Focus On Sandeepany: In Service Of Self And Society

All-India Swamins Brahmacharins of Chinmaya Mission Meet at Chinmaya Vibhooti Ashram, Kolwan, Pune (2019)

Dr. Arundhati Sundar (Chinmaya International Foundation) answers Aparna Shridhar (Indica Moksha) on the modern-day Gurukula for Advaita Vedanta envisioned by Swami Chinmayananda(1916-1993).

(Note: In the interview Arundhati refers to Swami Chinmayananda often as Gurudev or Swamiji)

Dr Arundhati Sundar has been a part of Chinmaya Mission and Sandeepany, modern Gurukulas established by Swami Chinmayananda, since her college days.  Giving prominence to Prasathanatrayi education of the Upanishads, Bhagawad Gita and the Brahma Sutras, the Sandeepany institutions are preserving the core values of Hinduism among the youth. From her earliest memory of visiting the Himalaya Sandeepany to awaiting the inauguration of the 19th Vedanta Course in Mumbai in English in Jan 2024, and the 14th course in Hindi in Sidhabari in April 2024, she talks about the journey of the Sandeepany Sadhanalaya through the eyes of a sadhaka. She quotes a name which appears in the archana part of the Guru ashtottaranamavali of Pujya Gurudev – “utsāhavardhakāyanamah”, (Namaskar to the one who energises (me) with enthusiasm and inspiration), saying dharmikas cannot rest or be dejected.

For more details and to register for the Vedanta Course starting January 2024 please visit https://sandeepany.chinmayamission.com/

How did your family come into Swami Chinmayananda’s fold?

My sister and I were curious after reading the small books by Swami Vivekananda on Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga and Jnana Yoga and felt we should know Indian philosophy. At that time my mother’s friend encouraged us to ‘check out’ the Chinmaya Vignana Mandir that was running in Churchgate. We started to attend and found the concepts intriguing yet fascinating. For the first 2-3 months, we had innumerable questions. The teacher answered a few. We also realized that answers and explanations would come over several sessions. Then Swami Chinmayananda came to the Chowpatty grounds with his Geeta Jnana Yagna. There was no turning back. We were sure that something fundamental had changed in those seven days at an intellectual, emotional, and spiritual level.  We later realized that my grandmother was a Vedantin who attended the satsangs of several Mahatmas. My mother was a natural bhakta. Neither understood a word of English. My father and brother came in touch with Swami Chinmayanandaji much later. On my husband’s side, he and his the siblings attended Chinmaya Balavihar since a very young age and their engagement in the Chinmaya Mission grew from then.

My sister, a young architect, inspired by Pujya Swami Chinmayananda, joined the Sandeepany Sadhanalaya in Powai, in 1984 with Swami Tejomayanandaji as the course ācharya. After dīkṣā the young brahmachārini was posted to Ahmedabad in Gujarat. She travelled widely across Gujarat and amongst the Gujarati diaspora and Chinmaya Mission centres across the country and overseas.

In 1992, Gurudev initiated her into sannyāsa as Swamini Vimalananda. In 1996, Swamini Vimalananda was posted in Coimbatore as Director of the Chinmaya International Residential School and later the Director of the Chinmaya Education Cell.

Arundhati Sundar with Swamini Vimalananda at Chinmaya Gardens, Coimbatore, August 2018

The Chinmaya Education Movement had humble beginnings with a nursery school in Kollengode, Kerala in 1967 (India). The Movement today encompasses over 80 Chinmaya Vidyalayas (schools), 7 Chinmaya colleges, and the Chinmaya International Residential School in India, and seven Chinmaya Vidyalaya outside India’s borders, in Trinidad (West Indies) the first being in 2003, the latest being the Chinmaya VishwaVidyapeeth, a de novo University in Kerala in 2017.

