Swami Chinmayananda .. was born in the year 1916. He worked relentlessly for about forty years to bring about spiritual revival in India and abroad. He is the author of more than thirty books, each one is a masterpiece, dealing with the philosophical principles behind the Hindu religion. He made mysterious and elusive vedantic principles easily understandable for common people. Swami Chinmayananda is a world renowned authority of the scriptures of India, especially Bhagawad Gita and the Upanishads. Swami Chinmayananda is the founder of “ Chinmaya Mission ”, through which he was spreading the message of vedanta, overseeing numerous cultural, educational and social service activities. Swami Chinmayananda attained mahasamadhi in the year 1993. A few excerpts from the books “ Ageless Guru ” and “ Journey of a Master, Swami Chinmayananda ”.
Kerala is a land of peaceful backwaters, swaying palms, thick forests and lush fields. On 8th May, 1916, a son was born to a family in Ernakulam, Kerala.
The baby’s parents, “ Parvati ” and “ Kuttan Menon ”, were from the distinguished land-owning family that lived on agriculture.
Being the first-born, the baby’s birth brought much joy to the family. Just hours after his birth, the family astrologer called into cast his horoscope, predicted world-wide fame for the newborn.
At that time, “ Chattambi Swamigal ”, a realized saint, happened to visit the family. He had many mystical and yogic powers and was known for his close friendship with the saintly figure Sri Narayana Guru. In a traditional naming, ceremony, Chattambi Swamigal named the child “ Balakrishnan ”, meaning “ Child Krishna ”.
The child Balakrishnan was raised in the loving and secure atmosphere of a joint family with all the ladies of the household mothering him equally. Chattambi Swamigal visited the family once again when Balakrishnan was two years old. On this visit, the saint paid special attention to young Balan. He placed the child on his chest and played with him often. As they interacted, the sage spoke to the toddler in a strange language. The child seemed to listen with avid interest while no one else understood a word.
When Balan’s mother asked the sage what was going on between them, he smiled saying that the child understood him perfectly. He added the words “ Don’t worry. I have taught him everything. ” The saint also conducted Balan’s initiation into education through the sacred ritual of writing holy words on a plate of rice ...akshrabhyasam.
Balan’s child-hood was rocked by his mother’s sudden demise after her third child was born. His aunts and grandmothers quickly took over the care of the motherless child. He was so tenderly raised that he hardly felt the loss of his mother.
A powerful influence in Balan’s child-hood was the family prayers conducted every evening by the ladies and children. Balan would look at his favourite picture in the pooja room .. a calm and meditative visage of Lord Shiva.
Balan’s schooling began in Sri Rama Varma Boy’s School when he was five years old. It was an English medium school where he also learnt Malayalam and Sanskrit.
His holidays were spent visiting relatives, one of whom was the wife of the Raja of Cochin. He also spent time with his sisters, Padmini and Kanakam, playing with them or helping them with their studies.
Balan began his college education at Maharaja’s College, Ernakulam. There was another side of his personality a serious and responsible one. He was also loyal and generous friend, always ready to help his classmates with money for college fees and books.
He often brooded on the meaning of life and spent time in flights of intellectual thought. At the same time, he scoffed at anything done unquestioningly, whether it was prostrating oneself before sadhus or mechanical visits to temples.
Balan’s major subject was science, but he found little in it to interest him. With his photographic memory and a natural mental agility, he got through his tests without much effort. But by the final exams, Balan’s lack of concentration and interest caught up with him and he could not pursue science anymore. He changed his focus to the humanities, continuing his college education at St. Thomas College.
At this time he had the good fortune to meet Mahatma Gandhi, on one of Gandhiji’s visits to Kerala. The meeting though, left little impact on Balan who was not particularly interested in politics.
The Quit India Movement is one of the most significant events in India’s struggle for freedom. It caused mass strikes, protest marches and demonstrations all over the country. Industrialists and farmers, career men and women, housewives and most significantly, students left their homes, offices and colleges in huge numbers to join the freedom movement.
One of the thousands of students who sacrificed their education for the country was Balakrishna Menon.
He too left Lucknow University to join the Independence Movement. From writing and distributing pamphlets to encouraging others to join in, he participated enthusiastically in the student activities of the movement. Soon an arrest warrant was issued against him and he was forced to flee to Kashmir and go into hiding there.
On one of his trips to Delhi, he was almost caught. In a quick bid to escape, he barged into a building that turned out to be a British Intelligence Communications Centre handling coded messages for the British forces in India.
Mistaking Menon to be just another young man looking for a job, the centre took him on as a machine operator. Impressed by his intelligence, the officer soon made Menon his personal assistant.
