By Roozbeh Gazdar November 2005 When journalist Balakrishnan Menon became Swami Chinmayananda, he sparked off a movement that swelled into a mighty river, revitalizing Vedanta and bringing spirituality to the mainstream of modern life. A salute to the Chinmaya mission. Making of a Masterswami chinmayananda’s life took many turns before finally, meeting his guru, he discovered his mission.Destined to become one of modern India’s best-known spiritual leaders, Swami Chinmayananda was born Balakrishnan Menon to an affluent landowning family in Ernakulam, Kerala, in 1916. The child, who was named by Chattambhi Swamigal, a well-known ascetic saint of the time, grew up in the loving protection of aunts and grandmothers who sought to make up for the loss of his mother in his early childhood. Young Balan absorbed the sacred rituals that surrounded him, bubbling with glee when holy men visiting the Menon home would take him on their lap and play with him. After studying at the local English school, Balan joined the Lucknow University for an MA in English literature. At this point he has been remembered as an insufferable teenager, brashly confident, notorious for extravagant dressing and an accomplished tennis player who was especially outspoken in his criticism of the existence of God. Inflamed by the atrocities of the British rule in India, he heeded Gandhiji’s call to join the Quit India Movement, participating in subversive activities, till a warrant drawn for his arrest forced him to go into hiding. Wandering undercover around Kashmir and north India, he was finally arrested and spent some harrowing months in jail where he contracted typhus and was released. It was while convalescing under the care of a cousin that Balan first took to reading on spirituality and Eastern philosophy. Acquiring an MA degree, he began on a promising journalism career, writing first for the Free Press Journal and later the National Herald. A prolific writer with a deep empathy for the poor, writings such as The View from the Footpath series under the pen name of Mr. Tramp, won him a fair amount of recognition. While it brought him financial rewards and opened doors to influential society circles, somewhere deep down he remained restless. Balan had always been intrigued by the sadhus and rishis, the holy men living in the Himalayas. He often pondered about the usefulness of such a life of retirement in the remote sanctuary of the mountains when millions in the country wrestled with the multiple problems of poverty and the tyranny of foreign domination. Intending to research into their role with a view to writing about them, in 1947 Balan arrived at Ananda Kutir, the ashram of Swami Sivananda, near Rishikesh. Swami Sivananda of the Divine Life Society was already known to Balan through his earlier readings. This former doctor, whose bustling ashram freely dispensed spiritual and medical succour to all who came to him, greatly impressed Balan. The article forgotten, he began to spend increasing amounts of time at the ashram. Barely two years later, Swami Sivananda initiated him into sanyas. Balan Menon was now Swami Chinmayananda Saraswati. Desiring to learn the scriptures, Swami Sivananda then sent him to his second teacher, Swami Tapovan. An inveterate recluse who was a demanding teacher, it was the rigorous training under him that was to shape this young spiritual aspirant into one of the most potent forces of Hindu resurgence in Independent India. During a pilgrimage tour around India, Swami Chinmayananda observed the deep spiritual and social degradation that his country had sunk into. Suddenly he understood his life’s mission to replant the seed of Vedanta in the hearts of the millions of Indians from where it had gone missing – to convert Hindus to Hinduism. Seeking blessings from Swami Tapovan who, though initially reluctant finally gave his assent, Swami Chinmayananda left the Himalayas to sow the seeds of Vedanta in the plains below. To transmit his message and draw sheep into the fold, Swami Chinmayananda evolved the ideal medium of gyana yajnas, public discourses lasting over a number of days that focussed on specific Upanishad texts. The dynamic swami with his handsome features and intensely glowing eyes was well received and everywhere he went, he mesmerised people with his passionate and powerful oratory. To a nation on the threshold of independence after years in foreign domination, the profound simplicity and directness of his message offered a new and exciting ray of hope. Like Swami Vivekananda before him, he kindled in the average Indian, estranged from his cultural roots, a pride in his spiritual heritage with his words, ‘India has always been the guru of the world. This generation has been called upon to lead and guide the world. The time has come, not for killing, not for destroying, not for warfare, but for learning and understanding how to study the scriptures and learn to practise the teachings in our everyday lives.’ Chinmaya Mission, started in 1953 by his disciples, continues the work he began. Guru of GurusPioneer of a unique brand of teaching that bridged traditional scriptures with a contemporary idiom, Swami Chimayananda inspires a league of Vedanta teachers today. Some such as Swami Dayananda Saraswati, Swami Sukhabodhananda and Swami Parthasarathy were closely associated with the Chinmaya Mission before branching out to start their own organisations. Swami Dayananda SaraswatiSwami Dayananda, through his deep understanding of Western culture, communicates a vision of non-duality to modern listeners, Indians and abroad. He has started numerous centres for Vedic teaching around the world including the Arsha Vidya Ashram in Rishikesh and the Arsha Vidya Gurukulam in Coimbatore. Involved with the Chinmaya Mission since its inception, he describes it as, ‘a natural expression of people inspired by his teaching.’ Acknowledging his debt to Swami Chinmayananda, he says, ‘He was the first teacher to bring the scriptures to the urbane western educated man in English. He evolved his own style incorporating discussion and elaboration and used simple English to translate Sanskrit. It was a methodical approach and is the style I myself emulate today.’ Swami SukhabodhanadaSwami Sukhabodhananda is the founder chairman of Prasanna Trust in Bangalore that runs the LIFE (Living in Freedom – an Enquiry) programme. While still in college in Bangalore, it was Swami Chinmayananda’s discourses on the Bhagavad Gita that inspired his spiritual journey. He studied the scriptures under Swami Chinmayananda and later under Swami Dayananda Saraswati before branching out to create his own unique programme. The LIFE programme, started by him to incorporate dialogue into the traditional teaching process, blends traditional Vedanta with Zen, Buddhism, Sufism and other modern techniques such as NLP, gestalt, reiki and scientology; he is as much a modern management guru as a spiritual teacher. Swami ParthasarathySwami Parthasarathy is another exponent of Vedanta who widely applies its principles to practical life. With a multi-disciplinary academic background, he has authored Vedanta Treatise and The Symbolism of Hindu Gods and Rituals. Earlier associated with Swami Chinmayananda, he later founded the Vedanta Cultural Foundation, which runs the Vedanta Academy at Malavli near Pune. Swami Parthasarathy conducts seminars for business houses where the theme of Vedanta is applied to boardroom management techniques. Through his public discourses he raises awareness of the higher values of peace, harmony and prosperity.His Vedanta Academy holds a three-year residential course on the Vedas conducted by the alumni themselves. It was in Bangalore during the summer of 1984 that Brahmacharini Vividisha first heard Swami Chinmayananda at a public discourse. Totally mesmerized by the guru ‘who looked like lightning and spoke like thunder,’ it was to have a lasting effect on her. A star-struck teenager, she wrote to him and was thrilled to receive his reply. Upon his urging she did a course in Vedanta conducted under him. Immediately thereafter she took diksha, becoming a renunciate, her life now pledged to her order and its mission of spreading the ancient message of Vedanta to the world. Vividisha looks back at the transformation. ‘I was an ordinary teenager with a passion for writing and looking to a career in journalism. Spirituality and Vedanta didn’t really figure anywhere, though as a sensitive girl, appalled at the ways of the world, I used to find comfort in prayer. But when I first heard Gurudev explaining the concept of the unchanging Self, something hit home. He became my hero and I was totally immersed in his worship. It was some years before I enrolled for the Vedanta course, but immediately on completing it I realized where my calling lay and took the vows of renunciation.’ Vividisha is not alone. Scores of young impressionable boys and girls, their acquaintance with Vedanta as disparate as chalk from cheese, experienced a complete turn in their lives after a chance meeting with Swami Chinmayananda, or ‘Gurudev’ as he is reverentially referred to by his disciples today. Mesmerised by the magnetism of his towering personality and compelling oratory, they responded to his call for a revival of the Vedantic ethos. Inspired by his vision for a better world, they pitched in to swell the ranks of the movement he started, so that it assumed the proportions of a mighty river that the Chinmaya Mission is today. VedantaThe Chinmaya Mission was started in 1953 at the instance of a handful of disciples, to give expression to Swami Chinmayananda’s vision and philosophy. Its purpose, as stated in his own words, ‘To provide to individuals from any background the wisdom of Vedanta and the prac
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