University to Balavihar: Making a Backward Connection

Naveen Gudigantala

I work as a college professor. I’ve taught more than a thousand students for over a decade. I’ve also observed how students progress from their freshman year to the senior year, and how they develop over their professional careers. I advise undergraduate, graduate students, and also alumni. I am also the co-editor of Hari Patrika this year, and I’ve had an opportunity to read through the reflections of Balavihar classes from pre-K through 12th grade. In this essay, I want to talk about how Balavihar classes not only introduce the rich Indian culture, heritage, and Vedantic knowledge to students, but also develop a character that in future will help our Balavihar students successfully navigate the challenges of the college experience and beyond.

University experience: a labyrinth of challenges and opportunities

Successful students are receptive to opportunities and make good use of them and are good at meeting the challenges well. In my experience, I’ve observed five factors that are common to all successful students:

Work ethic

Successful students have tremendous work ethic. They are attentive in the classroom, ask interesting questions, and their work is detail-oriented and comprehensive.

Inter-personal skills

Successful students are unafraid to go to professor’s office hours; work effectively in teams; and seek out mentors.

Extra-curricular activities

Successful students show active involvement in student clubs and often take up leadership positions. They are good at attending networking events and participating in university-level competitions.

Conscious Citizens

Successful students are conscious of issues that affect the world and are eager to find ways to solve problems. Recently, I worked as an advisor for a team that worked on solving Portland homelessness problem as an extra-curricular project.


Most of the students are surprised by the difficulty of expectations in college. The professors can be hard and demanding, adjustment to new place and culture is often difficult, and the expectations to complete the program and get internship and a job can really challenge the students. The successful students often manage these situations better and don’t let the stress get on top of them.

Balavihar: a character builder

Balavihar is a weekly gathering of children, that aims to enhance the physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual development of children at all levels. A typical class starts and ends with Sanskrit prayers and includes activities such as chanting, bhajans, stories of devotion and moral values, interactive discussions, and creative games. The classes are based on a special syllabi, with the goal to accomplish the rationale set by Swami Chinmayananda. Swami Tejomayananda explains, “the primary aim is to teach children to look at life as a game. Further, they must understand that even though life is viewed as a sport, every sport has rules, and discipline is important; just because it’s a game, it does not mean we can skip the rules.”

I will next summarize the curriculum at different grade levels (elementary, middle, and high-school) and discuss some important values Balavihar children acquire as part of this curriculum.

Kindergarten – 5th grade: Basic values through Alphabet safari, Bala Ramayana, Sri Hanuman, Bala Bhagavatam, Krishna Krishna everywhere, and Symbolism in Hinduism. Balavihar students learn that the Lord is present everywhere; acquire knowledge about the divine forms of Lord and the noble qualities one must pursue; and the symbolism behind the spiritual practices.

6th-8th grade: The middle schoolers learn about India, the Sacred Land, P.O.Box Mr. God, and Yato Dharma Tato Jaya. In these grades, the Balavihar students learn about the great cultural heritage of India; seeing God in everything and the ways to inculcate noble virtues and fight off evil tendencies; and understanding Dharma through the epic, Mahabharata.

9th-12th grade: The high schoolers learn about the core tenets of Hinduism, the Bhagavad Gita, and Self-Unfoldment. The students are exposed to the cream of Vedantic Knowledge and also the ways to apply the rich knowledge in their daily living.

Balavihar as a solid foundation for College and beyond

What Balavihar truly teaches is life-skills. The “life” refers to the Oneness of life everywhere, and “skills” refer to how to make the intelligent use of body, mind, and intellect in accomplishing goals. The “character” building is done primarily through the “philosophical foundation” to understand life and a “practical means” to work tirelessly, dedicatedly, and unselfishly.

