EXCERPTS From Conversation: Jesse Owens and Sri Chinmoy 1972 Nov 04

Filed under americas | MG Members in other events | Tributes and Expressions of appreciation


(See also refereed to in Programme 22 April 1980 in the UN Dag Hammarskjold Auditorium Trbute to Jesse Owens: tribute-to-olympic-and-human-rights-champion-jesse-owens-1980-apr-22/

On 4 November 1972, Sri Chinmoy met with former Olympic champion Jesse Owens, whom he has admired since his youth. Their interview took place in the Park Lane Hotel in New York City. Excerpts from their conversation follow. The full text of their meeting appears in the booklet Sri Chinmoy with His Athlete Idol: Jesse Owens.  

Jesse Owens:

I think that mankind itself causes an awful lot of changes in people. I don’t believe in violence ; I just don’t think that that works. I think that if we would just remember that we’re all here through the Grace of a Being, and that we all have a job to do, we would be all right. You would think that if a man works and devotes his time to his community and to his home, and to the people with whom he comes into contact, then there should be some kind of love for him. But there are so many people in the world who, no matter what happens, have an underlying and deep-seated dislike for people. They don’t just dislike the blacks; it can be any minority group. They’ve listened to bad stories for years and years, and they believe them. So they act accordingly. It sort of makes you want to change your mind about the whole picture because of these few bad people. I read your biography, and I believe very much in what you do. I think that if one has love and feeling, then everything can come about. It doesn’t take a special breed of man to understand it. But it takes a lot of dedication to be able to live it. I may be wrong about that.

Sri Chinmoy:

You are absolutely right. My philosophy and your philosophy are totally one. We have to love. Love is the only fulfilment. There is no other way to fulfil either God or oneself except through love. The world may misunderstand and we may feel sorry at times. But we have to continue loving.

You are trying to encourage your black brothers and sisters. Right from your childhood, you have been trying to inspire them and elevate their consciousness. In your book Blackthink, you have shown simple sincerity. There you are the embodiment of sincerity, dynamism, faith and hope. Anybody who is sincere can derive benefit from your experiences. In your second book, again sincerity comes, but in a different form in a dynamic, bold form. In the first one, your sincerity is simple; you absolutely say that truth is the naked truth. But in the second book there is a bold dynamism :

This is the truth. Either you accept it or you reject it. But I can’t sell the truth just because you cannot accept it.”

It is like that.

We sometimes speak of the soul and the body. Just for the sake of the body ‘s pleasures, we cannot sell the soul. Here your inner faith you have brought to the fore:

“This is what I know, and I am sure of it. Others may reject it. Others may not accept me, but I know the truth and I will live for this truth all my life.”

This is your philosophy. So in your second book, I Have Changed, you have realised the truth; now it is up to the world to accept it or reject it. You are not going to change your faith, your conviction in the truth. In this second book, your own conviction you have conveyed to the world. Now it is up to the world. If the world listens to you, then the world gets the benefit. And if the world wants to wallow in the pleasures of ignorance, at least you have done your part.

You have done so much for the world for your own brothers and for the world at large. Yet you are all gratitude to the ones who have helped you-your coaches-although they were whites. You say what they did for you. You have shown in your writings and in your life that the whites have done quite a few good things. If we aspire for those things, then naturally we shall also get them.

You have never mentioned in your writings that the whites are perfect. Only you have said that they have some good qualities, and that these same qualities black people can also have. These good qualities are not the monopoly of the whites. No.

“We have not worked for them, so we don’t have them. But the moment we work, we get them. ”

This is what you say.

With your love, with your dedication, with your aspiration you have gone far beyond your people. You have strived for something and you have won it in this lifetime. Again, you have gone beyond it to make a synthesis between the best qualities of the whites and the best qualities of the blacks.

You are not ignoring the best qualities of your race. No! As a child of God, as a chosen instrument of God, you are saying what the blacks have to offer and what the whites have to offer.

“Let us make them one and make a Kingdom of God here on earth. “

 This is your message.

