Cover Story on Chinmaya Mission
Chinmaya Mission® was established in India in 1953 by devotees of the world-renowned Vedanta teacher, His Holiness Swami Chinmayananda. Guided by his vision, devotees all around the world formed the nucleus of a spiritual renaissance movement that now encompasses a wide range of spiritual, educational, and charitable activities, ennobling the lives of thousands in India and across its borders. Presently, headed by His Holiness Swami Tejomayananda, the Mission is administered by Central Chinmaya Mission Trust (CCMT) in Mumbai, India. Under his guidance, the Mission has continued mushrooming across the globe and stands today with over 300 centres worldwide.
What does Chinmaya Mission teach? Chinmaya Mission follows the Vedic teacher-student tradition (guru-shishya parampara) and makes available the ageless wisdom of Advaita Vedanta, the knowledge of universal oneness, providing the tools to realize the wisdom in one’s life. Vedanta, the essential core of Hinduism, is the universal science of life, relevant to all people of all backgrounds and faiths. Vedanta inspires seekers to understand their own faith better. Thus, although Chinmaya Mission is a Hindu organisation, it does not seek to convert other religious practitioners. As a spiritual movement that aims for inner growth at individual and collective levels, the mission offers a wide array of Vedanta study forums for all ages, promotes Indian classical art forms and operates numerous social service projects. To date, millions worldwide have benefitted directly or indirectly from Chinmaya Mission’s numerous centres, ashrams, classes, events, services and projects.
Chinmaya Mission’s emblem comprises the lamp of knowledge with the hamsa bird of wisdom at its crown, both denoting the Mission’s spiritual and social services to the world. The purpose of the Mission’s Vedantic teachings is to help seekers learn ethical values and cultivate a discriminating power – learn the art of distinguishing the changeless, infinite Substratum from the changing, finite world.
The oil lamp symbolizes the ethical life needed to light the flame of Knowledge within. The Lord is the “Knowledge Principle” (Chaitanya) who is the source, the enlivener and the illuminator of all knowledge. Hence light is worshipped as the Lord himself. Knowledge removes ignorance just as light removes darkness.
A single lamp can light hundreds of others, just as a single realised master can enlighten thousands. Despite sharing its light to other lamps, the original lamp loses none of its brilliance. In the same way, sharing knowledge will not result in the loss of that knowledge; on the contrary, upon giving knowledge, we begin to understand it clearer and it benefits all.
In the light of knowledge and wisdom, the faculty of discrimination stands out in clarity, represented by the Hamsa bird. Just as this bird has the proverbial ability to separate the substance of milk from water, a spiritual seeker is able to discriminate the true from the false, the good from the bad, the profound from the superficial and the permanent Reality from the impermanent world.
Swami Tapovan Maharaj:
He is history’s few, God’s own ascetic, a beacon of knowledge, and a Himalayan jewel — all rolled into one. Swami Tapovanam is a symbol of complete abidance in Truth, the light that never descended — philosophically, literally, and figuratively. He was that pristine glacier of Self-knowledge from whom flowed the Ganga of Vedantic wisdom through Swami Chinmayananda, the founder of Chinmaya Mission. A saint of the highest order, Swami Tapovanam was a consummate Vedantin, strict teacher, a compassionate mentor, a poet whose every thought throbbed with ecstatic awareness, and a sage of unsurpassed wisdom and tranquillity. He is one of those rare sages who personifies the Absolute in every sense of the word — eternal and infinite — radiant and resplendent, dazzling with the effulgence of a million suns. Swami Sivananda called him ‘Himavat Vibhuti,’ meaning “the glory of the Himalayas”; and in the world of sages and ascetics, he is acknowledged as one of the four great enlightened masters of Vedanta who lived in the Himalayas during the time, along with Swami Vishnudevananda, Brahmaprakasa Udasina, and Devagiri Swami. That Truth, which Swami Tapovanam realized and indicated in all his teachings, is beyond words, as much as he himself was. Swami Chinmayananda said of his Guru, “He was a God without temple, a Veda without language”
