Three of the epic series of poems penned by artist, writer and spiritual visionary Sri Chinmoy contain imagery from the plant kingdom in the choice of title for the series. Flowers, plants and trees. Was it a coincidence that three series of poems (comprising 87,000 poems in total and composed in a 24 year time period) looked to the natural world for titles that married creativity and spirituality?
I must confess that I am a bona-fide nature-lover. I find much fascination in taking photographs of birds, animals and flowers. You are usually hard-pressed to find a photo of a person in my online photo albums unless perhaps that person is reading a story to a therapy dog.
That tendency noted, I still surprised myself with what happened to me yesterday as I sat in an outdoor setting filled with beautiful flowers while on spiritual retreat with the International Sri Chinmoy Centres.
I was watching musical performances, absorbing the life messages in moralistic plays based on Sri Chinmoy’s writings and sharing meditation with the hundreds of people surrounding me during an afternoon function.
Slowly but surely, my attention was drawn to the climbing and unfolding greenery that I sat alongside of and up into the sky I was drawn to look at the tree limbs and myriad variety of leaves that dappled the sunlight and shaded us from the hot summer sun.
The more I looked at the greenery right next to me, the more it seemed to pulsate with life and I became convinced that these plants were striving upwards and aspiring in much the same fashion as the people who sat in their midst. The tendrils of the climbing vines and other plants were in various states of unfolding just as surely as those of us gathered together were all embodied in perfect divinity within regardless of how much it had yet to actually blossom. I started to feel that the plants were more than simply alive, but actually sentient and spiritual in some unusual way.
As my own meditation embraced the natural beauty and, spirit if you will, of the plants around me, a sense of contentment and completeness heightened within and I began to feel convinced that if I was ever so lucky to experience Heaven, this is what it must be like.
Later I wondered if it could be that plants are like people and have feelings and strivings just as we do. Lo and behold, the online library of Sri Chinmoy’s writings produced the following question and answer on precisely this subject. I think my sentiments were “barking up the right tree” after all.
Bob: What is our relationship to the plant kingdom in our aspiration-life?
Sri Chinmoy: Our relationship to the plant kingdom should be extremely sweet. The plant kingdom has real aspiration. We don’t see the seed; it is under the ground. But when we see the plant, we see how it aspires to become a tree and then how it aspires to have flowers. The Indian scientist J. C. Bose discovered how plants quarrel and fight for their own existence. But here we are dealing with their aspiration.
The relationship between the plant kingdom and your own existence is extremely important, extremely deep, extremely intimate. First you are a child. Because you are a child, you aspire to become physically strong, tall. You are a seed that germinates into a plant. Then you become an adolescent, and all the time you are dreaming of becoming a tree, a spiritual tree. So there is a child in you, a soul, that aspires to become a spiritual banyan tree. Plant life and human life are like two brothers. One human brother and one plant brother are here together. Your plant brother is reminding you of your aspiration. The plant brother is going upward to reach the sky and this helps to increase your own aspiration. It makes you feel that you also have to grow into your divinity to reach the highest.
Sri Chinmoy, Father’s Day: Father With His European Children, Agni Press, 1976.
And I can further console myself that this unusual sentiment towards plants is explored in a May 2011 scholarly publication from the State University of New York in a book titled, Plants as Persons: A Philosophical Botany by Matthew Hall, a conservationist affiliated with the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh. He explores many religious traditions and their attitudes towards plants as well as scientific studies that posit plants have feelings and are sentient.
The next time that I think about the natural world as a symbolic and tangible aid to spiritual practice, I will have to remind myself that the plants themselves could be part and parcel of the process. Think twice before you step on that plant. It is a living, breathing organism in the interconnected web of life.
In the case of the Flower-Flames, ten thousand of them were composed over a five-year span begun in 1979 and completed in 1983. In the spirit of transcendence so central to Sri Chinmoy’s philosophy and life, the next series of poems called Aspiration-Plants numbered twenty-seven thousand in all and started the same year that the Flower-Flames were finished (1983) and continued until the 27,000th aspiration-plant was composed in 1998. The final series of poems called Service-Trees began immediately after the Aspiration-Plant series completed and the final poem composed in this series was the 50,000th and was published posthumously in 2009.