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Making philosophy a way of life

As the Chinmaya Mission in Chennai is in its golden jubilee year, it is the right time to take a look at the diverse activities of the organisation.

A HALL packed to capacity, pin drop silence, a speaker whose personality is best described as charismatic, a clear voice that grips your attention using science and logic interspersed with quotations from the great masters of diverse faiths to explain some of the truths in our own scriptures, add to it a generous dash of wit and humour — this was the ethos at the Geeta Gnana Yagnas that Swami Chinmayananda conducted since his first public address in Pune in December 1951. Young and old came to listen and this was the seed of a vision of Swamiji. Thus was born the Chinmaya movement with an aim of spreading Vedanta to all corners of India and the world. Over the years, the Chinmaya Mission has grown to have a global presence. The Chinmaya Mission at Chennai is in its golden jubilee year — a big achievement in terms of both time and achievements.

Although the aim of Chinmaya Mission is to spread the message of Vedanta, which is the core of Hindu philosophy and the universal science of life, it does not seek to convert or change anyone's beliefs.

The Chinmaya Mission's scroll of honour is embellished with excellent work in understanding and promoting Indian culture, music, dance, literature, research, education and medical aid, to name a few. A peek into the many faceted organisations' activities shows how it is trying to fill a vacuum in our lives.

Swami Chinmayananda was born on May 8, 1916 as Balakrishna Menon in Kerala. He took university degrees in Law and Literature before plunging into the Indian freedom struggle. He undertook an assignment in The National Herald to "expose" the activities of the sadhus. This led him to Swami Sivananda's ashram in Rishikesh. His meeting with Swami Sivananda overwhelmed him and questions like the purpose of life and the secret of permanent happiness haunted him. He decided to become a sadhu himself and was born as Swami Chinmayananda in 1949.

It was to Uttarkashi in the Himalayas that Swami Sivananda guided him and for meeting Swami Tapovanam, who later initiated him into a rigorous study of the scriptures. An extensive tour of the country made him see degradation in human life. It was now a single-pointed goal to share the knowledge that brought fulfilment to his life. The essence of Indian philosophy is Vedanta and the Chinmaya Mission disseminates knowledge of this `science of life'. Spiritual camps, which are week-long spiritual retreats, are organised in which people learn, reflect and relax. Youngsters can take part in spiritual camps meant especially for them. Add to that regular classes at the Mission Centre and there is an opportunity for each one to imbibe this knowledge. Study groups consisting of 5-15 people meet at convenient locations to study the scriptures.

The Vedanta course is a two-and-a- half-year course for those who wish to become teachers of Vedanta and is conducted in Mumbai in English and at Sidhbari in Hindi. "Children are not vessels to be filled, but lamps to be lit", said Swami Chinmayanda. Thus Bal Vihars were set up and they met at the Mission or in private homes under the supervision of trained sevaks or volunteers. . Senior citizens meet under the banner of Central Chinmaya Vanaprastha Sansthan, spread across the country. Persons above 60 years of age find ways to improve their lives and pursue spiritual goals. Community projects, health check ups, financial advice and other activities are used to bring about a qualitative change in their lives. For those senior citizens who wish to live in a homely environment, there are eight Pitamaha Sadans in different states, including two at Tamaraipakkam and Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu.

Women are not left behind and Devi groups meet for spiritual study, devotional singing and cultural activities. These groups help women to voice their problems and try to find solutions through discussions.

Giving back to society is the bedrock of any organisation and Chinmaya Mission has done so through its rural village development projects. Chinmayaranyam is a project being conducted from Ellayapalla village (Cuddapah district) . Health and socio-economic conditions are the prime concern of the Central Rural Primary Health Care and Training Centre in Himachal Pradesh. Health care, adult literacy, mahila mandals, yuvati samoohs to deal with problems of adolescent girls like dowry and the caste system, Balwadis... the list goes on and it has made significant changes in the social set up. The Chinmaya Seva Centre helps women to sell carpets and clothes that they produce through outlets in Bangalore, New Delhi and Sidhbari. Chinmaya Rural Development Centre in Kerala and Chinmaya Seva Project help the local people to learn different skills . The Chinmaya Mission has taken the cause of education forward by setting up 71 Chinmaya Vidyalayas in the country that follow the CBSE syllabus. Good staff, teaching of Indian culture and extra curricular activities help students to strive for academic excellence and all round growth. Hari Har schools provide free education for poor children, particularly vocational training . An International Boarding School near Coimbatore attracts children from both India and abroad. It is affiliated to the CBSE and the International Baccalaureate (Geneva), enabling children to qualify for admission to colleges in India, US, Australia and elsewhere. Six colleges located in Kerala offer degrees in commerce and arts subjects and television technology.

A sound mind in a sound body is what the Mission believes in and it has set up medical services and training centres in rural and urban areas. A modern 200 bed hospital in Bangalore has state-of-the-art facilities in all areas of medical services. Training of nurses is another area and the Chinmaya Institute of Nursing at Bangalore offers training to 90 students. The centre in Sidhbari, Himachal Pradesh is a boon to the rural folk and around 30,000 patients are treated every year. Arogya Seva Project is conducted in Maharashtra and Gujarat and offers monthly eye camps and diagnostic check-ups and immunisation services for villagers and their children.

Few realise what a wealth of insight there is in Vedanta in the area of management. The Chinmaya Institute of Management (CIM), which is an organ of the Chinmaya Institute of Higher Learning in Bangalore integrates core values into management. The Chinmaya Mission is a many faceted organisation and there is no aspect of life that it has not touched. Publications of the Mission in most Indian languages, both for adults and children, bring us closer to our national treasures. Its 243 centres in India and all over the world have touched the lives of many people and given them a new perspective. With Swami Tejoyamananda as its head now it is a mission that goes on and on like our sacred rivers. The words of Swami Chinmayananda reverberate in our ears to "think! think!" and help in this mammoth task to "build for yourself a Temple of Peace which no man can take away, no power can destroy. With a life of harmony, find your joy in yourself, exactly where you are now."


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