Story-day is for cultural exploration, puraanas and parables and finding out about leading lights in spiritual philosophy.
The following is a 'cut and paste' from a site called "Life Positive"; you are encouraged to complete the reading of this article and an associated side article HERE. Images have been added by YAM (as has a small amount of editing).
It was in Bangalore during the summer of 1984 that Brahmacharini Vividisha** first heard Swami Chinmayananda at a public discourse. Totally mesmerized by the guru ‘who looked like lightning and spoke like thunder,’ it was to have a lasting effect on her. A star-struck teenager, she wrote to him and was thrilled to receive his reply. Upon his urging she did a course in Vedanta conducted under him. Immediately thereafter she took diksha, becoming a renunciate, her life now pledged to her order and its mission of spreading the ancient message of Vedanta to the world.
Vividisha looks back at the transformation. ‘I was an ordinary teenager with a passion for writing and looking to a career in journalism. Spirituality and Vedanta didn’t really figure anywhere, though as a sensitive girl, appalled at the ways of the world, I used to find comfort in prayer. But when I first heard Gurudev explaining the concept of the unchanging Self, something hit home. He became my hero and I was totally immersed in his worship. It was some years before I enrolled for the Vedanta course, but immediately on completing it I realized where my calling lay and took the vows of renunciation.’
Vividisha is not alone. Scores of young impressionable boys and girls, their acquaintance with Vedanta as disparate as chalk from cheese, experienced a complete turn in their lives after a chance meeting with Swami Chinmayananda, or ‘Gurudev’ as he is reverentially referred to by his disciples today. Mesmerised by the magnetism of his towering personality and compelling oratory, they responded to his call for a revival of the Vedantic ethos.
Inspired by his vision for a better world, they pitched in to swell the ranks of the movement he started, so that it assumed the proportions of a mighty river that the Chinmaya Mission is today.
The Chinmaya Mission was started in 1953 at the instance of a handful of disciples, to give expression to Swami Chinmayananda’s vision and philosophy.
Its purpose, as stated in his own words, ‘To provide to individuals from any background the wisdom of Vedanta and the practical means for spiritual growth and happiness, enabling them to become positive contributors to society.’ Twelve years after his mahasamadhi, the Mission, under its current head Swami Tejomayananda, continues to live up to this lofty aim.
Pleasantly rotund with gentle twinkling eyes, Swami Tejomayananda, ‘Guruji’ to disciples, would seem to carry his burden lightly. But his patience and bubbly humor belie the fact that on the affable Swami’s shoulders rests the staggering responsibility of managing the spiritual and administrative duties of a mammoth organisation that straddles the globe, its 243 centres reaching out to people from diverse countries with its credo of universal brotherhood through Vedanta.
Speaking to him in his sparsely furnished kuti at the Chinmaya Mission centre in Powai, Mumbai, we ask him what is so special about Vedanta? ‘Vedanta,’ Swami Tejomayananda explains, ‘is a spiritual science. Spirituality is not an activity, but a vision that pervades any activity. This vision then is the recognition of the fact of your oneness with the entire creation. With it, values such as love for others, non-violence and compassion automatically follow.’ He gives the analogy of one’s body. ‘It is composed of many parts, but you have equal concern for all. Similarly, once you realize the Oneness in the universe, all else are just expressions of it.’
Swami Tejomayananda pronounces the teachings of Vedanta, or Upanishads as the scriptures are also called, as ‘life transforming’ and open to anybody interested in knowing their truths, irrespective of their religious affiliation. ‘Awakening to the truths hidden in them, one becomes a better human and in turn positively impacts society,’ he explains, adding, ‘Gurudev often told us, ‘You have not to change the world, but to change yourself. Improvement of the world will happen only through individual transformation’.’
Vedanta is also the foundation of various religious practices and rituals of the Hindu dharma, he adds. They explain the reason or rationale behind these rituals that are now forgotten and therefore they need to be brought to people’s awareness.
Sowing the Seeds
Strolling through the sprawling leafy campus of the Chinmaya Mission in Powai is like stepping back in time. No cowdung huts and thatched roofs here, but one is reminded of the forest hermitages of the ancient sages as, far from the snarl of vehicular traffic outside, an air of tranquillity and piety pervades within. The reverential hush inside Gurudev’s kuti as the relics bring the memory of the Master to life, the soothing sonority of Sanskrit shlokas chanted in unison, and the proximity of nature help one withdraw within and dwell on the mystery that is life.
