This article was published on 18th December, 1949

[Our representative who recently visited Ananda Kutir, Rishikesh, the headquarters of Sivananda Swamiji’s world-wide Divine Life Society, presents to the readers a portrait of Siva’s great disciple, Sri Swami Chinmayananda Saraswathi. Our representative warmed himself into the confidence of ‘Chinmaya’ and has got this glimpse of “the vision of the times” that was the Swami.

The story of ‘Chinmaya’ would be the story of all of us, had we the mental equipment to feel, the intellectual honesty to think, and the darling courage of conviction to act, as the Swamy. Very few of us are born that way; and none of us had any training to develop these qualities: hence we silently submit to our cruel lot, forcing out a smile now and then, only to relieve the monotony of our perpetual tears! Thus refreshed with our momentary smiles, we helplessly sit back again to weep out our miseries. This is our life.

And, this was exactly the life that faced ‘Chinmaya’ as he walked out of the University. Let the Swami himself speak. Listen how he reached to this modern life and pioneered towards his discovery of the real LIFE. – Editor.]

At Rishikesh, on the banks of the Ganga’s Silvery march, is Ananda Kutir, Sri Swami Sivanandaji’s Ashram. Aghast at the institution and its varied activities of guiding, instructing, and encouraging the saint’s numberless disciples all over the world, we silently watched. The more we watched the more we learnt!

Many are the bright luminaries in the team of workers that conduct the institution; by far, the brightest is Siva’s great disciple, Sri Swami Chinmayananda Saraswathi. It was most fortunate of us to get ‘Chinmaya’ freely to ourselves for an hour one afternoon, and we shot dozens of questions to him. The cool confidence and sympathetic understanding with which he answered all our skeptical questions on God and Spiritual Life, gave us the courage to expose the worst of our own curiosity.

“Swamiji, excuse us, but shall we ask a personal question?” we ventured. “Certainly, why not,” smiled back the Swami.
Knowing fully well that it is unpardonable for a Sat-Sangi to ask any Sadhu about his poorvashram, we asked: “Swami why did you take Sannyas?”

There was a visible tension in his calm face. He was alert. His eyes wandered for a moment among the correspondence-files, type-writer, and the many volumes that lay scattered about him. “What else do you expect any sensible man to do?” asked the Swamy, half to himself, “would you have me,” he shot at us “marry, breed, fight and talk shop till wrecked with age and sorrow, this body drops down dead?”

The criticism on life was fiery. It set us all thinking. We remained silent. The professional satisfaction was replaced by a welling gush of sorrow and futility; from where they came we knew not.

“Chinmaya was tired of living in the tomb, so he walked into the open to breathe, to bask, to work and to live.” The Swamy was all ablaze. None of us even suspected that such a frail body could contain such a consuming fire of earnestness and sincerity.

All of us were silent. The war of the Ganga rose up to reach the modest one-roomed kutir of Chinmaya. The Swamy sat looking out into the glittering flow of the immortal river. It was a roar of silence that smothered our values and lay heavy on our sinned bosom. As an escape, we dared: “But you have not answered our question, Swamiji. Why should you, educated, young, and so efficient, smart and spirited as you are, kick away life and take to Guruva?”
Swami Chinmayananda had by then calmed down. He even smiled, and looking at the time-piece in his room, said: “That is a big question. To answer it a few words on this Sareera’s birth and growth would be necessary. For an hour Chinmaya is free; it is all Siva’s wish. Parameswararpanam Sarwam.” The Swamiji for a moment closed his eyes in devotion and prayer.

“Thirty years ago,” the Swami started, as he slowly opened his eyes, “this Sadhu took his body in Poothampalli House, in Ernakulam, with the late sister of Sri P. Neelakanda Menon (Bar-at-Law, Retired Chief Justice of Cochin) as his mother, and Trichur, Vadakke Kurupath Kuttan Menon (Retd. Munsiff, Cochin State), as his father. This eldest son has two sisters, who are now in Cochin well-settled. The son, Balakrishnan, grew up amidst the family as a pet of both Sri Swami Chattambi Swamigal and Sri Yogiraj Bhairavananda, who were the Kula-Gurus of the house.”

“The daily evening Poojas of the strict and extremely religious house, the insistence that the children should have their Japa and Namasankirtan every day at dusk – these gave him a great push in the illustrious Path of Devotion. Balan’s prayers would probably end in half an hour; but the elaborate daily Pooja would lengthen to some two hours. The child is not allowed to move out of the Pooja-room before Arathi either. And, thus compelled to resist sleep and somehow stick to his seat till the end, the child grew extremely imaginative: during this endless vigil he asked a thousand questions to himself regarding the ‘why’ and the ‘whereof’ of the whole “show,” he got no answer; only this problem got all the more knotty for the questioning.”