By sheer accident, Menon had gained for himself a good job, safe living quarters inside the British military compound and a chance to taste the fine living of the British in India. Work was easy and Menon grabbed the spare time he got to continue studying for his final examinations at Lucknow University.
After a while, Menon’s boss, the British officer, helped secure his release, knowing that his heart was in the freedom struggle.
Menon went to Punjab and back to distributing leaflets and guiding students in their cause for India’s freedom. He thought that his arrest warrant would have been forgotten by now, but he was wrong. He was arrested and imprisoned in Delhi.
The cold, dirty cells and unhygienic food caused many of the prisoners to contract the feared typhoid fever. Menon too, fell victim to it. Due to his already weakened state, he quickly slid into a critical condition.
The large numbers of prisoners dying in captivity led to the interrogation of the wardens by the higher authorities. To avoid it, many prisons used to abandon seriously ill or dying prisoners. In this way, Menon too was thrown out to die on the streets.
A passer-by saw the near-dead Menon and stopped out of compassion. Something about his aristocratic features reminded her of her son fighting a war in Europe. Moved by his emaciated state, she took him home and lovingly nursed him back to good health.
After a long and slow recovery, Menon bid his benefactress loving farewell. He went to Baroda to recuperate in the home of one of his cousins. It was during this period that Menon began writing articles, thereby making his foray into the world of Journalism.
It was also during this time that Menon chanced upon a few issues of a ladies’ magazine which featured, among many kinds of articles, a series on the saints of the Himalayas. These articles brought back to mind Menon’s child-hood memories .. of his bed-time prayers, of his grandmother’s enduring faith and of meeting holy men.
Through one such article, Menon came to know of the renowned teacher “ Swami Sivananda ” and of the laudable spiritual and educational work he was doing from his “ ashram ” at Rishikesh.
On regaining his health, Menon went back to Lucknow University and completed his M.A. in English Literature with Honours as well as several courses in journalism.
His first job was that of an editor in a local newspaper. Wanting to learn everything about publishing, Menon went to Bombay to work with a well-known newspaper called the Free Press Journal. He went on to become the sub-editor of the much-read newspaper with an all-India reach - the “ National Herald.
Through the articles and essays he wrote in the “ National Herald ”, he gained the reputation of being a bold and outspoken journalist, with deep compassion for the poor and less fortunate.
Menon’s career as a journalist grew, and he gained admission into the whirl of Delhi’s social circuit. At the parties and balls that were an inherent part of cosmopolitan life, Menon got a good chance to closely observe the lives of the rich and the famous. He began to wonder whether serving the poor alone was enough to tackle social problems since even the rich did not seem to be happy. Menon came to the conclusion that such a shallow life was not for him.
As a first step in his search for a more meaningful life, he began spiritual practices even while continuing his career and socializing. This was accompanied by months of deep research into many branches of philosophy .. both European and Eastern.
The spiritual practices refined his mind and months of study made his thinking more focused and intense.
At about this time, Menon went on a tour of various parts of India. With a few clothes and books, he travelled on a student’s train pass. He had no firm plan for this journey. He would get off wherever he felt like and wander around meeting people and getting to know their minds .. how they thought and behaved.
On one leg of this journey, Menon saw people rush to the windows of the slowing train to get a glimpse of the divine Arunachala Hill. On an impulse, he got down at Thiruvannamalai station. Hearing about the great sage Bhagawan Shri Ramana Maharshi, Menon made his way to the Ramana Ashram on the hill.
He saw Ramana Maharshi reclining on a platform with his eyes closed. Menon sat near, waiting for him to open his eyes, little knowing that this would be an unforgettable experience for him.
The realized sage suddenly opened his eyes and looked directly into Menon’s eyes. The all-knowing look sent Menon into a trance-like state. When he regained body consciousness, he chose to shrug away this experience which was strange and discomforting. It was only later that he gained sufficient spiritual knowledge to understand its significance.
Long months of reading and spiritual practices lead Menon to begin thinking seriously about the scriptures and the lives of saints, their subjective goals and their usefulness to society. Finally, he decided to retire from the social scene for a while and go to the Himalayas to get “ the inside story ” about the lives and ways of the holy men who lived there.
The first step in Balakrishna Menon’s quest for the Divine was a trip to Rishikesh, the sacred abode of saints and ascetics for centuries. In Rishikesh, he went to the Ashram of Swami Sivananda.
A doctor by profession, Swami Sivananda renounced a lucrative practice in British Malaya and Singapore to settle in “ Ananda Kutir Ashram ” on the banks of the Ganges at Rishikesh. From there, he started a spiritual movement that grew into the world famous “ Divine Life Society ”.
