The Sweet Smell of Transcendence

During my August 2004 trip to see Sri Chinmoy, the call went around for volunteers to help break a world record...

Well, it’s not often that one gets the chance to help break a world record, I mused, as I stood on the pavement on a balmy New York summer evening contemplating whether or not to give up a perfectly good nights sleep. The record? To assemble a 102-by-24-foot arrangement of 101,000 roses by 9 a.m the next morning, in time to present the humanitarian and meditation teacher Sri Chinmoy with the world’s largest bouquet of flowers as a 73rd birthday gift. In the distance, I could already hear the sounds of hammers and saws at work, taunting me for even thinking of going home from New York without having gotten the very most from my trip…

Following the noises, I turned around a corner to behold a scene to trump Santa’s workshop at full stretch to beat the Christmas Eve deadline: three buzz-saws going non-stop to cut the roses short enough to fit into plastic cups, crews of carpenters trying to juggle speed and accuracy whilst tacking together trellises for holding the arrangement, observers from the Guinness Book of Records ticking the numbers off their clipboards and nodding, not to mention the perpetual conveyor belt of volunteers trudging their way through the ankle-high carpet of waste stems as they carried in more huge boxes of fresh roses…

   Amidst all this stood Ashrita Furman, the man whose brainchild this all was, mobile phone glued to his ear, coaxing together all the different strands of the plan. Ashrita, a 49-year-old health food store manager and a longtime student of Sri Chinmoy, is certainly no stranger to record-breaking, having held 86 Guinness records at one time or another for such eyecatching feats as somersaulting the entire 12-mile length of Paul Revere’s ride to Lexington, juggling whilst running 50 miles and pogo-sticking underwater in the Amazon River. He holds 21 at the moment (more than anyone else) the most recent of which he set in April for pushing an orange for a distance of one mile - with his nose! His motivation? “I’m trying to show others that our human capacity is unlimited if we truly believe in ourselves” he says.

Ashrita has been practising meditation for over 30 years and sees his record-breaking as a way to illustrate the benefits of this ancient Eastern art. He says his teacher inspired him to begin record breaking through his own acts of self-transcendence – in addition to being a prolific author, artist and composer, Sri Chinmoy took up weightlifting at the age of 54 and routinely honours outstanding individuals by lifting them on an overhead platform with one arm.

This may have been one of Ashrita’s easier records, but no record is complete without its edgy moments. As the night wore on and tiredness set in, our concentration started to wane: bunches of roses fell apart and had to be reassembled, water spilled out of plastic cups, and the whole operation almost ground to a halt when one volunteer walked by with a fresh tray of muffins. Rumours drifted upwind that the carpenters had mistakenly crafted two identical trellises for the same position in the bouquet and none for its mirror position on the other side….

 But it all came together in the end, and the last rebuilt trellis was hauled up to be filled, just as we were all getting a big group photograph taken with the last cup of roses. “I was absolutely amazed” said Sri Chinmoy, when asked to describe his initial reaction to the gift, “each flower is offering its beauty and its fragrance. My students come from all over the world to bless me with their love, affection and concern”
 
  So, after all the fuss had died down, what happened to all those roses? Well, the laundromat across the road took on a floral theme for the next few days, and one kind lady took it upon herself to stand in the middle of a traffic junction handing cups of roses through car windows to surprised commuters. And oh yes, yours truly decided to brighten up his accommodation a little bit too. To build something permanent was never the aim anyway. All that mattered was that in our own small ways, from Ashrita’s organization all the way down to my sleep-deprivation, we all challenged our own self-imposed limits and glimpsed a tiny fraction of our infinite potential.


Here's what the entry in the Guinness Book of Records says:

Largest Bouquet
The largest bouquet was made from 101,791 roses and measured 31.55 m (103 ft 6 in) long, 7.3 m (24 ft) wide with an area of 148 sq m (1,596 sq ft). It was created by Ashrita Furman (USA) and members of the Sri Chinmoy Centre for Sri Chinmoy's 73rd birthday in Jamaica, New York, USA on August 27 2004.

To find out more about Ashrita's record breaking exploits, visit his website......

To read about another record I saw him break in November 2004, click here......