JyOti Yatra: JoY

2016. The hundredth year birth anniversary of Swami Chinmayananda — the founder of Chinmaya Mission — Gurudev.

Like the sun moving from east to west blessing the world with light and warmth, the Jyoti — symbolizing Gurudev has taken a journey from India to the world far and wide.

In this journey, the Jyoti has awakened, inspired, and brought together communities and showered upon them the knowledge of Vedanta. The month includes a bouquet of events, few of which were first-time events: Mandir visits and Satsangs (discussion of scriptures) to over 12 temples in Greater Toronto Area; a painting event for kids and adults; Mahashivaratri celebrations; Paduka Pooja at various discussion groups and homes; and lots more.

Let’s follow some of the highlights of the Jyoti as it came to Toronto.

Sunday February 28: The journey begins

The signs that this day was going to be a great day, were obvious right from the start. This day was right in the middle of a usually brutal Canadian winter, and yet it was unusually warm and sunny. It was as if the winter respectfully went on a pause to give way to a warm welcome. This day saw over 30 young adults waking up before 6 AM on a Sunday, to come to the Sivalaya Ashram, and be part of the welcoming group for the event that was about to begin.

Acharya Devji and Ginaji took on the incredible task of preparing the youthful group with the right mindset to welcome the Jyoti. “What is the one question you would ask Gurudev?” raised a thousand questions in everyone’s mind. Acharya Vivekji welcomed the group at Niagara and encouraged everyone to give Guru-dakshina in the form of Reading good books, Speaking positively, and Waking up early.

The journey back home (to Sivalaya) was incredible. Why not? We had the great privilege of travelling with Gurudev himself in the form of the Jyoti. An astounding set of emotions were surfacing: gratitude, contentment, excitement, bliss, and joy!

The welcome at Sivalaya was nothing short of a Band Baaja Baraat! Complete with a dhol, group dances, and glowing faces — there was a welcome party all eager to welcome and meet Gurudev. The red carpet was covered with petals to pave the way for Gurudev to enter the shrine.

Imagine the joy of welcoming a new-born to your home. The moment marks new possibilities to grow, new opportunities to learn, unconditional love to nourish, and incredible joy to experience. Welcoming the Jyoti felt just like that.

Friday March 4: Tea with Gurudev

Some spoke at length, words gushing out, reflecting the commanding power of Gurudev’s presence. Some spoke and became speechless, as there are no words that could do justice to explain how Gurudev impacted their lives. Some spoke and had tears in their eyes, with strong emotions pouring out of their memories. Some spoke and closed their eyes, as they re-lived the presence of Gurudev and revered him with gratitude.

Many of us in Toronto haven’t had the fortune of meeting Gurudev in person. However, we were lucky enough to have so many individuals who had the opportunity to meet Gurudev worldwide and be touched by his presence. As they shared their memories, one couldn’t help but feel goosebumps hearing the stories of Gurudev.

Imagine how you feel during the sunrise as the sun begins to shine its brilliance. You feel the warmth, the energy, and the light. You feel inspired to find your path to making it a successful day. Tea with Gurudev felt just like that.

Saturday March 5: Wander within

Of course, the journey to enlightenment is not an external one. It is the journey to find the light within us.

Acharyas Devji and Sachinji led a group of CHYKs (Chinmaya Yuva Kendra) through a winter hike near Caledon. It is natural for one to go back to nature to find peace and calm. After all, we go outside to take some fresh air to clear our minds, not inside a stuffy room!

The group walked through the snow-covered forests, learning from the elements of nature — Earth teaching sacrifice (provides the environment without seeking anything in return), Wind teaching detachment (it takes a fragrance from one place to another without getting attached), Fire teaching acceptance (it accepts anything and burns it away), Water teaching strength (makes a path wherever it goes).

Saturday March 12: Platform for perfection

Chinmaya Mission is the legacy of Gurudev. It is a platform that provides knowledge and the community for individuals to strive for perfection.

The three most visible aspects of Chinmaya Mission in Toronto are — the physical ashram, Sivalaya , over 15 study groups around GTA that meet weekly to discuss Vedanta, and Bala Vihar the opportunity for kids to get value-based education. This event was an opportunity for the study groups and Bala Vihar to showcase their learnings and come together at the ashram.

The two-hour event covered a broad range of topics including: the three gunas (tamas, rajas, sattva), the difference between spiritual living and non-spiritual living, the time to seek God (hint: it’s now), who is God and what is happiness. Layered with skits, bhajans, classical dances, and fireside chats, the event highlighted bhakti (inspiring devotion), gjnana (sharing knowledge of scriptures), and karma (seva with a smile).

Imagine the first rains of a Monsoon. It takes months of scorching heat for the water to evaporate and form clouds. Almost like a miracle, the clouds come together and shower rain upon the Earth below, nourishing plants and animals; and the Earth then emits the sweet fragrance reminiscent of the monsoon, almost as if in bliss. The Jyoti enabling various study groups to showcase their learnings felt like that.

Sunday March 27: The journey continues

The Jyoti is a catalyst. In the one month at Sivalaya, it enabled the community to come together; enabled individuals to transform their tamas (inactivity at home) into rajas (seva at the aashram) into sattva (presence of the good); and gave families inspiration to guide their personal journey with.

The Jyoti is magical. It seems to speak to people. It quietly provides answers to ‘What’s one question you would ask Gurudev?’. It destroys ignorance and false beliefs with its light. It shatters the illusionary world we live in with the wisdom of the true knowledge.

The Jyoti is a 108 names. Going through the Paduka Pooja, and chanting the 108 names of Gurudev is itself an experience. One starts to understand and appreciate the qualities of a realized soul, and gets inspired to seek them within.

As the Jyoti continues its journey to awaken and inspire more cities, Toronto promises to let the momentum continue and let the spirit of the Jyoti stay alive.

For those of you who don’t know about Swami Chinmayananda, here’s a pretty good description from Wikipedia (although — truly words don’t do justice):

Swami Chinmayananda (born Balakrishna Menon; 8 May 1916–3 August 1993) was a Hindu spiritual leader and teacher who inspired the formation of Chinmaya Mission, a worldwide nonprofit organization, to spread the knowledge of Advaita Vedanta, the non-dual system of thought found in the Upanishads, which epitomise the philosophical teachings of the Vedas.
Chinmayananda is known for teaching Bhagavad gita, the Upanishads, and other ancient Hindu scriptures. From 1951 onward, he spearheaded a global Hindu spiritual and cultural renaissance that popularised the religion’s esoteric scriptural texts, teaching them in English all across India and abroad.
Chinmayananda inspired the formation of Chinmaya Mission in 1953. Founded by his disciples and led by him, it is a spiritual, educational, and charitable nonprofit organization that encompasses more than 300 centres in India and internationally. He authored 95 publications, including commentaries on the major Upanishads and Bhagavad gita. He was a visiting professor of Indian philosophy at several American and Asian universities and he conducted university lecture tours in many countries.
Through his Vedantic teachings, publications, centres, ashrams, temples, and social service projects around the globe, his work continues to provide cultural and spiritual instruction to members of the Hindu diaspora.