Question: How can sport and meditation be combined?
Sri Chinmoy: Our philosophy does not negate either the outer life or the inner life. Most human beings negate the inner life. They feel that the inner life is not important as long as they can exist on earth. Again, there are a few who think that the outer life is not necessary. They feel that the best thing is to enter into the Himalayan caves and lead a life of solitude, since the outer life is so painful and full of misunderstanding.
We do not believe in living either a life of solitude or an ordinary human life - the so-called modern life that depends on machines and not on the inner reality, the soul. We try to synthesize and harmonise the outer life and the inner life. The outer life is like a beautiful flower and the inner life is its fragrance. If there is no fragrance, then we cannot appreciate the flower. Again, if there is no flower, how can there be any fragrance? So the inner life and the outer life must go together.
The body is like a temple and the soul or inner reality is like the shrine inside the body-temple. If the temple does not have a shrine, then we cannot appreciate the temple. Again, if we do not keep the temple in good condition, then how can we take proper care of the shrine? We have to keep the body fit, and for this, running is of considerable help. If we are physically fit, then we will be more inspired to get up early in the morning to meditate. True, the inspiration to meditate comes from within, but if we are healthy, then it will be much easier for us to get up at five or six o'clock to pray and meditate. In this way the inner life is being helped by the outer life. Again, if we are inspired to get up early to meditate, then we will also be able to go out and run. Here we see that the outer life is being helped by the inner life.
Both outer running and inner running are important. A marathon is twenty-six miles. Let us say that twenty-six miles is our ultimate goal. When we first take up running, we cannot run that distance. But by practising every day we develop more stamina, speed and perseverance. Gradually we transcend our limited capacity, and eventually we reach our goal. In the inner life our prayer and meditation is our inner running. If we pray and meditate every day, we increase our inner capacity. The body's capacity and the soul's capacity, the body's speed and the soul's speed, go together. The outer running reminds us of something higher and deeper - the soul - which is running along Eternity's Road. Running and physical fitness help us both in our inner life of aspiration and in our outer life of activity.
Question: Many great athletes tell of having experiences of higher consciousness in the form of visions of their performances or oneness with the elements. Where do these experiences come from?
Sri Chinmoy: It is not because these athletes are very spiritually developed that they are having higher experiences. Many people practise spirituality and do not get them. Sometimes it happens that God tries to inspire people in a very special way, at a very special hour. These athletes have killed themselves practising sports for so many years, and now God wants to show them that there are higher realities in life. He wants to tell them: "Do not halt, do not stop here! Now you are doing something for name and fame. If you come in first, you will get joy, and if you come in last, you will feel miserable. But there is another world. In that world, even while you are doing something, you get tremendous joy. Here you are thinking that there are so many things you have to do, so many things in front of you, and you feel that you cannot do them all. But in that other world, you will not only be able to do many more things at one time, but you will also get joy while you are doing those things. You will not have to wait for the results to get joy."
The spiritual life is like that. People who pray and meditate most soulfully get tremendous joy while they are praying and meditating. They do not expect to get some result at the end of two or three hours which will make them happy. Praying and meditating itself gives them joy.
Question: What does your slogan mean: "Run and Become, Become and Run?"
Sri Chinmoy: If we run, we see our capacities becoming fully manifested. Previously our capacities were dormant; they didn't function inside us. But when we run, we bring to the fore our hidden capacities and are able to do something and become something. But once we have become something, that is not the end. Still we have to go forward, because we are eternal pilgrims. Everything in us is transcending. It is like a child. To learn the alphabet is his first goal. He studies and learns it. But will he then give up? No. His second goal is to go to school. Then he wants to go to college. A runner brings forward his capacity and becomes something. Then he looks around and sees some champion runners, and he gets the inspiration to try to become an excellent runner like they are. Perhaps he will one day excel and go beyond them. So there are always higher goals even after we have become something. Once we reach our first goal, we have to run towards a higher goal.
Question: As a meditation teacher, why do you encourage sporting activities?
