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Elevate To Liberate Chinmaya Yuva Kendra (CHYK) Retreat - Shattered Sight

Abhijeet Sambangi

Elevate to Liberate Chinmaya Yuva Kendra (CHYK) Retreat - Shattered Sight
Happiness. The concept seems so simple, yet almost everyone fails to achieve it. The kind of happiness I speak of cannot be found in temporary moments of light scattered throughout our lives. Instead, true happiness manifests as infinite, unbridled joy and energy. If you believe such bliss is unrealistic and unattainable, I would have agreed with you only a few weeks ago. But that is the purpose of this reflection, to reveal how a single three-day CHYK camp with three gurus shattered my perceptions of purpose, wellbeing, and Vedanta.

As a child raised in a traditional Hindu household, I assimilated strong ethical values that kept me focused on school and out of trouble. I attended Balavihar classes at Chinmaya Mission Boston from 4th grade through the end of high school. However, being exposed to Vedanta was not enough for me to accept it. After all, I was a scientist at heart. How could I accept such strange concepts of God and self-realization when there was no definitive proof? But even so, I kept returning to Balavihar because the more I learned about Vedanta, the more it matched my own experience.

For example, as my list of achievements kept growing, I started to realize that those accomplishments were not really me. Sure, it was nice that I had a sharp memory and an effective competition strategy, but those were just tools. Additionally, I could sometimes calm my emotions or clear my mind of thoughts, which meant those aspects were also tools under my control, not truly me. Who was the operator of these tools? If I was not my abilities, my emotions, or even my thoughts, then who was I?

Even as Vedanta offered profound insight into these questions, I remained quietly skeptical. Despite my success as a student, the purpose I had chosen of healing people through research and medicine did not sustain my happiness. In fact, I overexerted my mind and body in high school, convinced I had to sacrifice happiness in pursuit of my career. So, during freshman year at college, I allowed some balance to return to my life, lifting a tremendous weight from my shoulders. Alas, I immediately felt guilty. If my purpose was my profession, then I had no right to have any sort of balance or joy in my life. I did not deserve happiness at the cost of achievement and productivity.

This mindset of guilt and unfulfilled purpose followed me into the “Elevate to Liberate” CHYK Retreat I attended this past summer. When I met the people joining me on the retreat, including Vivekji and Shankarji, I was astounded by their sincerity. After a few timid introductions, we began cracking jokes and laughing with each other like family. Such instant acceptance and kindness startled me before we even began Satsang and discourse. And then, during one of our earliest discourses, Vivekji uttered this sentence:

“So, I think we all agree that the purpose of life is happiness and realizing the true self.”

Shock. Despite my carefully composed face, internally I was flabbergasted. We had discussed the idea of enlightenment in Balavihar class, but my teachers had never stated the Vedantic purpose of life so boldly and simply. For years I believed that my self-imposed duty, my pursuit of medicine, was my purpose. And yet here was Vivekji, stating casually and confidently that happiness was the purpose of life.

It was at that moment that I made a decision, not because it was the right thing to do, but because I was tired of suffering in pursuit of “success.” My self-constructed path, as much as it strengthened my knowledge and skills, had to change. For the first time in my life, I sincerely considered the possibility that Vedanta reflects reality, that total liberation is really possible. The idea was more captivating and comforting than I could have dreamed.

Vivekji guided us through the poems of the great Islamic poet Rumi, and the Vedantic philosophy embedded in his writings. The fact that we found Vedic messages in the writings of an Islamic scholar spoke volumes about the universality of the truth we sought. Shri Rumi’s beautiful reflections describing journeys of self-exploration resonated with me as he described the inner self as “shafts of light...always changing.” As Shri Rumi approached enlightenment, his poems became increasingly grand and almost wild with joy. The progressive ecstasy of Shri Rumi’s poetry was fascinating.

Later, Shankarji led discussions about how our assumptions, personalities, and Vasanas filter our perception, hiding the truth. In addition, we reflected on the constant turmoil of our surroundings, which we will never objectively perceive due to our limited senses. When there is so much exploration of the world around us, why do we take the world within us for granted?

And then, we heard the stories of Shashiji as she recounted her journey from working as Lowell General Hospital’s Head of Pathology to becoming the Spiritual Guide of Chinmaya Mission Boston. Shashiji explained how she first met Swami Chinmayananda and eventually found herself seeking the peace and wisdom emanating from Swami, despite her initial reservations. All the while, Shashiji’s expression appeared utterly at ease as she laughed and animatedly spoke. Her infectious enthusiasm for life spread to all of us. Never had I witnessed such lasting delight in the eyes of an elder, and Shashiji’s very aura moved me to tears.

During the discussions I had with fellow CHYKs, several people opened up about their struggles as they tried to apply Vedanta. Everyone’s continued sincerity was as refreshing as a cold spring. Afterward, engaging with the outdoors by kayaking and hiking was an opportunity to marvel in nature with new eyes.

Assumption after assumption that I had held for years was shattered as I broke through barrier after mental barrier. All this time I had been my own greatest roadblock… By the end of our retreat, I felt alive as never before, raw and receptive like an exposed nerve. A new kind of joy bubbles in my heart as I release the ideas that caused me so much unnecessary torment.

Heartfelt thanks to all the gurus and organizers of the Chinmaya Boston “Elevate to Liberate” CHYK Retreat. I shall always fulfill my Dharma, and I still abide by the principles of the material world. But now, I know a better path to quiet the internal battles that have plagued me for so long.

Hari Om.

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