“What did you do in New York?” My friends and family know I go to New York three times a year, so they don’t keep asking. But, perhaps if a work colleague discovers I’ve been to New York, they may excitedly ask what I did in New York. I might lazily suggest some story about visiting Museums / Central Park / Statue of Liberty, etc. and everything else you are supposed to do in New York. The truth is that none of this has much appeal. Every evening I would be going to a function with Sri Chinmoy in Jamaica, Queens, either at Aspiration-Ground or an indoor venue.
With Guru, there was no ‘typical’ function, each would be different; it was constantly evolving and you never knew what might happen. But, often at the start there would be a short period of meditation. In later years, Guru would often be walking up and down whilst meditating. When his knees became too bad, he would cycle around the court on a tricycle or use a battery-powered buggy-type chariot. I would be meditating, getting a view of Guru passing by at regular intervals. On Christmas trips, these ‘walking meditations’ were very common and would last for longer. After these meditations, there would often be singing groups who would come up and perform.
I was in very few singing groups. As much as I love singing on my own, I never seem to have much patience for practising in groups. But, when I did sing in front of Guru, it was a great experience. There was a heightened sense of awareness; it felt like Guru was conscious of everything – even though he may be lost in meditation with his eyes closed and barely looking in your direction. At the end of the performance, Guru may momentarily open his eyes and offer his appreciation and blessings.
Guru could be very tolerant of low quality singing groups. Sometimes, he would encourage the weakest singers like anything; it seemed Guru had infinitely more patience and tolerance than everyone else in the function hall. But, at other times, Guru could be very exacting and demanding of other singing groups. He would want them to enunciate every note and accent correctly, and would make them repeat the song until they sang it to his satisfaction. In particular, Guru would frequently exhort singers to sing with great energy and dynamism. When singing soulful songs there is a tendency to try and sing ‘like the angels’ – soft and sweet. But, Guru often wanted power in singing; if singing was too weak, Guru would retort something like – ‘Oi, have you people not had breakfast?’ The next time, the singers would sing with twice the energy and volume and you would understand the difference in energy that Guru had wanted to see. I really enjoyed watching Guru train singing groups, but I usually preferred to watch from the benches rather than actually take part.
For my part, other items in functions could range from meditation to selling books, seeing videos and the performance of plays. Sometimes, the functions would be very serious, other times they would be very humorous in tone. I remember one wet April, when we were all stuck indoors, the New York sky had opened with rain. Guru was walking around PS-86 in a walking meditation. We were all trying to meditate as seriously as possible. But, at one point, Guru stopped and tapped the shoulder of some disciple. Very softly, Guru just said to him, ‘Entertain us’. So he went up to the front completely unprepared to entertain an audience of 1,000 people. But, it was all spontaneous and unprepared. I can’t remember a word he said, but it was very funny, and lifted the spirits.
Perhaps Guru had picked up that we were struggling to meditate for a long time, so the best way to raise our consciousness was to try humour. This is what it was like – one moment serious meditation, the next moment comedy, and the next Guru could be talking about a serious issue. Guru never seemed to have a plan, but ideas came spontaneously.