In between his other activities, Sri Chinmoy has written 1,476 books - and counting. How does he do it?
It is a problem faced by most writers: the project is going well, but the ideas stop flowing. The work slows down, and the project you were planning to finish next week suddenly seems years away from completion. We call it "writer's block", but we don't know how to avoid it.
Perhaps we should ask Sri Chinmoy, a philosopher, meditation teacher, artist, musician, composer and athlete. As if he doesn't have enough to keep himself busy, he also writes. Prolifically. At time of writing, he has 1,476 books to his name - and counting. Apart from question-and-answer books (not written per se, but transcribed from discussions), he has published poetry, songs, short stories, essays, plays, joke books (!) and tributes to a range of luminaries including Einstein, Gorbachev and Carl Lewis.
Moreover, his work is known (among many literary scholars) for its quality as well as its quantity. Harvard's Professor John Lazzaro, for example, described Sri Chinmoy's poems as "beautiful in their simplicity and profound in their significance."
So where does Sri Chinmoy find the time - and more importantly, the endless flow of creative energy - that is required to write so much?
As someone raised into a spiritual community in India, he believes it would be "a Himalayan blunder" for him to take the credit for his books. (One book was even titled I am Not the Author.) The writing, he says, comes from a much higher source.
Many of us might speak of a "muse", that makes the words flow effortlessly on to the keyboard, but few are willing to give such total credit for their creative output to their "inner pilot", as Sri Chinmoy calls it.
He acknowledges the role of meditation - a spiritual routine that he has practised since childhood. (He has written several books on that topic, and meditates regularly with diplomats and staff at the United Nations in New York.) "I try to keep my mind as empty, vacant and tranquil as possible," he has explained. "The outer mind is like the surface of the sea, which is full of waves and surges; it is all restlessness. But when we dive deep below, the same sea is all peace, calmness and quiet, and there we find the source of creativity."
It seems that spiritual faith indeed makes prolific writers. One of Sri Chinmoy's literary heroes, Rabindranath Tagore, also had a background of mysticism. Tagore, who won the 1913 Nobel Prize for Literature, also had a huge output of plays, books, short stories and over 2000 songs. (Schubert, one of the most prolific Western songsmiths, composed about 600.)
Among Western writers, perhaps the one who amazes us most with his output is Lope de Vega Carpio, Spain's greatest dramatist. Again, writer's block seemed alien to him, as he wrote 1500 lyric poems and nearly 2000 plays (often writing an entire play in a single day). Educated by Jesuits, Lope was deeply religious for his entire life, and even became a priest at the age of 52. Though perhaps not as disciplined as Chinmoy or Tagore (he had a controversial private life), Lope's devotion is apparent in some of his works.
Though religion is not necessary for such bounty, prolific writers - from Dickens to Asimov, from Dumas to Enid Blyton - didn't simply enjoy their craft, but were drawn helplessly to it, seeing it as their reason for existence. "I'm a writer," said Harlan Ellison, matter-of-factly. "That's what I do." After 50 years of stories, scripts and essays, he is still doing it - and doing it very successfully.
At age 73, Sri Chinmoy is also tireless. For him, writing is a divine experience. Writer's block, it would seem, is not something from which he suffers.