Archive for the ‘1893 Parliament – Chicago’ Category
by Philip Goldberg
Visitors exiting the Art Institute of Chicago on Michigan Avenue are often perplexed by the street sign that reads Swami Vivekananda Way. What is it doing there? Who is this swami, and why does he deserve an honorary street name like Oprah Winfrey, Hugh Hefner and other Chicago legends? Most Americans would not have a clue, but interfaith activists do, and Hindus do, and a great many yoga practitioners and students of Eastern philosophy do, and everyone in India certainly does. And this year, millions more will learn why Vivekananda remains a revered figure more than a century after his passing. January 12th was the 150th anniversary of his birth, and celebrations and tributes will be held all year throughout India and much of the West.
The leading disciple of the legendary 19th century saint, Sri Ramakrishna, Vivekananda came to the U.S. in 1893 for the Parliament of the World’s Religions, a 17-day festival in the midst of a huge world’s fair called the Columbian Exposition. He was an exotic sight in his orange robes and turban; very few Americans had even met a Jew or a Muslim at the time, much less a Hindu monk. Against all odds, the swami became an instant sensation, not as some carnival attraction but as a fresh, erudite voice that spoke with authority, in impeccable English, about his own tradition, religious harmony and the universal truths at the unseen depths of all religions.
He quickly encountered two types of Americans that are familiar to us all today: Christian supremacists who denounced him as a dangerous heathen preaching false religion; and open-minded, rational, spiritual seekers, who found his message and his demeanor irresistible. He was, in a sense, the Jackie Robinson of spirituality, a bold and talented figure shattering widespread misconceptions and biases. Through word of mouth and adulatory press coverage, he became such a superstar that extra talks had to be scheduled for him to accommodate the crowds that flooded the amphitheater in the building that would later become the Art Institute. Hence, the location of Swami Vivekananda Way.
Because he was in demand on the lecture circuit, he remained in America longer than anticipated: more than three years in two separate trips. He passed away in India in 1902, and, like Mozart, Gershwin, and other rare shooting stars who never reached the age of 40, he produced a remarkable legacy in his few productive years.
In voluminous writings, some of which were converted from his numerous lectures, he articulated for the modern age the essential teachings of Vedanta, the philosophical system that stems primarily from the Bhagavad Gita and the Upanishads. His four slim books on the principal pathways of Yoga – karma (selfless action), bhakti (devotion), jnana (intellectual discernment), and raja (meditation and spiritual practice) — became the authoritative descriptions of those categories, and to a large extent they remain so in today’s yoga-saturated world because they set the tone for much of the subsequent commentary on the subject.
In America, Vivekananda’s most enduring impact may be the organization he created to perpetuate his work. The Vedanta Society, which eventually established centers in most major U.S. cities, was the place for seekers interested in Hinduism, Indian philosophy, and yogic meditation in the early part of the 20th century. Through its publications and the swamis who came from India to run the centers, it was the leading voice for what the title of one of its widely read anthologies called “Vedanta for the Western World.” A large percentage of the students drawn to later gurus, such as Paramahansa Yogananda and Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (who was also born on Jan. 12), were primed by the Vivekananda lineage. In mid-century Vedanta Society swamis mentored some of the most prominent thinkers and writers in American history. If you’ve had transformative moments reading Joseph Campbell, Aldous Huxley or Huston Smith, or if you identified with the eccentric spirituality of J.D. Salinger’s Glass family, you were touched by Vivekananda whether you realized it or not.
That 1893 gathering of religious leaders would probably not even be remembered if the token Hindu hadn’t ignited such a fervent response. Instead, it launched the modern interfaith movement and catalyzed an East-to-West transmission that has reshaped America’s spiritual landscape. For those reasons and more, you will be hearing about Swami Vivekananda a great deal in the coming year, and so will people 150 years from now.
Philip Goldberg is an Interfaith Minister, Spiritual Coach, Public Speaker, and author of ‘American Veda: How Indian Spirituality Changed the West’
Observing the 150th birth anniversary of Swami Vivekananda this January 12 called for both merriment and reflection in Hindu centers across the globe. For champions of Interfaith living now, it is a day – and this time, a year – of honoring the man who made passage from India to Chicago in 1893 to attend an unconventional convention. A group of religious leaders gathered in a parliamentary fashion, where east and west no longer saluted from a distance but stood near enough to hear one another.
