Chinmayananda Saraswati

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Swami Chinmayananda
Sourire coul 2.jpg
A portrait of Swami Chinmayananda in 1990
Born Balakrishnan Menon
(1916-05-08)8 May 1916
Ernakulam, Kerala, India
Died 3 August 1993(1993-08-03) (aged 77)
San Diego, California, USA
Founder of Chinmaya Mission
Guru Sivananda Saraswati
Tapovan Maharaj
Philosophy Advaita Vedanta
Literary works The Holy Gita and many more (See Bibliography)
Prominent Disciple(s) Swami Tejomayananda Dayananda Saraswati

"The tragedy of human history is that there is decreasing happiness in the midst of increasing comforts."

"The real guru is the pure intellect within; and the purified, deeply aspiring mind is the disciple."

"We may often give without love, but we can never love without giving."
Founder Member Vishva Hindu Parishad
Resting Place Sidhbari

Swami Chinmayananda (born Balakrishna Menon; 8 May 1916 – 3 August 1993) was a Hindu spiritual leader and teacher who inspired the formation of Chinmaya Mission, a worldwide nonprofit organisation, to spread the knowledge of Advaita Vedanta, the nondual system of thought found in the Upanishads, which epitomise the philosophical teachings of the Vedas.

Swami Chinmayananda is renowned for teaching Bhagavad-gītā, the Upanishads, and other ancient Hindu scriptures in a "simple and compelling manner".[1] From 1951 onward, he spearheaded a global Hindu spiritual and cultural renaissance that popularised the religion's esoteric scriptural texts, teaching them in English all across India and abroad.[2]

Swami Chinmayananda inspired the formation of Chinmaya Mission in 1953. Founded by his disciples and led by him, Chinmaya Mission is a spiritual, educational, and charitable nonprofit organisation that encompasses more than 300 centres in India and internationally. Swami Chinmayananda set its mission statement as follows: "To provide to individuals, from any background, the wisdom of Vedanta and practical means for spiritual growth and happiness, enabling them to become positive contributors to society."[3] Chinmaya Mission is administered by the apex body of Central Chinmaya Mission Trust, in Mumbai, India, now under the leadership of Swami Chinmayananda's successor, Swami Tejomayananda, the present head of Chinmaya Mission worldwide.

Swami Chinmayananda authored 95 publications in his lifetime, including commentaries on the major Upanishads and Bhagavad-gītā.[4]:176 He served several American and Asian universities as a visiting professor of Indian philosophy and conducted university lecture tours in many countries.[5]:13 Through his Vedantic teachings, publications, centres, ashrams, temples, and social service projects around the globe, his work continues to provide cultural and spiritual instruction to members of the Hindu diaspora. He died on 3 August 1993,[1] which his followers mark as the occasion when he attained Mahasamadhi.


Early Life and Education (1916–1942)[edit]

Balakrishna Menon, who later became Swami Chinmayananda, was born in the city of Ernakulam in Kerala, India, on 8 May 1916, as the eldest son of a prominent judge, Kutta Menon, who was the nephew of the Maharaja of Cochin.[6]:5 His mother, Paru Kutty, fondly called 'Manku', died while giving birth to her third child.[4]:12 Consequently, Balan was raised by his mother's eldest sister, Kochunarayani.

He completed his formal schooling in Sree Rama Varma High School, Kochi (1921–1928) and Vivekodayam School, Thrissur (1928–1932). He completed his FA (Fellow of Arts) at the Maharaja's College, Ernakulam (1932–1934), and his BA (Bachelor of Arts) at the St. Thomas College, Trichur (1935–1937). He went on to Lucknow University (1940–1943) to earn postgraduate degrees in literature and law,[6]:6[7]:18 while completing courses in journalism.[5]:28

Although he would go on to become a celebrated spiritual teacher, in his student years, Balan had yet to formally accept religion. In the summer of 1936, he visited the eminent sage, Shri Ramana Maharshi. By Swami Chinmayananda's later personal accounts, when Ramana Maharshi looked at him, he experienced a thrill of spiritual rapture which, at the time, he promptly rationalised away as being mere "hypnotism."[4]:33

Indian Independence Movement and Imprisonment (1942–1944)[edit]

Approaching August 1942, in the midst of a wide-scale attempt by Indian activists to make the British "Quit India," Balan was one of the students to join in writing and distributing leaflets to stir up national pride.[4]:26 He gave many speeches with the intent to generate awareness of the inability of the British to solve the problems of India.

