The tradition of instruction of the lineage of teachers
In order to gain clear knowledge of Vedanta, it is essential to be part of an uninterrupted lineage of master/disciple called "guruparampara". Direct contact with a teacher, learning through the study of various texts in daily classes that are conducted in a suitable environment over some time is essential. The lineage of teaching of Vidya Mandir comes from Lord Dakshinamurti, the first guru, passing on the great master, Sri Shankara, onto most recently Swami Tapovan, Swami Chinmayananda, Swami Dayananda Saraswati, and to Gloria Arieira.
Sri Shankara is considered one of the great masters of the Advaita (non-dual) Vedanta tradition. He was born in the 8th Century in Kalady in the state of Kerala, South India. He became a sadhu (renunciant) from a very young age.
He studied under the guidance of guru Govindapada, who lived on the banks of the Narmada River in western India, and traveled all over the country on foot, as had been customary at the time. We owe to Bhagavan Shankara the written form of the tradition of the teaching of the Vedas, which has passed through the centuries, surviving to the present day, intact and in its essence.Not only was he able to convey the teaching in written form in an elegant and profound manner, but Sri Shankara was also responsible for writing commentaries on the great treatises.
It is Shankara's commentary that form the basis for the teaching tradition known as Vedanta. There are other commentaries written about the teaching of the Vedas, but Sri Shankara’s that remained and were followed by all those who came after him.
Sri Shankara is said to have died at the age of thirty-two at Kedarnath in North India. He was not the founder of Advaita Vedanta, but one of the great link to this ancient teaching tradition. Although he created nothing new, he dealt with contemporary issues from the point of view of the Tradition, which made him a great teacher and symbol of the very knowledge he imparted.
Four were his chief disciples: Sureshvara, Padmapada, Totaka and Hastamalaka. Sri Shankara founded four study centers in the four corners of India, and in each of these he established one of his disciples. After these, others were chosen who became heads of these maths, centers of study, to this day, each of whom receive the title of Shankaracarya. And so it is Sri Shankara who is was called Adi Shankara, the first Shankara.
These four maths are thus located: Sringeri (south), Puri (east), Joshimath (north) and Dwaraka (west). All these remain strong reservoirs of study of the Vedas, particularly of traditional Vedanta teaching.
Swami Tapovan was born in Palghat (today called Palakkad), Kerala, in 1889, on the auspicious day of ekadashi (the eleventh day of the bright lunar fortnight) of the month Margashirsha (which in southern India goes from early December (around the 6th) until early January (around the 4th). His mother, Kunchamma, belonged to an aristocratic Keralan family, Nair family of Palghat. His father, Achutan Nair, was from Kotuvayur, Kerala.The baby born to these parents was called Subramanian Nair, but his nickname was Chippukkutty.
Since childhood Chippukutty had shown great interest in religious and spiritual affairs and was interested in the stories of the Puranas. Despite demonstrating intelligence and learning ability upon entering the local English school, he was clearly disinterested in the way the schools taught. Soon he decided to ask his father to leave school, but to follow his studies in the traditional way of private teaching. He does so until he was 17 years old, dedicated to the study of Vedanta, linguistics and literature in both his mother tongue, Malayalam and in Sanskrit, as well as in English. He studied poetry, drama, grammar and logic. Enjoy reading religious texts in Malayalam, Tamil, Sanskrit and English. Practicing many spiritual disciplines, he lived a life common to spiritual renunciants, devoted to meditation, study, reflection, and bhajans – uninterested in the in the pleasures of the world.
Chippukutty's parents passed away before he turned 21.
It was then that he assumed responsibility for taking care of his brother until he graduated and was married. Chippukutty lived with his family, but his life had a constant spiritual focus. He refused to marry despite family pressure. Whenever he could, he visited swamis and yogis and studied with them.
In 1912, he was editor of a magazine called Gopala Krishna, devoting himself to public lectures on politics, religion and Vedanta, and writing articles for newspapers. He was equally respected by both young and old of his time. His activities were conducted until he was 28-years-old, when he lost interest in them and exclusively devoted himself to religion and spirituality, travelling to encounters with sages and saints, such as Sri Ramana Maharshi in Tiruvannamalai, Tamil Nadu and the head of the Ramakrishna Mission in Chennai, among others.
