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Sri Chinmoy, at 76; charismatic spiritual adviser, humanitarian

Sri Chinmoy had followers throughout the world. Sri Chinmoy had followers throughout the world. (new york times file 2004)

NEW YORK - As a spiritual guide to followers worldwide, Sri Chinmoy spread his message of peace through his lectures, his writings, and his meetings with such world leaders as Pope Paul VI and Nelson Mandela.

The charismatic but quirky Sri Chinmoy didn't stop there: There was weight lifting, where followers claimed that the slight guru hoisted 7,000 pounds with one arm. And music - he wrote more than 20,000 songs. And illustrations - he sketched more than 1 million "peace birds."

The peripatetic disciple of peace suffered a fatal heart attack Thursday at his home in Queens, ending his odyssey from an ashram in south India to a world headquarters in New York City. Sri Chinmoy was 76.

Drawing upon Hindu principles, Sri Chinmoy advocated a spiritual path to God through prayer and meditation. He emphasized "love, devotion, and surrender" and recommended that his disciples nurture their spirituality by taking on seemingly impossible physical challenges.

"His life was all about challenging yourself and being the best you can be," said Carl Lewis, the Olympic sprinter and a friend of Sri Chinmoy's. "He told his disciples to go out and meet a challenge you don't think you can do.

"He's the reason I plan on running the New York Marathon when I'm 50," Lewis said Friday.

That philosophy, however, sometimes led his followers down some strange paths. One of them rode a pogo stick up and down Japan's Mount Fuji.

His group sponsored 1,000-mile ultramarathons where participants ran for two weeks.

Some considered Sri Chinmoy's group a cult and a flap arose in 1996 when his followers persuaded officials to hang a "peace blossom" plaque inside the lobby of the Statue of Liberty. The plaque was removed three weeks after its dedication amid complaints, including one from the Cult Awareness Network.

To his followers, Sri Chinmoy was a spiritual adviser and mystical figure. Musicians such as guitarist Carlos Santana and saxophonist Clarence Clemons of Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band were among those who found inspiration in Sri Chinmoy.

He met with an assortment of world leaders, and Mother Teresa once praised him for "the good work you are doing for world peace and for people in so many countries."

The youngest of seven children, Chinmoy Kumar Ghose joined an ashram in India after he was orphaned at age 12. He spent the next 20 years in prayer and meditation before "an inner command" sent him to New York City in 1964. Sri is a title of respect.

Sri Chinmoy established his first meditation center in Queens and eventually had students in 60 countries around the world. Beginning in 1970, he began hosting meditation sessions at the United Nations; in 1998, his Peace Meditation Group organized a UN memorial for John F. Kennedy Jr.

Sri Chinmoy was also a tireless lecturer, once speaking in all 50 states in year. That same year, 1974, he wrote 1,000 poems.

He also lifted more than 8,000 people since 1988, including Mandela and Desmond Tutu. He hoisted the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Eddie Murphy, Susan Sarandon, Yoko Ono, and Richard Gere. Sri Chinmoy lifted 20 Nobel laureates and a team of sumo wrestlers. He lifted Sid Caesar and a former headhunter from Borneo, and picked up Representative Gary L. Ackerman, a Democrat, and Representative Benjamin Gilman, a Republican, both congressmen from New York state, at the same time.

"He was running extreme marathons before people even knew what extreme sports were," Ackerman said Friday. "When you were around him, you had the sudden realization you were in the presence of somebody very, very holy and very devout."

Hundreds of his disciples gathered on Friday at his clay tennis court, where he also had held meditation sessions. There were condolence letters from world figures, including former Vice President Al Gore and Mikhail Gorbachev, the last Soviet leader, who frequently met with Sri Chinmoy.

Gorbachev wrote that "in our hearts, he will forever remain a man who dedicated his whole life to peace."

Material from The New York Times was used in this obituary.

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