The Many Names of the Master
by Vidagdha Bennett January 1st, 2009
Sri Chinmoy came into this world between 5:13 and 5:30, an hour before sunset, on Thursday, August 27th, 1931. According to the Indian calendar, it was the month of bhadra, towards the end of the monsoon season.
Throughout his lifetime, the child that was born on that day to Shashi Kumar Ghosh and his wife Yogamaya was known by many different names and appellations. This is a humble attempt to reveal the significance of some of these names.
The names by which a spiritual Master is known are extremely sacred. For a devotee, they are almost too sacred to utter. In Sri Chinmoy’s case, some names are widely known around the globe, while others are not. Again, there are others which perhaps shall never be known. For most of us, however, our love and devotion for this God-Soul are encapsulated in one simple word – ‘Guru’ – and we were privileged to address him by this beautiful title hundreds upon hundreds of times.
When Yogamaya gave birth to her seventh child at the family home in East Shakpura, it seems that no formal male or female name had been chosen in advance of the baby’s arrival. It was the Indian custom in those days to pray for the divine inspiration to name the child only after its birth, when the baby’s gender was established and its inner and outer propensities had begun to emerge. In the meantime, the child was given a temporary name.
The child was born during Ganesh chaturthi, the time of year during which Lord Ganesh is believed to have descended to earth. (Lord Ganesh, also known as Ganapati, is worshipped for a ten-day period which varies each year according to the lunar calendar.) Thus it seemed auspicious to give the child the name Ganapati. This name proved particularly apt. Physically he bore a resemblance to the beloved elephant god because of the size of his head and stomach. Predictions about Ganapati’s future made by the wise grandmothers on both sides of the family linked him with other aspects of this cosmic god. As Sri Chinmoy’s elder brother Chitta explained:
“When [Madal] was an infant, his head and abdomen were comparatively larger than the rest of his body. His horoscope name is Ganapati, so our grandmother used to say that he was definitely going to be another Ganapati – Siddhi Data – the giver of realisation and also the scribe who noted down the Mahabharata from the sage Vyasa in one sitting. Ganapati also has a big head and stomach. Our grandmother said that Madal was going to be a great writer like Ganapati. Many, many years ago she prophesied this. She was right.” (excerpt from “Chitta’s Notebook” in My Brother Chitta)
Sri Chinmoy revealed that his second grandmother endorsed this view that the child would be a writer:
“Another grandmother prophesied that Ganapati would be a clerk. For a village woman to have a grandson who is a clerk is a real achievement. What she actually meant was that Ganapati was destined to deal with paper. She was right! In his later life, Ganapati went on to write many, many books. Instead of becoming a clerk, Ganapati became a poet and author. This is how her prophecy came true.” (Compassion-Affection versus Deception-Destruction)
It is not known how long the family employed the horoscope name Ganapati for the little child. It seems that it was soon replaced by his affectionate nickname. In later years, however, Sri Chinmoy did restore the name ‘Ganapati’ as a pseudonym in some of his autobiographical stories. And it gives one pause to reflect when we recall that in February 2007, at the age of seventy-six and less than eight months before he passed behind the curtain of Eternity, he spent three entire days among the elephants of Thailand. The connection with Lord Ganesh, the giver of realisation and the remover of obstacles, was present at the dawn of his life and at its close.
One of Ganapati’s grandmothers unwittingly played a key role in the choice of his next name: Madal. When it became evident that the child would be born during the month of bhadra (the month of turbulent weather), she reminded the family of the Bengali village belief that those who are born during this month cause untold destruction. The truth of her dire prediction was lent credibility by a dramatic event that occurred on the day of the child’s birth. Sri Chinmoy used to take great delight in retelling this significant story:
“The day I was born, our house in the town was burnt to ashes. Therefore, my grandmother said to the family members that this rascal would destroy the whole family.
My mother said, ‘No, my child is going to bring tremendous name and fame to our family.’
A week later my grandmother composed a couplet in Bengali that said: ‘The bhadra-born people turn everything topsy-turvy.’ The name of August is bhadra in Bengali, but in the Chittagong dialect we say bhada. The words to the poem were:
Ek bhada jar Ut put tar
My mother also composed a couplet in Bengali saying that he who is born in this month, bhadra, is definitely going to beat the golden kettledrum. The golden kettledrum is being played in the Heavens by the Cosmic Gods. The poem was as follows:
Ek bhada jar Sonar madal tar
They gave me the name Madal, which means ‘kettledrum’.” (To the Streaming Tears of My Mother’s Heart and to the Brimming Smiles of My Mother’s Soul)
In other versions of the same story, Sri Chinmoy seems to indicate that this warning about his destructive tendencies was an oft-repeated refrain from that particular grandmother.
