The later part of Swami Chinmayananda’s life was dedicated to disseminating the knowledge of Advaita Vedanta across India and the world. By giving discourses in English, he made the teachings of Advaita Vedanta accessible to the modern educated elite of the nation. As days passed he started attracting huge crowds and devoted followers. Some of the followers expressed a wish to start an organisation to give a formal structure to the works he was engaged in, and thus was born “Chinmaya Mission”.
By Vinay A H, Research Associate at Rashtram
Gurudev Swami Chinmayananda presents a rare and interesting case of a person who transformed from being a radical skeptic in matters of religion and god into the founder of a global religious and spiritual organisation. Balakrishna Menon, as he was called in the pre-monastic life, had always felt religious practices and worship of god to be irrational and unnecessary. Yet, from childhood, he had developed the habit of visualising the form of Bhagavan Shiva; which is in fact a formal religious practice known as upasana. Further, he is said to have received spiritual instructions from Chattambhi Swamigal in his younger days. However, as years passed, he grew up to be a fiery personality and a rebel continuing to be critical of religion. He took part in the Indian freedom struggle against the British rule and had an urge for social activism. Post-independence, he worked as a journalist and earned much repute for raising awareness about pressing social concerns facing India. All this time he continued to critique the idea of religion. So much so that he dismissed a strange (spiritual?) experience that he had upon meeting Bhagawan Ramana Maharshi as an effect of hypnotism.
All this was to change dramatically after meeting Swami Sivananda Saraswati in Rishikesh. Balakrishna Menon once decided to go to the Himalayas and “expose” the sadhus. While he was at it, he happened to meet Swami Sivananda and was taken aback. He was deeply impacted by the Swami whose life was steeped in rendering service to the society and spreading spiritual wisdom. Balakrishna Menon’s skeptic attitude began to recede, and he made repeated visits to Rishikesh to meet Swami Sivananda. Finally, he decided to embrace the monastic life. In his own words, “It was the only sensible thing to do.” Swami Sivananada initiated Balakrishna Menon into Sannyasa and gave him the name Swami Chinmyananda. Swami Chinmayananda would then go to Uttarakashi to pursue a rigorous study of Vedantic scriptures under Swami Tapovan Maharaj.
The later part of his life was dedicated to disseminating the knowledge of Advaita Vedanta across India and the world. By giving discourses in English, Swami Chinmayananda made the teachings of Advaita Vedanta accessible to the modern educated elite of the nation. As days passed he started attracting huge crowds and devoted followers. Some of the followers expressed a wish to start an organisation to give a formal structure to the works he was engaged in, and thus was born “Chinmaya Mission”. Swami Chinmayanada toured across India and the world giving discourses on religion and spirituality, organised Gita jnana yajnas and started several initiatives directed at all sections of society: Bala Vihar for Children, Chinmaya Yuva Kendra for teenagers and young adults, Vanaprastha for the elderly; not to mention, Sandeepini Sadhanalaya, the Gurukul for seekers of Advaita Vedanta. In 1989, he established the Chinmaya International Foundation which was envisioned to stand “as a bridge between the past and present, East and West, science and spirituality, and pundit and public.” The institute conducts workshops on ancient Indian scriptures, offers courses on Vedanta and Sanskrit, and is a well-recognised centre for research in Sanskrit. His vision to establish a Sanskrit University came to fruition with the launch of Chinmaya Vishwavidyapeeth in the year 2016. Undoubtedly, Swami Chinmayananda brought new vigour and strengthened the timeless current of Indian spiritual heritage.