Menon was welcomed at the ashram. He met Swami Sivananda and settled into studying the ashram way of life and gathering information on related aspects. He was very surprised to see that his opinion of Sanyasis as a “ lazy, jobless lot ” was completely wrong ! Swami Sivananda and his sincere band of swamis worked without rest or holidays on the many spiritual and social welfare projects of the ashram !The most menial job, as well as highly intellectual work, were done with equal enthusiasm !
Inspired by their selfless way of life.Menon also began helping with the journalistic work of the ashram and participating in its activities and services.
At one such evening service, Swami Sivananda suddenly called on him to say a few words on a topic of his own choice. Menon stood tongue-tied. Swami Sivananda consoled him saying that he could try again later. Encouraged by Swami Sivananda, Menon began to give small speeches prepared on given topics, at the services.
Seeing Menon’s intellectual strengths and other qualities like determination, honesty and self-confidence, Swami Sivananda hinted to him that he should use his talents to serve God by becoming a Swami (Sannyasi) like himself. However, Menon did not want to rush into anything. He went back to his career in Delhi after three months in Rishikesh. And, Swami Sivananda told him to take more time to be sure of his decision.
When he left “ Ananda Kutir ”, he carried a bundle of books from the Divine Life printing press, all written by Swami Sivananda. Many were verse by verse commentaries on the various scriptures of Vedanta .. others were transcripts of his public lectures, discussions and talks, which had been given on Indian Radio.
The Swami’s personal spiritual insight lent inspiration as well as practical application to these ancient teachings of the spiritual giants of India.
At this time, a new subject entered into Menon’s newspaper articles .. reviews of books dealing with spiritual matters. Although religious terms and concepts had been appearing in his article for several years, he now made public this personal interest. Reviews of books from the Forest Press at Ananda Kutir were included in the National Herald and Champion Magazine.
At around this time, Menon’s close friend of many years, Shroff, died after a long and painful illness. His friend’s death badly jolted Menon and further pushed him into searching for the reasons behind life and death, sorrow and joy and the purpose of human life.
With this exalted goal in mind, he moved permanently to “ Ananda Kutir ”. From there he undertook an arduous pilgrimage to some of the most sacred shrines in the Himalayas.
On April 24, 1948, the thirty-two-years old Balakrishna Menon began his pilgrimage in the Himalayas with two fellow students and a local guide to carry supplies.
In the Himalayas, the holiest and grandest mountain range in the world, there are countless pilgrim centers, temples and ashrams. The group-planned to visit the four most well-known shrines : Yamunotri, Gangotri, Badrinath and Kedarnath.
The small group trekked the one hundred and eight miles stretch of rough terrain from Rishikesh to Yamunotri along the Yamuna River. He revelled in the natural beauty of the snowcapped peaks, silvery rivers and colour splashed valleys, which have given the Himalayas the epithet “ Paradise on Earth ”.
He reached Gangotri, revered as the abode of some of the greatest religious masters of India.
From Gangotri, Menon and his colleagues trekked the one hundred and fifteen miles to Kedarnath passing breathtaking scenery but also crossing marshes, rivers, glaciers and steep slopes.
On the trek from Gangotri to Kedarnath, another momentous event in Menon’s extraordinary life occurred.
At Uttarkashi, lived “ Tapovan Maharaj ” known as the wisest of the Himalayan Sages. Constantly revelling in the Lord and living in a small hermitage without even adequate clothing,“ Tapovan Maharaj ” was a legendary ascetic.
Menon and his group had the good fortune to meet “ Tapovan Maharaj ”. This was Menon’s first meeting with the great master, who would soon become his GURU and mentor.
Menon was greatly inspired by the unearthly beauty of the place, the spiritual energy it emanated and the austere sages radiating joy with nothing to call their own except ragged clothes and a few vessels.
When Menon returned the following morning to bid the Swami farewell, Swami Tapovan advised him :
“ During the entire journey, keep a continuous unbroken Brahma(n) Vichar (reflection on the Truth) ; just as, even while one is walking, he remembers a loved one who is far away. ”
At this first meeting, Menon assured the Swami that they had all necessary supplies. Bidding him farewell, the pilgrims set out for the higher altitudes by following the banks of the Ganga up to its source, except where steep cliffs forced them to take long detours.
In Menon’s daily reports, he took great delight at the awesome beauty of nature in the Himalayas: the rushing, leaping rivers, the snow-capped mountains, and the flower-decked meadows. At the end of the first week, he wrote in his journal.
“ As we turned the corner, we suddenly heard the familiar music .. the inimitable, celestial music of the Ganga as she rolls over the rugged rocks, just a loop of green water gurgling in silvery form, but sufficient to refresh the tired pilgrim and to bring into him a feeling of exultation and utter peace. Automatically, the pilgrim stops, leans on the mossy mountainsides, gazes across tall pine groves and, drinking in this strange nectarine happiness, is refreshed beyond words.
