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The Grounds for Fulfillment

This is a story surreal. In a time when all are dying physically, financially,
culturally, and above all spiritually there is a place where the fountain of Vedanta still
flows. Still revives. Still creates.

Sandeepany Sadhanalaya, named after the Guru of the original and eternal
Jagadguru (Universal Guru) Bhagavan Sri Krishna, is where teachers and students from
all over the world gather to study, teach, and engage themselves in sadhana (spiritual
disciplines). The vision of Swami Chinmayananda or reverentially deemed Gurudev,
Sandeepany was born in 1963 and still retains an ashram (monastery) aura despite 46
years of fighting off capitalism within the confines of a city like Mumbai. Flora and
fauna, shlokas (verses) and mantras, Gurus and shishyas (disciples); an abundance of all
that is sacred. Naturally this atmosphere causes all those who step into the ashram to be
distressed upon having to leave no matter where they are coming from or going to.

For one to practice sadhana one first has to be educated on what sadhana is? What
is the purpose of sadhana? Most importantly how to develop and sustain inspiration to
take on sadhana? The difficulty of this question lies in the subject itself. Within the
constructs of Advaita Vedanta (Non Dual Philosophy), the means and the goal are the
same. No other field of study faces the same situation. This is a subjective science and
all others objective. For example, if one studies the nature of carbon, one does not
become carbon! However, if one studies the nature of Brahman (Infinity) one does
become Brahman! As such, the teacher must live what he/she teaches. Thus the common
saying Those who cannot do, teach is most definitely not applicable within the realms
of spirituality. And so this fact of life necessitates that seekers of the Truth live in the
same precinct as a knower of the Truth...in a gurukula (monastery)in Sandeepany.

Recognizing the worldwide need for spiritual torchbearers, Gurudev provided a


structured curriculum and environment for seekers to progress with the hopes that in their
fulfillment they too will share their knowledge with the world. Thus, in 1963
commenced the first Vedanta Course. Since then the Chinmaya Mission has conducted
dozens of Vedanta Courses in various parts of India in various regional languages and
even one course in America. As envisioned by Gurudev, studying Vedanta in an ashram
nurtured seekers, created teachers, and discovered masters. One of these masters is
Swami Tejomayananda or lovingly known as Guruji.

Shouldering the responsibility of the Chinmaya Mission worldwide after


Gurudevs Mahasamadhi (physical death of an enlightened personality) in 1993, he has
turned this spiritual organization into nothing less than a juggernaut. Now the hidden
greatness of an uncompromising administrator is that he/she must be a compassionate
teacher as well. Guruji is the acme of this fact. In 2005, he astonished his disciples and
devotees alike when he decided to take on the role of Resident Acharya (teacher) for the
13th Vedanta Course at Sandeepany. This is the same year Guruji was the recipient of the
Hindu of The Year Award even before the course began. And so newspaper
advertisements were printed, flyers posted, emails sent, announcements made; September
7th was Ganesha Chaturthi and the first day of classes.

Arrival

Over 700 applications were received. After interviews and acceptance letters the
magic number was sixty. A perfect sampling of the global Diaspora we sixty came from
seven countries, five decades of birth dates, and yes, two genders. Truly an unparalleled
experience of unity in diversity. Beginning from the end of August 2005, students
steadily began arriving at the ashram and setting up in their assigned room in their
assigned building - boys in Vivekalaya, girls in Yashodalaya, and guest students in
Chinmaya Vihar. Provided with single occupancy rooms naturally a sigh of relief was
heard. Still the overhanging sense of fear remained. What was next?

During this orientation week, the foreigners kept busy registering with the
Indian Government and having pure white dhotis, kurtas, and saris stitched, while the
nationals were taking in the heat and rain which Mumbai is notorious for. Heat and rain,
rain and heat, the sheer extremeness of this weather was surreal and only added to the
already tangible fear of the unknown. Introductions were a daily affair with the
administration, management, priests, cooks, and gardeners. Finally it was time to meet
our teachers.

