Chinmayananda Saraswati

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Sourire coul 2.jpg
A portrait of Chinmayananda in 1990
Balakrishna Menon

(1916-05-08)8 May 1916
Died3 August 1993(1993-08-03) (aged 77)
San Diego, California, U.S.
Resting place: Sidhbari
Founder ofChinmaya Mission
Vishva Hindu Parishad
PhilosophyAdvaita Vedanta
Religious career
GuruSivananda Saraswati
Tapovan Maharaj
Literary worksThe Holy Geeta[1] and many others[2]
  • "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."

Swami Chinmayananda Saraswati (born Balakrishna Menon; 8 May 1916 – 3 August 1993) was a Hindu spiritual leader and a teacher. In 1951, he founded Chinmaya Mission, a worldwide nonprofit organisation, in order to spread the knowledge of Advaita Vedanta, the Bhagavad Gita, the Upanishads, and other ancient Hindu scriptures. Through the Mission, Chinmayananda spearheaded a global Hindu spiritual and cultural renaissance that popularised these spiritual texts and values, teaching them in English all across India and abroad.

Chinmayananda was originally a journalist and participated in the Indian independence movement. Under the tutelage of Swami Sivananda and later Tapovan Maharaj, he began studying Vedanta and took the vow of sannyasa. He gave his first jñāna yajña, or lecture series about Hindu spirituality, in 1951, starting the work of the Mission. Today, Chinmaya Mission encompasses more than 300 centres in India and internationally and conducts educational, spiritual, and charitable activities.[3]

Chinmayananda's approach was characterized by an appeal to the English-educated Indian middle class and Indian diaspora; he gave lectures and published books in English. Chinmayananda also helped found the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP), an Indian right-wing Hindu organization that is considered a member of the Sangh Parivar. In 1964, he convened delegates to create the VHP at Sandeepany ashram and served as the organisation's first president.[4] He aimed to "awake(n) the Hindus and to make them conscious of their proud place in the comity of nations," saying that, "Let us convert Hindus to Hinduism, then everything will be all right."[5]:42

Chinmayananda authored 95 publications, including commentaries on the major Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita. He was a visiting professor of Indian philosophy at several American and Asian universities, and he conducted university lecture tours in many countries.


Indian independence movement and imprisonment

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. A warrant was issued for his arrest. When word of this reached him, he went undercover spending the next year moving around in the state of Abbottabad, out of range of British officials, and then moved to Delhi.[6]:25–26

In 1944, 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 but was arrested and imprisoned.[7] He spent several months in unhygienic conditions in prison and caught typhus. This caused him to be among those who were carried out into the night and tossed beside a road on the outskirts of the city, where he was found by a passing Indian Christian. Reminded of her son serving in the army, she took him to her home and called for a doctor, who insisted that he be taken to a hospital.

Career in journalism

Balan's article "The Mochi, Symbol of Craftmanship," published in the National Herald on December 20, 1946.

Balan slowly recovered his health. K. Rama Rao gave Balan his first job, as a journalist at The National Herald, a young newspaper that had been founded a few years back by Jawaharlal Nehru.[8][9]:26 He wrote a series of articles on the imperative of socialism in a society where the vast majority of people were poor. He covered 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," gained him a reputation as a controversial character. In 1947, he began a new series of articles for The Commonweal.[6]:31

Study of Vedanta

It was while working as a journalist that he travelled to Sivananda's ashram in Rishikesh for this purpose of writing an exposé of the sadhus. He later said, "I went not to gain knowledge, but to find out how the swamis were keeping up the bluff among the masses."[10] In the summer of 1947, Balan arrived in Rishikesh, by the banks of the Ganges and made the one-mile hike to the Divine Life Society, the ashram of Swami Sivananda. The sages opened his eyes. Balan extended his stay from a week to a month, then more and more. At the age of 31, he went from being a sceptic to an enthusiast, finally becoming a renunciate monk. He began reading more about Hindu scriptures and reviewing spiritual books. Sivananda recognised Balan's latent talents and entrusted him to organise a Gita Committee.[11] Having returned to the Divine Life Society ashram, on 25 February 1949, the holy day of Mahashivratri, Balan was initiated into sannyasa (Hindu vow of renunciation) by Sivananda, who gave him the name Swami Chinmayananda, or "bliss of pure Consciousness."[7]