In 1920 he was invited by the then Shankarachaya of Dwarka, Sarada Peetham, to spend time in Calcutta studying and meditating. He immediately accepted the invitation, and from there went on to Haridwar and Rishikesh, visiting Delhi, Mathura, Vrindavan, Pushkar and Dwarka on the way home. These trips completely changed his life. Enjoying the solitude of the forests and mountains, fasting and eating only once a day, he studied the shastras, meditated and sung bhajans. The years passed on and his brother graduated from law school, so the young Chippukutty prepared to leave his home in Kerala and devote himself exclusively to the spiritual life. When he left, his brother asked him to return soon, but they both knew there would be no return. He went to Panchavati, near Nasik, where he stayed for a while with a mahatma named Swami Hridayananda. Then he went to the bank of the Narmada River and assumed the life of a renunciant. He then followed his pilgrimage and went to Prayag and then to Ayodhya in the company of mahatmas. Then he went to Rishikesh where he stayed and remained in samadhi, before formally being initiated in the sannyasa order by Kailas Ashram chief Sri Swami Janardana Giri, becoming Swami Tapovanam (meaning forest of austerity).
While in Rishikesh, during the summer he embarked for Uttarkashi on foot.
His pilgrimages to various places in the Himalayas are described in his book "Wandering in the Himalayas". He also visited Mount Kailasa and Tibetan monasteries. These trips are told in the book "Kailas Yatra". Within 4 or 5 years of his stay in Rishikesh, Swami Tapovan became renowned. He became famous because of his dedication to knowledge and his capacity for detachment and sacrifice. Many people followed him, offering their service, but Swamiji continued his life alone and always left Rishikesh as soon as the weather permitted, because he found the city of Rishikesh to be too busy. He never descended beyond Rishikesh, despite receiving numerous invitations from wealthy devotees. Uttarkashi, Gangotri and Badrinath were his favorite places. A few students accompanied him eager to learn.
Sri Swami Chinmayanandaji was born on May 8, 1916 at 7:30 pm in Ernakulam, Kerala, South India, under the name Balakrishnan Menon. His nickname was Balan. His mother, Parukutti Amma, and his father, Vadakkekurupath Kuttan Menon, belonged to a well-known aristocratic family. His father, who was from the city of Trichur, became a judge in Ernakulam. His mother was the sister of Cochin's Chief Justice. The surname Menon indicates that the people of this caste are of noble family of which the Nairs were part.
When Balakrishnan was born, the astrologer said he would be well-known and do an extraordinary job. Balan was very studious and graduated in Science, English and English Literature.
Young Balan was very enthusiastic and was an active part of the movement for the British withdrawal from India in 1942 - "Quit India Movement". Balan wrote articles, distributed pamphlets, and made speeches. Many activists of this movement died, others were put in jail. When Balan learned that his arrest had been declared, he went to Kashmir and remained there in 1943.
After some time, thinking that he had been forgotten by the British police, Balakrishnan returned to the Indian liberation movement, but he was caught and placed, along with others, in cold, dark cells with little food and no hygiene, in conditions where many prisoners died daily. Balakrishnan contracted typhoid fever.
Police, thinking he was dead, put him on the street.
Soon a lady came by car and stopped, thinking that Balan was her own son who had fought in Europe with British troops. She took Balan home and cared for him. After a few weeks, he recovered. Balan worked as a journalist for The National Herald. He wanted to contribute to India's political, economic and social reform. One day, as a journalist, Balakrishnan met Swami Sivananda who had an ashram in Rishikesh. Balakrishnan wanted to write an article about the renunciants. After this meeting his life changed completely. Balan became a renunciant on February 25, 1949 and is named Swami Chinmayananda Saraswati by Swami Sivananda Saraswati himself.
After spending a few years in the Rishikesh ashram, Swami Sivananda says that he should go to Swami Tapovan to deepen his studies, as he saw the great interest, dedication and deep questioning of the young Swami Chinmayananda. Swami Tapovan was a great scholar and sage, who was also known for his strict disciplines. Swami Tapovan was also strict with his disciples and when Swami Chinmayanada asks him to teach him, Swami Tapovan says that he would speak all at once and could not be questioned.
Swami Chinmayanada stayed with his guru for a few years, not only in a small ashram in Uttarkashi, but on pilgrimage with the guru through the Himalayas. In 1952, Swami Chinmayananda asked the blessings of his master to descend the mountains and teach Vedanta to the people who lived in the cities. At first, Swami Tapovan did not like the idea, insisting that he would stay where he was: if people were really interested in studying Vedanta, they would come to them. But with much insistence on the part of Swami Chinmayananda, the guru agreed, telling him to try but three times: If there were more than three people in class, to continue; otherwise, return to Uttarkashi.