Chanting of Sri Ganesha Atharvashirsham began at 6:00am sharp and would be


recited a thousand times within the sacred Jagadeeshwara Mandir (Temple). The
atmosphere was set for the inauguration of the course. As the scene shifted to Saraswati
Nilayam (learning hall) all were anxious. And then THEY arrived. Being welcomed to
rangoli (coloured powder), mango leaves, garlands, Vedic chants, and purnakumbhas
(auspicious vessels) Swami Purushottamananda, Swami Brahmananda, and Guruji
blessed all. After each Acharya spoke, the primary message delivered was - Its time to
forget about ones dress and address.

And So It Began

RING RING RING went the 4:00am bell, the same bell we were to awake to for
the next 750 mornings. To some this discipline was a challenge for a couple of days, to
others for two years. Nonetheless our first class was Vedic Chanting at 5:30am at the
mandir. So what to do until then? Shower, clean, read, pray, meditate, sleep, or any
combination thereof. Sometimes we were late for class and sometimes early. Eventually
though we were able to perfectly time how long it took to leave our rooms, walk uphill to
the temple, offer prostrations to the idols and be seated upon our asanas (mats) before the
teacher began class.
Brahmachari Samvid Chaitanya though born in Kerala, spent many years as a
wandering monk in the Himalayas. Eventually he too found himself at Sandeepany
Sadhanalaya. Though starting the 12th Vedanta Course as the Sanskrit Acharya, Samvidji
ended up becoming a student under the guidance of Swami Ishwarananda. After
graduation from the course in 2003 he served society for sometime before Guruji too
called upon his varied knowledge.

Intonating to a higher pitch and intonating to a lower pitch, chanting the Vedas for
a half hour was a natural prelude to the actual study of the Vedas. However, before our
7:00am Vedanta class, piping fresh tea and milk was ready in the Annakshetra (dining
hall). The walk from the temple was a special one morning after morning, for we were
able to study the moon in its endless waxing and waning. Taking time to smell the
flowers is possible! Mauna (silence) was maintained by all and this made for a truly
solitary chai (tea) experience. With some time still remaining we returned to our rooms
for rest or sadhana. The potency of this muhurta (period of the day) is indescribable.

Prior to our Vedanta classes, all the students and day scholars gathered to immerse
in suktams (hymns) like Purusha, Medha, Rudra, etc. Day scholars were those seekers
who though unable to live in the ashram took out the time and put in the effort to study
Vedanta alongside the residential students. At 7:00am sharp Guruji, with his padukas
(sandals) off, walks onto the stage and gracefully makes himself comfortable on the
Vyasa Peetham (podium). Chanting shifts to a peace invocation which Guruji leads. And
then he begins.

Vedanta

Sanatana Dharmas foundation is our Scriptures or the Vedas. Essentially the


Vedas are divided into two portions rituals and knowledge. Now at the end of the day,
no matter how proficient we become in the theory and application of the ritual portion we
can never experience Absolute Happiness. Any permutation of finite will still be finite.
In contrast the knowledge portion directs us beyond this relative plane of existence and
onto the Infinite. The latter portion tends to be found at the end of the Vedas and hence is
called Vedanta (completion of the Vedas). Another term used for this portion is
Upanishads which translates to sitting near and below. This refers to the context and
conduct of a student learning from a teacher. And this is where we found ourselves.

