How I came into Chinmaya Mission?
– an experience by Vinay Nair
It was the 14th of February 2002, a Valentine’s Day. I had a fight with my girlfriend few days back and we weren’t talking to each other. Seeing my other friends going out and having fun added to my grief. I was just recovering from a severe attack of Jaundice and hospitalization of 28 days. My father had strictly told me not to go out of the house for many more days. It was more than two weeks that I was at home. No friends. No fun. I was bored to death. My craving for nicotine was killing me on one side. Never earlier was I grounded.
That afternoon, my dad got a call from one of his friends who said that there is a ‘Geeta Jnana Yagna’ starting that day evening at a nearby school. There is a Malayalee Swami from Chinmaya Mission in Kerala who would be giving discourse in Malayalam on Bhagawad Geeta in the evening talks and Upanishads during the morning talks. Dad was very social and was active in a lot of social organizations. He immediately called up a lot of his friends and spread the news. While he was talking to his friends, he was stressing that we (Malayalees) should be present in a good number during the talk. Or else, what will the Swami think of the Malayalees in our town (Dombivli, a town in the Mumbai suburbs). I was thinking what my old man is upto. We had hardly heard of Chinmaya Mission and here he is, inviting everybody for a program of Chinmaya Mission. My dad asked my mom who readily agreed. That was nothing unusual. She was a typical Indian wife who would be in for anything her husband wishes for. But my surprise was turned into a shock when he invited me while they were about to leave for the talk. I thought, “WHAT???? Geeta? Upanishad? ME? What on earth made him feel that I would come for such a thing? I couldn’t even stay awake for 90 minutes during such a talk. And that too, when I’m totally sad and dejected on this Valentine’s Day”. I didn’t express this much. I simply replied, “No”. He persuaded me with the dialogues he gave to his friends about presenting a good crowd in front of the Swami. I still said, “No”. Then he said, “OK! If you want to go out of the house, this is your chance. Or else, we go, you stay”. TONG! The bell rang in my mind. That was a good deal to strike. With no second thoughts, I said, “Yes. I changed my mind. You guys go ahead. I’ll be there in no time”.
My folks left for the school and I got dressed up quickly, took my scooter, and went directly to my Paan-beediwala (cigarette vendor). Bought a cigarette and enjoyed my smoke. Ah Ha! It was after one and a half months time that I was having a cigarette. At that time, I was a total believer that Happiness lies in the objects and never in the subject. I enjoyed my smoke and went to visit a couple of my friends and came back home at night. On my arrival, my dad asked where I was. I told him that I didn’t go to the school. I was expecting a half an hour argument after I said that. To my astonishment, he didn’t shout at me. He was in a totally different mood. I was taken aback. This never happened earlier in my life.
I asked my mom what the Swami taught from Bhagawad Geeta. She told me that he didn’t teach anything. Instead, he posed questions which were quite logical. Since I had a questioning mind, I enjoyed listening to the questions that he asked about our life, what is the quality of the life that we are leading, who’s leading a better life – man or animal, etc. And the answers he said were also quite logical. He didn’t say anything much from the Geeta. My mom explained everything very beautifully. She said, from the next day morning he was going to talk on Kenopanishad and that if I wished I could join her.
I always enjoyed arguments and debates based on logic. And since I never gave up until I was convinced, I usually won the arguments I used to have with my friends and family. I had concluded myself as an ‘intellectual’. With this notion in my mind, I thought, why not go to the talk and see what’s going on?
Next morning I found myself as the youngest among all the people who had either grey hair, dyed hair or no hair. I went and sat in the front. Swamiji started the class right on time with the chanting – something that was always boredom to me. But I enjoyed this small chanting of Shanti Mantra and few more slokas. He immediately started off with the topic of Upanishads. What were Upanishads…Number of Upanishads…how Vedas was structured, etc. I just sat in awe and admiration when he spoke with so much on conviction about the scriptures. I noted down everything in my mind. The proud intellectual I was, I never felt that I should carry a notebook to remember things.
Kenopanishad abducted my mind. It was full of questions that the student asks to his Teacher and the Teacher explains everything logically. Logic & Proofs was something I always enjoyed. May be it was the love for Math that made me fall in love with Logic. I was totally lost in the talk and never realized how quickly one hour passed. At the end of the talk, I felt the time was too short. I saw everybody going and prostrating to the Swami. I just stood there, looked at him and smiled. He looked at me and smiled back. He was different than the other Swamis I had seen earlier. He seemed to be one of us, yet different than us. To be very honest, he didn’t have any Godly look. But his eyes were sharp and one could feel his sense of conviction in what he spoke. He asked me my name and we started off our conversation. I asked him a few doubts I had from the talk that he gave. He gave me good explanations that satisfied my mind. The solutions to problems that he spoke were very practical. He was very analytical & logical in explanations. He didn’t give any room for rituals or blind beliefs. People following any religion, even an atheist could, agree to him. Anybody could follow it and be a happier person. I thanked him and left. I could see my mind firing a lot of questions to myself. I went home and didn’t do anything except discussing on the talk with my mom and thinking on the subject all alone. Probably it was for the first time in my life that I would have sat alone and thought on some subject. There was not a chance that I would miss the evening talk.
That evening too, I left home after my parents left. Went to the cigarette vendor, had a puff and went to the Yagnashala. Once again, I got lost in the talk. After the talk, people prostrated Swamiji and few asked him questions. I didn’t feel the need for prostrating but a strong urge to shower a dozen of doubts. Swamiji patiently listened to my questions and answered them. I found that an answer to one question gave rise to another question. This morning and evening class schedule continued for a week. Every day mom & I used to sit and read and discuss on various topics till late nights. In the coming weeks, we would sit and discuss till midnight and I would wake up at 3am to go for the morning Upanishad class in the nearby town. Never had I felt so much energy in me despite such less sleep. Nothing was missed (not even the evening puffs). But what was changing was my outlook towards life. All my ideologies were slowly shattering after every talk. At the end of the week, I could see what a stupid life I had led for the last 21 years? I felt, as if I hadn’t lived life at all. 21 years was just a waste of time. I hope you can understand the feeling that one will have after he realizes that all he did for 1/3rd or 1/4th of his life was – NOTHING! Did some stupid things and got some small amount of happiness in it and mistook those small sparks for ‘Real Happiness’. I had become a slave to habits, to friends. I could not see anything productive I did in my life. I was totally away from my friends, T.V., telephone, everything, during that week. It was for the first time I thought for ‘Myself’. I had decided, “I want to lead a better life. When I’m privileged to lead a better life how stupid would I be not to choose the better path of life?”
After that week I didn’t feel the ‘need’ to smoke. I felt as a stronger individual who would not be a slave to any object. I quit butt or the butt quit me, I don’t know. Something that I was trying hard since quite some time happened effortlessly. I was a happy man. I felt as if I achieved the first thing in my life.
Swamiji had another week discourse followed by the one in our town. That one was in another suburb in Mumbai – Mulund. I started attending those talks from Day 1. I started going around with Swamiji for bhikshas in different homes and had good Satsang with him for a few days. There was one more week talk after Mulund. I attended that too. I couldn’t think of anything except Vedanta. That was it! That was my entry to this great organization – Chinmaya Mission.
I can never forget that evening of the Valentine’s Day of 2002 where I made up my mind to go for the talk. That was one evening where for the first time in my life, I started falling in love with myself!