – and this was felt in a growing spiritual confidence, a light touch and detachment from the outer concerns of life, a growing sense of my own soul’s deeper purpose.
Sharing the gift of meditation
I had given meditation classes before visiting New York and before meeting Guru, after only a few months on the path. It was at an adult education course run at a Government teaching institute, and a lady disciple in the Centre was the tutor. I sat at the back, listening – on the second evening she announced that she was going overseas, and that I would be taking the following evenings. I was naturally very surprised, but not unconfident, and I really enjoyed it. She left the room, amidst much surprise and wonderment, and I went to the front and began what would become a lifelong vocation.
I learnt that the essentials of teaching were not so much about information but a genuine love of people, humility and a deep sense of responsibility – I knew I had been entrusted to represent the spiritual life; these people had changed their lives to come along to listen to me; and that what I said and who I was could change lives, change the world in innumerable little ways. I understood that teaching meditation was a sacred gift, and that I was also the beneficiary. In a gypsy life of change and wanderings, that clear soul’s purpose and love of sharing about meditation has remained constant and unwavering, coming to the fore whenever there is an inquiring face or an open heart.
Food is God
Long before me, Subarata had known that a vegetarian diet would enable an evolutionary jump, a refinement of consciousness needed to move upwards and onwards. For her, much of Sri Chinmoy's path was familiar terrain. In my case, having been brought up in a home littered with firearms, a freezer packed with venison steaks, and a gun-toting, manly father who would have had a seizure at the thought of a vegetarian son, I lagged a little behind. On our sometimes six-day mountain expeditions with a few of Subarata’s fervently vegetarian friends, I would conceal a few salami sausages in my backpack, crawling from the tent under late stars to enjoy my furtive addiction.
In Adelaide, we were quite passionate about health, knew about organic food, home gardening, sprouting, fasting and juicing, green smoothies, the body-temple. Our flight-path home was littered with books on organic living, eating raw, kefir recipes and sprouting, the home-baking of super-breads, organic gardening and fasting regimes, despite the jet pollution raining down. Inspired by the opulence of fruit trees and the lush vines, Subarata launched into a 21-day juice fast, consuming gallons of the irresistible juiced figs – only to discover that the nutrient-dense fruits had deceived her and she had in fact finally gained a few bonus extra ounces.
Prasad at the Centre took some getting used to – sometimes chocolates, icecream, cake, a solitary fruit item – and we only later came to understand the deeper truth about the responsiveness of food to consciousness, the meaning and science of ‘prasad’, and ‘Annam Brahma’ – that food is God.
In our disciple-owned cafés and restaurants worldwide, the vegetarian diet and the God-becoming life of others combine:
While you are cooking, you have to feel that you are cooking for the supreme Guest, the Supreme Himself, who will eat in and through the hundreds of people who will come to the restaurant. Don’t think of the people who are going to eat as human beings. Think only of the Supreme inside the hundreds and hundreds of people who will eat. Constantly you have to feel that you are cooking, not for any human being, not for an ordinary human, but for the Supreme Himself in hundreds of human beings. The Supreme is the supreme Guest, and as a guest He is coming to you in hundreds of human forms.
Sri Chinmoy 1
Our Flight-Path home
In the ’80s, our second residence-to-be in Adelaide was found on a quiet Sunday evening, an old brick house in the suburbs. The rent was very low, surprisingly so – was the house haunted, had a murder taken place? – and the landlord clearly in a haste to secure us as tenants. The garden finally persuaded us, apricot trees and clusters of summer grapes jostling for space on laden vines, lemon trees and the spreading boughs of fig trees drooping beneath the weight of their plump, purple-ripe fruits. The landlord spread his arms wide at the magnificence of it all, clearly moved by his own generosity and the irresistible grandeur of our new home. We signed up, moved in, and spread what little we possessed throughout the several rooms.
In the evening, a great mounting roar, the house trembling, teacups tiptoeing across the mantelpiece and almost falling – and now we discovered we were directly beneath the flight path for the international airport. We had been duped! The great jets were so low and so close you felt you could throw a handful of stones and chip paint off their underbellies, or with your slingshot score a direct hit on the Qantas kangaroo on the tail. But the fruit trees and the absurd rent still compensated.
We gave many meditation classes here, timing our “Now breathe in peace…” with aviation schedules, one ear alert for sounds of incoming flights, the teacups safely stowed away from misfortune.
