Muhammad Ali and Sri Chinmoy meditate

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Interview between Sri Chinmoy and Muhammad Ali

MAM 1e1. This interview took place in Herbert Muhammad's apartment in Manhattan on 29 September 1977, the day that Muhammad Ali defeated Earnie Shavers for the world heavyweight boxing championship.

Conversation — part I

Sri Chinmoy (enroute to the apartment): Were you in India?

Jeremiah (Muhammad Ali’s assistant): Bombay.

Sri Chinmoy: You come from Bombay?

Jeremiah: No, I went to Bombay. I’m from America. I was reading some of your little book with the conversation between you and Muhammad Ali and Herbert Muhammad. It was very interesting, very interesting. You share many of our own views and I thought it was very, very interesting.

Sri Chinmoy: In Allah’s Heart we are all one.

Jeremiah: Right, right!

Sri Chinmoy: We are all one. How is Herbert Muhammad? The last time I saw him he was not well.

Jeremiah: He’s doing fine. He will be here about one o’clock today. His health has improved. You know, he has a little sugar diabetes, and he is overweight, too. Now, please come this way. Have a seat, Sir.

Sri Chinmoy (to Muhammad Ali): Dearest brother, greater than the greatest, dearest brother, I have come to greet you and offer you once more my soulful salute — my soulful salute and deepest appreciation, admiration and love.

Muhammad Ali: God bless you. Have a seat.

Sri Chinmoy: Yesterday it was our strong desire to honour you at the United Nations. Unfortunately, you could not be at the United Nations.

Muhammad Ali: I was so obligated; I couldn’t make it. I appreciated it. I was real honoured to get that invitation, but we couldn’t make it. What do you do there?

Sri Chinmoy: We pray and meditate twice a week. On Tuesdays and Fridays we pray together with the delegates and staff. There I was going to offer you my deepest gratitude for what you are doing — not only for the black Muslims but also for mankind. You are changing the face and fate of mankind. Your very name encourages and inspires. As soon as people hear ‘Muhammad Ali,’ they are inspired. They get tremendous joy. They get such dynamism to be brave and face ignorance. Your very name does that. That’s why I’m so grateful to you, so proud of you.

Muhammad Ali: My goal is to be like you one day — to be peaceful and out of this sport working for humanity and for God. I was telling Jeremiah that after we finish boxing I want to learn how to get out of this life and use my popularity and my intelligence for humanity — to help people in whatever way I can. I don’t know how, but I want to do something — bring people together, work for God and help people. I know there is something I am supposed to do, but I don’t know really exactly what its purpose is; but it’s something.

Sri Chinmoy: You know the purpose. It is only a question of Allah’s Hour. You are the supreme instrument of Allah. Today He is utilising you as the greatest boxer. One day He will utilise you as the greatest preacher. The other day I was reading in the newspaper about you as a preacher and minister. So, now your heart of love you are using for a special purpose.

Muhammad Ali: I’ll only say one thing, Brother, not to cut you off. But I don’t want and I never wanted the image of being the greatest preacher. Boxing is all publicity. In this country this is how we promote: “I’m the greatest. I’ll get him in round seven.” But this is not really my heart. This is just outer appearance to promote fights. I don’t really feel this way. Ministry is so serious, and there everybody is equal before God. Therefore, I don’t want to get the image of being the greatest preacher, because that’s boastful; it is not humble, it is not spiritual. So I don’t want to go into that thing — that I am the greatest preacher: just a minister, just a lecturer or helper.

There are so many people who are great; but only God, Allah, is really great. Therefore, I want to get out of this brashness, this image. We’ve got to stop that “I’m the greatest” thing and forget it. I am just a humble servant and I have a lot to learn. I need people like yourself to teach me what to say and what to do and how to approach certain things. So I don’t want to talk that “I am the greatest” attitude and preach it. Do you understand what I mean? I don’t want that.

Conversation — part II

Sri Chinmoy: You don’t have to say that you are the greatest, but your heart of oneness with all humanity makes you the greatest. A few years ago you gave a talk at Harvard about the heart. I still remember it. I read it and I heard about it.

Muhammad Ali: Actually it was something from Hazrat Inayat Khan.