Even as a formidable scholar, Chippu Kutty’s thirst for knowledge could not be quenched by mere intellectual advances. Despite the accolades earned during his years of public speaking on literature, politics, religion, and Vedanta, he was convinced of the unsubstantial nature of worldly existence and was consumed by the fire of dispassion. Thus, he had already adopted the sannyasi’s religious and serene lifestyle long before his initiation into the ochre robe of sannyaasa. However, since his only younger brother was still in college, he stayed on to fulfil his responsibilities as head of the family, while continuing his own personal spiritual practices and study. Finally, at the age of twenty-eight, unable to control his spiritual hunger, Chippu Kutty left home in search of Truth. He met priests, scholars, saints and sages, devoutly read Vedic scriptures and observed austerities. He studied under a great sannyaasi and requested to be initiated into monkhood. His Guru told him, “Sannyaasa need not be given to you. You take it yourself; you are already a true sannyaasi.” Accordingly, obeying the great call from within, he went to the banks of the Narmada River, performed all the necessary acts of worship, accepted sannyaasa and called himself ‘Tyagananda.’ For seven years he travelled widely, from famous South Indian pilgrimage centres to Kolkata, to Varanasi, Haridwar and Rishikesh. It was in Rishikesh that Swami Janardhana Giri of Kailash Ashram traditionally initiated him into sannyaasa with the name, Swami Tapovanam – “forest of austerities.” Swami Tapovanam chose to live in the then small, remote mountainous area of Uttarkashi in Uttarakhand. He lived in a one-room mud hut, with no belongings, no comforts, and no involvement whatsoever with the world. Each day, he ate one meal (a watery lentil soup and roti) and took two baths in the freezing Ganga. This hermitage called Tapovan Kutir, in front of the sacred River Ganga, would soon acquire great fame the world over for its spiritual luminescence.
Born in 1886 in Mudappuallur, a medium-sized village in Kerala, to Smt. Balamba and Shri Achhutan Nair, Chippu Kutty, as Swami Tapovanam was known, exhibited a marked partiality for spiritual life. As a child, he was fascinated and delighted by Pauranic stories manifesting the glories of God and the worship of idols fashioned by his own hands. His early education started with the village teacher. Too intelligent to be trained within the formal learning systems of his time, he sought a different education – less materialistic and more spiritual. Home-schooled until the age of 17, he proved himself to be a devout Vedantin, and a linguistic genius and litterateur par excellence, mastering poems, dramas, grammar and logic in both Malayalam and Sanskrit. Chippu Kutty’s first poem ‘Vibhakarom’ composed at the age of eighteen attracted the attention of literary scholars and received wide applause. Both his parents passed away before he turned 21. By then, he was already renowned and revered for his original poetic compositions. An introvert to the core, he loved spending his time immersed in books, japa, meditating on the form of Lord Shiva and spiritual reflection. He was averse to all worldly pleasures. Charmed by the beauty of nature, he spent much of his time in the jungles near his father’s house. “The starry sky lit with the bright full moon filled his mind with celestial thoughts of ineffable bliss,” he wrote in Iswara Darshan.
Swami Tapovanm’s deep love for the sights and sounds of nature had brought him to the Himalayas, where he became renowned as a scholar of the scriptures, a sage of extraordinary spiritual experiences, and an intuitive poet. “As he roamed the Himalayan peaks, his pen was constantly scribbling down the beauties he discovered and the thoughts passing through his sacred bosom,” wrote Swami Chinmayananda. As a jivanmukta or Self-realized master, he saw the supreme Lord in all expressions, within and without. He developed a new style of literature with his poetry on nature and philosophical travelogues. In his inspiring works – both in Malayalam – of Himagiri Viharam (Wanderings in the Himalayas) and Kailasa Yatra (Pilgrimage to Kailasa) are seen the full flow of his blissful and soulful renderings of nature, and the profundity of his subtle observations and reflections. He also wrote smaller pieces in Sanskrit, such as ‘Sri Saumya Kashish Strotram’ – each an exquisite piece of poetry as well as a summary of Vedantic truths. However, it is his mystical autobiography, a garland of spiritual thoughts, Iswara Darshan (Vision of the Lord), that sages and seekers the world over have stamped as his masterpiece. “His Life and personality are indeed most precious and invaluable, for they form a lofty example of what true Vedanta and true sannyaasa have to be…Such exceptional Sannyaasins as Tapovanji are a glory to this land with its ancient ideals of renunciation and Cosmic Service. They are a treasure to the entire humanity.”-Swami Sivananda, founder-President,Divine Life Society.