Philosophical foundation (Jnana-Yoga)

The Balavihar children learn to view life as One life everywhere and devotion to the People is the devotion to the Supreme Self. The philosophical foundation teaches children “how to think” about life. A seventh grader, Shruthi Satyanath reflects “God is omnipresent, He is within/without us”.  Another seventh grader, Gowri Ganesh writes, “knowledge, hardwork, determination are the keys that give you happiness”. One more reflection from Tanush Sistla, 7th grader suggests, “that to reach success, one must ignore the qualities held by most humans, like selfishness, ego, arrogance and so on. We must follow the Chariot of Dharma, which shows the many ways we must combat and defeat our evil qualities.”

Practical foundation (Karma-Yoga)

The practical foundation (Karma-Yoga) teaches children to apply the knowledge of “life” through practical means by working selflessly for the welfare of all. The Balavihar children in the academic year 2018-19 have worked on various projects such as cooking food for homeless shelter, conducting speech and debate camp, Lego robotics camp, and ESL tutoring.

Balavihar children learn to apply the knowledge experientially. Sanika Bedre, a 7th grader who served as an ESL tutor reflects, “this was an experience that would help me broaden my view on our community and at the same time, help other students improve themselves academically.” Vivek kumar, a 11th grader reflects on a public speaking workshop, “through this 3-day course, middle school students were introduced to the art of public speaking. Instructed by Kapil Varma, Aabhi Anand, and Vivek Kumar, the team of three utilized their experiences to deconstruct the fear of public speaking.” Maya Begde, our recent Balavihar graduate reflects, “I started Balavihar when I was 3. One of my earliest memories is actually going to the Oregon Food Bank to volunteer there with my parents. That experience taught me a few things which would become a recurring theme throughout my time here. The idea of giving back to those who are less fortunate than us, the idea of being an unselfish person and the notion of helping others.”

Connection between College and Balavihar

Earlier I have explained that work ethic, inter-personal skills, extra-curricular activities, conscious citizens, and resilience are the qualities of successful college students. Balavihar children, through their curriculum and experiential learning projects, gain the necessary skills to be successful in college and beyond. The curriculum makes them well-rounded and integrates their personalities so that they not only become disciplined to achieve success for themselves, but they constantly explore ways to make a difference to the communities they live and work in. I implore you to read the student and teacher reflections in our Hari Patrika to see for yourself the transformation Balavihar children have gone through in these years they spent at Chinmaya mission Portland. As Swami Chinmayananda says, “valuables come and go, but values come and grow!”. It’s precisely the investment in inculcating a good value system in our children which makes them reap character as reward and to become responsible and productive citizens of the world. It takes enormous work of selfless volunteers at Chinmaya mission who mould the Balavihar children from a very young age. It’s an effort worth investing in our younger generation!

My Amma—a true karmayogi

Ganesh Krishnan

In today’s day and age, where consumerism and materialism is the norm, not too Karmayogis can be found who can succeed the test of Bhagavad Gita. However, I have been fortunate to be with more than one karmayogis amongst my close family and friends’ circle. In this article, I would like to reflect upon one such person, who in her entire life has been a true karmayogi. It is none other than my mother, who left her mortal body three weeks ago (on May 25, 2019).

In Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna has characterized karmayoga as:

  1. Renunciation of attachments for all Karmas and all objects (chapter 6, verse 4)
  2. Renunciation of the fruit of all Karmas (Chapter 18, verse 11)
  3. Absence of craving for the fruit of Karmas (Chapter 6, verse 1)

Unlike the cliché that “spiritualism and renunciation is for the elderly and retired”, I have always known my mother as someone who had no desires of her own. However, that never kept her quiet or indifferent. She was one of the hardest working people I have ever known. She gave her best to everything she did!

As I was growing up along with my sisters back in Calicut, Kerala, she had a full-time job as a college professor. To make sure our futures were safe, she had to work even harder and gave tuition to many students outside her full-time job. This didn’t slow her down on all the household work she had to do (a shout out to my father who did a fantastic job in assisting her in the kitchen!). Bhakti was a part and parcel of her. She went to temple every single morning since the time I can remember all the way until the day she was hospitalized (May 21, 2019). She not only found time to chant Vishnu Sahasranama and Lalita Sahasrama every day, she also made it a point to teach both Sahasranamas to me and my sisters. She was so disciplined in her teaching that I, even today after 30-35 years, can chant these Sahasranamas!

