Sri Chinmoy’s Weightlifting

“We are all truly unlimited, if we only dare to try and have faith.” — Sri Chinmoy

From 1985, at the age of 54, right up until a couple of months before his passing in October 2007, Sri Chinmoy embarked on a weightlifting journey which saw him capture the public imagination by lifting cars, planes, elephants, boats, trees and statues, and honour people for their inspiring service by lifting them up in body and in spirit. Sri Chinmoy sought in his weightlifting to give a demonstration that nothing is impossible when one puts aside the limitations of the mind:

“I am trying to be of some inner service to people who want to go one step forward. They don’t have to lift 2,000 pounds, but perhaps they will take the inspiration that I am offering and make the effort to do something in their own lives which they previously thought was too difficult or impossible. In any field they can get inspiration to do something better than what they have been doing.” 1

Inner Strength

Many of his lifts were featured on TV and newspapers across the United States and the world. When asked by reporters, Sri Chinmoy accredited his weightlifting prowess to the inner strength generated through meditation and prayer. Sri Chinmoy’s weightlifting feats were witnessed by many professional weightlifters and bodybuilders, who remarked how much weight he was able to lift despite not being particularly muscular. Bill Pearl, five-time winner of Mr Universe and voted the Best Built Man of the twentieth century, said of Sri Chinmoy’s lifting.

“I have learned from Sri Chinmoy that the size of the arm does not make the man; the size of the heart makes the man. Nobody on earth has done what Sri Chinmoy has done.” 2

“As an individual I am nothing and I can do nothing. For everything that I have achieved, I give one hundred percent credit to God’s Grace…when I pray and meditate I feel that somebody else is helping me, whereas an ordinary man feels that he can only rely on himself. When he is under the weight, he thinks that he is lifting it all by himself. He has practised for so many years and developed his strength and he feels that everything depends his physical strength. But in my case, I feel I am only an instrument. There is some other power that is coming to help me. That power I call God’s Grace.” 3

Sri Chinmoy

Throughout the many years of his weightlifting career, Bill Pearl was Sri Chinmoy’s foremost supporter, his services ranging from invaluable advice to compeering Sri Chinmoy’s weightlifting ceremonies. Other greats in the powerlifting and bodybuilding world also recognised the extraordinary nature of Sri Chinmoy’s achievements and gave him tremendous support. Frank Zane, 3-time Mr Olympia and 3 time Mr Universe, gave the following tribute upon Sri Chinmoy’s passing:

He gave his life to lifting up the world literally and metaphorically. His dedication and enthusiasm for his lifting was contagious—the last time we spoke, I was overwhelmed at his excitement about his lifting, always working to lift more and more over the years. It made me want to train harder. 4

Sri Chinmoy is a very spiritual man. I feel the reason Sri Chinmoy lifted this weight is because of his love of God and belief that through God all things are possible. This man has done the impossible because of faith, wisdom and love of God. Through God we can do anything and He allows us to reach beyond human endeavours. We may feel we can’t go on, but because we find inner faith, we do. The body says “stop,” but the spirit cries “never.” In the warrior’s code there is no stopping. 5

Muhammad Ali

Lifting Up the World With a Oneness-Heart

Sri Chinmoy also used his weightlifting to acknowledge men and women around the world who were of inspiration to their communities and the world. From 1988 to 2007, Sri Chinmoy inaugurated an award programme called Lifting up the World with a Oneness-Heart. 6 In this programme he honoured individuals by raising them overhead using a specially constructed overhead platform. During this period, over 8,000 people were honoured by Sri Chinmoy in this way, including Nelson Mandela, Muhammad Ali, Carl Lewis, marathon champions Paul Tergat, Paula Radcliffe and Tegla Laroupe and the heads of state of over ten countries. As well as lifting dignitaries, sports stars and religious leaders of all faiths, Sri Chinmoy also lifted people from ordinary walks of life, who contributed in their own essential way to creating a better world – pilots, nurses, firemen, university professors, police and others. More on the ‘Lifting Up the World’ program »

sri chinmoy lifting firemen

Sri Chinmoy lifts members of the New York fire department

“If I can inspire someone, and if that person also can inspire me, then we can do many good things for the betterment of this world. Here I am inspiring quite a few people, and they also are inspiring me. If I am inspired, you are inspired and he is inspired, then we shall be able to work together. When we are not inspired, we find fault with other human beings; we quarrel, fight and do many deplorable things. But if we are inspired, then we do many good things for the improvement of this world.”7