Within weeks, 100,000 people were arrested nationwide, mass fines were levied, and thousands were killed or injured in police and army shootings.[3] When word of a warrant for his arrest reached Balan, he went undercover. He spent the next year moving around in the state of Abbottabad, out of range of British officials.[4]:25 After a year, he left Kashmir and moved toward Delhi.[4]:26

Almost two years after the British had issued his arrest warrant, believing his case was long forgotten, Balan arrived in Punjab and associated himself with several freedom groups. He advised students on distributing leaflets and organising public strikes. Balan was promptly picked up and imprisoned.[4]:26

He spent several months in unhygienic conditions in prison and caught typhus. Consequently, he was among those who were carried out into the night and tossed beside a road on the outskirts of the city.[4]:27

By his personal account, an Indian Christian lady was passing along that route the next morning and happened to notice the young man lying on the roadside, who reminded her of her own son serving in the army. The lady took Balan to her home and immediately called for a doctor, who insisted that the young man be taken to a hospital without delay.[4]:27

Career in Journalism (1945–1947)[edit]

After several difficult weeks, Balan slowly recovered his health. Sri K Rama Rao, eminent editor, noted freedom fighter and member of the first Rajya Sabha, gave Balan his first job as a journalist sub-editor at the National Herald at Lucknow and later at Delhi. [7]:26 He wrote a series of articles—short, critical satires—on the imperative of socialism in a society where the vast majority of people were poor. These were soon published regularly in Indian national papers.[4]:30

By the end of 1945, he started to write for The National Herald, a popular Indian newspaper, on subjects ranging from history and culture to social and political issues. Articles such as "In Praise of the Postman," and "The Mochi—Symbol of Craftsmanship," quickly gained him a reputation as a controversial character. In 1947, he began a new series of articles for The Commonweal.[4]:31

It was during this time of working as a journalist that he decided to write an article "exposing" sadhus. He travelled to Swami Sivananda's ashram in Rishikesh for this purpose. He later confessed, "I went not to gain knowledge, but to find out how the swamis were keeping up the bluff among the masses."[8]

Study of Vedanta (1947–1951)[edit]

In the summer of 1947, Balan arrived in Rishikesh, by the banks of the Ganga River and made the one-mile hike to the Divine Life Society, the ashram of the illustrious Swami Sivananda.

Discipleship under Swami Sivananda[edit]

In the Himalayas, Balan went from sceptic to enthusiast until finally becoming a renunciate monk. He began reading more about Hindu scriptures and reviewing spiritual books.[5]:35 Swami Sivananda recognised Balan's latent talents and entrusted him to organise a Gita Committee.[2] Having returned to the Divine Life Society ashram, on 25 February 1949, the holy day of Mahāshivarātri, Balan was initiated into sannyāsa (Hindu vow of renunciation) by Swami Sivananda, who gave him the name Swami Chinmayananda, or "bliss of pure Consciousness."[6]:9

Chinmayananda on the day of his Sannyas initiation, standing on the right of Guru Sivananda Saraswati and other disciples, 25 February 1949, Maha Shivratri Day, Rishikesh.