As we got older and started getting out of our home, she started spending more time practicing bhaktiyoga. This meant learning more chants, monthly visits to Guruvayur, annual long stays in Kollur Mookambika and Guruvayur are just to name a few. She also started getting more time to accompany my father on his never-ending passion to travel on pilgrimages all over India. Together, they visited the Himalayas (Haridwar, Rishikesh, Badrinath, Kedarnath, Gangotri, and Yamunotri) multiple times, Amarnath, Vaishnav Devi, Amritsar, Ayodhya, Dwaraka, Mathura/Brindavan, etc. beyond all the temples one can think of in South India. They were also fortunate to witness Kumbh Melas in all four locations (Allahabad, Haridwar, Ujjain, and Nasik). Their last trip together was in February to the only Bhakt Meera temple in Chittorgargh, Rajasthan.

Looking back at her life, the following two slokas from Bhagavad Gita comes to mind:

Chapter 5, verse 11:

कायेन मनसा बुद्ध्या केवलैरिन्द्रियैरपि |
योगिन: कर्म कुर्वन्ति सङ्गं त्यक्त्वात्मशुद्धये ||

YOGIS, having abandoned attachment, perform actions merely by the body, mind, intellect and senses, for the purification of the self (ego).

Chapter 5, verse 12:

युक्त: कर्मफलं त्यक्त्वा शान्तिमाप्नोति नैष्ठिकीम् |
अयुक्त: कामकारेण फले सक्तो निबध्यते ||

The united one (the well-poised or the harmonised), having abandoned the fruit of action, attains Eternal Peace; the non-united (the unsteady or the unbalanced), impelled by desire and attached to the fruit, is bound.

Karmayoga and Bhaktiyoga are two separate pathways to attaining chittasuddhi or purity of mind, and I was so fortunate to witness my mother practicing these two pathways to perfection. My respectful homage to my amma.



Yagnas, 2018-2019

Yagna Coordination Group

Spirituality in Family Life – by Swami Shantananda, June 2018

Yagna Series for 2018-19 academic year started off with Swami Shantanandaji presiding over our Varshikotsav 2018.  During this event, he also released our Hari Patrika, the first time we published as e-Magazine!

Swami Shantananda is currently the resident acharya (teacher) of the Tri-State Centre in Cranbury, New Jersey and President of Chinmaya Mission West, the governing body of all Chinmaya Mission centers in Canada & USA.

Family Spirituality is the spiritual dimension of everything that the family does. Its most important ingredient is the love flowing between family members. Where genuine love is, we find God because God is love. Family Spirituality is thought of as family life itself – doing and caring for each other. In a most practical way, Swamiji explained that family life is the best suited station for us to understand and practice spirituality.

Krishna the CEO! – by Swami Ramakrishnananda, November 2018

Swami Ramakrishnananda is the Acharya of Chinmaya Mission Nagapatinam and part of the managing board of Chinmaya Vishwa Vidyapeet.  He visited with us in November 2018 and spoke about the leadership qualities we need in our everyday life, and in our profession – through the model of Lord Krishna!

A CEO is a visionary, a leader – maximizing the value of the company to achieve the organization’s mission through good decision-making, effective communication, and inspirational motivation. How do they do it? Lord Krishna, the Avatar of Lord Vishnu, was such a CEO during the Dwapara Yuga, achieving success for the entire society! Swamiji explored Lord Krishna’s leadership and management techniques through Bhagavan Veda Vyasa’s Bhagavatam and Mahabharatam, which are relevant even today!

Power to Redeem! by Br. Yatindra Chaitanya, December 2018

We had Br. Yatindra Chaitanya of Dallas Fort Worth visiting us in December.  This was unique in the sense that he was hosted by one of our CHYKs.  We are very proud to have our next generation carrying on the traditions of Chinmaya Mission Portland.

