A Sri Chinmoy Centre in Ireland
I don’t recall much of what happened during our early visits to Ireland – those memories have mostly fallen into the sea. But it was Guru who invited us to go there and to start a Centre, asking Subarata, “Why do you not go and give meditation classes in Ireland? Surely your family there will be able to help you.”
Subarata’s native land seemed very different from the faraway islands of New Zealand. Ireland was an ancient world, its 10,000 and more years of human habitation in evidence everywhere: the crumbling castles and ancient stone walls, the music you heard that dealt with legends and heroes, the spirit of the place. The ploughed fields reeked with pathos and history; the earth was filled with the effluvia of the vanished generations, their flesh and bones, their tears and blood. Countless lives had come and gone, brief as the shadows of clouds passing across landscape. Their swords and ploughs and helmets were stitched into the earth, their stories hidden beneath the dark soil of every field. No wonder, then, the turreted castles and moats, the granaries secured in siege-proof towers, the vaulted iron gates – everyone had invaded Ireland.
We felt ourselves, though, to be a part of something new, as though the country were opening to a different future, and we had become entrusted to serve this new tomorrow. We were Guru’s ambassadors out in the frontier lands, and every poster we put up, every leaflet given to a stranger, was imbued with our hopes and our fervour and sang with possibilities.
Subarata was funny, determined, adventurous, filled with a bubbling will that surfaced at the needed moments. The soul of Ireland seemed to be in her, her optimism, her sense of purpose, her clear certainty. Money – the lack of it – brought a nagging unease, though the New Zealanders back home were watching out for us. Subarata was unperturbed, her faith in Guru unwavering. One night she offered as prasad a consoling reminder, in Guru’s own words, of the reality of the unfailing grace ever present in our rather precarious lives. We would read:
“Once you have accepted the spiritual life
With all the sincerity at your command,
Then it is a real insult
To your own soul, to your own Master
And to your own Lord Beloved Supreme
If you worry about your future.
Are you not supposed to have placed
Your past, present and future
In their hands?”
Sri Chinmoy 1
I have a wonderful old video of this first trip to Ireland. There we are, jammed into the old Cunningham family car and tootling about the streets of Dublin, everyone talking at once, with much shouted advice to Subarata the driver, much hilarity and noise and excitement. The camera zooms crazily about, the lovely unedited footage of real life: O’Connell Bridge, Dubliners filling the busy streets, and there’s the famous Liffey River, meandering mud-brown out to the Irish Sea.
Subarata placed an appealing ad in a local paper for accommodation and found a perfect home for the next few weeks, at least for the three Auckland girls. Our three boys ended up in a freezing one-bedroom apartment on the south side of the Liffey: sleep on the floor; fifty pence in the meter, please, every time you shower. Snow lay on the Dublin hills, plumes of cold mist followed each exhalation – the coin-operated showers rankled.
But we met up each day to flier for classes and a proposed Peace Concert – and again in the evening in the warm and spacious house occupied by the girls. Each night we took turns to cook and a competition was proposed, girls versus boys, to see who could produce the best meal. The rules? No pre-packaged foodstuffs, nothing in a tin or bottle, and also a little frugality, please, in view of our limited finances.
Night one and the girls turn out a moderately pleasing dinner, cautiously voted a 6.9 out of ten. Night two and the boys swing into action – a bean dish has everyone searching for compliments and Abhijatri makes a sensational trifle dessert. Immaculately dressed as waiters, the boys hover and serve, positively fawning in their zeal to win. A nine out of ten!
Then pandemonium breaks out – Shvastanee discovers a package of pre-made custard, one of the trifle’s essentials, cunningly hidden in the waste bin and our dinner gets downgraded to a three out of ten! Debate over the harshly punitive scoring runs deep into the night and from now on each evening dinner is laced with suspicion, inspections of the rubbish bins, snooping and allegations of secret packaged ingredients. On that first visit together, dinner time becomes a gender battlefield!
