This account of Swami Chinmayananda’s life is derived from a single source, who may be a devotee, and therefore reflects the overly sympathetic orientation of the source.
Swami Chinmayananda, also referred to as Balakrishna Menon, who was born in Kerala, India during 1916. He earned an Undergraduate Degree in English Literature at Lucknow University in India. At the time of his studies, India was in a political dispute with Britain in order to gain their independence. Menon was a socialist and performed political actions such as, writing leaflets and give speeches in order to rile up the nation (Patchen 8). He was one of many students who demonstrated his differing ideologies against the colonial British, in the events leading up to India gaining independence during the 1940’s (Patchen 7). Because of this political uprising, many Indians were locked up and killed. Balakrishnan Menon came to realize that a warrant was issued for his arrest. He spent the next two years moving around, until he thought it was safe enough to come out. However, government officials soon found him and he was imprisoned (Patchen 10).
Menon caught typhus in prison because of overcrowding, bad ventilation and poor nutrition within the penitentiary. In the old country typhus was commonly known as jail fever because of the confined spaces in prison (Patchen 11). This allowed for the disease to spread rapidly among inmates. Menon was then later released on the side of a road, just out of Delhi, because of contracting typhus. A passerby rescued Menon and he later recovered from his illness. After several weeks he made his way to Baroda, where he stayed with his cousin, Achuthan Menon (Patchen 12).
When Menon was staying with his cousin, he started type writing. He chose articles such as, Mochi “Street shoe cobbler” (Patchen 14) to write on and expressed his socialist views. This marked the beginning of his journalism career. These short responses were then being published in Indian nationalist newspapers (Patchen 14). He was more interested in India’s social reforms than the Hindu religion at this time. Menon left Baroda and headed back to the University of Lucknow, where he achieved his Master’s Degree in English Literature. He became an editor at the local newspaper, but soon found through his work that something was missing.
“Each one of us is in the right atmosphere and environment for our evolution. Don’t try to be more intelligent than universal intelligence. Stay where you are and start opening!” stated Swami Chinmayananda (Patchen 23). Menon started to look deeper into the daily lives of the rich and poor within India. He soon became empathetic towards the poor, but also explored how the rich gained from their lifestyle (Patchen 23). Menon realized that he had to choose his own path and let religion back into his life. He had made a resolution for himself and moved onto a spiritual path for three years. After practicing spiritually, coming to know ones true self, for three years, Menon studied philosophy in order to gain more knowledge of life (Patchen 25). Through his studies, he came across the concept of the Eternal Truth, also known as Sanatana Dharma, within the Vedas. He wanted to achieve the divine goals that were marked in the scriptures because it would lead him to become a true teacher (Patchen 25).
Menon was inspired by the many sages who have attained these divine goals and soon followed their words that “truth cannot be disguised to a sincere seeker” (Patchen 26). He continued to study these wise sages and gained guidance from their words. However, he still had many unanswered questions and doubts. In order to find his answers, he journeyed to the Himalayas in hope of finding these great sages (Patchen 29). He set off to Rishikesh, the place to find a man full of wisdom which is a Swami, in order to find Swami Shivananda on the north bank of the Ganga (Patchen 35). There he spent a few days learning from Swami Shivananda, while gaining spiritual knowledge. For several years, Menon would travel to the Himalayas and continue to learn about spiritual matters from Swami Shivananda. It was not until the late 1940’s that Balakrishnan Menon received initiation into the sannyasa asrama, also known as the life of renunciation, from Swami Shivananda (Patchen 55-56). By being initiated into the sannyasa asrama, Menon was close to achieving the goal of self-realization (Patchen 56). Balakrishnan Menon formally became known as Swami Chinmayananda, meaning “one who reveals in the bliss which is pure consciousness” (Patchen 57-58).