When Ram asked Vishwamitra, “Who is Ahalya waiting for?” Vishwamitra replied: “One who can uplift the fallen. All know how to judge, blame and punish someone but the redeemer of sin who raises the fallen is rare indeed. Touch of such a great soul’s feet redeems all sins”. Then Ram touched the stone with his feet and Ahalya got freed. There is no sin or guilt which cannot be pardoned by repentance and pure faith in God. God himself will appear and devoid us from all sins.

Happiness Workshop – by Vivek Gupta, March 2019

Acharya Vivek is the resident acharya of Chinmaya Mission – Niagara and deputy director of Chinmaya Yuva Kendra West and had been a regular visiting Acharya since 2010.

The Workshop covered a set of practical steps to help oneself be unconditionally happy! Vivek-ji talked about going from Loneliness to Aloneness — how despite being most ‘connected’ thanks to social media, we feel miserable, and how one can start to love enjoying the company of oneself. In typical workshop style, all of us analyzed how we are spending our time today to realize positive living takes time and spending the time we have well is the most practical step to happiness. On the final day, we learned together to lift oneself by oneself — and not to be dependent on our friends, family, God and environment, for us to be Happy.

During Vivekji’s visit, as an added bonus, we had a workshop on “Story of our Mind” where we learned how to know and manage mind matters with the help of an experienced social work counselor, Madhav Khurana. Be it your work, children, spouse or the world that drives you crazy, most of us deal with mental stress that affects quality of life. This unique session combined psychology and spirituality to help us. We learned what causes stress and depression and how to manage and master mental stress. Madhav Khurana & Vivek Gupta used their expertise in Vedanta and modern medicine and shared their knowledge and insights on methods of calming the mind and managing stress.

Living Vedanta – by Swami Ishwarananda, June 2019

Swami Ishwarananda is the resident senior monk at Chinmaya Mission Los Angeles and one of the Directors of Chinmaya Mission West (CMW). He visited with us in June, 2019 and talked about Living Vedanta (VedAnta Cintanam), a treatise on practical application of Vedanta, composed by Swami Tejomayananda.

While VedAnta teaches us about our true nature, VedAnta Cintanam guides us in the application of this knowledge to our daily life. Swamiji explained that a clear vision of VedAnta is the first step towards its practical application. Swamiji, with his witty humor and practical tips, explained to us how not to be identified with the body-mind-intellect equipment, and yet use them intelligently; and why it is important to cultivate the attitude of being a ‘servant to God’ in all our actions.


Festivals at Chinmaya Haridwar

Kavitha Veerappan and Lalita Pandruvada

Festivals are periods of celebration and are an important part of life. When religion is intertwined with spiritual meaning, this joy came to be identified with the joy of worship. In Chinmaya Haridwar we associate Festivals with religion and participation in the productive activities and with the seasons of the year. Festivals are a time to reflect and renew our commitment to selfless service in pursuit of unconditional happiness.

Here is a glimpse of the various festivals we enjoyed over the past year academic year (2018-19).

Guruji Jayanthi – Our Pujya Guruji Swami Tejomayanandaji’s birthday falls on June 30th, during our Summer break.  We celebrate his birthday by chanting the Maha Mrityunjaya Mantra 108 times followed by aarti for his long and productive life.

Guru Purnima – Guru Purnima in 2018 was on July 27th.  To students of Vedanta, the Guru is the embodiment of their goal. The Guru is nothing but pure Consciousness, absolute Bliss, and eternal Wisdom. Self-redemption must come ultimately from ourselves. The external props, such as temples, idols and gurus, are all encouragements and aids. They must be intelligently used to help build up inner perfection.  We perform Guru paduka puja and aarti on this day followed by dinner.

Janmashtami – We celebrated Janmashtami on September 2, 2018. Janmashtami  celebrates the birth of Shri Krishna, an Avatar of Lord Vishnu. On this day, we welcomed the Lord with Pooja, Bhajans, Dahi Handi, Jhula Utsav and other festivities.

