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Looking Back to Move Forward in 2013: Reconnect with us!

In 1993, the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions staged the first and biggest inter-religious gathering in 100 years. Commemorating this landmark anniversary year of 2013 we are:

LOOKING BACK…

120 Years Ago - The World’s Parliament of Religions was held in Chicago during the 1893 World’s Fair, hailing representatives of faith groups never previous known to the western world and giving world-wide recognition to the peace and harmony cultivated by inter-religious fellowship and cooperation. It is the site where Swami Vivekananda changed the world of religious thought with his now famous speech.

25 Years Ago - The planning for 1993 began in the basement of a Hyde Park Chicago church where religious leaders recognized the opportunity to again invest the world in interfaith dialogue.

20 Years Ago - The Parliament of World Religions in the Palmer House Hotel of Chicago convened more than 8000 people joining together for the first and largest global interfaith gathering in a century. There a breakthrough document, Towards A Global Ethic: An Initial Declaration drafted by Hans Kuns was signed by numerous faith leaders, officially establishing the ongoing work of the CPWR.

…TO MOVE FORWARD

…by canvassing scrapbooks, white papers, phone lists, and the Parliament’s internet community comprising the last two and a half decades.

We invite the attendees, organizers, and friends of the 1993 Chicago, 1999 Capetown, 2004 Barcelona, and 2009 Melbourne Parliaments of the World’s Religions to reunite with us through our “Looking Back to Move Forward” series of 2013 programs.

Here’s what we’ll be doing: 

Highlighting the stories of the Council’s friends, many who planned 1993 and continued to serve the organization by joining the board, volunteering, and attending subsequent Parliaments.

Featuring you! Did you attend 1993 in Chicago?  What about 1999 in Capetown, or Barcelona in 2004? Did you feel connected to a movement because of those experiences? Please share these memories with us. Maybe you’ve been to all of the Parliaments, and your time in one of them inspired the life you’ve been living differently the past few years. How were you changed?

Exploring how “interfaith” has evolved over the last twenty years through Parliament events. It is time to mark  20 years of the Parliament movement by documenting surprise lessons, unexpected answers, and new questions to pursue.

Updating our community on the changing face of this movement and staying current. Momentum in interfaith today has sprouted major growth in youth inter-religious organizing, initiated history-making interfaith discussions, connected groups across polar spiritual, geographic, and digital lines, and defined new relationships between the religious and secular communities.  Guiding institutions and and faith-based organizations are constantly discovering new pathways to becoming cooperative entities.  The study of religions now considers the cooperative nature of diverse faith groups, going beyond the traditional comparative religions study. We will be present in these conversations as we plan our next steps, and share our findings through our Global Listening Campaign, Faiths Against Hate Campaign, and Parliament newsletters.

Celebrating our successes. Chicago is still the Council’s base, and as we look back on all the connections we’ve made all across the globe from our offices here, we want to reconnect. Later this year we will be announcing exciting plans to invite our Parliaments friends to a can’t-miss anniversary event here in Chicago.

Please connect with us at stories@parliamentofreligions.org and share your best memories, experiences, and lessons learned from the relationship you’ve built with the Parliament.  Kindly include your name, location, Parliament(s) attended and years, as well as any contact information you are comfortable sharing.   If you have recommendations or wishes for future Parliaments, we would be delighted to read about this, too.

 

Celebrating Swami Vivekananda’s 150th Birth Anniversary

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’ 

Vivekananda’s 150th Birth Anniversary: A Joy Unspeakable

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.

SWAMI VIVEKANANDA:

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.

Vivekananda resurrected: A 3-D recreation of 1893′s Parliament of Religions

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

Web: www.chennaimath.org

Web: www.vivekanandahouse.org

 


The Surprising–and Continuing–Influence of Swami Vivekananda

The swami Vivekananda, the Bengali monk who brought yoga to the United States, meditating in London, in 1896. Courtesy of the Vedanta Society

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.”

Click here to read the full article.

How Yoga Won the West

Vivekananda in Chicago, 1893. (Vedanta Society of Southern California)

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.”

Click here to read the full article

October 15th, 2011 at 10:04 am

Vivekananda speaks to Norway

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.

Overview of World Religions and Ecology

From FORE

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.

Click here to read more.

Interfaith Activity Is Growing

From The Bellingham Herald

On Sept. 11, there was a remarkable gathering in Olympia. With only a few days’ notice, a standing-room-only crowd assembled at the Unitarian Universalist Church to stand with our Muslim neighbors and to listen to Imam Nabil read from the Quran.

Interfaith friends from Christian, Jewish, Buddhist and other communities were present, and many held copies of their personal Quran. Following the translation, reading and comments on the text, an opportunity was presented for clergy to speak. Later, lay people were asked to comment. A general spirit of oneness and support pervaded the sanctuary. Without the threats to burn the Quran by a Florida-based minister, it’s not likely that this gathering would have happened. Those attending saw firsthand how threats and hatred can catalyze a spirit of curiosity, camaraderie and support. How many Americans met on or around the anniversary of 9/11 to stand with our Muslim neighbors?

It’s noteworthy that media coverage for the pastor threatening to burn the Quran appeared in newspapers, on the Internet and television for days. The gatherings for interfaith support representing hundreds of thousands of people throughout the United States barely received a column on the back page of newspapers or comment on television news programs, yet the emergence of meaningful interfaith gatherings is a reality in our world.

On Dec. 3, 2009, 10 months earlier and halfway around the world, I was present for the opening of the Parliament of World’s Religions, in Melbourne, Australia. Our gathering was a long-delayed vision of religious leaders who attended the first of these four gatherings in Chicago in 1893. At that time, to even consider religious leaders from distinctly different faith traditions meeting together, talking together, praying together and discussing the role both of themselves and their religions in the major issues of the world, was at best fanciful. Perhaps more to the point: unfaithful, undesirable and dangerous.

But 116 years and four parliaments later, more than 6,000 attendees arrived in all their costumery despite the distance, despite the recession, despite the political tensions between countries. Greetings were shared across the vast spaces of the brand new convention center in Melbourne as Sikhs and Jews, Catholics and Muslims, Christian and Buddhist greeted one another, friends from previous gatherings.

Monks created their sand mandalas. A scroll to be delivered to the Copenhagen Climate Summit spanned 40 feet or more, ready to receive signatures. We ate together, laughed and prayed together. We watched one another’s documentaries and listened to one another’s hearts. We listened, not to convert or change, but to understand. Aware that we share the common ground of love and kindness, we discussed major issues such as the rights of indigenous peoples, availability of water, peace on the planet and climate change.

The program book we received had 360 pages and 650 sessions. There was a lot to talk about and even more to learn from one another. The president of the United States sent a team to ask questions and learn how to support peace through the wisdom of faith leaders and programs already in place. Interestingly, most of the news coverage focused on a small group of people outside the convention protesting the use of public space for religious use.

Click here to read the entire article.

“God in America” website features Swami Vivekananda

From PBS

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.”

Click here to read the entire article.