To hear harmony.
11 September, 1893. World’s First Parliament of Religions.
Sisters and Brothers of America:
It fills my heart with joy unspeakable to rise in response to the warm and cordial welcome which you have given us. I thank you in the name of the most ancient order of monks in the world; I thank you in the name of the mother of religions; and I thank you in the name of the millions and millions of Hindu people of all classes and sects. My thanks, also, to some of the speakers on this platform who, referring to the delegates from the Orient, have told you that these men from far-off nations may well claim the honor of bearing to different lands the idea of toleration.
I am proud to belong to a religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance. We believe not only in universal toleration, but we accept all religions as true. I am proud to belong to a nation which has sheltered the persecuted and the refugees of all religions and all nations of the earth. I am proud to tell you that we have gathered in our bosom the purest remnant of the Israelites, who came to the southern India and took refuge with us in the very year in which their holy temple was shattered to pieces by Roman tyranny. I am proud to belong to the religion which has sheltered and is still fostering the remnant of the grand Zoroastrian nation.
I will quote to you, brethren, a few lines from a hymn which I remember to have repeated from my earliest boyhood, which is every day repeated by millions of human beings:
As the different streams having there sources in different places all mingle their water in the sea, so, O Lord, the different paths which men take through different tendencies, various though they appear, crooked or straight, all lead to thee.
The present convention, which is one of the most august assemblies ever held, is in itself a vindication, a declaration to the world, of the wonderful doctrine preached in the Gita:
Whosoever comes to Me, through whatsoever form, I reach him; all men are struggling through paths which in the end lead to me.
Sectarianism, bigotry, and its horrible descendant, fanaticism, have long possessed this beautiful earth. They have filled the earth with violence, drenched it often and often with human blood, destroyed civilization, and sent whole nations to despair. Had it not been for these horrible demons, human society would be far more advanced than it is now. But their time is come; and I fervently hope that the bell that tolled this morning in honor of this convention may be the death-knell of all fanaticism, of all persecutions with the sword or with the pen, and of all uncharitable feelings between persons wending their way to the same goal.
As part of 150th Birth Anniversary Celebrations of Swami Vivekananda, Ramakrishna Math, Chennai, India and Ramakrishna Mission, New Delhi has recently released a new 3D Movie “9/11 – The Awakening” . This short 3D Movie is about Swami Vivekananda’s historic speech “Sisters and Brothers of America” delivered at Parliament of Religions in Chicago on September 11th, 1893. The movie portrays Swami Vivekananda’s trip to the west, his visit to 1893 World’s Columbian Expo and his Chicago address at Parliament of Religions (Art Institute) in 1893.
9/11: The Awakening – a Trailer from the Vivekananda House:
The entire Chicago Expo has been re-created based on 1893 Chicago Archive Maps and a virtual setup of the Parliament of Religions stage with an audience of 7000 members has been built. The Empress of India ship that Vivekananda undertook during his journey to the West has also been re-created.
A realistic 3D Model of Swami Vivekananda with real skin shaders has been created and improvised based only on his photographs in the absence of any video reference of Vivekananda. Only a few Hollywood-animated movies like Polar Express (2004), Beowoulf (2007) have attempted realistic models for living personalities, but for Vivekananda it makes it all the more challenging since a 3-D body scan cannot be performed (as he is not alive). To create smoother animation for the 3-D movie, Motion capture has been performed with an actor playing Vivekananda’s role.
Monastic members of Ramakrishna Mission, Delhi and Ramakrishna Math, Chennai worked with GISR (Global Institute for Stereo Vision and Research) team to make the movie.
The movie is currently screened at the 3D Theatre in Vivekananda House, Chennai and Ramakrishna Mission, Delhi.
