The saying ‘Better to light a candle than to curse the darkness’ has a poignant relevance to our country after the shadows cast by the Christchurch tragedy. The sense of national grief at the misfortunes of our fellow countrymen, the wonderful outpourings of support, the growing aspirations for a true multi-culturalism and our emerging unity in the face of great challenges, these are evidence of an evolving new identity we are discovering in ourselves and cherishing as a nation.
Co-incidentally, our relay team from twelve different countries has been running from Cape Reinga to Bluff this month as part of a 44 nation peace run promoting cultural understanding and world harmony, and visiting every nation in the Southern Hemisphere. The Sri Chinmoy Oneness-Home Peace Run forms the longest, largest peace run in history, visiting six continents and over 120 nations this year in a wonderful initiative to foster a brighter future and involving hundreds of thousand children.
One of our Auckland team members even spent four days in Antarctica, sharing the torch and it’s message with scientific research personnel and tourists. The symbolism of the torch the runners carry is hugely relevant: ‘We are one world family, peace begins with you and me.’
The Peace Run’s founder, the late Sri Chinmoy, shares the sentiment of Mahatma Gandhi, another of India’s luminaries who likewise commented on our individual responsibility to foster a better future: “First become the change you wish to see in the world..”
Tragedy always carries hidden its wings the seeds of new hopes and brighter tomorrows, like the mythical phoenix rising from the ashes. In the aftermath of the Christchurch tragedy, we are seeing our nation’s identity reshaping itself in response, finding unity and coherence and a choice of itself as compassionate and empathetic, an almost evolutionary jump in our understanding of what we want to be. The diverse nationalities of the Peace Run team found it deeply heartening to see the reflexive goodness in our people, the extraordinary dignity of the Muslim community, and to witness a nationwide generosity of spirit.
Humanity’s great teachers, the spiritual masters, sages and yogis that have been with us over the long centuries, tell us how remarkable and splendid the human soul is, its capacity for love and compassion, the hope it carries for a brighter future and a peaceful world. They remind us that every soul is unique, a special dream of God – and that we each have something new to offer to the world, a gift or talent to uplift and inspire others. It may be in what you already do – baking bread, driving a cab, teaching, working with the sick or afflicted – or it may still be asleep inside you, your present life a preparation and readying for its discovery. Much of our happiness lies in a life lived close to this purpose.
In spiritual literature a life lived close to the soul’s purposes is the path of karma yoga, the recognition that our daily life is not separate from our spiritual practices, our prayer and meditation, but an equal and integral part of it. All of our life activities present us with endless opportunities to stay in touch with and manifest our very best qualities. Thus karma yoga is the spiritual path that embraces life and everyday living as a way to spiritual development and progress. Rather than the path of seclusion, karma yoga sees in the everyday challenges of life countless opportunities to learn, deepen and multiply our many good qualities – love, compassion, patience, peacefulness, strength – in the face of the many experiences that test our equanimity. Living itself is our sadhana – our training ground in selflessness, egolessness, humility and detachment.
In the book ‘Yoga and the Spiritual Life’ Sri Chinmoy writes: ‘Yoga is union. It is the union of the individual soul with the Supreme Self. Yoga is the spiritual science that teaches us how the Ultimate Reality can be realised in life itself. There are various kinds of Yoga: Karma Yoga, the path of action; Bhakti Yoga, the path of love and devotion; and Jnana Yoga, the path of knowledge. These three are considered to be the most important kinds of Yoga. There are other significant types of Yoga, but they are either branches of these three or closely related to them. In Jnana Yoga there is a significant branch which we call Raja Yoga, the Yoga of mysticism.These paths all lead to the same destined Goal.
‘These main three yogic paths serve as the three main gates to God’s Palace. If we want to see and feel God in the sweetest and most intimate way, then we have to practise Bhakti Yoga. If we want to realise God in humanity through our selfless service, then we have to practise Karma Yoga. If we want to realise the wisdom and glories of God’s transcendental Self, then we have to practise Jnana Yoga.
‘Karma Yoga is the Yoga of dedicated service. In the ordinary life, we have a motive when we work. There is always something we want to achieve. But if our only aim is to please God in His own way through our dedicated selfless service, if we do not care for anything else — not for name or fame or outer success — then this is real Karma Yoga. In Karma Yoga we progress toward union with God through our selfless actions.
Karma Yoga is desireless action undertaken for the sake of the Supreme – it claims that life is a divine opportunity for serving God. Those who follow this path pray for a strong and perfect body. They also pray for a long life. This long life is not a mere prolongation of life in terms of years. It is a life that longs for the descent of the divine Truth, Light and Power into the material plane. The Karma yogins are the real heroes on the earthly scene, and theirs is the divinely triumphant victory.’
