By August 2007, in retrospect, Guru was very ill. His health was failing and his body increasingly weak. No one really noticed; it just felt like Guru was a superman, who would not let any kind of bodily pain interfere with what he wanted to achieve on earth. In truth, that is how Guru was. He had crippling pain in his knees and in the last year often seemed to be suffering from some severe cold. But, it wouldn't stop Guru lifting extraordinary weights, meeting a variety of people, and continuing his dynamic daily schedule. It is perhaps unsurprising we felt Guru's physical frame was indestructible. Anyway, on the day before my departure at August celebrations 2007, I remember walking past Guru (for what would be the last time). Guru was in one of those profound meditations where he seemed to retain hardly any connection with the world and his body. I remember having some silly problem in my mind; I can't even remember what it was now. My feeling as I walked past was the difference between this insignificant human problem and this immense consciousness, where even the biggest problems were as nothing. It felt bittersweet as I walked past. I became aware of a yawning gulf between my present consciousness and what we could actually experience. However, I also felt there was an inevitability in our final spiritual destination – no matter how long it would take. As I walked past Guru, I would always try to give him my problems – ‘to throw them into the universal dustbin' as he described it. So, as I gave some insignificant problem to Guru, that, too, was my final glimpse of his mortal body. I never thought it would be my last.
A few months later, a call came through from a brother disciple that Guru had left this world. The first reaction was shock. I just didn't expect it. I don’t know why, but I thought Guru would have informed us in advance or something like that. But, that was it – no more to see Guru in the physical; it felt very sad. Like many others I travelled to New York the next day to take part in an impromptu memorial event. It was just 6-7 days of silent meditation, music and a dignified opportunity to pay our respects to the physical frame which had offered us all so much. The days and nights passed in their own time frame. The usual rules of life dissipated. I found myself waking at 3:00 in the morning and easily getting up to meditate in the quiet of those sacred hours. I wasn't really making any effort to meditate. I was just sitting there on the benches of Aspiration-Ground, allowing the pervading atmosphere to seep into my body and soul.
The tragedy of an earthly separation soon gave way to that reassuring feeling of meditating in Guru's sacred Aspiration-Ground. The meditation and atmosphere were beautiful beyond description. Just as Guru had infused any meeting with a divine consciousness, so this same divine consciousness percolated effortlessly through the environs of Aspiration-Ground.
After the initial shock subsided, amidst the prayerful meditation disciples shared wonderful stories of Guru's immortal life; from humorous tales of Guru's lighter moments to recollections of memorable meditations, concerts and meetings. It was an opportunity to take stock of a remarkable life and realize all the seeds Guru had sown.
When people ask about Sri Chinmoy, it is hard to know where to start. When the great Swami Vivekananda travelled to the US, he rarely if ever mentioned his own Guru, Sri Ramakrishna, because he felt people would struggle to comprehend him. It sometimes feels like that with Sri Chinmoy, too. Even when you list some of Guru’s outer manifestations, it feels incomplete because deep down I feel Guru’s main contribution is on the inner plane.
The night before Guru left his mortal body, he sold a book of poems and prayers. The last poem in the book was the immortal poem:
"My physical death
Is not the end of my life –
I am an eternal journey."
Sri Chinmoy, My Christmas-New Year-Vacation Aspiration-Prayers, Part 52, Agni Press, 2007.
This felt like Guru's parting reminder that he would always be with us, and there is no end to our inner life. Guru was always much more than his physical existence. It is perhaps why Guru sought to make me value his inner presence so much. It is why Guru didn't always pander to our human wishes and desires; it is why he would sometimes not smile and avoid eye contact. He wanted us to go deeper and see and feel his real spiritual being.
In many ways, I see October 2007 as a beginning rather than an ending. During his time on earth, Guru sowed many seeds, and now over time, these are starting to grow. I am also comforted by something Sri Aurobindo said shortly before his passing. He said he would leave the body because he would be able to continue his work more effectively when not in the body, but it was hard to explain this. I feel Guru is now directly guiding and inspiring those who are seeking to follow in his own footsteps.
Photo top: Projjwal (taken a few days before Guru's mahasamadhi)