Some people make themselves feel that they are inferior. They have not come from an inferior race. Far from it. God has not made anybody inferior. But sometimes we feel that we are inferior and we do not want to mix with others. Again, others feel that they are superior. But there is nothing to this. It all depends on how much faith we can have in our own existence. If we can claim that God is ours, then everybody is ours.

Here, in your case, you have proved that you are with both sides. It is not the colour; it is the quality in both races that you are appreciating. But they don’t understand it. In your books, you say how you are criticised. Is this not the zenith of folly and ingratitude? When people don’t understand something, the best thing is for them to remain silent, to wait and learn.

When a child is studying in kindergarten, he does not know what is happening in the university.

Jesse Owens: No, he doesn’t.

 Sri Chinmoy: He does not, so he should remain silent. For a child to talk about things which he himself is not even acquainted with is absurd. Here, too, let your critics come up to a certain standard, and then let them see. But they don’t wait. You have given so much to the world; so much you have offered. But you have been misunderstood.

Jesse Owens: I was in Santa Ana, California, Thursday night. There ‘s a fellow who is director of the Mental Health Association of Orange County. His wife is a school teacher. She had taught many years in college, and then she resigned her college professorship. She wanted to go back into the community. Before she was dealing with adults, but now she wanted to deal with children. Now she’s got the kindergarten: youngsters that come from very poor families-the Mexico-American, the black and some very few whites. These children have no prejudice; they have no crystallised thoughts. These things are only going to come from one source, and that’s the home.

This fellow’s wife has taken the kids to what they call “lion country.” It’s a wildlife preserve, and they’ve got all kinds of animals and birds there. When she takes these children, it’s the first time they ‘ve ever been there. She takes them out to the airport and she gets permission for them to walk through an airplane. They’ve never seen an airplane before. They’ve never been downtown. A

lot of people never get out of their community. But they have no prejudices. If a youngster is growing up in a home with a feeling of belonging, a feeling of being loved and needed, then that child has a healthier mind and a very cleansed heart. But if he comes from a home where there’s constant bickering between the parents, and if he sees no love shown between the parents, then he grows up with a lot of fear and resentment. He doesn’t know what it is, but it ‘s there.

Then there are people who fee l that the only way they can get security in the world is by feeling superior to every body else. And then we get the person who is not strong, but weak. He gets an inferiority complex; he ‘s always moving back. He never stands his ground; he never makes a stand. So he excuses himself by saying, “I’m poor,” or ”I’m black; nobody gives me an opportunity.” But he hasn’t done anything to prepare himself. He doesn’t realise that he can match wits with anyone, and that he is as qualified as the next individual. He just hasn’t prepared himself.

I think that we have to go back to one thing: religion. I believe in going to church. I bel ieve in my God. I try to understand what my God intended for me to do. But I must be able to manifest what I believe in dealing with my fellow man day after day. You’re going to get rebuffed. You get it day by day. Sometimes both cheeks are bloody, but we constantly believe. I may not have as much as the fellow up there at the top, but I am happier with what I have because it ‘s more permanent. It’s permanent because I have something in side of me, whereas he lives up there in uncertainty. And you never know when the whole mountain is going to be dug under and fall.

Sri Chinmoy: Even if it does not fall all at once, there is tremendous insecurity in him.

Jesse Owens: Yes.

Sri Chinmoy: He feels that the ones whom he regards as his so-called inferiors at any moment can surpass him. He is all the time worried that the so- called inferior ones will surpass him, so he is always on guard. But the others who are not working-if only they try – can easily go forward. I totally identify with your race. I have got some black students-the chosen family, I call them. They are most devoted students of mine. But sometimes I see that they, and others also, are cherishing consciously and deliberately what you call poverty or ignorance. Blacks, whites, many people do this. They say they didn’t get the chance. But opportunity is right there, knocking at their door. Only they don’t avail themselves of it, and then they criticise their fate. How many millions of ways you have tried to elevate the consciousness of your people! Opportunity is right in front of them, but they misunderstand you. You go and give them wealth and they throw it aside. Then they say, “I have nothing. Nobody is there to look after me. I am inferior.” This is the problem

I am so happy to hear you say that those who feel they are so-called superiors are not superior at all. There is a barren desert inside them. They may be rich outwardly, but they know that there is nobody who will really care for them. If they really cared for others, then only we would also care for them. But they care only for themselves. But still we are trying to care for them, as well as for everyone else. We are trying to care for the whole world. So if we are successful, if you are successful, then the world at large will be successful.

