6 May 2013

Swami Chinmayananda and The Holy Geeta

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. 


Snobby SydneySider said...

What a wonderful post to read about the great Swami Chinmayananda and the Maharishi. I first learned about the Maharishi while reading the life story of Swami Chinmayanda! I am fortunate enough to have been blessed by Swami Chinmayananda about a year before his samadhi. The head of the Chinmaya Mission, Swami Tejomayananda has written an excellent commentary on the Maharishi's Saddarsana. Did you know that Swami Chinmayananda met the Maharishi met once again in Tiruvannamalai after he took Sannyas? It is written in his biography but not much information is given about that second meeting.

Meenakshi Ammal said...

Thank you for your very interesting comment and information. I did NOT know that Swami Chinmayananda (after he had taken sannyas) met the Maharshi a second time. Would appreciate a link to that second meeting if available.

Last year a large number of people participated in a study group of the Bhagavad Gita here at Tiruvannmalai, which took place over the course of a month.

When seeing them daily on their way to their meeting venue, I used to think that they would probably be better served in studying the Swami Chinmayananda, "The Holy Geeta," quietly in their homes.

One of the most striking qualities of the Chinmayananda commentary is that it explains the meanings of the sutras in a lucid, unpatronising and illuminating fashion -- so that even one unfamiliar with Vedic terminology can easily follow.

Snobby SydneySider said...

Yes. His Geeta commentary is a spiritual classic. You should also read the Kailash Yatra, written by Tapovan Maharaj - his guru. He literally walked all the way from India to Mt. Kailash! I also highly recommend watching Swami Nikhilanda Saraswati's (also from Chinmaya Mission) Geeta discourses which are available on YouTube and Speaking Tree. He spends a week discussing each chapter of the Geeta. Very enjoyable and interesting discourses.

Shambo Mahadev said...

Most of the people don't know about the meeting of Chinmaya with Bhagawan Ramana and Chinmaya's life took a U turn and he became that only after this meeting.

Alok Sinha said...

I have been blessed by both Swami Chinmayananda & Arunachala-Ramana Maharshi combo. To the best of my knowledge, Swami Chinmayanad after leaving Swami Tapovana Mahraj, had come to Thiruvannalmalai and had sat in samadhi for few days in one of the caves of Arunachala hill before he attained realization.

I dont know, this was before or after 14th April 1950 - Mahasamadhi of Ramana Maharshi.