At the time of his passing in October 2007 Sri Chinmoy has completed over 50,000 poems in his project to write Seventy Seven Thousand spiritual poems. It is a unique project, unprecedented in scale. True, the poems are very short perhaps 3 – 7 lines. They are not poems in the classical sense like his early poetry – these earlier poems, which appear in compilations such as My Flute appeal to our poetic sentiments, offering vivid elucidations of spiritual experiences through more traditional rhyme and metre. The instructional aphorisms in the Seventy-Seven Thousand Service-Trees volume are of a different nature. They are targeted to the spiritual seeker and the experiences that arise during one’s sadhana (spiritual practise). To one who is unaware of spiritual practice some poems may have little meaning. But to one who looks for encouragement and guidance in pursuing a spiritual life the poems are little nuggets of wisdom that inspire and cajole the seeker of truth to live and practise the essence of spirituality.
To gain the most from reading the poetry of Sri Chinmoy, one needs a degree of receptivity. This receptivity is a quite and open mind; a reflective attitude. Receptivity need not be mistaken for intellectual comprehension. Sometimes the greatest poetry requires the utmost concentration to unravel the linguistic marvels the poet weaves. Sri Chinmoy deliberately seeks to create the contrary effect. Words are used with the utmost precision and reserve. If an idea can be expressed in 4 words, then Sri Chinmoy will not create unnecessary noise and linguistic effects by using more. He has also employed the innovative technique of using compound nouns, expressing more with less..The effect is that the Service-Trees poems are easy to read, they do not tax the intellectual mind but speak to the heart. The style of poems reflects in part their message – the benefits of simplicity, silence and an open heart.
An unmistakeable feature of reading the Service Trees is that one feels the words are speaking directly to yourself. One particular aphorism may suddenly spring out as being the answer to an inner problem. Another aphorism may feel like one’s own conscience speaking. In the back of our minds we know the right thing to do, but quite often we need this good thought reinforced. In the right frame of mind the Service-Trees can help us to surmount our own doubts, fears and insecurities.
‘Meditation is no meditation
When it becomes a victim
To endless thoughts.’
Vol 36 #35,193
Is there any seeker who at times does not get distracted by thoughts when meditating? We know in meditation thoughts should disappear, but this aphorism can have the effect of reminding and inspiring us to make redoubled efforts and meditate in complete silence.
“When we speak ill of others,
We definitely enter into
Our mind’s darkest abyss.
It is so easy to start criticising others. But gossip about others never gives us happiness or improves the other person. Reading such an aphorism makes us feel uneasy about criticising others.
Other aphorisms just make us smile:
‘God tells me
That my exorbitant ego-pride
Is the funniest thing
That He has ever seen!’
Christopher Isherwood described the Bhagavad Gita as like listening to a university lecture delivered by God. Reading the Service Trees can quite often feel like a conversation with God, a conversation with one’s own soul. Through reading the poems our own negative thoughts and depressed emotions are brought to the attention of one’s mind. It can feel like our own conscience gently chiding us for harbouring such ideas.
It is perhaps most effective because we feel we are not being just lectured by a vengeful God, but by a voice that is both strict and loving.
God scolds me mercilessly –
That means He really love me
And needs me.
Whilst many aphorisms point out wrong ideas, there are also poems which seek to encourage us through expressing the beauty and delight of faithfully pursuing one’s own sadhana.
Eternity was born
God wants me to think
Of only one thing:
Bliss, abundant bliss,
And forget the rest.
I shall love the whole world,
But I shall control
There is an ancient Chinese sacred text called the I Ching. Using the I Ching a reader visualizes a question in his mind and then tosses some coins to get directed to the particular lines which are supposed to offer advice. With the Service Trees one could similarly visualise a question and then randomly choose a page. It is then easy to come across some poem which seems to offer the right inner attitude for any pressing problem. With problems it is not so much as choosing the right course of action but the inner attitude with which we face difficulties, this is an underlying theme of the Service Trees.
The unprecedented quantity of poems Sri Chinmoy wrote during his lifetime is hard to fathom. Writing from an inner source of creativity, he found a seemingly endless variety of ways to express the same basic spiritual injunctures. One may ask, why write so many? Sri Chinmoy’s response was that he is merely inspired from within to offer these poems. But each poem represents an insight to the perennial spiritual questions. And our mind appreciates the newness embodied in such a choice of poems.
Writing on his own poetry Sri Chinmoy writes (this dates from the 1990’s, at the time of his passing Sri Chinmoy’s published poetic output stood at approximately 117,000)
‘Over 50,000 poems go to my credit. My critics justifiably criticise me for having written so many poems. They say that I believe only in quantity and not in quality. They are perfectly right in their own way or according to their own judgement. But I feel that quantity is necessary as well as quality. I visit the supermarket quite often. The supermarket has many varieties of food, and I am able to choose what I need or want. If the supermarket had only one thing, I would be disappointed along with hundreds of other customers. So quality and quantity must go together.‘
(1) – Sri Chinmoy
Before embarking on the Seventy-Seven Thousand Service-Trees project, Sri Chinmoy completed two other smaller but still epic volumes of poetry: Ten-Thousand Flower-Flames and Twenty-Seven Thousand Aspiration-Plants
(1) Sri Chinmoy discusses his own poetry Excerpt from Blessingful Invitations From The University-World by Sri Chinmoy.
(2) Seventy Seven Thousand Service Trees Volume 36. (quotes unofficial)
Article by Richard Pettinger 5th October 2006.
Photo by Pavitrata Sri Chinmoy Centre Galleries