Chinmaya Mission (Washington Regional Center)

Information about this center is no longer updated. This data was last updated on 11 October 2009.

Phone: 301-384-5009
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Swami Chinmayananda, the Gurudev of the Chinmaya Mission, first came to Washington, D.C. in 1978 when he conducted a jnana yagna (lecture series on the sacred Vedanta texts of the Bhagavad Gita and the Upanisads) at American University. Great enthusiasm for the Chinmaya Mission was generated by Swami Chinmayananda's visit and the Washington Chinmaya Study Group was founded. In 1985 and 1986, Swami Chinmayananda returned to the Washington area to give more yagnas. These visits inspired further groups and by 1988 the devotees in Washington were able to organize a retreat/camp led by Swami Chinmayananda. After the success of the camp, the mission members resolved to buy a center for all Mission activities in the Washington area. The building in silver Spring was purchased on Vijaya Dashami Day in October 1988 with a loan guaranteed by several by several devotees. The papers were signed in the presence of Swami Tejomayananda, the President of the Chinmaya Mission.
The Chinmaya Mission Washington Regional Center (CMWRC) acts as the center for all the activities of Chinmaya Mission devotees in Washington, DC, Northern Virginia, and Southern Maryland. Although a majority of activities take place at CMWRC, there are eight active satellite centers in: Burke, VA; Alexandria, VA; Richmond, VA; Vienna, VA; Salisbury, MD, Baltimore, MD; Frederick, MD; Potomac, MD. The activities of these satellite centers varies according to the number of members that participate, but they generally function as study groups and gather in devotees' homes or rented spaces. The area activities are overseen by a board of fifteen trustees who were appointed by Swami Chinmayananda. There is also an executive committee and various sub committees of members that ensure the smooth running of Mission operations.

Religious Leaders

The religious leaders or Acharyas for the CMWRC and its satellite centers are Swami Dheerananda and Brahmacharini Arpita Chaitanya. Swami Dheerananda serves as the resident Acharya for the CMWRC. Originally from Hyderbad, India, he underwent his monastic training at Sandeepany Sadhanalaya, Swami Chinmayananda's school in Mumbai, India. After spending some time in retreat at UttarKasi in the Himalayas and serving at Chinmaya Mission centers in Madras and Hyderbad, Swami Dheerananda came to Washington, DC. Placed as the Acharya for the CMWRC by Swami Chinmayananda, Swami Dheernananda has been serving the Washington area since 1989. In 1993 he was honored to act as a Hindu representative at the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago and continues to spread the teachings of Swami Chinmayananda throughout the United States and Canada today.
Brahmacharini Arpita also studied at Sandeepany Sadhanalaya in India before she came to the States. Since 1989, she has served at the Chinmaya Mission centers in Piercy, CA and Los Angeles as well as the CMWRC. She presently acts as the coordinator of Bala Vihar (children's programs) and spends time teaching with satellite groups. Brahmacharini Arpita also teaches devotional music and guitar lessons to the children of the area.

Activities and Schedule

The Chinmaya Mission Washington Regional Center embraces the main function of the Chinmaya Mission, teaching Vedanta to the followers of Swami Chinmayananda. Although the center does conduct some rituals, the focus is on the classes, in a variety of areas, which take place daily. The Vedanta classes at CMWRC are taught by Swami Dheerananda and examine the ancient Vedantin texts using the teachings of Swami Chinmayananda to apply the lessons to everyday life. The classes aim to better the members' understanding of Vedanta and increase their spiritual awareness in the modern world through meditation. A variety of other classes are taught at CMWRC, including classes in Sanskrit, Hindi, Chanting, Indian Dance, Singing, and Music. These cultural classes offer devotees and their children a chance to be active in the traditions of India.
The Sunday classes and rituals are the most widely attended by members. The Sunday program begins with puja (ritual worship). An Aarati is held at the Siva Shrine at CMWRC and is usually attended by a few devotees. The main program takes place at a local elementary school because CMWRC cannot accommodate the growing numbers of attendees. The service begins with Bhajans (devotional songs) sung in Hindi, Telegu, or Tamil and prayers that are recited in Sanskrit. After this section of the program, the children are taken into small classrooms BalaVihar classes while the adults remain in the large hall for Vedanta class with Swami Dheerananda. This Sunday program is usually attended by 150 adults and 150 children. The weekday classes and the cultural classes on the weekends are much smaller.
On Saturdays, Swami Dheerananda travels either to satellite locations for Bhajans and classes, or out of town. There is a womens' group called the Devi Group in which women worship together, discuss the religious texts, and various other activities. Each satellite location also runs some volunteer activities including work at soup kitchens. Occasional retreats are also held at CMWRC and there is an annual picnic. The annual festivals and holidays celebrated by CMWRC are as follows: New Year's Eve, Maha Shivaratri, Ram Navami, Chinmaya Jayanti, Sri Gurudev Swami Chinmayanandaji's Maha Samadhi Day, Divali, Saraswati Puja / Vijaya Dashami, Tapovan Jayanti / Geeta Jayanti. Puja at the Shrine are held on these special days.

