Question: About two weeks ago, a Hatha Yoga Master came to the United Nations and said that first you must conquer and overcome the body and only then can the Supreme be manifested. What are your feelings about this?

Sri Chinmoy: It is true that the body has to be a perfect instrument of the spirit. But we have to know that for the body to be a perfect instrument, it need not be a perfect body. The world’s best athletes, the world’s strongest men, are not necessarily manifesting the divine Will unless they are conscious instruments. God only knows when these people will accept the spiritual life. So physical perfection does not indicate receptivity to the spiritual message or the light of the spirit. The message of the spirit, the message of the soul, our heart’s inner cry for God, for Truth, for Light — these things are not connected at all with bodily strength. We become aware of our inner, spiritual life only through prayer and meditation.

If you compare the physical strength of any of the world’s greatest spiritual Masters with the physical strength of the world’s great boxers or wrestlers, the spiritual Masters are nowhere. But if any of these Masters were to challenge a fighter with his spiritual strength, inner strength, soul’s strength, then that fighter would be compelled to surrender. If the Master used his occult power or spiritual power, he could immediately take away the life-energy of the fighter. This has happened in India many times. If somebody mocked at a spiritual Master’s occult and spiritual power, in the twinkling of an eye the Master would make that person so weak and lifeless that he could not even lift up a pencil. In India many years ago, a great wrestler was swimming in the Ganges alongside a spiritual Master. The wrestler was tormenting the Master, pushing him under the water and in every way trying to drown him. Finally, the spiritual Master said, “Now you have played your role. Let me see you lift up your arms.” Then he used his occult power and the wrestler who had been bothering him for about twenty minutes could not even move his arms. He would have drowned if the spiritual Master had not released him. So physical strength in comparison to spiritual strength is nothing, absolutely nothing.

If our body is strong enough and healthy enough to perform its natural functions, and if it is capable of sitting quietly for two hours or three hours without any difficulty or unusual discomfort, that is more than enough. The body has to be a fit instrument, but that does not mean we have to become the strongest or most powerful of men. It is sufficient to have the amount of strength that our body requires in order to stay on earth and play our God-ordained role efficiently. The body needs strength so that it can receive and manifest the message of the spirit. If matter is not strong or receptive, then how can the message of the spirit be manifested in the physical?

Suppose we want to meditate in the morning. If we are physically weak, if we have a stomach ache or headache or some other ailment, then how will we meditate well? That is why we have to give due importance to the body. But due importance does not mean extravagant concern. Early every morning if we exercise for fifteen minutes or so, and if we have a proper diet, that is sufficient. Western exercises are all right, but if we do Indian exercises, asanas, we get a kind of relaxation that helps in meditation. But one can become expert in the Indian system of exercises without attaining any spiritual advantage. There are hundreds of Indian villagers who can do these exercises, but how many incarnations will it take before they even begin to accept the spiritual life?

I do not deny the role of the body. But you have to know how much you can expect from the body. If this body is five-feet-eight, then it will remain five-feet-eight no matter how hard I try to make it taller. A runner may reduce his time if he practises, but eventually he will reach his maximum speed. The body’s capacity is always limited. Its height, its strength, its speed all have a point beyond which they cannot develop. And, after many years, these capacities will gradually decrease. But as long as we continue to pray and meditate, our inner capacities will go on increasing until we grow into something infinite and boundless. Our inner power, inner light, inner wealth have no limit. There is no boundary for the soul within us. Peace, Light and Bliss can be increased in infinite measure. So eternal progress, infinite Peace, Light and Bliss are what we can expect from the spiritual life, whereas temporary fitness is all we can expect from Hatha Yoga or any other form of physical culture, no matter how faithfully and devotedly it is pursued.