Swami Chinmayananda –
Full Biography

Swami Chinmayananda

Swami Chinmayananda lived in physical form from 1916 to 1993. His transformation from Balakrishnan Menon, an ordinary man to Swami Chinmayananda, spiritual giant is indeed extraordinary.

In his younger years as Menon, he was fun-loving, popular, rebellious, and an extremely brilliant man. A product of the British education system, he graduated with degrees in literature and law from the Lucknow University in India.

He later became a journalist and took up the job of the sub-editor of the ‘National Herald’ newspaper in Delhi. He gained the reputation of being a controversial journalist, willing to speak up against India’s problems and social and political issues. His popularity and fame allowed him many opportunities to move around in high society, rubbing shoulders with India’s aristocracy. As he got to know them, he realized that underneath all that wealth and glamour was a superficial and hollow life. Money and power were no guarantee of happiness.

He had been brought up in a very religious Hindu family that held fast to old customs and traditions. Being the rebel that he had been, he had constantly questioned the reasoning and logic behind those practices and doubted the very existence of God.

Now, experiencing empty living in Delhi, those memories of his childhood days spurred in him a desire to seek out the meaning of life. He had been exposed to many saints and masters in his childhood and now, his thoughts went back to them. Could they really have been genuine men of God? Did they have the answers he was seeking? ‘His rational minded shouted, ‘No, there’s no such thing as God!’. In spite of his cynicism, his journalistic inquisitiveness led him to visit the great saints in the Himalayas and write a report about ‘How they are keeping up the bluff among the masses!”

Menon’s journeyed to the ashram (spiritual centre) of Swami Sivananda in Rishikesh. In his confident style, he thought he would need only 2 days to do what he had set out to do. But was completely awestruck by the dynamic lifestyle of Swami Sivananda whose entire day was spent in service – guided meditations, greeting visitors, administering the hospital, writing articles and books, giving discourses on spiritual texts and conducting evening services with devotees. Menon ended up staying for a full month! Such was the inspiration and influence of Swami Sivananda, a true saint in every sense of the word.

Menon returned to the ashram many times in the next few months. In a surprising turn of events, Balakrishnan Menon decided he would renounce his earlier worldly lifestyle and become a Hindu monk. In February 1949, he was initiated into monkhood by Swami Sivananda and gained the new name, Swami Chinmayananda.

His exceptionally brilliant mind and intensity to seek out the goal of human existence led Swami Sivananda to recommend that he leave the ashram and study under the tutelage of the great Vedantic master, Swami Tapovanam.

Swami Tapovanam was a recluse who did not stay in one place for long. He spent his time in the Himalayan mountains moving from place to place. Swami Chinmayananda turned out to be an exceptional student who could keep up with the rigorous lifestyle and the strict discipline of his master. Swami Tapovanam took him on as a disciple on the condition that he would would never repeat anything. The student would have to take the responsibility of going deep into the studies through his own personal notes, reflection and meditation. While the lessons were in Sanskrit, the language of the ancient spiritual texts, Swami Chinmayananda wrote out his notes in English.

Under Swami Tapovanam, Swami Chinmayananda totally immersed himself in his spiritual studies and a life of meditation. In just two short years, in the tranquility of the great Himalayan mountains, Swami Chinmayananda, the once rational skeptic gained inner peace and spiritual enlightenment.

In December 1951, Swami Chinmayananda came down to the plains to teach spirituality to the ordinary man on the street. His approach was startlingly different. Traditionally, the ancient Hindu scriptures were taught only to the male members of the priest class in the ancient language of Sanskrit. But Swami Chinmayananda shocked everyone by teaching freely and openly to men and women alike without any class distinctions – and in ENGLISH!.

Swami Chinmayananda was an enthusiastic and animated orator. He taught with clarity, humor and insightful examples from everyday life. He stormed into the lives of ordinary Indians with the inspiring teachings of spirituality in daily life. They were spellbound by his great brilliance and clarity. He was astonishingly popular. Indoor venues soon became too small to hold the masses that came to listen to him. Many came just to feed their curiosity about this remarkably modern Swami (monk). His talks soon took place in open public grounds which could accommodate thousands of people.

Swami Chinmayananda, with his ability to reach into the hearts of people with his intellectual brilliance, insight, clarity of thought and down-to-earth manner, brought about a cultural and spiritual reawakening in a newly independent India.

In 1953, a small group of enthusiastic devotees formed the ‘Chinmaya Mission’ in Madras (now Chennai, India) to formalize and organize the work of Swami Chinamayananda. ‘Chinmaya’ means True Knowledge in Sanskrit. Swami Chinmayananda’s followers thought it would be an apt name as it described not only His spiritual teachings but the seeking of the True Knowledge of life.

Very quickly, under the grand vision of Swami Chinmayananda, the work of the Chinmaya Mission grew by leaps and bounds. In order to continue the work of the mission on a bigger scale, teacher training schools were established to train young men and women to go out into the field.

Today, there are nearly 300 Chinmaya Mission Centres in India and abroad reaching out to hundreds of thousands of children, youth and adults. The teaching of Vedanta was and always has been the main focus. However, it does not stop there. The work of Chinmaya Mission includes a wide range of cultural, educational, community and social service projects.

The Chinmaya Mission publishes hundreds of books as well as other audio visual materials regularly. www.chinmayapublications.org Swami Chinmayananda wrote commentaries on the Bhagavad Gita and Upanishads and other spiritual texts. These commentaries and transcripts of talks given by Swami Chinmayananda and other Mission teachers are regularly brought out as books, booklets, magazine and newsletter articles, CDs and DVDs.

Swami Chinmayananda travelled extensively in India, staying only a few days in each place before moving on. Realizing that the spiritual teachings were for all mankind, he said,’ Our Vision is not for Hindus only’ So, in 1965, he took his universal message overseas. In his life he toured the US, Australia, England, Canada, Japan, Hong Kong, Bangkok, Singapore, Mauritius, West Indies and many more countries.

Swami Chinmayananda worked grueling 18-hour days, travelling from place to place. In the nights, he would often be seen writing letters to his devotees at 3 am in the morning. Incredible as it sounds, on a daily basis, he would write over 80 handwritten letters. In his lifetime, it is estimated that he would have written over 750,000 letters!

Swami Chinmayananda or Gurudev, as he is lovingly called, had a tenacious memory and an uncanny ability to remember names, addresses, people and events accurately for decades afterwards. There are reports of people who he recognized and called out by name nearly 30 years later. Another devotee remembers talking to Gurudev in a car while driving him to the airport. Their conversation was interrupted when they arrived at their destination. They were not able to speak again until Gurudev’s next trip the following year. When they met, Gurudev calmly pick up the conversation as though they had just been speaking, “So, as I was saying…” This is mind boggling when one considers that he met thousands of people every year.

Gurudev, worked tirelessly for 42 years. He worked until literally his last days. Swami Chinmaynanda left his mortal body on Aug 3rd, 1993, in San Diego, California at the age of 77. His body was taken back to India to be buried in the lotus position in his ashram in Sidhabari, a small town in the foothills of the Himalayan ranges in the state of Himachal Pradesh. In Hindu custom, an enlightened master’s body is allowed burial. The bodies of ordinary Hindus are normally cremated after death.

The outer expressions of Swami Chinmayananda’s divine work were only a miniscule part of the immeasurable impact that He had on the inner transformation of the lives of His devotees. His whole life was the highest expression of loving devotion to God whom he saw in all.

Manisha Melwani

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