With Swami Sivananda's blessing, Chinmayananda soon sought out one of the greatest Vedantic masters of his time, Swami Tapovanam of Uttarkashi, and devoted the next few years of his life to an intensive study of Vedanta under the tutelage of the renowned ascetic.[6]:11

Discipleship under Swami Tapovanam[edit]

In the summer of 1949, Swami Chinmayananda set out on foot for the long trek to Uttarkashi, where Swami Tapovanam resided. Swami Tapovanam is acknowledged as one of the greatest Vedantins and spiritual masters of that time.[8] As his disciple, Swami Chinmayananda led an extremely austere lifestyle and underwent a rigorous study of the scriptures. His day began at three o'clock in the morning with an icy bath in the Ganga and sometimes ended late in the night after hours of meditation by the river.[5]:48

Launching of a Spiritual Movement (1951–1953)[edit]

In 1951, flying in the face of orthodox Hindu traditions, with the blessings of his guru, Swami Chinmayananda made the decision to bring the teachings of Vedanta to the masses, whereas it was traditionally a knowledge reserved only for Brahmins. When he began his life's work, the world's oldest scriptures were being taught in tiny, exclusive pockets with strict orthodoxy.[5]:10

In May of that year, Swami Chinmayananda left the Himalayas with a plan to set out on an all-India tour and to visit places of worship to see how the Hindu religious heritage was being handed down. He said of that time: “I was miserably disillusioned and disappointed about... the stuff doled out as the best in Hinduism.... My experiences during those five months of roaming only strengthened my conviction that I must execute... Upanishad Jñāna Yajña sessions (lecture series) all over India, in all the great cities."[6]:15

In a Ganesha temple in the city of Pune, in December 1951, Swami Chinmayananda held his first lecture series.[9] Only a handful of listeners sat around the swami during his first few discourses, but the size of audiences soon swelled into thousands.[6]:16 Army officers from the Southern Command came on their bicycles to listen; the audience overflowed into the lanes near the temple.[4]:82 Brahmin priests were called to conduct the yajna (Vedic ritual), and to their utter surprise, everyone in the audience, man and woman, across all social strata, was asked to participate in the rituals.[4]:93

Founder and Leader of Chinmaya Mission (1953–1993)[edit]

At the end of the second jñāna yajña in Chennai in 1953, a handful of people expressed the desire to create a forum for the study and discussion of Vedanta. Swami Chinmayananda agreed in principle, but he said, "Don't start any organization in my name. I have not come here to be institutionalized. I have come here to give the message of our ancient sages, which has benefited me. If it has benefited you, pass it on."[4]:120

The Chennai group insisted that the best way to "pass it on" was through the support of a forum. They wrote back pointing out that the word "Chinmaya" did not have to indicate Swami Chinmayananda's name, since, in Sanskrit, the world itself means "pure Knowledge," which they were seeking. Swami Chinmayananda conceded. On 8 August 1953, the Chinmaya Mission was formed.

Before long, hundreds of study groups were set up all over the country for people to get together in small batches to study religion and philosophy in a systematic manner. Devi groups were organised for women to take up regular spiritual study and social work.[5]:69

In 1956, the 23rd jñāna yajña in Delhi was inaugurated by the President of India, Dr. Rajendra Prasad. He spoke highly of the work Swami Chinmayananda was doing to restore India's cultural glory. In a span of five years, Swami Chinmayananda had instructed over 50,000 of his countrymen through 25 jñāna yajñas across the country.[4]:112

On 6 March 1965, Swami Chinmayananda set out on his first global teaching tour, covering 39 cities in 18 countries: Thailand, Hong Kong, Japan, Malaysia, United States, Mexico, Spain, United Kingdom, Belgium, the Netherlands, Sweden, Germany, Denmark, France, Switzerland, Italy, Greece and Lebanon.[4]:233

Over the next 28 years, he continued these international discourses, staying only a week or so in each place, delivering a minimum of two lectures a day, and handling numerous meetings, interviews, discussions, and programs.[5]:89 He wrote scores of letters a day, over and above all the other aspects of his busy daily schedule.[5]:88

It soon became necessary to co-ordinate the growing spiritual movement in the United States. Chinmaya Mission West was formed in 1975 for this purpose. Today, there are over 30 centres in the United States, each of which is an independently registered nonprofit entity. Their activities include Vedanta study classes, religious worship, spiritual seminars, cultural programs, local social services, and religious education for children known as Bala Vihar.[10]

Swami Chinmayananda's message resonated with heads of other faiths. One of his yajñas in Mumbai was inaugurated by Cardinal Valerian Gracias, a prominent Catholic archbishop of the time.[5]:78 The Dalai Lama, head of the Tibetan Buddhist order, visited with him at the Chinmaya Mission ashram in Sidhbari in 1981.[11] Swami Chinmayananda was a supporter of interfaith dialogue and participated in many interfaith events.

