Swami Vivekananda’s Spiritual Heirs Reach Out

The Vivekananda Vedanta Society (VVS) of Chicago hosted a conference at the downtown Hilton here Nov. 10 to commemorate the 150th birth anniversary of its founder Swami Vivekananda who gave a seminal address on Hinduism to the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago on Sept. 11, 1893.
The event at the Hilton was attended by 50 monks from around the world and sought to reach out to other religions and also to re-contextualize the Swami’s message and mission within the wider fabric of Hindu traditions, organizers said in a press release. Speakers from multiple faiths who attended the event, included Rabbi Balinski and Rev. Donald Senior, president of Council of Religious Leaders of Metropolitan Chicago.
Swami Ishatmananda, VVS Chicago minister-in-charge and convener, read out the blessings of Ramakrishna Mission President Swami Atmasthananda emphasizing  the contemporary universality of India’s ancient teachings. The full day proceedings were emceed by VVS devotee Octavia Harrison.
Addressing the event, Consul General of India to Chicago Dr. Ausaf Sayeed said his extensive travels have shown there is no place like India for unity-in-diversity.
He contrasted this to the interdenominational violence witnessed during his stint as ambassador to Yemen, where a peaceful gathering of religious scholars was attacked by an opposing sect.
Swami Aparokshananda from Fiji recounted how Kuppuswami, a devotee of Ramakrishna, formed an association to protect the rights of indentured Indian laborers that subsequently became the nucleus of the Ramakrishna Movement there.
Speaking on the “Vedanta Movement in America,” Dr. Hal French observed that this was the “Year of India” in many ways, citing release of the multi-volume Encyclopedia of Hinduism at his University of South Carolina this spring. French edited the encyclopedia.
Some of the other speakers included Swami Dayamrita, Swami Atmajnananda, and, Hema Pokharna, and Pravrajika Saradeshaprana.
General Secretary of Ramakrishna Mission Swami Suhitanandaji, in his discourse titled “For One’s Own Liberation and Welfare of the World,” described the progression of desire from the survival instinct, through hedonism and craving for recognition, to hunger for knowledge and quest for liberation.
Swami Prapannananda spoke on Vaishnavism and how some of its themes and qualities are reflected in Vivekananda’s teachings.
Discourses were interspersed with musical performances including American-style bhajans by Sacred Waters Kirtan Group from South Bend, Ind.; devotional songs by Ranajay Ganguly, Sampa Biswas and Supriya Mukhopadhyaya of the Chicago Bengali Society; Swami Pareshananda from Argentina recited an English poem and chanted a Spanish hymn; and sisters Lajja Patel and Tulsi Patel performed the dance of bliss (ananda tandava), choreographed by Vijaya Lakshmi Shetty, in adoration of Lord Shiva at Chidambaram.