The Study of Vedanta
During the summer of 1947, Balakrishna arrived in Rishikesh, and hiked one mile to the ‘Divine Life Society’, the ashram of the illustrious Swami Sivānanda Saraswati.
Swami Sivānanda Saraswati (September 8, 1887 – July 14, 1963) was a Hindu spiritual teacher and a proponent of Yoga and Vedanta. Swami Sivānanda was born Kuppuswami in Pattamadai, a panchayat town in Tirunelveli district of Tamil Nadu. He studied medicine and served in British Malaya as a physician for several years before taking up monasticism. He lived most part of his life near Muni Ki Reti, Rishikesh.
At the ‘Divine Life Society’ Ashram, Balakrishna read Hindu scriptures and reviewed spiritual books. His skeptic mind evolved into a seeker of truth. He eventually renounced worldly life and became a monk.
Swami Sivananda recognized the latent talent in Balakrishna and entrusted him to organize a ‘Gita Committee’ which included Swami Krishnananda (II), and Sri Nanda Kishore Srivastava, a very learned philosopher from Bihar.
On February 25, 1949, Balakrishna was ordained into sannyāsa (vow of renunciation) by Swami Sivānanda Saraswati and from then on was known as Swami Chinmayananda, or “bliss of pure Consciousness.”
In the summer of 1949, Swami Chinmayananda, with Swami Sivānanda’s blessing, sought out Swami Tapovanam (Sadguru Swami Tapovan Maharaj) of Uttarkashi, one of the greatest Vedantic masters of his time. He set out on foot for the long trek to Uttarkashi, where Swami Tapovanam resided.
In Uttarkashi, Swami Chinmayananda led an extremely austere life and under Swami Tapovanam’s guidance underwent a rigorous study of the scriptures. His day began at 3 am with an icy bath in the Ganga, and after hours of meditation by the river and ended late in the night.
Launching of a new Spiritual Movement
In May 1951, after mastering the sacred texts, Swami Chinmayananda left the Himalayas. He then set out on an all-India tour to visit places of worship. He was miserably disillusioned and disappointed about how the Hindu religious heritage was being taught. He remarked:
“I was miserably disillusioned and disappointed about… the stuff doled out as the best in Hinduism…. My experiences during those five months of roaming only strengthened my conviction that I must execute… Upanishad Jñāna Yajña sessions all over India, in all the great cities.”
With the blessings of his guru, Swami Chinmayananda started his own Yajna Mission in 1951, to spread knowledge of Vedanta to the masses.
Until then the study of Vedanta considered sacrosanct was traditionally the preserve of orthodox Brahmins. So, teaching Vedanta to the public was hitherto unheard of, and the orthodox Brahmin gurus considered it taboo to catechize the ancient holy scriptures to people not belonging to the Hindu orthodox priestly castes.
In December 1951, Swami Chinmayananda held his first lecture series in a Ganesha temple in Pune city.
On the inaugural day and during his first few discourses, only a handful of people sat around him. Soon, the size of his audience swelled into thousands. People from all walks of life overflowed into the lanes near the temple. Army officers from the Southern Command came on their bicycles to listen to him.
The Brahmin priests called upon to conduct the Yajña (Vedic ritual) were utterly surprised when Swami Chinmayananda asked everyone in the audience, belonging to all social strata to take part in the rituals.
Swami Chinmayananda taught spirituality as the art of living. He conducted Gita Yajna classes, Upanishad classes and discourses on the scriptures all over India. His discourses brought him public recognition as an outstanding orator. Swami Chinmayananda travelled to many countries and held discourses to make India’s spiritual heritage known to others. He was soon recognized as a master exponent of India’s scriptural lore, its literary heritage, and its varied culture.
Today, the Chinmaya Mission is a worldwide nonprofit Hindu spiritual organization with more than 250 centers worldwide disseminating India’s spiritual heritage. 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 and His Mission: Part 1 – The Layman
- Chinmaya Mission (en.wikipedia.org)
- Chinmayananda Saraswati (en.wikipedia.org)
- Sivananda Saraswati (en.wikipedia.org)
- Tapovan Maharaj (en.wikipedia.org)
- Books and Me: Guidance From The Guru (rajshankar.wordpress.com)
- Thota Tharani plays Swami Chinmayananda in his biopic