Sri Chinmoy

The beginning

Sri Chinmoy began his weightlifting journey with a comparatively innocuous 40-pound dumbbell on 26 June 1985, lifting it over his head from the ground in a clean and press move. Sri Chinmoy’s progress in lifting was rapid – within two months, he had doubled the weight to 80 pounds. Sri Chinmoy had always enthusiastically maintained that meditation and inner silence can be employed to great benefit in all spheres of human endeavour, and he had so far successfully demonstrated this in the worlds of music, art, poetry and athletics. However, even for those used to seeing Sri Chinmoy in action, this was an eye-catching departure from the traditional stereotype of the spiritual teacher. Sushumna Plumbly, a student of Sri Chinmoy’s since the late 1960s, recalls in her book ‘Lifting Up the World’ her initial fears that her teacher might get hurt. “I took to looking the other way when it was happening…but the Master’s efforts went from strength to strength, so we decided it must be the Supreme’s will and therefore it would be safe”. 8 After he succeeded in lifting 106 pounds, he altered his lifting style from the conventional ground-to-full-height lift, the first sign that he did not feel confined by the conventional lifting techniques prevalent in the weightlifting world. “After 100 pounds I was unable to progress any further because it was difficult for me to bend.”, recalled Sri Chinmoy in an interview given in 1987. “Then a student of mine from Australia made a support rack for me so that I could start with the weight from shoulder height. He said ‘Since you cannot bend, perhaps you will be able continue if you do it this way’. So I tried and he was right” 9.

That student was Unmilan Howard, a metallurgist from Sydney in Australia, and over the years, he would play a major role in constructing the support apparatus required for Sri Chinmoy’s lifts. The safety factor of the lift was now increased considerably. If dropped, the dumbbell would return to the metal supports, instead of crashing to the ground. By the end of the year, Sri Chinmoy had succeeded in this fashion in lifting 155 pounds, his own body weight at the time. Sri Chinmoy continued increasing the weight in rapid strides. After a brief hiatus due to his travelling around the world giving concerts of meditative music, he resumed his weightlifting progress in March 1986 with a lift of 200 pounds. As the year progressed, he gradually increased that weight in increments of ten pounds while moving closer to his next goal – 300 pounds. After four months and 212 attempts, he finally held the bar aloft in August 1986. (read more on Sri Chinmoy’s 300 lb lift) Sri Chinmoy then began increasing the weights in large increments, culminating in his biggest lift in January 1987. Ashrita Furman, who holds more Guinness World records than anyone else on earth, was there to witness the event, and recalled his experience:

“We were all meditating, and then he got under it and lifted it. He pushed it a couple of inches off the loop so that he was actually holding it. And you know, we were not surprised because we’ve had such incredible spiritual experiences with him. When we see him do something like this, we’re not surprised. We almost expect that he can do anything that he wants to do. And he’s doing it to inspire us, to inspire people to transcend themselves. People are so limited by their minds. And he’s just trying to say, ‘Okay, you’ve got to break out of that mental limitation.'” 10