Karma yoga is the spiritual path that embraces life and everyday living as a way to spiritual development and progress. Rather than the path of seclusion, karma yoga sees in the everyday challenges of life countless opportunities to learn, deepen and multiply our many good qualities – love, compassion, patience, peacefulness, strength – in the face of the many experiences that test our equanimity. Living itself is our sadhana – our training ground in selflessness, egolessness, humility and detachment.
Sri Chinmoy once offered us a simple exercise in this light: he invited us to imagine a beautiful flower in our spiritual heart and to feel that this flower embodied a quality of our souls, a quality we wished to cultivate.
Imagine the flower opening and expanding, he said, until the soul-flower and the quality it embodies fills every part of your being. The fragrance of the flower is the fragrance of your soul – love, peace, inner poise, whatever quality you have chosen.
When you go out into your world, the activities of the day, be conscious of the inner flower, the soul’s quality, and offer it to everyone you meet. If you practise this self-offering you will multiply this quality in your nature very quickly. Whatever you imagine and offer from your heart will grow inside you – this is what you will eventually become.
The Peace Run – its full name the Sri Chinmoy Oneness-Home Peace Run – is all set to revisit New Zealand next year. It’s our 14th edition of this nationwide and global torch relay first inspired by Sri Chinmoy way back in 1987, and we’ve covered tens of thousands of kilometres across our country’s backroads and highways since that inaugural run. We’ve met five of our successive Prime Ministers, scores of M.P.’s, dozens of our sporting legends and tens of thousands of schoolchildren nationwide, sharing the Peace Run’s simple, inspirational message that peace begins in our own lives, and that we ourselves are the creators of a brighter, more peace-filled future for all of humanity.
Along the way we’ve left behind lots of enduring reminders of the Peace Run: recreational Peace Miles in city parks, peace trees and gardens, even Peace Cities. These provide focal points for peace, with inspirational plaques highlighting the message of the global relay – these form a network of peace sites globally called the Sri Chinmoy Peace-Blossoms program. Auckland’s mayor Len Brown met us last year, along with members of the All Blacks.
We were recently remembering too our meeting with Beatles legend Sir Paul McCartney and his wife Linda in Western Springs park before his big concert there that evening back in the 90’s. They loved the Peace Run and lots of pictures were taken by us all – here’s one of our principal organisers, Subarata, with Sir Paul holding the torch.
Last Christmas while in Bali I met up with our Irish team, Dublin-based couple Mangala and Ambarish – they’ve been with the relay all over the UK and Europe and years ago were instrumental in the Republic of Ireland becoming a Sri Chinmoy Peace-Blossom Nation, dedicated in its entirety to peace and joining dozens of other similarly dedicated countries. Over our Balinese breakfast we hatched lots of plans.
In Auckland last year we purchased from a Czech foundry a beautiful bronze sculpting called ‘Dreamer of World Peace’. Created by the talented English artist Kaivalya Torpy, the larger than life artwork is modelled on the Peace Run’s founder Sri Chinmoy, depicting him in a meditative way that captures the indispensable inner aspect of peace. We hope to share this with New Zealanders and find a suitable outdoors site to install and offer it to the public. A quotation of Sri Chinmoy’s would highlight the Peace Run message:
‘O dreamers of peace, come.
Let us walk together.
O lovers of peace, come,
Let us run together.
O servers of peace, come.
Let us grow together.’
In early 1998 Sri Chinmoy completed what was then his most prodigious poetic work – the 270 volumes of his monumental 27,000 Aspiration-Plants – and so concluded an epic venture spanning almost fourteen years. It was another of those relentlessly sustained and patient undertakings which together coursed like a braided river through his life, those multiple strands of inspiration, of paintings and Soul-Birds and music and wonderfully original things.
One evening we were with Sri Chinmoy shortly after the last poem in this series had been written. He asked my wife Subarata and I how New Zealand intended to commemorate the culmination of this vast poetic work, and watched us while we discussed various ideas, mostly predictable and rather unimaginative ones.
Unhappy with our own thoughts, we asked him if he instead would think of things that would really make him happy. Sri Chinmoy rose and went through a doorway into an adjoining room for two or three minutes – then came back with a series of ideas that quite astonished us. It was as though he had also stepped through an unseen portal into another world where the future, the unimagined, the possible, lay awaiting its manifestation – and gathered from there a few trinkets to bring back. The first of these? – that we shake 27,000 people’s hands, giving each of these people a card of poems and a sweet!
