Monday, February 7, 2011

Sri Chinmoy: Spiritual Leader Honored in Seattle

On a bright, late autumn afternoon, a diverse group of admirers and disciples of the late Sri Chinmoy gathered beneath the Aurora Bridge on the banks of Seattle’s Ship Canal to honor the life and legacy of this spiritual leader. Having learned of my project through a mutual friend, I was invited by Agraha Levine, Member of the Seattle Sri Chinmoy Centre and Seattle World Harmony Run Committee to join them and document the ceremony.

Before taking this assignment I was not familiar with the work and teachings of Sri Chinomy nor did I have any insight or connection to the local community of followers.  I quickly came to appreciate that while perhaps I was unaware of his teachings, Sri Chinmoy’s life work as an advocate for world peace, had in fact attracted the attention, loyalty and admiration of millions of followers around the world. His most recent published work “The Jewels of Happiness” includes dedications from such prestigious world figures as Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Nelson Mandela, Jane Goodall and recognizes his 37 years of leadership of the Peace Meditation at the United Nations by invitation of Secretary-General U Thant.

In addition to his peace work, Sri Chinmoy also placed significant importance on the role physical strength and overall fitness play in personal peace and meditation. In an effort to promote international friendship and understanding, in 1987 he founded the World Harmony Run, whose participants carry the torch of harmony passing it hand to hand. To date the torch has traveled through more than 100 nations attracting 1000’s of participants worldwide.

Raj Manhas
To celebrate his many accomplishments, representatives from more than 13 countries were present at the dedication of a bronze sculpture erected in Sri Chinmoy’s likeness. Local leaders spoke eloquently of Chinmoy’s message of peace and the impact he has had on their lives. Speakers included Raj Manhas, Superintendent of North Thurston Public Schools and former Seattle Superintendent of Schools; Suzie Burke, President of the Fremont Dock Company (who also donated the land under which the statue now stands); Daulot Fountain, Leader of the World Harmony Run and owner of Fountain Light & Electric; Richard Harrington, Co-Owner of Sound Mind & Body Gym and Nayak Polissar, Co-owner of Silence-Heart-Nest Restaurant.

Moni Neradilek (rear right) and members of Peace Choir
The dedication also included memorable singing performances. Moni Neradilek, conducted the Peace Choir soothing the audience with a series of hypnotic and meditative chants and vocal flights. Renowned vocalist and director, Pat Wright, led the Total Experience Gospel Choir in a rousing rendition of Jackie DeShannon's "Put A Little Love In Your Heart."

As the ceremonies came to a close, many of the participants lingered to share in the moment and quietly reflect on the memories and emotions that unite them in celebrating Chinmoy's legacy.  Each person approached the statue, some to have a photo taken with a likeness of their mentor, others to pay silent tribute to a spiritual leader and, in many cases, a dear friend.  Regardless of their actual relationship to Chinmoy, each gesture of respect was characterized by a serenity and profound sense of calm that was apparent in every person present.

In the weeks that followed I had the great pleasure of sharing lunch with Agraha Levine at Silence-Heart-Nest, a vegetarian restaurant also in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood founded and staffed by followers of Sri Chinmoy. Agraha was gracious in explaining to me not only the spiritual practices espoused by followers of Chinmoy’s teachings, but emphasized how members of the community apply the insights of peace and harmony into businesses they operate. In their own way these businesses and their founders,
Silence-Heart-Nest, Sound Mind & Body, Transformation-Surprise Laundromat, give evidence of their spiritual values to the customers, suppliers and communities they serve.

In his book “The Jewels of Happiness”  Chinmoy’s writes thoughtful meditations on topics such as  Peace, Love, Joy, Hope, Patience, Wisdom and more. In his essay on Peace, he sums up rather simply, but eloquently his hope for mankind: “It is only through inner peace that we can have true outer freedom.” 

Through their meditation practice and practical application of their spiritual beliefs, this community of spiritual beings seems on course to achieve just that.

May such peace and freedom be granted to all who seek it.

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