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Inspirational Indian philosophers and spiritual teachers

India continues to have a treasure trove of great philosophers and spiritual masters who lived across many centuries, propounding great teachings that help people realize the ultimate goal in life: eternal happiness (Moksha).

Swami Chinmayananda is one such spiritual master; he drew upon the wisdom of various philosophers and spiritual teachers, integrating their teachings into his discourses and writings. Below are some philosophers and spiritual figures he read, quoted, or referenced.

Adi Shankaracharya

Adi Shankaracharya, often referred to simply as Shankaracharya (or Adi Shankara), was a prominent Indian philosopher and theologian who revitalized and consolidated the doctrine of Advaita Vedanta, which emphasizes the nondual nature of reality. Swami Chinmayananda often quoted and expounded upon Shankaracharya’s teachings in his discourses.

Adi Shankaracharya was born in Kaladi, Kerala, India, in the early 8th century. Legend has it that he showed extraordinary intellectual prowess and spiritual inclination from a young age.

He undertook a profound and systematic interpretation of the Upanishads and the Brahma Sutras, consolidating the philosophy of Advaita Vedanta. This philosophy asserts the identity of the individual soul (Atman) with the ultimate reality (Brahman). He wrote numerous commentaries on key philosophical texts, including the Upanishads, the Brahma Sutras and the Bhagavad Gita (these three collections are together known as the Prasthana Trayi). 

He is credited with writing detailed commentaries on 10 of the 12 major Upanishads. These commentaries are considered masterpieces of philosophical and theological thought and have greatly influenced the interpretation of these texts.

Adi Shankaracharya is also credited with establishing four major monastic centers, known as mathas, in different corners of India where he traveled to establish these centers located in Badrinath (North), Puri (East), Sringeri (South), and Dwarka (West), these mathas continue to be centers of spiritual learning and administration of religious practices.

Unfortunately, Adi Shankaracharya’s life was relatively short, and he is believed to have passed away at the young age of 32. However, his impact on Swami Chinmayananda, Indian philosophy and spirituality has been enduring and profound.

Swami Vivekananda

Swami Vivekananda, the renowned disciple of Sri Ramakrishna, played a pivotal role in introducing Hindu philosophy to the Western world. Swami Chinmayananda admired his work and occasionally referenced his ideas, especially in the context of the relevance of Vedanta in the modern world.

Born Narendranath Datta on January 12, 1863, in Kolkata, India, to an affluent Bengali family, Swami Vivekananda displayed exceptional intelligence and a deep interest in spirituality from a young age. One of the most defining moments in Swami Vivekananda’s life was his meeting with Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, a revered mystic and spiritual teacher. Under Ramakrishna’s guidance, Vivekananda underwent a profound spiritual transformation and absorbed the essence of Vedanta and other Indian philosophies.

Vivekananda’s philosophy was rooted in the Advaita Vedanta tradition, emphasizing the oneness of all religions and the divinity of the human soul. He taught that the Atman (individual soul) and Brahman (universal consciousness) are one and the same. His teachings stressed the importance of self-realization, service to humanity, and the development of one’s character.

Swami Vivekananda is best known for his historic address at the World’s Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893. He represented Hinduism and presented a message of universal tolerance, religious pluralism, the end of fanaticism, and the importance of interfaith understanding. His opening words, “Sisters and brothers of America,” received a standing ovation and catapulted him to international prominence.

When he returned to India, Swami Vivekananda founded the Ramakrishna Mission and the Ramakrishna Math, organizations dedicated to the propagation of Vedanta and service to society. The mission’s activities include education, healthcare, and relief work.

One of his famous quotes is “Arise, awake, and stop not till the goal is reached.” His words are ever-green treasures of wisdom and inspiration for spiritual seekers of all ages.

Unfortunately, Swami Vivekananda’s life was short, as he passed away at the age of 39 on July 4, 1902. But his teachings continue to inspire millions of people, both in India and around the world. His message of universal brotherhood, tolerance, and the pursuit of truth remains relevant in the modern era. His life is celebrated every year in India on National Youth Day on January 12, Swami Vivekananda’s birthday.

Swami Sivananda Saraswati

Swami Sivananda was Swami Chinmayananda’s own guru and a well-respected spiritual teacher and yogi known for his contributions to the propagation of yoga, Vedanta, and spiritual teachings in the 20th century. Swami Chinmayananda frequently quoted and acknowledged his guru’s teachings, particularly in the context of his own spiritual journey.

Swami Sivananda was born on September 8, 1887, in the town of Pattamadai in Tamil Nadu, India. He had a successful career as a doctor and, after some time, felt a deep inner calling to pursue a spiritual path. He left his medical practice and renounced the world, eventually taking sannyasa (monastic vows).

In 1936, Swami Sivananda founded the Divine Life Society in Rishikesh, India. This organization was dedicated to the dissemination of spiritual knowledge, service to humanity, and the promotion of yoga and Vedanta. The society continues to be active and influential in the fields of education and humanitarian work.

Swami Sivananda was a proponent of the holistic approach to yoga, which includes physical postures (asanas), breathing exercises (pranayama), meditation, and ethical principles. He taught that yoga was not just about physical fitness but a means to attain spiritual realization and inner peace. His teachings were rooted in the principles of Vedanta, emphasizing the oneness of all existence and the divinity within every individual. His style of yoga, often referred to as Sivananda Yoga, places an emphasis on classical yoga practices, including a set of 12 basic asanas, pranayama, relaxation, and meditation.

