NEW YORK (AP) — As a spiritual guide to followers worldwide, Sri Chinmoy spread his 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, where 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 Queens, ending his odyssey from an ashram in south India to a world headquarters in New York City, according to a release from his group. 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.
His group sponsored 1,000-mile ultramarathons where participants ran for two weeks, and Chinmoy — in addition to his weightlifting claims — reportedly finished 22 marathons.
But some considered Chinmoy’s group a cult, and a flap arose in 1996 when his followers convinced federal officials to hang a “peace blossom” plaque inside the Statue of Liberty’s lobby. The plaque was removed three weeks after its dedication amid complaints, including one from the Chicago-based Cult Awareness Network.
The peace blossom plaques, designed to promote world peace and “oneness,” were left at other interantional landmarks like Mount McKinley, Zimbabwe’s Victoria Falls and Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.
To his followers, Chinmoy was not a cult leader but a spiritual adviser and mystical figure. Musicians like guitarist Carlos Santana and Clarence Clemons of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band were among those who found inspiration in Chinmoy.
He met with an assortment of world leaders, and Mother Teresa once praised him for “the good work you are doing for world peace and for people in so many countries.”
The youngest of seven children, 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” send him to New York City in 1964.
Chinmoy established his first meditation center in Queens, and eventually claimed students in 60 countries around the world. Beginning in 1970, he began hosting meditation sessions at the United Nations; in 1998, his Peace Meditation Group organized a U.N. memorial for John F. Kennedy Jr.
Chinmoy was also a tireless lecturer, once speaking in all 50 states during a single year. That same year, 1974, he wrote 1,000 poems and issued 94 books — most of the latter transcriptions of his talks.
His organization, the Oneness-Heart-Tears and Smiles, was responsible for collecting and distributing medical supplies throughout Asia and Africa, according to his Web site.