The title of the biopic on Swami Chinmayananda, encapsulates the relevance of the Chinmaya Vishwa Vidyapeeth. As a young man, Swami Chinmayananda undertook a quest that would in turn inspire the individual quests of thousands of seekers to know the Truth about human existence. The culmination of one strand of Swami Chinmayananda’s quest and vision is the establishment of the Chinmaya Vishwa Vidyapeeth – an institution that will launch the academic quest of students as they seek to discover their calling and purpose in life.
Balakrishnan acquired a degree in English Literature and began to work as a journalist for the National Herald. By nature an activist, he fought against superstition, irrationality, blind faith and British Rule. His fiery writing brought him in opposition to the establishment and he was imprisoned for his anti-British speeches.
Once, Balakrishnan decided to write an exposé and call the bluff (as he then believed) of the Swamis in the Himalayan region. In search of a story, he travelled to Swami Sivananda’s ashram in Rishikesh. However, Swami Sivananda’s divinity, love and Vedānta teachings overwhelmed the young sceptic.
A striking inner transformation unfolded, and instead of questioning Swami Sivananda, as was his original purpose, he began to confront his inner world of thoughts and ideas. In the company of saints and seers and through the clarity of their teachings, he soon chose the path of a renunciate himself.
In 1949, on Mahashivaratri day, February 25th, Balakrishnan was initiated into the sannyasa order by Swami Sivananda as Swami Chinmayananda Saraswati. Swami Sivananda then guided the young initiate to the most renowned Vedanta master of the time, Swami Tapovanam, who lived in Uttarkashi in the Himalayas. Unconditionally accepting Swami Tapovanam’s strict conditions to be accepted as a shishya, Swami Chinmayananda began a period of intense study and austere living as a disciple.
At the end of the study period, at the behest of his Guru, Swami Chinmayananda travelled around the country “I travelled on foot for six months, living on bhiksha, sleeping in ashrams, temples, under wayside trees. Education, social status, family connections, prejudices, sham values – these were no longer mine.”
"'The people in the cities were an aimless crowd, out of contact with the values in their own traditional culture.’ A well of empathy began to build in Chinmaya, which would be the source of his overflowing love for his countrymen.” And out of this love, Swami Chinmayananda began his first discourse in his hometown for about a dozen people at a talk organised by a former classmate.
Swami Chinmayananda was a master in the traditional sense of the word, having lived with his Guru and imbibed deeply from him the wisdom of our ancient texts. Yet, he was also gifted with an extraordinary ability to convey to ordinary people these insights in a language that they could understand and appreciate.
"The Truth as revealed in the Upanishads, though unchanged, needs constant re-interpretation to suit the changing scenario [of society]. The old words are rejuvenated by giving them new meaning. The lost enthusiasm of people is thus kindled again. This is the way great Masters work."
'Jnana Yajna', a term Swami Chinmayananda coined from Lord Krishna’s teachings in the Bhagavad Gita, is a series of spiritual discourses given by a teacher to a gathering of students who are keen to study the scriptures. From the first Jnana Yajna near Pune, Maharashtra, in 1951, Swami Chinmayananda’s clear objective was to ‘convert Hindus to Hinduism’. He therefore began to teach the scriptures in English: a radical step in the days when religion was claimed as the exclusive sphere of the orthodox. Swamiji’s teachings were based on the authority of the Vedas and his own direct experience. To devotees exposed largely to obscure ritualistic practices, Swami Chinmayananda’s discourses were a rediscovery of their heritage. Devotees thronged to hear his powerful teachings and the numbers of listeners increased rapidly. An inspired band of devotees thus formed the ‘The Chinmaya Mission” on August 8, 1953.
The Jnana Yajna format became an easy way in which people in the cities and towns could study scriptures. By teaching in English, Swami Chinmayananda was targeting the English-educated elite in society who had mostly turned West for wisdom. To such audiences, the teacher revealed the treasures hidden in the Bhagavad Gita and the Upanishads. Slowly, but surely, serious seekers were drawn to deep study through spiritual camps at which they got a glimpse of the intense study and spiritual practice required to dive deep into Hindu scripture.