In the first lectures there was only one person, besides the organizer and the janitor, Swami Chinmayananda said.
After a while, he began lecturing on Vedanta, about Upanishads and the Bhagavadgita. These series of lessons lasted around 15 days, with morning and evening classes, and was called Jnana Yagna (Ritual of Knowledge, word taken from Chapter 4 of the Bhagavadgita).
The first Jnana Yagna was in Pune, Maharastra. (By the end of his life, 576 Jnana Yagnas were performed by him in various parts of the world).
In 1953, some of his very enthusiastic Madras (now Chennai) disciples began a study group they called the Chinmaya Mission. Although Swamiji did not want to found an institution, the group continued and later gave rise to the well-known institution run by Swami Chinmayananda himself and now by a disciple of his own.
In his 42 years of teaching and travel, Swamiji had done a great social work, built schools, hospitals, clinics and led the rebuilding of some temples. He has published more than 35 books, including commentaries by the Upanishas and Bhagavadgita. From his lectures were born many books, including one on the symbolism of Hindu deities. All books and videos are clear and enlightening. Swami Chinmayanda indeed struggled for the revival of the Vedic tradition and was innovative by beginning to teach in English, desiring to reach Indians who had been influenced by the British that had dominated their country for so long.
He was known for his clarity, wisdom, humor and great command of the cultured English language. His presence was loving as well as disciplinary. He has been and continues to be a source of inspiration for millions of people in India, the United States, Canada, and so many other countries.
He attained mahasamadhi, leaving the physical body, on August 3, 1993. There is a memorial for him in the house where Sri Sankara was born, today cared for by the Chinmaya Mission in Ernakulam, Kerala.
Swami Pranavananda was born in Andhra Pradesh around the year 1890 and attained mahasamadhi on May 15th, 1969. He would teach Vedanta both in Sanskrit and Telugu in Gudivada, near Vijayavada. Swami Dayananda, before becoming a renunciate stayed with Swami Pranavananda for 3 months, around 1961 and 1962. After this period, he would go every 3 months to visit Swami Pranavanda.
Swami Pranavananda mostly taught the text Pancadashi. He would not bother teaching the full text but was very attentive on giving out to each one the vision of Vedanta. He was known as the “Vision teacher” and his classes were called bodha, because he focused on the vision and not on teaching a text. He was very much able to deal with each word he would choose to use.
What is most important is that Swami Pranavananda knew very clearly that Vedanta is a pramanam, a means of knowledge. He would not give talks but teach each one sitting in front of him.
Swami Dayananda came to know Swami Pranavananda in a conference where many teachers of Vedanta were present. He was different from all the others because he was very clear about the methodology of teaching the Sruti, the vision of Vedanta.
Text by Swami Dayananda Saraswati, extracted from Tapovan Prasad´s article of June 1969, quoted in the book: Swami Dayananda Saraswati – Contributions & Writings, Sheela Balaji, Arsha Vidya Research and Publication Trust, 2012 (p 328-331).
“ His Holiness Swami Pranavananda of Gudivada attained mahasamadhi on 15th May 1969. He was in his seventies.
At the insistence of Sri Swamiji, I lived with Sri Swami Pranavananda in his ashram for a few months in 1961-62, and from then on I was in contact with him.
In teaching atma vidya, there is a tradition in our country. If that is not known to a teacher, he can never impart the knowledge of the sruti to a seeker. Just as the eyes are a pramana for all perceptions of forms, sruti through a living teacher becomes the pramana for self-knowledge. And therefore the method of teaching is important. If there is no traditional method in teaching this vidya, there is no necessity for a Guru; one can read the books with some prelimnary general qualifications necessary to read and understand.
Very few know the importance of this method, let alone the method. Because of this omission, the entire vidya proves to be meaningless inasmuch as it becomes objective. The teacher through the traditional method of the sruti puts the student in actual experience, as the former teaches, in a peculair way that is tradition, the nature of the Self, the ‘I’. Swami Pranavananda was one such master teacher. His deft handling of the scripture frame pradoxes used to, as even the Zen Master’ Koans, disentangle the student’s reason from its relative concepts and thereby brings in the sudden recognition or Satori.