In 1992, he undertook a lecture tour of 12 American universities to establish an international library and research center, the Chinmaya International Foundation, in Kerala, India.[5]:83

Cofounder of Vishva Hindu Parishad[edit]

In 1963, Swami Chinmayananda wrote an article airing the idea of calling for a World Hindu Council, inviting delegates from throughout the world to discuss the difficulties and needs concerning the "survival and development of Hindu culture."[12] This attracted the attention of RSS pracharak S. S. Apte, who was airing similar ideas at that time. Apte and Chinmayananda jointly organised a such a conference at the Sandeepany ashram in August 1964, which resulted in founding of the Vishva Hindu Parishad. Swami Chinmayananda was elected the President of the organisation and Apte the general secretary of the new organisation.

Enduring Works and Legacy[edit]

There are numerous and diverse spiritual, cultural, and social projects that the Chinmaya Mission continues to administer and conduct in Swami Chinmayananda's memory.

Bala Vihar[edit]

In the 1960s, Swami Chinmayananda conceived and coined the term, "Bala Vihar," to create a Vedanta forum for children. Chinmaya Bala Vihar is a weekly gathering of children (ages 5–15 years) that takes place in Chinmaya Mission centres or in private homes, under the supervision of trained teachers.[4]:158 The goal of Bala Vihar is to impart value-based education through the study of such Hindu scriptures as Rāmāyaņa, Bhāgavatam, Mahābhārata, and Bhagavad-gītā. The lessons are often taught through parables and songs, in line with Swami Chinmayananda's vision that "children are not vessels to be filled, but lamps to be lit."[13]


Chinmaya Yuva Kendra (CHYK) is the global youth wing of Chinmaya Mission. CHYK conducts weekly classes for youth (for ages 16–30 years) to study and discuss Vedantic scriptures and concepts together. CHYK organises and conducts cultural, social, and spiritual programs around the world. Swami Chinmayananda launched CHYK in 1975 and created for it a Vedantic study curriculum that addressed the issues of young adults. He developed the motto of CHYK as "Harnessing youth potential through dynamic spirituality.[4]:160

Study Groups and Devi Groups[edit]

A Chinmaya Study Group involves 5–15 adults who meet at a mutually agreed time, place, and day for 90 minutes each week. Each group studies and discusses scriptural texts according to a prescribed syllabus that offers the seeker a systematic exposure to Vedanta.[4]:156 Swami Chinmayananda conceived the concept, format, and syllabus of the study group to cater to the request of spiritual seekers who were inspired by his discourses and wanted to continue some form of regular, methodical self-study of Advaita Vedanta in their homes.[citation needed]

The first Devi Group, or Chinmaya Study Group exclusively for women, was inaugurated in November 1958, in Chennai, India, with Swami Chinmayananda's blessings.

Ashrams and Spiritual Centers[edit]

Swami Chinmayananda established ashrams around the world as places for spiritual retreat, study, and practice.[4]:324

Temples and Shrines[edit]

Chinmaya Mission has built over 58 temples in India and abroad since 1950. Those locations that are closely associated with Swami Chinmayananda, Swami Tapovanam, and Adi Shankaracharya house sanctified shrines in their memory for meditation and prayer.[4]:327 Swami Chinmayananda personally inaugurated and consecrated most of the shrines in the Mission centres.[citation needed]

Sandeepany Sādhanālaya[edit]

In keeping with ancient Vedantic tradition, Swami Chinmayananda established Sandeepany Sādhanālaya as a modern-day gurukulam where students spend two years in intensive study and contemplation of Vedantic scriptures known as the Residential Vedanta Course. The institute trains dedicated people to teach at Mission centres.[citation needed]

Chinmaya Organisation for Rural Development (CORD)[edit]

The Chinmaya Organisation for Rural Development (CORD) is the social service wing of Chinmaya Mission to facilitate integrated sustainable development for the poor. It was founded by Swami Chinmayananda to give poor villagers access to the minimal necessities of life through self-empowerment.[14]