For seekers who wished to continue studying at home, Swami Chinmayananda encouraged Chinmaya Mission members to start study groups where groups of seekers gathered at home to study scriptural texts through a medium of discussion and reflection. Soon, this wisdom became available to children and youth as the Balavihar and Yuva Kendra movements spread around the world. In the Balavihar, children learnt through stories and songs, while in the Yuva Kendra, discussion and activities that always encouraged seeking and questioning were the preferred modes of learning.
As the Chinmaya Mission started growing, Swami Chinmayananda designed it to become a source of India’s knowledge and wisdom. He was clear that this wisdom must be adapted to changing societal needs, yet must always remain true to the purity of the ancient teachings. The Vision of how this wisdom could be adapted is revealed in several ways:
Sandeepany Sadhanalaya: Knowing that he needed to create an army of monks who could teach the tenets of Vedanta across the world, he established the Sandeepany Sadhanalaya in Mumbai in 1963 as a Gurukula for Vedanta studies. Students had to take to brahmacharya and commit their lives to the teaching and spread of Advaita. Living by the disciplines of the Gurukula, the students studied Vedanta from a trained Acharya. On graduation, these students were posted to Chinmaya Mission centres to conduct Jnana Yajna, facilitate study groups and guide members. In the 1980s, he created Sandeepany Sadhanalayas in various regions of India so that the same knowledge of Vedanta could be imparted in Hindi, Marathi, Kannada, Telugu, Malayalam and Tamil. This enabled the spread into the small towns and villages of India where the same ancient wisdom would be taught in the regional languages.
Chinmaya Vidyalayas: In response to demand by families throughout the country, Chinmaya Vidyalayas sprung up to embed the spiritual outlook in elementary and secondary education. Today, across India and the world, there are over 100 such schools and colleges, which have gained a reputation for offering a high quality education.
Chinmaya Organisation of Rural Development: While at Sidhabari Ashram, located in a small village in the Kangra District of Himachal Pradesh, the plight of the village women and access to health care became evident. From that idea of training health workers to cater to the health needs of remote villages in the mid-80s, there was a grass roots movement which developed into a comprehensive rural women’s development programme under the constant nurturing, guidance and encouragement of Pujya Gurudev. Over the next decade, Chinmaya Organisation for Rural Development (CORD) grew not only in Himachal but also in Tamil Nadu, Odisha and Andhra Pradesh. Besides, the now-demonstrable-strength of the rural Development Model as opposed to the ‘charity’ model, CORD has become the training ground for innumerable other NGOs.
Chinmaya International Foundation (CIF): CIF is a research organisation that is committed to keeping alive the knowledge traditions of India through workshops, lectures, and conferences and thereby revives the depleting community of scholars. Further, it was mandated to develop a robust passion for Sanskrit – both as a language and as the edifice on which India stands. CIF is today a Centre of Excellence in Sanskrit and Research. Fittingly, Gurudev’s vision of establishing a university for Sanskrit & Indian Knowledge Traditions finds manifestation in CIF divesting its higher education activities and enabling them to be pursued and enhanced by the formation of Chinmaya Vishwa Vidyapeeth.
Swami Chinmayananda authored over 95 books, including commentaries on the major Upanishads and a commentary on the Bhagavad Gita, considered one of the finest written in English for a young professional and acclaimed as refined, insightful and practical. Swami Chinmayananda brought about a worldwide renaissance in Vedantic studies through his introduction of Adi Sankaracarya’s works and teachings to ordinary people. A gifted storyteller, famed for his wit, his eloquence, and the manner in which he brought Vedanta to guide practical living, Swami Chinmayananda lives in and through the Mission and its works, especially as his vision for a cultural revival in India finds itself anew in the spirit of the Chinmaya Vishwa Vidyapeeth.