Karwa Chauth – Our lovely women celebrated this festival on October 27th 2018 after fasting for the whole day by gathering together to perform a puja for the safety and longevity of their husbands.

Diwali – This is one of the much awaited festivals of the year for all our students and volunteers. We celebrated Diwali with so much fun and festivities on November 10th 2018.  Celebrations started with a Lakshmi puja, followed by dinner (with lots and lots of sweets) and huge amount of fireworks.

Thanksgiving – This is a day to chill out with family and friends and be thankful for all the blessings we have been bestowed with. This year we celebrated our 8th Annual Thanksgiving dinner together.  Of course the highlight of the day is our Chocolate Turkey!

New Year Day – We welcome the New year with a Ganesha puja that is performed by our Mom-to-be’s and family.

Maha Shivarathri – Students and volunteers look forward to this day to shower Lord Shiva with love and milk and to get his ever-lasting blessings.  This year we celebrated Shivaratri on March 3rd 2019.








Ramanavami – We performed the Jhula utsav on 14th April 2019 followed by Rama Aarti. The kids enjoy rocking baby Rama in his Jhula.

Gurudev Jayanthi – We celebrate Pujya Gurudev Swami Chinmayananda’s birthday, Balavihar Graduation and Mother’s day together at Haridwar.  On this day, five of our graduating 12th graders performed the traditional Paduka pooja to honor and celebrate Pujya Gurudev’s birthday. This being combined with Mothers day, the wonderful dads of Chinmaya prepared and served a very memorable lunch.

Cooking Camp Reflection

Ramya Reddy, 10th Grade

Last summer, I volunteered to teach at the Chinmaya Cooking Camp, and it was a great experience. Each cooking session started with a demonstration on how to make a couple of Indian dishes. After cooking the main meal, we then made a dessert to end the day on a sweet note. Even though the camp was only for a few days, I felt like our group had bonded over cooking together, and everyone had become friends. No matter the age or cooking experience, everyone who came to the camp had a fun and enriching time, and I encourage everyone to try cooking or baking for fun; it’s a great pastime! You can also join us at the next cooking camp this summer!


Reflections on Speech and Debate Camp

Vivek Kumar, 11th Grade

Speech and Debate Camp and Public Speaking Workshop

Through this 3 day course, middle school students were introduced to the art of public speaking. Instructed by Kapil Varma, Aabhi Anand, and Vivek Kumar, the team of three utilized their experiences to deconstruct the fear of public speaking. From holding microphones to power poses, the team touched all the skills necessary for preparing these students for their competitive high school speech and debate team as well as public presentations. Starting from 30 second speeches, the students worked their way up to 5 minute impromptu speeches. The 3 day camp helped transform the anxious students into confident presenters.


Reflections on Lego Robotics FLL Camp

Vivek Kumar, 11th Grade

Lego Robotics FLL Camp

FIRST Lego League is a fast growing robotics experience in Portland and around the world. Through the vast experience of Krishnan Kolady, Gokul Kolady, and Vivek Kumar, elementary and middle school children had hands-on opportunities to learn about the principles behind FLL. Whether it be building, programming, or project presentation, the team of instructors helped introduced the world of robotics to them. The students worked with the Lego EV3 to construct a fully functional robot. At the conclusion of the three day camp, students presented to their parents and walked away with a strong robotics foundation.

Reflections on Medical Screening and Educational Camp for Senior Citizens

Vivek Kumar, 11th Grade

Medical Screening and Educational Camp for Senior Citizens

As summer is the prime time for grandparents and relatives to visit home, Chinmaya opened their 2nd annual free medical screening. With the help of high school students and Dr. Kishore Pathial, Dr. Samu Kumar, Dr. Shobhana Rajagopal, and Dr. Vimal Aga, the team was able to a complete full check-up: blood pressure, O2 levels, height, weight, BMI, and a meeting with a professional doctor. Additionally, visiting family members had the opportunity to learn about preventive screening test for seniors. The medical screening helped keep grandparents informed about their health and steps they can take to lead a healthy lifestyle.