Peace campaigner and spiritual teacher

Sri Chinmoy

Born: 27 August 1931, in Shakpura, East Bengal. Died: 10 October, 2007, in New York, aged 76.

WHEN Christopher Isherwood wrote his biography of the great Indian spiritual master Sri Ramakrishna, he chose to describe Ramakrishna simply as a "phenomenon", avoiding what he thought of as contentious descriptions such as saint, holy man or avatar.

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Sri Chinmoy, the contemporary spiritual master who passed away recently was, to my mind, on a par with Ramakrishna, and "phenomenal" in the modern sense of the term would certainly be a fair description of his life, his works, his achievements.

A prolific poet and artist, a singer and musician, an accomplished athlete, he did everything with energy and gusto and on a grand scale. (The late Leonard Bernstein once described him as "the very model of abundance in the creative life".) In this he lived and embodied his own philosophy of "self-transcendence" - constantly pushing his own limits and inspiring others to do the same.

He devised new and imaginative ways of reaching people, awakening them to a sense of their own possibilities and capacities.

His peace concerts reached thousands of people around the world; global relay runs established in his name - the World Peace Run and the World Harmony Run - literally took that message to the streets, enabling folk to express their love of peace in a joyful, dynamic way, symbolically passing the torch of peace from hand to hand.

US Congressman Gary Ackerman, in a moving eulogy at Sri Chinmoy's funeral, succinctly summed up this aspect of his work. "The world has been marching to war," he said. "Sri Chinmoy has been running for peace."

This work brought him into contact with the great and the good of our time - Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, Princess Diana, Mother Teresa. All expressed their admiration and respect. Mikhail Gorbachev was a personal friend who communicated with him regularly.

Often Sri Chinmoy honoured these luminaries by physically lifting them overhead on a specially constructed platform. In this same way he also lifted up hundreds of individuals who in their own way, in their own lives, had been of service to humanity. Scots he lifted included musician Evelyn Glennie, author Alexander McCall Smith, ultramarathon runner Don Ritchie and, on his last visit, Iain Torrance, who was then Moderator of the Church of Scotland, and who spoke eloquently on what he called an unusual but very powerful expression of the spirit.

Robin Harper, MSP, who had been very supportive of Sri Chinmoy's efforts, but who had never met him, said: "He has a huge living memory among the tens of thousands - hundreds of thousands - of people touched by his message. I feel as if I have met him, through the warmth of those people who have. And it is a sustaining warmth, no bad legacy in these times."

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I first met Sri Chinmoy some 37 years ago, in December 1970, when he gave a talk at Glasgow University. I don't know what I had expected, but certainly not what I experienced. I was impressed by his talk, which he delivered with an almost incantatory power. But I was absolutely struck by his sheer presence - he just seemed to radiate a very special energy, something profoundly spiritual - peaceful and benign. After the talk, I found myself with half a dozen others sitting down to meditate with Sri Chinmoy. I didn't realise I was taking the first faltering steps on a lifelong spiritual journey that has been both challenging and utterly exhilarating.

While his work took him on to the world stage and into contact with some of the most influential people on the planet, to those of us following his path of meditation he was always simply Guru - our mentor and guide, our inspiration and, above all, our friend.

Sri Ramakrishna said of the great spiritual masters that they were like the mendicants who came to a village, sang their songs and went on their way.

What Sri Chinmoy left behind - his song - will be a lasting inspiration. I am immensely grateful - and privileged - to have known him all these years.