“In order to entertain himself,” Swami Chinmayanandaji said, “the Balan in this sadhu then sat gazing at the innumerable pictures of our Gods: the Raja Rajeswari seemed too majestic to play with! Mother Amba too dangerous to approach as she sat on a lonely lotus in the midst of a threatening sea! Lord Krishna often looked too childish to be quite friendly – unless of-course Balan was ready to do such things as play with cows and calfs, a game strictly banned by the cane. Sri Saraswathi attracted the child, and he in vain tried often to catch some note from Her Veena; Sri Lakshmi was to him again more dexterous a Lady of balance to stand so erectly on a lotus flower!”

“What attracted Balan,” here the Swami in deep reverence closed his eyes, and suited his temperament the most was the picture of the Chandrakaladhara – bust only, with Sri Gangaji flowing out of his jada so beautifully gathered into a heap on His crown; the crescent and the serpant; the broad forehead; the smiling eyes of mercy; the beaming mouth that seemed to talk of tenderness and affections from behind His mustache! In short Siva was the picture after Balan’s own heart.”

“But the child had to spend two solid hours. To him the Sahasranama was an unending torture, and he felt sure that had he been the Divine Mother, he would not have cared to sit, even for a single day, as long as all that under the mounting heap of flowers. He wondered at the meaningless cruelty of his Cheriyammas to make the Lady of the Lotus Flower suffer so much and that too for so long. But Balan’s wonder was silent, his anger impotent; against the ever-threatening cane in the [Malayalam words] which child would ever have the guts to express what he felt of his elder’s stupidities?”

“Thus grew the child. Each day he found his solace in Lord Chandrakaladhara and His smile. To imagine how He in the bust must be sitting, how shapely could be His legs and arms, what could be His clothes – these entertained the weary child in his waiting for the Arathi. He knew fully well that, if to dose is pardonable, to sleep in the Pooja room was to invite the unanimous uproar of a team of outraged Cheriyammas. They would make Balan feel that in the illustrious line of Poothampalli Menons such a Ravana-Hiranykashipu-combination should appear was surely the vengeance of our dissatisfied Kula-Devati! That is serious!”

“It was during those days of waiting for the Pooja-end” pointed out Swami Chinmayanandaji, and there was a distant thoughtful look in him when he explained, “that Swami Chinmaya was born in Balan the frail child. Somehow then Balan stumbled on a new game: to look at the picture of his Lord, then shutting the eyes to see Him exactly as he was in the picture, in the darkness within! This game gave Balan a job to sweet and pleasant that it became a habit with him to call His Form at all hours into his mental screen of darkness! The picture came readily as it was ‘ordered’; his wonder grew at his own successes.”

“It took now more than 20 years,” added the Swami, as an aside, “to realise that in that strange game Balan had been initiated into the Jnana Marga – the Path of Knowledge – by Sri Parameswara Himself!! Om Namasivaya! Glory to the Bhaktavatsala! No sincere Heart-offering is rejected or ignored by Him, even if it be soiled by our selfish motives!! Even as an escape run to Him, the Lord shall never desert thee!”

“The child grew up. The monstrous practice of Malabar in leaving a child out of all spiritual discipline as soon as it grows to be scarcely ten years of age ruined the meditator in Balan. The child found freedom; the beach, the games, and the lessons robbed off the leisure and the mental poise to meditate. Yet, he felt that he could not compose himself to sleep without repeating Om-Nama-Sivaya for at least half an hour. He knew not the meaning of jap, yet he went on doing it regularly, more because he imagined to be an effective talisman against bad frightening dreams.”

“Years passed by. The tall slender Balakrishnan Menon reached the college. By then he had become extremely bloated of head and intoxicated at heart. The early habit of asking questions even at obvious things and relationships grew with the bones. He came to ask now such dangerous questions as, “Why should there be a God,” “Is there a need to pray to Him even if He be?”

The Swami paused and he seemed to gather his ideas into the folds of his expressions. “See: this was what happened to Balakrishnan Menon. He has heard from here and there that “if individuals be mere sparks, He is the conflagration; He is the sun and every living being but a ray of His: He is the WHOLE, each of us is a PART of the WHOLE.” This set the Menon thinking, and in his immaturity of thought, he came to the conclusion that since even in the best of us there was only a tiny part, scarcely 20% of goodness, what must be the WHOLE but a huge caldron of striking evil. Again, if there were the various Balans there was the God, so Balan was the source of God, not God the source of Balan: then why should Balan pray to his own out-growths: the God? – so argued the stupid youth.”