His Early Journey – how it all began
On 8 May 1916, a child was born as so many other children were born. Born to ordinary parents – a lawyer father, a home maker mother, Balan went to school like all kids do; he would later acquire a degree in English Literature, plunge into the Freedom Movement of India against British rule, be imprisoned, fall frightfully ill, be thrown out of jail for that, be rescued by a strange lady, start writing for a newspaper, make fiery speeches and plan even more fiery exposes and then, all too suddenly abandon all that, for none of them explained to him the purpose of his birth.
Clearly, Swami Chinmayananda was an unusual young man.
Work and Legacy:
Swami Chinmayananda conducted his first Jnana Yajna (a series of spiritual discourses) in December 1951, at a small temple in Pune, Maharashtra. Jnana Yajna, a term he coined from Lord Krishna’s teachings in the Shrimad Bhagavad-gita, refers to the student who through scriptural studies performs the ritual of worship (yajna) at the altar of wisdom (jnana).
His teachings were based on the authority of the Vedas and his own direct experience. They were highly appreciated, and the number of devotees eager to learn from Swami Chinmayananda’s powerful, dynamic, yet logical, and witty discourses increased rapidly. An inspired band of devotees thus formed ‘Chinmaya Mission’ on August 8, 1953.
Understanding the needs of the people came naturally to Swami Chinmayananda. For each individual – young or old – the knowledge solutions he had were the same, but he packaged them differently for each segment. These then grew to becoming the core anchors for growth.
Study or Swadhyaya:
Built both as self-study and group study, Swami Chinmayananda inculcated the discipline of study into his devotees. As he began travelling around the world, devotee-followers expressed the need to have something to study until he returned the following year. They made notes at his lectures but needed ratification. Thus came by Home-Study Courses beginning with Vedanta.
In parallel, he created Study Groups to enable discussion and study. Swami Chinmayananda stressed on study as a means to assimilation, practice and internalization. He made it clear that this form of studying was not his idea, but born of Vedantic tradition. Thus came by Study Groups consisting of 10-15 members that met for 90 minutes every week. These form the heart of Chinmaya Mission’s activities today.
Study itself adapted according to needs, to tradition, to custom, to social mores too! Swami Chinmayananda considered mothers to be the real custodians of India’s spiritual culture. As he once said, “The fall of our cultural standard is a true measure of the growing ignorance in the mothers of our society.” The growth of Devi Groups has been a great boost to women. What likely took shape as a means to give women comfort in an only-women setting, today is a powerhouse of study, chanting, and discussion born of reflection on the texts.
Devi Groups began as early as 1958 and are extremely popular world over. It was his desire and intention to empower the woman with knowledge.
Bala Vihar: Children were closest to Swami Chinmayananda’s heart. And it was this that he inculcated in young parents – to bring up children right. He believed that spiritual values needed to be sown at a very young age. With this in view, he designed a weekly gathering of children called Bala Vihar. Here children would come together under the guidance of a trained teacher to learn values through the stories of the scriptures.
Swami Chinmayananda trained teachers in the art of teaching values. He gave them a prescribed curriculum rooted in a logic that he laid down – an appreciation and adoration of culture, a fine sense of respect for life and a vision that generates personal discipline and inquiry. Such was his attention to detail! Such was his love for humankind!
