Meeting Venu in the Pages of his Logbooks
I was in the San Francisco Sri Chinmoy Centre with Venu for almost four decades, lived in the same house with him for years, ran races with him, worked side-by-side with him, talked running and cycling with him right to the end. I shared his enthusiasms for many things and took issue with him over some other things. He was my friend, a very good friend, but it wasn’t until the day I opened the pages of one of his training logbooks that I really met him face to face and heart to heart. Until that day, I had no idea at all of who he really was, nor did I possess any proper sense of the heart that beat so devotedly within his breast.
To meet Venu through the day-to-day entries of in his training diaries, is to meet ones own self face to face. It is to see and feel the rise and fall of an ocean vast energy, the same life energy that animates each and every one of us. It is to be swept along in the streaming drama of that energy. To bear witness to Venu’s struggles, to see how he managed his successes and failures, is to gain a valuable perspective on our own.
For this reason, we have made his logbooks available to everyone. The entire collection is, or soon will be, posted at the Sri Chinmoy Centre website. I recommend them to everyone, regardless of your gender, personal interests or spiritual orientation. To open the pages of Venu’s training diaries is to take a stroll down to the seashore of this vast ocean of energy and feel the ebb and flow of it as it moved through the veins of one very good man. You won’t need to be an athlete to benefit.
A Precisely Measured Life
In 2011, a year before he was diagnosed as having lymphoma, Venu came to me with a cycling question. He was beginning to collect parts for a bike he wanted to build himself. His question had to do with frame design, what dimensions would best suit his style of riding. I asked him how long his average ride was. I expected the answer to be in miles, but what I got was the length of his average ride in minutes. Venu had calculated the distance both in miles and minutes, but he couldn’t remember the miles at that moment. So he gave me the average number of minutes he spent on the bike each ride.
For those who knew Venu even casually, this will come as no surprise; he carefully observed and evaluated everything he did. He was a meticulous record keeper, particularly when it came to his workouts. He was a true believer in original self-knowledge; it was the only kind of knowledge he really trusted. As a consequence, he scrutinized his body’s response to exercise and diet as well as a number of other experiences very closely. Many people do this; to one degree or another, we all do it. What separated Venu from most is that he acted upon his observations in a most disciplined manner, changing his daily routines, his diet and exercises accordingly. But beyond athletics, he changed his thoughts and opinions as well, according to an ever widening range of observations. He was a student of the hard science of yoga almost as much as he was a devotee of the yoga of love. And yet, the notations in his logbooks are almost cryptic in their brevity. He does not analyze or offer an opinion on anything, not even his own workout routine. Partly, this is because his logbooks were always meant to be a private notebook to himself. They didn’t exist to explain or narrate anything to others. The brevity of his entries was also because Venu believed that opinions were… well, just opinions. His view was that our understanding even of ourselves, much less the world, was very a subjective and individualized thing. “Reality” for him was in the numbers and the personal experience that came from generating those numbers.
On another occasion, much like the cycling conversation, I asked Venu if I could look at his training logbook for that current year. He’d asked me a training question but didn’t want to explain his training regimen, so I asked to see his logbook. He brought me logs for that and two previous years. I asked him how long he’d been keeping logbooks like the ones he’d given me. “For decades,” he answered. As I flipped through the pages, I began to feel a thrill, the kind an archeologist might feel stumbling upon an unknown ruin. I realized immediately that I was looking at something of high value, of a spiritual and historical value. To me, Venu’s logbooks were a new kind of “Book of Prayers.” They were more than an account of athletic endeavors, they were a record of his devotional life, an inventory of his action-prayers to God, the kind of prayers only a disciple of Sri Chinmoy would make, the kind perhaps only a follower of this new yoga would understand.