Guruji broke open the mystic language of the Scriptures and in turn broke open
our habits of limited thinking. Mentally and intellectually raised to new heights, we were
prepared to listen all day, every day. Beginning with Adi Shankaracharyas Tattva Bodha
and journeying through works like Vidyaranya Swamis Panchadashi, Ramana
Maharishis Saddarshanam, Mandukya Upanishad with Gaudapadas Karika and dozens
more, the last text we took up was also Bhashyakars composition Jivanmuktananda
Lahari, the experience of an enlightened personality. Through Gurujis devotion to these
saints we too were able to catch a glimpse of their true greatness.
After one hour of enlightenment Guruji punctually closes the class with another
peace invocation knowing full well the day scholars have to attend to their careers and
families. Only after Guruji leaves Saraswati Nilayam for his kutia (residence) does
anyone else leave. Slowly the brahmacharis (male disciples) and brahmacharinis (female
disciples) sitting in neat rows on different sides, stand up from their cross legged position.
Everyone is left reflective and so quietude ensues while we gather our texts and notes
from our rustic wooden desks which fit neatly over our laps. Shortly thereafter the
breakfast bell rings and leaving our sandals outside we enter Annakshetra. Just like in all
other buildings, footwear is not allowed inside. Footwear is indicative of an extroverted
mind and we are encouraged to leave this extroverted-ness outside. Picking up our steel
plates and utensils we line up for our meal. Breakfast tended to be on a seven day
rotation meaning we ate sabut dana (boiled rice) every Monday, idly (rice patties) every
Tuesday, etc. In the Annakshetra some chose to sit with others and some alone all in the
company of our teachers. Their tables positioned perpendicular to all the others allowing
everyone to have their darshan (holy sight).

Post breakfast we return to our rooms to prepare for Sanskrit class or to spend
time in Gurudevs Kutia. When Gurudev attained Mahasamadhi his kutia was
transformed into a shrine where devotees and disciples alike visit, to reacquaint
themselves with Gurudev whether they had physically come across him or not.
Gurudevs kutia exuded a peace even more rare than what the ashram offered. His office,
his bedroom, and his satsang (association with the good) hall were all maintained by the
students and opened every morning and evening. Near Gurdevs kutia also happened to
be a murti (statue) of his Guru Swami Tapovan Maharaj and a murti of the Sandeepany
symbol (scriptures, lamp, and peacock).

Samskrtam

Sanskrit is one of the oldest languages known to man and is also known as
devavani (speech of gods). This language, like all things ancient has slowly disappeared.
However, due to the foresight and participation of the Guru Parampara (Tradition of
Spiritual Teachers) Sanskrit is slowly reappearing on the scene. At Sandeepany students
were divided into three classes based on their capability with classes running on alternate
days. Samvidji always began the class with a Sanskrit proverb through which we were
encouraged to study both language and morality. From there he took us deep into
terminations, cases, sandhis, samasas and on and on and on. We had presentations, plays,
even wrote the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan exam in which most students excelled. The
study of Sanskrit was not for intellectualism, rather facilitating the understanding of our
scriptures which of course were originally recorded in Sanskrit. Though very challenging
the opportunity to study this godly language was equally rewarding.

Following a short break after Sanskrit all of us joined together at 12:00pm to


chant the names of the Lord. Starting with the Vishnu Sahasranama, as the course
progressed, we moved onto the Lalita, Shiva and even touched the Rama Sahasranamas
(1000 names). Even though Bhaja Govindam teaches that chanting of Vishnu
Sahasranama is enough to attain mental purity, at Sandeepany we studied the meaning of
all these names as well. Many had come to memorize these glories and so as the course
progressed we began to chant Gurudevs Ashtottara (108 names) and Guru Paduka
Stotram, etc.
The chanting did not end there for as soon as the lunch bell rang Chapter 15 of
Shrimad Bhagavad Gita commenced. Lunch was a grand event for not only did all the
students eat but so did all the Acharyas, Central Chinmaya Mission Trust (CCMT) staff,
and Tara Cultural Trust (TCT) staff. The body responsible for the functioning of
Sandeepany was TCT and CCMT was the body responsible for the functioning of the
entire Chinmaya Mission worldwide. Lunch tended to operate on a 10 day schedule with
roti (flat bread), chawal (rice), daal (lentils), and chaas (buttermilk) being a daily staple.
Only after Guruji or another senior Acharya began eating did anyone else eat and only
after they had finished their meal did anyone else leave. Sandeepany was all about subtle
messages a disciple is one prepared for discipline. And the only purpose of discipline is
to subdue our ever wanton ego. Unlike typical secular schooling where individuality is
encouraged, in this sacred schooling we are encouraged to look beyond and beyond the
individual is the Total. Hence, the standard clothing, standard lodging, standard meals,
standard schedule, standard everything. Nonetheless opportunities did present
themselves for us to exhibit our choice and so creativity. From the time lunch finished to
our next class at 4:00pm was our time. Now do not be tricked into thinking these three
hours were a free for all. Contrarily, we had to attend to our personal affairs. These three
hours were typically spent washing our clothes, cleaning our rooms, preparing for class,
sleeping, bathing, and exercising.

