His Holiness Swami Chinmayananda, Pujya Gurudev, began teaching the philosophy of the Upanishads in 1951, and for many years, a small band of dedicated workers helped him disseminate the teachings of Vedanta by organizing Gita jnana yajnas, forming Chinmaya Study Groups, and conducting Chinmaya Bala Vihars and Yuva Kendras.
In 1953, the devotees organized themselves into Chinmaya Mission®, and the activities grew quickly and spontaneously in cities throughout India. Books were soon written and published; Study Group, Bala Vihar and Yuva Kendra syllabi were formulated; and Vedanta Lesson Courses were developed.
In 1965, Gurudev received a tract of land near Mumbai, India that blossomed into the ashram and institute of Vedantic studies known today as Sandeepany Sadhanalaya®. As activities spread throughout India, a central organization called Central Chinmaya Mission® Trust (CCMT) was formed. Today, it is the main apex body of Chinmaya Mission centers worldwide and has its offices in the Sandeepany ashram in Mumbai.
Gurudev gave his first discourses outside India in 1964. He first visited the United States in 1965, giving a three-day lecture series in San Francisco at the Cultural Integration Fellowship. From 1966, yajnas and camps were conducted in the US every year, each attended by several hundred people.
A small group of dedicated workers provided the labor behind the initial activities in the US. Publicity flyers were printed, books and pamphlets were published, talks and camps were organized, databases were compiled, and newsletters were printed and mailed to all persons who had been touched by Gurudev’s talks.
By 1975, CM activities in the U.S. were overflowing. Gurudev instructed the devotees to incorporate Chinmaya Mission in the United States to administer the activities. He named the corporation “Chinmaya Mission® West” (CMW), and its headquarters were in the homes of workers like Nalini Browning and others in the San Francisco Bay area.
Over the years, inspired by Gurudev’s message and method, many devotees began Chinmaya Study Groups in their homes. From California, the activities spread to the East coast. Every summer, from 1976 onward, Gurudev conducted East Coast, West Coast, and Canada camps, and devotees who attended took the teachings back to their cities and commenced Study Groups and Bala Vihars. Students who had graduated from Vedanta courses at ‘Sandeepany Sadhanalaya’ in Mumbai returned to America to help start more activities and teach classes. Chinmaya Mission West (CMW) planned and oversaw all these programs.
As CM activities in various cities grew, local Chinmaya Mission centers were loosely formed, with committees organized to order books, plan meetings, and publicize events. Soon, these committees approached CMW for permission to open bank accounts, order books in bulk, and get flyers and materials printed and distributed. These committees became known as Chinmaya Mission centers.
The first Chinmaya Mission building on this continent, interestingly, was a modest structure in St. John’s, Newfoundland. An Ismaili woman donated her worldly possessions to Gurudev in 1974. From this donation came a shrine dedicated to Lord Krishna, and it was used mainly for children’s cultural and religious activities in Newfoundland.
Chinmaya Mission grew exponentially in the 1980s. In 1987, Houston requested permission to purchase property for its burgeoning classes. As they sought to qualify for a bank loan, they were told by banks that loans would be difficult to get for an out-of-state corporation. So Pujya Gurudev instructed Chinmaya Mission® Houston to incorporate in Texas. The affiliation with Chinmaya Mission® West was to be maintained by a Charter Agreement with CMW. This set a precedent that all other CM centers purchasing property would follow.
The next few years witnessed the dynamic growth of a number of centers, culminating in property purchases in San Jose, Chicago, Flint, Washington DC, Orlando, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles. These Mission centers incorporated in their own states. CMW’s headquarters and retreat center, ‘Krishnalaya,’ was opened on a beautiful tract of land and buildings in Northern California, in 1988.
Each year thereafter witnessed further growth of the Mission in North America, as individuals—inspired by Gurudev and his able disciples—strove to unfold themselves through selfless and dedicated service to the community.
After Gurudev’s mahasamadhi on August 3, 1993, His Holiness Swami Tejomayananda, Pujya Guruji, was made the Head of Chinmaya Mission® Worldwide. Under his able leadership and guidance, Mission activities, centers, and projects continue to mushroom and flourish across the globe.
As of December 2012, there were over 300 centers in India, over 40 centers in North America and the Caribbean, and one or more centers in over 20 other countries, including Australia, Bahrain, Canada, France (and Reunion Island), Hong Kong (China), India (and Andaman Islands), Indonesia, Kenya, Kuwait, Mauritius, Nepal, New Zealand, Nigeria, Philippines, Sultanate of Oman, Singapore, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United States of America, Trinidad and Tobago. CM Trinidad has the first Chinmaya Vidyalaya outside of India.
CMW sponsored numerous national programs before 1993, such as the Gita Chanting Competition in 1992 (‘Chant Gita, Land Ganga’), the tulabhara ceremony for Pujya Gurudev, and audio and video publication projects. CMW’s main projects today are the Krishnalaya ashram, its national website, and its publications division of Chinmaya Publications (CP).
‘KRISHNALAYA’: CMW HEADQUARTERS and RETREAT CENTER
CMW’s headquarters and retreat center called Krishnalaya lies 200 miles north of San Francisco, in Piercy’s serene Redwood country, near the California coast, on the banks of the Eel River (which Pujya Gurudev dubbed as “Eel Ganga”).
This first CMW property in USA was purchased in 1979; it consists of a beautiful tract of land and buildings. It serves as CMW’s headquarters and is a retreat center that hosts camps for adults and children. CMW conducted the first and only two-year Vedanta Course outside India at Krishnalaya, 1979-1982. It is here that Pujya Gurudev held his month-long camps on Vivekachudamani and the entire Bhagavad Gita, which was professionally video-recorded in 1991.
Over the years, numerous spiritual retreats, Dharma Sevak Courses, and camps
for all ages have been conducted here by Pujya Gurudev, Pujya Guruji, and many other CM acharyas. The ashram is ideally suited for such activities and is available to CM centers and visitors throughout the year.
Visit www.chinmayamission.org/krishnalaya for details and a virtual tour. Contact details are in the CMW Directory.
As CMW evolved over the years, Pujya Gurudev Chinmayananda and the CMW Board of Directors redefined CMW’s role to help mold the shape of Chinmaya Mission in North America. CMW would no longer be the sole organizer of yajnas, camps, and other regionally oriented activities.
Gurudev gave a clear mandate that CMW’s most important role is to oversee the activities of all Chinmaya Mission® centers in the U.S. CMW is to help groups of devotees begin local activities, form centers, and incorporate. CMW is to ensure that the vision of Chinmaya Mission is kept pure and true to its ideals, and that the policies established by Gurudev are faithfully adhered.
CMW’s duties and responsibilities are to coordinate and oversee the activities of all Mission centers in the US. CMW is also responsible for initiating and supervising new national projects and policies for all Mission centers in the US.
CMW’s goals, as stated in its Articles of Incorporation, include the following
- To establish and operate Hindu churches in the U.S. (including maintenance of CMW’s Headquarters and Retreat Center, Krishnalaya)
- To promote, foster, encourage, publish, teach, and disseminate Hindu religion and philosophy, particularly as expressed in the classic principles of Vedanta, as taught by Pujya Gurudev Swami Chinmayananda
- To coordinate and oversee all activities of Chinmaya Mission centers in the US, including establishing and operating schools; classes for adults,
youth, and children; discussion groups; camps; retreats; workshops; and other related activities that further its specific purposes
- To provide natural disaster relief in cash or kind, and medical aid to the poor, indigent, senior citizens, or disabled
- To further the translation, publication, and distribution of religious and cultural books, journals, periodicals, audio/video materials, and similar literature