Last week I completed the Chinmaya International Foundation’s “Foundation Level” e-vedanta course. The course consists of 12 monthly lessons. At the end of each month there is a set of questions, and these are sent to the acharya at CIF for marking. The course is quite challenging, as in addition to the lessons a sādhana, or discipline is recommended. At a cost of $100 for a whole year of study it is excellent value – at the time I registered this was £50.
The course was very informative, describing the basics of Hindu Vedantic philosophy. It has enabled me to understand many terms and discussions and the discipline of regular spiritual practice has helped me advance spiritually. The only minor criticism of the course material is that sanskrit words are not shown in IAST or an equivalent, or in Devanāgarī. This means that I don’t know how to pronounce some of the terms I learned, and it led to me being confused by thinking that mālā (prayer beads) and mala (impurity) were two meanings of the same word!
Though I would recommend the course as an introduction to Hinduism and Vedanta, I will not be taking the advanced course. There are several reasons for this. Firstly the course expounds the position of Immaterialistic Advaita Vedānta. According to this philosophy the only ultimate reality of God (or of anything) is the impersonal Brahman. They claim that the Great Gods Śiva, Viṣṇu, and Brahmā are only a deeper level of illusion, beyond the māyā of the material universe. To me Shiva is more than this, as I wrote in a previous post “Who is Shiva?“. Naturally there are some people for whom seeking God in the immaterial is the correct path, but for me bhakti or devotion to Shiva is central.
Secondly, because I live hundreds of miles from a Chinmaya temple or group I have no feeling of connection with Chinmaya as an organisation. When I started the course there was talk of a forum for students though this never materialised. I am sure that if I lived somewhere that was close and was able to visit the group and events this would have been different.
After contemplation I have decided that the Himalayan Academy Master Course is the right way for me. I am not saying that the Chinmaya course has been in any way a waste of time, or that for other people the advanced course won’t be of great value. As I have said before, things are as they are meant to be. If I had lived nearer to a Chinmaya mission I would have not met the wonderful people at my local Mandir and seen their devotion. I would not have had the honour of joining the dedication and opening of our new Mandir, and seen the fruits of faith and devotion. If I had not followed this course I may have taken longer to establish a regular practice of prayer and devotion. I would not have understood the different perspectives of Hindu beliefs. I am grateful to all my teachers who have brought me so far, both seen and unseen.