The music soothes away his exhaustion. Wave upon wave of the mountain breeze gently takes away his weariness. ”
The trek was tiring, and often treacherous. The pilgrims climbed steep trails strewn with loose rock, crossed makeshift bridges over deep gorges, hiked through mountain passes covered with snow and walked over sharp rocks .. barefoot.
Unfortunately, Menon’s simple sandals had given out. The absence of anything resembling a shoe store in those remote areas forced him to continue the journey with the pain of sore, blistered feet.
The three pilgrims were able to meet with several of the recluses. “ Sri Phalahari Baba ”, dressed only in a loin-cloth, spent his days in continual meditation. Not interested in wasting time or energy in speaking, he observed continuous silence (mouna). When it was necessary to communicate, he used hand signals or wrote in the sandy floor of his handmade hut. When they met the Baba, he was in the middle of a one month fast and he appeared somewhat weak. When they asked about his health, he simply wrote in the sand :
“ It is the nature of all flesh to be now healthy, now sick, now fat, now lean. We are not to be concerned with these transformations of the body, for we are the indestructible Supreme Spirit ! ”
As the three sat in the presence of this Baba, his eyes radiating a divine glow, they forgot all the problems of their little worlds for they were lost in a deep peace within themselves.
It was in the quiet, peaceful moments of twilight when the Sun had already disappeared behind the mountains, leaving the valley in a cool, peaceful shadow that Menon sat beside the Ganga for two hours of meditation. He described those precious moments in a journal :
“ Wonderful ! No words to describe the inner peace I enjoyed, the concentration I achieved, the entire world forgotten. Forgotten are all worldly contacts, for here I have come to live in myself. For the first time I tasted bliss in meditation which I know is but an iota of what one can have from deep, long, steady and powerful meditation. My only prayer to my divine guru and to the divine Lord is that, by their grace, I may never fall and that I may drink deeper at the fountain of the eternal divine nectar ! ”
This pilgrimage to the world’s holiest mountain range changed Menon’s life, giving it a definite sense of direction. He returned convinced that the only life for him was that of a renunciate, dedicated to the love of God and the service of mankind.
Soon after his pilgrimage in the Himalayas, Menon requested Swami Sivananda to initiate him into the holy order of Sanyasa.
On the 25th of February, 1949, on the holy day of Shivaratri, Menon was initiated into the divine order of renunciation - Sanyasa - by Swami Sivananda.
The young man Balakrishna Menon became the ascetic bearing the name “ Chinmayananda Saraswathi ”.
The first thing that Chinmayananda Saraswathi did was to gain a thorough mastery of the Hindu scriptures .. the Bhagawad Gita, the Upanishads.
Swami Sivananda directed him to seek out the austere ascetic Swami Tapovan Maharaj, live with him and study the scriptures under him.
At that time Swami Tapovan was at Brahmananda Ashram at Rishikesh. With Swami Sivananda’s blessings, Swami Chinmayananda approached Tapovan Maharaj and was accepted as his student.
The two major influences in Swami Chinmayananda’s spiritual life, Swami Tapovan and Swami Sivananda, to all appearances, were as diverse as nature itself. Yet, the experience of God-realization of these two masters was identical despite all external appearances indicated by the activity of the body and mind. According to their own innate nature, they were used as instruments of universal intelligence.
Swami Tapovan told Swami Chinmayananda that he would be returning to Uttarkashi before the monsoon rains. The younger Swami could follow him there and begin classes then.
Swami Tapovan had developed regular schedule in his later years. At the beginning of April, he left Rishikesh for the higher altitudes of Uttarkashi where he spent the spring season.
In July, he went up to Gangotri for the summer. By November, he returned to Uttarkashi to stay until February, when he departed for Rishikesh to spend the coldest winter months there. His classes on the scriptures continued at Uttarkashi and Gangotri.
When summer’s arrival brought its warm Sun to melt the snows of the higher altitudes, Swami Tapovan and Swami Chinmayananda set out for Gangotri. There the study of the Upanishads continued each morning.
The daily schedule was always the same ; Swami Tapovan did not allow any interruption from the outside world to change it for him. He knew what really mattered in the world, by taking care of THAT all else would take care of itself.
In the midst of his life with Swami Tapovan, Swami Chinmayananda briefly visited his home town in Kerala to see his old and ailing father.
The reunion with his family after ten years of separation was warm and touching.
It took his father a while to accept that this tall, thin, ochre-robed Sanyasi with blazing eyes, prostrating himself before him, was his son. Swamiji toured the temples of Kerala, delivering lectures and meeting the eminent religious figures of the area.