Swamini Vimalananda, as director of the Education Cell, formalised Chinmaya Vision Programme (CVP) the hallmark of education at the Chinmaya Vidyalayas, based on the foundational principles of integrated development as envisioned by Pujya Gurudev. To promote and encourage CVP principles and mindset, Swamini conducted extensive orientation and training programmes, launched Chinmaya Drishti magazine to communicate best practices across 80+ institutions, and gave shape to many innovative programmes. One that comes to mind is the 200 hours Seva Projects undertaken by the secondary schoolers of Chinmaya Vidyalayas. The projects, guided by the teachers, inspired the children to be the change-makers addressing local issues, a real-life lesson in matching their own interests, building their capacities, while positively contributing to society.  The CVP programme training was not restricted to Chinmaya Institutes but provided to several educational organisations at national and international forums.

Swamini Vimalananda, besides the directorship of the Education Cell, has conducted the six-week Dharma Sevak Courses for over 15 years, innumerable Meditation Camps, including the Purascharana Sadhana Camp in 2021-22. Besides her Vedanta publications, she has written LEEP, aimed at bringing Bhagavad Gītā to the University Curriculum, and co-authored “Why Do We… In Indian Culture” which, since its first print in 1999, has seen phenomenal popularity, with translation from English into eight Indian languages, five European languages and Nepali.

In terms of my family, we have been very blessed indeed. My father, after his study at Sandeepany Sadhanalaya, lived as a vanaprastha at the Chinmaya Gardens Ashram. He was initiated into sanyāsa by Swami Tejomayananda. True to his given name, Swami Nijananda (or Pappaji as he was called by all), felt his life very fulfilled.

What are your earliest memories of being part of the Sandeepany Sadhanalaya project?

In Chinmaya Misssion, the Gurukulas for Advaita Vedanta are called Sandeepany. The first Sandeepany that was set up was Sandeepany Sadhanalaya in Mumbai in 1963.

My earliest memory is visiting Sandeepany Himalaya, located at the foothills of the Dhauladhar Range, in Sidhabari near Dharamshala. I had gone to attend a spiritual retreat being conducted by Pujya Gurudev.  Locally called Tapovan, Sandeepany Himalaya was established to conduct the Vedanta Course in Hindi. At that time the course was being conducted by Brahmachari Vivek Chaitanya, later to become Swami Tejomayananda. He became the head of Chinmaya Mission worldwide in 1993. There was a young dynamic group of Brahmacharin students. Their Vedic chanting from 5-5:30 a.m. was as though in one voice, so perfect that it entranced me, settling the mind for the meditation session that followed.

Being the early days of the ashram, there were only basic facilities. All of us had to scramble for hot water in the mornings. I wondered how the Brahmacharins managed to have everything set up, having conducted the puja, etc. all before 5 a.m. With a laugh they revealed that the stream required no queuing. Down a slippery stone pathway bordering the pine forest, that every now and then was visited by wild animals, in the cold Himalayan December, they took their bath at 4/ 4:30 AM, long before the light of dawn. I was thoroughly impressed with this dedicated, cohesive group who came from Odisha, Assam, Punjab, Rajasthan, UP, etc.

I came to know later about Sandeepany Sadhanalaya in Mumbai, when attending the Chinmaya Yuva Kendra (CHYK) Camp. Later when my sister joined the course at Sandeepany Sadhanalaya, I became so familiar with the Powai Sandeepany that I felt it was a second home. At Sandeepany in Mumbai, too, the group was diverse, from every part of India as well as from Europe and North America. The Acharya for the course was Swami Tejomayanandaji. The discipline observed by the Brahmacharins that I saw never felt forced. All classes started and ended on time. From very early morning to dinner time, the routine was anchored around the classes on Vedantic texts. Their daily sadhana included shramadaan/karma yoga i.e. working to clean up the 10 acre campus, the temple premises, polishing the brass utensils, and decorating the ashram in preparation for festivals like Shivaraatri or some big events. Despite what could be considered monotony by city folk, there was always a sense of enthusiastic energy in the group. In the five years from 1984 to 1989, I probably visited at least once a week and occasionally stayed longer from a week to a month.

Why do you think Swamiji has referenced Swami Vivekananda, for India needing foot soldiers? Are their philosophies and approaches similar for transformation?  

Swami Chinmayananda’s and Swami Vivekananda’s philosophy and approach had a lot of overlap. Their philosophical roots in Advaita are identical – there can be no ‘two’ in Advaita. In their approaches to taking the philosophy and dharma to the people, there are also many similarities.

