Running for Peace
It's mid-day in Auckland on a summer Thursday. The Domain grandstand, a popular landmark for local runners, has been transformed by a bright array of helium balloons. The Auckland Girls Grammar School band are belting out a succession of festive songs and a large body of lunchtime runners are warming up, out to do justice to a new mile circuit of the park.
The occasion is the inauguration of New Zealand's first Peace Mile, an accurately measured one mile loop of the Domain which links Auckland with a network of over fifty Peace Mile cities worldwide, and focuses on the Olympic theme of athletics and world harmony.
The person after whom the Peace Mile is named has also arrived.
Smiling and composed despite an exhausting flight from New York, Sri Chinmoy mixes unobtrusively with local runners. He is the inspiration behind history’s longest running event, the recent 43,000k Peace Run, a relay spanning six continents and involving hundreds of thousands of athletes in eighty countries.
The director of the Peace Meditations at the United Nations in New York, Sri Chinmoy is also an internationally respected spiritual leader who has dedicated his life to world harmony. His international marathon team organises over 500 races each year worldwide and provides essential support to several major outside events.
Today Sri Chinmoy does not speak but rather, standing in a semi-circle of attentive runners, offers several minutes of silent meditation for the Peace Mile inauguration. It's an unusual moment and the silence is unexpectedly powerful.
Some well-known faces are present. Auckland's mayor, in high heels, confesses she has left her running shoes behind to avoid having to run! However Parks and Recreation director Barry Bonner, an enthusiastic supporter and architect of the Peace Mile concept, has left his suit at the office and is lining up for the inaugural one mile race. Richard Tout, NZ's record holder of 24 hours, 100 miles and 100k, is also there along with ultrarunner Sandy Barwick.
The Park Director now offers some reflections on the need to find inner peace, acknowledges Sri Chinmoy's unique contribution to athletics and world peace, and unveils the sign. There is generous applause and then silence as everyone reads the gold and green placard. Try to be a runner reads the quotation at the bottom, and try all the time to surpass and go beyond all that is bothering you and standing in your way. Be a real runner so that ignorance, limitations and imperfections will all drop far behind you in the race.
Olympic canoeist Ian Ferguson starts the one and three mile races around the newly established loop, amid cheers from a large contingent of schoolchildren. New Zealand's first Sri Chinmoy Peace Mile is now fact.
Sri Chinmoy is unique among spiritual leaders in his belief that sport, particularly running, is an important 'personal growth' discipline, cultivating qualities which are important to the spiritual life he advocates.
Running form two important disciplines practiced by his students – on the one hand developing physical wellbeing, strength and dynamism; and on the other, inner peace and poise, mental strength and inner capacities. A decathlon and sprint champion in his own youth, Sri Chinmoy then turned to weightlifting to help him overcome a chronic knee injury.
Inspired by their teacher's personal example, many of Sri Chinmoy's students have applied his philosophy of self-transcendence to their own field of endeavour – many have swum the English Channel, some hold national and international running records; one, Ashrita Furman, holds over 100 current Guinness world records, itself a record for the most held by any person!
Sri Chinmoy offered the following comments on competitive sport:
"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 constantly surpass our own previous achievements. We cannot properly evaluate our own capacity unless we 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 capacity, and we inspire them to bring forward theirs. This is why we have competitive sports. Our goal should be our own progress, and progress itself is the most illuminating experience."
On the benefits of meditation for runners:
"Through 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. The outer life, the outer movement, can be successful only when it comes from the inner poise. If there is no poise, then there can be no successful outer movement. Poise is an unseen power, and this unseen power is always ready to come to the aid of the outer runner."
Sri Chinmoy's own running serves as a reminder that he is not just another armchair philosopher. A veteran of 21 marathons and also some ultra-marathons, Sri Chinmoy still participated in his students' races and followed an astonishing daily schedule of weight-training and workouts that leaves little time for rest, right up until his passing in 2007. At the Domain Sri Chinmoy jogs slowly around the new Peace Mile on his injured knee, a humble figure in a green tracksuit whose inspiration and talents have touched so many lives. One is reminded of his words to the first of his students to complete a marathon: "Now you see what is true for all human beings – we are all truly unlimited if only we dare to try and have faith . . . our goal is always to go beyond, beyond, beyond. There are no limits to our capacity because we each have the infinite Divine within us."
This article was originally written for a New Zealand running magazine following Sri Chinmoy's second visit to New Zealand in 1989.