Physical fitness was not overly stressed in our curriculum. Still we did study
asanas (postures) and pranayama (breathing techniques) for a period of three weeks. We
were simply expected to remain fit, though this certainly was not the case for some. The
issue was not a matter of lifestyle, rather of purity. Living at Sandeepany one is
consciously and unconsciously subject to a mental and physical purification which often
took place through the body. In a time when societys main preoccupation is the body,
the Vedanta Course taught otherwise, the body is merely a vehicle. A vehicle to serve
others. To remove this vanity was the reason why all the brahmacharis had their
heads/faces shaved clean every second full moon. Sans a tuft that is, which indicated our
only attachment to the Guru and Brahma Vidya.

This break became very tough to endure during the summer of our second year.
Mumbai was consuming too much electricity and officials decided to shut off power from
11:30am to 3:30pm, when the sun was at its meanest. Waking up in pools of sweat and
then going for class was a situation we simply had to cope with. Eventually Guruji
decided enough was enough and went ahead and arranged for a generator within the
ashram. In how many ways does a Gurus grace manifest for gross needs let alone subtle
ones?

For the first five months of the course, from 4:00pm to 5:00pm all the students
were engaged in Narayana Seva (serving the Leader of men) and in what better manner
than the upkeep of our own ashram where hundreds of thousands sought refuge.
Considering the many facets of Sandeepany our seva too took many forms from
sweeping the walkways to counting coins in the office to computerizing the library, etc.
Serving others, like living in an ashram, provides an opportunity for personal growth.
More specifically, we became aware that true and lasting peace is within us and not
without us. We came to realize how little we need and this is exactly what Guruji told us
at the start of the course, You will be given what you need. If not given, you do not
need. After five months, we were not allocated a specific hour to perform Narayana
Seva and had to make time in our already tight routine; a true test of our limits.

Shrimad Bhagavad Gita

Was 4:00pm a break then? Actually, yes. A break from mundane existence for
our Shrimad Bhagavad Gita classes began. As humanity passes from one age to another
its language is not spared. The best example of this is the dialogue between Bhagavan
Shri Krishna and Arjuna, which is nothing but the eternal dialogue between our Rishis
(sages) and their shishyas as found in the Upanishads. The context has changed but not
the content. With tears in his eyes Guruji brought tears to all as he lovingly taught what
Bhagavan Shri Krishna taught. Duty, surrender, and knowledge unfolds fearlessness
unfolds bliss.

As soon as class commenced it was completed and we all floated to our rooms
with hopes to assimilate even a fraction of what was expounded. Studying Vedanta is a
uniqueprocess. A process because once taken up ones whole life is pervaded by it and
one comes to understand that apparently different activities are exactly that - apparent. If
not reflecting during a discourse one is reading before the discourse or making notes after
the discourse. When not engaged in any of these activities one is practicing spiritual
disciplines so that information becomes wisdom. For the next hour and some most
students were found in sadhana and the rest were bathing before going to the temple.

Evenings at Jagadeeshwara Mandir are memories that cannot be forgotten even if


one tried. Slowly all the brahmacharis and brahmacharinis as well as devotees from all
over Mumbai gathered for Aarti. Commencing at 6:25pm students took turn leading the
chants and prayers towards Shruti Mata, Hanumanji, Shivji, and more. With Ganeshji
invoked the massive temple bells and conches were sounded beckoning all around to
leave their worldliness behind and find solace in the Creator. All the Aartis were
concluded with a hymn to Ganga Mata and the priests offering auspicious light and ash to
all.