And so it happened that the image of the kettledrum came to be synonymous with the boisterous child and he acquired the nickname ‘Madal’ permanently. It appears to have been used within the family circle to the exclusion of all subsequent names as a token of their infinite affection and love.
The ‘destruction’ portion of the grandmother’s prediction bears further examination. When speaking of spiritual matters, Sri Chinmoy used to emphasise that what Indians traditionally call the Destroyer aspect of God is, in fact, the Transformer aspect. In the process of evolution, imperfection is transformed into perfection, ignorance is transformed into wisdom and darkness is transformed into light. The great Sanskrit mantra from the Upanishads is:
Asato ma sad gamaya Tamaso ma jyotir gamaya Mrityor ma amritam gamaya
[Lead me from the unreal to the Real. Lead me from darkness to Light. Lead me from death to Immortality.]
This is the prayer of each and every seeker. In one sense, negative qualities must be destroyed before divine qualities can enter, but Sri Chinmoy always preferred to say that darkness, ignorance and untruth must be transformed from within. In his opinion, ignorance was nothing other than limited light in the process of becoming unlimited light.
So the mysterious conflagration that engulfed the family house and happened to coincide with Madal’s earthly arrival may be interpreted in a spiritual sense as proof of the immense transformative power that he brought with him.
In reference to his own family, although Madal did not bring about its destruction, his passing did signify the end of the Ghosh line. Of the seven children born to Shashi Kumar and Yogamaya, not one married and had children. All of them entered the spiritual life. A maternal aunt and several cousins followed suit. One by one, they all passed away within the hallowed precincts of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, with the result that what was once a huge, extended family is survived today only by a handful of distant relatives with whom Sri Chinmoy maintained no contact. In this respect, Madal’s appearance did signify the end of this illustrious and pious family.
The name ‘Madal’, with all its attendant sweetness and affection, remained the province of close family members for as long as they lived and, indeed, long after he came to be known as ‘Chinmoy’ and eventually ‘Sri Chinmoy’. This is exemplified by a letter Sri Chinmoy composed to his long-departed father at the time of his father’s centenary celebrations and which appears as the preface to his 500th book:
April 14th, 1982
My dear Father,
On the occasion of your most auspicious centenary, I am offering you my five hundredth rose, “I Am Ready” from my crying and smiling heart-garden. May you remain in heavenly Peace, Light and Delight until I come and join you.
Yours in the Eternal Father Supreme, Madal
On another occasion, towards the close of his sister Lily’s life, Sri Chinmoy made an emergency trip to Pondicherry, South India, to visit her at the Nursing Home. When he entered the room, he was accompanied by his brother Mantu. He greeted his sister, but she was barely in this world and was not conscious of his presence. Then Mantu said to her, “Maduliar has come.” Immediately, Lily opened her eyes and greeted her beloved youngest brother with utmost joy. Sri Chinmoy told us that the name ‘Maduliar’ was a very sweet adaptation of ‘Madal’ that was only used by one or two very intimate family members.
The musical instrument from which he derived the name ‘Madal’ is actually a two-headed hand drum. It is, on average, two feet in length and has a cylindrical shape with a slight bulge in the middle. The drum is held horizontally, suspended by a neck strap, and is played with both hands. It was originally made from a hollow tree trunk, but most madals nowadays are made of wood or clay. These kettledrums are popular folk instruments because they are compact and easy to carry.
Madal himself liked his name because of its ancient links with the great Moghul Emperor Akbar, whom he admired enormously:
“Ganapati used to admire Akbar, the greatest of the Mughal emperors. Of all the Mughal emperors, Akbar the Great was the one who wanted most sincerely to unite Hindus, Muslims and Christians into one religion. He tried extremely, extremely hard to bring about his lofty goal. For him, there was only one religion, which was love of God. Ganapati was happy that, according to historians, the emperor Akbar was an expert in playing the madal-kettledrum. Akbar had many singers and musicians of the highest order in his court. He also had many, many musical instruments at his disposal, but he liked the kettledrum the most.” (Compassion-Affection versus Deception-Destruction)
In later years, Sri Chinmoy ensured the perpetuity of his childhood nickname by bestowing the name Madal Bal (‘the sound of the kettledrum’) on the Divine Enterprises begun by his students in Switzerland. He also named the twice-yearly circus put on by his students Madal Circus to represent the innocent delight of this favourite entertainment.