It is the very nature of human beings to be ungrateful. No matter what you do, they don’t understand. They will not work. They will not have faith in themselves. In your case, you’re finding difficulty in dealing with your people because they do not have faith in themselves. This is the trouble. If they could have recognised their own inner faith, then your work would have been much easier. But they do not have that faith. If they do not offer their own personal effort, then no matter how much God gives them or does for them, it will not be manifested. This is what they are unfortunately not realising. When it is a matter of capacity, they have tremendous capacity, enormous capacity. But if they don’t bring it to the fore, it is as good as not having the capacity.

Jesse Owens : That’s right. I was at a college in Bay City, Michigan, about two or three weeks ago. It ‘s a junior college with about six thousand students-some day-time and a lot of night students. The larger majority, about five thousand, are day-time students. They have about six hundred black students, and they’re all on some kind of grant. There isn’t one there who is paying his own way. So I was there to lecture that night, and it started to snow. About eleven hundred people showed up, and of eleven hundred people, there was only one black.

They have six hundred blacks on the campus, but only one black showed up.

Then I got a letter from some of the parents in the local communities and other areas there asking me to come back and speak to the black students. They wanted me to come back. Why couldn’t they have come when I was there? There was ample room; the auditorium seated fifteen hundred. Why didn’t they come? Well, they said that I was old, and I didn’t know where it was all at; I didn’t know what was happening. And they were dis- appointed that I didn’t stand up and blast white America. And as I looked at these black youngsters in the daytime, while I was walking through the campus, I saw they weren’t studying. They were playing cards. They wore these sloppy hats and their hair to me was unkempt. which is all right. This dress is fine. But I was wondering what they were doing in school? What were they looking for? And I wrote a letter to the parents stating that I would not come. I am not going to walk the streets of this nation and try, by special means, to help the blacks. Yes, I’ve got to have something special for the blacks. He is a child of God. True, there are, lot of injustices, but those injustices can be corrected if he will make some effort to go and see and become informed – instead of just living in his little world and believing what he believes and not listening to other thoughts on the matter. These kids are not going to be able to adopt the doctrine of your faith if they’re just going to come and meditate and then go nowhere else. They have got to see the other things. And to see the good in things means you have to have love in your heart and your thoughts. This is the only way. You’re not going to get disciples unless you help people to see. This is why I think that it’s important to see two sides of a coin.

Sri Chinmoy: Obverse and reverse you have to see.

Jesse Owens: That’s right. You ‘ve got to see the other side, then make up your mind which is best for you. You have to ask, “How am I going to live within myself?” You see people talk about Heaven. I don’t know anybody who has been to Heaven and come back and told me about Heaven. But I want to live, as they say, what Heaven is right here on this earth.

Sri’ Chinmoy: Absolutely true! Heaven is a state of consciousness. Every day we are living either in Heaven or in hell. Every second we can live either in Heaven or in hell. When we have a good thought, a feeling of love, at that time we are living in Heaven; when we have hat red and jealousy, then we are living in hell. It is the mind that takes us to Heaven or hell. If we have a good thought, an elevating thought, then we are in Heaven. But if we have a bad thought, a discouraging thought, then we are in hell. So every second we can live either in Heaven or in hell; it is up to us where we live.