When he took leave of his family, they bid him farewell, pained by his departure, but equally proud and honoured that he had become a profound thinker and had found his calling in such a remarkable manner.
Swami Chinmayananda studied Vedanta under Swami Tapovan in the austere spiritual tradition of Vedic India. His routine continued to be filled with classes, studies, hermitage duties and spiritual practices.
Swami Chinmaya practiced an intense sadhana (spiritual discipline) all during his period of study with Swami Tapovan. He often sat all night in meditation in a quiet corner of the forest or sometimes on a boulder beside the Ganga.
At one point Swami Chinmaya decided that even the proximity of Swami Tapovan and his fellow students was a hindrance to the solitary existence that was necessary for meditation. As the wail of a temple conch pierced the darkness of early morning, Chinmaya started down a trail towards the deep forest. But his solitary form alerted his master who sent another student to bring back the wandering monk. “ Never forget the peace you are seeking is within ”, his Guru cautioned him. “ The few noises and irritations you have around here are only the Lord’s way of turning you to the silence within. ”
In later years, Swamiji once came across a message scribbled in coal on a wall - “ God is nowhere ”. Swamiji looked at it thoughtfully. Smiling, he took out a pencil and drew a comma between the “ w ” and the “ h ” in the word ‘ nowhere ’. The message now read - “ God is now, here ”.
Slowly, but surely, a novel idea took root in him.He had lived in and seen the falsity and tensions of modern day living. He knew that people yearned for something to give them peace and strength in their lives.
The Bhagawad Gita is renowned the world over as the advice offered by Lord Krishna to the prince Arjuna in the middle of a battlefield, just as the great Kurukshetra war was about to begin. Bhagawad Gita relates to men of action facing the troubled situations of life, not just to sages in contemplation in the mountains.
This in itself conveyed to Swami Chinmayananda that the message of the Bhagawad Gita was the answer to all the tension, hatred, discontentment and sorrow in the lives of people caught in what can only be called the battle of life. He could see that there were thousands of “ Arjunas ” in society who were in need of a “ modern day Krishna ” to teach them the Gita in a new and practical way. Some inner urge kept telling the young sanyasi that he could do it.
The young Swami’s heart was filled with love for the millions of his fellow countrymen and women. He felt that giving them this new vision to bring light into their grey lives was more important than his own spiritual fulfillment in the calm higher realms of the Himalayas.
Finally, it was Mother Ganges who gifted Swami Chinmayananda the moment of inspiration he needed. One day, as he sat by the banks of the Ganges, watching her majestic flow from the snowy peaks, he suddenly seemed to hear her through the roaring waters, :
“ Son, don’t you see me ? Born here in the Himalayas, I rush down to the plains taking with me both life and nourishment to all in my path. Fulfillment of any possession is in sharing it with others. ”
Swamiji was filled with ecstasy. The purpose of his birth was revealed to him with intense clarity. He knew what he had to do.
“ The vague mental suggestion when suppressed became almost a mighty call .. an urge that could no more be controlled. One day, therefore, taking courage literally in both my hands, I declared my intentions to my Guru. I remember even today how his heavy brows came down, clouded by anxiety, almost stunned with surprise at my determination. You don’t know what you are asking for ! You will get permanently caught up in the wheel of work. That is the nature of all activities. We start the action, and later the activities themselves take charge of us ! ”
Nearly a month had passed since Chinmaya’s declaration of his intentions when Swami Tapovan called his student and suggested that he take a trip down to plains wandering around as a renunciate, living as a beggar among those he had once emulated. “ This will rub out your ego! To have the experience of the Divine is not enough. ”
“ Thus it was that I, in May 1951, walked down from the heights of Gangotri to Rishikesh and from there moved on to Delhi with a plan to set out on an all-India pilgrimage, visiting all the important spiritual centers to see how others were serving the Hindu brethren. I travelled on foot some six months ; living on bhiksha (begged food), sleeping in ashrams, temples, under wayside trees. Swamiji was correct : it was quite an experience in rubbing off the ego. Education, social status,family connections, prejudices, sham values .. these were no longer mine.
“ When people do not know who you are, they consider you an inconvenient beggar, a worthless monk, an unproductive member of the community. And they insult you with looks of abhorrence as if you were something the cat dragged in. If you ask me, this kind of discipline is the best cure for the ego .. disease. ”
It was a long journey down to Delhi, over to Madras through the state of Andhra Pradesh, then across South India. Swami Chinmayananda followed the general route of the railway lines. All along the way he talked to people and listened to them, always observing and assessing.
Those who did observe of the religious rituals and disciplines did so mechanically, without discernment of the meaning of their actions; therefore, they were deriving no spiritual benefit. A well of empathy began building up in Chinmaya, which would be the source of his overflowing love for his countrymen. That love would sustain him for some forty years of constant teaching.