Chinmaya Yuva Kendra (CHYK): For youth of ages 13-30, this is a natural extension of Bala Vihar. Swami Chinmayananda prepared for every stage of a child’s evolution and growth. He believed that inspiration must be sustained lifelong for it to lead up to fine leadership at every level –community, state, nation or the world at large.
He based the principle of the YuvaKendra on Vedanta as a science of personality development, what he went on to teach in his Gita Jnana Yajnas as a manual for life. Started in 1975, the CHYK movement has become a global movement today, urging the young to find expression via theatre, music, the arts, sports, urging them to discover the mystic of mountains and nature via trekking, the heritage of temples and rivers, the purpose of environment sensitivity and their role in the great new world.
Today the youth of 120 cities the world over work as one, seamlessly, regardless of borders and boundaries as the youth of the world! For about the CHYK movement,
Vanaprastha: It was Swami Chinmayananda’s desire and intention that after man has led a fruitful, productive life, right from Bala Vihar upwards, blending study with seva, he must then step into his third age, where he must apply himself to society via seva and to silencing his inner mind through more study, contemplation and worship.
So he created this little meadow for the elderly to work and study, find purpose away from a career, and discover their true purpose. Through the Vanaprastha movement, Swami Chinmayananda sought to empower the elderly to discover and design purpose for their life after 60. The Mission has Pitamah Sadans as well, all overIndia, where the very old can choose to live and follow the vanaprastha way of living. Equally Swami Chinmayananda believed that vanaprastha was a state of mind and one’s own residence could be re-worked to become the silent forests for study and contemplation.
Teaching to Teach – the spread of Knowledge: Swami Chinmayananda was the finest leader. He wished to build an institution, not an institute. An institution grows with the people, adapts with time, but stays true to its vision. An institute often loses its purpose with the departure of the leader.
The Chinmaya Mission was thus designed as a perennial fountain of wisdom and knowledge that would adapt its course with time – like the Ganga, yet never lose its purity – also like the Ganga! Swami Chinmayananda was aware that the teachings and tenets of Advaita have to stay ever fresh and lit for all times to come. And that would need a lamplighter in every place, in every time. And thus began the Sandeepany system – where he groomed acharyas (teachers).
The Sandeepany Sadhanalaya is Chinmaya Mission’s gurukul for Vedanata studies. Swami Chinmayananda began intensive courses in Vedanta for those who wished to commit their lives to teaching and spreading the knowledge of Advaita. The students assume brahmacharya for the two-year course and are accordingly also called brahmacharis. Living by the disciplines of the gurukula, they learn Vedanta from revered and erudite teachers of the Mission and lit thus with knowledge they carry it out into the world to serve at other Mission centers where they teach the texts, facilitate study groups, motivate youth, perform worship and guide the devotees.
Till date Chinmaya Mission has sent out more than 500 trained teachers of Vedanta and it is this wealth that continues the flow of learning and teaching and knowing in a consistent manner.
In his 42 years of relentless service, Swami Chinmayananda left an indelible mark in the hearts and minds of people, and his footprints in the multifarious service projects he inspired in the Mission. He created a vast legacy – a global organization committed to Vedanta; Chinmaya Vidyalayas – schools based on his value-education platform; a teaching community committed to value-education; a huge network of Bala Vihars and Yuva Kendras; Study Groups that dot the country; rural development projects specifically CORD www.cord.org.in and Vedanta Institutes – the Sandeepanys.
For Vedanta to constantly nourish the people, the great texts on the fundamental philosophy of living needed to be continuously researched, and validation of the Knowledge presented to the people contextual to their time. This necessarily meant a deep-rooted investment in research and scholastic effort in philosophy. Swami Chinmayananda knew these could be had only through a concerted bridging of East and West and an open door for the public to dialogue and debate with the Pundit.