Towering over the Mission grounds, built on a hillock, is the architecturally striking Jagdeeshwara Temple; its massive arch built to resemble a Buddhist stupa with an inscription from the Koran on it make for a refreshing assertion of the unity of faiths.
In the evenings it is the scene of the electrically charged satsangs held by Swami Tejomayananda or another of the acharyas, as crickets chirp outside and the city lights of Powai glimmer in the distance below.
One notices young boys and girls, their full white outfits distinct from the yellow and ochre worn by the renunciate swamis and acharyas, going about their routines. These are the future torchbearers of the movement, undergoing training at the gurukul that represents the very heart of the Chinmaya Mission. They are participating in the Vedanta Course, also known as the Brahmacharya Course, the 13th batch of its kind held since the establishment of this centre.
Swami Tejomayananda explains, ‘The Vedanta course involves two years of intensive training and is aimed at candidates between 18 to 30 years, holding a college degree and relatively unencumbered by family responsibility. They are selected on merit without reservations of sex, caste, creed or religion, from applications from around the world.’
Mohan Hejamadi, chief executive of the TARA Cultural Trust invested with the running of the Sandeepany Sadhanalayas, explains that not only are the youth thoroughly grounded in the fundamentals of the scriptures, but that special emphasis is laid on giving them the opportunity to live in accordance with them. ‘It is quintessentially an ashram life with little time for TV or catching up with the news,’ he clarifies.
Parul Sheth is a past student of the course who today conducts her own classes in Vedanta. Meeting Gurudev at a young age, she saw in him ‘everything she was aspiring for’ and somewhere down the line opted to do the course. She describes it as a turning point for her. ‘My parents followed no conventional religion so I was totally ignorant about the ritual of worship, though I was always seeking answers to fundamental questions about life. On doing the course all my preconceived notions about spirituality just got washed away. The training in scriptures, texts and chanting is just a framework to help us understand ourselves. A lot of things happen during the course that lead to insights. Of course, the experiences are subjective as all of us have different vasanas, tendencies, but it does open one’s eyes to hard reality. I consider the Vedanta Course as amongst the greatest blessings of my life,’ she says.
Hejamadi explains that for people whose circumstances do not permit them to enrol for the full-time course there, Chinmaya Mission also holds regular scripture classes, residential camps and study groups to help them study the scriptures. The message of Vedanta is also spread through various publications, books and through electronic media such as audio and video tapes and DVDs.
Says Mahadevan Menon, an active volunteer who is on the executive committee that conducts the study groups, ‘The uniqueness of Chinmaya Mission lies in its study groups; through them the Mission itself comes to you. Anybody with just a couple of hours to spare every week can get the benefit of the scriptures.’
Swami Purushottamananda is one of the earliest disciples of Swami Chinmayananda and is regional head of the Mission for Gujarat, Goa and Maharashtra. We ask him about the relevance of Vedas and Upanishads today. ‘Vedanta,’ he responds, ‘contains eternal truths that are meant for the entire humanity. Their knowledge is neither emotional nor intellectual, but represents the actual reality that is. It teaches us that preoccupation with the past and the future makes for an agitated present. And as our actions are the greatest expression of our thoughts, it is not surprising that the world we live in is as turbulent as it is.’
The increasing popularity of spiritual pursuit amongst youth, explains the Acharya, is a result of their discontentment. ‘Certainly, the youth today have adequate means for the easy satisfaction of all their wants and ambitions. But in spite of all apparent comforts and accomplishments, it is evident that they feel the lack of spiritual contentment and they come here seeking answers.’
Swami Brahmavidananda Saraswati, formerly Acharya Ram Mohan, is a Vedanta teacher from the lineage of Swami Dayananda Saraswati, an alumnus of the Mission. He says, ‘The Chinmaya Mission actually brought the scriptures to the marketplace. Educated Indians were, for the first time, exposed to a part of their spiritual heritage that was earlier exclusive to some of the traditional ashrams.’ The structured teaching here also conforms to the traditional way in which the Vedas were taught, he clarifies.
**Vividisha-ji was granted sanyaasa by Guru-ji, Sw. Tejomayananda in 2013 and is now Swamini Aradhananda. She runs the publication section for Bala Vihar at Sandeepany.