Self-Transcendence in Weightlifting
Sri Chinmoy is a unique spiritual teacher, in that in the later years of his life, he took an active interest in weightlifting. When Guru came to take up weightlifting, he was already 54 years old (1986); Guru admitted that he felt little attraction to the sport. At the time he was carrying a bad knee injury, which was curtailing his running; this knee injury was perhaps an outer reason for trying something different. But, Guru also said, he just felt an inner command – his Inner Pilot told him to take up weightlifting. He began with a small dumbbell, but soon made very rapid progress. This progress was even more remarkable because he continued even into his 60s and 70s when parts of his body were increasingly frail. Great pillars of the sport, people like Bill Pearl and Frank Zane, began following Guru’s weightlifting career with interest and amazement. They made many nice comments – expressing how they saw Sri Chinmoy was really demonstrating the power of the spirit. Guru was definitely doing something much more than just developing strong physical muscles.
As in many fields, Guru was never constrained by conventional rules and formalities. He created his own lifts, his own weightlifting demonstrations. In whatever Guru did, he was a great innovator. With great spontaneity, he was always trying something new, something different. He wasn't lifting to win competitions or break records; it was a way to inspire others. It was a way to show that, with the power of meditation and prayer, much more is possible than our minds would believe. In his later years, Guru also wished to use his weightlifting as a way to inspire people of an older generation (his generation), that they could still keep challenging themselves. One of Guru's favourite sayings was 'No retirement!'
If you saw Sri Chinmoy in the evening of his life, you would not connect him to the sport of weightlifting. Guru suffered from injured knees, and would often hobble slowly to his weightlifting apparatus, only to lift amazing weights. When his knees could no longer take the strain, he was mainly lifting from a seated position. This meant the weight was being carried all in his arms, which makes the lifts even more difficult.
From this position he lifted many thousands of people in a programme called ‘Lifting Up the World with a Oneness-Heart’. Some people whom he lifted, like me, were very light – I weighed 135 lbs when lifted – light for 6 foot 3 (189 cm). Others were remarkably heavy, such as Paul Gregory who weighed in at over 700 lbs. It really is amazing to lift so much. At a weightlifting ceremony in 2004 that I attended, Guru lifted all kinds of weights, including one lift which involved 50 repetitions of 400 lbs, from a standing position. This always sticks in the mind. It is not actually the hardest lift Guru did – far from it. But, it was more than double his body weight, which he lifted with both hands, 50 times consecutively. This image is something I often keep in my mind when doing my own training.
Lifting weights was, in a way, only part of Guru's reason for lifting. His programme of Lifting Up the World with a Oneness-Heart was an opportunity to meet people from different walks of life to encourage them and to appreciate the good things they were doing for the benefit of others. Guru's philosophy is that the best way to make a better world is to focus on the good things people are doing. It seemed there was something Guru could appreciate in nearly anyone.
I often wondered how people would react to meeting Sri Chinmoy. Firstly, Guru rarely talked, at least in the beginning. The guest would come in and be escorted to a seat. Guru would play the esraj, meditate and then the guest would be invited to be lifted. Afterwards a group of singers would sing them a couple of songs – often composed especially for them.
For your average sportsman, musician, politician, or academic, it was an experience very much different to their ordinary life. It wasn't about expanding any philosophy. It was a simple ceremony where Guru was trying to bring forward the quality of the heart. It was very inspiring to see how Guru could see and bring the best out in other people.
- Next part: Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford