My book of tea and coffee experiences

Part I — Stories from 28 October 2006

My tea and coffee experiences

Many times I have told about my tea and coffee experiences in this lifetime. In my Chittagong life, tea and coffee were forbidden. Nobody drank tea or coffee in the family. Only when guests came, they were served tea. So we never had the taste of tea or coffee.

When I was in the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, secretly I took tea twice in twenty years. The first time, I did not like it. The second time, I asked for a little more sugar. I was denied. So that was the end of my tea experiences.

Then, when I came to America, I became fully acquainted with tea and coffee. I even went so far as espresso! I read and also I heard that Indian doctors say if you have a little fever, then tea is very good. So I started drinking tea, since it has a medicinal effect. Alas, alas, when you start some bad habit, it is very difficult to stop. So I took tea mostly four or five times a day, up to a maximum of eight times. Bad habit, bad habit!

It is said that tea will give you strength and energy. Many people believe that God gave tea some hidden strength. God alone knows!


Let us not try to discover

Instant God-realisation,

Like instant coffee.

Let us only bring to the fore

Our heart’s sincere inner cry. ```

The mystery of tea bags

In 1964 I came to America. It was the first time I had been in an aeroplane. I was travelling by myself. I was half in this world and half in another world. At one point, the stewardess brought me a cup containing hot water. On the side was a tea bag. I tore open the bag and emptied it into the cup. Then all those little, little leaves were swimming in the cup. The whole cup was full to the brim with leaves!

My stupidity never ended! I made a complaint to the stewardess. Of course, she knew that I was the one who had made the mistake, but she did not say anything. She took away that cup and brought me another cup of hot water and a fresh tea bag. She placed the tea bag inside the water and held it there until the tea was ready. Then she left.

When I watched her making the tea, I knew what I had done wrong.

The African ambassador takes tea

Once a few ambassadors from various countries came to see me. One African lady was either an ambassador or a deputy ambassador. We were all eating together in Annam Brahma Restaurant and I was sitting beside her. Strangely enough, when the time came for her to take tea, she tore open the tea bag and emptied all the leaves into her cup. I could not believe it! Can you imagine, right in front of me she did the same thing that I had done on the plane so many years before. But she did not make any complaint. She was drinking the tea very happily!

Graduating to coffee

After drinking tea for a few years in America, I made tremendous, tremendous ‘progress'! From tea, I graduated to coffee. As in the spiritual life I made very fast progress, so here also in the caffeine world I made very fast progress! Afterwards, I used to take two or three cups of coffee on a daily basis for years. Sometimes I used to take cappuccino. Then, I think it was in Brazil, I made faster than the fastest progress. I began taking the kind of coffee that President Gorbachev’s wife used to drink — espresso. At that time my progress was really something. I was getting my ‘Master’s Degree’!

The first sip of espresso

This incident happened in Brazil. I ordered espresso and the man brought me such a tiny container. It was so small! While I was standing at the counter waiting to pay, I just took a sip. Then, right in front of the counter, I started jumping up and down, up and down! My chest was burning so powerfully. It took time for me to control my heartbeat. Then I gave the man his money. So this is my caffeine business — tea, coffee, cappuccino, espresso. Of all of them, espresso is the worst. I took it only a few times, but that was enough!

Tea and ice cream

Now my sister Lily has disappeared from the earthly scene, but in those days, since I had passed my tea examination, she used to make tea for me whenever I visited her at the Ashram. But it was controlled. Twice a day she would make it — morning and evening — and sometimes only once. By that time she herself had started drinking tea, but only once, perhaps, or twice a day.

Talking about quantity, Swami Vivekananda used to drink tea thirty times or even more during the day. Somebody used to make him a big flask and then he would take cup after cup. He started drinking tea in his childhood. Later he took both tea and coffee, but specially tea.

Then, when he came to America, he discovered ice cream, which we call kulfi. How he loved and adored ice cream! In the winter, he would go with his admirers to a restaurant. The first thing he would ask for was ice cream. The restaurant manager would say to him, “At this time of year?”

Then Swami Vivekananda wanted the ice cream to be served before the main course. They would tell him, “But this is dessert!”

“No, I like it,” was Swami Vivekananda’s answer. So, because he liked it, everybody had to take ice cream before the real meal. Love is like that.

How I stopped drinking tea and coffee

This is the story of how I stopped drinking tea and coffee. What happened is this: in June 1999 I was returning home from Pondicherry, where I had been visiting my brother Mantu. When I opened the door of the V.I.P. lounge in the Bombay Airport, I clearly saw my sister Lily there, right in front of me. As you know, she left the body on May 16th, just two weeks before. She said to me, “Come inside and sit down.”

So I took my seat. My legs were stretched out in front of me and I was quite comfortable. I was passing the time reading and drinking coffee. Then I saw my sister on my right side. I was seeing her very clearly. She was chatting with me in the inner world. All of a sudden, we were joined by my sister Ahana, who passed away in July 1950, just a few months before Sri Aurobindo. Sri Aurobindo left his body in December of that year.

Ahana is the sister who taught me my childhood songs and about whom I always tell one famous story. Once I was quite upset with my family and I refused to eat supper. So I went to bed and pretended to be asleep. Ahana came and told me that only great singers can sing while they are asleep. I wanted to prove that I was a great singer, so I started singing. Then I was caught! She carried me off to eat my supper. She died at the age of twenty-four or twenty-five and she is still in the soul’s world.

Anyway, this sister came out of the blue and started massaging my head so affectionately while Lily was talking. One soul was chatting with me, another soul was massaging me. Can you imagine? Perhaps you will call it my mental hallucination.

Why was Ahana massaging my head? When my plane arrived in India a few days earlier, two videotapes fell from the overhead compartment onto my head. Ahana was telling me that she was observing inwardly when this occurred. She said, “I was so shocked!” She was so affectionately massaging my head where the videotapes had struck it. We were talking and she was narrating various childhood incidents.

Then she stood in front of me and began begging and pleading with me. She said, “Madal, please tell me that you will never again drink tea and coffee — never! I have not made any request to you in the past. My only request to you is this: never touch tea, never touch coffee! They are not good for you.”

I looked at her and said, “Now that you are not in the land of the living, I will listen to you. Since you are begging me, I will never, never touch tea or coffee again. But had you been on earth and if you had made this request, I would have taken double the quantity!”

I never listened to my sisters! Any desire they had for me was not fulfilled. In fact, I did diametrically the opposite thing!

Since that experience, which was so vivid, I have become a saint! I have given up drinking tea and coffee. I am still keeping my promise. How obedient I am to my sister Ahana! So many times people have begged me to take just a little tea, but I said I will never touch tea and coffee again and I have to take my promise seriously. My promise is my promise. When you make a solemn promise, specially to your dear ones, you have to keep it.

Part II — Stories recounted over the years

My tea-prophecy1

My Muslim professor-friend, Abul, once said to me in an Indian restaurant, “I highly appreciate your pen, but I truly admire your abstinence. You do not drink tea at all, whereas I take tea, the slow poison, eight times a day.”

I told him not to worry. I said to him, “True, tea is slow poison, but its antidote — quick aspiration — you have in abundant measure. It will save you.”

My lofty prophecy has come true. My professor-friend and tea are no longer friends.

TCE 8. 1973

Zatopek offers chai2

The immortal runner and four-time Olympic gold medallist Emil Zatopek spent two days with us in Zurich on June 14th and 15th [1980]. Eight from my childhood, I have been a great admirer of his, so I am deeply grateful that Zatopek came from Czechoslovakia to visit us. So many unforgettable experiences we all had with him and his wife Dana!

My plane reached Zurich at 11:30 in the morning and at twelve o’clock Zatopek’s plane was supposed to arrive. Kailash, Abarita and I went with two photographers to another gate to wait for him. His plane came on time, but there was a problem with his bag. We were all excited because we could see him, but he could not come outside to greet us because he was looking for his bag.

At long last he came out and I approached him. He recognised me. I wanted to shake hands with him, but he immediately folded his hands in the Indian way and said, “Namaskar”. Then he started talking to me in Hindi, using a few Hindi words. He was asking me if I wanted to drink chai [hot tea].

Then he asked, “How is it that Hindi is easy, but Urdu I could not learn?” He and his wife were in India for four months. Like this, we were talking and talking about various things. Then Zatopek and his wife went to their hotel to take rest.

TCE 9. June 1980

The Brazilian coffee vendor3

I was in Brazil from 21 May to 1 June [1981]. One day, in Rio de Janeiro, we went to a coffee shop where it said that a cup of coffee was fifteen cruzeiros. We gave the man twenty. But instead of giving us change, the man asked for another twenty.

Alo got mad at him. When our bus driver came, he said to the man, “How can you ask for more than what it says?” Finally, the man returned five cruzeiros as our change.

TCE 10. June 1981

Coffee before the race4

I always say that the past is dust, but in my case, quite often the past is gold! Today, for inspiration, I was watching a videotape of my best seven-mile performance. It took place in Connecticut on 30 March 1980. That day I ran at a 7:19 pace. So the past for me is not dust; it is gold.

Five minutes before the race started, our limousine driver, Pavaka, came up to me and said, “Guru, would you like to have tea or coffee?”

In those days, I seldom took tea and coffee, so I said, “I do not want anything.”

“No, Guru, coffee will do you good,” said Pavaka.

So he brought me a cup of coffee and I got strength from it in the beginning of the race. My first mile split was 6:51! Later on, the coffee stopped working. Even so, my split for the last mile was 7:09.

My timing for the race was 51 minutes and 18 seconds. It still remains my personal record.

TCE 11. 20 September 1981

Only tea on my flight to Bermuda5

On the plane, to Bermuda recently I was inspired to write fifty-eight poems. That saved me! Before the flight, I had said that I would not eat anything; I would only take tea. So I just wrote and wrote and did not eat at all.

When I arrived in Bermuda, a man from immigration asked me how many times I had come to Bermuda.

I said, “Four times.”

He commented, “That means you like it.”

I replied, “Definitely I like it.”

The man went on, “That means you have friends here.”

I said, “I do not have any friends here, but I have seen some good people and I like the place."

He checked all my things very nicely but did not find any gifts for my ‘friends’.

TCE 12. January 1982

Room service in Bermuda6

Around ten o’clock at night, I ordered room service: coffee, french fries, chilled soup and plain salad. The girl who took my order said, “Please tell me what kind of salad dressing you want.”

I said, “I do not know. Any dressing.”

Then she asked me, “How old are you?”

I said, “Fifty”

She said to me, “Grandpa, I am sending you Russian dressing. I will send you to Russia.”

I said, “How I wish I could go to Russia!” This was our joke.

The girl told me that in half an hour they would send the food to my room. After an hour had passed, I phoned and said, “Please cancel my order; it is getting late.” But they said they had just sent it. Finally, the food came but unfortunately it was not good.

When they gave me the bill, I just signed it without looking at it. In the morning, I saw that it had come to $17.50! Why? There was a service charge.

TCE 13. January 1982

Bengalis go out for coffee7

Earlier this year, while I was in Delhi, they were holding the Asian Games for athletes over forty. I registered for six events, but on the day of the competition, I had such a high fever that I could not participate. The following day, I went to the stadium to watch some of the events.

In one walking race, two Bengalis stood first and second. One finished at least three minutes behind the other. But the judges mixed it up and declared the second-place finisher first.

When they made the announcement, everybody started laughing. The judges got mad because they felt they could not have made such a mistake. The walker who stood second even went to the judges and said, “I was far behind him”

One judge said, “I do not want to hear that."

So the walker who was second went and embraced the one who had actually stood first. He said, “What can we do?”

The other competitor said, “Let us go out for a cup of coffee.”

The wives of the first and second-place finishers were roaring with laughter. Fortunately, the couples were good friends. So all four of them went out for a cup of coffee.

TCE 14. 31 March 1983

Tea in the bakery8

The other day I went to a bakery. I told the lady to give me a dozen cookies. She said, “I am sorry. We only have eleven.”

I said, “Fine, then give me eleven.”

She could easily have pretended that she had given me twelve. Who was counting? But some sincere people do exist. That is why we are still alive.

Eight or nine months ago, I drank some tea in that bakery. The lady still remembers. She always says, “You don’t want tea?”

This is the famous shop that always burns down. Previously there was another owner. He used to shake hands with me and give me everything half price. Whatever the item was, he used to give me half price.

TCE 15. 12 May 1983

The Italian restaurant in Venezuela9

Yesterday, here in Puerto la Cruz, I went to an Italian restaurant with two disciple boys. The owner recognised me from the newspapers and showed me such respect. He did not speak English and my disciples’ Spanish was really something! So we could not understand each other.

I asked for coffee with milk. He could not understand and he gave me coffee without milk. So the two boys went outside and bought milk from a store. They had told the restaurant owner “leche”, but their pronunciation was horrible. When he saw them coming back into the restaurant with milk, he grabbed it and said, “No good!” Then he brought warm milk for the coffee.

The music in the restaurant was so loud! We asked him, "Can you not turn it down?” Then his worker went and turned it down. The owner came to our table two or three times to ask if the food was good. Then he kept staring at me; he was so curious. He could not speak to us and we could not speak to him, but he was so happy to have us in his restaurant.

TCE 16. 8 January 1984

"Go have a cup of coffee!"10

The first day I was in Los Angeles for the Olympic Games, I went out running early in the morning. I asked a man where the stadium was. He said, “Forget the stadium! Go have a cup of coffee!”

Another day, I was walking on the sidewalk when I saw three men — simply undivine — coming towards me. I jumped into the street to avoid them. Very loudly, one said, “Jesus!”

In silence I said to him, “Thank you for invoking a very good Friend of mine!”

TCE 17. 5 August 1984

Coffee and fever11

This morning [in Beppu, Japan], I woke up with a 105-degree fever. With greatest difficulty I opened my eyes, but then I could not see anything. So instead of participating in our running race, I walked to the 24-hour eating place and ordered coffee and eggs. The menu is in Japanese, but they have pictures of all the different dishes, so you can just point to the picture of what you want to eat.

Then Vijali came in and I had a long talk with her about Trinidad and Tobago and other countries in the Caribbean where she gives talks.

While I was walking back to the hotel, again everything seemed to be turning white. My fever and pain were killing me and I was finding it very hard to see anything.

It is extremely difficult to climb up the aspiration-tree, but the fever-tree one can climb up very easily. The aspiration-flame-tree is difficult to climb up, but the temperature-fire-tree is easy.

TCE 18. 24 December 1985

Brenda Smith's hospitality12

On November 14th, the day after we inaugurated the meditation at the British Parliament, I went to visit Jim Smith, the Registrar of Records for the British Amateur Weight Lifters’ Association. He lives about an hour and a half from London on a farm.

When I first arrived, Jim Smith’s wife, Brenda, did not want to shake hands with me. She said her hands were dirty because she had been baking. Finally, she said, “Do you mind if I shake hands with my left hand?”

She is very simple, with a good heart. She had all kinds of refreshments for us, plus four or five kinds of tea. Since I do not drink tea any more, I asked for hot chocolate and she was miserable that she did not have it. So I had orange juice.

After I drank a second orange juice, I put the glass on the floor. Then, while I was talking, I accidentally kicked the glass. Fortunately, I had already drunk the juice. I apologised profusely, but Brenda said, “Oh, never mind. There was nothing inside.”

Before we left, Brenda gave gifts to everyone — a tie or a muffler made from their own sheep’s wool. She gave me a beautiful brown and white sheepskin which she said I should stand on while I do my lifting.

TCE 19. 16 November 1986

Tea and coffee from the Bishop13

During my recent visit to Iceland, I met with the Bishop of the Lutheran Church. His name is Bishop Pétur Sigurgeirsson. This Bishop was so nice. From the beginning to the end, he showed me such affection. Our interview lasted for over an hour.

At first he said he wanted a private interview and nobody could accompany me. But then he changed his mind and invited all the disciples to come in.

He was begging everyone to drink tea or coffee and to eat the bread and cheese that he had provided. It was like a family gathering.

He could not understand why I do not drink tea or coffee, so I had to give a long explanation. Then, when he heard that I am a vegetarian, he had a volley of questions.

He knew all about prayer but he had no idea what meditation is. He could not imagine how anybody could meditate without thought. So we had a long discussion about prayer and meditation.

I told him that when I was in India, I used to meditate for six or seven hours at a time. He believed what I told him, but he said that it was impossible for him to keep his own mind quiet for more than a few minutes.

At the end, we meditated for a minute or two and prayed with our heads down. Then he stood up and said, “You know, I am eighty-six years old!” Then he placed his hands on my shoulders and pressed down on them with utmost affection. He was so sweet, so kind and so full of affection, love and wisdom.

TCE 20. 19 March 1988

My new oath14

Yesterday I took an oath. Let us see how many days it will last. From now on, I am not on speaking terms with tea. I can take hot chocolate, Pero, Ovaltine and all these things, but not tea.

In the Sri Aurobindo Ashram only twice I drank tea and in Chittagong never. My father would not allow us to drink tea or coffee.

TCE 21. 14 December 1991

Nolini-da and Amrita-da drink tea together15

At the very end of his life, Sri Ramachandra said,

Deshe deshe kalatrani

Deshe deshe cha bandhabah

Tantu desha na pashyami

Yatra brat a sahodara

It means: “In all countries there are wives, in all countries there are friends, but I shall not find a brother like Lakshmana anywhere in this world.”

In the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Nolini-da and Amrita-da were like that. Amrita-da was like a younger brother to Nolini-da. If Nolini-da went one side, Amrita-da went that side. With my own eyes I saw it. Nolini-da was the Ashram Secretary and Amrita-da was the Manager. Amrita-da would not find any fault with Nolini-da. If Nolini-da said, “This is Heaven,” Amrita-da would say it was Heaven. If Nolini-da said, “This is hell,” Amrita-da would say it was hell. He did not keep any individuality whatsoever.

The story of Rama and Lakshmana did not only happen ten thousand years ago. Even in this century, this Manager and Secretary proved it to be true. The Manager only followed the Secretary everywhere, everywhere. And he would never argue with Nolini-da. Only occasionally they would cut jokes together. I would be working inside and they would be drinking tea. Others were working there also.

Sometimes I heard them cutting jokes. One day Nolini-da was bragging that his health was perfect. His only problem was that he could not increase his height. He was at that time sixty-five years old. So Amrita-da said to him, “Oh, it is very easy. Just stand on your toes and you will become taller instantly!”

How faithful, how obedient and how self-giving Amrita-da was to Nolini-da! If Nolini-da said anything, he accepted it implicitly. I have not seen and I will not see again in this incarnation any two persons who are so sincerely surrendered and sincerely obedient to each other.

TCE 22. 12 May 1994

Tea at a high price16

This time I went to Pondicherry only to see my sister Lily, who is seriously ill in the nursing home. During my trip, I did not eat at home. As a result, my cousins were so sad and upset. They prepared food for me, but I did not take it. I said, “It is very sentimental. My sister is not here. That is why I do not feel like eating at home. When my sister is not here, it is too much for me.”

I went to a particular restaurant once or twice a day to take idli, masala dosa, sambar and tea. One day I went by rickshaw to this restaurant to eat. The rickshaw-wallah left me right outside the restaurant, not even ten metres away. I asked him to wait for me. I saw that many rickshaw drivers were keeping their cycles at that place.

Then I went inside and ordered rose milk, masala dosa and tea. The restaurant gave me very fast service. In three or four minutes they gave me the food and another ten minutes I took to finish my meal. I ate very happily.

When I went back to the rickshaw, the fellow told me his sad story. He had gone out to eat. When he came back, he saw that somebody had taken away the pillow or seat cushion of his rickshaw. People were saying that the place where he had kept the rickshaw was illegal, so the police had come and taken his pillow away.

I looked at the bench inside the rickshaw. Now it was a hard surface and it was so uneven. I said to him, “I will not be able to sit there because the pillow is gone. I am giving you the money for the ride. I will find another rickshaw.”

The rickshaw-wallah said, “No, if you do not go with me to prove that I was waiting for you, the police will not give me my pillow back.”

What was I going to do with this fellow? He was begging me to accompany him to the police station; otherwise, he could not get his seat cushion back.

The police station was out of my way. It was God knows where! We were driving and driving and I was being tortured because of the hard seat. I have such a bad back. Sometimes I tried not to sit; I stayed two or three inches above the wood because it was hurting me. And in three places there were nails! Usually the pillow covers everything. This is how I was ‘enjoying’ my journey.

I decided that since the police had taken the pillow away, whatever the police charged, I would give the money to the driver. We arrived at the police station and asked the police for the pillow. The police scolded and insulted the driver. “As if we have nothing else to do than to bring your pillow here!” Then I spoke to the police chief. He said, “No, we do not this kind of thing.”

Some people had told the driver that the police took it away, but it was not true. Then I was begging the driver, "Please, this time take me to my house."

For another fifteen minutes we drove on and I could not sit properly because it was all wood and nails. The driver did not get his pillow. When we reached my home at long last, I gave the driver fifty rupees instead of thirty. I said to myself, “God knows when he will get his pillow back."

TCE 23. September 1995

Airport tea17

When I was returning from India this time, so many things went wrong. All incorrect information was on my tickets. My flight number was Air India 101. It was supposed to leave at 2:15 in the morning. From Pondicherry, my friend brought me to Madras Airport at nine o’clock — five hours before. When I showed my ticket at the Air India counter, the man told me, “Your ticket says 101. Can you not see this is flight 401? Flight 101 is a later flight.”

Many passengers had gathered for flight 401, which departed at eleven o’clock in the evening. Around 11:30 I went to the counter again. I said, “Now tell me, when will the other plane arrive?”

The man said, “It is all over. At eleven o’clock the plane left for Bombay. From here it was flight 401. The flight number changes to 101 in Bombay.”

I went and spoke to the duty manager. She maintained it was not their fault. Then she said, “Tomorrow morning there is another flight at 7:15 from Bombay to London, but you will miss it. By the time you arrive in Bombay, it will be gone. I can give you a direct flight from here to London. You have to be here tomorrow morning. It leaves at half past seven.”

O God. I had to wait another eight hours at the airport! From time to time, I would go and get tea to stay awake. The tea was very strong. By this time, my books were all finished. I said to myself, "Let me buy two or three newspapers. Since the flight is at 7:30, I should be there around 4:30.” Actually, I was already there, since I was reading and moving around right near the counter. I wanted to be first in line.

At 4:30 I was standing at the counter. Somebody else came around five o’clock. He was a friend of the ticket checker, so he went first. Then I needed to pay the airport departure tax. The man who was in charge of collecting the departure tax was fast asleep. I was knocking and knocking. Finally, he opened up his booth.

When I went to pay, I found that I did not have enough Indian currency. They needed three hundred rupees, I had only American hundred-dollar bills. The man said to me, “Are you crazy! Why do you want to give me so much money?”

I said, “I do not have enough rupees.”

I searched and searched in my bag. Then I found a fifty-dollar bill, but fifty was also too much for him. I searched again and found a twenty-dollar bill. At last he gave me change.

After paying the departure tax, I said, “Now I have to keep myself awake for God knows how long. Let me go out again to buy another tea.”

This time, however, the tea man was fast asleep! I did not want to torture him. I waited until they announced the flight and then I boarded the plane.

TCE 24. September 1995

No tea during Ramadan18

Today, here in Kuala Lumpur, I had a long meeting with the King of Malaysia. He was formerly the Sultan whom I met with nine or ten years ago. This time also he was extremely, extremely kind to me. He was asking me what kind of rituals we have. I told him that ours is the way of prayers and meditations. Then I deeply appreciated and admired him for observing Ramadan.

