Obituary: Swamy Chinmayananda

Poothapally Balakrishna Menon (Swamy Chinmayananda), philosopher, holy man: born Kochi, south India 1916; died San Diego, California 4 August 1993.

SWAMY CHINMAYANANDA was an Indian holy man and philospher who preached the tenets of Hindu spiritualism to people around the world in a simple, but compelling manner for over four decades.

For a man who was a staunch agnostic in his formative years, Chinmayananda was eventually revered as a saint. His well-attended yagnas or discourses which infused spiritualism with worldliness, plumbed the spiritual depths of ancient Hindu scriptures, turning them into simple, moral lessons to enlighten audiences.

Chinmayananda claimed no supernatural powers. His smiling eyes, keen sense of humour, insight and modernism endeared him to his audiences. He differed from other religious leaders in his approach, preaching the mantra that self-denial and detachment from the material world do not necessarily lead to salvation. He stressed that Hinduism as expounded in the scriptures was not a bundle of superstitions but a definite science. His discourses, placed in a contemporary context and delivered in simple English, appealed both to simple rural folk, enslaved to ritual, in India, and to worldly audiences overseas.

Contrary to the wishes of his guru, or teacher, Chinmayananda principally targeted the upwardly mobile and evolved the yagna, or discourse, technique to drive home his point. His first yagna in Pune, western India, in the early Fifties was held under a tree. On the third day, when his audience had grown from a handful of curious passers-by to a teeming crowd of engrossed listeners, someone produced a microphone and, almost instantly, his fame spread. In 41 years of preaching, Chinmayananda held over 530 yagnas, including some in Islamic states in the Middle East.

Chinmayananda was born Poothapally Balakrishna Menon into a middle-class family in Kochi, in Kerala state, south India, in 1916 and after an MA in English literature he qualified as a lawyer. Before he could begin practice, however, he was attracted by the writings of other Indian philosophers and sages on ancient Indian scriptures. Keen to know more, he began looking for a guru.

In 1943 his search took him to Swamy Sivananda's ashram in Rishikesh, a small town on the banks of the Ganges, considered holy by Hindus. Here he renounced the world after being initiated as a sanyasin or holy man and, for the next 10 years, moved north into the Himalayas to meditate and study ancient texts in a secluded ashram. He emerged in the mid-Fifties and inaugurated his first yagna in Pune.

Chinmayananda also founded the Chinmaya Mission with branches around the world running schools, old-age homes, hospitals and spiritual discourse centres. He was a strict disciplinarian who demanded complete silence during his discourses.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: One of the world's leading suppliers and manuf...

Recruitment Genius: Multiple Apprentices Required

£6240 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Apprentices are required to join a privat...

Sauce Recruitment: HR Manager

£40000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: This is an exciting opportunity for a HR...

Ashdown Group: Interim HR Manager - 3 Month FTC - Henley-on-Thames

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established organisation oper...

Day In a Page

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links