I'm stewing in a bit of irony at the moment. I have just uploaded a photo to one of my gallery albums of the most beautiful and fragrant flower that I have ever been privileged to experience. It is a beautiful orchid-like white flower with feathery insides and a star-shaped stamen. It blooms only at night, for a single night and the redolence of its fragrance is so powerful that it permeates the air at a great distance from its source.
This beautiful flower lives in the front enclosed porch/foyer of my friend Snehashila's wonderful house in New York. With my being only a short distance from New York, it has indeed been like a second home for me during the past twenty years. When I arrived in New York for the weekend late last Friday night, this extraordinary flower that I knew little about was in bloom. Before I even opened the front door to her house, I was overpowered by the fragrance. To my astonishment, I could still enjoy this fragrance all the way on the second floor in the living room of the second floor apartment if the door was kept ajar.
I was entranced to learn more about this plant which makes the front porch area look almost like a jungle. So I took photos of this most beautiful flower that I have ever seen and begged Snehashila to tell me all about it. Once she indulged my interest, I learned that these remarkable blossoms open only at night and for a period of mere hours.
The plant's technical name is Epiphyllum Oxypetallum and it is also sometimes called Night Cereus or Queen of the Night. A bit of internet research unveiled that there are several similar night-blooming flowers that are called Night Cereus which look a little different than Snehashila's floral glory, but the one called Epiphyllum Oxypetallum is an exact match. If you would like to see a movie on the web of the blossom opening up, please visit Night-blooming cereus.
Why did I speak of irony at the start of this post? Putting the answer to that question into words is not such an easy task. At the time that I imagined writing about the most striking beauty in a flower that I have ever seen, I did not expect to find myself in my current perspective.
My current perspective finds me looking back on the past weekend and in a broader sense at my journey as a student of Sri Chinmoy and shaking my head in awe and wonder that the guidance, encouragement and divine love that I feel in Sri Chinmoy's presence contains a beauty that this flower cannot even hint at. I'm hoping that Snehashila will not be cross with me as I write about this remarkable flower which is well over a hundred years old in this way.
I find it a nearly impossible task to express in words the inner realities which are the substance of following a spiritual path. How do I even begin to convey the depth of poignance and sweetness that I felt as \Sri Chinmoy celebrated Mridula's birthday—one of Sri Chinmoy's students who is 87 years young!—at a Saturday afternoon function. He sat across from her as she is now in a wheelchair and recited the English translation to a song that he said he used to sing when he was 12 years old. As he sang it in Bengali, it had the word Mridula, her name in it. Then he he recited the English translation to the song Bhulite Diyona Tomar Charan and sang it. He offered her a gift and we had special prasad (notably Baskin & Robbins ice cream) in her honor. I felt that our Guru embodied intense kindness and sweetness in his every interaction with her. If this moment were a flower, it would eclipse the Night Cereus. And this was just one moment durng the weekend that included many other blessingful gifts in testament to Sri Chinmoy's tireless offering of spiritual wisdom to his students and the world around him.
Coming full circle back to Snehashila's house, there is a magical flower that hints at God's inexpressable beauty, but you have to use your imagination to see it when you look at the photo I took in her backyard where it appeared 30 years ago.
30 years ago Snehashila was looking to buy a house in the neighborhood in Queens where many of our group's activities happen. A student of Sri Chinmoy was renting a third floor apartment in the house that Snehashila now owns and heard that his landlord was looking to sell it. The gentleman was in his eighties and lived as a bachelor on the first floor. When he showed the house to Snehashila, he was quite interested in her being the buyer because he felt that since Sri Chinmoy moved into the neighborhood, it had brought nothing but a positive influence.
The house was somewhat in disrepair, needed painting, had clutter and papers everywhere and was very dark because all the windows had drapes pulled across them. Snehashila wasn't too inspired and when he perceived this he told her he would instantly lower the price by $5,000. Remember that 30 years ago $5,000 was a much larger sum than it would be today! She still wasn't sure. Then he asked her if she liked to do gardening. She responded affirmatively and he said let's go outside and I'll show you the garden. It was the middle of January and the dead of winter. She perked up at this suggestion because she knew there is nothing to see in January and then she could more easily excuse herself and leave.
When they went into the backyard, at the top of the brick steps a beautiful blue flower that looked like a lily was in full bloom. He remarked that he had never seen this flower ever before. There it was as real as could be and she knew that it must be a divine sign offered to bring the message that this was the house to buy. She did end up buying the house despite not even having much savings at the time and has been there ever since.
So I think Snehashila will not be cross with me after all since the flowers in her garden include divine apparatitions that bring one's focus squarely back to the source of the author of beauty - God Himself. So I hope that when you look at the Night Cereus photographs in my gallery album that its beauty will remind you of the truly unfathomable beauty of God's unconditional love and forgiveness that create even the shred of possibility that the likes of folks like me can strive to awaken dormant divinity.