Interview with Ashrita Furman – the King of Records

Walking one hundred kilometres with a heavy brick clutched in your right hand. Devouring 38 M&M’s in one minute using only chopsticks. Covering a mile in the fastest time on a skippy-ball on the Great Wall of China. Slicing 27 apples in mid-air in one minute, using a samurai sword. Ashrita Furman (54) has done it and earned his place in the Guinness Book of World-Records as a result. On the 14th of April [2009] he became the first person to hold 100 simultaneous records in the world-renowned book. The editors granted him a special certificate. For Ashrita Furman a month without breaking a Guinness world record is a month not fully lived. Every two weeks he tries to break a new record. You may deem him a man with a supersize ego, but Ashrita is not interested in name and fame. He regards breaking records as a spiritual experience, bringing him closer to his real self. What drives a man to dedicate his life to breaking records?

You’ve broken a hundred Guinness Book records. How did it all start?
“As a kid growing up I was always interested in the Guinness Book. From the age of seven I used to carry the book around like a Bible. I was actually born four days after the book was conceived. I was taken with the idea of being the best in the world at something. But I never thought I would be able to break a record, because I was very unathletic and very mental. I was a real nerd, spending most of my time studying. When I was fifteen years old I started becoming dissatisfied with that and started searching for a deeper meaning to life. I started meditating under the guidance of my spiritual teacher Sri Chinmoy. He was very much into sports and he believed that you have to make progress on the physical plane as well to transcend your limitations. That was new to me and in the beginning I didn’t really believe in it. But in 1978 there was a 24 hour cycling race in Central Park in which Sri Chinmoy and his students participated. I decided to join ten days before the race, although I had never practiced sports and I hadn’t trained at all. The night before the race Sri Chinmoy asked all is students how many miles they thought they could do. I was thinking that maybe I Ashrita_Fastest-8-Miles-on-Stilts_China_Photo-by-ProjjwalPohland_2004could do 200 miles, that would be amazing. But when my turn came he didn’t let me say anything, but he just said ‘Ashrita, 400 miles.’ I was in shock! The winner had done 435 miles the year before. I just nodded my head and went home thinking that Sri Chinmoy maybe saw something in me that I didn’t see. But I was determined to do it and the next day I just went out and took it very seriously. I used all the meditation and visualization techniques Sri Chinmoy had taught me and the hours flew by. It was one of the highlights of my life. Out of tens of thousands of participants I eventually tied for third place doing 405 miles. I remember staggering off the bicycle feeling exhausted and saying, ‘I know my body didn’t do this, this was my spirit or God working through me.’ I knew at that moment I could break a Guinness record. A few months later I did the largest number of jumping jacks in a row. In the gym I stuck a big picture of CKG on the wall and I meditated on it the whole time. The record was 20,000 and I did 27,000.”

Where is the joy in that?

“Going beyond your every day capacity is such a fulfilling feeling. Every day we’re stuck in a certain space and it’s like going out of the box. I realized that it isn’t the human in me who is doing this; it is the divine in me. That feeling was even stronger during my second record, which involved covering the longest distance while doing forward rolls. The previous record was ten miles and I stopped just after I had broken that record. I sat in a chair and said: finished. But the course I had chosen was twelve miles long. A couple of my friends had phoned Sri Chinmoy and he had told them that I had the capacity to finish the course. When I heard that I accepted it immediately and jumped out of the chair to start rolling again. After the first roll the following words came out of my mouth: I am not the body, I am the soul. It was like a mantra to detach myself from the pain. That mantra almost sums up my whole record breaking life. I’m trying to realize who I am. We’re all trying to realize that we are one with God. When we know that, we can do anything. So I finished, I broke the record and I was flying. I wouldn’t have done it if Sri Chinmoy hadn’t told me and it turned out to be one of the highlights of my life. It was so uplifting that for weeks afterwards I felt like I was floating on air. That is what these records do for me. I’m constantly pursuing them not to get into the newspaper, but really just for the spiritual aspect of it. And I’ve had some real spiritual experiences while doing records. I don’t think anybody in the world has ever had a vision on a pogo-stick, but I have.”

What does meditation have to do with breaking records?

“Meditation gives you the capacity to overcome obstacles and go beyond your limitations. I’m convinced that there isn’t a challenge you can’t meet if you pray and meditate. When I start thinking that it is me who is doing these records it always falls apart. So I try to remind myself that it isn’t me, Ashrita, who is doing this, but the divinity within me. And it works. I had that experience during one of my toughest records: walking the longest distance while carrying a 9 pound brick in one hand. The record was 60 miles. After only 5 miles my achilles started hurting and after 35 miles I was staggering around the track, figuring there was no way I could do those remaining 25 miles. I was actually hoping one of the kids on the track would knock the brick from my hand, because I didn’t want to give up myself. Sri Chinmoy came to watch and he cheered me up. He said my friends should sing for me to distract me from the pain. I started thinking about his words and it sounded to me like I was using too much of my own ego and focusing too much on the pain. So I removed the focus from my hand and started concentrating on breathing in energy and feeling my teacher in my heart. The result was incredible. I had been stumbling along and all of a sudden I started walking normally and then walking faster. I got to the point where I was so full of energy I was speedwalking around the track. This went on for hours and I actually broke the record by doing 64 miles. It was a great experience and I felt my limited self expand into the universal self.”

Does breaking records help you in your daily life?
“Absolutely. I admit that most of my records are silly, but they do require serious training. Take my record of walking the longest distance while balancing a milk bottle on my head. I love it because it’s funny, it’s silly, but it also requires tremendous concentration and endurance. You touch on that feeling of transcendence and you go into another world. There are so many negative aspects to this world of ours. This is something really positive. It gives you hope. The day I break a record I’m just happy the whole day.”

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