Soccer in the Sri Chinmoy Centre, and the Jamaica High School Track: A Disciple History
by Rupantar LaRusso and friends
This article began as a history of Guru’s encouragement of soccer in the Centre. That in itself proved to be a surprisingly huge saga! Soon, though, we also started weaving in stories about the Sri Chinmoy Centre’s countless hours at the Jamaica High School track—not only for soccer, but for many other athletic and non-athletic activities, going back to the ’70s. “The track” was the scene of Guru’s early tennis playing, the annual 47-Mile Race for Guru’s birthday (still held there), the 12-Hour Walk, Father’s Day marathons, early-morning races for visitors and the 7-mile and 13-mile departure races (usually held on the last day of Celebrations), the occasional Sports Day, records set by Ashrita, girls’ marching drills under Guru’s direction, the
1981 Grand Prix Race series as well as many other races of various distances. Then there were the other special events, including Guru’s morning meditations after sports practice, thirty of his Everest-Aspiration talks, daily singing rehearsals at dawn, spectacular celebrations in honour of Guru’s achievements—the list goes on!
Right from the start, it must be emphasized that the history below is incomplete, and all readers are encouraged to submit their own stories to share in a later edition of the newsletter. Please send your special reminiscences about soccer or the Jamaica High School Track to Rupantar!
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
“…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 — talk given at Jamaica High School Track on July 6, 1977 Everest-Aspiration
Soccer in the Ashram and the Beginnings in the Centre Ashram soccer team, Guru, top left
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:
“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.”
(See "Football" for complete article by Vidagdha.)
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.”
Guru, center, playing soccer with his students at Jamaica Track
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. There are also stories of Guru informally kicking a soccer ball on the first Christmas Trip in Florida and at an early Games Day.
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. Guru (with his back to the camera), in Puerto Rico
“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 composed a song for him. In 2004, Guru honoured Bob with the "Lifting Up the World with a Oneness-Heart" award.
Mornings at “the track” marked the beginning of organized athletic activities in the Centre. In fact, it is almost impossible to speak about Centre sports, including soccer, without focusing on “the track.” Guru and the disciples spent countless hours there. It was only natural that Guru would recall his well-loved days at the Ashram “playground” and share with his twenty-something boy disciples his youthful love of football. Here he taught them the importance of agility, speed, teamwork and sportsmanship—plus a bit of divine, strategic trickery!
(See Guru's talk to his UN Meditation-Flames soccer team on 10 October 1976 here.)
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.
Guru racing past concrete steps
Jamaica High School Track – Golden Days, by Vajra, June 13, 2020
“It is close to fifty golden years since my early start up-days with Guru. I am particularly electrified when remembering those days when I used my father’s car to transport disciples every morning to the Jamaica High School track. I would arise in Manhattan at 3:30 a.m., and sometimes even earlier, to begin picking up disciples who lived in Manhattan, the Bronx, Brooklyn, and other parts of Queens. No one who wanted to meditate at 6 a.m. with Guru was left behind.
“Arriving in a Plymouth station wagon packed with from 6 to 12 passengers, we would run around the quarter-mile cinder track while Guru did a few of his own workouts or stood keenly observing us. Guru was introducing us to sports as a way to keep the body fit. Imagine: running four times around a quarter-mile track was, for us, the equivalent to running a marathon today!
“Close to 7 a.m., Guru would meditate with all who were present. After that, my passengers would all pile into the car and we would drive back, dropping each person at their door. When I stop and think of it, I wonder how it was possible for me to do all that running around, picking people up door to door. And nobody complained of getting to work late!
“That was not the end of it! In those days, as disciple numbers grew, Centres were being formed closest to where disciples lived. Connecticut Centre was created with its meeting held on Monday nights; New Jersey on Tuesday nights; New York Centre meeting was held on Thursday and Sunday nights; Manhattan Centre meeting was held on Saturday nights. Where there was a Centre meeting, and Guru would be present, I was also there, picking up disciples and carrying them to and from meetings. Someone calculated that 18 hours a day I actually was living in my car, transporting people from morning track workouts to evening meditations. This went on for quite a few years.