Chinmayananda on the day of his Sannyas initiation, standing on the right of Sivananda Saraswati and other disciples, 25 February 1949, Maha Shivratri Day, Rishikesh.
Swami Tapovan Maharaj and Swami Chinmayananda at Uttarkashi, 1956

With Sivananda's blessing, Chinmayananda sought out one of the greatest Vedantic masters of his time, Tapovan Maharaj of Uttarkashi, and devoted the next few years of his life to an intensive study of Vedanta under his tutelage.[7] As his disciple, from 1949, Chinmayananda led an extremely austere lifestyle and underwent a rigorous study of the scriptures.

Launch of spiritual movement

Swami Chinmayananda's impromptu satsang in an alley

In 1951, flying in the face of orthodox Hindu traditions but with the blessings of his guru, Chinmayananda decided to bring the teachings of Vedanta to the masses. In May of that year, he left the Himalayas with a plan to set out on an all-India tour and to visit places of worship to see how 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."[12]:15

Chinmayananda held his first lecture series at a Ganesha temple in the city of Pune in December 1951.[13] His audiences soon swelled from a handful into thousands.[12]:16 Army officers from the Southern Command attended and the audience overflowed into the lanes near the temple.[6]:82 Everyone in the audience, man and woman, across all social strata, was asked to participate in the rituals.[6]:93

Chinmaya Mission

Audience at a jñāna yajña by Swami Chinmayananda in South India

At the end of the second jñāna yajña in Madras in 1953, a handful of people expressed the desire to create a forum for the study and discussion of Vedanta. 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."[6]:120

The Madras 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 Chinmayananda's name, since, in Sanskrit, the word itself means "pure Knowledge," which they were seeking. He 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.[14]:69

In 1956, the 23rd jñāna yajña in Delhi was inaugurated by the President of India, Rajendra Prasad. He spoke highly of the work Chinmayananda was doing to restore India's cultural glory. In a span of five years, Chinmayananda had instructed over 50,000 of his countrymen through 25 jñāna yajñas across the country.[6]:112

On 6 March 1965, 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.[6]: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.[14]:89 He wrote scores of letters a day.[14]:88

Swami Chinmayananda leading the prayer at an interfaith seminar, Harvard University, Massachusetts, 1971

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.[15]

Chinmayananda's message resonated with heads of other faiths. One of his yajñas in Bombay was inaugurated by Cardinal Valerian Gracias, a prominent Catholic archbishop of the time.[14]:78 The Dalai Lama, head of the Tibetan Buddhist order, visited with him at the Chinmaya Mission ashram in Sidhbari in 1981.[16] Chinmayananda was a supporter of interfaith dialogue and participated in many interfaith events.[citation needed]

In 1992, he undertook a lecture tour of twelve US universities to establish an international library and research center, the Chinmaya International Foundation, in Kerala, India.[14]:83

Vishva Hindu Parishad

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."[17] This attracted the attention of RSS pracharak S. S. Apte, who was airing similar ideas at that time.

In the same year, Chinmaya Mission collected Rs. 10,000 to fund the construction of the Vivekananda Rock Memorial, which the RSS was building at the time in Kanyakumari. Additionally, in August 1964, the Pope announced that the International Eucharistic Conference would be held in November in Bombay,[18] and stated that a specific number of Hindus would be converted to Christianity; Chinmayananda announced in response that he would convert an even greater number of people to Hinduism.[19][20][21][22]

Apte and Chinmayananda jointly organised such a conference at the Sandeepany ashram in August 1964, which resulted in the founding of the Vishva Hindu Parishad. Swami Chinmayananda was elected as president and Apte as general secretary of the new organisation.[4]

According to Chinmayananda, the VHP was founded in order to

awake(n) the Hindus and to make them conscious of their proud place in the comity of nations. Once we have made every Hindu conscious of his own identity, the Parishad has done its job and we shall feel fully rewarded... ...