Swami Chinmayananda while setting up Sandeepany Himalaya said “We want an army of Vivekanandas all over the country. The problems are so severe that they can no longer be remedied by even a handful of persons. Thus, I have to start many training centres, and our hopes are that all of them will bring forth true Vivekanandas.”

For one, Swami Vivekananda is an instantly recognisable household name, an archetypal figure who represented renaissance and transformation for the modern Indian.He epitomised the qualities of the yogi as a hero. At a time when the colonizer had thrown all of Hinduism into the bin by labelling it “superstition”, Swami Vivekananda had garnered tremendous respect in the western intellectual arena, starting in Chicago. Swami Vivekananda, upholding the loftiest heights of Hinduism, stormed onto the world stage. To the Hindu, whose pride was being trampled to dust, Swami Vivekananda truly brought an awakening.

Several decades after Swami Vivekananda, in the newly independent country, despite significant socio-political changes, many of the same problems remained and the challenges were far greater. The political and social leadership did not tap into the inherent wisdom of the Indian civilisation, and completely ignored the cultural genius that could revive the country.

Swami Chinmayananda was deeply rooted in Advaita through his learning with his Guru Swami Tapovan Maharaj, and his sevā bhāva was inspired by his diksha guru Swami Sivananda’s immense work at Rishikesh.

As instructed by Swami Tapovan Maharaj, Swami Chinmayananda travelled across India by foot, bus, bullock cart, and train, through villages and towns, temples and ashrams. He recognized the urgent need of the masses to recover from colonial rule – the challenges were not just economic.  The priests, temples, and related religious / spiritual organisations were totally ill-equipped for the task of guiding the faltering population. The English-educated intelligentsia was entranced by the economic and scientific accomplishments of the West, and blind to the knowledge systems that had nourished this land for millennia.

Naming it the Jnana Ganga project, Swamiji started the arduous tasking of “converting Hindus to Hinduism” through study of the foundational philosophy accompanied by practice. Very soon, Swamiji realized the immensity of the task and for the need of trained teachers who could span the country. That is when he conceived of the Sandeepany, a modern Gurukula. The very first “college” was called Sandeepany Sadhanalaya, emphasizing study and sadhana, both being essential for the transformation of the individual. Both aspects were structured for the modern university-educated youth, while the space provided a conducive atmosphere for Gurukula living, right on the outskirts of a bustling metropolis.

As he interacted constantly with people of all walks of life, the elite and the common folk, Swami Chinmayananda, recognised that Hindu culture, values, knowledge and practises that were traditionally imparted in the home, absorbed by the children in a very organic manner, were eroded by the trend towards nuclear families. It was also increasingly clear to him that popular culture was disconnected with Hindu culture and values. There was an urgent need in society for “an army of Vivekanandas” who were rooted in the foundational philosophy and able to interpret, communicate and serve for the current society.

Of course, the statement was aspirational, a standard to be achieved by the sadhaka Brahmacharins. Gurudev often said, “set the goal so high that one may never reach…, striving to reach the ideal, that is where you grow, day by day, week by week”.

Is the crisis of culture and identity among Hindus worsening in modern day India as people prefer to be a-religious. How can Sandeepany Sadhanalaya become more mainstream to stem this?

If we look at the current scenario in terms of influence on children and youth it is home, school and college, and media. The situation in the home, especially due to the trend of nuclear families and neglect of even a one or two generations is one of disconnect with the ancestral traditions. The education in schools and colleges is dominated by content that has roots entirely outside of Bharat. Science, technology and mathematics taught only topics studied in the West in the last 2-3 centuries as if the Bharat that was coveted by the colonialists, had nothing to offer. Architecture students even to this day study nothing of the temples that have withstood lightning strikes, storms and earthquakes over millenia.

Popular media also do not present noble role models and frequently distort and ridicule the very source of Hindu culture. Hinduism itself becomes a target either covertly, overtly, or by neglect.

