“We are not trying to control anyone...this is a free society,” insists Salil Wilson, executive director of the Sri Chinmoy Oneness-Home Peace Run, when discussing the recently-installed and controversial Sri Chinmoy monument in Sliema.
In an exclusive interview with The Malta Independent on Sunday, Mr Wilson and Dr Argaha Levine speak out about the various allegations levelled against Sri Chinmoy and the thinking behind the Sliema monument, which cost them some €14,353 to create and ship
Concerns have been raised about the appropriateness of installing a monument which depicts an unknown figure in local culture. Many took to the internet to research the man and found some damning reports, amongst numerous reports which highlight the organisation’s ultimate message for peace and unity.
Sri Chinmoy was a self-proclaimed guru who has been described as a champion for peace, having a large following of thousands of people. He promoted meditation, “self-realisation” and “oneness.”
He channelled his philosophy through producing many songs, poems, prose and maintaining physical fitness.
Mr Wilson explained that while he and Dr Levine were in London, on their way back home to New York, they read numerous Maltese media reports criticising the monument, and chose to turn around back to Malta to address the issues at hand.
“At the end of the day this is a gift, and if the person receiving the gift does not want it, then we accept that. We are not trying to control anyone. This is a free society and there are also many other statues we are looking to place in other countries,” said Mr Wilson.
The monument was installed last week on the Sliema promenade. Its inauguration was attended by a number of politicians such as Parliamentary Secretary for sport Chris Agius and high-profile people such as Xandru Grech.
Dr Levine added that “It is true what he is saying, it is a gift that can be received, or declined. I feel that from the other statues we’ve had in other cities, like in San Diego, residents were immediately thrilled. They said ‘wow, we are so fortunate to have these statues.’
“In my city of Seattle some were thrilled and some were not. I know for a fact that in Sliema there are many people who love the statue; some are actually pretty high ranking in the government. They didn’t know about it and said that it is wonderful. People who do not like this statue have a right and those who do have a right.
“There is something else which is really important, something at the heart of democracy. Democracy works well when there is a free flow of information, and does not work well when people do not have the right information.”
Turning to why Sliema was chosen, Dr Levine said it was “chosen because we took advice from several people living here. We asked where a beautiful place and a kind of meditative place would be. I wanted a place where people could go and offer a moments peace, hold the torch and offer their prayers and wishes for peace. I was also told that many people pass by the area, which meant more people could see it.
“We had already arranged meetings with President Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca, the Deputy Prime Minister, because the Prime Minister was out of town, and the Speaker, Anglu Farrugia. I was then told however that I needed to go to the local council.
“We contacted the mayor, Anthony Chircop and I sent him a whole bunch of material. He was very helpful. Mr Victor Rutter was also helpful. He has been on the Gzira local council for 19 years. He actually wanted the monument in Gzira. I asked if he had a nice location where people would see it, and he told me that Sliema might be better. He said that in the area it is in, people would have a little time to stop and appreciate.
“Well I sent him the material via e-mail. I said that the statue is called ‘Dreamer of World Peace,’ to be an inspiration to all who walk by for peace. He has been under unimaginable pressure, I called him last night and I felt so sorry for him. You know, when one is under pressure, one might say certain things at times,” Dr Levine added in reference to previous remarks by Mr Chircop, in which he said that he was led to believe that the monument would be for peace and not to the man himself.”
Allegations brought against before Mr Chinmoy
A number of reports came to the forefront about how Mr Chinmoy allegedly abused female followers by asking them to perform sexual acts. Others questioned his legitimacy by discussing his financial standing and various properties.
Mr Wilson referred back to previous comments made at a local press conference, where he discredited Celia Corona-Doran and what she has accused Mr Chinmoy of doing. He said that her version of events “did not add up” because in the short span of six months she had gone from praising the organisation in an article she wrote, to making her allegations. He said that she chose to leave the organisation to be with a fellow male-student. Since the organisation does not permit sexual relations, Mr Wilson implied that she had certain motivations behind what she said.
He even slammed the writer of the article which displayed Mr Corona-Doran’s account, saying that he is a staunch atheist. He read out a highly offensive extract written by the author about Jesus Christ, to illustrate his bias against any form of spirituality or religion.
He also reiterated the fact that Mr Chinmoy never had any charges brought against him, implying that it is proof of his innocence since “America...is the most litigious society on the planet.”