He authored over 200 books on various aspects of yoga, Vedanta, spirituality, and self-help, which have been translated into multiple languages and continue to inspire and guide spiritual seekers around the world. Some of his well-known books include “The Science of Yoga,” “Bliss Divine,” and “Mind: Its Mysteries and Control.”

Swami Sivananda passed away on July 14, 1963, in Rishikesh, India, but his legacy continues to this day. His teachings, belief in the importance of selfless service (seva), and the practice of karma yoga (the yoga of selfless action) to spiritual growth continue through members of The Divine Life Society and other followers.


Madhavacharya, also known as Madhva, was a prominent Indian philosopher, theologian, and the founder of the Dvaita Vedanta school of philosophy. He was born in a village called Pajaka, near Udupi, in the present-day Indian state of Karnataka, during the 13th century.

From a young age, he showed a keen interest in spirituality, a deep reverence for Lord Krishna and his teachings often revolved around the worship and love of Lord Vishnu, particularly in His form as Krishna. He made significant contributions to the interpretation of Hindu scriptures and the philosophical understanding of the relationship between the individual soul and the ultimate reality.

His most significant contribution was the development of the Dvaita Vedanta philosophy, which emphasizes the eternal duality between the individual soul (Atman) and the ultimate reality (Brahman or Lord Vishnu). In this philosophy, the individual soul is seen as eternally distinct from the divine and dependent on the divine for liberation.

He wrote numerous philosophical works to support and expound upon the Dvaita Vedanta philosophy. Some of his most well-known texts include the “Dvaita Siddhanta” and the “Anuvyakhyana,” which are considered seminal in the Dvaita tradition.

Madhavacharya advocated bhakti (devotion) as the primary means for spiritual realization and salvation. His philosophy of Dvaita Vedanta stood in contrast to the Advaita Vedanta of Adi Shankaracharya. While Advaita Vedanta emphasizes the non-dual unity of the individual soul with the ultimate reality, Dvaita Vedanta stresses the eternal dualism and the eternal distinction between the two.

Madhavacharya’s contributions to Vedanta philosophy and his emphasis on devotion to Lord Krishna have had a profound and lasting impact on India’s religious and philosophical landscape.


Ramanuja, also known as Ramanuja Acharya, was a prominent Indian philosopher and theologian who lived during the 11th and 12th centuries. He is best known as the founder of the Vishishtadvaita Vedanta school of philosophy within Hinduism. While Swami Chinmayananda primarily advocated Advaita Vedanta, he occasionally referred to the ideas of Ramanuja and other Vedantic traditions for comparative analysis and understanding.

Ramanuja developed the Vishishtadvaita Vedanta philosophy, which is a non-dualistic system that emphasizes the oneness of the individual soul (Atman) with the ultimate reality (Brahman), but it also acknowledges that the individual soul retains its distinct identity. The term “Vishishtadvaita” means “qualified non-dualism,” signifying the unique position of the individual soul within the divine.
He authored several important works, including the “Sri Bhashya,” a commentary on the Brahma Sutras, and the “Gita Bhashya,” a commentary on the Bhagavad Gita. These texts are foundational to the Vishishtadvaita Vedanta tradition and provide a comprehensive exposition of his philosophical ideas.

His emphasis the path of bhakti (devotion) as the primary means to attain spiritual realization and union with the divine means Ramanuja played a crucial role in introducing reforms in temple worship and administration. He sought to make temple worship more inclusive, ensuring that people of all castes and social backgrounds had access to the divine and could participate in temple rituals. He believed that a loving and selfless devotion to Lord Vishnu, especially in His form as Lord Narayana, could lead to liberation and ultimate spiritual fulfillment.

Ramanuja’s philosophical system stood in contrast to the Advaita Vedanta of Adi Shankaracharya, which asserted absolute non-dualism, where the individual soul’s identity is ultimately merged with the absolute. Ramanuja’s Vishishtadvaita Vedanta upheld a concept of qualified dualism, stressing the eternal relationship of the individual soul with the divine.

Sage Patanjali

Swami Chinmayananda referenced the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, which are foundational texts for the philosophy and practice of yoga, in discussions related to the science of self-realization and meditation.

Patanjali’s “Yoga Sutras” describe the eight limbs of yoga, which serve as a comprehensive framework for the practice of yoga. These eight limbs include principles such as ethical conduct (yamas and niyamas), physical postures (asanas), breath control (pranayama), and meditation (dhyana), among others. It also delves into the philosophy of yoga, particularly its metaphysical and epistemological aspects. He discusses the nature of the mind, the concept of purusha (the individual soul), and the role of prakriti (the material world) in shaping human experience.

His system of yoga is often referred to as Raja Yoga and it emphasizes the path of mental and spiritual control. It contrasts with Hatha Yoga, which focuses on physical postures and breath control.

Other inspirations

It’s important to note that Swami Chinmayananda’s teachings were deeply rooted in the principles of Vedanta, but he drew from a wide range of philosophical and spiritual sources. Not only did he read the words of the ones noted above, but Kabir, Rumi, and others to make his teachings accessible and relevant to a broad audience. His approach was inclusive and aimed at reaching people from diverse cultural and philosophical backgrounds.

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