8 May 1916: Chinmayananda Saraswati, Indian spiritual leader, was born


“By realizing the best in us, not only do we open up a few windows in our own personality to bring in more light, but we become a source of joy for others to draw inspiration.”

~ quoted from Swami Chinmayananda Saraswati Discourses

This in short explains the life of Swami Chinmayananda Saraswati himself. One of the most famous proponents of the ancient Hindu religious scriptures, Swami Chinmayananda is a well renowned spiritual teacher, who spread the Holy word all around the world. His manner of teaching was so understandable, logical, and relatable that he is believed to have popularised the Hindu religion more than anyone before him. He is best known to have inspired the establishment of the international non-profit organisation, Chinmaya Mission. He is also the first person ever to have translated Bhagwad Gita into English.

Early Years

Swami Chinmayananda was born as Balakrishnan Menon, on 8 May 1961, in Ernakulam (Kerala). His father was an eminent judge. After completing his schooling and graduation, Balakrishnan did post graduate courses in Literature, Law, and Journalism, from Lucknow University. In his early life, Balakrishnan did not have much of a religious bend. He is believed to have met a famous sage during the time, Shri Ramana Maharshi, in the presence of whom he felt a spiritual surge. At that time he thought it was “hypnotism.”

With the country heating up, in the struggle for freedom against the British government, Balakrishnan was all set to join the National Movement. He was then a student in college, when he and other students propagated the unjust British policies through leaflets. When the British police issued an arrest warrant, he went into hiding for about two years. He was eventually caught and put into prison. Due to insanitary conditions in the prison, he contracted Typhus, after which he was released and left on the city’s outskirts. A Christian lady is believed to have saved him by admitting him to a hospital.

The Journalist

Balakrishnan began his career in 1945, as a sub-editor under K. Rama Rao, a prominent editor at the National Herald. The articles he wrote highlighted the downtrodden and poverty-affected India before independence. Balakrishnan also wrote controversial pieces on topics like Politics, Society, History and Culture. Some of the articles he wrote include, Honor to Released INA Men and The Mochi – Symbol of Craftsmanship. In 1947, Balakrishnan started a series named Commonweal, under the pseudonym Mr. Tramp.

Balakrishnan to Swami Chinmayananda

Balakrishnan had always been a person who would question everything critically. This inquiring mind led him to read books on Philosophy and Spiritualism. The journey of transformation of Balakrishnan to Swami Chinmayananda began when he decided to get his answers from the sages in the Himalayas. This, although, was not what he told the people around him. People were made to believe, that Balakrishnan was going to Rishikesh to research for an article to expose the fraud sages, who bluffed common men for their advantage.

In Rishikesh, Balakrishnan met Swami Sivananda at his ashram. Both the Swami and his ashram inspired him to an extent that it proved to change his life’s course. Under Swami Sivananda, Balakrishnan attained asceticism. Swami Sivananda changed his name to Swami Chinmayananda, which means “who revels in the bliss of pure consciousness.” A new swami, he spent his days working in the ashram and studying. Although, Swami Sivananda knew that Chinmayananda was made for greater things. He asked him to study under the Vedantic teacher Swami Tapovan at Uttarkashi.

Chinmayananda studied for eight years under Swami Tapovan’s tutelage. Swami Tapovan was a strict disciplinarian, but Chinmayananda was a good student as well. He spent his days serving his guru, meditating, self-contemplating, and studying.

Tours and Discourses

Swami Chinmayananda, after his eight years of study, felt he wanted to share his knowledge with the common man. Initially, Swami Tapovan disagreed with him. He thought the public was not ready to understand the divine knowledge. He although, let Chinmayananda go on an India tour, provided he led a life of a beggar. After his tour, Chinmayananda returned surer about his purpose in life. This time, Swami Tapovan permitted his cause.

Swami Chinmayananda’s first gnana yajna was at Pune. As per Swami Tapovan’s wishes, the discourse began with four people.

Accepting Swami Chinmayananda’s discourses were not easy for the common people, who believed in the prevailing caste system. The Brahmins were considered to be the only ones allowed to read the scriptures, whereas Chinmayananda called for everyone, irrespective of caste or creed or even religion to read the Hindu scriptures. Hindu priests considered this as blasphemy. They, in fact, declared that “God himself would tear out Swamiji’s tongue for such sacrilege.”

Swami Chinmayananda did not lose heart and went on spreading the importance of reading the Hindu scriptures among all who came to listen to him. His lectures were unique and interesting, as he explained the Holy texts with logic and scientific explanations. Besides the lectures, he also started writing commentaries on major texts from the Vedas. He used to say, “Vedanta makes you a better Hindu, better Christian, [and a] better Muslim, as it makes you a better human being.” His dynamic personality, charming nature, and humorous speeches won over the people in India and abroad.

Chinmaya Mission

In addition to sermons, Swami Chinmayananda also conducted spiritual camps and helped transform “millions of lives directly and indirectly.” A group of people were so inspired by the Swami that they decided to start a not-for-profit organization to help the people in need and spread the divine knowledge all around the world. This organisation came to be known as the “Chinmaya Mission.” The Mission has its branches all around the world, including North America and Africa.

Publications

In order to spread the divine word of the Hindu scriptures far and wide, Swami Chinmayananda realised that just by talking about them will not reach everyone. He decided to translate the scriptures to English for a wider reach. His translations of the Upanishads and the Bhagwad Gita are still read all around the world. He has written more than 35 books in his entire lifetime. The Bhagwad Gita remains the most read and acclaimed work of his.

Saint, teacher, and a leader, Swami Chinmayananda Saraswati was able to fulfill his life’s purpose of touching the hearts and minds of numerous humans around the world. The organisation with his name, Chinmaya Mission, is still serving people and keeps his name alive through its social services.

Also on this day:

1929 – Girija Devi, Indian singer, was born

1933 – Mahatma Gandhi began a 21-day fast in protest against the British rule in India

References:

Journey of a Master - Swami Chinmayananda by Nancy Patchen

Chinmaya Mission website

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