The Consciousness of Lions
This is an edited version of an article I wrote about one of Sri Chinmoy’s unusual lifts during his Nov. 13, 2004 weightlifting demonstration.
For years they had stood at the entrance to the temple, two 1000-pound stone lions, eyes blank, like sentinels of heaven. Passing between them, one could almost feel their power. With their massive physical presence and forceful inner presence, they seemed to straddle two worlds – half-alive and half not-alive.
Then one day they appeared at a great indoor arena, the auditorium of York College in Queens, where Sri Chinmoy planned his Nov. 13 weightlifting demonstration. That day, the auditorium would become the scene of heroic contests and deeds, where the denseness of matter would confront the openness of spirit.
By all accounts it promised to be an unforgettable event...
On one side lay thousands of pounds of metal weight. On the other, stood the lone figure of the man hoping to tame them. The metal plates were cold, dark, stubborn in their unwillingness to budge. The man was determined, implacable in his will to move them.
Using the muscles in his arms, his shoulders and his legs, 73-year-old Sri Chinmoy planned to lift 20 tons that evening. It was his 19th weightlifting anniversary, and he wanted to commemorate the occasion by breaking all previous records. Over the course of the night, he raised off the ground everything from automobiles to books to metal weights – using various kinds of lifts.
Many Olympic gold medalists and other world class athletes came to watch the performance... and be part of it. They filed onto the stage in a great procession, and one by one this weightlifting maestro also raised them into the air.
The whole evening was a vivid demonstration of the philosophy of spirit he has been expressing through his writings, paintings, music and lectures over the past forty years. It’s a philosophy that strives to bring forward the inner life, awaken the divinity buried inside each object and person.
It’s a philosophy that finds its most dramatic symbol in the physical act of lifting. When he lifts, Sri Chinmoy says he does not try to conquer the weights; rather, using the power of concentration and meditation, he strives to lighten them, to transform their dense, heavy physicality into the lightness of spirituality.
Nothing captured the essence of the evening so strikingly, and profoundly, as his lift of the two lions. Though made of stone, they exuded a presence, an aliveness, so they seemed to exist halfway between matter and spirit. One could say they represented matter on the edge of spirit, stone inconscience on the borderline of consciousness.
In lifting them with his calf-raise machine, Sri Chinmoy was striving to cross that line, not just to bring light into darkness but to perform a far greater alchemy – transforming inert matter into the substance of life. The muscular effort he exerted, though absolutely real in its own realm, was also a metaphor for the infinitely more difficult spiritual struggle.
For a moment he stood by the lifting apparatus, his body hunched under the padded bars. Then suddenly he straightened, pushing against the bar with his shoulders – calves straining as he sought to raise the two half-ton lions into the air. At first nothing happened. The lions did not budge; he might as well have been trying to lift a building off the sidewalk.
But he continued pushing, pushing, until all sense of time vanished, all points of reference disappeared, and nothing in the universe seemed to exist except that enormous mountain of weight and the terrible, implacable urge to raise it.
The tension became almost palpable, as though the resistance of the stone lions and the strain of trying to raise them were both reaching the breaking point. Something had to give – either the straining muscles and the spirit they cloaked, or those eyeless creatures of stone, yearning for life, for consciousness.
Then, miraculously, the lions started to tremble. The master weightlifter was not exerting more effort; he had long ago reached his maximum. But inwardly he had crossed some line, broken through some barrier so that, somehow, his physical body had merged with the force within.
Now it was not muscle straining against stone, but spirit reaching out to spirit, prepared to go on indefinitely -- for hours, for days, for centuries, if need be, until the stone itself disintegrated to dust.
And, finally, when matter could no longer bear the relentless pressure, when the physical universe could no longer tolerate this implacable tension, the weight suddenly gave and the lions began to rise off their supports. From inconscience he had brought forward the essence of life, from matter he had invoked spirit.
There were other lifts that night, but none seemed as memorable as those two stone-faced lions, which he raised across the threshold of consciousness.