The start of senior year is one of the most stressful times in the lives of American teenagers and our Balavihar students (who are usually over achievers) are no less immune to that than others. Trying to drill the basics of Vedanta, meditation , happiness and other concepts that are part of the Balavihar curriculum without an appreciation of their personal context can be a tough sell. Understandably so because it is a bit disconnected from the urgent and the immediate and if there is anything that can be put off, it is perhaps the time spent in Balavihar which does not ostensibly contribute to any immediate outcome. And yet, these concepts and principles perhaps offer a way to reduce their immediate stress, provide focus and improve their chances for successful outcomes, which is after all the point of the class. This year, Kris and I ( mostly Kris) approached the curriculum somewhat differently. We had always included video segments that were relevant to the topic on hand but this year, we tied the topics to relevant things that were working on that week, particularly as it applied to their college admissions and the activities surrounding that (Like approaching a professor for recommendations or having a conversation with parents about college choices or interviewing with a college etc.) Each week, we would take up topics such as happiness, action, mind, gratitude, etc. and discuss that in the context of how it could help them with their immediate tasks on hand. Sessions often involved journals or reflections that they could share in class (or not) but the idea was to give them tools that they could use right there and then.
Kalla and Anand’s first born, Aabhi is graduating from Lincoln High and is headed to University of Arizona for an undergraduate in business and computer science.
Aabhi in his own words:
I started coming to Balavihar in 3rd grade. Waking up early on Sundays seemed like a chore but once I got here I always had fun. We dropped out of BV in 4th and 5th grade due to other commitments but I started missing it and asked my parents if we could rejoin and since 6th grade, I have been coming here every Sunday. I have had the same classmates for many years now and have enjoyed growing up with them. We have done several skits together, learned more Bhajans than I can remember and generally had a lot of fun.
Chinmaya Mission has made me a kind and compassionate person and I am excited to go out and apply these learnings in the real world. I want to thank all the volunteers and all the teachers who have spent their valuable time working with us. I have enjoyed this year particularly, especially with all the relevant videos and such.
I want to thank everyone for everything. Thank you – Aabhi
Keshav, Sid and Tulasi’s older son is graduating from Jesuit High and is headed to UCLA to pursue a degree in business and finance.
He recounts his Balavihar journey:
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. I would like to thank all my teachers for the work that they have put in that has shaped me into the person I am today. I want to thank my parents, my dad for having the discipline that ensured that regardless of sleep overs, basketball games or anything else, Sunday morning was always set aside for Balavihar, and my mom, for helping me implement religion in my everyday life – Keshav
I’d like to talk about Chinmaya Mission and what it means to me. To do so, I’m going to tell you three stories from my time here at Chinmaya Mission. The first one begins in first grade. I remember coming to the MJCC for my first Balavihar class. I think we were learning about Krishna because our homework was to color in some drawings of him. The moment I got out of class, I went to my parents and complained that Balavihar assigned too much work that I just didn’t have time for in my very busy first-grade schedule. Looking back, I learned two things from this, first, I would love if my homework could be coloring in drawings and second, Chinmaya Mission can seem arduous at times, but in the end it’s worth it. After a hiatus of three years, I came back in fourth grade. We were still at the MJCC. I remember after every class almost, I would go to the café outside of the auditorium and buy a cookie. Those of you who have ever seen me eat at Shadras know that I am the slowest eater ever to be made by God, so of course I would take a bite of the cookie and put the rest in my purple Chinmaya Mission bag. The bad thing was I never actually went back and ate the cookies so they would sit in my bag for weeks, maybe even years. Even now, I still can feel crumbs of those cookies when I reach into my bag. Again, I have two takeaways. One, don’t let food rot in your Chinmaya Mission bag, and two – Balavihar is a lot like that cookie. When we go to class, we take notes in our notebooks, put it in our bags and never look at it again until the next Sunday. Why let this knowledge rot like that cookie when we could take out that information and use it in our life on a daily basis? Just like the cookie, the knowledge we gain here is sweet and fulfilling, but only if we choose to digest it. Lastly, jump eight years ahead and here we are. At the beginning of May, the senior class made a trip to the beach. Even after almost running out of gas, we had a great time burying Rahul Kajjam in the sand, playing volleyball, and flying kites. I remember in the 8th grade or so, I became the only girl in class, and at first, I was pretty sad, but honestly these guys have been the some of the kindest, most genuine, thoughtful, and empathetic people I’ve ever met, and believe me, that’s pretty hard to find in teenage boys nowadays. So, I’d like to say thank you to Aabhi, Rahul, Keshav, and Santosh for being like older brothers for me. Thanks especially to Kris and Sudhir Uncle for the best class ever and all of my past teachers, Balavihar and Hindi. I think there’s a point in every kid’s journey in Balavihar when it just clicks. For me, that happened this year. Unless I was out of town, I never skipped a single class. I woke up at 7 am the night after my Prom to write this speech. I don’t even wake up that early for school. Sunday mornings are so special to me now and I’m so sad it’s now just ending. But every ending has a new beginning, and maybe I’ll have time to eat some of those cookies. Hari Om. – Maya