The genius of Swami Vivekananda, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Bharatiyar, Sri Aurobindo and Swami Chinmayananda was that they were absolutely clear that a crisis of identity can only be solved by rediscovering the roots of the Bharatiya religious, cultural and spiritual identity. That alone can become the source, offering an abiding solution, catering to every individual, irrespective of individual circumstances.

As established by Swami Chinmayananda, the Sandeepany ‘graduates’, the Brahmacharins and Swamins, continue their journey of transformation through sharing the precepts of Advaita Vedanta, in whatever field they are placed. This was Swamiji’s way to keep the parampara of the jnanaganga flowing. Over four decades of Pujya Swami Chinmayanandaji’s work, the Chinmaya Mission (CM) expanded its presence and seva in many spheres: Balavihars for children, 80+Chinmaya Vidyalayas, to the Chinmaya Yuva Kendra for teenagers and young professionals, the Study Groups for adults, the various spiritual retreats, village level outreach provided by Chinmaya Organisation for Rural Development. In the three decades after Pujya Gurudev’s mahasamadhi, this model of engaging Sandeepany graduates in the day-to-day activities of the Mission, the growth of Mission has exploded across the global and launched phenomenal new ventures.

The reason for listing a few of the Chinmaya Mission activities is to emphasize the role of the Swamins and Brahmacharins, all graduates of Sandeepany, who continue the ‘parampara’.

With regards to making it mainstream, when you notice the Mission today, you see it is already popular. The activities of CM provides space for both jnāna and sevā or karma yoga for all types of people to engage. Thus, from those who are simply curious, to the sādhakas, the CM is drawing people towards the śāstra, the itihāsas and the culture of the sant-mahātmas. In short, providing a forum for satsang for seekers in countless ways.

Starting in the 50s, Pujya Gurudev did the ‘mainstreaming’ by bringing the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita from the lofty Himalayas and remote ashrams into the midst of the cities, addressing colleges and schools, armed forces camps and business houses, academics and rotarians, and even politicians, traveling extensively in India, and over five continents and 40 countries. During his travels, breakfast, lunch and dinner bhiksha was in countless different homes with neighbours, relatives and friends interacting with him very closely.  Swamiji communicated extensively through his books, and his letters, and disseminated information through posters and leaflets.

During his very first Jnana Yagna in Pune, Swamiji would, in the afternoons, set out on a bicycle with the old-style microphone and a satchel with the leaflets, calling out to people to attend the Upanishad talks at the Ganesha Temple by Swami Chinmayananda! Imagine the surprise of the people when they turned up to find that the speaker was the same person who had handed them the leaflet!

The means of communication available today are so much more. The extremely popular Upanishad Ganga Television series, “On A Quest” a biopic on the life of Swami Chinmayananda, etc., The Geeta 365 App and Geeta Capsules, Meditation podcasts, and many such initiatives have been popular.

In terms of impact, Chinmaya Mission’s academic institutions in India, has been tremendous. The Chinmaya Vision Programme (CVP) the hallmark of education at the Chinmaya Vidyalayas, is based on the foundational principles of integrated children’s development as envisioned by Pujya Gurudev. Swamini Vimalananda gave shape to many innovative programmes with the CVP implementation. One that comes to mind is the 200 hours Seva Projects undertaken by the secondary schoolers of Chinmaya Vidyalayas. The projects, guided by the teachers, inspired the children to be the change-makers addressing local issues, a real-life lesson in matching their own interests, building their capacities, while positively contributing to society.  The CVP programme training was not restricted to Chinmaya Institutes but provided to several educational organisations at national and international forums.

Chinmaya Vidyalayas would have seen over one million students walk through their halls and graduate through their doors. In any given year there are over 75,000 students enrolled, with over 3,500 dedicated faculty members, and over 1,500 administrative staff members. In 2015-16, Swamini Vimalananda documented the story of the Chinmaya Education Movement in the book, “Manifesting Divinity”, published by the Central Chinmaya Mission Trust.

Today, there is great satisfaction in seeing echoes of CVP in the ideas and language of NEP2020.

What aspects of Sandeepany should remain unchanged even with all the changes happening around us?