“Alas!” Swami Chinmaya piteously sighed, “with this Balan divorced God from him and wandered aimlessly through an empty life of inner gloom, questioning to everyone with whom he felt safe to open up his doubt – wondering, whether it be really sure that such as easy argument could overthrow God – and struggling – for, something kept on warning him in his heart that there was a serious flaw somewhere in his line of argument. But his intellectual honesty would not easily brook any blind faith.”

“And,” revealed the Swami, “strangely enough, even in those days, pocketing all self-dignity he used to do regularly his jap secretly in bed! The compromise was painful – yet, he went on to submitting to the inner-voice for a long time. The spiritual Balan persisted as a shadow in the background of Balan the unconvinced, till the day when he left home to join the Lucknow University. With the complete severing from the higher values of the Life Divine, the passionate blind animal in Balan rose up: the Mr. Menon of Lucknow is even to-day, among the staff and students, a topic to moralise and an instance to quote when they sit round to discuss the depths of degradation into which modern students have sunk. In carelessness, ungodliness, immortality, stupidity, and extravagance, there was none then to beat Mr. Menon.”

“From the University he walked out, a perfect peacock, with an M.A. (Eng.) for its tail! His vanity increased. His daring was supreme, in short Mr. Menon M.A. (Eng.) strided out to meet Life, supremely confident that he can just for the asking, fix himself up comfortably in one of its ‘Luxuary-flats’!! But at that guarded entrance to Life none is admitted who has not a healthy character, a good disposition, a charming friendliness and a bending hip! At the Gate of Life alone did he realise that he was poor in real wealth!”

The serious grave face melted into a mischievous smile when ‘Chinmaya’ continued his story. “However there is a ditch-door as the backyard, through which some few had crept in to live later on successfully in one of the ‘luxury-flats.’

Through journalism the youth, disappointed at the main gate, dashed into Life’s distant lawns, and Sri P.B.K. Menon succeeded in approaching one of the far-away empty duck-chairs and sit back, comfortable and secure! A few hours in the court-yard of Life’s Palace and he felt that not even the risk-in-the-game could add gin to the banging monotony in the atmosphere.”

“The wandering notes of some smothered music passionately hurried to drench the ears of the intruder they disappointed him.”

“Some residents of the Palace, taking Menon to be a permanent member made conventional friendly advances – they tired him. Many early-successes, fair and young, voluptuously danced around this youth inviting him to court them with a thousand lascivious smiles – they distracted him. Beauty, made-up with creams and powders, flocked in scented bunches round the new-commer – they disgusted him. Men of cheque-books and vague authority competed among themselves, each trying to impress Menon the more with his affairs in the Palace – they nauseated him.”

The Swami seemed to grow suddenly very sad as he continued: “Slowly Menon hustled his way on to the crowded veranda of men and women busy doing nothing, and from there without much difficulty pushed himself into the very stinking Hall of Life! A roaring welter of unnatural values, impossible behaviours, stupid vanities! Sick and suffering revealed a generation of pale animals in the pell-mell, stuffy within of Life. In this studied smiles were tears; in their insincere, made-to-order-laughter were sighs of voice-less deep regrets. In their heartless love, concealed hatreds, grudging sympathies, and poisonous rivalries each suffered, and contributed lavishly to the total suffering.”

“This was sufficient,” declared Chinmayananda, “for Mr. Menon. He saw what a Godless animal life could be at its best. He decided on the very first day of his great-crashing into the Palace of Life to quit it for good! Out of the Palace walls were the uncharted deserts of the unknown; to walk out of Life is easy: no questions are asked at the Gate and no lies told!; but Menon had to answer his own questions: “to whither ye miserable stranger?” He decided to seek for himself the meaning of true Life and learn to follow the lonely path of Divine Life which would lead all the pilgrims to the brilliant domains of perfection. That he felt would be LIFE worth living.”

The japa came back to Menon. He took them up again, not in a spirit of defeatism, out with the refreshing realisation that he was a mere pilgrim on the Unknown Path; he must discover for himself the turns in the route and the charming of the destination! He didn’t know then what the goal was – whither that Path of Sadhana led; but it was consolation enough and encouragement sufficient for Menon to recognise the simple fact that the path of Life Divine was NOT running parallel to the tarred roads leading to the Palace of Life. Whatever be the destination reached by the new path, to Menon it was more admirable in that it would not any way take him back to the same noisy Palace of hurry-burry and mutual slaughter.”