Sri Chinmoy: I encourage and inspire my students to organize and participate in triathlons, long-distance races and short-distance races precisely because I feel that the world needs dynamism. The outer world needs dynamism and the inner world needs peace. We are all seekers; so we pray and meditate in order to have peace. Again, we feel that if we can be dynamic, then we will be able to accomplish much in our outer life. To be dynamic we need physical fitness at every moment, and running helps us considerably to keep physically fit. Also, running reminds us of our eternal journey in which we walk, march and run along Eternity's Road to our eternal Goal.
How Meditation helps Sport
Question: Does inner running help our outer running?
Sri Chinmoy: Our inner running definitely helps us in our outer running. Through prayer and meditation, we can develop intense will power, and this will power can help us do extremely well in our outer running. Meditation is stillness, calmness, quietness, while the running consciousness is all dynamism. Again, the runner's outer speed has a special kind of poise or stillness at its very heart. We can bring this stillness to our outer life. Poise is an unseen power, and this unseen power is always ready to come to the aid of the outer runner.
Question: Does an athlete who has spiritual purity have greater capacity than an athlete who does not care for the spiritual life?
Sri Chinmoy: Suppose there are two athletes who, on the physical plane, have the same standard. If you are pure and the other is impure, what will happen? If you really have the same standard, then definitely you will be able to defeat the impure one. As soon as you touch the shot, you will be able to control your vital thoughts, mental thoughts and physical thoughts. But when the other one holds it, he will look around to see if others are looking at him. When he is thinking of the audience, some of his strength goes away. As soon as he identifies himself with the audience, what he gets is their worries, anxieties and tension. But when you are throwing, as soon as you hold the shot, there is only you and God. You are not allowing your vital to come forward. You don't open the physical door. You don't open the mental door. Purity is your bodyguard. It does not allow any wrong force to come. You have no idea who is good, who is bad, who is your enemy. Your purity-guard is very strict. It will not allow anything wrong to enter into your mind. So if one athlete has the same capacity as someone else, the one who is purer is bound to win, because he will not allow himself to be attacked by outside forces at the time of competition.
Question: Does the spiritual life actually change the physical form?
Sri Chinmoy: Yes, the spiritual life does change the physical form if while practising spirituality you care for the physical. There are many spiritual Masters who practise spirituality and also care for the physical. I am one of those. Even while I was in India I took regular physical exercise as well as meditating. Again, there are many Masters who don't care for the physical.
The spiritual life does have the capacity to change the physical, but if we do not consciously use the spiritual life to help the body, then naturally the body will respond only to a limited extent. It depends on the seeker - whether he wants his spiritual life to enter into his body-consciousness or whether he wants to have two separate existences. I feel that the two should go together. But again, it is useless if the body becomes strong, but one is not aspiring. The body and soul have to go simultaneously on the spiritual journey.
How Sport helps Meditation
Question: Does the concentration that athletes use help them in any way spiritually?
Sri Chinmoy: Although their concentration is in the physical plane and the vital plane and not in the psychic plane, still it does help. It is a power, like money-power, which can be applied to any purpose. But if you want to buy something subtle, with money-power you cannot do it. For subtle things you need a different type of concentration. There is a great difference between psychic concentration and physical or vital concentration. Psychic concentration is really difficult - much more difficult than physical or vital concentration. It is like the elder brother. But the younger brother can definitely help the elder brother. The concentration-power that you learn from athletics will definitely add to your psychic concentration. And if someone has psychic concentration as well as physical concentration, vital concentration and mental concentration, then that person can easily be a great champion in the athletic world as well as in the spiritual world.
Question: How can we effectively channel physical energy into spiritual energy?
Sri Chinmoy: We have to know that physical energy has only one source, and that source is spiritual energy. As long as we remain in the body-consciousness, we are not aware of this. But when we go deep within, we see that spiritual energy is the source of physical, vital and mental energy. When spiritual energy enters into the physical, it becomes somewhat polluted. It is unable to maintain its pristine purity. What we need is purity on the inner plane and dedication on the outer plane. Inner purity we can get through aspiration, and outer dedication comes through gradual inner purification and inner awareness. When we have both inner purity and outer dedication, then spiritual energy enters into physical energy, and physical energy at that time becomes an added strength to spiritual energy.