Devotion as a Measure of the Man
The magnitude of Venu’s athletic effort listed in his logs astonished me. I had no idea he’d run so many marathons and ultra marathons; but what moved me far more that anything was the devotional feeling in those pages. He ran “moonlight marathons” at midnight with a prayerful devotion. To these running prayers he gave spiritual names like, “I Want My Pure Heart Marathon.” Sometimes he ran his marathons in intervals, 2 and 3 mile at a time, often at a hard pace. He would repeat these interval runs throughout the day, and sometimes throughout the night, until he had covered the marathon distance. On multiple occasions he ran a marathon every three days, and did this for months on end. All is neatly and concisely recorded in his logbooks, usually without any additional comment. There are dozens of cryptic notations scattered through these pages, brief remarks that somehow convey the poetry of his soul. Seen objectively, Venu’s logs are an extensive record of one man’s aspiration, a book of prayers written without self-consciousness, exhibiting neither guilt nor vanity. At the end of his life, he asked me if there was anything I wanted. Without hesitation I said, “Your logbooks!” I knew they were the crown jewel of his possessions.
Although I was a long time friend of Venu’s for decades, I want to make it clear that my interest in preserving his logbooks has nothing to do with friendship. In the first place, out friendship was of a detached nature. Like most spiritual men, he lived within himself and discovered the best intimacies of life and heart in his internalized relationship with God. He inspired many disciples with his enthusiastic heart and many, like myself, felt an inner connection with him; but he mostly kept quietly to himself, in the fashion of a Himalayan yogi. Venu was a very private person. If it were a matter of mere friendship, a personal memory would be enough; there would be no need of this book.
But there is, in fact, a real need for this book. There is a need for the pristine record his logbooks preserve – that of an ordinary man with an intense aspiration, living in precisely the way his Spiritual Guide requested him to live. It is a record of a remarkable and inward obedience, faith and trust, expressed in quantifiable actions. In these logbooks, The Sri Chinmoy Centre may have the most complete record of any single discipleship pertaining to our path. Even if that is not the case, certainly it is a valuable one, a clear and precise record. One can almost hear Venu’s heart beating in these pages, his sweat soaking through the ink; but more than that, in these pages you experience psychically and psychically a soul striving with great determination to please God, and doing so happily, singing in every page a song of praise and gratitude.
This is a case of both quality and quantity. Venu’s logbooks are a voluminous and authentic record of a very human soul. Human beings have ups and downs and Venu was not different. Every year of this record does not shine as brightly as every other year. For this reason, I’ve summarized his logbooks year by year for those who don’t have the time or inclination to survey them thoroughly. Reading the full record will, of course, require some patience and it may seem a bit tedious at times to review every day of someone else’s life; but that, in my estimation, is the real value of this record.
Venu was a surfer long before he was a runner and the tug and pull of the ocean is in every page of his athletic record. The story flows forth in the steady rise and fall of his energies, day by day, for decades, but there is within this record an undeniable trajectory of spiritual progress. As the years come and go, you see a light begin to shine, not suddenly or dramatically, but gently like the sun rising, a warm and soulful radiance gradually making itself known. Love, devotion and gratitude all begin to shine forth from these pages in all their radiant glory.
Venu went through a number of athletic phases. At Sri Chinmoy’s request, he tried several things, each with his own unique brand of intensity. He had some notable successes, like his Egg-in-the-Spoon Guinness record; but there were also frustrating failures, like his backward walking record attempts. Every effort was not a goal achieved. There were failures in store for him, as there are for everyone; but with Venu, very few demoralizing setbacks and not a hint of self-doubt. If one of his enterprises collapsed, another quickly took its place. If they are anything, Venu’s logbooks are the record of a dauntless spirit, a soul not extraordinarily gifted in terms of any physical or athletic prowess, but an absolutely adamant spirit and a life will that simply did not know how to quit, even at death’s door. Despite the brevity of his logbook entries, they manage to be highly autobiographical in a surprisingly personal way. They tell a very intimate story of a man gradually finding himself and of a soul shining through that man, brighter and brighter with each passing year.
January 24, 2014
The two photographs are examples from Venu's logbooks