Sri Chinmoy: Yes, his son, Pir Vilayat Khan, is my friend. He is in London. We are very close friends.

Muhammad Ali: His father was so great. I’ve read his books.

Sri Chinmoy: Very great. His son is now the head of the Sufi Movement. His name is Pir Vilayat Khan.

Jeremiah: Yeah, I’ve read about him.

Muhammad Ali: Well, that’s where I got the lecture from — his father. All that stuff comes from his father directly.

Jeremiah: They’re from India, aren’t they?

Sri Chinmoy: Yes, they are from India. Two years ago he invited me to give a talk at his ashram, and he asked me a question on spirituality. There were quite a few of his followers, and I conducted meditation there. It was in Woodstock.

Muhammad Ali: His father was a great man, wasn’t he?

Sri Chinmoy: Very great, very great.

Muhammad Ali: Why is it that people like Hazrat Inayat Khan are not real popular in this country, in the world? His books are so full of wisdom.

Sri Chinmoy: Full of love, full of light.

Muhammad Ali: Where is he popular, in what country?

Sri Chinmoy: He is popular only in the hearts of those who love God.

Muhammad Ali: That’s right.

Sri Chinmoy: He is not popular even in India, but only in the hearts of those who love God.

Muhammad Ali: That’s beautiful: popular in the heart of those who love God. That’s why I’m glad to see you.

Sri Chinmoy: Love of God, of Allah, is more than enough. They feel their oneness with Allah, and that is more than enough for them.

Muhammad Ali: Yes, that’s right. They don’t need publicity. You’re so right.

Conversation — part III

Sri Chinmoy: I wish to offer this trophy to you from the very, very depths of my heart. This is my soulful offering to you, Brother. I know how busy you are today, and this is a most important day. My prayer, my soulful prayer, will be all for you, with you, for you.

Muhammad Ali: Oh, is that beautiful!

Sri Chinmoy: With my heart I am offering this. This is just a humble token.

Muhammad Ali: Thank you. You didn’t have to do this. You didn’t have to do this.

Sri Chinmoy: But along with this is my heart. My heart is inside this. So please take my heart.

Jeremiah: Thank you, Guru…beautiful.

Muhammad Ali: It’s the biggest trophy I have. You didn’t have to do that, Brother. I am really surprised.

Sri Chinmoy: May I make a humble request? There (on the trophy) it is mentioned “United Nations Meditation Group.” Last year I dedicated a soulful song to you. We won’t intrude upon your most valuable time; it will take only two or three minutes for them to sing it.

Muhammad Ali: No, stay here. No Sir, I’ll let you know when I’m tired. Stay here.

Sri Chinmoy: No, I am saying that the members of the Meditation Group are downstairs. They would be so deeply honoured if they could sing and offer you that song.

Muhammad Ali: I like songs.

Sri Chinmoy: I am so grateful. They are, like me, eagerly waiting to sing the song.

Muhammad Ali: Are they followers?

Sri Chinmoy: They are followers of God. You call Him ‘Allah.’ We call Him ‘Supreme.’ We are all following the same God.

Muhammad Ali: I want to hear something. No, you tell me what you think about this. I don’t know if this makes sense. Rivers, lakes and streams: they all have different names but they all contain water. So also do religions have different names, and they all contain truth, expressed in different ways and forms.

Sri Chinmoy: Absolutely true. Now, you call it ‘water,’ and in a different country they will call it something else. Each language has its own word. But when you taste water and drink water, it is the same substance. Religion is also like that. Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity and Islam are all the same. Their essence is always the same; only in forms and shapes do they differ. That is what creates problems for us. But once we love God, the outer form goes away. If we sincerely love Allah, then immediately the confusion that the mind creates for us — -the outer forms that it creates — disappear.

Muhammad Ali: That’s beautiful. Do you have a place where you lecture?

Sri Chinmoy: Yes, in many places I give lectures. Twice a week I go to the United Nations. We pray and meditate and have soulful discussions there. Plus, once a month I give a Dag Hammarskjold Lecture at the U.N. I’d be so honoured if you could come once to the United Nations. I would like to honour you at our Group Meditation with the delegates and the Secretariat staff. We know how busy you are, but next time, if it would be at all possible, we would be so deeply honoured, Brother, to have you at the United Nations. There all the nations meet together. All the nations means all the religions. Each nation has a religion of its own, and at the United Nations they are all praying together to change the face of mankind.

