Hinduism is a Dharma-centric religion and tradition that stands on the firm foundation of Vedanta philosophy. The teachings of Vedanta are universal in nature and eternally applicable to every person irrespective of class, race, or gender identity.
These teachings of Vedanta, which were once confined to Patshalas (traditional schools) and particular Guru Paramparas (lineages), are now widely available in a simple language to common people everywhere, thanks to the continued efforts of various teachers and organizations.
One such organization which is foremost in spreading Vedanta all around the world is Chinmaya Mission, founded in 1953 under the guidance of late Swami Chinmayananda.
Swami Chinmayananda was a spiritual master and a teacher of Advaita Vedanta, who was inducted into the monastic order by Swami Sivananda of Divine Life Society. He was a dynamic teacher who authored more than 95 books, including insightful commentaries on the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita.
In 1951, when Swami Chinmayananda left Himalayas on an India-wide tour, he realized that there was a need to spread the teachings of the Upanishads to common masses. As a result, he started his first Jnana-Yajna sessions (lecture series) in December 1951.
In 1953, after a session of Jnana-Yajna held at Madras, some devotees expressed their intention to form study-groups for studying and discussing various aspects of Vedanta. Thus, the Chinmaya Mission was set up, under the guidance of Swami Chinmayananda.
Today, Chinmaya Mission has around 325 centers in 25 countries, including India, UK, USA, Canada, South Africa, UAE, Bahrain, Sri Lanka, Trinidad, Indonesia and France. It conducts a large number of activities that range from conducting Vedanta courses and Indological research to rural development, and imparting education.
Speaking to NewsGram through email, Manisha Khemlani, the Chief Operating Officer of Central Chinmaya Mission Trust (CCMT) said: “Every activity undertaken by Chinmaya Mission is guided by the vision and mission of our founder and inspiration, Swami Chinmayananda. Our Mission Statement reads, ‘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.’ To put it in a nutshell, every activity we undertake seeks to give maximum happiness to maximum people for maximum time.”
The mission has established various Vedanta institutes which exclusively focus on imparting teachings of the Upanishads and the Advaita Vedanta. The very first Vedanta institute ‘Sandeepany Sadhanalaya’ was established at Powai, Mumbai in 1963. Today Sandeepany institutes (as the Vedanta institutes are called) are present in Kolhapur, Sidhbari in Himalayas, Piercy in Northern California, Prayag, Kasaragod in Kerala, Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu, and Chokkahalli in Karnataka.
When asked about the significance behind naming all Vedanta institutes as ‘Sandeepany’, Khemlani said: “They were named after Rishi Sandeepany who was the guru of Sri Krishna. Swami Chinmayananda has said that ‘Sandeepany’ symbolizes the kindling of Perfection in the hearts of men.”
Chinmaya Mission offers various courses related to Hinduism in general and Vedanta in particular. A two year residential course is offered at the Vedanta institutes for graduates (both unmarried and married). The course curriculum includes teaching of Sanskrit, Vedic chanting, Bhagavad Gita, Upanishads, Brahma-Sutras, and also the Prakarana Granthas (Instruction books) of Adi Shankaracharya.
Regarding the medium of instruction used in Vedanta institutes, Khemlani said that in Sandeepany Mumbai the courses are taught in English, whereas they are taught in Hindi in Sandeepani Sidhbari and in regional languages in other institutes.
Chinmaya mission also conducts basic and advanced postal and e-courses on Vedanta both of which has a duration of 1 year. A simple course on various aspects of Dharma and Vedanta is taught in ‘Dharma Sevak Course’. The mission also conducts a ‘Purohita Course’ to train priests in the intricacies of Hindu rituals. The course trains students in the Vedas, Agni-Karya (fire ritual), Upasana (worship), Homa (fire worship) and other aspects of ritual worship.
Apart from teaching Vedanta and ritual worship, the mission also conducts a one-year ‘Youth Empowerment Program’ that addresses youth issues and trains youngsters to find solutions of those issues.
Another sector where the mission has made enormous contribution is education. It had started its first school in 1965 in Kerala. Now there are eighty-one ‘Chinmaya Vidyalayas’ across India in states like Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha, and Uttar Pradesh. The mission also inaugurated its first school outside India in 2003 in Trinidad. It also runs 7 colleges across India.