Change is the only constant in the manifest world. Given that, I think, authenticity of the Parampara is its strength. Maintaining that core, while adapting the language of the message and adopting newer technologies and platforms increases the appeal. The youth especially, wish to be a part of a grand and meaningful transformation in society. The secret to that is personal transformation, which is at the heart of Vedanta.

Our outreach can definitely be greater when shared by institutions like Indica. Given the immensity of the task we need to connect with as many as possible. There needs to be a sea-level rise in dharmika thoughts.  Dharmika tendencies are inherently integrating, harmonising society.

The role of gurus, swamis and swaminis is very vital. Do they need to have a certain persona to be both gurus as well as preservers and promoters like Swamiji was?

One does not have to imitate Gurudev. Gurudev himself forged a new path distinct from Swami Sivananda and Tapovan Maharaj while retaining the core tradition of the shruti.  Similarly the Swamins tend to predominantly work in the areas that best suits their inherent svabhava. Eg some Swamins preferentially work with the youth while some other may excel in Sangeet pravachan.

Gurudev’s graduation address to the Brahmacharins when their Vedanta course ended carried a message that serves as a guidance to this day: Do not think you are going to teach them anything. When you address the people, it is an opportunity for loud mananam, those present simply get to overhear.

Swami Advayananda conducting the Vedanta Class at Sandeepany Sadhanalaya, Powai, Mumbai

Guru is a very specific term in the Parampara – it’s not like the Guru claims the position, it’s the individual who accepts someone as a Guru. The Guru too, has to accept the shishya. It’s a process of mutual recognition and acceptance. Pujya Gurudev warned the Swamins “Do not set out to be a Guru”. Many of the Swamins that I have heard or interacted recognize that it is the ‘chatrachāyā’ (the umbrella) of Gurudev Swami Chinmayananda that is at play.

 Managing a Gurukula or being a teacher requires a shedding of ego that scholarship seems to naturally foster. The students of Sandeepany are very different. How does this transformation happen?

Sandeepany’s goal is different.  It is an institute to nurture a serious sadhaka in their journey. The primary goal is not academic and it is definitely not to merely create panditas. Yet, the study is rigorous and intense. It is total immersion 24×7 for two years.  A few who join in fact may drop off, unable to keep up with the discipline, or for other reasons.

Vidya fructifies with vinaya, humility. Occasionally, when adulation comes too early, the maturity to handle it may be absent. Also, Gurudev’s method was in some ways a very tough examination. Instead of remaining in the protected atmosphere of the ashram, the graduates of Sandeepany find themselves in the midst of the society, with all its chaos and confusions, having to deal with committees, limited resources, managing volunteers, motivating, directing, inspiring, while still finding the time for one’s sadhana and svādhyāya. Retaining one’s core spiritual objective, navigating the obstacles of life can be challenging. I guess, it requires an entirely different level of surrender and faith.

Taking the long view though, the spiritual journey is one of unfoldment, of evolution, probably over several janma. One cannot force. It’s the sincerity, consistency of effort that one relies on. Some go directly on their journey, some meander and wander… I would say, hypocrisy would be the one thing to avoid, but easier said than done.

 The formal structure and routine of the two-year course seems to be cherished by students.  Would you know how Swamiji arrived at this structure and how many years did he take to make this vision into a workable model?

Swamiji, when he started was the sole person shouldering all of the many activities of the mission, besides being the acharya for the course. Sometimes when he was on the yagna tour of 2-3 months, the brahmacharins would get assignments and self-study material. I’ve heard that Gurudev after arriving from a flight at midnight or 1 AM, would announce to the waiting Brahmacharins – a class in 20 or 30 minutes, because he would have a scheduled board meeting at 6 or 7 AM and be addressing a group in the city following the meeting! In those days the course took over five years.

Subsequently, when a dedicated acharya was possible the course initially was 2 1/2 years and then 2 years, occasionally being extended by 1 or 2 months as necessary. The textual syllabus core is the prasthāna-trayi: Bhagavad Gita, Upanishads, and Brahma-sutra chatusutri, with Adi Sankara’s bhāshya, the prakarana granthas like Tattva BodhaĀtma Bodha, Nārada Bhakti Sutra, were covered.