On its certificate of recognition the American Athletic Union termed it “surely one of the most incredible lifts of all time“, whilst the British Amateur Weightlifters’ Association said in their certificate that it was “the like of which surely has not been seen before” (Read more on Sri Chinmoy’s one arm lifts…)

sri chinmoy 40lbs

Sri Chinmoy lifts 40 lb dumbbell

“I did not choose to start lifting weights. If one prays and meditates sincerely, somebody within him talks to him and tells him what to do and what not to do. You use the term ’God’; I say my ’Inner Pilot’. Last year, when I was praying and meditating, that somebody within me — you can call it an inner voice or a source of inspiration — asked me to start weightlifting. That is why I am doing it.” – Sri Chinmoy 11

Sri Chinmoy

155lbs sri chinmoy

Sri Chinmoy lifts his own bodyweight

Calf Raise Lifts

On 22 June 1986, Sri Chinmoy held a weightlifting demonstration to mark the first anniversary of his lifting; the Master of Ceremonies for the evening was Olympic Champion Carl Lewis. Shortly afterwards, he began supplementing his one-arm lifts in training with seated calf raise lifts, where the weight would be supported on top of his knees and then be lifted by raising his heels. The stronger leg muscles allow more weight to be raised in this fashion. Sri Chinmoy now began setting record marks in the standing calf raise – where the weight is supported on top of the shoulders – in addition to the one-arm lift. In July 1986 he set a mark of 1400 pounds, working his way up to 2000 pounds by November. Sri Chinmoy would work his way up to them in a series of repetitions, which meant that the total weight lifted in any one session could be up to 50,000 pounds.


Video: An early calf raise by Sri Chinmoy of 1000 lbs.

Infusing weightlifting with Joy

One suggestion by Bill Pearl set Sri Chinmoy’s weightlifting away in a whole new direction. He felt that “the average person who wasn’t a weightlifter couldn’t understand the difference between objects weighing 500 pounds and those weighing 2,000 pounds. To them, they were just numbers. But if he lifted objects the general population could better relate to, such as automobiles, large animals or platforms of people, then nobody would question how the lifts were done or how much the objects weighed.” 12 It a suggestion that undoubtedly was inspired by Pearl’s own rapport with the public – he used to supplement his bodybuilding demonstrations with feats of strength such as bending tent spikes and ripping license plates in two. On September 16th 1986, Sri Chinmoy lifted a car using a calf raise machine modified to include a support base for the car to drive onto. Over the next three months, he would lift all kinds of improbable objects, striking in both their weight and childlike variety: a series of increasingly heavy cars, a truck, a seaplane, a helicopter, a coterie of farmyard animals, two elephants , a haystack, a barbershop scene that involved four chairs and four barbers attending to their clients, and two pianists in formal attire playing Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony on two grand pianos. “In essence Sri Chinmoy was bringing weightlifting out of the gym and making it a part and parcel of everyday life.”, wrote Dr Vidagdha Bennett, a frequent writer on Sri Chinmoy’s weightlifting. “But, most importantly of all, he was infusing it with joy.” 13

Video: Sri Chinmoy lifts elephant using standing calf raise, 1986

These lifts attracted a considerable amount of media attention, and naturally, reporters were curious to find out what was going though Sri Chinmoy’s mind as he lifted these enormous weights. “You may think that when I breathe in before I lift, I am drawing energy from Above.”, Sri Chinmoy replied. “No. At that time I am trying to keep my mind absolutely free of thought. That is the strongest power—not to have thoughts.” 14 Sri Chinmoy often spoke on how instead of struggling with the weights, he would instead try to identify himself with the heavy load:

On the strength of my prayer and meditation I try to enter into the material consciousness and become part and parcel of the weights that I lift. When I deal with matter, I try to become inseparably one with it. So when I lift up the weights, I feel that my life-breath has entered into the metal plates and that from the metal this life-breath has entered back into me. 15

Sri Chinmoy’s unorthodox lifting styles sometimes came under criticism for not conforming to the standard forms of weightlifting. Sri Chinmoy’s response was that he was trying to bring newness and vitality into weightlifting in the same way he had done with music, art and running:

If there is only the dead lift and other standard lifts, then there will be no newness, no invention. Should there be only one game? No, hundreds of games have been discovered. Then shall we play only football, volleyball and basketball? There should be more games. In a garden will we keep only four types of flowers? If another type of flower appears, we will not cry, “Oh, this is not a flower because for years and years in our garden there have been only four flowers.” Unfortunately, when one invents something, it is frequently not accepted. Then a day comes when people forget about the criticism. At first, how much Newton and Einstein suffered! Afterwards, everybody accepted them. In the beginning, newness will always be suspected. It will not be admired and adored. But then, based on that newness, people go forward. 16

Writing in his magazine, Building the Body, Frank Zane echoes this perspective. “The old-time strongmen used to lift huge weights just enough to clear a sheet of paper…it is in this tradition that Sri Chinmoy’s lifts should be seen. His real goal is to bring attention to the spiritual life, which is the real source of his power. For someone who is approaching 70 years of age, training every day with such ponderous weights to inspire humanity is the real world record.” 17 Abakash Kopiaty, editor of Self-Transcendence-Fragrance Sports magazine and a long-time authority on Sri Chinmoy’s weightlifting, adds “Sri Chinmoy has always shown photos and videos of his lifts – demonstrating both technique and apparatus, allowing all to be inspired by his efforts or to attempt to duplicate them.18

Video: In an interview, Sri Chinmoy explains what happens when he lifts weights

Sri Chinmoy lifts 2000lb in a standing calf raise

Sri Chinmoy lifts 2000lb in a standing calf raise

Return to sprinting

From 1992, Sri Chinmoy’s focus moved away from heavy lifting, as his leg injury improved and he was able to move back to his favourite sprinting, competing in the World Masters Games in Miyazaki in Japan in 1993. “In my life running is unparalleled; it has no second.”, Sri Chinmoy remarked. “Weightlifting was never my forte. Right from my early years, I disliked bodybuilding and weightlifting. I was a sprinter and decathlete, and I did not care for weightlifting at all.” This 1986 interview goes on to illustrate Sri Chinmoy’s attitude towards lifting:

Unfortunately, even now I do not really enjoy it. Only my surrender to my Inner Pilot compels me to do it. But I do it obediently and even cheerfully, and definitely I do it devotedly. As I said, I pray and meditate. As soon as I pray and meditate, I become a devoted instrument of God, and then automatically I become cheerful.

However, Sri Chinmoy also spoke of the overriding satisfaction he obtained from being able to inspire others through his lifting:

When I am of service, even to an individual, if somebody can accept my inspiration, I feel extremely satisfied. If I can be of service to even one individual, I feel that it is a tremendous help in improving the standard of humanity. 19

Video: Sri Chinmoy’s 100m heat in the World Veteran’s Championship in Miyazaki, Southern Japan, October 1993

Restarting Weightlifting Career

In 1998, Sri Chinmoy re-entered into the world of weightlifting with a 200 pound one arm lift. On November 27, Sri Chinmoy performed 65 lifts in front of a large audience of selected guests 20 (see video at top of page); earlier that day he had performed a calf raise lift of an elephant bearing Olympic champion Carl Lewis. This weightlifting demonstration was to become the highlight of Sri Chinmoy’s yearly lifting calendar; he would hold similar demonstrations in 1999, 2000, 2002, 2004 and 2005. Attending Sri Chinmoy’s weightlifting demonstration in November 1999, Dennis Lee wrote in Natural Bodybuilding and Fitness Magazine: 21

How does this average looking physical specimen achieve such power? He would credit his outer strength to his inner peace, and the unlimited potential of the human spirit – a vivid visual of faith that can move mountains. Guru Sri Chinmoy is a treasure in our world, as he reminds us all that there are no barriers we cannot overcome..if we believe.