Muhammad Ali: Good!

Sri Chinmoy: This very thing you have been doing all your life.

Conversation — part IV

Muhammad Ali: Where were you born, Brother?

Sri Chinmoy: I was born in Bengal, India.

Muhammad Ali: How long have you been in this country?

Sri Chinmoy: I have been here for thirteen years. For thirteen years I have been doing the same thing: praying, meditating and trying to be of service to the Supreme, Allah.

Muhammad Ali: Right!

Sri Chinmoy: As your goal, your aim, is to love mankind, even so our aim is to do the same thing.

Muhammad Ali: It’s just a shame, Brother, that great men like Hazrat Inayat Khan are popular only in the hearts of those who love God. No, it is the same thing with your spirit and the things that you are doing. When we walk the streets, we rarely can find people who think like this. There are so many people against this way of thinking. They don’t like it or they don’t follow it, or they are so sinful and so wrapped up with the world and the spirits of the world that they don’t seem to really understand the value of what we’re talking about. It seems like in every ten thousand people you might meet, one will feel like we do. I know it isn’t important as far as we’re concerned, but when will we start seeing more people that think like us? When will people start practising what they are preaching — not just preach, but start to really live it?

There have always been religious men like Jesus and Moses and Mohammed, and they have always been in the minority. Do you think in our lifetime we’ll ever see a great change in the masses of the people? Billy Graham has converts, and Reverend Ike, and, say, yourself. But when you walk the streets, you can’t find these people. They are so few; they are so scattered. You understand? My joy would be to see the masses in this country or whatever country start getting influenced and recognising a man like yourself and recognising the things that you are saying, and really getting behind you. Do you understand what I’m saying?

Jeremiah: Right now, it looks like evil outweighs good.

Muhammad Ali: That’s what I mean, yeah.

Sri Chinmoy: You are so right, Brother. We say that the hour before dawn is the darkest. You mentioned right now about evil. Before dawn it is all dark, and sometimes it is the darkest, thickest night; but then the dawn breaks. We are hoping that the dawn will soon break.

Muhammad Ali (speaking to Jeremiah): He is a pious and a good man; you can see it and feel it. I can see it, you can see it, but the ordinary American will look at him like he’s crazy. They think he’s off, but they’re the ones that are off. They feel sorry for him, or they don’t know what he is doing, or they think he’s too far out. They are so off, so wrong.

Sri Chinmoy: I am so grateful to you, Brother. Here we are talking, but really it is our hearts that are talking — our heart of oneness. We are of the One, we are for the One. There is one Supreme, the great God Allah, and we are all His children. He is the Flower and we are the petals. When we blossom, the Flower becomes very beautiful. He is our Source; He is all-Beauty. Only when we blossom properly can we appreciate our Source.

Muhammad Ali: You’re beautiful.

Sri Chinmoy: You have so much inner wisdom, Brother. The world will always appreciate this infinite treasure that you embody. You are embodying this infinite wisdom, and I am sure you will offer it to mankind. As soon as you speak, thousands and millions of people hear. Allah is being revealed through your heart. Your very presence inspires people, and millions of people listen when you speak. And this is what Allah wants.

Muhammad Ali: Yes, that’s what I want to do. That is what I want to live for. Brother, you’re keeping me in good spirits. I got my physical worked on; now I am getting my spiritual worked on, and then I’ll be ready.

Sri Chinmoy: Are the singers here?

Disciple: The elevator is small, so they are only bringing a few at a time.

Muhammad Ali: I’ll meet them as they come up. (Shaking hands) Hello, kindly be seated. How many do we have?

Sri Chinmoy: A few more are coming. They are all from the United Nations Meditation Group. They will be singing.

Muhammad Ali: Your dresses are pretty. I love those dresses. I divorced a girl once because she wouldn’t wear those dresses. You look so clean and …

Sri Chinmoy: These dresses immediately bring forward their purity, serenity and divinity.

Muhammad Ali: That’s right. How many people in this country, roughly, do you estimate follow your ideals and this way of life? Do you have any figure?

