Of Heaven and Hell
On my last day of celebrations, I saw a play entitled 'Heaven and hell'. It was mainly an opportunity for jokes about getting into heaven or not. For example:
"… A lawyer was asked by Saint Peter what good deeds he had done on earth. The lawyer thought for a considerable time and remembered the occasion, several years ago, when he had given a quarter to an old blind man.
St Peter consulted with the angels for a while, and it was decided the lawyer would be refunded his 25 cents and sent over to hell...."
It was funnier if you can imagine Abakash dressed up as an old bearded Rabbi, delivering these words with great timing and aplomb.
After a series of droll jokes about St Peter, Pinnochio and being married to the devil's sister, the play also gave a more serious reminder of Guru's philosophy
of heaven and hell.
"…But again, where is Heaven? Heaven is not just a place where we go afterdeath. We go to Heaven and hell every day. Heaven and hell are states of consciousness. In the perfection of the mind, in the peace of the mind, Heaven abides. In the frustration of the mind, in the depression of the mind, hell
lives. Every day we experience Heaven and hell in our lives. Frustration, depression, insecurity, worry, doubt, fear, anxiety and jealousy all make us
live in hell. Security, beauty, joy, peace, light and love all allow us to dwell in Heaven at every moment…"
Heaven and Hell at Sri Chinmoy Library
My flight home, that last evening, was delayed from 11pm to 5am. So I had an extra six hours in JFK airport, complete with loud cheesy elevator music,
unavoidable 24 hour news coverage and uncomfortable chairs not designed for sleeping on. If nothing else, I decided that if do make it to heaven, I really
hope it doesn't resemble JFK terminal 7 departure lounge…
Essentially heaven and hell is a state of mind, but, still, some places make it easier to be in a good consciousness than others, and airports are not one of
If 14 years ago, someone had asked me where heaven on earth may be found, I would never have imagined Queens, New York would be anywhere near the top of my list. But, after 14 years of following Sri Chinmoy's path, I look forward to our spiritual celebrations as the highlight of the year.
As you approach Aspiration-Ground, apart from the odd tree in bloom, the environment is dominated by speeding cars, cheap and cheerful 99 cent stores,
and a predominance of concrete - (with no civilised cycle lanes I would want in my model city.) But, when you sit down to meditate in our sacred meeting place, the external location soon becomes irrelevant. Even fire engines sirens and the stream of traffic can't infiltrate the aura of peace and serenity which permeate the atmosphere. Even if your mind has its usual stream of useless thoughts, the beauty and sacredness of this divine environment bring your heart to the fore and gives that valuable sense of a spiritual connection - a spiritual feeling that can be all too easily lost in the maelstrom of ordinary life.
It is in places and times like this, that the pull of the world loses its appeal; what can really compare with the inner fulfilment and peace of
Meditating at Aspiration Ground is like enjoying a downhill bike ride. There's some unseen force which gives a spiritual push to even the most un-cooperative
Back home in the UK, in salubrious surroundings, I sometimes struggle to be awake and alert early in the morning. But, here in NY, it seems almost
effortless to get up from 5am, and wander down to the court. 5- 6am is not quite 'Brahma muhurta' (3am), but it is undoubtedly special, the soft light of the
rising sun giving a wonderful backdrop to the inner silence. It is the perfect start to the day, a glimpse of heaven in uptown New York.
Sri Chinmoy's philosophy is to combine the peace of silence, with a purposeful dynamism. In this spirit, during celebrations, there was a Songs of the Soul
concert in Manhattan, with many music groups offering a soulful and joyful interpretation of Sri Chinmoy's music. I really enjoyed the concert, the music
of Sri Chinmoy has an undoubted capacity to uplift the spirit. In particular, it is worth mentioning the finale to the concert. A group of local New York
disciples, performing an arrangement of 'Twenty First Century' led by Paree. It was remarkable how well practised this diverse group of amateur musicians were.
The song soared and energised, finishing in a rousing and soulful finale. I don't think there was anyone in the audience unaffected by the infectious
dynamism and hope that the song, words and arrangement offered.
I'm not sure what heaven on earth looks like, but to see the general public streaming out of the concert hall with such inspiration and appreciation, must
be a start.
As I stayed to the end of celebrations, I was also able to see a 10 day race in progress for the first time. For many years, I've followed these epic endurance
races from the safe distance of a computer in a far away land. But, here was a chance to see the runners in motion.
Running continuously around a 1 mile circuit for 10 days on end, may not be the most obvious route to heaven. But, it was touching to be in direct connection
with this race, with such an unassuming intensity and energy. I'm sure the runners will have both glimpses of heaven, and moments of hell in their epic 10
days of transcendence.
Sri Chinmoy's philosophy was always about movement, dynamism and transcendence; to experience the highest, we can't just stand still. To the runners on their epic quest, I can only think of the immortal words from the Upanishads 'The soul cannot be won by the weakling.'
What is heaven and what is hell? I still don't really know. But, I would happily incur the inconvenience of waiting in an airport for six hours - in return for
those precious moments of peace.