By COREY KILGANNON
The New York Times
October 13, 2007
Sri Chinmoy, the genial Indian-born spiritual leader who used strenuous exercise and art to spread his message of world harmony and inner peace, died Thursday at his home in Jamaica, Queens, where he ran a meditation center. He was 76.
The cause was a heart attack, said representatives of his organization, the Sri Chinmoy Center.
Mr. Chinmoy spread his philosophy through his own way of life, exercising and creating art and music. He drew attention by power-lifting pickup trucks and public figures like Muhammad Ali and Sting. He said he had drawn 16 million “peace birds.”
He slept only 90 minutes a day, he said, and when he was not traveling to perform in concerts and spread his message, spent the rest of the time meditating, playing music, exercising and making art.
His followers said he had written 1,500 books, 115,000 poems and 20,000 songs, created 200,000 paintings and had given almost 800 peace concerts.
Drawing upon Hindu principles, Mr. Chinmoy advocated a spiritual path to God through prayer and meditation. He emphasized "love, devotion and surrender" and recommended that his disciples nurture their spirituality by taking on seemingly impossible physical challenges.
“His life was all about challenging yourself and being the best you can be,” said Carl Lewis, the Olympic sprinter, a friend of Mr. Chinmoy’s. “He told his disciples to go out and meet a challenge you don’t think you can do.”
“He’s the reason I plan on running the New York marathon when I’m 50,” Mr. Lewis said in a telephone interview yesterday.
In the 1970’s, Mr. Chinmoy was a guru to several prominent musicians, including the guitarist John McLaughlin, who for a time ran the Mahavishnu Orchestra, a name given it by Mr. Chinmoy, as well as the bandleader Carlos Santana, the singer Roberta Flack and the saxophonist Clarence Clemons.
Mr. Chinmoy gathered with his disciples at a private clay tennis court off 164th Street that doubled as a verdant meditation site known as Aspiration Ground. He built a worldwide network of meditation centers and had more than 7,000 disciples.
Yesterday at the compound, Mr. Chinmoy’s followers — dressed in their traditional white attire — lined up at an altar where he lay in an open coffin. Memorial services are planned throughout the weekend.
Sri Chinmoy Kumar Ghose was born a Hindu in 1931 in what is now Bangladesh. From the age of 12, he lived in an ashram. He said he idolized the track star Jesse Owens.
Mr. Chinmoy immigrated to New York in 1964 to work as a clerk at the Indian Consulate. He opened a meditation center in Queens with a philosophy of celibacy, vegetarianism and meditation and attracted hundreds of followers, many settling near his two-story home on 149th Street.
To achieve spiritual enlightenment, he advocated extreme physical activity, including weight lifting, distance running and swimming.
Disciples put his philosophy of self-transcendence into practice by undertaking challenges like swimming the English Channel or running ultra-marathons, including an annual 3,100-mile race run every year over a two-month period in Queens.
After a knee injury ended his own running, in his 60s, Mr. Chinmoy began lifting weights and within several years could shoulder-press more than 7,000 pounds on a special lifting apparatus. He publicly lifted heavy objects including airplanes, schoolhouses and pickup trucks, to help increase awareness of the need for humanitarian aid.
He also lifted more than 8,000 people since 1988, including world peace figures like Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu. He hoisted the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Eddie Murphy, Susan Sarandon, Yoko Ono and Richard Gere. Mr. Chinmoy lifted 20 Nobel laureates and a team of sumo wrestlers. He lifted Sid Caesar and a (reformed) headhunter from Borneo, and picked up Representative Gary L. Ackerman, a Democrat, and Representative Benjamin Gilman, a Republican at the same time.
“I thought it was some magician’s trick, but it wasn’t,” Mr. Ackerman said yesterday. “He was running extreme marathons before people even knew what extreme sports were. When you were around him, you had the sudden realization you were in the presence of somebody very, very holy and very devout.”
Yesterday, hundreds of his disciples gathered at the tennis court. Many, like Mr. Lewis, had flown in from places around the world. There were condolence letters faxed from world figures, including former Vice President Al Gore and Mikhail Gorbachev, the last Soviet leader, who met and corresponded with Mr. Chinmoy frequently.
Mr. Gorbachev wrote that Mr. Chinmoy’s passing was “a loss for the whole world” and that “in our hearts, he will forever remain a man who dedicated his whole life to peace.”