When I ran my first of three New York City Marathons, in 1999, at just past the halfway point, I came upon a table in Queens that the Sri Chinmoy organization had set up, offering free bagels and bananas to the runners. I needed that boost. It didn't help my mediocre time, but it did put more of a bounce in my plodding pace.
I had heard of Sri Chinmoy before, and I had thought of him as just one of many subcontinent Asians who had come to North America and established themselves as Western swamis. I didn't examine his philosophy and didn't engage with his followers, today numbering around 7,000. “Less harmful than a few gurus with bigger names and reputations” was the extent of my perception. That marathon refreshment gave me some appreciation for the spiritual leader.
Running was important to Sri Chinmoy, I learned later. He started the World Harmony Run in 1987. Now it's the Sri Chinmoy Oneness-Home Peace Run. It's a relay race around the world to promote international friendship and understanding. Though there is a traveling team of peace runners, anybody can take part, for free, and can even hold the torch if he or she wants to.
In a press release, the Peace Run folks say that “the message of the Peace Run is simple: peace begins with each individual, symbolizing humanity's universal aspiration for a more peaceful world.”
This year's world run will make its only stop in Ohio today from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at the gazebo at Toledo‘s Walbridge Park, 2761 Broadway St., with a greeting ceremony at noon. The Peace Run people will present Torch-Bearer Awards, which are given to inspirational people, to Judy Lee and Woody Trautman, board co-chairmen of the MultiFaith Council of Northwest Ohio and leaders in getting greater Toledo recognized as a Compassionate Community; the first Torch-Bearer Award recipient was the Olympian and run supporter Sudhahota Carl Lewis (Sudhahota is his Sri Chinmoy spiritual name).
The runners will be coming from Ann Arbor, where they planned to be Friday, with Windsor, Ontario, the next destination on Sunday. If you want to run, just remember that many want to be torchbearers, the run continues to the next destination, and if you decide to run far with the torch, you have to find your own way back to your starting point.
According to the srichinmoy.org website, Sri Chinmoy liked to accomplish things. It says as a runner he completed 225 road races, including 22 marathons and five ultramarathons. He performed big weightlifting feats, and from that, he started a program called “Lifting Up the World with a Oneness-Heart,” in which he would honor people who contributed to humanity or the world by physically lifting them above his head; among the 8,300-plus people he picked up (on a platform) were Archbishop Desmond Tutu and President Nelson Mandela of South Africa.
He also dabbled in music and writing. He composed more than 21,000 songs, in Bengali (13,625), English (7,300), Sanskrit (180), and French (33). In 1995, he wrote 2,700 songs, and in 1976, he composed 300 songs in one day. He performed in 777 peace concerts. And he has published more than 1,600 books and 116,776 poems and aphorisms.
Sri Chinmoy's organization has meditation centers around the world and promotes peace and harmony. As a 12-year-old orphan, Chinmoy Khumar Ghose, born in 1931 in what is now Bangladesh, entered a spiritual community in India where the teacher, Sri Aurobindo, was developing integral yoga, and he stayed for 20 years. In 1964, Sri Chinmoy moved to New York City. Sri Chinmoy died in 2007, at age 76—well, the website doesn't use the “died” word; it says he entered Mahasamadhi, “the mystic process through which spiritual masters leave the body.”
Aspiration and self-transcendence were spiritual forces in Sri Chinmoy's philosophy. His goals in sports and culture demonstrated betterment, and he believed that sports brings people together. Individual effort and personal change are what leads to world peace, he believed. He also saw all world religions as having unity, so he took part in interfaith activities. “Forgiveness, compassion, tolerance, brotherhood and the feeling of oneness are the signs of a true religion,” he said.
Will running a few steps with a torch in a global run bring about world peace? Considering the shooting taking place today, from Chicago neighborhoods and Ukraine to Gaza to Iraq and Afghanistan, and including deadly gunfire in Toledo, it's doubtful for this year. But as more people attend to little and larger goals of community and oneness, peace might prove to be possible.