Revival of the Institution of Gurukulam and the guru-śiṣya-paramparā

(Adapted from Pujya Swami Dayananda Saraswati – his uniqueness in the Vedānta Sampradaya, D. Venugopal. Published by Sruti Seva Trust, Second Edition 2014, pages 227 to 234.)

Pujya Gurudev Chinmayanandaji wanted that the teaching tradition should be revived through the institution of gurukulam and made a beginning in 1963 by starting the Sandipani Sadhanalaya at Powai, Bombay. Pujya Swami Dayanandaji was involved in the setting up and running of this institution and the publication of the new monthly journal of the Chinmaya Mission, Tapovan Prasad. Later in 1965, he left for Rishikesh to meticulously learn Vedānta. Having done so, by studying under Parama Pujya Swami Tarananda Giriji, he returned in 1968 to Bombay to conduct jñāna-yajñas.

Formulation and conduct of residential long-term courses

It was the vision of Pujya Gurudev that Sadhanalaya would be a place of advanced learning in Vedānta so that its students could in their turn, train more students and thus set in motion a self-accelerating process to spread the knowledge of Vedānta among the people. At this juncture and at the instance of the trustees, Pujya Swamiji took upon himself the task of planning and executing a teaching program to fulfil Pujya Gurudev’s vision.

As no comprehensive, time-bound residential teaching programme of Vedānta was available anywhere, Pujya Swamiji evolved the curriculum on the basis of his experience in learning the śāstra. This course was advertised and after screening the applications and interviewing the candidates, Pujya Swamiji selected around 50 of them. Pujya Gurudev had selected around 10 foreign students. With these students, the course was started on the 14th of September 1972.

Pujya Swamiji began the course with Tattva-bodha, which defines the important terms used in Vedānta. Then he exposed the students to pūja, japa and cintanam (reflection upon the teachings) and taught them Upadeśa-sāram of Ramana Maharishi. Among the Upaniṣads, he first taught Kena Upaniṣad, since it is relatively easy to grasp. Then to give some reinforcement to the methodology, he taught them the first chapter of Pañcadaśī. He also dealt with the jñāna, values, detailed in the Bhagavadgītā. During satsaṅga in the temple, he dealt with texts like Dṛg-Dṛṣya-Viveka, Aparokṣa­anubhūti and Nārada Bhakti Sūtras. In the regular classes, he taught Bhagavadgītā, Ātmabodha, Praśna Upaniṣad and Aitareya Upaniṣad. While teaching Kaṭha Upaniṣad, he introduced Śaṅkara-bhāṣyam. After teaching Muṇḍaka Upaniṣad and one more chapter of Pañcadaśī, he took up Taittirīya Upaniṣad. After Taittirīya Upaniṣad, he taught Māṇḍūkya Upaniṣad along with the kārikas of Gaudapāda. Finally, he taught them the first four sūtras of Brahmasūtras. This was how he progressively exposed the vision of the śāstrasto the students. As for Pujya Gurudev, he inspired the students through his teaching and presence whenever he was at Sandipani Sadhanalaya.

The course concluded in April 1975. With the successful completion of the first course, Pujya Swamiji conducted the second course from January 1976 to July 1978 with 70 students of which some were ladies and some were foreigners.

Pujya Swamiji, as the Ācārya, says of the course:

“At Sandipani, the teaching is traditional and rigorous. What would take a sādhu in the Himalayas nine years to learn, the brahmacāris in Sandipani learnt in two and a half years.”

By June 1979, the disciples (in USA) had bought and converted a hotel into a gurukulam at Piercy, set amidst red wood trees, on the banks of Eel River, 200 miles away from San Francisco. In November 1979, after pouring the water brought from River Ganges into the Eel River, Pujya Swamiji started the USA’s first long-term residential course with 55 students and completed it in July 1982.

After the completion of the course at Piercy, Pujya Swamiji was not attached to any organisation. Pujya Swamiji’s disciples on the East Coast set up facilities to start Arsha Vidya Gurukulam on the slope of Ponoco Mountains, amidst the pine trees in Saylorsburg in Pennsylvania. Forthwith Pujya Swamiji conducted a long-term course there from January 1987 to December 1989 and taught 45 students. After that, the resident Ācāryas at the Gurukulam have conducted many short-term courses and retreats over the years.

Back to India, in October 1990, Arsha Vidya Gurukulam was set up at Anaikatti in a forest setting, 25 kilometres away from Coimbatore. In this gurukulam, four long-term courses have been conducted, from November 1990 to May 1994 with 60 students, from January 1995 to July 1998 with 60 students, from May 2002 to July 2005 with 42 students and from April 2010 to October 2013 with 75 students. The last three-year course before Pujya Swamiji’s Mahāsamādhi started in April 2014 with 70 students. After that, the resident Ācārya at the Gurukulam has conducted a few short-term courses and retreats, a 108-days course, an one-year course, and have just finished a two-year course.

At the Arsha Vidya Pitham at Rishikesh, two three-year residential courses were conducted. Several short-term courses and Vedānta and Yoga camps are conducted on a regular basis. Currently a three-year course started on 2020 is going on at the campus.

In July 2001, Arsha Vijñāna Gurukulam was started by Pujya Swamiji and Dr Shrikant Jichkar at Vedapuri, which is located in the forest about 45km from Nagpur, with a Vedapāṭaśālā teaching ṚgVeda and ŚuklaYajurVeda. With Swamini Brahmprakasananda, Mataji, as chief Ācāryā of the Vedānta branch of the Gurukulam, the first long-term residential course was conducted from June 2004 to July 2007. After that, Mataji has conducted three long-term courses, a one-year advanced course and few short-term courses at the Gurukulam and online.

With the establishment of these Gurukulams, which teach Vedānta according to the Advaita Vedānta Saṁpradāya, the ancient institution of Gurukulam and the guru-sisya-paraṁparā stand properly revived. At present, more than 500 teachers belonging to Arsha Vidya Sampradaya teach Vedānta in India and other countries, true to the teaching tradition of Advaita Vedānta.