The mission has also founded ‘Chinmaya Organization of Rural Development (CORD)’ for the purpose of integrated and sustainable development of rural and underprivileged communities. It’s activities include health awareness camps, vocational trainings, Balwadis for teaching small children, literacy drives, and forming Mahila Mandals (women’s groups) and self-help groups among others.
To carry out research into Sanskrit, Hindu scriptures and Indology, Chinmaya Mission established ‘Chinmaya International Foundation (CIF)’ in 1990. The center is mandated to study and disseminate knowledge in areas of Indian philosophy, culture, art, and science.
They have conducted numerous seminars and workshops in various aspects of Indology and have published various research papers and books. They also conduct online and postal courses in Sanskrit Grammar, Vedanta, Bhagavad Gita, and Vedic mathematics. This November, the foundation is conducting an ‘International Conference on the Contribution of Advaita Vedanta to Humanity’ in Pune as part of the birth centenary celebrations of Swami Chinmayananda.
Chinmaya Mission has made enormous contributions in the field of health as well. It has established ‘Chinmaya Mission Hospital (CMH)’ and ‘Chinmaya Institute of Nursing (CHIN)’ in Karnataka to provide quality health facilities. In order to promote Indian art and culture, the mission started Chinmaya Naada Bindu in 2009, in Kolwan, near Pune. It currently teaches Hindustani Vocal, Hindustani Flute, Bharatanatyam, and Tabla.
Apart from this, Chinmaya Mission is also involved in numerous centers and activities that target infants (Shishu Vihar), children (Balvihar), youth (Chinmaya Yuva Kendra), middle aged (Setukari), and the old-aged people (Chinmaya Vanaprastha). It also conducts various study groups, and spiritual camps like ‘Jnana Yajnas’ to spread spiritual awareness among people.
This session, i.e. 2015-2016, the mission is celebrating a year-long Birth Centenary Celebrations (BCC) of spreading the message of Swami Chinmayananda. Khemlani said: “It is also our way of expressing gratitude for all the he has done. This is encapsulated in the motto of BCC – Unto Him, Our Best.”
The year-long activities include global level projects as well as grassroots level programs. The celebrations were launched in Ernakulam, Kerala, by former President of India, Late Dr APJ Abdul Kalam on May 6, 2015. One of the activities that the mission has taken up is “Chinmaya Jyoti”- an eternal flame that will be taken across the country and later it will be placed in their Vision Centre – Chinmaya Vibhooti, Kolwan, to serve as a source of inspiration for every seeker.
Another activity that they have taken up as part of BCC is the screening of an inspirational movie on the life of Swami Chinmayananda titled “On a Quest.” The movie traces the journey, the struggle, and the self-discovery of Balakrishna Memon who later became Swami Chinmayananda.
In Chicago, USA the movie was first screened in May 2015, which was also attended by the team members of NewsGram. The screening saw overwhelming responses from the audience. Dr. Munish Raizada of Chicago said: “Swami Chinmayananda is an example of how a one man army can transform the lives of millions of people. Today, Chinmaya Mission is playing a pivotal role in bringing Indian culture closer to the hearts of children, particularly outside India. Chinmaya Mission centers are living examples of Indian culture, traditions, and religion, particularly geared towards teaching children. This is a great biopic and more and more people should actually see it to understand his inspiring life.”
Following the huge success of its first screening, the Chinmaya Mission is now organizing another screening of the movie on October 24 in Chicago.
Other important activities being carried out as part of BCC include the International Geeta Chanting Competition and the distribution of two booklets, one on the life and vision of Swami Chinmayananda and the other on the activities of the Chinmaya Mission. The mission is distributing the booklets free of cost and hopes to reach around 40 lakh people using these booklets. Government of India also released two commemorative coins of Rs 10 and Rs 100 on May 8, 2015, as a tribute to the contributions of Swami Chinmayananda to the nation.
Swami Chinmayananda has inspired millions of people to turn away from materialism and become spiritually dedicated. He was one of the foremost guide, leader, and teacher of Hinduism in the last century.
Chinmaya Mission has successfully managed to carry forward his legacy by transforming the lives of millions of people in India as well as abroad through its initiatives in the fields of Vedanta, art, culture, education, health, and self-sustenance. The mission has further succeeded in placing Vedanta and other Hindu spiritual practices on a global map.