In a number of songs that he composed using the word madal, Sri Chinmoy liked to rhyme it with badal (thunderbolt) or pagol (wild). Together, they comprise a portrait of his childhood days in the village – noisy, wild and carefree. This atmosphere is best captured by his exquisite song “Sumadhur Sure”, composed on his 47th birthday in 1978, in which he uses all three words:
Sumadhur sure antara pure Dake more prema bithika Madal badal akashe pagol Hasi ananda gitika
“Inside the very depth of my heart In a sweet and soulful tune The love-avenue calls me. Kettledrum and thunderbolt are enjoying A divinely wild game in my sky And are offering me fountain-songs Of smile and delight.” (Bela Chale Jai)
Any discussion of the name ‘Madal’ must return at last to his mother Yogamaya’s most profound prediction: “He is destined to be played on by the Gods and Goddesses in the skies.” Everything that Sri Chinmoy accomplished during his earthly sojourn was at the behest of the Divine. He used to advise his students to adopt the same code of life, invoking the words of Sri Krishna to his dearest friend and disciple Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita: “Nimitta matram bhava savyasachin.” (“Become a mere instrument.”) When one contemplates all that Sri Chinmoy achieved during his lifetime, in so many diverse fields, it is clear that he surrendered himself unconditionally to become an instrument – a golden kettledrum – so that not only the cosmic gods and goddesses but the Supreme Himself could play in and through him at their sweet Will.
The necessity for Madal to have a proper given name did not arise until 1936, when he was five years old. At this time, the inspiration for the name came directly from Madal’s second oldest brother, Chitta. This is how it came about, recorded in Chitta’s own words:
“In 1936, when we visited the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, the Ashram Secretary, Nolini Kanta Gupta, wanted to know Madal’s real name, because Madal is a nickname. I was a little bit puzzled. What suitable name could we give to our youngest brother? Our eldest brother’s name is Hriday Ranjan. My name is Chitta Ranjan. My younger brother’s name is Manoranjan. Then Prana Ranjan was coming to my mind to give as Madal’s real name, but it was not satisfying my heart. All on a sudden, I got an inner message. A divine voice echoed and re-echoed in my heart: ‘Chinmoy, Chinmoy!’ My human mind never thought that this name would one day be accepted, loved and adored by countless truth-seekers and God-lovers.” (This and the following excerpts from Chitta’s notebooks are reproduced in My Brother Chitta)
Chitta gives the divine meaning of this name and shows how in Bengali the addition of the suffix -moy changes the pronunciation from Chitmoy to Chinmoy. Chitta also expresses his gratitude to God for the inner vision that gave him the capacity to see the Divine in his little brother:
“Chit plus moy = ‘Chinmoy’. Chit is consciousness; moy is full: full of consciousness, consciousness all-pervading.
God, out of His infinite Compassion, gave me the insight to see our youngest brother the way he is supposed to be seen. I was so fortunate that I knew who he was. I loved him dearly. He, too, reciprocated. We love each other deeply, soulfully, unreservedly and, perhaps, unconditionally, too.”
It is significant that Chitta’s own name is derived from the same Sanskrit root – Chit, meaning consciousness – and this link between the two brothers in name is yet another manifestation of their deep inner connection. Again, ‘Chinmoy’ as a proper name was not altogether unknown to Chitta. At the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in the 1930’s there was a female devotee of the Mother named ‘Chinmoyee’. But, ultimately, it seems that the inspiration to name his youngest brother ‘Chinmoy’ came directly from an inner, divine prompting.
It is intriguing that the responsibility for giving a formal name to the child devolved upon Chitta rather than upon the parents. It seems that, to some extent, Chitta had already assumed the role of father figure to Madal – a role that would become permanent after the passing of Shashi Kumar Ghosh in 1942. It is not known whether there was any formal naming ceremony at this time, but it does seem that it coincided with Hriday’s decision to cast his youngest brother’s astrological chart according to the ancient system created by the sage Bhrigu.
When Hriday took the remaining members of the family to the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in March 1944, Madal officially became Chinmoy to everyone outside the close family circle. Chinmoy’s first opportunity to have the blessings of Sri Aurobindo came a few weeks later, on April 24th, the Darshan Day that commemorated the Mother’s final arrival in Pondicherry. At this time, he stood in the long queue with other much older Ashramites to pass by Sri Aurobindo and the Mother for a few fleeting seconds. Chitta describes how the Mother broke her customary silence in order to draw the Master’s attention to the young boy:
“In 1944, during the Darshan time, the Mother herself introduced Chinmoy to Sri Aurobindo, saying, ‘Hriday’s youngest brother, Chinmoy....’ Usually the Mother never did this kind of thing. Although some of us came long before Chinmoy and joined the Ashram, Mother used to refer to us as Chinmoy’s brothers and sisters. Always Mother used to introduce me as ‘Chinmoy’s brother’. We have been in the Ashram now for at least forty years. Even now, when they talk about us, many members in the Ashram say, ‘Chinmoy’s brothers and sister’. Such affection, such love he enjoyed both from the Mother and the members of the Ashram.”