Considering ours was the 13th batch at Sandeepany for the Vedanta Course, the
curriculum designed was flawless. Knowing fully well our heads were exercised all day
it was time to address the heart. Our satsangs immediately following Aarti were filled
with devotional singing accompanied by instruments and clapping. Remember the
temple is open to all and the public actively participated and appreciated our gatherings.
The highlight of satsang was Gurujis line by line explanation of the entire Shri
Ramacharitramanas, the first time He has done this in a Vedanta Course. We all
journeyed alongside Bhagavan Rama from His promise to incarnate to His exile to His
defeat of Ravana. Just as Bhagavan Rama celebrated His birth, His marriage, His return
to Ayodhya, etc., so did everyone at Jagadeeshwara Mandir, literally.

With a final peace invocation for the day Guruji slowly exited blessing one and all
alike. Naturally wanting to be as close to ones guru as possible many devotees and
disciples accompanied him to his kutia after slyly taking a piece of prasad (holy
offerings). After a solid day of satsang and sadhana, Annakshetra once again called us.
Dinner at Sandeepany was the same as lunch with the only difference being the far more
relaxed atmosphere considering many of the Acharyas did not partake in dinner and the
office staff were not around. A quiet meal in a quiet surrounding truly gives rise to
sattwastaha (being established in peace).

Where to next? Tamas (inertia) of course! A day filled with sattva and rajas
(activity) must culminate in the universal equalizer sleep. Before this appointment
however, a variety of traditions took place. Some chatted, others walked. Some wrote
letters, other listened to music. All slowly gave into physical, mental, and intellectual
weariness. Not in the typical sense as the material world feels at the end of the day.
More along the lines of krtakrtya or fulfillment

A Master Plan
Sandeepany Sadhanalaya is redefining the ashram concept, for the better. Gone
are the days of having to live in a gurukula (monastery) for a minimum of twelve years
studying grammar and logic etc. Gurudev envisioned a world where Vedanta could reach
every house whether one is a brahmachari or grhasta (householder). And knowing fully
well this could only become a reality through a network of Acharyas who are so inspired
by their Gurus love and the Shastras (Scriptures) Truth that they in their fulfillment
would share the same with the masses. In turn, those personalities who have recognized
the greatness of such service give back to the Chinmaya Mission enabling them to
implement spiritual activities like study groups, jnana yajnas (discourses), and Vedanta
Courses. This is correct, whether seeking in your own home, in a lecture hall, or an
ashram the Chinmaya Mission demands no commitment or cash. The choice to give or
not is left to the beneficiary. For the 13th Vedanta Course, the expenses for more than half
the students were covered by a single donor!

In spite of all circumstances Sandeepany Sadhanalaya distinctly retains its ashram


atmosphere. The premise behind a gurukul is for the shishyas to watch their Guru live
the truths he/she teaches. Doing so adheres to the psychological logic of role-modeling
where the student slowly becomes the teacher. This is nowhere better seen than within
the Chinmaya Mission. During our course on many occasions Guruji would be unable to
teach for he was either traveling the world conducting spiritual camps or in some cases
dealing with an illness. In fact on December 17, 2006 Guruji was compelled to travel to
the United States for treatment of a physical ailment. And out of love for teaching and
the taught he was back at Sandeepany on February 13, 2007 less than two months later.
During his absences dozens of other Acharyas each with their own strengths and styles
stepped up to ensure the completion of all the texts in our syllabus 67 in total including
all 18 chapters of Shrimad Bhagavad Gita. Though all our Vedantic classes were taught
by sannyasis (renunciates) some of our organizational classes were taught by graduates of
past Vedanta Courses. Again, redefining yet not selling out the vision of an ashram, after
completing over two years of intense spiritual studies, one has the choice to serve with
the Chinmaya Mission or to go ones own way. And this freedom is given because
regardless of which path is chosen one has become a better human being and will help
others become the same.

Bharat
In addition to the far from ordinary schedule already shared there were even more
extraordinary happenings the grandest of which was celebrating Mahashivratri.
According to the Shastras, Mahashivratri is the one of the most sattvic of all utsavas
(festivals) and so one of the most important for a seeker, especially one residing in the
home of Jagadeeshwara. On this day over 100,000 devotees pay homage at the mandir
with a line forming at 3:00am and not clearing until 3:00am the following day. In these
tremendous 24 hours the students and hundreds of volunteers are responsible for
facilitating the akhanda nama japa (unbroken chanting), akhanda abhisheka (unbroken
oblations), traffic flow, safety, footwear collection, and above all sanctity for an unbroken
line of devotees. Unquestionably a once in a lifetime experience. Festivals from every
corner of Bharat (India) were celebrated in tune with brahmacharis and brahmacharinis
from these respective corners Shri Hanuman Jayanti and Guru Purnima, Shri Jagannath
Rath Yatra and Swami Vivekananda Jayanti, Onam and Pongal, and on and on.

