CMSJ celebrated Deepavali in a two day effort replete with a Lakshmi/Kubera puja, and a program titled ‘Inside Rama Outside Drama’ which was led by Sohamji and presented by CHYKs. Pandit Ravichandranji was able to conduct the puja in the ashram and our Bala Vihar children had the opportunity to participate and cultivate the samskara of puja vidhi. Being able to follow along and read the mantra translations allowed all attendees to derive greater meaning from the ceremony and develop a deeper connection to Lakshmi Devi. ‘Inside Rama Outside Drama’ including lovely CHYK narrations and recorded skits; thematically Sohamji focused on Lord Rama’s qualities so that devotees could reflect on them and internalize them into their being.
It is said that true Ram rajya in our hearts and minds comes when we have the proper vision for our lives. We can look to Lord Rama’s life to see how that vision can be lived by all of us. Lord Rama is known as a leader of people and, as king, it was his duty to see after the security, prosperity and mental vision of the citizens of Ayodhya. His speech was without personal interest, denigration, belittling or dogma. He was humble enough to declare that if he spoke contrary to shaastra, people could question or not heed what he said.
Diwali gives us the opportunity to reflect on how much Ram Rajya has happened in our hearts. Given the rarity of human birth for a jiva, the best way to use this body is to serve, cultivate sadhana and develop love for Bhagavan. No other form has this much freedom, nor this much potential to be free. A devotee who wishes to make best use of this birth is straightforward with others and themselves; they are humble enough to acknowledge their own mental compulsions and seek guidance on how to overcome them from Bhagavan. After putting forth their best effort, this person is content with whatever results they get. May we use our bodies primarily as boats to cross the ocean of samsara. May all our efforts culminate in bhakti and may they compel the Lord to reside in our hearts, fulfilling our quest for Ram Rajya.
Thanksgiving Camp- “FUNdamentals of Vedanta”
During Thanksgiving long weekend, Sohamji provided a condensed version of the Vedanta Ramanam camp Guruji conducted for the Swamins and Brahmacharins in Mumbai last year. The lecture series was a systematic review of Advaita Vedanta darshan which focuses on the pursuit of eternal happiness and the complete cessation of sorrow. As we mature in our introspection, we come to realize that our response to any situation in life depends on our darshan. Therefore, one who has reflected on their life, and strives to respond to it in a better way, seeks to raise their vision by approaching a teacher and submitting to their guidance. This seeker for a better way must overcome impurity of the mind, distraction of the mind and the fundamental ignorance of limited individuality. Obstacles dwelling in the mind are so many but still the sadhaka presses on, trusting that a finite amount of effort, though exact quantity unknown, will be required to diligently achieve their most noble and worthwhile goal.
For those who are interested in seeing a full recap of the curriculum, please find the retreat yagna prasad below!
COVID-19/Global Pandemic Relief Projects
Over this past year during the global pandemic, there have been many marginalized communities impacted with the COVID-19 virus. This includes homeless, physically impaired/disabled, low-income students, and many others who are struggling to access basic necessities. We are grateful that by the grace of Gurudev himself, we as CMSJ have been able to come together and raise funds to directly support local organizations in the Bay Area. Thus far, we are proud to announce that we have raised over $187,000 and distributed over $150,000 of those funds.
We have identified community service non-profit organizations that focus on various social impact causes from legal services and home rebuilding all the way to supporting food supplies via pantry stocking to children in need. This has been an ongoing effort with CORD USA (Chinmaya Organization for Rehabilitation & Development by Undertaking Sustainable Activities) and we hope to continue to match these donations. We have been fortunate enough to receive immense support from two specific Balavihar High School students, Pari and Shivum from the San Ramon, Bay Area location who have taken initiative to raise over $27,000 this past holiday season during their winter break. They focused on emphasizing the importance of these causes across faculty and parents in the Balavihar community. Although they have made such a big footprint in our community as we continue to fight this virus, there is still a long way to go. We would love your continued support through these efforts and know that all of your donations go towards specific individuals in need right now.
For more information about how to contribute and to learn more about each of the causes tied to COVID-19 relief, please check out our latest website updates here.