“This decision,” the Swamy continued, “was soon followed by an intense study of philosophy both Indian and European. Dry philosophy, if it now and then thrilled the intellect, generally left the spirit sorely disappointed. In impatience a surging enthusiasm torn the aspirant within, into bits [wonting] in his sincerity the Spiritual Sadhak in Menon vainly chewed his bit. His erstwhile subdued faith and devotion found their voices and they roared and thundered in their demand for freedom and self-expression.”

“Jai Sat-Chit-Anand Sat-Guru Maharaj!” Simple these words be, but admirable they indeed were to express the warmth of the Swami’s adoration to his Gurudev. So sudden was this turn in the emotion of the narrator, that it caught us napping: it took a few frantic moments within ourselves to gauge the depth and intensity of……..but, the Swami had already taken up the story of his life. “It was at this crucial moment in his life that aspirant accidently stumbled upon some of the books by Sri Swami Sivanandaji of Rishikesh. They saved Menon; directed his efforts; explained, comforted, cheered and encouraged. Those books put him on the Road to God, and maintained him all along his pilgrimage. The doubts were solved. The Path became clear. Philosophical volumes disappeared. “Be good, Do good,” “Serve, Love, Purify, meditate, Realise,” “Keep Siva’s Trisul (the Spiritual Diary, Resolutions and Mantra writing) and be free” – practice of these became Life. This change gave the abominable Life in the Palace a newer zest and a nobler meaning.”

“For three years Menon secretly pursued a life of strict spiritual discipline, remaining in the very Palace of Life ever noisy with its gruesome agitations. They divinised ideologies to excuse their barbarous selfishness; discovered engines to crush their fellow-beings; perfected their arguments to torcher the poor; enunciated laws to tyranise over the weak and the honest. They denounced simplicity and self- control, claimed a culture of ugliness, rejected love and kindness. They maneuvered revolution to bring about, not happiness to the many, but power to the few.”

“Mr. Menon was never idle. He reacted to every changing rhythm of his times. He peeped in to study every boosted solution, suggested plan, discussed scheme, distributed Manifesto. Each Social, National, International and one world programme he studied and all of them only grinned back at him in their ghastly ugliness!”

There was such a pang of disappointment in the Swami’s voice that any listener could have easily got an inkling of the impotent ire which the youth must have had against the organised incompetency of his times! “Such a close study of the feverish activities of the Palace Life convinced Menon, that if that were Life, he would be far better off amidst the Dead – whatever be the mode of existence available in that unknown realm. Nothing seemed to have ever a chance to be more degraded and foul than the life as he saw it.”

The Swami paused. The silence seemed to grow as the time-piece ticked louder! We looked at each other. ‘Chinmaya’ sat, lightly playing with his pen, on his Asan. The slanting rays of the Sun added more Guru to the Sadhu’s clothes.

“Yes,” at last said the Swami almost to himself, “it was at this time of his life that P.B.K. Menon, curious to know what an Ashram life would be like and eagerly thirsting to meet his saviour and unknown Master Sri Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj, one day reached Rishikesh. This Sadhu must confess,” confided Swami Chinmayanandaji, “that Balan reached the feet of his Guru more as a deserter of life, than as a Columbus on the shores of America.”

“Menon entered Ananda Kutir, saw his Guru Dev, and stayed for the day – for the day of his final redumption.”
“That Balan of the Pooja room, instinctively loved Siva and innocently lived; – the same child, when given up to become Sri Balakrishna Menon in his intellectual honesty (or was it vanity?) rejected Siva and wondered; – later on, he divorced himself completely from Siva and suffered – his rediscovery of Siva kept him sane in the Palace of Life – his meeting of Siva gave him the Life,” concluded Chinmaya. The hour had just then run out.

The Swami got up, and with an Om Manasivaya he was off ‘on duty,’ to guide other Balans of the Palace of Life safely to the Heaven of joy – the Anand Kutir!!

[Editor: Sri Swami Chinmayananda Saraswathi is now in Uttarkasi (Himalayas) with Sri Swami Tapovanji Maharaj, studying at the sacred feet of this Vidwan-saint of the Uttarakhand, the Vedanta philosophy. Even in his retreat of study and contemplation Chinmaya cannot but be the product of Siva the Divine Lifer. From Uttarkasi the Swami is directing many Sadhaks through their respective Paths. Our readers would be benefited by Sri Swamiji’s gracious permission to publish in columns extracts from his correspondence files.]