Many of the auspicious days recognized were made even more auspicious through
puja (prayer). Now most of us have only the slightest idea of why we do what we do
when it comes to rituals. This lack of understanding is dispelled by Vedanta which
explains the rationale behind rituals. Samvidji very precisely shared with us Puja Vidhi
(sequence of worship) and then even gave us an opportunity to perform a Guru-paduka
puja (prayer to holy sandals) during our second year. Testing took form in many ways.
Initially exams then essays then group discussions and finally discourses of increasing
lengths. The latter was a grueling endeavor, for to speak in front of a master like Guruji
one becomes nothing regardless of how learned. Most survived.

Every scripture and teacher shares the same sentiment that it is only through the
Gurus grace that one progresses on the spiritual path. To pay our respects to where
Gurudev learned from his Guru, Swami Tapovanam Maharaj, at the beginning of our
second year in the course we all traveled from Mumbai to Uttarakashi. Leaving the
Sandeepany premises was not allowed without permission and most never wanted to; still
the adventures to Uttarakashi were looked forward to by all. En route we visited many
holy places and stayed at many hermitages. Finally Tapovan Kuti appeared on the
horizon and this was to be home for the next month. Our studies never ceased, only the
scene changed - heat to cold, plains to mountains, Chinmaya to Tapovanam. While in
Uttarakashi we had a chance to have darshan of glorious temples like that of Kashi
Vishwanatha and Ganga Mata. A month passed like a moment and as we followed the
Ganga east we paid our respects at the ashrams of other Gurus in the parampara Ananda
Mayi Maa in Haridwara, Swami Shivananda in Rishikesha, Swami Narayana in Delhi.
Bharat like Brahman is immeasurable.
Why
People often complain how difficult it is to live in a university residence or with a
spouse. This may be true, however there is always the opportunity to escape. And this is
what we do. We try to runaway from our minds via entertainment, intoxicants, even
relationships. Having experienced all of this, living at Sandeepany was a thousand times
more challenging for all that we ever depended on was taken away. No cell phones. No
television. No restaurants. No friends. Only ones mind. We were forced to live in the
minimum and if we could not handle this we came to suffer. Again there is no escape
from this suffering but to face it and transcend it; a mental rehabilitation and
strengthening. Now in this purification process more impurities were discovered and
hopefully released - vices like intolerance, jealousy, lust, etc. Remember we not only had
to study with the same sixty faces but also eat, serve, praylive. A challenge few can
ever fathom let alone endure. If one discovers one is not capable of this or if Guruji
recognizes the same, this person leaves or is asked to leave. Otherwise the whole group
is weakened. For those who survive, independence is the reward. Independence from all
that one was dependent on. No more missing this or that.

Spirituality is a framework to truly understand oneself. Presently we all think we


know who we are and we do but only very superficially. We know how our body looks,
sometimes the moods of the mind, and if lucky the ideals of the intellect. What about our
core, our true Nature? Once we realize there is more than the upadhis (equipments) our
life takes on a transformation - a constant striving to know the import of the Scriptures
and teachers, the truths of life, ones Self. And this striving is fueled by questioning the
discontentment which is all that the objects and beings of the world have to offer.
Sandeepany calls out to such seekers and if they answer they inevitably leave with the
strength to carry themselves and others through the challenges of living. Isnt this what
Gurudev did? Isnt this what Guruji does? Isnt this what the students of the 13th Vedanta
Course will do? The answer is yes, yes, and yes. The purpose of the Chinmaya Mission
and more specifically Sandeepany is to provide an opportunity to learn and teach. The
purpose is to unleash purpose.