Educational Institutes (including CIRS)[edit]

From its beginnings in 1967 at a nursery school inaugurated by Swami Chinmayananda in Kollengode, Kerala (India), today there are over 76 Chinmaya Vidyalayas (schools), 7 Chinmaya colleges, and the Chinmaya International Residential School in India, and the first Chinmaya Vidyalaya outside India's borders, in Trinidad (West Indies).[15]

Medical facilities[edit]

Swami Chinmayananda inaugurated the Chinmaya Mission Hospital in 1970. The facility has grown into a modern, fully equipped 200-bed hospital in Bangalore in Karnataka, India.[citation needed]

In the late 1970s, Swami Chinmayananda established rural health care services in Sidhbari, Himachal Pradesh, India.[16]

Residential Vedanta Course[edit]

The first two-year residential Vedanta course was taught in English in Sandeepany Sādhanālaya, Mumbai, India, starting in 1970.[citation needed]

Dharma Sevak Course[edit]

Swami Chinmayananda introduced the first Dharma Sevak Course at the Sandeepany Sādhanālaya, Mumbai in 1991.[citation needed]


Swami Chinmayananda authored 95 publications in his lifetime, including 40 commentaries on classical scriptural texts, 8 compilations, 13 co-authored works and 34 original works. Over the years, luxury hotels in India started keeping a copy of his commentary on the Bhagavad-gītā in all their guest rooms. His books, written in English, have been translated into numerous regional Indian languages, including Hindi, Tamil, Malayalam, Marathi, Telugu, Kannada, Oriya, Bengali, Sindhi, and Urdu[4]:176 and at this stage in one international language, French.

Many of Swami Chinmayananda's talks were videotaped and made available to students for study. He also inspired the correspondence home-study lessons courses in Vedanta and Sanskrit that are now offered by CIF at basic and advanced levels.

BMI chart[edit]

The BMI (Body Mind Intellect) Chart is a teaching tool innovated by Swami Chinmayananda that became one of his hallmarks. It categorises the totality of human experience, according to the science of Vedanta, by drawing on 11 characters of the English and Devanagari alphabets.[17]

Suvarņa Tulābhāram (1991)[edit]

Forty years after his first jñāna yajña, on 24 December 1991, Swami Chinmayananda's devotees gathered in Mumbai to offer him an amount of gold equal to his body weight, presented to him on a tula (ceremonial balance scale) in an age-old ritual called suvarņa tulābhāram. The funds generated were used to support the myriad service projects and programs of Chinmaya Mission. The tula used at the ceremony is now placed in Chinmaya Jeevan Darshan, a monumental art and multimedia exhibit showcasing the life and work of Swami Chinmayananda. The exhibit is housed at Chinmaya Vibhooti in Kolwan, India.[18]

Honours and recognition[edit]

On 2 December 1992, Chinmayananda gave an address in the United Nations titled "Planet in Crisis."[19]

The US magazine, Hinduism Today, conferred him with its Hindu Renaissance Award and the title of "Hindu of the Year" in 1992.[20]

In 1993, he was selected as "President of Hindu Religion" for the Centennial Conference of the Parliament of the World's Religions in Chicago, where Swami Vivekananda had given his address one hundred years previously. He was also to be honoured for his selfless service to humanity in Washington, DC at "World Vision 2000," a conference of religious leaders organised by Vishva Hindu Parishad on 6–8 August 1993. He did not attend either of the latter two functions, as he died on 3 August 1993.[21]

Death (1993)[edit]

Chinmayananda had chronic heart problems He had his first heart attack in 1969, when his treatment at the newly-opened Chinmaya Mission Hospital in Bangalore made him its first patient.[5]:95 In the summer of 1980, when he was in the United States for a series of jnana yajnas, he had to undergo multiple heart bypass surgery in Texas.[4]:405

On 26 July 1993, Chinmayananda arrived in San Diego, California for a jnana yajna, but after a short rest in the afternoon, he had trouble breathing. On 29 July he had emergency heart bypass surgery at Sharp Memorial Hospital. His condition continued to be critical and he was put on a life-support system.[4]:430