In subsequent courses regional Bhakti and Advaita literature, parts or entirety of the Ramayana, Bhāgavat Purāna, Stotras of Adi Shankaracharya were added.

Vedic Sukta chanting and Meditation remain as the start of day sessions in all of the courses to this day. By the mid-80s, the model has more or less been set.

Please could you share anecdotes of a few students whose transformation is remarkable and whose lives have impacted others to turn to our philosophy?

In some ways one can say that there is remarkable transformation in everyone who undergoes this intensive course.

Very early on was Swamini Sharadapriyananda.  She was the first woman student to join the Vedanta course – at a time when Pujya Swami Chinmayananda had not considered that women would want to join up. The Yashodalaya, the women’s hostel facility was subsequently built, and since then every Vedanta Course has attracted several women sādhakas.

Sharada-amma was a well-established social worker and Gandhian from Hyderabad and joined Sandeepany in her late 30s. Her remarkable contribution and seva was in Chinmayaranyam in Elayapalle in the Cudappah district of Andhra. She established an orphanage, and supported the children until they were skilled enough to start a trade or and the supported and educated the girls till they married. Moreover, about 80 acres of dry hillock land was transformed into lush greenery, providing water not just for the ashram but the villages around during the years of monsoon failure. The village land became valuable and there was a reversal of the younger generation abandoning the villages. She was also the acharya of the first Sandeepany in the Telugu language. In her 70s she learnt to use a laptop including in the Telugu language, and wrote extensively. Transforming innumerable, Amma’s life has inspired many. I have personally been blessed with her satsang as a youth in Mumbai.

Swamini Sharadapriyananda

.Swami Madhavananda

In contrast, Swami Madhavananda was a youth of 18, when he attended talks on the Bhagavad Gītā of Swami Atmananda of Chinmaya Mission in Odisha. The young medical student had an interesting question for Swami Atmananda: “How can I become like you?” Swamiji said, join the Sandeepany –the Hindi course is in Sidhabari in Himachal and English in Mumbai. Swamiji set off on a train journey to Himachal. On the way, in Delhi, he got robbed of all his possessions. With no money, no clothes, no address, and no ticket, all he could remember was Himachal, so he landed up in Shimla its capital. From there he went to Jammu and finally landed up at the Tapovan Ashram after two months. Demonstrating his total commitment, he was accepted as a student. Since the days of his own studentship in the mid 80s, Swamiji has served youth, adults and seniors in several cities, and also as the Acharya for the Vedanta Course at Sandeepany Himalaya.

The scholarship of the graduates is very eclectic and non-didactic. The epics, the Vedas, Upanishads, Puranas, rituals…. that’s a wealth of knowledge. The 5 to 6 years course is now 2 years. How is all this imbibed in a short span of time?

When Pujya Gurudev started, he was the only Acharya. He had to take extensive tours from 2-3 weeks to 2-3 months, in India and overseas, to establish the mission as well as generate funds for Sandeepany. The Sandeepany Brahmacharins then would be assigned study material until Swamiji’s return. Some of the early Course students have related how Pujya Swamiji would land at the airport from one of his tours and arrive past midnight. He would cheerfully greet the eagerly waiting students andannounce: see you in class in 20 minutes and stride into his kutiya to freshen up and be on the vyāsa-pīṭha at the right time. Hence the duration of the course was 5-6 years long.

The curriculum largely covers besides the prasthāna-trayī, Sanskrit for Shastra Studies, overview of the Ramayana and the Bhagavatam, overview of the Mahabharata, the puja ritual and chanting of Bhagavad Gita, Vishnu Sahasranama, major Vedic suktas, etc. It does not cover the Vedas (as a whole except conceptually) nor all the Puranas. The methodology provides the complete tool set for studying śāstra. What we have seen is that for most graduates this becomes the start of their learning journey and they never ever stop learning. Texts from their own regional language (e.g., Tulsi Ramayan or Mukunda Mala or Narayaneeyam or KaivalyaNavaneeta etc) are also taught in the Sandeepany courses of regional languages.  That is the success of the model, and this is accomplished in two years.

What is the role of Bhakti in transformation, according to this education? Are Bhakti and Jnana seen as two paths or are both a must? How does it work for most students?