“ I am more attached to the world than you ! I love everyone and everything in it, whereas you love only a few paltry items ! ” he later exclaimed to a group of students.
In November of 1951, Swami Chinmayananda completed his tour of India and returned to Tapovan Kutir in Uttarkashi. He had witnessed the spiritual and economic degradation throughout his homeland, and was resolved to plan a series of Upanishad Jnana Yagnas in all of the great cities of India.
Swami Chinmayananda decided to call his lectures “ Jnana Yagna ”, a term taken from the Bhagawad Gita to mean “ an offering of knowledge into the fire of the seeker’s heart, to purify and elevate him or her ”.
Swamiji held his first Jnana Yagna in Poona. It was planned as a hundred day Upanishad Yagna beginning with the Kena Upanishad. The first lecture began with a message of blessing from Swami Sivananda that included the words, “ Go, roar like Vivekananda ! ”
Swamiji’s first audience consisted of a mere seven listeners. But this did not disappoint him at all as Tapovan Maharaj had predicted an even smaller number saying that philosophy interested very few.
After his first yagna, Swami Chinmayananda went back to Rishikesh to report on it to Swami Sivananda. The senior Swami was very proud of him and encouraged his work as one that India had a great need of. He also advised Swamiji to have shorter Yagnas to make them more practical and easy to attend. After Swamiji left, Swami Sivananda said to his students, “ There are many disciples here, but none as daring and courageous as Chinmaya ”.
Swami Chinmayananda then went to Uttarkashi to pay his respects to Swami Tapovan Maharaj and to tell him about his plans. The aged sage listened quietly to his student’s achievements and was filled with paternal pride. From then on, he always treated his disciple more as a friend than a student.
From Uttarkashi, Swamiji travelled to his family home in Kerala to visit his father. Wherever he went, he spoke to people about organizing Yagnas and answered their doubts and queries.
Swami Chinmayananda travelled to many major cities and towns of India, inspiring thousands. In the year 1956, the Delhi yagna was inaugurated by the then President of India Dr. Rajendra Prasad, who was exalted in his praise of Swamiji’s noble mission.
So logically appealing and universal were Swamiji’s talks that they attracted a vast cross-section of youngsters, professionals, businessmen and women, scientists, politicians and housewives.
At each yagna, Swamiji explained in an introductory talk that the nature of man is evolving from an emotional character .. in which surrender and devotion to a guru was paramount .. to the kingdom of the higher mind, the intellect. The development of this sacred instrumentis essential for the independent thought that is necessary for individual spiritual unfoldment. Swamiji elaborated :
“ Our ancient generation seems to have had a more developed heart than head. To them any truth was absolute and fully acceptable just because the ancient sages said so. The days of the prophets are no longer with us. Today even if a prophet, or God himself, were to walk into our homes for a cup of tea and tell us about the Truth directly, we would accept neither him nor his words unless he produced for us experimental data based on logical reasoning. That is the spirit of the age we live in. Man has grown away from his heart and has come to live with his intellect. Thus, today, if the youth of the world refuse to accept religion when it is based merely upon faith, it is not a thing to be condemned, but rather a great step in evolution at which the world is to be congratulated and the Age to be applauded. ”
He explained to them that Vedanta was open to all of humanity. It was designed to help each one become a better person irrespective of considerations of age, gender, faith, community or profession.
As Swamiji’s popularity grew all over the country, groups of devotees mushroomed in many cities and towns. They felt the need to organize themselves to continue the study of Vedanta and to initiate cultural and service based activities right round the year.
In August 1953, a group from Madras, wrote to Swamiji for his permission. Swamiji approved the idea of an organization but he did not want it in his name. However, his devotees presented him with the argument that the word ‘Chinmaya’ also indicated ‘true knowledge’. Finally Swamiji relented.
The “ Chinmaya Mission ” was born. In time it would grow into a global spiritual organization with hundreds of study and service units. But the guiding spirit behind the Mission was clear even during its inception in a letter from Swamiji which reads :
“ Don’t forget that the Mission is a family .. Act as missionaries, keeping the great goal as your pole star. ”
Swamiji constantly made improvements to his plans of reaching out to the people. From his thirteenth yagna, he started teaching the Bhagawad Gita, which was to become the most widely heard Hindu scripture in the next forty years.
Swami Chinmayananda often visited his guru to pay obeisance. Once, when Tapovan Maharaj fell ill, Swamiji changed his entire schedule to be with his Guru for a month.
As his Guru weakened in body, Swamiji had to face the fact that physical separation was near. One day, when Swamiji was moved to tears, Tapovan Maharaj told him;
“ Chinmaya .. when we are born, death is born with us. Now He .. is coming to meet me. Here how quietly... ... I have lived! Now cannot I quietly die, hearing the eternal music of my mother Ganga ? Don’t weep, you go and continue the work…. ”
Later that year, word was received that Swami Tapovan’s health was much worse. Immediately, several of the devotees in Delhi drove up to Uttarkashi to bring him back for an accurate diagnosis and proper medical treatment. One person even wanted to send him to London; another was sure New York would offer the best medical care. But Swami Tapovan had his own opinions :
“ So, according to your arguments, one, having gone down to Delhi to the medical facilities for his physical ailment, must finish off with a round the-world trip in search of the best diagnosis .. and all for the sake of this perishable body. And where is the guarantee that I will live ? Are there not people dying in London, in New York, and in Delhi with all these ‘ best ’ facilities for diagnosis and treatment ? Then why should I not end my life here in peace amidst these Himalayas where I have lived for these many years as a yogi ? ”
In the year 1957, during Swamiji’s yagna in Palakkad, Kerala, he received the news that his Guru had attained mahasamadhi, on the day of full-moon in January. Upon hearing the news, Swamiji’s eyes filled with tears.
“ Balavihars .. Chinmaya Vidyalayas ”
Swami Chinmayananda had become a national symbol. Yet he did not sit back contented. He constantly initiated ways and means to increase the reach of his work.
Hundreds of study groups were set up all over the country for people to get together in small batches and study religion in a systematic manner.
Devi Groups were organized for women to take up regular spiritual study and social work. In shaping the thinking of women, Swamiji was assuring a lasting impact on society for it is true indeed that “ the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world ”.
Swamiji often stressed that the most vital task in the country was to prepare children for their future with a judicious combination of spiritual and secular education. Children’s culture classes called “ Balavihars ” were started all over the country. In time, the “ Balavihars ” spread all over the world with some units in America catering to as many as five hundred children in each centre. Swamiji also initiated the establishment of over seventy Chinmaya Vidyalaya Schools all over India.
Of the youth in the country, Swamiji said : “ Youth are not useless; they are used less. ” Yuva Kendra groups were organized all over the country for systematic and structured character building and personality development in youth.
Swamiji considered the training of the children the most tangible step in the revival of the values in the society. “ The spiritual seed must be sown to germinate ”, he often repeated when he had an audience of mothers or teachers.
“ Children are the architects of the future world. They are the builders of humanity. The most sacred task of the parents as well as teachers is to mould their lives in accordance with the sublime Indian tradition. The seed of spiritual values should be sown in the young hearts, and conditions should be made favourable for its sprouting and steady growth by the exercise of proper control and discipline.
When cared for with warmth of love and affection, a tree will blossom forth with the flower of brother-hood, universal love, peace,bliss, beauty and perfection. ”
Social service activities in areas of urgent need are encouraged. In the year 1965, during the Indo-Pak war, the Chinmaya Mission made huge collections in cash and kind for the war effort. In many flood or famine-hit areas, Mission service units work with the Government to provide relief to the suffering.
On April 11, 1963, a Vedanta University ..the “ Sandeepany Sadhanalaya ” was opened, situated in a natural setting beside the lovely Powai lake thirth kilometers north of Bombay. It was named after Lord Krishna’s guru, Rishi Sandeepany, in the hope that it would also produce many more global teachers in the footsteps of the great teacher of the Gita.
Swamiji’s health continued to deteriorate with the occurrence of bouts of high fever and throat infection.
Another ashram was constructed in Sidhabari, Himachal Pradesh, at the foothills of the Himalayas, from where students were to be trained for Hindi prachar (spread of the teaching). Spiritual training was commenced formally for students in many other regional languages too, to enable the scriptures to reach hundreds more.
Some of the achievements of Swami Chinmayananda which made him an Indian spiritual leader of global fame as worth looking at for their positive and long standing impact on national integration.
When casteism was still influencing even the educated elite of India, Swamiji taught people to love one another without any barriers. Everyone who came to him, whatever be his or her caste, was allowed to participate in all that Swamiji taught, including study of the scriptures, rituals, Vedic chanting, meditation and service. Swamiji taught his students to see through the eyes of love.
Swamiji often visited renowned Hindu religious leaders to pay them his respects and set an example of unity among the various Hindu religious subdivisions.
In the year 1975, he visited the Shankaracharya of Shringeri, Sri Abhinava Vidya Theertha Mahaswamigal. He would occasionally call on the Shankaracharya of Kanchi, Sri Chandrasekha - rendra Saraswathi Swamigal.
In the year 1973, he invited Bhagawan Sri Satya Sai Baba, to preside over the inauguration of the National Yagna of Chinmaya Mission in Bangalore.
In the year 1979, Swamiji addressed the devotees of Anandamai Ma during her eighty third birthday celebrations in Bangalore. Many of Mata Amrtananda Mayee Ma’s disciples completed their scriptural studies in the Chinmaya Mission ashrams.
Around 1962, some of his ardent devotees conceived the idea of a world tour and began working on arrangements for it. On 6th March 1965, Swamiji began his first global tour of twelve countries, including the USA, Switzerland, the West Indies, Thailand, South Africa, Mauritius and Malaysia.
Wherever he went, Swamiji drew crowds because he was blessed with the precious gift of being able to tailor his talks to suit the cultural ethos and needs of any target audience he addressed. Through his discourses on Vedanta and Hindu Culture, his rational approach and universal compassion touched the hearts of people irrespective of their cultural and religious backgrounds.
Swamiji’s first global tour was a huge success. In its wake came many more such tours. Soon, foreign visits were a regular feature of his itinerary.
Over the years, Swamiji was welcomed as a visiting professor to many of the leading American universities.
His talks on philosophy, education and value-based management were organized in many institutions like the University of California at Berkeley, MIT and Cornell University. In the year 1992, he undertook a lecture tour of twelve American universities to establish an international library and research centre, the Chinmaya International Foundation set up in Kerala in the ancestral maternal home of the profound spiritual visionary Adi Shankaracharya.
It became necessary to co-ordinate the growing spiritual reach in the US. The Chinmaya Mission West was born in the year 1975 for this purpose. Under its jurisdiction appear USA, Canada, Central and South America, West Indies, Mexico, Trinidad and any future establishments in those parts of the world.
Swamiji also participated regularly in forums and meetings of all religions for better universal understanding such as the one organized by the Sufi Master Pir Vilayat Khan in the year 1975 at San Francisco, USA.
Swamiji was creating and moulding the “ Chinmaya Family ” .. a global unit of people dedicated to live and spread the principles of a noble and fine way of life. Both the great teacher and the timeless teaching he stood for represent the universal, perennial philosophy of Sanatana Dharma. Naturally, both belong to the entirety of humanity.
There was a mystical side to Swamiji that he rarely revealed. Hundreds of devotees have experienced the strange manner in which answers to their most important questions would appear in the course of Swamiji’s talks. It was almost as if he could intuitively read the questions in the minds of the audience and instantly respond to them.
Swami Chinmayananda was indeed a unique Guru who defied the tradition of students seeking the master and chose instead to come to his students and lift them up to a higher plane of living. He was a unique person who embodied the best in our tradition and yet he could easily interact with people of all races and places.
He symbolized modern India’s thirst to move into the age of science and rationalism, even while remaining firmly rooted in the world’s oldest culture, religion and philosophy.
Swamiji’s health began to show signs of failing when he was in his fifties. He was often assailed by bouts of high fever and throat infection. But he kept up his furious pace of working.
Swamiji had his first heart attack in the year 1970 at the age of fifty four. From Mysore, he was shifted to the newly opened Chinmaya Mission Hospital, Bangalore, as its first patient! Bhagawan Sri Satya Sai Baba visited Swamiji to offer him his good wishes.
However, after a short retreat in Uttarkashi, Swamiji was back in the saddle. At the same time he also began to gradually hand over responsibilities and delegate administrative duties to others.
His senior disciples .. the Swamis and swaminis of the Chinmaya Mission .. realized that they would have to take on more duties, to share with their guru the huge responsibility of running a worldwide organization. Despite these and many more steps to reduce his work load, Swamiji kept up his routine, including twenty one hours of work a day, often laughingly saying that the only way he would leave the world was while completely immersed in his life’s mission.
Swamiji was conducting a spiritual camp in Washington D.C. in August 1993. During the camp, he told a devotee, “ The Lord has been calling me, but all these people won’t let me go ”. Towards the end of the camp, Swamiji experienced heart palpitations. Despite his condition, he conducted a prayer meeting and blessed the gathering. He went ahead according to the schedule and flew the next day to San Diego. The situation worsened there and Swamiji had to be admitted to the Scripps Memorial Hospital.
Swami Chidananda, World Head of DIVINE LIFE SOCIETY, visited Swamiji and spent time at his bedside in prayer. He told the milling devotees that Swamiji was in a divine and perfect state of merger with the Self and was beyond pain. At noon, a picture of Lord Krishna placed above Swamiji’s bed, fell down.
Amidst his devotees’ heartfelt chanting and intense prayer, Swamiji left his mortal frame to attain the divine state of mahasamadhi at 5.45 pm on 3rd August 1993,at San Diego, USA.
Source : “ Ageless Guru ” by Radhika Krishnakumar and “ Journey of a Master.. Swami Chinmayananda ” by Nacy Freeman Patchen