During this holy month, followers of the Muslim religion bring down Allah’s Grace. During the whole year they pray to Allah, but specially this month, Allah’s boundless Bounty, Compassion and Love He gives to His children.

Here the outer starvation and the inner feast go together. Outwardly Muslims fast, but inwardly Allah blesses them with His boundless Affection, Joy and pride. This is the inner feast.

I told the King that I am a Hindu, but I have the deepest appreciation for Ramadan and I have the deepest admiration for all those who make this solemn sacrifice for Allah with their love, adoration and devotion.

His Majesty was very moved. Then he told me that he was extremely sorry that he could not entertain us, even with a cup of tea, during this fasting month.

I said to him, “Your blessings are the most important most delicious and most significant feast for us.”

Then he was very, very happy.


A non-seeker drinks coffee

To keep awake,

A seeker drinks consciousness-light

To keep awake.


TCE 25. 30 December 1998

Taking tea at Ramana Maharshi's ashram19

Two days before I was due to return to New York, I decided to go to Ramana Maharshi’s Ashram, which is only two and a half hours away from Pondicherry. The name of my taxi driver was Bishwanathan, which means ‘Lord of the world’. I have never seen such a nice driver.

The first thing to greet me when I arrived at Arunachala was a peacock. It was so beautiful, but the sound of the peacock was something else! How could God give such beauty to the peacock and such an unpleasant voice?

I took very nice pictures, right in front of the main building and also I used my video camera. The entire Ashram was full of peace, peace, peace. Then I took off my shoes and entered into the main meditation hall. There were six or seven pictures of Ramana Maharshi and a large statue of him. This statue is most sacred. People were going around the statue but, poor me, because of my knee, I was able to go around only once.

I sat down on the floor to meditate. The atmosphere inside the meditation hall was so sublime. The devotees were bowing down and prostrating themselves before the statue.

Then I wanted to go to the cave where Maharshi actually meditated when he came to Arunachala. When I went there fifteen years ago, I saw the cave and I had a very good experience. In 1956 and 1958 I also walked there. But this time it was impossible. They said it was a forty-five minute walk away and I was unable to go more than a few steps.

My taxi driver said to me, “They may be wrong. You speak English and the President of the Ashram also speaks English. Let us go and ask him."

Since the driver was begging me, I went to the President’s office and asked, “May I come in?” The President was not there, but another gentleman was inside. He said, “Do come in.”

I went into the room and asked him how long it takes to go from the main building to the cave. He answered, “Forty-five minutes.” Then he asked me, “Is this your first time?”

I said, “No, this is my fourth time. In 1956 I came for the first time and then I came again in 1958.”

“1956 and 1958!” he exclaimed. He could not believe it.

Then I added, “About fifteen years ago, I also came here. So this is my fourth visit. Now I live in America.”

He asked, “In 1956 and 1958 where were you living?”

I told him, “I was at the Sri Aurobindo Ashram.”

He said, “My God! By the way, did you know Dilip-da?”

I was so happy to answer his question, I said, “I used to bask in the sunshine of his affection.”

The gentleman said, “Please sit down, please sit down. I have to hear stories about him.”

I said, “I can tell a great many stories.”

He said, “You have to sit down and tell me. I am a great admirer of Dilip-da.”

I said, “Dilip Kumar Roy is immortal.”

He went on, “Then you have to take tea.”

I replied, “No, thank you. Today I have already taken tea three times. It is not good to take too much.”

He insisted, “No, no, you must take some tea. Then I will take you to the place where Ramana Maharshi used to eat with us.”

I said, “I would be so happy to see it.”

He insisted on bringing the tea and then he showed me the place where we were supposed to go and drink it. Alas, there were so many steps. I said to him, “Please forgive me. I will not be able to climb up the steps because of the condition of my knee.”

He said, “All right, then let us drink the tea here in my office."

So we sat in his office and drank the tea. He was asking me so many questions about Dilip-da, the Golden Voice, and I said many, many nice things about him. The gentleman was so pleased to hear them. Then he, said, “Now kindly tell me about yourself.”

I began, “My name is Chinmoy Kumar Ghose.”

He was dumbfounded. He said, “Sri Chinmoy? Sri Chinmoy?”

I said, “Yes, my name is Sri Chinmoy.”

“Then you are the one we read about in the Indian Express and The Hindu?” he asked.

I said, “Yes, I am the one.”

He was so excited and delighted. He said, “The President would have been so happy to meet with you! Now he is out of town. If you could stay here overnight, he could meet with you tomorrow when he returns.”

I said, “That means you are the Vice-President.”

Very humbly, he said, "I am nobody, I am nobody.” Then I asked him his name and he told me it was Mani Ramanan. He and his older brother, Sundaram, who is the President, are the direct descendants of Ramana Maharshi.

Originally, I had thought of going there for only half an hour, but I spent over two hours. Mani was so kind to me. At one point, he asked me, “What do you think of our Ashram?”

I answered, “I have been to so many spiritual places. I live in America, in New York. In America, sound is sound and silence is silence. Here, around the temple and in the vicinity of Ramana Maharshi’s Ashram, I wish to say that the silence is such a deep silence. But inside the sound also I feel silence.”

Mani looked at me. So I added, by way of explanation, “Sound is sound and silence is silence. But here at Ramana Maharshi’s place, even in sound, I feel such peace, such joy. I see men and women passing by and I see such peace in their faces. There is so much peace. Here in sound also I feel silence.”

Then he was very, very happy. At the end of our conversation, he said, “Now we have to take pictures to prove that you were here.”

So the taxi driver took our picture. Then the Vice-President walked with me to the car. He said, “I am so happy, so happy and so fortunate that you came here.”

As I returned to Pondicherry, I was swimming and swimming in the sea of ecstasy. In the car I wrote a poem in Bengali dedicated to Ramana Maharshi.