Equanimity is the essence of Perfection. A man of knowledge is ever in perfect balance.
— Pujya Gurudev, Swami Chinmayananda.
National CHYK camp – “Mind Matters”
A global CHYK and Setukari E-camp called “Mind Matters” was held in the last weekend of November. This virtual opportunity was a truly wonderful experience focused on being able to be in control of our own minds with guidance from our Chinmaya Mission Head, Swami Swaroopananda-ji.
The Saturday session began with an invocation ceremony by Swami Sarveshananda-ji from Chinmaya Mission Dallas Fort-Worth to welcome all attendees as well as Br. Hari-ji and Brni. Shuchita-ji, both resident spiritual guides at Chinmaya Mission Texas locations. After this, both Saturday and Sunday consisted of three lectures by Swami Swaroopananda-ji who helped us first understand our mind and its tricks and then explained how we can overcome stress that originates from our thoughts.
Between these various lectures, special “Bhajan Jam” sessions were held where some attendees volunteered to sing bhajans during our break times. We also had fun workshops with thought-provoking games and discussion groups to understand the lectures better and apply the teachings to our experiences.
On Sunday, we concluded with a Q&A session with Swami Sarveshananda-ji to help us understand the content covered in the weekend, better. This camp was a wonderful opportunity to help understand how our spirituality can help us bring rest and equanimity to our mind.
We are looking forward to the “Mind the Gap” CHYK retreat hosted by Chinmaya Mission San Jose coming up on the President’s Day weekend from February 12th-15th!
Taking a quick trip down memory lane, this program has been a part of CMSJ since 1994 and continues to make a huge impact. What started off as a “toy drive” has now become so much more and this year, we have donated over 750 + sleeping bags to homeless and housing shelters in the area. During the holidays, we find that it is especially important to support those who do not have a community, place to stay, and are able to spend time with loved ones. Shelter and comfort are so critical during this time of giving back, therefore, we decided to raise the number of sleeping bags contributed from 50 to where we are now.
This drive is very much appreciated by the Emergency Housing Consortium (now known as Home First) of Santa Clara County. We generally deliver them to the Sunnyvale Armory (EHC Shelter), 620 East Maude Ave, Sunnyvale, CA. At the distribution site, all are welcome; it’s especially informing for children to see and have contact with people in need. There isn’t a limit on the number of people who can visit, however, due to the pandemic, we have now focused on monetary donations to purchase sleeping bags that will be donated. We are extremely grateful that especially during such a difficult time, we have been able to support this wonderful cause. We hope to do so for many years to come and if you are interested in getting involved, please reach out to Madhu Krishnan (email listed on the CMSJ website under the contact page). For more information about the latest updates and past updates from 2015, please check out the page here.
Geeta Jayanti Chanting and Tapovan Jayanti, Celebrations
Before the end of 2020, Chinmaya Mission San Jose held a special celebration to commemorate Tapovan Jayanti and Geeta Jayanti on December 25th. Leading up to this special occasion, beginning December 19th, a week-long online gathering was hosted where everyone came together to chant a few chapters of the Bhagavad Geeta everyday. Each day began with Bhajans sung beautifully by Chinmaya Swaranjali, which was then followed by Geeta Chanting. Geeta Chanting students of various grades from all locations led the chanting of these powerful verses while everyone else followed along at their homes. At the end of each day, Br. Soham-Ji gave a short, yet insightful summary of each section that was covered. On the last day, Chapters 17-18 were recited which were followed by a Puja. Attendees also had a special opportunity to receive free copies of The Holy Geeta by Swami Chinmayananda on various platforms such as Amazon Kindle. Overall, the event turned out to be a huge success! We hope that many people also sign up for the Geeta Chanting Yajna which will be held in March 2021!