Rahul is the younger son of Haritha and Ashok Kajjam, who have been Chinmaya Mission members for a very long time. Rahul graduates from Westview High School this summer and is headed to University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign to pursue a career in electrical engineering. He documents his journey as a Balavihar student at Chinmaya Mission:
Not unlike most second children, I started Balavihar when I was around 3. One of my earliest memories is hanging around with my parents watching my brother compete in the shloka chanting competition at Chinmaya Mission Yamnotri. When my brother finished up his chanting, I told my mom that I wanted to go chant. There were around 6 shlokas and I had memorized those while listening to my brother. After some persuasion, my mom let me chant and I went through the shlokas with each passing minute drawing me closer to the ultimate reason why I participated. At the end of the session, I received chocolates as a participation prize. You see, that had been my motivation all along. As I have grown up, I have had the good fortune to sticking to Balavihar and I have learned a lot of new things and met lots of interesting people. But even as I learned these things, I realized that I did not quite know how to apply these in day to day life. My journey with Chinmaya Portland has helped me with applying my learning and values to daily life. Here in Portland, I became an active member of Boy Scouts which as I found out had a lot of things in common with what I was learning at Balavihar. I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to learn from so many dedicated teachers and I want to thank every single one of them. One of the core values that I have applied to my life comes from Bhagawad Gita Chapter 9, Shloka number 26
patram puspam phalam toyam
yo me bhaktya prayacchati
tad aham bhakty-upahrtam
patram—a leaf; puspam—a flower; phalam—a fruit; toyam—water; yah—whoever; me—unto Me; bhaktya—with devotion; prayacchati—offers; tat—that; aham—I; bhakti-upahrtam—offered in devotion; asnami—accept; prayata-atmanah—of one in pure consciousness.
If one offers Me with love and devotion a leaf, a flower, a fruit, or even water, I will accept it.
Incorporating this attitude towards everything in life has made me a better person. As youngsters attending Balavihar, it may not be easy to see how it all comes together. But persevere, because you are learning a number of critical values which will stay with you all your life. I certainly think I will be using everything I learned here as I head out in the world in the next phase of my journey
Santosh Ramesh :
For those of you don’t know me, I’m Santosh, and man did my parents do a good job of embarrassing me in this presentation; this year I am graduating from Westview High School, and I’m attending Oregon State in the fall.
Coming first to balavihar in 2nd grade, I was shy of such a new environment. So many new faces that I’d never seen before in my life, and these would be my classmates for for the next ten years. As my eyes opened to the Ramayana, I learned to be like Hanuman, who is mentally strong and boldly faces unfamiliar situations. It was here, that I first got exposure to the Hanuman Chalisa; to me, the mantra meant more than just preaching religion. It was a genuine connection to my culture, something that I was grateful to experience. It would only be years later until I realized that not many people had the opportunity to learn about what the Chalisa meant, let alone study it.
As the years went on, we lost some kids but gained new ones as well, forming the class of students you all know today. As the Mahabharata taught me, true friendship is defined by the people who stick by you thick and thin, like the Pandavas. From their story, I learned that how to apply Hinduism to my life, finding myself in similar situations to Arjuna and even Duryodhana. Through Dharma, I truly began to understand that Hinduism wasn’t just a religion, but instead a way of life; it allowed me to find my own path without relying on the herd to know what to do.
Standing here looking back, I am completely astonished by how fast time has flown for me and the group of 12th graders I grew up with for the past 10 years of my life. When I was younger, I would look at the graduating class and think to myself, “wow, that will be me in a few years”; yet here I am right now, talking to all of you. As I look into the crowd, I see a group of people I’ve come to call a family away from home; through my teachers, peers, and mentors I’ve learned to live life to the fullest extent. For all the younger students, I’d urge you to stay in Bhalivihar, even if it means waking up early. Let’s be real, if you weren’t at Chinmaya Mission, you’d probably be sleeping instead.
I’d like to take a moment to thank the people that have supported me and my classmates through the years. Through the main curriculum, Gita Aunty, Raji Aunty, Narmatha Aunty, Gayathri Aunty, Kalpana Auntie, Krishna Uncle, Haritha Auntie, Sham Uncle, Chandra Uncle, Rajiv Uncle, TK Uncle, Usha Auntie, Kris Uncle, and Sudhir Uncle. In hindi class, I had many teachers come and go, but I particularly remember Radhika Auntie, Seema Auntie, Anand Uncle. Also, to Kishore Uncle, Subha Aunty, and everyone else who made Chinmaya Mission pdx a reality for students like us. And lastly to my parents, who got my butt out of bed every Sunday morning. Thank you Chinmaya mission, for transforming me into the person I am today; what I’ve learned here I will take with me for the rest of my life.