TCE 27. 11 June 1999

No fish, no tea20

This time, for my flight to Munster, Germany, I told Ashrita not to book a vegetarian meal for me because the food is always inedible. So when it came time for the meal to be served, the stewardess asked me, “Do you want chicken or fish?”

Of the two, I had to choose. I said, “Fish.” Then she put a plate in front of me with a small piece of fish and a salad. I removed the fish and began eating the salad. Alas, it was all leaves! There was nothing inside. There were also a few small cookies on the tray.

In the meantime, they asked if I wanted juice. Once I took juice and once I took ginger ale. Then the meal was finished! So many times they asked if I wanted tea, but I was a saint. I did not take tea or coffee. I have to honour the promise that I made to my sister Ahana when I was returning from Pondicherry in June this year.

TCE 28. 8 August 1999

Sri Aurobindo and Suresh Chandra Chakravarty drink tea21

In the Sri Aurobindo Ashram there was a super-excellent Bengali writer. His name was Suresh Chandra Chakravarty, but he was known as Moni. He was extremely close to Sri Aurobindo. He was the one who first went to Pondicherry at Sri Aurobindo’s request to arrange for Sri Aurobindo’s accommodation there. Everything was done in secret so that the British would not come to know of it. This young man took such a risk because the British wanted to kidnap Sri Aurobindo. Sri Aurobindo arrived in Pondicherry by steamer on 4 April 1910.

Sri Aurobindo had very few companions at this time. Suresh Chandra Chakravarty was one of these young men. They used to take turns making tea for Sri Aurobindo and cooking. When Sri Aurobindo used to drink his tea, he had the habit of placing his legs on the table and this young man did the same. He used to put his feet up on the table. Nobody else dared to do it, but he was so close to Sri Aurobindo.

Then, when the Mother came to Pondicherry in 1914 and saw this behaviour, she was horrified. How could a disciple put his legs up on the table in front of the Master? So she stopped it. She was also very strict with Sri Aurobindo’s diet. From eight or nine cups of tea a day, she brought it down to one.

TCE 29. 14 January 2002

Is God a coffee-drinker?22

“What is the clue that God may be a coffee-drinker?”


TCE 30. Sri Chinmoy told this joke to his students on 25 June 2005

Coffee this side, water that side

This incident took place during my recent visit to India. I was at the Madras Airport waiting for my plane to New York. The plane was leaving at three o’clock and I went there at eleven o’clock. I was very, very thirsty. I saw at a distance there was a coffee stand. But I have made a promise to my sister Ahana that I will not drink coffee.

At that moment, I saw my sister vividly in the inner world. She said to me, “There is a stand on the other side that sells water and other things.”

I said to her, “I cannot see it. I only see the coffee stand and there it is written ‘coffee’.” I did not notice that on the other side of the coffee stand they sold water and potato chips. I did not see anything. So in the inner world, I was arguing with my sister. She passed away in 1950, in the month of July. She was saying to me, “Go that side.”

Finally, I went that side and I saw that she was right. There I was able to buy water. Potato chips I did not get. Then I drank the water and I was happy.

Surendra Mohan Ghosh drinks tea with Nolini-da23

Surendra Mohan Ghosh was a seniormost Parliamentarian in India. Then he became President of the Calcutta Commission. He was a disciple of Sri Aurobindo. He is the one who used to get private interviews with Sri Aurobindo even after Sri Aurobindo stopped giving them. At that time, he was a Congress leader and Sri Aurobindo used to advise him. Even in those days, in 1945 or ’46, Sri Aurobindo was interested in knowing about Indian politics.

Surendra Mohan Ghosh was also our Nolini-da’s best friend. Whenever he used to come to the Ashram, he used to drink tea with Nolini-da around one-thirty in the afternoon. My cousin Nirmala was the one who used to make tea for Nolini-da twice a day.

My first meeting with Surendra Mohan Ghosh took place in Nolini-da’s room. One day this gentleman was there and he and Nolini-da were drinking tea and chatting. With folded hands, I entered the room to get some papers. I knew they would not mind. I was going out again very respectfully when Nolini-da asked me to stop. He introduced me and then said in English, “Chinmoy is my only authority on all my writings and everything about me.” By that time, I had translated hundreds of Nolini-da’s articles from Bengali into English.

Afterwards, Surendra Mohan Ghosh asked me to come to his place and he was so nice to me. He was one of those who helped me considerably to get my Indian passport when I was having so many difficulties. He liked me very, very much.

When my second book came out, I gave him a copy. The name of the book is The Mother of the Golden All. After he read it, he quoted a very well-known verse from Kalidasa. It means:

> When the Grace

> Of the Goddess Saraswati descends,

> The dumb become eloquent

> And the lame can scale mountains.

Then he said, “Through the Mother’s Grace, everything is possible.” He knew that I did not complete my schooling and I did not have any degree, but the Grace descended upon me.

TCE 32. 3 June 2002

Pandit Ravi Shankar sees a parrot sipping tea24

In the world of music, Ustad Allauddin Khan was Ravi Shankar’s Guru. But in spirituality, his Guru — his only Guru, he says — was Tat Baba.

In his autobiography, My Music, My Life, Ravi Shankar describes an incident which is so spiritually significant. As you know, spiritual Masters can take any form they want to. One day Ravi Shankar’s Guru, Tat Baba, went to another town far away. All of a sudden, one of the disciples came running to Ravi Shankar. He was screaming, "Baba has come! Baba has come!”

Ravi Shankar was very puzzled because he knew that his Guru was physically absent. He went to the place where his Guru was supposed to be but he was not at all convinced that his Guru would be there. In fact, he felt that the devotion of this particular disciple bordered on fanaticism.

When he arrived at the house, what did he see? A beautiful parrot sitting on Baba’s couch. This couch was reserved for Baba alone. Someone brought the parrot special food which birds like, but it was not at all interested. Then it saw a cup of tea and it began to take little sips from the cup. By this time, all the disciples realised that the parrot was none other than their own beloved Tat Baba. He himself liked tea very much.

