A Life of Inspiration – Balan to Swami Chinmayananda

The Formative Years

“The future is carved out of the present moment. Tomorrow’s harvest depends upon today’s ploughing and sowing.” – Swami Chinmayananda

In Kerala, the birthplace of Adi Shankara and many other spiritual giants, was born Balakrishnan Menon (Balan), who was to become Chinmayananda. He was born in the city of Ernakulam on May 8, 1916, as the eldest son of a munsif (judge), named Kuttan Menon. Balan lost his mother, Parukutty Amma, when he was five. His mother’s sister, Kochu Narayani Amma, brought up Balan and was called Mother by him.

Young Balan

Watch the Film on Gurudev Swami Chinmayananda here.

From 1937 to 1939 he studied at St. Thomas College, where he earned a BA degree. He went on to Lucknow university to take post graduate degrees in literature and law. While still at Lucknow University, Balakrishnan joined the Quit India movement. He actively participated in India’s independence movement and was imprisoned. In prison, he became seriously ill and was consequently released.

Youth brought with it a quickening of the intellect. He plunged headlong into life to see what promise of pleasure and success worldly existence held for him. Brilliant, handsome, and engagingly witty, he easily attracted to him people and events that seemingly spelt worldly success. And yet, a deep unrest churned at the back of his mind.

After graduation, choosing journalism over law as a career, he joined a leading newspaper, The National Herald, as a regular feature writer. Earlier, while convalescing at his cousin Achyuta Menon’s house , young Menon chanced upon the magazine published by Divine Life Society and read some articles by its founder, Swami Sivananda, that aroused both his interest and skepticism.

The old unrest recurred. A dormant destiny beckoned. Still skeptical, yet burning with irresponsible fervor, young Menon’s mind began to turn towards the Himalayas.

Gurudev on cycle

Rebirth into a New Life

“You have to die to relive as Brahman.” – Swami Chinmayananda

Although still a sceptic, his curious eagerness took him to Rishikesh in the Himalayas to seek out Swami Sivananda.

In the Himalayas, the young seeker turned into an enthusiast and finally became a renunciate monk. On February 25, 1949, Balakrishnan Menon took sannyasa from Swami Sivananda, who gave him the name Swami Chinmayananda, “The Bliss of Pure Consciousness.”

Watch a Documentary on Swami Chinmayananda here.

Swami Sivananda urged the young initiate to study with one of the greatest Vedantic Masters of his time, Swami Tapovanam of Uttarkashi. Swami Chinmayananda was devoted to an intensive study of the scriptures under the Master.

Flying in the face of tradition, the young sadhu made the bold decision to bring the teaching of Vedanta to the masses, knowledge traditionally reserved for the elite classes only. In January  1950, he left the Himalayas with a plan to set out an all-India tour and visit places of worship to see how the Hindu religious heritage was being handed down. His tour continued through early April, bringing with it a fresh understanding of the spiritual state of the populace and a conviction that a spiritual renaissance was much needed.

Gurudev studying scriptures

After his initial tour, he returned to study at his Master’s feet. Then, in September 1951, he made a quick tour of India before returning to Gangotri in October for further study. However, the conviction that he needed to share what he had learned brought him once again back to the plains.

That conviction was first realised in the city of Pune in December 1951, when Swami Chinmayananda held his first lecture series. Only a handful of listeners sat around the young swami during his first few disclosures, but the size of audience soon swelled into thousands. Word spread about the clarity of the young swami’s teaching, the dynamism of his words, and the infectious warmth of his wit. After savouring the power of Swami Chinmayananda’s presence and the absorbing details of his stories, his listeners soon came to  experience the piercing relevance that the young teacher’s words held for their own personal lives. They realised that he was talking about them and their daily struggles and yearnings, not about the mouldy relics of an irrelevant tradition.

Swami Chinmayananda near master's feet

Published from the book – ‘A Life of Inspiration – Swami Chinmayananda’ by Central Chinmaya Mission Trust

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