Question: How can we benefit spiritually from training for and running marathons?
Sri Chinmoy: The marathon is a long journey. Of course, there is also the ultramarathon, but the marathon is unique and it will always remain unparalleled among long-distance runs. Just as the marathon is a long journey on the outer plane, so is spirituality a long, longer, longest journey on the inner plane. Your own spiritual run is birthless and deathless; it is endless.
When you run a marathon, you are trying to accomplish on the physical plane something most difficult and arduous. When you do this, it gives you joy because it reminds you of what you are trying to accomplish on the inner plane. As you are determined to complete the longest journey on the outer plane, the marathon, so are you determined to reach the Goal in your inner journey. The one journey will always remind you of the other. The outer journey will remind you of your inner journey toward God-realisation, and the inner journey will remind you of your outer journey toward God-manifestation.
Question: What are the best qualities of running as opposed to playing tennis?
Sri Chinmoy: Running reminds us of our inner journey, which is ahead of us. The goal is ahead and we are running towards the goal. It is a great feeling, which eventually grows into a great achievement. Playing tennis reminds us of being an instrument. The tennis ball is a self-giving instrument, always trying to please us in our own way. Whichever way we want to strike it, the tennis ball listens to us. Tennis reminds us of a divine goal, which is to become a perfect instrument of God and to please God in His own Way, and running reminds us of our continuous journey along Eternity's Road toward the destined goal. Tennis and running are like two paths going to the same goal; they both ultimately reach the goal, but they reach it from different directions.
Question: Does the triathlon have any spiritual or symbolic significance?
Sri Chinmoy: Swimming reminds us of our spiritual life. Right now we are swimming in the sea of ignorance, but we are praying to our Beloved Supreme and meditating on Him to be able to swim in the sea of Light and Delight. Running reminds us of our birthless and deathless journey along Eternity's Road.
While we are cycling, we are reminding ourselves of evolution, of how the world is evolving in cycles. When we think of our planet, we think of a wheel turning; our life also is evolving like a wheel. Once upon a time, in the hoary past, we lived in an era of truth. Now we are living in an era of falsehood. There was a time when truth reigned supreme, but now we see at every moment and every place that falsehood is reigning supreme. Our goal is to bring back again the golden age in which truth will be our inner guide and will reign supreme.
I appreciate and admire the athletes who have tremendous capacity in these three major events: running, cycling and swimming. Each event is so significant. We want to swim in the sea of Light and Delight and not in the sea of ignorance-night. We are running along Eternity's Road. And in the process of evolution, our life-process, our life-energy - everything - is spinning so fast. The faster we can go, the sooner we will be able to have outer success and inner progress. And with our outer success and inner progress, we will be able to arrive at our goal infinitely faster than otherwise.
Question: What is a winning attitude?
Sri Chinmoy: A winning attitude, from the spiritual point of view, is a self-giving attitude. If you have a sincere self-giving attitude, then you are more than ready to conquer your own ignorance. In ordinary human life we try to win by defeating others. In the spiritual life we try to win by conquering the unaspiring and the undivine in ourselves. The winning attitude is our eagerness to conquer the qualities that are not willing to progress.
Question: What is the spiritual purpose of competitive sports?
Sri Chinmoy:Our aim is not to become the world's best athlete. Our aim is to keep the body fit, to develop dynamism and to give the vital innocent joy. Our aim should not be to surpass others but to cnstantly surpass our own previous achievements. We cannot properly evaluate our own capacity unless er have some standard of comparison. Therefore, we compete not for the sake of defeating others but in order to bring forward our own capacity. Our best capacity comes forward only when there are other people around us. They inspire us to bring forward our utmost capcity, and we inspire them to bring forward their utmost capcity. This is why we have competitive sports.
Always there should be a goal. Having a goal does not mean that we have to try to defeat the world's top runners, far from it. In the spiritual life, there is no competition. But there is something which is very essential, necessary and inevitable, which we call progress. Our goal should be our own progress, and progress itself is the most illumining experience.
