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A Toowoomba resident designed the machines that helped Sri Chinmoy “lift” the great humanitarians of our times
Nelson Mandela’s birthday can lift us all
Nelson Mandela’s birthday on July 18 always brings back special memories for local Toowoomba resident and engineer Unmilan Howard. He was fortunate enough to meet President Mandela in 1999 at the presidential palace in Pretoria. The meeting came about through his connection with peace leader Sri Chinmoy and Unmilan’s amazing ability to build exercise machines.
Unmilan, who has an interest in fitness himself, having run dozens of marathons and ultra-marathons also learnt about ‘inner health’ through the practice of meditation under the guidance of Sri Chinmoy in the 1980s. The Indian spiritual leader often encouraged his meditation students to keep physically fit. “For us, the physical is the temple and the spiritual is the shrine,” he once said. “If there is no shrine inside a temple people will laugh. What kind of temple is it? Again, if there is no temple, the shrine will not exist for long. So the temple and the shrine, the body and the soul, go together.”
It was this philosophy that saw the Indian Guru himself take up the sport of weightlifting. Following the advice of 5-time Mr. Universe Bill Pearl, Sri Chinmoy progressed rapidly from small weights to large objects, such as cars and planes; animals, like horses and elephants; and even people. Of course, this required special training apparatus and lifting platforms. It was here that Unmilan’s engineering, design and metalwork skills were able to assist Sri Chinmoy achieve his goals. Sri Chinmoy put him in charge of building literally hundreds of machines to accommodate his rapidly increasing training and weightlifting regime.
“Often the apparatus had to be strong, yet portable and light,” said Unmilan. “The stairs, railing and apparatus that President Mandela got lifted on, all had to fold up and fit into cases smaller than most suitcases, so we could take them on the plane.”
So why all these unusual machines to lift one of the greatest humanitarians of all time?
Sri Chinmoy explained, “What humanity wants is joy, and inside joy is peace. If we are happy, we will not go and strike others; we will only go and shake hands with them or embrace them…. Here with my weightlifting, I am inspired and you are inspired. We are only thinking of making each other happy. And when we are happy, we get peace.”
It was this combination of peace and weightlifting that saw Sri Chinmoy (accompanied by his chief engineer Unmilan) meet with thousands of inspirational figures around the world. “Sri Chinmoy would lift them and present them with a special ‘Lifting up the World with a Oneness-Heart’ award for their inspiring achievements that helped better the world. They were often very moved,” said Unmilan, who was present for many of the eight thousand lifts Sri Chinmoy conducted, which included Monica Seles, Sting, Desmond Tutu and Ravi Shankar. “Through Sri Chinmoy, I was very fortunate to meet people like the President of Sri Lanka, Ranasinghe Premadasa, who was lifted. Oh, and Mother Teresa,” Unmilan mentions casually. “She was so sweet, but unfortunately at the time she was too frail to climb the stairs to the lifting platform.”
But it was Nelson Mandela who remained the most memorable. “When he was meeting us all, shaking our hands, he said he really liked my shirt! It was the ‘Lifting up the World with a Oneness-Heart’ emblem that caught his eye. He was really humble, a true statesman. Sri Chinmoy said, Nelson Mandela taught the world the true meaning of forgiveness. We need more people like him and we need more peace in our own hearts and to think about it more in the world. We are all part of the same family after all,” says Unmilan.
Muhammad Ali: Champion of peace
Like many, Muhammad Ali was definitely one of my favourite sporting heroes. He went above and beyond being a champion at boxing. He was also a great figure who inspired countless millions of people throughout the world. It is worth reading some of his thoughts and books. The Soul of a Butterfly I found particularly profound and moving. “Don’t count the days; make the days count,” he said, one of the many thousands of eloquent expressions he penned.
I have a small autographed picture of Muhammad Ali. It is not rare. He spent hours upon hours answering fan mail, mainly from children. This particular picture came from a visit to Oneness Family School in Washington State where my friend is the principal. Ali and his wife Lonnie were meeting Sri Chinmoy and the children at the time.
It was one of their many meetings and correspondence. Their first meeting was before Ali’s fight with Earnie Shavers in 1977. They meditated together and discussed spiritual matters. “You are changing the face and fate of mankind,” Sri Chinmoy commented to the great man. “Your very name encourages and inspires. As soon as people hear the name ‘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 am so grateful to you, so proud of you.”
Muhammad Ali’s response was strangely prophetic. “My goal is to be like you one day, to be peaceful and out of this sport working for humanity and for God… 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.”
In 2003 at the Oneness Family School, Muhammad Ali became the 6000th person to be honoured as part of the Lifting up the World with a Oneness-Heart program; being lifted overhead by Sri Chinmoy using a special apparatus, together with his wife Lonnie. Mohammed Ali commented, “Sri Chinmoy is a very spiritual man. I feel the reason Sri Chinmoy lifted this weight is because of his love of God and belief that through God all things are possible. This man has done the impossible because of faith, wisdom and love of God… We may feel we can’t go on, but because we find inner faith, we do. The body says “stop,” but the spirit cries “never.” In the warrior’s code there is no stopping.”
He was a deeply spiritual man and had a universal heart that embraced all the different religions of the world. Most of all, he was a champion of peace. He faced and braved many blows far greater than those he received in the ring. For example his refusal to be inducted into the U.S army during the Vietnam War drew him considerable criticism from various war mongers. A resultant ban cost him many years in his prime but Ali knew the futility of war and the example he had to set. “My conscience won’t let me go shoot my brother, or some darker people, or some poor hungry people in the mud… how can I shoot them poor people? Just take me to jail.”
Mohammed Ali was the greatest and his messages and example will inspire generations to come.