Sri Chinmoy: About seven hundred.

Muhammad Ali: Seven hundred. (To singers) I don’t want trouble out of you. I’m shaking hands today.

Sri Chinmoy: These are the main singers. (They sing the Muhammad Ali song.)

Muhammad Ali: That’s beautiful. That’s the Beauty of Allah Himself bestowed upon me. I’ve never heard nothing like that in my life. Thank you so much. It was so beautiful.

(Then Sri Chinmoy and Muhammad Ali meditate together in silence for about a half hour, standing side by side. Towards the end Muhammad Ali begins quietly chanting Allah’s name.)

Conversation — part V

Muhammad Ali (after the meditation): Thank you all for coming. It really got my spirits high. It (the boxing championship fight) might end in one round now. God bless you. Thank you.

Muhammad Ali (chatting with the singers as they wait for the elevator. Someone had asked him if he is afraid when fighting): I don’t think about it. You don’t have fear and you don’t grieve if you’re a true believer. That’s what our Holy Koran says. A true believer in God has no fear; nor does he grieve. So you don’t really fear anything, especially when you’re trying to be right, because the quicker we leave this world, the quicker we’ll be in a better world. So we welcome death if it means fighting for God’s Cause. Or if you’re attacked or something happens and you die in the Name of God, you feel good because you’re going to your Eternal Home. This life is just eighty years at most. This isn’t going to last long. When I get in the right, I’m like the only celebrity and world-person that will appreciate something like this. The Power of God makes me feel fearless; so I’m not worried.

I’ll try to say hello to Sri Chinmoy tonight over the world TV.

Disciple: Thank you. We will be watching you on TV.

Muhammad Ali: We live in a world today where people don’t go too much for religious things. You try to live right and clean, and people say you’re crazy. They’re so filthy. So much dirt and sin is going on. So when you are right, you look strange to them. Your family — your mother, your father, your friends — talk about you. I know what you go through. We Muslims go through the same thing. But this is why I am so thankful to God for my position. Being in front of world television and all the biggest theatres, I can preach this and speak for this. They can’t stop it. So God is blessing me through boxing to get to the whole world. This is why I feel so strong when I go in. I feel God’s on my side to win. When I go in, I’m ready.

I’ve got one thing to say to you. I want to go into spiritual work when I’m through. I’m the greatest boxer; that’s all. We got a saying: “God is the greatest.” So I don’t want any image of being the greatest. No human being is so great. I’m the greatest boxer; that’s all, right? I don’t want people starting to say, “You’re the greatest.” There ain’t nobody great. The one greatest is God. So you can’t give a man credit for being the greatest of the greatest. It’s not right. There isn’t but one great One, and that’s God. In your song, you can change the word to the greatest boxer of all times, or something like that — but not the greatest of the great. I’d be guilty for taking that. See, God tests us in strange ways. I mean, He will let certain things happen just to see if you accept it. Some men are wrong for committing an act. Some men are wrong for even thinking wrong, because of their knowledge. God might forgive a fool for committing an act, because he’s a fool. But a wise man, if he just thinks wrong, is committing a sin. So, for me to accept the praise of greatest, knowing that I don’t believe in it myself, is a sin. So it is my obligation to tell you this. It’s not me that’s the greatest — Allah or God is the greatest. I’m the greatest boxer. Thank you, Brothers.

Disciple: Oh, I have to get Guru’s coat.

Muhammad Ali: I think I’ll keep it. If we had more people dedicated to this ideal, we’d have a better world. Thank you, Brothers.

Ali Triumphs!

Song "Muhammad Ali"

Muhammad Ali, Muhammad Ali, Champion Ali,
Greater than the greatest, really!
Sleepless you cry for Allah’s Grace,
Deathless you fight for the Muslim race.
Muhammad Ali, Muhammad Ali, Champion Ali!
Your moon-pure heart and justice-light
Shall smash the frown of ignorance-night.
Ali, Ali, Ali, you are Eternity’s pride.
Your victory’s smile is the pole-star guide.

Photographs from the book


Photographs — Muhammad Ali and Sri Chinmoy


Photographs — presentation of trophy

Photographs — Muhammad Ali and Sri Chinmoy

Group Photographs