Children's Activities

The children's activities are central to CMWRC. Many of the children attending Mission activities are first generation Americans; for these children CMWRC functions not only as a religious center but also as a place for learning about the rich traditions and culture of India. The children's classes (or Bhala Vihar) are separated by age. The Satyam class is for kindergarten and first grade students and there are two sections of 15-18 children. The Shibam class is for second/third grade students and the Sundaram class is for fourth/fifth grade students; they both have two sections of 15-18 students. The classes for middle and high school students have one section each of about the same size. The sixth/seventh grade class is called Sivanandam, the eighth/ninth is called Tapovanam, and the tenth-twelfth grade class is Chinmayam. These classes are held throughout the school year and teach the children Bhajans, rituals, and Vedanta through various activities according to age. Swami Dheerananda stresses the importance of explaining to the children reasons behind the Mission's activities. He has set up a system of emailing children one discussion question a week, to which children respond via email. Questions have included: "Why do we have a prayer room?" "Why do we prostrate to elders?" He notes that although the teachings are the same as they are in India, in America there is more emphasis on explanation, especially with the children. The children also participate in a ten week long summer day camp held at CMWRC. The camp activities include religious lessons, Indian cultural and language lessons, sports, drama, fieldtrips, etc.

Community Relations

The Chinmaya Mission Washington Regional Center is located just off New Hampshire Avenue in Silver Spring, Maryland, the road known as the 'Highway to Heaven.' Along this strip in suburban Maryland are many religious centers including the Muslim Community Center, the Ukranian Orthodox Church, and the Cambodian Buddhist Temple. The members of the CMWRC live and work in the Washington, DC area and see themselves as part of this diverse religious community in Silver Spring. Swami Dheerananda and CMWRC are open to helping others learn about the teachings of Swami Chinmayananda. Because these teachings are the central focus of CMWRC, however, the devotees attend to the Sri Siva Visnu Temple for rituals which require a priest, such as marriage. Swami Dheerananda explains that the relationship between CMWRC and the temple is complimentary; CMWRC is primarily concerned with teaching Vedanta, while the activities at the Sri Siva Visnu Temple are more ritualistic. The CMWRC also has relations with the Hindu community through the annual Divali celebration organized by the Hindu and Jain Temple Society of Greater Washington. The festivities bring together the members of about twenty religious communities in the area for a joint celebration of Divali.

The Furture of CMWRC

The Chinmaya Mission Washington Regional Center plans to build a temple on the plot of land behind their current center. The community of Mission followers has grown over the past ten years and the house that now functions as the religious center is too small to accommodate these followers. The Sunday program has to be held at a near by elementary school because CMWRC has no room. The new temple or religious center will contain a large hall with a stage and an altar that will seat 300-350 people. They will also be over fifteen classrooms for teaching or meetings of various sizes. The temple will be on three levels and will be able to house all CMWRC activities. The new center will attract many more followers and spread the teachings of Swami Chinmayananda. The construction of the temple begins in the year 2000, and is funded by the donations of devotees and through loans. The Chinmaya Mission Washington Regional Center's expansion demonstrates the growing presence of the Hindu community in the Washington, DC area.