It is interesting to note that although the Mother gave spiritual names to Sri Chinmoy’s sisters, she did not do the same for Hriday, Chitta, Mantu or Chinmoy. From 1944, when he became a permanent member of the Ashram, until 1964, when he left for America, Chinmoy retained the same name. One might even say that he grew into the meaning of his name as his realisation deepened. In his poem “An Orphan Boy”, written on May 24th, 1998, he says:
“There was an orphan boy. His name was Madal Chinmoy. He hailed from a wee village, Shakpura. He became his family’s ananda fuara.
“Madal, kettledrum of the cosmic Gods, Became Chinmoy, Consciousness-full. God’s Compassion-Eye made him A Teacher of His inner School.” (Unpublished)
On December 2nd, 1977 a schoolchild disarmingly asked Sri Chinmoy, “Do you like your name?” His reply was:
“Yes, I do like my name. There are various reasons why I like my name, but the main reason is that inside my name I see continuously an expansion of my own consciousness. Now, you may want to know what consciousness is. Consciousness is a very, very long bridge that connects earth’s helplessness with Heaven’s fulness.” (Jharna-Kala Art Quarterly, Vol 1, No 3)
His perception of the role of consciousness as the bridge between this earthly realm and the Divine can easily be read as a statement about his own role as a spiritual Guide:
“Consciousness is the connecting link between earth and Heaven. Consciousness connects the cry of the finite with the Smile of the Infinite. Consciousness is the connecting link between earth’s aspiring reality and Heaven’s smiling Reality. It is the bridge between the reality that is growing and the Reality that eternally is.” (The Significance of a Smile)
According to ancient Indian philosophy, the highest state of realisation is the triple consciousness – Satchidananda, which translates as ‘Existence-Consciousness-Bliss’. At the core of this word is the same Sanskrit root chit. The exalted state of Satchidananda is the goal of all spiritual aspirants and, by name and by destiny, the young Chinmoy came to be fully identified with it. He writes:
“There are seven higher worlds and seven lower worlds. An aspiring human being enters into one of the seven higher worlds and makes progress in the inner life. Like a bird, his aspiring consciousness flies from one world to another, until finally he finds himself in the seventh world, Satchidananda, the world of Existence, Consciousness and Bliss. There he becomes consciously and inseparably one with the Supreme Pilot.” (The Vedas: Immortality’s First Call)
When discussing how this youth eventually came to be known around the globe by a single name, it must be remembered that at the Sri Aurobindo Ashram first names were entirely self-sufficient. In the small, eclectic spiritual community that was established at Pondicherry, there was no longer any need for surnames, and we know that nicknames were not encouraged. Elders had the suffixes –da or –ji (male) or –di (female) attached to their first name as a mark of respect, but since Chinmoy was junior to most of the Ashramites when he arrived, this did not apply to him until many years after he had departed for the West. During his two decades at the Ashram, he was, quite simply, ‘Chinmoy’ – secretary to Nolini-da (the General Secretary of the Ashram), champion athlete, poet and fellow Ashramite.
There were some close friends and admirers, however, who recognised their Chinmoy’s spiritual attainments. Sri Chinmoy often referred to the very first time he returned to his normal consciousness after being in samadhi (trance). This experience took place during his school years. Since he did not complete high school, his age must have been somewhere between twelve and sixteen:
“My favourite Indian joke is what happened the first day I came down from the highest type of samadhi. I forgot my name. I was trying to think of my name, but I could not remember it. Then it came to my mind that one of my school notebooks had my name on it. I looked at the cover of the notebook and found my name. When I came down from that consciousness the second and third time, I had to ask my friends what my name was. My friends were my greatest admirers. They knew my realisation, so they did not cut jokes with me.” (Smile of the Beyond)
In the Ashram, however, he remained always a humble disciple of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother and he was reluctant to put himself forward in any way. He happily embraced the lowly jobs of washing the dishes of the other Ashramites at mealtimes and running errands for the seniormost pillars of the Ashram. And, even in the West, long after he had become known as ‘Sri Chinmoy’, he always signed his letters back to older Ashramites in India as ‘Chinmoy’. He once wrote a letter to the esteemed scholar of mysticism, Dr. Sisirkumar Ghose, who had been one of his mentors during his Ashram years, and inadvertently signed it ‘Sri Chinmoy’. He immediately took his pen and, with a flurry of lines and swirls, transformed the ‘Sri’ into a beautiful bird to disguise his mistake. He was also most insistent that his autobiographical stories about his Ashram years appeared with this single name.
Sri Chinmoy rarely wove autobiographical elements into his thousands of poems and songs. However, his own interpretation of the spiritual and mystical significance of his name does appear at a few selected places. In one especially poignant couplet, he questions:
“Chinmoy, Chinmoy, Chinmoy, Chinmoy. Am I God-Eternity’s self-amorous boy?”