For more info on the 3D Movie, please visit www.vivekananda3d.org (Please use Google Chrome/Safari/Firefox to access the site
by A. L. Bardach
from the Wall Street Journal
By the late 1960s, the most famous writer in America had become a recluse, having forsaken his dazzling career. Nevertheless, J.D. Salinger often came to Manhattan, staying at his parents’ sprawling apartment on Park Avenue and 91st Street. While he no longer visited with his editors at “The New Yorker,” he was keen to spend time with his spiritual teacher, Swami Nikhilananda, the founder of the Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Center, located, then as now, in a townhouse just three blocks away, at 17 East 94th Street.
Though the iconic author of “The Catcher in the Rye” and “Franny and Zooey” published his last story in 1965, he did not stop writing. From the early 1950s onward, he maintained a lively correspondence with several Vedanta monks and fellow devotees.
After all, the central, guiding light of Salinger’s spiritual quest was the teachings of Vivekananda, the Calcutta-born monk who popularized Vedanta and yoga in the West at the end of the 19th century.
These days yoga is offered up in classes and studios that have become as ubiquitous as Starbucks. Vivekananda would have been puzzled, if not somewhat alarmed. “As soon as I think of myself as a little body,” he warned, “I want to preserve it, protect it, to keep it nice, at the expense of other bodies. Then you and I become separate.” For Vivekananda, who established the first ever Vedanta Center, in Manhattan in 1896, yoga meant just one thing: “the realization of God.”
by Ann Louise Bardach
from New York Times
Ann Louise Bardach is a writer at large for Newsweek. She is working on a biography of Vivekananda.
The party planning is in full swing throughout India. Never mind that the big day, Jan. 12, 2013, commemorating the 150th anniversary of the birth of Vivekananda, is more than 15 months away. Not too long ago, Vivekananda, a household name in his homeland, was famous here as well, as the first missionary from the East to the West.
If you’re annoyed that your local gas station is now a yoga studio, you might blame Vivekananda for having introduced “yoga” into the national conversation — though an exercise cult with expensive accessories was hardly what he had in mind.
The Indian monk, born Narendranath Datta to an aristocratic Calcutta family, alighted in Chicago in 1893 in ochre robes and turban, with little money after a daunting two-month trek from Bombay. Notwithstanding the fact that he had spent the previous night sleeping in a boxcar, the young mystic made an electrifying appearance at the opening of the august Parliament of Religions that Sept. 11.
For most of the rest of the month, Vivekananda held the conference’s 4,000 attendees spellbound in a series of showstopping improvised talks. He had simplified Vedanta thought to a few teachings that were accessible and irresistible to Westerners, foremost being that “all souls are potentially divine.” His prescription for life was simple, and perfectly American: “work and worship.” By the end of his last Chicago lecture on Sept. 27, Vivekananda was a star. And like the enterprising Americans he so admired, he went on the road to pitch his message — dazzling some of the great minds of his time.
Yet precious few of the estimated 16 million supple, spandex-clad yoginis in the United States, who sustain an annual $6 billion industry, seem to have a clue that they owe their yoga mats to Vivekananda. Enriching this irony was Vivekananda’s utter lack of interest in physical exertions beyond marathon sitting meditations and pilgrimages to holy sites.
“You are not your body,” he often reminded Americans, who tend to prefer “doing” over “being.” More distressing, for some, was his other message: “You are not your mind.”
by William Lesher
The hearts and prayers of people of goodwill everywhere go out to the people of Norway and to the families of those killed and wounded in the recent bombing and senseless slaying of young people. It is especially painful when such tragic acts are in any way associated with misguided religious overtones.
The poignant words of Swami Vivekananda in his opening speech at the first Parliament in 1893 come readily to mind:
“Sectarian bigotry and its horrible descendent fanaticism have long possessed this beautiful earth. They have filled the earth with violence, drenched it often with human blood, destroyed civilization and sent whole nations to despair.”
How relevant this 118 year old statement is to this current situation. Vivekananda ends by declaring, “ But their time has come; and I fervently hope that the bell that tolls this morning may be the death knell of all fanaticism…”
Given the aura of contentiousness, conflict and confusion that hangs over the global social order today, it is doubtful that violent acts against people and property can be prevented. It is, nevertheless, Vivekananda’s fervent hope that still motivates the Parliament of the World’s Religions and all expressions of the interreligious movement.
