The Chinmaya Mission is a worldwide nonprofit Hindu spiritual organization with more than 250 centres worldwide. The Mission spreads the knowledge of Advaita Vedanta, the non-dual system of thought found in the Upanishads, which epitomize the philosophical teachings of the Vedas.
Swami Chinmayananda born Balakrishna Menon on May 8, 1916, in Ernakulam in Kerala, India was the eldest son of Kutta Menon, a famous judge and nephew of the Maharaja of Cochin. His mother, Paru Kutty, died while giving birth to her third child, and her eldest sister, Kochunarayani raised Balakrishna.
Balakrishna completed his formal schooling in Sree Rama Varma High School, Kochi and Vivekodayam School, Thrissur. He completed his Fellow of Arts (FA) at the Maharaja’s College, Ernakulam, and his Bachelor of Arts (BA) at the St. Thomas College, Trichur. He then went to Lucknow University (1940–1943) and earned postgraduate degrees in literature and law, while completing courses in journalism at the same time.
During the years as a student, Balakrishna did not formally accept religion. In the summer of 1936, he visited Shree Ramana Maharshi (December 30, 1879 – April 14, 1950), widely acknowledged as one of the eminent Hindu gurus of modern times. When Ramana Maharshi looked at him, Balakrishna experienced a spiritual ecstasy. Yet, at that time, he justified it as mere ‘hypnotism’.
The ‘Quit India’ Movement
On August 8, 1942, at the Gowalia Tank Maidan (also now known as August Kranti Maidan) in Mumbai, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi launched a ‘Do or Die‘ civil disobedience movement to be carried out throughout India, demanding “an orderly British withdrawal” from India. It was called the Quit India Act, or the India August Movement.
The All-India Congress Committee (AICC) proclaimed a mass protest. The British were prepared to act. Within hours after Gandhi’s speech, almost the entire INC leadership was imprisoned without trial.
Balakrishna joined fellow students in writing and distributing leaflets to stir up the national pride amidst the wide-scale attempt by the Indian activists to force the British to leave India. He gave many speeches generating awareness of the inability of the British to solve the problems of India.
Within weeks, more than 100,000 people were arrested nationwide, mass fines were levied, and thousands were killed or injured in police and army shootings.
Balakrishna, went underground when he came to know that a warrant had been served for his arrest. He spent the following year moving around in the state of Abbottabad (the same region where Osama bin Laden, the founder of al-Qaeda, was shot dead by the US Army Seals on May 2, 2011), far from where the British officials would be looking for him. After a year, he left Kashmir and moved to Delhi.
Almost two years after the British had issued the warrant for his arrest, believing his case might have been long forgotten, Balakrishna arrived in Punjab and associated himself with several freedom groups operating over there. He advised students on distributing leaflets and organizing public strikes, but he was promptly picked up by the police and imprisoned.
Living for several months in unhygienic conditions in prisons, Balakrishna was afflicted with Typhus. As was the custom with the British jail officials he and many other sick people were carried out of the prison at night and were dumped on the outskirts of the town.
The next morning, an Indian Christian lady passing along the road where Balakrishna was lying saw him. He reminded her of her own son serving in the British army. The good Samaritan took Balakrishna to her home. The doctor who examined him insisted that Balakrishna be taken to a hospital without delay if he were to survive.
After several weeks, Balakrishna recovered his health. Sri K Rama Rao, the eminent editor, noted freedom fighter and member of the first Rajya Sabha, gave Balakrishna his first job as a journalist sub-editor at the National Herald in Lucknow and later at Delhi. Balakrishna wrote a series of articles — short, critical satires — on socialism in a society where the majority of people were poor. These were soon published regularly in Indian national papers.
Around 1947, working as a journalist, he decided to write an article “exposing” sadhus and made preparations to travel to Swami Sivānanda’s ashram in Rishikesh. He later confessed:
“I went not to gain knowledge, but to find out how the swamis were keeping up the bluff among the masses.“
To be continued …