In his Bengali songs, Sri Chinmoy sometimes uses his name as the happily rhyming antithesis of mrinmoy (ignorance), as in the following creation dated August 27th, 1974, his 43rd birthday:
Ami kalo mrinmoy Ei mor parichoy Ami taba barabhoy Ei mor parichoy Ami habo chinmoy Ei mor parichoy
“I am dark ignorance-clay; This is my earth-reality. I am Your Compassion-flood; This is my Heaven-reality. I shall be consciousness universal and transcendental; This is my Absolute Reality Supreme.” (Supreme, I Sing Only For You)
Bengali proper names, unlike most Western or Christian names, often double as regular nouns and occur quite naturally in speech. In rare instances, Sri Chinmoy uses this ambiguity between the noun ‘chinmoy’ and the proper name ‘Chinmoy’ to invest his Bengali lyrics with subtle nuances. In the following song, composed in the autumn of 1977, he conveys the image of a boat of consciousness gently rocking. At the same time, he suggests his own spiritual path, which he often referred to as the Golden Boat:
Ananda bhola nirvana dola Tunga ala chinmoy bela
“Self-enraptured in the swing of nirvana, The boat of consciousness infinite Is spreading pinnacle-light.” (My Indian Sunrise)
One comparatively recent Bengali and English song is uniquely autobiographical. In it, Sri Chinmoy celebrates the derivation, the meaning – and perhaps the fulfilment – of both his nickname and his formal name:
Shuno shuno bishwa basi Madal amar upanam Chit + moy Chinmoy Ta je amar dharadham
“Hearken, hearken, O world citizens, Madal is my nickname. Madal is a God-kettledrum. Madals are played by the cosmic Gods. Chinmoy, boundless consciousness of the Universal Home.” (January 22nd, 2001 – Sanjher Tara, Part 3)
Finally, there is this classic English song, composed on June 1st, 1996, in which Sri Chinmoy reviews the three names of his childhood in terms of some infinitely larger historical and spiritual perspective:
“Young in heart, young in mind, Ganapati, Madal, Chinmoy. Old and gold in oneness-soul, A God-memory-toy.” (Sri Chinmoy’s Rainbow-Dreams)
As we learnt earlier, Chitta had resolved to put ‘Ranjan’ as Sri Chinmoy’s middle name in line with the other brothers of the family – Hriday Ranjan, Chitta Ranjan and Manoranjan (Mantu). It is not clear where this middle name, meaning ‘delight’, originated. On his mother’s side of the family, the customary middle name was ‘Charan’.
However, once Chitta received the inspiration to give Madal the proper name ‘Chinmoy’, it seems that he decided to break with tradition and give him the patronym ‘Kumar’ after Shashi Kumar Ghosh. The young Chinmoy said that he felt so honoured and proud to receive his father’s middle name.
‘Kumar’ means ‘unmarried youth’ in Bengali and has the additional meaning of ‘prince’. Historically, the son of a king, the heir apparent, is addressed as ‘Rajkumar’. Another very interesting insight into the name comes from Indian mythology where ‘Kumar’ is one of the names of the cosmic god Kartikeya [also known as Skanda]. Kumar was the younger brother of Ganesh. He grew into a skilful and powerful warrior and eventually became the commander-in-chief of the cosmic gods. The name ‘Kumar’ refers to the fact that he never married.
Ghosh is a surname found predominantly in Bengal. Some Ghosh families, as in the case of Sri Chinmoy, originated from East Bengal, present-day Bangladesh. From this surname, one learns that the family is Hindu and also of Kshatriya [warrior] caste.
Shashi Kumar Ghosh favoured this transliteration into English of the Bengali name. Thus his son’s name upon entering the Sri Aurobindo Ashram was formally Chinmoy Kumar Ghosh. However, in order to align himself more completely with his spiritual Master, Sri Aurobindo, Chinmoy changed the spelling of his surname to Ghose.
Sri Aurobindo was born Aravinda Acroyd Ghose. (In 1906, he adopted the more Bengalicised spelling ‘Aurobindo’) At some stage during the twenty years that Chinmoy was a permanent member of the Ashram, he began to adopt ‘Ghose’. Though it is, perhaps, self-evident, it is worth mentioning that the Bengali characters remain unchanged either way. In due course, I believe Chinmoy’s brother Chitta and sister Lily followed his lead, while the other members of the family are thought to have retained the spelling ‘Ghosh’.
Ghose is derived from the Sanskrit word ghoṣa. It has two meanings. On the one hand, it means “sound, reverberation, din, shout, battle-cry.” In this context, it can also refer to the roar of water or the cry of an animal. On the other hand, ghoṣa is an occupational name, meaning ‘cowherd’.