At the Barcelona Parliament in 2004, hundreds of participants attended workshops on “Religiously Motivated Violence” and made commitments to stand with people of other faiths whenever lives are threatened or property is defaced or destroyed. Currently the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions encourages religious and spiritual communities everywhere to adopt a “Solidarity Pledge” as a minimal expression of their harmony, support and respect for people of other faiths. In the greater Los Angeles area where I live, a group has recently formed called “Interfaith Witnesses for Peace,” pledged to gather on short notice, as a silent testimony to peace, wherever a religious community is threatened.
The tragedy in Norway is another occasion for us all to reassess our personal commitment and that of our religious communities, to active expressions of peace-building. Are we building bridges to other faith communities? Are we teaching and preaching respect for other religions, providing opportunities to learn what others believe and how to best share our beliefs with them? Are we exploring ways to work together for the common good? Are we mobilized to act, as a powerful presence of solidarity and love when tragedy strikes.
It is our engagement in interreligious actions like these that keep Vivekananda’s fervent hope alive.
The environmental crisis is one that is well documented in its various interlocking manifestations of industrial pollution, resource depletion, and population explosion. The urgency of the problems are manifold, namely, the essential ingredients for human survival, especially water supplies and agricultural land, are being threatened across the planet by population and consumption pressures. With the collapse of fishing industries and with increasing soil erosion and farm land loss, serious questions are being raised about the ability of the human community to feed its own offspring. Moreover, the widespread destruction of species and the unrelenting loss of habitat continue to accelerate. Climate change threatens to undermine efforts to reverse these trends and to move toward a sustainable future for humans and nature.
Clearly religions need to be involved with the development of a more comprehensive worldview and ethics to ground movements toward sustainability.
A follower of the Indian mystic Ramakrishna, Swami Vivekananda was a Hindu monk who introduced Hinduism to the United States in the late 19th century. Wide-ranging in his intellect, Vivekananda studied Western logic, philosophy, history, classical music and Indian Sanskrit scripture. His teachers considered him a prodigy.
At the age of 30, Vivekananda first visited the United States in 1893 as a delegate to the World’s Parliament of Religions, held in conjunction with the Chicago World’s Fair. In his opening remarks, he greeted the assembled gathering with the words “Sisters and Brothers of America.” The 7,000 people in attendance rose to their feet for an ovation lasting more than three minutes. Vivekananda proceeded to give a brief but eloquent speech that celebrated toleration and condemned fanaticism and its ills: “I am proud to belong to a religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance. We believe not only in universal toleration, but we accept all religions as true.”
Continuing in this vein, Vivekananda went on to quote from the Bhagavad Gita: “As different streams having their sources in different places all mingle their waters in the sea, so, Oh Lord, the different paths which men take through different tendencies various though they appear, crooked or straight, all lead to Thee.”
From The Hindu
Like the protagonist of his solo play on Swami Vivekananda, singer-actor Shekhar Sen won the hearts of one and all.
The life and vision of the man divine, Swami Vivekananda was presented by Impresario India in an incredible musical play written, composed and enacted by the renowned actor-singer Shekhar Sen from Mumbai at Kamani auditorium this past week. The outstanding performance of this gifted artiste encompassed the life of the patriot saint whose vision of shared spirituality and eloquent message at the World Parliament of Religions at Chicago conquered the hearts of people from across the world. Disclosing the making of this dynamic saint, the two-hour long riveting play unfolds the stories of his childhood, the impact of the Brahmo-Samaj on him, his eagerness to find God and meeting his revered mentor Ramakrishna Paramhamsa, his unforgettable Chicago speech, and so on.
A talented singer, composer, lyricist and actor, Sen left the audience awestruck, debating whether he was a better singer or actor, after his spellbinding performance as Vivekananda. With a solid background provided by his initial training in classical music from an early age under his parents Anita and Arun Kumar Sen, both renowned vocalists of the Gwaliar gharana, Shekhar later established his distinct identity by singing poetry of the medieval poets. He has done more than 1500 shows across the world. With 190 cassettes and CDs to his credit, he has also sung for the record-breaking serial “Ramayana”. After the resounding success of his musical mono-acts on Goswami Tulsidas and Kabeer, “Vivekananda” represents yet another milestone for this gem of an artiste.