In my first weeks as a disciple in Australia, I plunged into sports as well, competing in public fun runs and helping out in the road races and triathlons that we held in Adelaide. The 80’s were golden years in the Sri Chinmoy Centre for the many disciples discovering or furthering their interest in fitness and running. Sri Chinmoy himself was avidly training, even covering long distances in the New York winters, often after midnight in the bitter cold, entirely undeterred by weather. His discipline and warrior spirit amazed everyone.
The focus on running, fitness and physical excellence was – and still is - a major feature of our path, with Sri Chinmoy himself the inspirational exemplar. His conversations and writings illumined us all about the role of fitness in the quest for yoga, spiritual progress, self-discovery; and how the aspiration to run and to always improve would flow into our inner lives as well, a groundswell of intensity, discipline, the aspiration and hunger needed for the inner running of meditation.
I worked for a time as a bobcat driver in a fertilizer factory, running the 5km to and from work each day and logging up the miles. A good friend and I trained and raced together, pushing each other to discover our capacity and our limits. I had become vegetarian, a feature guideline of our path, and my body felt light and vibrant, a hi-octane platform for my running zeal.
Subarata was a reluctant jogger, preferring cycling and swimming in which she excelled. But gradually her distances on the road increased. Running opened up an inner world for her – the tired body and the reluctant mind surrendered to her dogged will to continue, and in distance events she felt peaceful, her mind disappeared, life was joyful. Running was not simply a metaphor of the life journey, but led her to experience the deepest essence of her life, to confront her limits and surpass them.
After one triathlon event we held, I was up all night packing up and storing race gear. Driving home just before dawn, only a block from our home, I drove into the back of a police car. As though in a Charlie Chaplin movie where even the smallest things seem besieged by lunatic possibilities, I suddenly found driving a car to be very strange. Approaching some traffic lights, my reaction times dulled by fatigue, I failed to respond normally and we ploughed ungracefully into the car in front of us. Two clearly outraged policemen got out and approached my window.
Sometimes in moments like these – again in the spirit of life’s Chaplinesque comic-ness – we react oddly to serious things. Suddenly both Subarata and I started giggling uncontrollably like a couple of schoolkids, quite unable to stop ourselves even with the belligerent police sergeant rapping his knuckles on the window. Somehow, though, it all ended well.
A divine kidnapping
Subarata had a great love for animals, and her affection for her various animal friends was boundless. For a time, early on during our years on the path we lived out in Port Adelaide, a seaside suburb of South Australia. Our neighbour, a violent and often drunk man, kept a harassed and unhappy spaniel in his backyard and administered frequent beatings to the wretched dog, which cowered in its kennel most of the day. Subarata and our neighbour exchanged frequent insults over the fence, occasioned by the latter’s brutal treatment of his dog. Phone calls to the local council and the RSPCA did little to resolve the situation, so she took matters into her own hands.Subarata placed an advertisement in the local paper, offering a gentle spaniel free to a loving home — and waited. After interviewing several responding families and finding a suitable new home for her canine cause célèbre, she arranged for the successful family to call one afternoon when our neighbour was at work, kidnapped the delighted dog and saw it driven away to its new home. She then placed an official-looking letter on the neighbour’s front door from a supposed animal rights group, warning that legal proceedings were in place to prosecute the owner for mistreatment of his pet and barring him from any further animal ownership. The dog’s new owners and their young children were delighted with their playful and grateful and lovely new family member. It was a very happy result for all concerned.
An awakening purpose of the soul
Hugely under-qualified but shamelessly inventive about my employment history, around this time I landed a nearby job as a hotel handyman, changing light bulbs and unblocking drains and tinkering with air conditioners. Subarata found work as a motel domestic, changing beds and cleaning rooms. I can’t say for certain, but we seemed quite happy then, this simple life. Why do we remember these inconsequential details, let alone recount them? The years on the path lay waiting, stretching out before us like the great airport runway, the Adelaide years of our beginnings and discoverings.
In my own first years of learning meditation, I felt such a growing urge to do something, an awakening purpose of the soul, and along with my equally restless companion Subarata, repeatedly petitioned Guru to liberate us into the future that was stirring inside us. He would say, “Soon, soon – but not yet, not yet..." and three long years would pass before his “Now, where would you like to go?" released us from all restraints and sent us far away to a distant shore.
God is constantly taking birth at every moment inside you — in what you say, what you do and what you become. God is constantly coming into you in a new form. With each new thought, each new idea, you will feel that a new God has dawned, a new God has taken birth.
Sri Chinmoy 2