The most eloquent interpretation of the meaning of ‘Ghose’ was undoubtedly given by Lakhan L. Mehrotra on September 27th, 1978. Mr. Mehrotra was formerly Sri Chinmoy’s boss at the Indian Consulate in New York. He later became Consul General of India in California and then went on to a most distinguished career as India’s High Commissioner/Ambassador to a number of countries. Upon meeting with Sri Chinmoy again, after a gap of some eleven years, he rose at one of Sri Chinmoy’s concerts held at San Francisco State University and addressed the audience as follows:
“I have known Sri Chinmoy as Chinmoy Ghose now for several years, and ‘Ghose’ means resonance. Sri Chinmoy the resonant will always reverberate in our hearts with his eternal message. He brings to you a spiritual tradition which sprang up and flourished in the mountain-vastness of the Himalayas several thousands of years ago and which has been carried across the seven seas by Everest-streams and rivers. Sri Chinmoy is part and parcel of that eternal Stream. Sri Chinmoy belongs to that stream of thought and sentiment which has shown us the Light for ages. He recited a verse from the Upanishads a little while ago: Asato ma sad gamaya, ‘Lead me from the unreal to the Real’; Tamaso ma jyotir gamaya, ‘Lead me from darkness to Light’; Mrityor ma amritam gamaya, ‘Lead me from death to Immortality.’ May I say that while we mortals pray for that Immortality, Sri Chinmoy is part of that Immortality. I consider those blessed who sit in his presence and who seek his presence, and I know that even after I and you and everyone is gone, his voice and his message will be with us, for that is the Message Supreme to which I bow.” (The Vision-Sky of California)
While it may seem curious to some that Mr. Mehrotra should have focussed his comments on ‘Ghose’ rather than ‘Chinmoy’, it can be explained by the fact that when Sri Chinmoy worked at the Indian Consulate from 1964-67, it was the custom of colleagues to address each other in the British Public School tradition only by their last name. Thus, he was called simply ‘Ghose’. It must have marked a great change for the young man of thirty-two, who had hitherto been known only as ‘Chinmoy’.
Another famous spiritual luminary who shared this surname is Paramahansa Yogananda who was born Mukunda Lal Ghosh. Dr. Sabyasachi Ghosh Dastidar, Chair of the Politics, Economics and Law Department at the State University of New York at Old Westbury, informs me, “Ghosh is one of the very old Bengali traditional names, and all the Ghoshes are ‘related’, meaning in Hindu culture they have the same gotra or blood line.”
C.K.G. – the initials of Chinmoy Kumar Ghose – is the pen-name used by Sri Chinmoy when signing his artworks. He first introduced this pen-name on November 19th, 1974 when he completed his first painting, a rose, and he used it exclusively in connection with his art. Although he did manage to sign and date many thousands of his paintings, it would have been physically impossible for him perhaps to sign his entire output of more than 16 million bird drawings and 150,000 paintings.
‘Sri’ is an honorific title for a male, usually a person of distinction. It denotes respect and esteem, particularly when used for a holy man. It can also be spelt Shri, Sree or Shree. It is widely used in the Hindu, Buddhist, Jain and Sikh cultures.
In Sanskrit, ‘Sri’ means ‘prosperity’. Originally, it referred to the goddess Mahalakshmi, the goddess of prosperity and beauty, but nowadays it is used primarily as a masculine name prefix, while ‘Srimati’ and ‘Sushri’ are used for women. Thus, in the case of a holy man, for example, it literally means “one who is endowed with inner wealth.”
In some instances, ‘Sri’ can be equated with the English ‘Mr’, or possibly the old-fashioned ‘Venerable Sir’. When used as a title for a holy man, it translates as ‘Revered Teacher’ and indicates that he has realised the Highest. When used as an epithet for one of the cosmic gods or goddesses, it can be translated as ‘Lord’.
In Sri Chinmoy’s case, he was given this respectful title after he began offering talks in the West. We can perhaps date it then from as early as 1965. All his books published in the West, beginning with “Meditations: Food for the Soul” published in 1970, bear the name Sri Chinmoy and that is also how he signed his letters.
In the case of Sri Aurobindo, I am informed by his biographer Peter Heehs that “he signed Aurobindo Ghose until 1926, when he began to sign Sri Aurobindo (Ghose). Sri Aurobindo became standard by the end of the 1920’s.” Sri Ramakrishna and Sri Chaitanya are also referred to by this honorific.
Other epithets have been used for spiritual Masters. Sri Ramakrishna was also called ‘Paramahansa’ (Great Swan, that is, the swan of realisation), as was Paramahansa Yogananda; Ramana Maharshi means ‘Great Seer’ (Maha + rishi); while Mahatma Gandhi, the great social reformer, means ‘Great Soul’ (Maha + atma).