Let us convert Hindus to Hinduism, then everything will be all right.[5]:42

He also believed that the VHP should be focused on educating members of the Hindu diaspora and their children about knowledge of their "cultural duties and spiritual values" and give them the opportunity to "learn, to appreciate and involve themselves in our tradition".[5]:43 In the 1980s, Chinmayananda also supported the VHP's Ekatmata Yatras, stating that those who oppose the yatras "have no respect for national unity and suffer from alienation from the country."[23]:44

In 1992, Chinmayananda attended the Vishwa Hindu Parishad's 5th European Hindu Conference in Frankfurt, Germany, where the ongoing Ayodhya dispute was a major topic of discussion. During the conference, he stated that the 14 pillars of the Babri Masjid that were identifiable as Hindu temple pillars should be turned over to the Hindus.[24] The mosque was illegally destroyed by VHP activists later that year in an escalation of the Ayodhya dispute.

In January 1993, he gave an interview to Ram Madhav in which he discussed the demolition of the Babri Masjid. Comparing it to the fall of the Berlin Wall, he asserted that "pulling down that structure is nothing wrong" because it was not really used as a mosque.[25][26] "[F]irst let us have this Rama Temple," he said, after which there were "two more monuments which are built upon our Krishna’s birth place and Kashi Viswanath." He stated that enthusiasm for the Ram Temple today was not enough, asking Hindus, "Are we ready to live Rama’s life?"[25]

At the time of his death, Chinmayananda was to have been a featured speaker at the World Vision 2000 Global Conference in Washington, D.C., from Aug. 6 through 8, staged by the VHP to mark the centenary of Swami Vivekananda's 1893 address to the Parliament of World Religions.[27][28] On August 8, five days after Chinmayananda died, conference delegates observed a moment of silence in tribute to him.[27]


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.[14]: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 surgeries in Texas.[6]:405

On 26 July 1993, he suffered breathing problems in San Diego, California. Taken to Scripps Memorial Hospital in La Jolla, he was later transferred to Sharp Memorial Hospital, where he had a quintuple bypass surgery on 29 July. But his condition continued to be critical and he was put on a life-support system.[6]:430 He died five days later at 5:45 PM on 3 August 1993, aged 77.[27] His followers mark the date as the occasion when he attained mahasamadhi.[6]:431

On 7 August 1993, thousands of people were at Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi when his body returned to India. It was transported to Sidhbari, Himachal Pradesh, where it was finally laid to rest in accordance with Vedic ritual. A mahasamadhi shrine has been built there.[6]:433–434

At the time of his death, Chinmayananda was to have spoke at the VHP's World Vision 2000 Global Conference in Washington, D.C. and led the Hindu delegation for the 1993 Parliament of World's Religions, both events which took place later that August.[29][27]


Forty years after his first jñāna yajña, on 24 December 1991, 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.[30]


Chinmaya Mission

Chinmayananda established ashrams around the world as places for spiritual retreat, study, and practice.[6]:324

There are numerous and diverse devotional, spiritual, cultural, and social projects that the Chinmaya Mission continues to administer and conduct in Chinmayananda's memory, including the Bala Vihar,[31] the Chinmaya Yuva Kendra (CHYK, the global youth wing of Chinmaya Mission),[6]:160 and Chinmaya Study Groups for adults, which are also known as Devi Groups.[6]:156 The Mission has also constructed over 58 temples in India and abroad[6]:327 and it operates the Chinmaya Organisation for Rural Development (CORD), which was founded by Chinmayananda to facilitate integrated sustainable development for the poor through self-empowerment.[32]

Chinmaya International Foundation

He established the Chinmaya International Foundation at the Tharavad house of Adi Shankara which the foundation bought - in the village Veliyanad in Eranakulam District in Kerala.

Nursery school

From its beginnings in 1965 at a nursery school inaugurated by Chinmayananda in Kollengode, Kerala (India), today there are over 76 Chinmaya Vidyalayas (schools), seven Chinmaya colleges, and the Chinmaya International Residential School in India, and the first Chinmaya Vidyalaya outside India's borders, in Trinidad, West Indies.[33]

Medical facilities

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, Chinmayananda established rural health care services in Sidhbari, Himachal Pradesh, India.[34]


Chinmayananda authored 95 publications in his lifetime, including forty commentaries on classical scriptural texts, eight 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-gita in all their guest rooms.[citation needed] His books, written in English, have been translated into numerous regional Indian languages, including Hindi, Tamil, Malayalam, Marathi, Telugu, Kannada, Odia, Bengali, Sindhi, and Urdu[6]:176 and in one European language, French. His birth centenary has been celebrated with publication of Chinmaya Birth Centenary Series. A series of 12 books are being published. The eleventh in the series is on Sadhana - the spiritual trail. The book is named as 'Life of I[35]'

BMI chart

The BMI (Body Mind Intellect) Chart is a teaching tool innovated by 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.[36]

Honours and recognition

Prime Minister Modi addresses the audience at the release of a commemorative coin to mark the birth centenary of Swami Chinmayananda, in New Delhi on May 08, 2015.