I also recall that when checking in at Heathrow for our flight to Dublin we were informed our luggage was hugely over the weight limit, and some monstrously inflated surcharge was deemed payable. We filled our carry-on bags with forty of Guru’s meditation books and other class essentials till our backpacks threatened to split, then placed them on our shoulders. Figuring the stewardesses would only see us entering the plane from the front, we then wore our raincoats over the top to conceal the distended bulk on our backs. Subarata, knees buckling, looked like the hunchback of Notre Dame. I wrapped another illicit box in gift paper, draped a coat nonchalantly over it and we lurched undetected onto the plane.
It amazes me how everything always works out – we kept on being shown that whatever you imagine can be accomplished if you’re brave enough, desperate enough or if you pray enough.
I gave my first classes in Ireland at the Dublin Astrological Society Hall, while on the same night and at the same time Subarata offered a class at a second venue. When we met later in the evening, I told her about two great seekers in my class who I felt would be disciples. About sixteen people came to this first course, and five of them stayed to join the path.
Our two great seekers were Mangala and Ambarish. With them there was that sense of mutual recognition so often felt when we meet those who are somehow a part of our inner family, or perhaps are meant to be – the easy familiarity of being among kindred souls. We had tea with them after the second night of classes, pizza on the fourth night, and a picnic in the Dublin hills on the following weekend. They had become our friends, and have remained so – it was as though Guru had straight away brought them to himself. The classes were the open door, God’s Hour had struck, and everything was simple.
When we told them the requirements of the path, Ambarish told me they had just bought some cartons of Chilean red wine. What to do? In a spirit of fun I told them it would be several days before Guru saw their photos for his consideration – could they drink all of their wine before that time? To their credit, they saw through my unserious remark and laughed. The bottles of Chilean wine are probably still languishing somewhere, but now in someone else’s cellar.
Guru was set to personally visit Ireland during this time, and we worked hard to arrange a Peace Concert and a meeting with the Prime Minister. Everything was proceeding rather well, with concert requests flowing in each day and the classes inspiring us all. Then we had a message from Guru – would we mind if he cancelled his visit; he was deeply tired, too tired for the rigours of travel. We were all touched by the manner of the request, by Guru’s trust in us to be unperturbed and happy, by the sense of oneness and intimacy conveyed in his language. Of course we would not mind – besides, Guru was preparing himself for a much more demanding tour of several European countries where one concert alone would bring many thousands of people.
Subarata was determined that we should all go on this upcoming European adventure, and we scrambled to find enough money. I doubt we would have contemplated even the possibility of going had it not been for Subarata’s absolute confidence that it could and would happen. Faith creates reality and bends the amorphous realm of possibility to its will – it is the operation of an intelligence that senses the over-reaching Power of God and Guru, connects us to the Infinite, banishes impossibility. Her resolve swept us all along. And so, instead of our own Irish concert, we ended up attending Guru’s concerts in Paris, Bratislava, Prague and Budapest.
Returning to Dublin after our grand tour, on a crowded and jostling Paris metro we had all of our meager Ireland money stolen by clever pickpockets – we had barely enough coins left to get to the airport for our Ryan Air, home-bound flight. Passing through Irish customs, we were not asked for evidence of supporting funds during our stay, one consolation at least.
The other day, just a week ago, I called our Dublin Centre. There were about thirteen disciples present. Our Centre president’s parents and sister were also there. They were very, very nice to me. I blessed them, all of them, and then to my greatest joy they were able to sing for me. When they sang, I was so deeply moved. Then I blessed them individually over the phone and gave them joy by cutting jokes and chatting.
When I hung up, right on the telephone that I was holding, I saw so clearly Subarata’s soul. She said to me, “Guru, what about me? You have not blessed me!” I was not thinking of her at all! I was blessing our Dublin disciples. Then, with such joy, love and affection, I blessed her, and she was so happy. Subarata came from Ireland, and from the soul’s world she has kept a connection with her Ireland. Even as the leaders of our Auckland Centre, she and Jogyata have worked very, very hard to bring disciples to our Dublin Centre.