Guru and Soccer in the Centre
“…in the human aspect you will see that there are quite a few things which you do that I do in the same manner; therefore, you will get tremendous encouragement…Because you have the same capacity that I have in so many things, you are bound to feel that you can arrive at the same footing on the spiritual plane as well. So you get encouragement.”
- Sri Chinmoy, “Human Reality and Divine Reality,” in Everest-Aspiration—talk given at Jamaica High School Track on July 6, 1977
Soccer in the Ashram and the Beginnings in the Centre
A look back at Guru’s soccer days in the Sri Aurobindo Ashram reveals a tenacious and highly skilful player who also was captain of the team. The following is an excerpt from “Football,” Vidagdha’s account of Guru’s Ashram soccer days, which appears in full at the end of this article:
“Like every boy, and especially Indian boys, Sri Chinmoy adored football. He played it during his early youth in Chittagong and it figured prominently in his sports experiences at the Ashram. Among all the games that he played during his formative years, it was his favourite.”
And on 5 June 1977, Guru commented to the UN Meditation-Flames soccer team he had created that soccer “will always remain my most favourite game.”
For the European disciples, soccer was the sport, especially in Scotland and England. In the early ’70s there were a few European boy disciples living in New York who played soccer but only a handful of Americans with any experience. The game needed a push from Guru to become really popular in New York. It was probably around 1975, at Jamaica Track, when Guru first saw his New York boys playing organized soccer. It was no surprise that when Guru saw the boys playing, he joined in, displaying his abundant soccer knowledge, skill, speed and form.
As an aside, in all probability, Guru first saw organized soccer played in the Centre during the summer of 1974 at Loch Lomond, Scotland, when the English disciples played the Scottish disciples in a very spirited match (see stories by Adarsha and Janaka).
Jamaica Track: Various Athletic Activities Including Soccer
When Guru arrived in the U.S. in 1964 he was still, at 32, near the height of his athletic prowess, and despite working full-time at the Indian Consulate, and multiplying his spiritual activities for the public, Guru still tried to maintain his physical fitness. Banshidhar writes in his article that in San Juan, Puerto Rico, in 1969, without any prior notice, Guru gathered the disciples for an exercise routine based on the callisthenic exercises used at the Ashram. The following is an excerpt from Banshidhar’s article:
“Our disciple-life during these early years consisted mostly of study, meditation and selfless service like printing Guru's books or producing arts and crafts for sale. Our only real physical activities were cleaning the Centre and maybe going to the beach afterwards. (Ah, the tropical island life!) Throw in a few hikes in Puerto Rico's beautiful rain forests and we were happy puppies.
“So imagine our surprise when one evening, out of the blue, Guru asked all of us to meet him early the next morning in a nearby park to “take exercise!” Little did we know that this first morning session with our Coach Supreme was only the beginning of a new wave of dynamic athleticism that would grow into one of the defining pursuits of our spiritual path.” (See “Beginnings,” Banshidhar’s complete article).
Soon, Guru began introducing various athletic activities into the Centres, starting with Sports Day in 1970 at Alley Pond Park in Queens. The Jamaica High School sports field became the place to practise despite the poorly maintained cinder track and an infield that was mostly dirt. Let’s not forget that Olympian Bob Beamon, whose astonishing 1968 world long-jump record stood for almost 23 years, trained there as a gifted high-schooler! Guru first met Bob Beamon in 1981 and, in 2004, honoured him with the ‘Lifting Up the World with a Oneness-Heart’ award and a song [will verify with Tanima].
Mornings at “the track” marked the beginning of organized athletic activities in the Centre. Guru would regularly come to the track very early to encourage, coach and participate in the various track and field events, exercises (like running up and down the big staircase) and games, including soccer. Then everyone lined up on the field and Guru meditated briefly, offering a fruit as prasad before the disciples dashed off to get ready for work.
Ashrita, already a disciple in 1970, remembers looking out the window of his English class in Jamaica High School to watch Guru and the disciples practising on Jamaica Track.
Later, when tennis was introduced, Guru first played by the courts on 168th Street, until the gate was locked, and later against the large wall, where a tennis net was attached to a large crack in the wall, pulled perpendicular to the wall and held taut by a disciple. Lines were painted on this makeshift cement court. It was here, and on the sloping field below the wall of arches, that Guru gave many of his Everest-Aspiration talks in 1977.
Also, it was here in 1976, on the grassy area, that Guru famously defeated the California girl disciples in volleyball, displaying his abundant skill and a variety of trick shots. Garima, who was one of the players, clearly recalls that the six girls tried really hard but were easily defeated by Guru.
In 1980, the first 12-Hour Walk took place at the track, and in 1978, the first 47-Mile Race, on the track and around the school. This is, indeed, sacred ground.
The group photo of runners in red, taken on the tennis courts near Jamaica Track, shows the members of the Sri Chinmoy Marathon Teams who were to participate in the 1977 New York City Marathon. This was the first time the Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team participated in a marathon as an official team, complete with uniforms. This tradition with the New York City Marathon would continue through 2000.
Soccer Grows in the Centre
Savyasachi, Guru’s main driver back then, first dropped Guru off at the driveway to the school on Chapin Parkway, and later, when that gate was locked, in front of a hole in the fence near what is now the finish of our Saturday morning two-mile race. The Centre guards would wait there, holding the fence apart for Guru when he arrived. The wooden stairs were sometimes taken away, but then Abedan made a sturdy cement step for Guru to enter onto the field.
Soccer grew in the Centre and in 1976 Guru created two teams: the UN Meditation-Flames and the Chinmoy Lions. Adarsha was made captain of the Chinmoy Lions and Janaka vice-captain by Guru. Years later, during the Christmas Trip in Brazil, Projjwal was made captain of the Centre soccer team, with Devashishu and Sahadeva as vice-captains. With his keen eye for excellence, Guru deeply appreciated the skill of Brazil’s soccer champion Pelé—who won three “Player of the Century” awards in 1999, the year of our Brazil trip. In 1978 Guru dedicated a song to this soccer champion (see Projjwal’s stories.)
Guru did not coach the disciple girls in soccer in those early days, focusing more on their running. But it was after Guru started sharing his avid interest in the sport with the Centre that the game’s popularity skyrocketed in the US—particularly when Pelé played for the New York Cosmos from 1975-1977. And now, the US women’s soccer team dominates the international scene. We detect ongoing encouragement by our Guru!
The following pdf downloads are first-hand accounts of soccer in the Centre from some of the boys who were there. Although these stories are anecdotal, and some of the experiences are from over 40 years ago, these memories have remained with us as we have tried to show how Guru touched us and shaped our lives, both inwardly and outwardly, through the game he loved so much.