Video: Lifts from Sri Chinmoy’s 2004 weightlifting exhibition

By 1999, he had reached his old mark of 2000 lbs in the standing calf raise, a feat lauded by Ernie Frantz (president of the World Powerlifting Congress) as “magnificent” and “absolutely fantastic”. 22 In 2000, at the age of 69, he broke many of his old records, setting records of 1,300 pounds in the standing double dumbbell lift, 700 pounds in the dumbbell bench press, breaking the thousand pound barrier 23 and ultimately attaining 1300 pounds in the seated calf raise and 2200 pounds in the standing calf raise. A visit to New Zealand in 2002 saw Sri Chinmoy lifting 1,000 lambs and 200 cows over a 2 week period. 24

Sri Chinmoy performs a bench press lift

Sri Chinmoy performs a bench press lift

In 2004, Sri Chinmoy continued transcending his old marks, lifting 2,300 pounds in the standing calf raise and 1600 pounds in the seated calf raise. In November 2004, Sri Chinmoy engaged in a demonstration of lifting that surpassed anything that he had previously done – lifting a total of over 100 tons in a variety of different lifts – this included lifting a 160-pound person for 100 repetitions, lifting his entire collection of over 1,500 books in a lift titled Sri Chinmoy the Author versus Sri Chinmoy the Weightlifter, and lifting a pair of stone lion statues weighing over 1,200 pounds in a standing calf raise. Sri Chinmoy ended the evening by lifting his own car – a blue Smart car weighing 2,200 pounds – from an overhead platform such that it could clearly be seen dangling off the ground. 25 Muscle and Fitness magazine would rank the amount lifted during the evening No 2. among the greatest feats of strength performed in 2004. 26 This evening of lifting became the focal point of the 2011 documentary Challenging Impossibility. 27

Video: Sri Chinmoy lifts his smart car, 2004

Dumbbell Lift Curls

In 2005, Sri Chinmoy embarked upon setting goals in a new area of weightlifting – wristcurling a dumbbell for 10 repetitions in each hand. On 23 May he started with 80 pounds; and then advanced to 100, 160, 170, 180, 190, 203, and 256 pounds – in a sport where progress is mostly made in half-pound or one pound increments. By the end of the year he had wrist curled the weight of 270 pounds in both arms. In interviews given around this time, he frequently sought to inspire older people through his example, and he dedicated many of his lifts to them, such as the double arm lift of 740 lbs completed in late 2004. 28

“If I can inspire anybody in this world, then I feel that my life is meaningful. With my weightlifting, I am offering my physical strength to inspire people.” 29

Video: Sri Chinmoy’s 740lb lift and 256lb wrist curl

In September 2006, Sri Chinmoy embarked on a three day festival of weightlifting with special guest Hugo Girard, at that time the world’s No.1 strongman. He had just turned 75 years of age; yet Sri Chinmoy saw his advanced years as an opportunity, a chance to prove that age was an irrelevance once you live in the heart rather than in the mind.

Video: Sri Chinmoy’s 3-day weightlifting festival in 2006

The mind makes us feel that we are very old, but the moment I use my heart, I am 20 years old. I wanted to see if age has anything to do with physical fitness. I have found that it is our human mind that creates the problem. We have to go far beyond the domain of the physical mind which binds us and at every moment discourages us. It says, “You cannot do this, you cannot do that, it is not possible for you.” But when we live in the heart, there is no such thing as impossibility. When I look at the heavy weights with my heart, there is no fear. A child has a feeling of oneness with his father. Even if his father is very tall and stout, he will not be afraid of him. Similarly, when I look at the weights with my heart, I am not frightened at all, no matter how heavy they are. But when I look at them with my mind’s eye, I am filled with fear. I have no idea how I am going to lift them.” 30