 Jesse Owens : My father was a deacon in the church. He was a very deeply religious man. He feared his God; he feared to the point of being able to please his God. In pleasing his God, he’d walk that extra mile to help his neighbour, because this is living in a godly way. I can remember when there was a horn of plenty, and I can remember when there was nothing – when the horn was empty. When I became a young adult, I was fortunate enough to be able to go away to school. And being so favoured by God with the ability that I had, I felt, “Look, let’s give a little bit of it back.” If it hadn’t been for other people, I wouldn’t be sitting here and talking to you. It is because of their knowledge, and the interest that they took in me as an individual. Putting together their knowledge of athletics and experience with the ability that I had, projected me into a different kind of life. Bat I know that I couldn’t have had this kind of life if someone hadn’t helped me.

So what I want to do, first of all, is please my God. Then I want to please the people that helped me. In order for me to be able to please them, I must go back to where I had come from and give of myself as others gave of themselves to make it possible for me to give today. People today don’t realise that everything comes from a very humble beginning. Everything comes from One. You come into this world and the only thing that you have is the breath that God gave you. And when you leave this world, I don’t care how much you’ve accumulated, you’re not going to take it with you.

As I said before, if I get slapped on the side of the face, I may bleed; so I turn the other cheek. When they can’t knock you down, then they wonder what to do next. “I’ve delivered my two Sunday punches and he’s still on his feet.” So you begin to win. Many of thein go to church on Sunday but I wonder just how much they live that part during the course of the week. Everybody is struggling. Everybody is struggling to get on top of the mountain. It’s fine, beautiful, if you can make the top of the mountain. But you have got to remember one thing when you reach the top: you’ve got to come back to the valley to keep in con t act with what’s going on down in the valley.

Sri Chinmoy: That’s right. We have to climb up the tree and pluck the mangoes, and then come down and distribute them to those who do not know how to climb, to those who are sitting at the foot of the tree.

Jesse Owens: Right!

Sri Chinmoy: Your philosophy and my philosophy are totally one. Our philosophy is based on love. When we really love, we dedicate ourselves and devote ourselves. You love the world; that is why you are devoting yourself. The next step we say is surrender. First we offer our dedicated service to God. We try our best to love mankind with the capacity and willingness that God has given us. The next thing we do is surrender to His Will. “Let Thy Will be done” is what we learned from the son of God, from Jesus Christ. “Let Thy Will be done.” But before that, he also taught us to love, to serve. So first we love, then we serve, then the result we offer at the Feet of God.  

=====================================================songs dedicated to Jesse Owens

JESSE OWENS    Words and Music by Sri Chinmoy

Jesse Owens, Jesse Owens, Jesse Owens!

O deathless jump, O breathless speed,

Eternally athlete’s world you will feed.

Dictator Hitler’s Aryan supremacy

Surrendered to your Himalayan ecstasy.

Champion of champions,

Hero of heroes!

In your service-heart America glows.

In Berlin four gold medals-winner,

Eternity’s diamond-heart owner.


Two unmatchable teammates:

My wife of almost fifty years, Ruth,

And the Nazi

Who fought Hitler with me,

Luz Long;

Three unique leaders:

My father,

My mother,

And Charles Riley.

But, most, and most humbly,

To The Great Referee.

-Jesse Owens (Dedication to his book, Jesse: The Man Who Outran Hitler)

I HAVE FOUND GOD – Words by Jesse Owens Music by Sri Chinmoy

I have found God, but that does not mean I cannot lose Him. Jesse Owens

I NEVER TRIED TO CHEAT ANYONE – Words by Jesse Owens Music by Sri Chinmoy

I never tried to cheat anyone, in my life, Your Honour-except possibly Jesse Owens-so help me God.  –  Jesse Owens

NO ATHLETE BETTER SYMBOLIZED THE HUMAN STRUGGLE  – Words by President Carter Music by Sri Chinmoy

No athlete better symbolized the human struggle against tyranny, poverty and racial bigotry.  – President

PDF of report from May 1980 periodic Bulletin “Meditation at the UN”


 scanned page-images 33 to 45 in Gallery 2

Gallery 1 : Photos from 4 Nov 1972 meeting to be added


Gallery 2

scanned page-images 33 to 45

from May 1980 periodic Bulletin “Meditation at the UN”