New Year’s Eve Puja and Guided Meditation, Celebrations
Despite the virtual presentation , we are grateful to have celebrated New Years’, welcoming 2021 in a very special way! We closed out 2020 with a Vishnu Sahasranaama Puja followed by Guided Meditation. Over 200+ families gathered from all over the Bay Area and beyond for Samashti prayers in order to look forward to a brighter, healthier, and safer new year. We were reminded that despite the obstacles that came with 2020, we all continue to stand as ‘one family.’ For our annual New Year’s Eve celebrations, Vishnu Sahasranaama Puja was conducted by Pandit RavichandranJi followed by guided meditation by Br. SohamJi. We began the evening with Bhajans by Chinmaya Swaranjali in praise of Lord Maha Vishnu followed by Puja. After Puja, we had guided meditation by Br. SohamJi focused on setting our goals, intentions, and mindset for the year to come.
This annual celebration was a great chance to hear the melodious voices of our mission volunteers, members, and welcome the New Year with resounding vibrations. If you would like to check out some guided meditation sessions from this year, feel free to check them out here and here. We hope that this helps you navigate the New Year with lots of internal strength and inner peace.
We have resumed our Chyk meetings every Thursday at 7:30 pm. Now, under the guidance of Sohamji, we have taken up a new text, chapter 17 of Bhagavad Gita. In this chapter, Bhagawan Sri Krishna delves into the topic of Shraddha (faith) and also explains how to channelize our goals through Tapas. Just like before, Sohamji sends a recording every week on selected portions of the text as well as questions to ponder when watching the recordings. During the meetings, CHYKs are put into breakout rooms to discuss the answers to the questions and have a Q/A session afterwards with everyone. Some attendees share their talents at the end through rendition of American/Indian bhajans, instruments, poetry, and more!
Over 60 CMSJ Seniors and members from our other centers have continued to meet monthly for Vanaprastha meetings. In these meetings, there are activities for the Body, Mind and Intellect and talks guided by Sohamji on Vibhishana Gita. In addition, there are visiting speakers who speak on various topics of interest to our seniors. For instance, in 2020, the speakers discussed topics about health during the Covid pandemic, retirement choices, and yoga and health. In the meetings, people are captivated by Sohamji’s melodious rendition of Chaupai from Ramayan. Jagan Subbarao leads our seniors with easy stretching exercises using asanas from chair yoga. The popular interaction segment “Gupshup” took our seniors to the memory walk. If you would like to participate in these meetings,please sign up here.
Information on all of Sohamji’s public discourses below can be found here.
Every Saturday at 11am, there is a discourse guided by Sohamji with a following Q/A session on Bhagawan Adi Shankaracharya’s Tattvabodha, which is one of the foundational texts in Advaita Vedanta. In the beginning, Bhagawan Adi Shankaracharyaji discusses the science of life by defining precise terminologies used in Vedanta.
Every Sunday at 11am, there is a discourse guided by Sohamji with a following Q/A session on the Bhagavad Gita, which reveals the essence of the Upanishads along with guidance on how to live our life. The discourses are currently in Chapter 2.
Every week on Tuesday and Thursday, we will come together at 12:00 noon to chant divine compositions such as Bhagavad Gita, Vishnusahasranamam and Upanishads. We are currently chanting the Kena Upanishad, which explores Brahma Jnana or the knowledge of the spiritual self .
Join us every week on Monday and Wednesday at 8 pm as we study one of the greatest works of Hindi literature: Sri Ramacharitamanasa by Goswami Tulsidasji. The title literally translates to “Lake of the deeds of Rama” and narrates the life of Lord Ram. In addition to showing us how to lead happy lives, Goswami Tulsidasji’s elegantly woven words of wisdom will help us further develop and deepen our surrender to Bhagawan.
Drig Drishya Viveka
We currently have a study group based in Berkeley that meets virtually on Thursdays at 8pm. They are currently studying Drig Drishya Viveka. Through Drig Drishya Viveka, Adi Sankaracharya helps us ascertain who we are and guides us in meditation so that we can realise our true nature of unconditional Bliss and end all sorrows for all times. If you are interested in joining this study group, please contact Udeeksha Sankaran at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Geeta Chanting Yajna
On March 20th we will be hosting our annual Gita Chanting Yagna! This year will be the second time the yajna is hosted virtually. This special event provides an opportunity for everyone, from toddlers to adults to chant a portion of the Bhagavad Gita. Participants are divided up by age group and assigned verses to chant in front of our judges. They will then be judged on various categories including pronunciation, presentation, and vocabulary terms, depending on their group.
