- Chinmaya Mission Chinmayananda, Swami
- (1916–1993)founder of Chinmaya MissionSwami Chinmayananda was an influential teacher of Hindu scriptures. He gave public lectures, set up ashrams, and preached to adults and children around the world. His Chinmaya Mission has worked to further Vedic education among adults and children and runs a large network of chari-table institutions.Balakrishna Menon was born on May 8, 1916, the son of Parakutti and Kuttan Menon in Ernakulam, Kerala, in South India. His aristocratic family followed strict Kerala Hindu traditions. Saints and sages often visited the family home and paid attention to the young boy. A bright student, he read widely and was good at sports. An extrovert, he got along well with others and exhibited a charming personality. He studied sci-ence in Cochin and later graduated in science at Madras University; he received a master’s degree in literature from Lucknow University.At Lucknow University he became active in campus life. In 1942 he joined the Indian inde-pendence movement, writing and distributing leaflets, organizing strikes, and giving speeches. He became quite visible in the movement and the British issued a warrant for his arrest. He went into hiding but soon after returning was caught and put in prison, where he spent several months under difficult conditions. While in prison he studied the works of major writers of contempo-rary Hindu thought and practice and was inspired to follow a path of inquiry.After working as a freelance journalist, he decided to devote himself to the quest for SELF-REALIZATION. He studied VEDANTA with Swami SIVA-NANDA at the Divine Life Society in Rishikesh for a number of years and in 1949 was initiated into SANNYAS (renunciation) by Swami Sivananda. His name, Swami Chinmayananda Saraswati, means the “one who revels in the bliss of pure conscious-ness.” At Sivananda’s suggestion, he studied with Swami Tapovan Maharaj high in the Himalayas at Uttarkashi. He accepted Swami Tapovan as his guru and studied with him for seven years. In 1948 he made a trek to several traditional Hindu pilgrimage centers in the Himalayas, recording his account in My Trek through Uttarkhand.In 1951, Chinmayananda started his mission of teaching and preaching to public audiences, a pattern that he followed until his death. He gave discourses and held meditation camps in India and abroad. In 1963 he set up his headquarters, Sandeepany Sadhanalaya, in Bombay (Mumbai). From there he established centers, ashrams, and schools in many parts of India. He organized children’s clubs to teach the principles of Hindu religion and culture. The Chinmaya Mission, which has grown considerably over the years, sponsors 62 schools for elementary education, nursing, and management in India that teach normal school curriculum as well as the Vedic heritage. The mission also sponsors free clinics, hospitals, vocational schools, orphanages, and retirement homes.Chinmayananda was foremost a SANSKRIT pun-dit (scholar and teacher) and commentator on Hindu scriptures. He expounded each scripture verse by verse and then interpreted deeper levels of meaning against a backdrop of both Hindu and Western philosophy. He insisted that serious seek-ers find GURUS, teaching that a guru’s guidance is necessary. He also taught that over time work with an external guru changes into guidance by a more pure and enlightened intellect within the student himself.An erudite and acclaimed teacher of ADVAITA VEDANTA, Chinmayananda always stressed the importance of BHAKTI or devotion, which he defined as a consistent effort to raise the ego from its entrenchment in false values to an appreciation of selfhood. His centers contain temples and altars to several Hindu deities.Chinmayananda was elected president of the Hindu Religion Section of the Centennial Con-ference of the Parliament of World Religions in Chicago in 1993, where he was to receive recog-nition as a world-renowned teacher of Vedanta and selfless servant of humanity. Unfortunately, he died on August 3, 1993, before the conference took place.Further reading: Swami Chinmayananda, The Holy Geeta: Commentary by Swami Chinmayananda (Bom-bay: Central Chinmaya Mission Trust, 1976); ———, A Manual for Self-Unfoldment (Bombay: Central Chin-maya Mission Trust, 1985); ———, Meditation and Life (Madras: Chinmaya Publications Trust, 1967); ———, Self-Unfoldment (Piercy, Calif.: Chinmaya, 1992); Nancy Patchen, The Journey of a Master: Swami Chinmayananda (Berkeley, Calif.: Asian Humanities Press, 1989).
Encyclopedia of Hinduism. A. Jones and James D. Ryan. 2007.