This unique challenge quite consumed us for some time. We visited school assemblies, announcing a handshaking record attempt to honour this achievement; stood at escalators in shopping malls with a microphone to announce ourselves, armed with a hand held manual counter to accurately record numbers; visited universities and busy streets; toured towns, distributed 27,000 sweets, gave away 27,000 large cards – each carrying an explanation of Sri Chinmoy’s achievement and a sample sprinkling of 27 poems:
“If you want to remain always happy
Always perfect and always fulfilled,
Then always keep inside your heart
A pocketful of sweet dreams.”
Everything about this unusual commemoration charmed people a lot, and left 27,000 spirit-awakening, heart-warming mementos with their 27 inspirational poems scattered throughout this peace hungry world .
The old Slovenian farmer grinned through a few remaining teeth and waved to us.
“Mir” I called out. ‘Peace!’
“Svetonia Mir!” World Peace.
He waved enthusiastically again in response.
I am told that the World Harmony Run was greeted by ecstatic villagers only days after the Balkan war ended in the early 90’s. Perhaps the old man remembers us from those days or quite possibly the symbol of peace – an Olympic style torch clasped by a runner – resonated deeply with him.
There were many hugely memorable moments in the two weeks that I, a New Zealand citizen, experienced when I recently joined the relay for peace that travels through 49 European countries every two years.
Local running groups, mayors and school children all had a chance to run with the team to hold the iconic torch.
We could proudly tell people that such luminaries as Mother Teresa and Nelson Mandela had participated in our programme and that now “each one of you can also hold our torch and make a wish for a better world”.
The World Harmony Run visits over 80 nations each year and inspires countless lives with its simple message – that we each can help to bring about a brighter future for all of mankind by building an individually more peaceful world. Like the ripples from a stone tossed into a pool, our thoughts and everyday actions impact on the world around us and shape it in every moment.
And like those champions of humanity, each individual is encouraged to help build a happier world with their thoughts and actions. If any proof was needed then it was us – school teachers, engineers, waiters and painters – who could spread goodwill through an event like this in our spare time.
Just ask an old farmer in Slovenia – he might nod in agreement.
~ Daniel Rubin
Daniel, who has been meditating since 1997, has been inspired by Sri Chinmoy’s vision to share peace at a grassroots level and has participated in the Peace Run and the World Harmony Run in many countries around the world.
On rare occasions, politicians put politics aside to join together for a greater cause. The Grand Opening Ceremony of the Asia-Pacific World Harmony Run 2012 on 5 March was one such occasion.
National’s Nikki Kaye and Labour’s Jacinda Ardern were among MPs and international diplomats who passed an Olympic-style peace torch from hand to hand in Aotea Square, before it was carried by runners across the country. The torch relay then continued through nearly a dozen Asia-Pacific nations including Australia, Indonesia, Japan and China.
The ceremony featured an impressive line-up of speakers and performers. Allison Roe, who broke the women’s world marathon record in 1981, was the Master of Ceremonies. Speakers included Adhiratha Keefe, who has served United Nations agencies for three decades and travelled all the way from New York City to be part of the running team. He was the first UN staff member to swim the English Channel.
National MP Nikki Kaye emphasised the importance of loving one other so that we can live in peace, and Labour MP Jacinda Ardern related her experiences helping people from diverse cultures get along. Other dignitaries included MPs Melissa Lee and Rajen Prasad, as well as diplomatic representatives from Australia, China and Japan.
A celebration of harmony would not be complete without music, and there was plenty to entertain the midday crowd on a hot Monday in the Square. School kids sang of their dreams for a better world, the innocence of youth pleading with the adult world to bring peace at last. Eden Roberts, a talented songwriter from Western Springs College, sang an original composition reminiscent of early swing jazz. Faith Miru from Hamilton, armed with nothing but a small guitar and a sonorous voice, had the whole of Aotea Square in rapture as she fused reggae-style riffs with words of unity and heart.
Former Waitakere mayor Bob Harvey and community organiser Laurie Ross were presented with Torch-Bearer Awards by the World Harmony Run team. Both recipients were recognised as having delivered outstanding services to the cause of world peace, and most recently were involved in the recent official proclamation of Auckland as a ‘City for Peace’.
Once the merriment was over, it was time for the hard yards. Matt Maihi of Ngati Whatua O Orakei offered a karakia to officially commence the torch relay, before Auckland Marathon women’s champion Lisa Robertson led the World Harmony Run team down Queen Street. The relay would reach Australia by 21 March. The Asia-Pacific relay runners then converge with a World Harmony Run team starting in Europe at the final meeting point of Astana, Kazakhstan on 20 July.