This event has been going on for the last 20 years and is a great chance to get the whole family involved in studying the Gita. The focus of this year’s yajna will be Chapter 2, Sankhya Yoga. This chapter expounds on the core philosophies of the various systems of knowledge. If you are interested, please visit our website for more information on age groups, assigned verses, vocabulary terms and judging criteria. The link to register is also on our website so don’t miss out on this wonderful event!
We look forward to sharing more updates regarding current and upcoming opportunities for the Spring of 2021!
From: Chinmaya Mission West (CMW) newsletter 2008.
My Guru, Swami Chinmayananda
By Brahmalin Pujya Swamini Saradapriyananda
When I joined the ashram in 1965, Shri Gurudev, Swami Chinmayananda, was conducting a 21-day yajna in Bombay. We were allowed to attend a session on Mundakopanishad for the senior group before going to morning class. I was in seventh heaven. After years of monotonous work in an office, I was transported to another world where day after day, there was only spiritual study. All those around me had only one theme to talk about—the Upanishad or the jokes Swamiji made in class.
I came to the Bombay yajna with the sole purpose of joining the ashram. Though five or six days had passed, I hesitated to broach the subject with Swamiji. I was quite emotional at the time, and afraid of bursting into tears and making a fool of myself in front of him. Swamiji must have sensed this. One morning, he was explaining the meaning of a mantra that dealt with brahmaloka in the second chapter of Bhagavad Gita. He illustrated his point through this Mundakopanishad verse:
But they who perform tapas and shraddha in the forest, have control over their senses, are learned, and live the life of a mendicant, go through the orb of the sun, their good and bad deeds consumed, where the immortal and undecaying Purusha is (1.2.11).
Gurudev said to me, “This is brahmaloka. Now that you have come here, you won’t go back!” My heart was thrilled with joy, but I still did not dare go to his cottage to make it final. In the next morning class, while reviewing the previous day’s lesson, he said, “You have come for the yajna for three weeks. What will happen to you? Will you go back to your office in Hyderabad?”
There was a lump in my throat. Go back from this heaven to that stinking drainage again? Never! The next day, I met Shri Gurudev at 4 a.m. in his cottage, and sought permission to join the ashram as a student. As I had feared, there was much emotion, but the purpose was achieved. Gurudev saw how I was nervously meddling with his desk keys while talking with him, but he said nothing.
On another occasion, I wished to speak to him about something personal, but by the time I reached the cottage, someone else was already there. Disappointed, I just prostrated and prepared to go away, but Swamiji sensed that there was something on my mind. He joked, “Any lump in the throat to get rid of?” That was exactly what I needed to do. So I smiled shyly, and the other person was sent away.
I asked, “Swamiji, why am I so emotional when I meet you?” Swamiji laughed and remarked, “You feel the emotion and are asking me for the reason!” I saw the logic of the remark and left it there. After attending to the main point that I had asked, Swamiji reverted to the question of emotion and said, “Perhaps, you are emotional by nature and are very sensitive always.”
“No Swamiji, my friends call me heartless!” “Oh, then it is your spirit of surrender that makes you so emotional,” Swamiji diagnosed.
In those 21 days, I saw the way Gurudev functioned without taking rest even for an hour. In the mornings, 4-5 a.m., he was available for visitors, after which there was a class for the senior students on Mundakopanishad. Immediately after, he left for morning talks in the city, more than an hour’s drive away. Then he would go for the breakfast bhiksha. At 9 a.m. was a class in a girls’ college on Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 12. He would return to the ashram after that to teach Atma Bodha to the junior class. Later in the afternoon, he would leave to give a discourse in a college. In the evening, one could find him sitting in the lecture hall, ready to receive donations of gold ornaments from devotees for the war effort (those were days when the Indian army was resisting Chinese aggression). At 6:30 p.m., he would be at the podium, thundering away the deep truths of sankhya yoga, found in Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 2. Every night, there was a dinner bhiksha at some devotee’s house. On return, he would lie down in the van and reach the ashram at midnight. Even then, he would give some instructions to the office people and go to bed. When? He alone knew! Even with all this incessant work, at any given time, 10 he appeared fresh and exuberant, as if he had just woken up after hours of rest.