Thus, he set up a Research Foundation – Chinmaya International Foundation – that would commit itself to keeping alive the knowledge traditions of India through workshops, lectures, conferences and thereby revive the depleting community of scholars and alongside develop a robust passion for Sanskrit – both as a language and as the edifice on which stood India. CIF, as it is known today, is a center of excellence in Sanskrit and Research. See www.chinfo.org
In and through each of these, Swami Chinmayananda enlivens the Mission and the mission of love and knowledge that he began in 1951. From pulpits and platforms throughout India and around the world, he taught the tens of thousands who came to listen and learn. By the time he left his physical form and attained Mahasamadhi on August 3, 1993, Swami Chinmayananda had conducted 576 Jnana Yajnas as well as countless family spiritual camps, traversing hundreds of thousands of miles, criss-crossing the globe, and transforming millions of lives directly and indirectly. This powerhouse of learning is one of the prime movers of the Mission today
“All the activities in a Bala Vihar class or camp are specially designed for children. The primary aim is to teach children to look at life as a game. Further, they must understand that even though life is viewed as a sport, every sport has rules, and discipline is important; just because it’s a game, it does not mean we can skip the rules.”
– Swami Tejomayananda
Bala Vihar is a weekly gathering of children, between the ages of five to fifteen years that takes place in Chinmaya Mission Centres or in private homes, under the supervision of trained teachers. The aim of Bala Vihar is to help children bloom, grow, and inculcate values through fun-filled activities. Bala Vihar enhances the overall development of the personality of a child at all levels — physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual.
Chinmay Yuva Kendra:
Chinmaya Yuva Kendra (CHYK) is a global youth wing of Chinmaya Mission. It aims to empower youth with the vision, values and dynamism for success in all fields. CHYK conducts weekly classes where young people are made aware of their potential through the study of scriptures. CHYK also organises and executes cultural, social and spiritual programmes.
Chinmaya Study Group and Devi Group:
Chinmaya Study group involves five to fifteen people who meet at a mutually agreed time, place and day for about ninety minutes each week. The group studies and discusses scriptural texts according to a prescribed syllabus that offers the seeker a systematic exposure to Vedanta. Devi Groups are exclusively for women. These groups meet for scriptural study, devotional singing and a variety of cultural and social activities.
Jnana Yajnas are five to seven days series of public discourses on a Vedantic scripture given by an Acharya of the Chinmaya Mission. Jnana Yajnas are regularly organised by all Chinmaya Mission centres. Spiritual Camps are week-long retreats organised by Chinmaya Mission in various ashrams and other locations all over the world.
Chinmaya Swaranjali is the musical wing of Chinmaya Mission. Chinmaya Swaranjali is a movement dedicated to exploring the mystical world of Indian classical and devotinal music and discovering its hidden joy of infinitude. A typical swaranjali group performs in various areas including recitals of devotional music, audio-video multimedia concerts, workshops, classical orchestras, etc
The Central Chinmaya Vanaprastha Sansthan
The Central Chinmaya Vanaprastha Sansthan (CCVS) is the senior citizens wing of Chinmaya Mission uniting people over sixty years of age. CCVS encourages senior citizens to pursue the final spiritual goal of life and shows them the means to achieve it. It assists and trains householders and near-retirees (vanaprasthis) to make a smoother and easier transition from life in grihasta ashram to life in vanaprastha ashram.
This is Chinmaya Mission’s newest creative device to ‘catch them young’; a forum for anyone aged below 4 years. Shishu Vihar is an assemblage of infants, toddlers and young and new mothers for early introduction to spiritual education. Indian tradition being familiar with the significance of sowing ethical seeds early, even as early as the pre-natal stage – Shishu Vihar strives to provide opportunities for this, thereby enabling spiritual development through cultural education.
At Chinmaya Mission, children are introduced to spiritual culture through Bala Vihar. The next leg is an exceptionally large wing of the Mission – Chinmaya Yuva Kendra, which is dedicated to harnessing the vibrant and dynamic potential of youthful energy. A Yuva Kendra member is typically 16 to 28 years of age. Swami Tejomayananda observed the need for a group of young adults that serve as a bridge between the Yuva Kendra and mature age devotees of Chinmaya Mission.Chinmay mission runs schools, colleges, institutions and many other activities with the sole intension to uplift the human life in all forms and create a proactive positive environament to live in togeather.