World champion boxer, humanitarian and iconic figure, Muhammad Ali (1942-2016) met with Sri Chinmoy on a number of occasions.
Sri Chinmoy met with Muhammad Ali on 29 September, 1977 in Manhattan. It was the morning of Ali's championship fight with Earnie Shavers.
On meeting Muhammad Ali, Sri Chinmoy garlanded the champion and presented him with a trophy, saying, “Along with this is my heart. My heart is inside this. ”
Later, some thirty members of the Sri Chinmoy Meditation Group singers sang a song which Sri Chinmoy had composed in the fighter’s honour.
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, Champion Ali!
Your moon-pure heart and justice-light
Shall smash the frown of ignorance-night.
Ali, you are Eternity’s pride.
Your victory’s smile is the pole-star guide.
- Sri Chinmoy
After the song, Sri Chinmoy and Muhammad Ali meditated together in silence for about twenty minutes.
Afterwards, Muhammad Ali told Sri Chinmoy.
“I was so deeply absorbed, I couldn’t do anything.” He also added on leaving, “This really got my spirits high. It might end in one round now. God bless you.”
A short excerpt from their conversation
Sri Chinmoy: Yesterday it was our strong desire to honour you at the United Nations. Unfortunately, you could not be at the United Nations.
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 am 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. 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.
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.
These photos were published in NY Times, the day after the meeting.
Sri Chinmoy: I wish to say a few words about the world-champion, Muhammad Ali. Yesterday was a most significant day both for the members of the Meditation Group and for the champion, Muhammad Ali (Pointing to the two photographs above) This is Muhammad Ali in his physical consciousness and this is Muhammad Ali in his soulful consciousness.
Each individual has two aspects: the physical aspect and the spiritual aspect. This moment he expresses himself or reveals his capacities through physical means; the next moment he expresses his reality’s divinity through spiritual means. In this picture we see Muhammad Ali in a devoted, soulful, cheerful and powerful consciousness. Right beside it is another picture which brings forward his other aspect: physical strength.
Meeting 30 January 1979
On 30 January 1979, Sri Chinmoy and Muhammad AIi met at the U.N. Plaza Hotel, whilst Ali was visiting the United Nations. The two discussed religion and spirituality, and the Meditation Group choir sang a song Sri Chinmoy had composed for Ali, entitled “Greater than the Greatest.
This was the third, meeting between Sri Chinmoy and AIi. Excerpts from their conversation follow.
Muhammad AIi: You look good, you still look young and nice. People may think that you are converting me, but nobody can convert me.
Srí Chinmoy: It is absolutely true; you are for Allah. I have not come to convert you. I was born a Hindu, but since I started praying and meditating, I have no religion. I belong to all religions.
Muhammad. Ali: Oh, that’s good. I can also prove to you that I am above religion. (Ali opens up his briefcase, containing three or four books, and shows Sri Chinmoy a book written by Pir Vilayat Kahn’s father, Hazrat Inayat Kahn.)
Sri Chinmoy: ‘I have not met him, but his son and I are very good friends.
Sri Chinmoy: 'I have composed a song about you and your paintings.
Muhammad Ali: About my paintings? When can I hear it?
Sri Chinmoy: A few singers are downstairs, if you would like to hear it.
Muhammad Ali: Please tell them to come up.
Ali welcomes the singers.) You all look so clean and nice. If the whole world would think like you’re thinking, we’d have peace and unity in the world.(The Meditation Group Choir sings “Greater than the Greatest.’)
Muhammad Ali: That was beautiful! It is such an honour that you would compose a song about me and come and sing it here. But I would like to say one thing. I know the spirit in which you composed the song, but I have to say that I am not the greatest. Only God is the greatest. It is easy to become intoxicated with fame and all that, but when a man’s intoxicated he acts abnormal. I always want to act normal. I always pray to Allah to make me strong and humble and modest amidst all this. Only Allah deserves this praise.
Sri Chinmoy: Although you have got the supreme honour from all over the world, you have maintained your humility; that is why you will always remain greater than the greatest.
Muhammad Ali: I like the singing very much. You gave me some praise, but it is Allah who is really greater than the greatest. I would be guilty in His Eyes if I said that I am the greatest. I am not the greatest. [...]
Sri Chinmoy: Just a few minutes ago you told me that the river and ponds all go to the sea and become one. So when Father and son become entirely one by virtue of the son’s prayer and meditation, if you say something about the Father, the son gets joy. And if you say something about the son, the Father gets joy.
Muhammad Ali: I never thought of it like that. (Turning to the singers) He’s a wise man. I can see why you are with him.
Sri Chinmoy: The Father is so proud of His son, and if the son thinks of his Father. the son becomes so proud.
Muhammad Ali: Thank you. If all I learn today is this. then today will not be lost.
Lifting up the World with a Oneness-Heart
On 12 June, 2003, Sri Chinmoy honoured Muhammad Ali and his wife Lonnie with the “Lifting Up the World with a Oneness-Heart” Award, at a program held in the Oneness-Family School in Chevy Chase, Maryland, where Sri Chinmoy literally lifted the recipients overhead on a ceremonial platform. This was part of a unique award program offered by Sri Chinmoy to recognize individuals from all walks of life who had inspired and uplifted humanity.
Muhammad Ali spoke of Sri Chinmoy:
"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."
- Muhammad Ali, (kind words)
Sri Chinmoy met with Muhammad Ali for the first time in Puerto Rico, 1976. a short transcript of their conversation is available at Muhammad Ali and Sri Chinmoy.
- Talk on Muhammad Ali by Sri Chinmoy at Sri Chinmoy Library
Photo credits: Bhashwar