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Spirituality lies in being one's own true self - The Times of India

Sheeb Nair ()
June 18, 1998

Title: Spirituality lies in being one's own true self
Author: Sheeb Nair
Publication: The Times of India
Date: June 18, 1998

A signboard at the Ambedkar gardens near Powai lake urges you to
climb uphill, which you do, stopping only when you reach a
gateway flanked by a Shiva temple and a post office.

Thankfully, the watchman has been trained to look out for
confused people, and ushers you into the sprawling seven-acre
campus of the Chinmaya Mission: the Sandeepany Sadhanalaya, a
modern Gurukul where volunteers are trained in Vedantic texts.
Apart from residential hostels, the premises also house the
headquarters of the Central Chinmaya Mission Trust. Located in
the centre, partly hidden amidst the lush greenery, is the
glassed-in 'kutir' which Swami Tejomayananda, head of the
Chinmaya Mission, makes his abode.

The Swami holds audience in the grand style, surrounded by
devotees who mill around him, eager for blessings. With his
saffron robe, rudraksha mala, beard and smile all carefully in
place, the 45-year-old Swami seems fully conscious of his role as
leader of a religious institution to whom thousands look up for
guidance.

The Swami, who joined the mission at the age of 20, rose to
become head of the US branch of the Chinmaya Trust within a
decade. In 1993, after the passing, of Swami Chinmayananda, he
became head of the mission worldwide.

"I don't believe that spirituality is a matter of ritual," says
the Swami, commenting on his work. "It is really a vision of
life. In other words, spirituality does not lie in doing
something special but in being one's own true self. The essence
of spirituality is in being and then expanding this self to all
beings."

"The practical expression of spirituality," he continues, "is
simply 'Love all and serve all'." But how, you wonder, can this
abstract philosophy ever satisfy the great majority of people,
whose focus, necessarily, must be on basic survival? The Swami
elucidates, somewhat defensively, "No spiritual organisation can
work without social work, nor should it approach the masses
before meeting their needs. Give food to the poor before you give
a lecture." On the other hand, he notes, with the pragmatism of
an experienced organiser, "the rich must be inspired to share
their wealth with others. That is how the Chinmaya mission
works."

The Swami's faith in charity is, seemingly, boundless. "In India,
people have generously donated funds and resources to spiritual
institutes rather than to the government," he smiles. "This is
probably because they recognise that such institutes, unlike the
government, are concerned with the inner transformation of
individuals, so that they can contribute positively to society."

But the planet-spanning sanyasi loses some of the benign charm
when you ask him for a solution to the nuclear zealotry that has
currently swept a land more renowned for its apostles of peace
and non-violence. "Any nation which has to prosper must make
progress in two areas - national security and education," he
states. And why are 'borders' of such prime importance to a man
who otherwise thinks only on a global scale? "If a nation's
borders are not secure, how can it defend its prosperity?" he
replies, defending his position. "However," he concedes, "real
progress lies in education."

But has India not set a dangerous example to other developing
nations? Is it a progressive measure, when far more urgent
social and economic problems remain to be met? The Swami fends
off such questions with a cool shrug. "These are the
justifications created by the superpowers to dominate us. When
they have amassed nuclear weapons, how can they, preach to the
weaker nations?" he responds. "Every country should renounce its
weapons, or else, every country should be allowed to create its
own defenses. It is only when all nations are equal that they can
realistically share the feeling of 'live and let live' , and
there would be no wars."

Does Swami Tejomayananda see no contradiction between his calling
as a spiritual teacher and this endorsement of war? His answer
sounds startlingly like that of a seasoned politician: "Rough the
ideal situation would be the abolition of war, the practical
realities cannot be ignored."

Before you can ask another question, the Swami chucks a fresh
alphonso into your hands. You know the code already: "Time's up,
ma'am." An aide comes up to remind Swami Tejomayananda of the
next engagement on his schedule, a visit to a medical camp that
the Chinmaya mission is conducting in a nearby village. The talk
of war gives way to the work of healing.


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