Pujya Gurudev used a striking analogy – for an airplane to take off two wings are necessary… for a bird to fly two wings are necessary. For a sādhaka, the wings are the head and heart. Bhakti nourishes the heart while textual study grows the head. If either wing is stunted, the spiritual journey is impaired, one could crash. Sandeepany creates an atmosphere where the head and heart have the soil to flourish – each student devices the mix of Bhakti and Jnāna that is right for themselves for continued nurturing of the inner personality.

Mantra and Dhyana are tools most darshanas use as tools for inquiry and introspection.  What role do they play in Sandeepany?

The śāstra itself specifies śravana, manana and nishidyāsana (aka dhyānam) for a full understanding and abidance in the Truth of jīva-brahma-aikyaShravana itself is an essential requisite for the practice of dhyanaManana on the texts proceeds alongside shravana. The daily routine at Sandeepany includes time for japa, kirtan, pūjā, attending the temple ārati, etc. to nurture one’s bhakti. The sādhaka chooses their own sādhana according to their predisposition. Also, at different points of time, there may be greater emphasis on some particular aspect.

Gayatri Havan at Sandeepany

The combination of a lifestyle of disciplined routine, the daily deep dive into Vedantashravana, guidance in sadhana is provided by the resident acharyas. Then the atmosphere of the ashram and the temple becomes a conducive environment for sadhana.

We all know that sādhana is never a straight line of progress. When there is a block, the student has opportunities to discuss with their acharya.

 Are we anywhere near achieving Swamiji’s vision? As you embark on another batch in 2024, what are the important milestones according to you in this journey? 

On a lighter note, I feel, the word sanātana has a dual implication: One, the dharma and jnana itself is sanātana, ever-new, ever-refreshing, ever-relevant; and therefore two, the effort for required for growing sanātana dharma has to be ever-new, ever-refreshing and must find new relevance for every aspect of society’s existence.

Swamiji fulfilled his vision, of laying the foundation as well as demonstrating of how one can move from vision to manifestation of the vision. Through Sandeepany, Swamiji created a model for the modern Gurukula. Nine Sandeepanies, in seven languages, over 700 students trained and currently over 300 actively serving Brahmacharins, Swamins and grihasthas across the world.

After Pujya Gurudev, it was Swami Tejomayanandaji who became the head of the Chinmaya Mission worldwide for 24 years, and now the mantle is carried on by Swami Swaroopanandaji.

What Pujya Gurudev created was a diverse, complex, geographically wide-spread setup. Except for the Advaita Vedanta at the core, no two centres are alike in their activities. The activities in each of the centres, reflect the predilections of the local head Swamin or acharya, the trust, and the active volunteer members.

Many a milestone achieved:  Besides the Sandeepany Courses, the jnana-seva continues through Dharma Sevak Courses over last 20 years, Yuvaveer Courses over 15 years, Vedanta Sadhaka Course 2021-22, and innumerable Sadhana retreats across the world, besides all the regular Gita Gnana Yagnas, Upanishad Studies, Home Study Courses, and publications of various Vedanta Books, audio and video talks. During the lockdown due to the Corona pandemic, thousands and thousands, from Seniors to Shishu-vihara and Balavihar children, were served by YouTube talks  and Online interactive classes.

In Mumbai, 18 Courses have been completed, and the 19th Vedanta Course in English will begin in January 2024. In Sidhabari the 14th Vedanta Hindi course will begin from May 2024.

There is an ever hastening pace of change in society the world over. As dharmika Hindus, one often feels that whatever we do is too little or too late and our generation is failing. However, because of the teachers who come from Sandeepany, I frequently meet youth who are totally committed and doing tremendous work in the dharmika and adhyatmika arena and feel renewed hope.

In reality, we dharmika’s have no business getting frustrated or depressed. It is the parampara that has ever renewed Vedic and Hindu culture and the same Parampara will continue to provide energy and enlightenment.

In the Guru ashtottaranamavali of Pujya Gurudev, there is a name we chant during the archana – “utsāhavardhakāyanamah”. Namaskar to the one who energises (me) with enthusiasm and inspiration.

Hari Om.

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