I discovered in his classes this main aspect of our traditional teaching. When I met him a couple of months ago, he was laid up in bed. But he was clear in his thinking and happy as usual. He knew that there was no cure for the disease he was suffering from. As I took leave of him after a two day stay in the ashram, I requested him to give me a message to the seekers. He dictated immediately in Telugu to one of the inmates of the ashram a few lines, indeed the essence of our scriptures. I translate the same the same hereunder:
‘The disease that has come upon this body is too serious for any cure, it will disappear only at the cost of this body. Therefore the medicines or doctors are not to blame if they fail to be effective. Due to this helplessness, my mind is in no way afflicted. I consider that it is all for the good.
Freedom is the nature of the Self, the ‘I’, and the Self is identical with Brahman which is non-dual. Therefore, the Self as even Brahman is free from all mode of duality, such as sajatiya, vijatiya and svagata.
In the last verse of the Bhagavad-Gita, it is said that brahmi sthiti is the lot of this life and therefore death cannot be a travel with the prana.
Karma and upasana are pursued by the people only because of their identification with the body, dehatma buddhi. The body which is not the Self, the ‘I’ is taken for the Self and it is because of this reason there is pursuit of Karma and Upasana. Therefore this pursuit cannot be held as moksa.
Suppose a person by name Rama is asleep, if he is called by someone, ‘Rama’, he wakes up. Similarly with profound words of the sruti if the master reveals to the student the identity of the Self with the Absolute, the student wakes up to discover his identity with Brahman.
Therefore moksa is only through the teaching of the Master and Sruti. It is this that is meant by Sankara in his famous verse ‘brahma satyam jagan mithya jivo brahmaiva naparah’. Brahman the Absolute is Reality; the world is apparent; jiva the knower is not different from Brahman, the Absolute. This, and this alone is the message of Adi Sankara. All others take after this teaching. Therefore they have no original content.
‘That Thou Art’ is the profound statement of truth revealed to Svetaketu as we find in the Sama Veda. The ‘Tat Tvam Asi’ mahavakya known as upadesha vakya is the foremost among all other staements in the sruti. All other statements are centered on this alone.
Karma and upasana are performed retaining the ahankara. This enjoyment of fruits of action is only when the ‘I’ is taken for ego. And liberation and bondage also, while they belong to the ego, appear as though they are belonging to the ‘I’.
This lack of discrimination, which is something natural to the intellect that is extrovert, will not easily go unless one listens for a good length of time from the Master, the scriptures, and reflects and contemplates over what he has heard.
Therefore living with the Master, gurukulavasa, is imperative. It is because of this only, sanyasasrama is in vogue. This is the essence of all the Shastras. Keep this always in your heart. The notion that the world is real has got to be dispelled. This is practice, contemplation.’
The Swami dictated all this in his usual clarity of expression. He was clear that there was no death for a sadhu, nor I feel he ever died.”
Swami Tarananda Giri
Swami Tarananda was born in the 1920s in a small village in northern India, in perhaps what is now Pakistan. He left home in search of moksha – final liberation – at an early age. He went to the Kailash Ashram in Rishikesh, and there became a renunciant, a sannyasi.
He was very strict in his disciplines, eating nothing, but simple North Indian food: chapati, daal and vegetables.
He studied with Swami Vishnudevananda, who was head of the Kailash Ashram. Swami Tarananda taught Vedanta, Sanskrit and Logic. Later, upon leaving the Rishikesh ashram, he went to Haridwar where he lived alone.In Haridwar, his life of discipline continued: he woke up very early, taking a cold shower at the spout and having tea made with a fire of twigs around 4:30am in his kitchen, outside. After tea, he said his prayers and took a walk.
On the way back from his walk, he would look at the ashram, eat fruit, and welcome people who came to talk to him. Near noon he would have lunch and then a nap. Then he would wake up, have tea, read, teach a lesson or two, walk in the late afternoon, talk to other renunciants on the way, and return home to say prayers, have dinner, and retire to sleep. For as long as his health allowed it, Swami Tarananda took daily walks.
Having a fantastic memory, he taught, quoting Sanskrit grammar sutras by heart. He was well acquainted with the philosophy of Veda-related religions, such as Buddhism and Jainism, and was well acquainted with comparative religions and languages. His classes were conducted in Hindi and Sanskrit.
Swami Dayananda studied Brahmasutras at the Kailash Ashram with Swami Tarananda when he lived in Rishikesh from 1964 to 1967. Swami Tarananda studied at the same time with Swami Vishnudevananda. And Swami Dayananda taught Brahmasutras to some students soon thereafter, continuing the flow of the Tradition of teaching, sampradaya.
