NEW YORK – As a spiritual guide to followers worldwide, Sri Chinmoy spread a message of peace through his lectures, his writings, his meetings with world leaders like Pope Paul VI and Nelson Mandela.
The charismatic but quirky Chinmoy didn’t stop there: There was weightlifting – followers claimed the slight guru hoisted 7,000 pounds with one arm. And music – he wrote more than 20,000 songs. And illustrations – he sketched more than 1 million “peace birds.”
The peripatetic disciple of peace suffered a fatal heart attack Thursday at his home in the borough of Queens. Chinmoy was 76.
Chinmoy believed that the physical and spiritual were intertwined, a philosophy that led his followers down some strange paths. One of them rode a pogo stick up and down Japan’s Mount Fuji, while another set a world record for continuous hand-clapping with 50 straight hours of applause.
But some considered Chinmoy’s group a cult, and a flap arose in 1996 when his followers persuaded federal officials to hang a “peace blossom” plaque inside the Statue of Liberty’s lobby. The plaque was removed three weeks after its dedication.
To his followers, Chinmoy was not a cult leader but a spiritual adviser and mystical figure. Musicians including guitarist Carlos Santana and saxophonist Clarence Clemons were among those who found inspiration in Chinmoy.
Chinmoy joined an ashram in south India after he was orphaned at age 12. He spent the next 20 years in prayer and meditation before “an inner command” sent him to New York in 1964. Chinmoy established his first meditation center in Queens, and eventually claimed students in 60 countries.