Swami Chinmayananda was born on May 8, 1916 as Balakrishna Menon (Balan) in Ernakulam, Kerala in a devout Hindu family. Graduating from Lucknow University, he entered journalism where he felt he could influence political, economic and social reform in India. But his life was changed when he met Swami Shivananda at Rishikesh and became interested in the Hindu spiritual path.
Balakrishna Menon took sannyasin from Swami Shivananda and was given the name Swami Chinmayananda (the one who is saturated in Bliss and pure Consciousness). Swami Shivananda sent the young sannyasin to study under a guru, Swami Tapovan in the Himalayas, with whom he stayed for eight years.
Swami Chinmayananda felt a powerful desire to make his knowledge available to the world and after completing his study with his guru, left the Himalayas to teach Vedanta. During his forty years of travelling and teaching, Swami Chinmayananda opened numerous centres and ashrams worldwide and also built many schools, hospitals, nursing homes and clinics. Swami Chinmayananda passed away on 3 August 1993 in San Diego, California.
A most powerful incentive to the Swami’s spiritual journey was his meeting (while a high school graduate) of Sri Ramana Maharshi. His own recollection of the meeting goes thus:
“I was just emerging from high school, exams were over. On a package railway ticket I was roaming through South India. As the train steamed through the countryside at a halting speed, most of the passengers in my compartment suddenly peered through the windows in great excitement and bowed reverently to an elaborate temple beyond. Inquiring about it, I was told that it was the Tiruvannamalai Temple.
Thereafter, the talk of my fellow travellers turned to Ramana Maharshi. The word ‘Maharshi’ conjured up in my mind ancient forest retreats and superhuman beings of divine glow. Though I was at that time a convinced atheist, I was deeply drawn to visit the Maharshi’s Ashram. I chose to take the next available train to Tiruvannamalai.
At the Ashram I was told that the Maharshi was in the hall and anybody was free to walk in and see him. As I entered, I saw on the couch an elderly man, wearing but a loincloth, reclining against a round bolster. I sat down at the very foot of the couch. The Maharshi suddenly opened his eyes and looked straight into mine: I looked into his. A mere look, that was all. I felt that the Maharshi was, in that split moment, looking deep into me – and I was sure that he saw all my shallowness, confusions, faithlessness, imperfections, and fears.
I cannot explain what happened in that one split moment. I felt opened, cleaned, healed, and emptied! A whirl of confusions: my atheism dropping away, but scepticism flooding into question, wonder, and search. My reason gave me strength and I said to myself, ‘It is all mesmerism, my own foolishness.’ Thus assuring myself, I got up and walked away.
But the boy who left the hall was not the boy who had gone in some ten minutes before. After my college days, my political work, and after my years of stay at Uttarkashi at the feet of my master, Tapovanam I knew that what I gained on the Ganges banks was that which had been given to me years before by the saint of Tiruvannamalai on that hot summer day – by a mere look.”
During a talk in 1982 the Swami Chinmayanada said:
“Sri Ramana is not a theme for discussion; he is an experience; he is a state of consciousness. Sri Ramana was the highest reality and the cream of all scriptures in the world. He was there for all to see how a Master can live in perfect detachment. Though in the mortal form, he lived as the beauty and purity of the Infinite.”
[Extract: Face to Face with Sri Ramana Maharshi]
In the 1980s, while I was staying at the Ashram of Sri Sathya Sai Baba in Andhra Pradesh, one day a friend and I searched the bookshops of Puttaparthi, looking for a definitive and illuminating version of the Bhagavad Gita in the English language. We found, “The Holy Geeta,” with commentary by Swami Chinmayananda. My friend who was most eager to make an in-depth study of the Geeta, purchased the book and took it to darshan that afternoon. During darshan she reverently offered the book to Sri Sathya Sai Baba asking him for His Blessings. Swamiji took the book into his hands, riffled through some of its pages and looking at my friend said, “Take this book, study it. You have my Blessings.”
Inspired by Sri Sathya Sai Baba’s obvious approval and blessings of the Swami Chinmayanada commentary of the Bhagavad Gita, I myself spent a great amount of time studying that version of the sacred Gita. Subsequently if anyone has ever asked for a recommendation of the Bhagavad Gita, with an excellent and clear explanatory commentary, I always refer them to The Holy Geeta by Swami Chinmayananda.