“The runners visit schools five days a week to spread the message that world peace must begin with you and me.” says national coordinator Jogyata Dallas. “New Zealanders are kind-hearted people who believe in peace, and we always get a really supportive response up and down the country.”
The World Harmony Run was founded by the peace visionary Sri Chinmoy in 1987, and involves over 100 nations biennially. This year marks its global 25th anniversary. Sri Chinmoy offered regular peace meditations at the United Nations from 1970 until his passing in 2007. He also published hundreds of books, many of which focused on the relationship between inner and outer peace. A quote from one of his lectures on the subject was read out at the ceremony, and it provides an illuminating insight into how we can all contribute to building a brighter world:
“Right now fear, doubt, anxiety, tension and disharmony are reigning supreme. But there shall come a time when this world of ours will be flooded with peace. Who is going to bring about that radical change? It will be you: you and your sisters and brothers, who are an extension of your reality-existence. It will be you and your oneness-heart, which is spread throughout the length and breadth of the world. Peace is unity. Peace is oneness, within and without.”
A version of this article originally appeared in ‘Indianz Outlook’, April 2012
A version of this article originally appeared in the ‘Indianz Outlook’ monthly newspaper
“Peace schools” could one day be the norm if a trend towards more holistic methods of education continues. Many parents now look for schools that not only teach intellectual skills, but encourage blossoming of the wisdom needed to use these skills for the benefit of everyone. Qualities like compassion, tolerance and equanimity are more valuable than ever as global civilization faces new challenges.
One of the most popular types of alternative education in New Zealand is the Montessori system. In 2006 Mark and Helena Royden founded Golden Grove, a Montessori primary school in Onehunga, after they moved to New Zealand from Canada. They soon had to relocate to a larger building to keep up with the increasing number of pupils. In addition to a rigorous academic curriculum the school offers activities such as tai chi, nature trips and silent reflection.
Golden Grove models itself on similar Montessori schools around the globe, such as Oneness-Family School in the USA which is an “International Peace Academy” for young people. Both schools pride themselves on accommodating a wide range of students from many different cultural and spiritual backgrounds. What makes them unique compared to mainstream schools is a more holistic approach in which the development of virtues and inner peace is given great importance alongside scholastic excellence.
Peace education, the idea that children should be taught how to contribute to global harmony and understanding, is an idea that has blossomed greatly after World War II and the establishment of the United Nations. Sri Chinmoy is one of the pioneers of peace education. His many books on the subject include A Child’s Heart and a Child’s Dream, in which he explains that the spiritual growth of a child is just as important as their physical growth. Without nourishing the inner spark of consciousness that each child embodies, a parent or teacher cannot unlock his or her full potential.
On the importance of children, Sri Chinmoy writes:
“We talk about perfection, but this perfection that we speak of will come only from children – from a child’s heart and a child’s dreams. The old creation has to surrender to the new”.
For more information about Golden Grove School, visit its website:
Oneness-Family School in Maryland, USA has been pioneering the ‘peace schools’ model for many years:
A version of this article first appeared in ‘Indianz Outlook’, May 2010
A crowd of over 200 people filled Auckland's Mahatma Gandhi Hall to hear a free talk on meditation by visiting UK presenter Devashishu Torpy. He told the audience that meditation was a practical skill for solving both global and personal problems. Many participants reported feeling happier and more peaceful after the evening sessions.
Over two evenings, Devashishu had the mostly Western crowd chanting Sanskrit mantras and practising meditation techniques to calm their minds. Devashishu related how he became a student of spiritual master Sri Chinmoy at the age of 8 along with his parents. His Guru taught him how to meditate early on and when he became older Devashishu started to travel the world giving lectures and practical workshops on the subject. He said Sri Chinmoy believed world harmony was possible if human beings used their heart more than their mind.
Mr. Torpy’s visit was arranged by the Auckland branch of the Sri Chinmoy Centre, which offers a large number of free meditation classes throughout the year. Sri Chinmoy also founded a biennial torch relay for peace called the World Harmony Run which includes a free programme of peace education in schools.
Several members of the Sri Chinmoy Centre recently returned from New York where they competed in the Self-Transcendence Six and Ten Day Races, some of the most gruelling long-distance running events in the world. The fastest New Zealand competitor, Dharbhasana Lynn, ran 555 kilometres in 6 days. He will return to New York on 13 June as the first Kiwi to enter the Self-Transcendence 3100 Mile Race, the longest certified footrace in the world. Sri Chinmoy, who passed away in 2007, was the founder of these races which give people an opportunity to combine physical endurance with spirituality.