On 2 December 1992, Chinmayananda addressed the United Nations and the talk was titled "Planet in Crisis."[37]

The US magazine, Hinduism Today, conferred him with its Hindu Renaissance Award and the title of "Hindu of the Year" in 1992.[38]

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.[39]

On 8 May 2015, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi released a commemorative coin to mark his birth centenary.[40]


In 2014, On a Quest, an English-language biopic featuring the life and works of Chinmayananda, was released.[41] In June 2022, the movie was released to the public on YouTube in English, Hindi and Sanskrit languages.[42] In August 2022, the movie was released in Tamil, Telugu, and Malayalam languages.[43][44][45]

See also


  1. "Chinmaya Publications - Books by Swami Chinmayananda". Chinmaya Publications. Retrieved 11 April 2021.
  2. "C C M T |". Retrieved 3 September 2021.
  3. 4.0 4.1 "Historic World Hindu Conference". Vishva Hindu Parishad. Retrieved 2 April 2021.
  4. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Katju, Manjari. "The Early Vishva Hindu Parishad: 1964 to 1983". Social Scientist. 26 (5/6): 34–60. doi:10.2307/3517547. ISSN 0970-0293. JSTOR 3517547.
  5. 6.00 6.01 6.02 6.03 6.04 6.05 6.06 6.07 6.08 6.09 6.10 6.11 6.12 6.13 6.14 6.15 Singh, Nanki (2011). He Did It. Chinmaya Mission West. p. 176. ISBN 978-1-60827-006-4.
  6. 7.0 7.1 7.2 "Chinmayananda Commemoration Days", Religious Celebrations: An Encyclopedia of Holidays, Festivals, Solemn Observances, and Spiritual Commemorations, (J. Gordon Melton, ed.), ABC-CLIO, 2011ISBN 9781598842067
  7. "Official website". National Herald. Retrieved 29 August 2018.
  8. Vimalananda, Swamini; Sodhi, Vishva (2012). Manifesting Divinity: Chinmaya Vision on Education. Chinmaya Mission West. ISBN 978-1-60827-010-1.
  9. "Chinmayananda: 1916–1993". Hinduism Today. October 1993. Retrieved 25 January 2014.
  10. "Swami Chinmayananda". The Divine Life Society. Retrieved 23 January 2014.
  11. 12.0 12.1 Emir, Rudite (1998). Swami Chinmayananda: A Life of Inspiration and Service. Central Chinmaya Mission Trust. ISBN 1-880687-32-1.
  12. "Swami Chinmayananda". Transforming Indians to Transform India. 2014. Archived from the original on 2 March 2014. Retrieved 25 January 2014.
  13. 14.0 14.1 14.2 14.3 14.4 14.5 Krishnakumar, Radhika (2008). Ageless Guru: The Inspirational Life of Swami Chinmayananda. Central Chinmaya Mission Trust. ISBN 978-81-7597-064-9.
  14. Anand, Priya (July 2004). "Hindu Diaspora and Philanthropy in the United States" (PDF). 2003 International Fellowship Program with Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society. New York, NY. Retrieved 1 February 2014.
  15. "Dalai Lama with Swamiji". Chinmaya Publications. Archived from the original on 23 September 2015. Retrieved 25 January 2014.
  16. Jaffrelot, Christophe (2011). Religion, Caste, and Politics in India. C Hurst & Co. ISBN 978-1849041386.
  17. Clarke, Peter. Encyclopedia of New Religious Movements. Routledge. p. 675. ISBN 978-1-134-49970-0.
  18. Haynes, Jeff. Religion, Globalization and Political Culture in the Third World. Springer. p. 194. ISBN 978-1-349-27038-5.
  19. McKean, Lise. Divine Enterprise: Gurus and the Hindu Nationalist Movement. University of Chicago Press. p. 102. ISBN 978-0-226-56009-0.
  20. "Chinmayananda: 1916-1993". Hinduism Today. Retrieved 9 October 2022.