“When I look back at this episode of my spiritual practice, it is with my mind’s disbelief; nevertheless, it is with my heart’s miraculous assurance that it was all Guru’s grace.”
Later, when tennis was introduced, Guru first played by the courts on 168th Street, until the gate was locked, and then against the large wall, where a tennis net was attached to a big 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 thirty of his
Everest-Aspiration talks in 1977.
Guru at Jamaica Track, late 1970s – Tanima’s singing group, by Tanima Guru meditates after sports practice at the track
“In the late 1970s – 1977 and 1978 for sure, and perhaps other years – Guru requested my singing group to rehearse every morning at 6:00 a.m. During these years we had 100 or 200 songs to learn for performing during April and August Celebrations. For April Celebrations we rehearsed at my apartment during the cold months. During the spring and summer months, in preparation for August, Guru requested my singing group to rehearse every morning at 6:00 a.m. at Jamaica Track. Some members remember it was 5:30 a.m. so it may have been 6:00 in one year and 5:30 in another. Guru was very strict and said if anyone was one minute late, they were out of the group!
“We used to sit against the wall on the far west side, near the back stairs, where Guru used to also play tennis before we had Aspiration-Ground. Guru came to the track every morning and did a variety of training exercises and many other things, and many disciples also came and practiced sports. It was ‘morning at the track’. Occasionally Guru would stop by our rehearsals and listen to the songs. He would give us guidance on singing, make comments on the songs and sometimes give a historical reference to the Bengali poems, most of which he had written while in the Ashram.
“On weekends the mornings went longer and Guru did many different things at the track. In addition to volleyball, marching and sports practices, Guru created games to play – like the one where you sit in a circle facing inward and someone runs around the outside of the circle and places a handkerchief behind a seated person. That person has to feel the handkerchief with his hands, and then he is next up! In another game, you would buzz like a bee and try to tag someone before you ran out of breath.
“During the weekdays Guru would end early enough for us to go home, get changed and go to work. He would sit on a folding chair by the wall and then prasad was placed in front of him and everyone would take it while he meditated. This beautiful photograph by Shraddha was taken when Guru was meditating by the wall.”
Guru, alone, trounces the full California girls' volleyball team, 1976
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 (girls on the left), taken on the tennis courts near Jamaica Track, shows the members of the Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team who were to participate in the October 23, 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. The Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team in uniform for the 1977 New York City Marathon
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.
Guru with soccer ball
at Jamaica Track
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, whom he was sadly not able to meet (see Projjwal’s stories).
On September 19, 1999, at Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, there was a ceremony for the UN International Day of Peace, as well as an international soccer match. New York City Parks Commissioner Henry Stern and other dignitaries attended. The Peace Run team came in with the Peace Torch, Guru meditated, the singers sang Guru’s song “UN, With You Began,” and finally, Guru spontaneously composed and sang the song “Soccer I Play.” These simple words clearly reveal Guru’s love of the sport as a vehicle of world peace:
“Soccer I play, soccer I play
To give the world a oneness-day.
I am a UN peace-adorer;
Its heart is the world’s goal-scorer.”
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.
Short video of Sri Chinmoy playing football in 1972
Football Stories (including a poem), by Adarsha
Guru and the Beautiful Game, by Janaka
Football Stories, by Projjwal
UN Meditation Flames - Early Days, and Soccer at Games Day, by Mohan
Clocked by a Soccer Ball, by Dhanu
Soccer Stories, by Tarit
Hiyamallar Scores 6 Goals!, by Hiyamallar
A Few Memories, by Jogyata
Soccer Stories, by Sanjay
Soccer Recollections in Myanmar, by Ashirvad
Soccer Stories, by Bipin
Soccer Stories, by Rupantar