He died on 3 August 1993 at 5:45 pm. His followers mark the date as the occasion when he attained mahasamadhi.[4]:431

On 7 August 1993, the aircraft carrying his body touched down at New Delhi's Indira Gandhi International Airport. His casket arrived bedecked with flowers. Thousands of people—devotees, Indian political leaders, members of the general public—lined up throughout the day amid police security to pay homage to him.[4]:433

His body was transported to Sidhbari, Himachal Pradesh, where it was finally laid to rest in accordance with Vedic rites and traditions. A mahasamadhi shrine has been built there.[4]:434

External links[edit]


  1. ^ a b Singh, Kuldip (11 August 1993). "Obituary: Swamy Chinmayananda". The Independent. Retrieved 23 January 2014. 
  2. ^ a b "Swami Chinmayananda". The Divine Life Society. Retrieved 23 January 2014. 
  3. ^ a b "About Us". Chinmaya Mission West. 2012. Retrieved 23 January 2014. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa Singh, Nanki (2011). He Did It. Chinmaya Mission West. ISBN 978-1-60827-006-4. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Krishnakumar, Radhika (2008). Ageless Guru: The Inspirational Life of Swami Chinmayananda. Central Chinmaya Mission Trust. ISBN 978-81-7597-064-9. 
  6. ^ a b c d e f Emir, Rudite (1998). Swami Chinmayananda: A Life of Inspiration and Service. Central Chinmaya Mission Trust. ISBN 1-880687-32-1. 
  7. ^ a b Vimalananda, Swamini; Sodhi, Vishva (2012). Manifesting Divinity: Chinmaya Vision on Education. Chinmaya Mission West. ISBN 978-1-60827-010-1. 
  8. ^ a b "Chinmayananda: 1916–1993". Hinduism Today. October 1993. Retrieved 25 January 2014. 
  9. ^ "Swami Chinmayananda". Transforming Indians to Transform India. 2014. Retrieved 25 January 2014. 
  10. ^ Anand, Priya (July 2004). "Hindu Diaspora and Philanthropy in the United States". 2003 International Fellowship program with Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society (New York, NY). Retrieved 1 February 2014. 
  11. ^ "Dalai Lama with Swamiji". Chinmaya Publications. Retrieved 25 January 2014. 
  12. ^ Jaffrelot, Christophe (2011). Religion, Caste, and Politics in India. C Hurst & Co. ISBN 978-1849041386. 
  13. ^ Koka, Anirudh (2013). "Pujya Gurudev Swami Chinmayananda: ‘By improving yourself, improve the world.’". Valley India Times. Retrieved 25 January 2014. 
  14. ^ "Swami Chinmayanada remembered". The Tribune. 11 May 2010. Retrieved 25 January 2014. 
  15. ^ "Chinmaya Education Movement". Central Chinmaya Mission Trust. Retrieved 25 January 2014. 
  16. ^ Diniz, Lisa (September 2005). "The Changing Face of Non-Traditional NGO Governance: The Case of the Chinmaya Rural Primary Health Care And Training Centre, (CRTC), India". FES Outstanding Graduate Student Paper Series (New York, NY) 10 (1). ISSN 1702-3548. Retrieved 3 February 2014. 
  17. ^ "BMI Chart". Chinmaya Mission Washington Regional Center. Retrieved 28 September 2014. 
  18. ^ "Suvarna Tulabharam". Chinmaya Mission Publications. Retrieved 25 January 2014. 
  19. ^ "Planet in Crisis, An address by Swami Chinmayananda at the United Nations". Chinmaya Mission Chicago. 2 December 1992. Retrieved 3 February 2014. 
  20. ^ "Hindu Timeline #5: 1800ce to the Present and Beyond!". Hinduism Today. December 1994. Retrieved 26 January 2014. 
  21. ^ Sadhana, Brahmacharini. "H.H. Swami Chinmayanandaji". Chinmaya Mission Delhi. Retrieved 3 February 2014.