The parrot stayed on the couch for three days and many visitors came and paid their respects to it. Ravi Shankar also bowed down before his Guru. Then, one day, the bird disappeared out of the window.

TCE 33. 30 October 2002

Swami Vivekananda and the poisoned coffee25

Mani Sankar Mukherjee is a very great Bengali writer. He has written a wonderful book about Swami Vivekananda. I have read about Vivekananda all my life, but in Sankar’s book I read many, many things for the first time. This is one incident that Sankar himself told me when he came to New York.

After the Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893, Swami Vivekananda became world-famous overnight. Here in America, a few religious fanatics stood dead against him. They were trying to destroy his reputation by defaming him everywhere.

Once Vivekananda and six or seven of his admirers were invited to dinner by a very distinguished lady. During the meal, they were all talking and talking about ‘cabbages and kings’. It was nothing to do with spirituality. They were in the seventh heaven of worldly talk.

The hostess came and asked everyone, “Now would you like to have a cup of coffee?” Vivekananda used to drink tea sometimes twenty times a day. He also drank coffee a few times, Sankar told me. And his friends and disciples also drank tea and coffee.

On this day, they were served coffee. Everybody started drinking it. As soon as Vivekananda lifted the cup to his mouth, he vividly saw his Master, Sri Ramakrishna. Sri Ramakrishna said to him, “Naren, stop, stop! There is poison inside your cup.”

The fanatics had bribed the cook to put poison inside Vivekananda’s cup. Many others were drinking the coffee and nothing happened. But Vivekananda’s coffee was examined and it was found to have poison inside. And where was Sri Ramakrishna at that time? In Heaven.

This was the Master’s love for his dearest disciple. Sri Ramakrishna stopped him immediately. Otherwise, he would have died. Those fanatics were so ruthless.

TCE 34. 21 January 2004

God-realisation is not like instant coffee26

A young Australian friend of mine was a military general in one of his previous incarnations. In that same incarnation, he became fed up with his so-called name, fame and power. He renounced everything and wanted to realise God. This happened not in his immediate past incarnation, but long before. Still he is in search of God-realisation.

Rome was not built in a day. Even so, God-realisation is not like instant coffee. It takes a little time! You have to get the coffee ready. You have to prepare the beans and all that!

TCE 35. 5 February 2004

Chocolate instead of tea27

On the way back from Slovenia, the stewardess asked me if I would like to have coffee or tea. I smiled at her and said, “No.”

Then I said, “By the way, do you have chocolate?”

She said, “Yes.”

I meant hot chocolate, but I forgot to say the word ‘hot’. So she immediately brought me a chocolate bar. What could I do? There were three pieces of chocolate inside. So I ate two pieces and put the third one on the tray. The stewardess took the tray away and it was all over.

I continued reading. About ten minutes later, she returned and put the third piece back on my tray.

TCE 36. 2 May 2004

Only coffee for Raisa Maximovna28

In 1998 I invited President Gorbachev and Raisa Maximovna to eat with me. They were visiting New York and they were staying at the Waldorf Astoria. So our meeting took place at that hotel, in one of the suites.

The President was eating our Indian food from “Curry in a Hurry”, but Raisa Maximovna only wanted to have a little coffee because she was feeling airsick. They had been travelling for so many days.

The coffee was inside the coffee pot but, poor me, I did not know how to open it. Raisa Maximovna was also trying, but she could not open it.

Then Sagar tried. He was our interpreter. He also could not open it in the beginning. Then he was successful and he served both Raisa Maximovna and the President.

TCE 37. 31 May 2004

My pride is smashed by tea29

I can tell many stories about how my pride has been smashed. As you know, in my Chittagong life my parents would not allow us to drink tea or coffee. It was forbidden, forbidden. They only kept it for guests.

Then in my Ashram life I took pride in not drinking tea. Only twice in twenty years I drank it. The first time I drank tea, I did not like it. Then, a few years later, the second time I drank tea, I was very upset because there was not enough sugar.

I asked the man who gave it to me for a little more sugar. He said, “There is no more sugar.” Then very powerful pride entered into me. I said, “All right! Without sugar I will take it.”

I did not like it because there was hardly any sugar inside, but because of my pride, I drank it. Then I suffered. I had to vomit considerably because when you do not like something, the body can react most powerfully.

Now who will believe that I had to vomit because I did not like the tea? But something was wrong inside my system, so I suffered. Then my pride was hurt because I thought that I could eat anything and drink anything.

TCE 38. 17 October 2004

Tagore's peculiar way of drinking tea30

When India’s greatest poet, Rabindranath Tagore, visited Japan, the Japanese showed him tremendous respect and love. On one occasion, he was drinking tea with them. Everyone was using cups, but Tagore was inspired to pour a little bit of tea into the saucer. Then he started drinking from the saucer.

His Japanese friends who were seated at the same table also started drinking tea in Tagore’s way. Then one of them asked Tagore, “Sir, why do you drink like this?”

Tagore replied, "This is our traditional Indian way. But why do you have to follow my way?”

They answered, “Because you are so great.”

TCE 39. 1 December 2005

Kabhul: a short story31

There was a young boy named Kabhul. He was twelve years old. He used to play football extremely well. What you call soccer here is what we call football in India. He was the captain of his team.

One day, after the game was over, he went to a cafeteria and wanted to drink a cup of tea. The waiter gave him a cup, a small quantity of milk and a spoonful of sugar. He asked the waiter to give him one more spoonful and the waiter gave it to him. Then he said, “Can you give me one more, just one more?”

The waiter said, “You greedy fellow!”

The boy was simply shocked to hear the word ‘greedy’. How could the man call him greedy? He said to the waiter, “Do not call me greedy!”

“Instead of one spoonful of sugar, you need three spoonfuls. What else shall I call you? You really are a greedy fellow!”

Kabhul was very sad and shocked, but he drank the tea anyway and then he asked for a cup of milk. The waiter brought it to him. Kabhul said, “I wish to have one more cup of tea and please bring me three spoonfuls of sugar. I will pay for them if I have to.”