A few days after his initiation, Swami Chinmayananda made his way to the small village of Uttarkasi, in the eastern valley of Varanavatha mountain, where he sought to meet another great sage (Patchen 69). There he met Swami Tapovan, the master of Vedanta, to teach him the scriptures of the Vedas and took him as his guru, (teacher). Swami Tapovan believed that one should not rush their learning process because the ideas already in one’s mind need to be clear before an individual moves on to the next stage (Patchen 70). Therefore, Swami Chinmayananda did not start his new learning right away. Swami Chinmayananda did not spend all his time learning about the philosophy of Vedanta, but he also took time to do chores in order to release natural energy and maintain his strength. He then traveled on foot for a few days with Swami Tapovan and other students in order to get to Gangotri, a place of meditation and peacefulness (Patchen 71). Swami Chinmayananda would chant early every morning before the teachings of the scriptures began. He learned the first Vedanta text which was the beginning of the scriptures that identified all the concepts of the Upanishads in Sanskrit (Patchen 72). These concepts included the nature of the true Self and information on the nature of Brahman. The information given in the first text of Vedanta gave Swami Chinmayananda the core concepts of the scriptures, but also allowed him to further learn the Sanskrit language. Swami Tapovan would slowly read the scriptures out and explain each Sanskrit term for the students to fully understand the meaning of the texts.
Swami Chinmayananda spent a few years of continually traveling from Uttarkasi and back to Gangotri to learn about the scriptures and philosophy of Vedanta. By the time Chinmayananda turned thirty years old, he was able to travel back to his homeland of Kerala, India (Patchen 80). He was able to see his family after a decade and enjoyed sharing with them what it was like to become a Swami. While Chinmayananda was home, he visited many temples and talked to spiritual teachers’ within the area. He was also asked to give many lectures to the public about his life as a Swami. After his visit home, Chinmayananda returned back to Uttarkasi and continued his learning with the guru. He was now ready for the final step in his religious journey, “the dive into Self-realization” (Patchen 84). Several more years of teachings with guru, Swami Tapovan, led Swami Chinmayananda to his greatest achievement of understanding the nature of the mind.
When Swami Chinmayananda reached his goal, he went on a tour of India and decided to do a series of Upanishad Jnana Yagnas, teaching concepts of true knowledge and the nature of absolute reality. Swami Chinmayananda taught these concepts in various cities around India (Patchen 155). He wanted to bring spiritual enlightenment to the people within these cities and educate them on their cultural roots. Chinmayananda wanted to use his knowledge of the Vedic concepts and bring benefit to all of society. He then started teaching right from the scriptures and made his way to the first city, Poona, where he performed his first lecture (Patchen 156). After his first lecture to the public on Vedanta, Chinmayananda decided to live life with the people and encounter the issues they had. He packed all his belongings up and the left the comfort of the Himalayas in order to start the “Divine Mission” (Patchen 158). He believed that the people of India deserved to know more about their Hindu religion, while applying these concepts to every life struggle they would have. He then lectured on the first Yagna, but not many people came. As Chinmayananda continued to lecture on Vedanta, more people would attend (Patchen 163).
Chinmayananda’s passion was to liberate people with his knowledge of Vedanta, which essentially brought happiness, “Maximum happiness for the maximum number of people that is our goal!” stated Swami Chinmayananda (Patchen 203). Groups of educated Brahmins, who went to listen to Swami Chinmayananda lecture wanted to create a program that spread the meaning of his teachings further, and the understanding of Vedanta. They then created the “Chinmaya Mission”, meaning “the true knowledge”, to carry spiritual concepts and discussions to the people (Patchen 203). People would gather from various cities just to hear Swami Chinmayananda talk and soon the group expanded. The “Chinmaya Mission” was now an organization that had grown into something great, while giving the people the knowledge and spiritual guidance they needed. Swami Chinmayananda was all about helping the people and through the “Chinmaya Mission” he was able to create the Chinmaya Mission Hospital during the late 1900’s (Patchen 241). Many more great projects came out of “Chinmaya Mission”, but Swami Chinmayananda died of heart issues in late summer of 1993 (Swami Chinmayananda 1). Through his studies and knowledge of Vedanta, Swami Chinmayananda changed the lives of many people and the “Chinmaya Mission” still carries on in his name.
REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING
Patchen, Nancy (1989) The journey of a master: Swami Chinmayananda : the man, the path, the teaching. Berkeley, California: Asian Humanities Press.
Swami Chinmayananda (2000) Hinduism Today: Chinmayananda Up Close. Kauia, Hawaii: Himalayan Academy.
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Article written by: Annalee Bragg (March 2015) who is solely responsible for its content.