On some occasions, Swami Dayananda took his students from various courses to meet and pay reverence to Swami Tarananda.
In the 1990s, Swami Tarananda's health was poor and Swami Dayananda asked him to stay in Rishikesh where he could be taken care of by those at the ashram.
Swami Tarananda Giri lived in peace and died in peace in February 2004.
This text was inspired by Uday Acharya's article on Swami Tarananda.
Swami Dayananda Saraswati was born in a village in Tamil Nadu, South India. In 1953, while living and working in Chennai, he went to a series of lectures given by Swami Chinmayananda, who became one of his gurus, and those lectures changed his life forever. He then began to deepen his knowledge of Vedanta and Sanskrit before becoming a renunciant in 1962.
He went to Rishikesh where he studied Brahmasutras and began teaching Vedanta and Sanskrit on the banks of the Ganges. In 1973 he was called by Swami Chinmayananda to teach for a group of 50 students in Mumbai for two and a half years.
It was the beginning of several courses in India and the United States.These courses, also taught in English, gave Western students the opportunity to access this knowledge that is Vedanta.
Swamiji, as he was known by his disciples, travelled all over India giving courses and lectures, since 1976 travelled as well as to the United States, Canada, England, Sweden, Australia, South Africa, Brazil and Argentina. In all these countries, as well as in India, he became renowned for the ease of communication and the clarity and depth of his knowledge of Vedanta and human complexity.
Swamiji's first visit to Brazil dates from December 1978. Since then, he had returned 13 times, having crossed the country from São Paulo, Recife, Porto Alegre, Campinas, and of course, Rio de Janeiro. His courses and lectures have been translated into Portuguese by Gloria Arieira.
In March 1999, he conducted a four-day course in Itatiaia, southern Rio de Janeiro State. His most recent visit to Rio de Janeiro had been in 2004, giving several lectures and satsangas to over 400 people with his signature clarity and eloquence.
Swamiji ran two ashrams in India, one in Rishikesh and one in Coimbatore, as well as Arsha Vidya Gurukulam in the United States. In these institutions, where Swamiji was the principal instructor, the Vedanta and Sanskrit courses last for 30 months on a residential basis, and the teaching is passed from teacher to disciple to unfold the vision of “I” as the Self that is complete and free.
Swamiji had also created a program to help people living far away from urban centers in India. This program offers assistance in the areas of health, education, self-sufficiency and culture. This movement is called All India Movement for Seva, or AIM for Seva, a movement from all over India for service.
He also brought together various representatives of different sampradayas or teaching traditions of India, the Acharya Sabhá.
In 2011, Swamiji completed 1,000 moons of life, and a commemorative event of this date, called the Satabhishekam, took place in Coimbatore, South India, on July 20 to 22, 2011. It was a tribute to Swamiji and recognition for his so many years of dedication to the teaching of Vedanta, protection of Vedic culture, and social service through AIM for Seva.
* On September 23, 2015, Swamiji attained mahasamadhi in his Rishikesh ashram on the edge of Ganges at a time of much peace and quiet. All his students and devotees feel his presence permeating the universe.
Gloria Arieira is a founder of Vidya Mandir.
In January 1974, she went to India, invited by Swami Chinmayananda, to study with Swami Dayananda Saraswati, who became her guru.Gloria studied in a traditional gurukulam until July 1978, when she returned to Brazil. Besides her stay at Sandeepani Sadhanalaya, a place of study and living with the guru in Mumbai, she also studied at other ashrams in Uttarkashi and Rishikesh in North India. She has travelled throughout India to attend courses, lectures and pilgrimages to temples in the North and South of India, specially in Tamil Nadu and Kerala, immersed in the cultural and religious tradition of the Vedas.
Since her return to Brazil, she has been teaching Vedanta and Sanskrit in Rio de Janeiro and other cities in Brazil, from 1979, as well as in Portugal, from 2009. Her dedication to the Tradition has led her to translate the Bhagavadgita, Upanishads and several others the Sanskrit treatises into Portuguese. She is responsible for publishing Swami Dayananda Saraswati's books into Portuguese, from her publishing house, Vidyamandir Editorial, and she is the author of two other books in the Portuguese language “Millennials Prayers” and “Puja - the performance of a Vedic ritual”.