In the case of Sri Chinmoy, however, he became known around the world and will forever be known simply by these two words, inextricably linked. As he wrote in one brief song on March 26th, 1997:
“C.K.G. the Artist. Madal the Drummer. Chinmoy the Poet. Sri Chinmoy the Dreamer.” (Jharna-Kala Songbook)
This shortest, most endearing, almost anonymous and yet beloved name is how Sri Chinmoy was known to his near and dear ones in the West. His disciples always addressed him simply as ‘Guru’. His closest friends called him ‘Guru’. Nothing more was needed.
Nowadays this sacred word is applied liberally in the media – there are fitness gurus, media gurus, financial gurus and so forth. But for those whom Sri Chinmoy touched, inspired and guided, the word shall forever retain its original meaning: a Guru is the master, the spiritual preceptor, who illumines the age-old ignorance of the seeker. A true Guru is one who has attained God-realisation, also known as enlightenment.
Sri Chinmoy explains:
“Guru is a Sanskrit word. It means ‘he who illumines others’. The Guru brings light. Light itself is the real Guru. In my case, I always say that I am a server. I am a child of God and you are also a child of God. We are members of the same family. The one who came first into the family perhaps knows more than the ones who came after him. In terms of spirituality, I know a little more than my students. Being the elder brother, I know more about our Heavenly Father, God. I teach them how to pray and meditate so that they can also have a free access to our Heavenly Father, their Inner Pilot.” (Sri Chinmoy Answers, Part 29)
Time and again, Sri Chinmoy returned to this theme: that the only real Guru is God. He drew a clear distinction between the human Guru and the God whom he represents on earth:
“Everybody has the same Guru, the only Guru, the Lord Supreme. But when one is a beginner, one cannot or may not know where the real Guru, the eternal Guru, is, just because he does not have a free access to Him. At this point, if somebody helps the seeker enter into his own world of Divinity and Reality, then the seeker learns or discovers his own Divinity. This is the role of the spiritual Master, the human Guru. But the real Guru is inside the inmost recesses of each aspiring heart.” (Self-Discovery and World-Mastery)
Significantly, another word for God in Sanskrit is ‘Adiguru’ – that is, the original or first Guru. The following highly personal poem declares the same theme in language of utmost love and devotion:
“Everybody has his own beloved. In my case, my Beloved Is my Eternity’s Guru: My Supreme.” (Seventy-Seven Thousand Service-Trees, Part 14)
The necessity of having a human Guru is a matter for each individual to decide according to his own inner voice. Sri Chinmoy believed that if one wants to achieve the highest goal –self-realisation – then the assistance of a human Guru is indispensible:
“To achieve realisation oneself and alone is like crossing the ocean in a raft. But to achieve realisation through the Grace of a Guru is like crossing the ocean in a swift and strong boat, which ferries you safely across the sea of ignorance to the Golden Shore.” (Eternity’s Breath)
In several of his brief, aphoristic poems, he expresses the role of a Guru as a humble intermediary between earth and Heaven:
“The Guru is the messenger boy Carrying earth’s And Heaven’s messages To and fro.” (Seventy-Seven Thousand Service-Trees, Part 14)
“The Guru brings together Man’s hope And God’s Promise.” (Seventy-Seven Thousand Service-Trees, Part 24)
Swami Vivekananda went much further and declared, “No man can see God but through these human manifestations.”
To be linguistically precise, ‘Guru’ is made up of two Sanskrit roots: ‘Gu’ meaning ‘darkness’ and ‘ru’ meaning ‘removal’. Thus, the Guru is the dispeller or remover of darkness. The allegorical meaning is “one who transforms darkness into light.” The word may also have a connection with the root ‘gur’ meaning ‘to raise or lift up’. In this context, the Guru is one who lifts up darkness or ignorance, something that Sri Chinmoy did both inwardly through his meditation and outwardly through his weightlifting. Strangely enough, the link with weightiness does not end there. When used as an adjective, ‘guru’ actually means ‘weighty; heavy’. So the Guru, correspondingly, is someone who is heavy with knowledge or wisdom.
I am informed by Tanima Bossart, who joined Sri Chinmoy’s Path in February 1968 and whose mother joined the previous year, that Sri Chinmoy was called ‘Guru’ by his disciples even in those early days. Tanima’s mother, she said, “found out about Sri Chinmoy from the publicist on her off-Broadway show, who said to her, ‘I have a Guru’, and that’s how it started for her.” I also have vivid memories of Sri Chinmoy telling us that an Irish newspaper had called him by this title in December 1970 when he visited Dublin to offer lectures. This was the first time that he had been referred to as a Guru in the media.