Let us say that we want to make progress; we want to transcend ourselves. Now, if somebody else is with us, immediately his mind or our mind will think that we are competing. In the ordinary life, we compete with others to gain supremacy. But in the spiritual life, we are not in competition with others. We are only trying to transcend our own capacity.
We can think of ourselves as two halves: imperfection is one half, and our sincere cry for perfection is the other half. One side is weakness, and the other side is strength. With our inner cry for perfection, let us run towards our destination and reach the illumination-shore. When our being is fully illumined, then dark, ignorant forces are afraid to come near us. Before we reach the destination, they challenge us. But once we reach the illumination-destination, the ignorant forces do not dare enter into us because they feel that they will be totally destroyed. They do not know that they will only be transformed and illumined.
Question: Would you say that today people are turning to running as a kind of supplement to their spiritual lives?
Sri Chinmoy: You are using the term "spirituality." But in this case, let us use the term "happiness". Many people have discovered that running is a most effective way to bring about happiness. Running demands not only the fitness of the body but the fitness of the vital, mind and heart as well. Sometimes the body is fit enough to run, but the mind is not ready. Sometimes the mind wants to run, but the body does not want to cooperate. When it is a matter of running, all the "members of the family" - the body, vital, mind and heart - have to work together. Through running, the soul wants to offer a feast to all its children. Its joy will not be complete if even one member - the body, vital, mind or heart - does not participate. What running is doing is keeping the body, vital, mind and heart fit so that the soul can get complete happiness.
Question: Can running help get rid of frustration and anger?
Sri Chinmoy: Running is an excellent way to rid oneself of frustration and anger. If you are really angry with someone, go and run. After a mile or so you will see that your anger has gone away, either because you are totally exhausted or because the satisfaction that you gain from physical exertion has replaced your anger. In India one of my mentors used to say that if we were angry, we should jog in place. Instead of telling us to pray to God to take away our anger, he told his students to jog. He always said that we didn't have to cover any distance - just jog in place. Within a minute or two all our anger would go away. He knew that running could be an effective method of ridding ourselves of negative emotions.
Question: For a serious runner, is there any difference between aspiration and ambition?
Sri Chinmoy: There is a great difference between aspiration and ambition. If a runner wants to exert himself to his utmost capacity and reach his best running speed, then that is his aspiration. But when there is ambition, immediately a kind of rivalry starts. Ambition wants to be the best in everything, but aspiration is different. It says, "I will do my best and run regularly. But the result, the achievement, will be entirely at the Feet of the Supreme."
Question: How important is it for a spiritual aspirant to remain physically fit?
Sri Chinmoy: Physical fitness is of great importance in our life. If the body is in good condition, then we can perform all our life-activities well. So it is important to run or do physical exercises every day in order to become strong, healthy and dynamic. If we are physically fit, we will be able to keep ailments and other uninvited guests from entering into us.
In the past, people cared for the fitness of the body because they knew that if they had a healthy body, then they would be able to stay on earth longer. If they were spiritual people, they felt that a healthy body would enable them to continue praying and meditating for many more years. Today also we know that if the body is full of sickness, then we will not be able to pray and meditate well.
We have the body and we have the soul. A spiritual person has to give equal importance to both the body and the soul. If he pays attention only to the body, if he becomes physically strong but spiritually very weak, then for him there will be no peace of mind or inner happiness. Again, if he pays attention only to prayer and meditation and neglects the body, then his body will not be a fit instrument to reveal and manifest God. In the morning he will try to pray to God, but he will have to stop because he has a headache, upset stomach and so forth.
If someone does not get any exercise at all, then the physical will remain unlit, lethargic and a real hindrance to the aspirant. If the physical consciousness does not aspire, it will remain separated from the soul. Then rest assured, you will never be able to achieve perfection. The physical has to aspire in its own way to increase its capacity so that it can hold light. Then the physical will contribute to the spiritual and you will be able to aspire and manifest much more.
So physical fitness and spirituality must go together. It is like having two legs. With one leg I cannot walk; I need two legs to reach my destination.
Just as an outer runner
Daily practises and practises
To run his fastest race,
Even so an inner runner
Must sleeplessly practise and practise
To reach his highest height.
- More answers on our Sport and Meditation page