At one point, Vivekachudamani was being taught to us. The classes were intermittent, at most three or four days in a month. We would get huge doses of shlokas (verses) daily because the text was extensive, and it was important that full topics be completed in each session. When Gurudev was away traveling to various yajnas, all of us would write to him freely about our problems and inner conflicts. We were sure to get a reply by the next mail as soon as our letters reached him. Once I wrote a long letter about my life in Hyderabad, the problems I had faced, and the wrong steps I had knowingly taken, just to get his opinion. The reply came back. “Got your kind letter. I liked reading every page of it.” All of my points had been answered.
My “kind letter”? And he liked reading so many pages of my bad handwriting? I was overwhelmed by the thought that Swamiji could be so humble in his attitude even to his own students. In a fit of emotion, shedding tears, I wrote back, “Swamiji, I am not fit to stand within a mile of you. You call my letter “kind”! You patiently read all the trash I had written and said you liked it!” In this manner I expressed myself several times. The next time when he came to the ashram, he looked at me and asked with a twinkle, “How is the fever?” Oh, what a joy that was for me!
In 1967, Swamiji was conducting a lecture series in Aloka and took me along with him for chanting. It was my first experience being in such close proximity to Swamiji during a yajna, and it was quite a revelation to me. One young girl named Lakshmi accompanied us. We were given rooms on the third floor of the guest house of the Berar Oil Company.
It was a ten-day lecture series and Swamiji went out for bhiksha daily. He also went to other locales for at least one talk on a general topic. Altogether, Swamiji had to come up and down the three flights of stairs four or five times every day. It was a nonstop run by Swamiji for those ten days, and what energy he displayed!
The food was luxurious and full of delicacies. Biscuits accompanied morning coffee. Breakfast consisted of four or five South Indian dishes, and lunch was always a sumptuous feast. Heavy snacks were offered at evening tea and again, the night bhiksha was lavish. I fell sick within three days and even the smell of food nauseated me. Swamiji did full justice to all the dishes every time. After breakfast, he would leisurely continue to sit at the table, munching fistfuls of cashews from a bowl, conversing with the organizers and us. We threw in a word or two, but the dialogue was always with the chief organizer. While chewing on cashews, Swamiji would say, “Someone take the bowl away from here. Otherwise all of them will disappear into me.” It caused a lot of amusement, but I wondered how Swamiji could digest so much food. I understood it only after three years.
In 1969, when the Bombay ashram’s Jagadishvara Temple was consecrated, Swamiji had a high fever. Yet, he fasted for three days before the consecration. I then knew that fasting and feasting were the same for him. Matter went into matter. He had nothing to do with either!
Once, the heater and the toilet in Swamiji’s bathroom were not working. The heater was working at the place where we had our bath, but it was too far for Swamiji to go. It was the cold month of January, so they asked me to supply him with hot water in the mornings. Only two small jars were available, which I filled and delivered every early morning.
Now that I look back, the water could hardly have been sufficient. It never struck me to ask Swamiji whether he needed more, as both Lakshmi and myself were taking cold baths (this was the custom in the ashram). Swamiji could have asked me for more, but he did not say a word. Personal needs never occupied his thoughts! Yet, he was ever mindful of everyone else’s needs!
At the ashram I had plenty to do, as I was in charge of sending out Tapovan Prasad (Chinmaya Mission’s monthly magazine). In Aloka, as soon as we arrived, we finished our bath and had breakfast. In the evening, after the yajna commenced, I wondered what to do with the long hours. Swamiji sat near the table in the huge drawing room and began writing letters. I went onto the terrace and stood there pondering; how helplessly I depended on him. If he called me for a moment, I went with joy. If he did not look at me, I was miserable. I knew that the whole day, as well as the next ten days of the yajna, would be similar. I asked myself if I would be able to survive them. I was very restless.