In Sri Chinmoy’s letters to his students and close friends, he would sign either ‘Guru’, ‘Guru Chinmoy’ or ‘Guru Sri Chinmoy’. In conversations on the telephone, he would often announce himself by saying, “This is your Guru speaking.”
In essence, the word ‘Guru’ can have no meaning without the corresponding word ‘disciple’. A Guru has no separate existence by himself, for a Guru’s very existence depends on the existence of his disciples or spiritual children with whom he can share the fruits of his realisation. Hence, every time we addressed Sri Chinmoy as ‘Guru’, we were invariably reminded of our own role as seekers after wisdom.
The Unknown, Unknowable and Forever Lost Names
Many years ago, Sri Chinmoy was asked if he had any other names which were not known to his students. His reply was:
“I had so many names in the Ashram. My dearest friend, who saw something in me long before anybody else, used to call me Chinny. Someone else used to call me Chinnymoyda. ‘Chinny’ means sugar and ‘moyda’ means flour. When I was very young, some people used to call me a name that meant ‘Japanese doll’ because they felt I was cute. Then some people, especially girls, gave me a name meaning ‘fire’ because my eyes were always red, wide open and very fiery; they felt there was no compassion in my eyes. Others called me Jogisamrat, Jogibar or Jogiraj. Everybody can give names. When my disciples are pleased with me, they give me one name; when they are displeased with me, another name they give me. Every day they may give me a different name, and I am ready to accept all of these names. So these are the names that I had. I also have many, many inner names, but those are not for the disciples to know. Some special souls have given me names and also some of my disciples have given me names, but that information is restricted.” (Sri Chinmoy Answers, Part 8)
Of the names mentioned here, ‘Jogi’ is the Bengali equivalent of Yogi. Thus the three names mentioned mean respectively ‘Emperor of Yogis’, ‘Most excellent among Yogis’ and ‘King of Yogis’. Another admirer used to call him ‘Chinmoy Saraswati’, referring to the efflorescence of wisdom and creativity, attributes of the goddess Saraswati, which he perceived inside the young man.
In Sri Chinmoy’s Own Words
In a small number of poems and songs, Sri Chinmoy reflects on the arc of his life, from simple Indian village boy to world-renowned spiritual Master. In some, he invites us to share his joy at this divine play. In others, we detect a detachment, almost a withdrawal of self, from things temporal. Some writings are infused with a sense of defeat and disillusionment, others with the calmness and relief of someone who has victoriously fulfilled his earthly role.
At times, these extremes are enigmatically juxtaposed so that history, perhaps, can choose between them. The following two English songs, composed on the same day – August 2nd, 1990 – reflect this pendulum swing between negative and positive self-reflection, or perhaps between a human and a divine assessment:
“Madal the child, Sleeplessly wild. Chinmoy the teenager, An uncertain wager. Sri Chinmoy the man, A sad failure-plan. Guru Chinmoy, Guru Chinmoy, God and man’s broken toy.”
“Madal the child, All cute and wild. Chinmoy the teenager, An earth-climbing wager. Sri Chinmoy the man, God’s own Rainbow-Plan. Guru Chinmoy, Guru Chinmoy, God and man’s fondness-toy.” (Song-Flowers, Part 8)
A further example typifies Sri Chinmoy’s tendency to withdraw from any specific name and become completely identified with a divine quality:
“I do not want to be known By my outer name But by my divinity’s inner name: Universal oneness.” (Seventy-Seven Thousand Service-Trees, Part 19)
This quality may vary. In the following poem, he wishes to become the embodiment of gratitude at the end of his journey’s close:
“My Lord Supreme, My Beloved Supreme, Your Vision tells me That my name is Madal, The God-dreamer. Your Compassion tells me That my name is Chinmoy, The God-seeker. Your Illumination tells me That my name is Sri Chinmoy, The God-lover. Your Perfection tells me That my name is Guru, The God-server. And Your Satisfaction tells me That my name is Gratitude, The God-knower.” (My Lord, I Pray to You, 1994)
A spiritual Master assumes a name and a form for the purpose of taking a human incarnation, but he is constantly aware that his true inner reality is both nameless and formless:
“At last I know my name. My name is God’s eternal Game. At last I know my name.” (My Flute)In Sri Chinmoy’s pinnacle-poem, The Absolute, written in India in 1958, the poet’s identity disappears entirely into the Supreme. Here is the first stanza of this immortal poem:
“No mind, no form, I only exist; Now ceased all will and thought; The final end of Nature’s dance, I am It whom I have sought.” (My Flute)
Ganapati, Madal, Chinmoy Kumar Ghose, Sri Chinmoy, Guru – all merged in the end into the pure, sublime Consciousness from which this God-Soul came.
– End –