The man said, “All right, if you want to pay a little more, I will give you three spoonfuls instead of one. Usually I give only one spoonful, but since you are ready to pay, I will give you as many spoonfuls as you want.”

Kabhul drank half the milk by the time the man brought him the tea. Then he said to the man, “Now bring me a small quantity of milk for the tea.”

The waiter said, “You fool! Here you still have so much milk. Can you not pour a little milk from here?”

Kabhul asked, “Why? Then why should I pay for the milk that you are supposed to give me with the tea? You should give me that.”

The waiter said, “You fool!”

Kabhul answered, “I am a fool and you are a rogue! You have to give me the milk.”

The waiter brought him a small quantity of milk and said, “You are a rogue and you are a greedy fellow and you are a fool.”

Then Kabhul said, “Now I am making a promise. I promise to you that in this life I will never, never, never drink tea again. Today you have called me a greedy fellow and you have just called me a fool. Just for this, I am not going to drink tea any more in this life. I take an oath.”

The waiter said, “You nuisance! Who cares for you? Who cares whether you drink tea or not? Who cares? You nuisance!”

Kabhul got furious. He said, “I am a greedy fellow, I am a fool, I am a nuisance!” He paid the waiter the money and left the restaurant feeling very sad and depressed. He said to himself, “I come of a rich family and in one day this fellow has to insult me three times! At home when I eat, my parents, specially my mother, always insist on my eating a lot of food. The more I eat, the more money I get from them. Here, the more I drink, the more I have to pay. At home with my parents, I get their love, affection and everything. And, in addition, the more I eat, the more they give me money. I get all love, all affection from my parents when I eat. Here people are so indifferent and so careless. They do not care for me at all and I have to be the one to pay.”

When Kabhul arrived home, he said to his mother, “Mother, how I have been insulted today by an ordinary man! A waiter insulted me and told me that I am a greedy fellow. Then he said that I am a fool. Then he said that I am a nuisance.”

Kabhul’s mother heard the whole story from her son. Then she said, “Look, my son, how many times have I told you that tea is not good for anybody’s health, so we do not drink tea. I do not allow you to drink tea here at all and I have told you repeatedly not to drink tea outside, but you do not listen to me. So you see, when you do not listen to me, how people insult you!”

The boy said, “Mother, I shall always listen to you. From now on, I shall stop drinking tea. And, in the future, I shall not do anything that you ask me not to do. I shall always listen. Whatever you want me to do, I shall do and whatever you ask me not to do, I will not do. I shall always try to please you. And I shall always obey you. If I obey you, then nobody will dare to insult me.”

“My son,” his mother replied, “nobody will dare to insult you if you always listen to me.”

TCE 40. 1974

A few more words on tea and coffee

Question: What kind of food should we eat to achieve purity?

Sri Chinmoy: Please try to avoid meat and fish; and, of course, liquor and tobacco are out of the question. All fruits and vegetables, as well as dairy products, are fine. Processed foods may also be eaten as long as they do not interfere with good health. Also, coffee and tea are not good, except for herbal teas. To me, coffee and tea are slow poisons. They just take a little longer time to kill you! Of course, each person has some power of resistance, so if it is a very slow poison, if we fight we can win the battle. But we must not squander our power by using it to fight against these slow poisons.

A disciple of mine used to drink tea six times a day, so I asked him to drink it five times. Then, after a month, I told him to reduce it to four times. Eventually he stopped completely. Serious things must be done gradually. If he had stopped all at once, he might have suffered from some serious disease. If the body is not strong, any sudden change in its habits can cause a serious attack upon one’s health.

There are spiritual methods that can come to your rescue when you are tired. You can do alternate nostril breathing exercises for five minutes. But do not do them mechanically. Concentrate while you are breathing and you are bound to feel that you are breathing in divine energy. Coffee gives you energy; tea gives you energy. But divine energy, which you are breathing in constantly, has infinitely more power than coffee and tea.

You say that sometimes you feel drowsy and you feel it is perilous to drive in that condition. Why should only coffee and tea come to the rescue in your life? I always say that coffee and tea are slow poisons. There are other ways to awaken yourself, spiritual ways.

Spiritual progress is not like instant coffee. It is a slow and steady progress. Slowly, steadily and unerringly we have to walk along Eternity’s Road in order to reach Infinity’s Goal.

Editor's preface

On 28 October 2006, Sri Chinmoy was inspired to relate some of his most memorable experiences drinking tea and coffee up until 1999, when he promised the soul of his long-departed sister Ahana that he would not take either beverage again in this lifetime.

Here are Sri Chinmoy’s recollections from that evening, along with other stories gathered from his writings over the years. Some of these stories pertain to the tea and coffee experiences of well-known luminaries such as Swami Vivekananda, Rabindranath Tagore, Nolini Kanta Gupta, Raisa Maximovna Gorbachev and Pandit Ravi Shankar. The book also contains one of Sri Chinmoy’s short stories relating to tea, as well as excerpts from his other writings where he sometimes uses the analogy of instant coffee as the antithesis of the slow and steady journey towards God-realisation.

Although Sri Chinmoy advised against excessive intake of tea and coffee, describing them as ‘slow poisons’, he was known to recommend them to some of his students who were faced with the prospect of a long interstate drive, an all-night project or a marathon activity of some kind. In addition, a number of his students operate cafes specialising in fine coffees and teas, while one has a wholesale business dealing in organic coffee. And in many of the vegetarian restaurants run by Sri Chinmoy’s students around the world, one of the most sought-after items on the menu is traditional Indian chai.

Sri Chinmoy’s approach to tea and coffee reveals one of countless endearing aspects of this contemporary spiritual Master. On the highest spiritual level, he offered seekers everywhere a sunlit path to God. On the human level, he participated wholeheartedly in the experience of living in this world — including drinking a cup of coffee before a brisk seven-mile race or while waiting for a flight at an airport in the course of his tireless world-service.

From:Sri Chinmoy,My book of tea and coffee experiences, Agni Press, 2009
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