Sri Chinmoy

No Retirement – Lifting into Old Age

In late 2006, a shoulder injury prevented him from doing two-arm lifts, and yet Sri Chinmoy kept on lifting, switching his arm lifting style to a one-armed right-hand lift. In May 2007, he travelled to Mongolia and lifted the himor, or ‘wind horses’ unique to that country in a standing calf raise. In June 2007, Sri Chinmoy travelled to a convention of the world’s strongest men in Philadelphia; this time the participants found themselves on the receiving end of the lifting. Zydrunas Savickas from Lithuania, ranked number one in the listings of the world’s strongest men, was particularly impressed. “It is fantastic for this little man to do these magnificent lifts!“, Savickas exclaimed. Sri Chinmoy’s appreciation of the people he had just lifted was equally fulsome. “These great strongmen have inspired countless people on earth, and I am so happy I could offer them my most sincere appreciation from the inmost depths of my heart“, he stated. In August 2007, less than two months before his passing on October 11, Sri Chinmoy achieved an 800 pound one arm lift from a seated position. As Jim Smith of the British Amateur Weightlifters Association said, “Sri Chinmoy is a pioneer far, far ahead of his time. In centuries to come people will look at his lifts and begin to fathom how great his achievements are.”

  1. Aspiration-Body, Illumination Soul by Sri Chinmoy
  2. Quote from The Spiritual State, an article in Newsweek, Oct 30 2007
  3. Aspiration-Body, Illumination Soul by Sri Chinmoy
  4. Tributes from luminaries in weightlifting and bodybuilding world given upon Sri Chinmoy’s passing can be found at Tributes at Sri
  5. Included in My Weightlifting Tears and Smiles, by Sri Chinmoy
  6. The Luminous Life of Sri Chinmoy: an authorised biography edited by Shyam Dua, published in 2005 by Tiny Tot Publications, p85.
  7. Transcript from an interview with Reuters TV, 4 November 1998, included in A Mystic Journey In The Weightlifting World, Part 1, by Sri Chinmoy
  8. Lifting Up the World and Other Miracles, by Sushumna Mary Plumbly
  9. Aspiration-Body, Illumination Soul by Sri Chinmoy
  10. I am not the Body, I am the Soul” Ashrita Furman is interviewed by What is Enlightenment magazine, Fall-Winter 2002
  11. From press conference given 12 August 1986, included in <a href=”″>Aspiration-Body, Illumination Soul Part 1</a>
  12. Beyond the Universe: the Bill Pearl Story – at – Bill Pearl with Kim Shott, p192
  13. Volcanic Calf Fire by Dr Vidagdha Bennett, published by Agni Press in 1987
  14. Interview, 4 Jan 1989, included in Sri Chinmoy Answers, part 33 by Sri Chinmoy
  15. Aspiration-Body, Illumination Soul by Sri Chinmoy
  16. Aspiration-Body, Illumination Soul by Sri Chinmoy
  17. Building the Body, 1998
  18. Self-Transcendence-Fragrance Sports Magazine, #9, Spring 1999
  19. Transcript of interview with CNN Radio, 24 November 1999, included in A Mystic Journey In The Weightlifting World, Part 1, by Sri Chinmoy
  20. More info: read a brief account (link not working) by 3-time Mr Olympia Frank Zane.
  21. Sri Chinmoy: Mind over Matter, Natural Fitness and Bodybuilding Magazine, August 2000. Sri Chinmoy’s weightlifting demonstration was also briefly mentioned in Ironman magazine, August 2000
  22. American Fitness, Jan 2000
  23. Sri Chinmoy’s new record – Article in The Hindu, May 6, 2000
  24. Covered in Rotorua Daily Post, also “Lifter Hits Goal” Taupo Weekender 2002: 9.
  25. A complete inventory of Sri Chinmoy’s lifts during the 3-day festival was published as The Body’s Fitness Gong, The Soul’s Fulness Gong (2004). A more detailed account can also be read on Also featured in Building the Body, January 2005.
  26. Muscle and Fitness, April 2005
  27. Challenging
  28. Article by Jogyata Dallas, Sri Chinmoy Centre New Zealand.
  29. New Zealand Fitness, Feb/March 2006 issue (No.77). Full article reprinted here:
  30. Talk given 29 December 1998, included in <a href=”″>Sri Chinmoy answers, part 31</a>, by Sri Chinmoy