  21. Saraswati, Swamini Brahmaprajnananda. "Swami Chinmayananda and Swami Dayananda's contribution to the Vedanta sampradaya" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 23 October 2021.
  22. Katju, Manjari. Vishva Hindu Parishad and Indian Politics. Orient Blackswan. ISBN 978-81-250-2476-7.
  23. Bijil, Ron; Bijil, Maria; Sundaram, Surya; Suresh, Subra; Dave, Romnik. "Police Protection Needed at Germany VHP Conference". Hinduism Today. Vol. 14, no. 11. Kapaa. p. 7. ProQuest 232451158. Retrieved 3 September 2021.
  24. 25.0 25.1 "Temple in Ayodhya a Must". Chinmaya Yuva Kendra. Archived from the original on 30 December 2008.
  25. sarojini52. "Temple In Ayodhya Is a Must – Swami Chinmayananda". Arise Bharat. Retrieved 4 September 2021.
  26. 27.0 27.1 27.2 27.3 Sundaram, Viji. "Swami Chinmayananda Dies After Heart Surgery". India - West. San Leandro, California. p. 32. ProQuest 365345028. Retrieved 3 September 2021.
  27. Anand, Tania. "Global Vision 2000, staged by VHP in US, turns controversial for overseas Hindus". India Today. Retrieved 3 September 2021.
  28. "1993 Chicago: Chicago 1993 |". Archived from the original on 3 September 2021. Retrieved 22 November 2017. {{cite web}}: |archive-date= / |archive-url= timestamp mismatch (help)
  29. "Suvarna Tulabharam". Chinmaya Mission Publications. Retrieved 25 January 2014.
  30. Koka, Anirudh (2013). "Pujya Gurudev Swami Chinmayananda: 'By improving yourself, improve the world.'". Valley India Times. Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 25 January 2014.
  31. "Swami Chinmayanada remembered". The Tribune. 11 May 2010. Retrieved 25 January 2014.
  32. "Chinmaya Education Movement". Central Chinmaya Mission Trust. Archived from the original on 16 February 2014. Retrieved 25 January 2014.
  33. 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" (PDF). FES Outstanding Graduate Student Paper Series. New York, NY. 10 (1). ISSN 1702-3548. Retrieved 3 February 2014.
  34. Ishwarananda, Swami; Raghunathan. "Life of I - On the Sadhana Trail". Sadhana Trail. Chinmaya Publications. Archived from the original on 11 July 2016.
  35. "BMI Chart". Chinmaya Mission Washington Regional Center. Archived from the original on 12 December 2001. Retrieved 28 September 2014.
  36. "Planet in Crisis, An address by Swami Chinmayananda at the United Nations". Chinmaya Mission Chicago. 2 December 1992. Retrieved 3 February 2014.
  37. "Hindu Timeline #5: 1800ce to the Present and Beyond!". Hinduism Today. December 1994. Retrieved 26 January 2014.
  38. Sadhana, Brahmacharini. "H.H. Swami Chinmayanandaji". Chinmaya Mission Delhi. Archived from the original on 17 October 2018. Retrieved 3 February 2014.
  39. "Narendra Modi releases coin to commemorate birth centenary of Swami Chinmayananda". Retrieved 8 May 2015.
  40. Prasanna, Rs, On a Quest (Documentary, Biography, Drama), Chinmaya Creations, retrieved 11 June 2022
  41. On a Quest (English) | A biopic on the life of Swami Chinmayananda | Chinmaya Creations | Full Movie, retrieved 11 June 2022
  42. On the Quest (Tamil) | A biopic on the life of Swami Chinmayananda | Chinmaya Creations| Full Movie, retrieved 28 October 2022
  43. On the Quest (Telugu) | A biopic on the life of Swami Chinmayananda | Chinmaya Creations| Full Movie, retrieved 28 October 2022
  44. On a Quest (Malayalam) A biopic on the life of Swami Chinmayananda | Chinmaya Creations| Full Movie, retrieved 28 October 2022

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