It wasn't Sri Swami Chinmayananda's status as a world-renowned guru and master of the Advaita Vedanta tradition that impressed Jim Gilman when the two men first met at Stanford University in 1975. At the time, Gilman knew nothing of Hindu philosophy and was thoroughly engaged in Christian metaphysics.
"I had absolutely no intellectual preparation for this meeting," said Gilman. "Through a series of friends, I met this fellow who said he had a guru. I just rolled my eyes and he said, 'Come and meet him,' so I did." The memory is still fresh, Gilman added. "It was thunderous."
Born in Kerala, India, in 1916 and later imprisoned for activism as a radical journalist during the Indian independence movement, Chinmayananda joined the ashram of the famous Swami Sivananda high in the Himalayas in 1947. Eight years later, he descended, determined to teach the Vedantic principles of self-realization and the divinity of human nature throughout the world. For the next 38 years he never had an actual home, traveling instead from lecture hall to lecture hall, ashram to ashram. The Chinmaya movement, as it came to be called, now sponsors more than sixty schools in India alone.
"There was a palpable sense of presence about him. You'd get close to this guy, and your mind would drop. He was one of the great sages," said Gilman, who became Chinmayananda's disciple soon after meeting him and whose eight-week course in the Art of Meditation begins Monday, February 8, at 250 Grand Ave. #10, Oakland.
"The basic essence of this work is incredibly simple. It's not easy, but it's simple," said Gilman. "In the West, if someone says, 'Look inside yourself,' the ordinary person would think this means looking at his feelings and his thoughts." But from the Vedantic perspective, "that's still a way of looking out, not in." Adherents of Vedanta "are interested in who's doing the looking. What is the essential nature of 'I'? It's a kind of self-inquiry — not into the aspects of the personality but to the very core of what 'I' is," Gilman continued. "We all have the same equipment. We all have a physical body, an intellect, and emotions. But something even deeper is at the core of our beings, and if you look hard enough, that same truth thunders out of every religion. ... It happens whenever we give up our attachment to the cash and prizes of the world and begin emptying out."
In the class, he will teach diverse meditation techniques, "because a single technique is neither good for everybody nor even good for the same individual at different times. So one of the things we need to learn is how to diagnose our own mindstates."
Gilman feels that carrying on Chinmayananda's teachings is his karma. "My teacher used to say, 'Don't believe me. Blind faith is stupid. Instead, take these techniques and see whether they're true for you in the laboratory of your own experience.' So this is not belief. It's about being a spiritual scientist." 7:30 p.m., donation requested. TheSilentWay.org