Swamiji was working at the table, and yet he was conscious of what I was feeling on the terrace. He knew the reason, too. He called me, took out the letters from the Bombay guru dakshina envelopes, and went through each one, giving me instructions on how to reply. Something to do at last! I was asked to keep an account of the letters to be mailed, and it did not stop there. He then asked me to teach English to Lakshmi. I felt amused and asked, “English?” Swamiji nodded and replied, “Yes, for one hour, every day.”
All this kept me busy enough, and on the fourth day, I analyzed my restlessness. I approached Swamiji and asked him why I was feeling so restless. Swamiji inquired, “What are you restless for?” I replied, “For no reason at all. Nothing is lacking, but I am restless.”
Then he clarified, “You were very active before coming to the ashram. Now, the work is not sufficient for you. So run about.”
“Where to?” I asked. Swamiji kept quiet. I understood that I had to discover this for myself, per my capacities. In the ashram, there was some work to do, but here, what more could be done? It got me thinking. As I went on thinking, fine ideas started coming to me in a pictorial way, and I began putting them down on paper. I wondered what Swamiji’s reaction would be and if he would approve. I was not sure. In order to find out, I mailed three of the pieces to Gurudev. I was in great suspense until I received his reply, which came as soon as he received my mail.
“I got your poems. One has been sent to Tapovan Prasad with a small correction. The second one has gone to Calcutta for the souvenir. Read Tagore and Sarojini Naidu’s poems.” Oh, the joy of it! More and more poetry flowed out. I kept them all in sequence until Swamiji came to the ashram, and each time I handed them over to him. He patiently read them all even though they were in my terrible handwriting. He always encouraged me with a word, a look, or a line by mail.
My version of Bhaja Govindam slokas in English was promptly sent to the printers, where the text was given for reprint. When it appeared at the end of the text, I was happy. But when I went through the poems, they were anything but perfect. They were raw and contained no rhythm or melody. Yet Swamiji included them in his text in order to give me encouragement. What love!
Though I was very conscious of his great kindness in going through all the poems and having them printed, a familiarity of taking his love for granted crept into me. Of course, I did not know it then. I sent a new bunch to Swamiji when he was in Poona and wrote, “I have been sending several poems like this and taking up much of your time. If I am going beyond my limit, won’t you tell me?” There was no reply, nor did I know what happened to the poems I had sent. Perhaps Swamiji thought he had helped me with them enough. Perhaps this was his way of teaching me a lesson. Whatever it was, I was in suspense.
As time passed and Swamiji did not even glance toward me, my sorrow deepened to agony. I wondered where I had gone wrong. The poems came out in mournful streams. When should I give them to Swamiji? Swamiji was leaving for his third global tour in just days. I felt desperate. To live in heaven along with His Father would have been pleasant. But to live with Him on earth could sometimes be worse than hell! To add to my misery, Swamiji fell sick. He had a high fever and developed backaches as well. He kept to his room and no visitors were allowed. Now, there was no hope in coming into contact with him.
Slowly, he recovered and started to receive people who had urgent work. Where was I? I just needed some sign from Swamiji that he was not angry with me. I sent a poem with a note, “Swamiji, this poem is too free. I do not know if it should be seen by anyone or not. If you think it should not be shown to anyone, I shall tear it up. Please instruct.” At last, Swamiji relented and asked for me.
He lay on the bed; he was no longer sick, but needed much rest. He allowed me to ask questions. At the end, I asked, “Swamiji, we are all getting caught up by the happenings around us, and consequently we react. How does the world appear to you? Do you see it as a dream?” He only smiled, for what kind of a reply could he give me? A waker can never explain the nature of a dream to the dreamers. At this point, I had already spent half an hour alone with him, and it was extremely gratifying. When he knew that I was quite content, he said, “Hari Om.” I got the hint, prostrated, and went away. Even in his pain, he was thinking of my needs, and ignoring his own rest! Reassured, I sent the entire bunch of poems to him. It bore the covering sentence, “Written in tears, but given in smiles.”