In connection with the centenary of Swami Vivekananda's
appearance at the World's Parliament of Religions at Chicago
in 1893, I was in the U. S. A. (from 1st August 1993) for
nearly six months and returned on the 17th January 1994, after
a tour in the East Coast. The following are a few excerpts
from my notes on the trip. The focus here is mainly on the
centenary celebrations in which I participated:
The major programs I attended were
the Vivekananda Centenary Celebrations at Washington and Chicago.
I also attended the Parliament of the World's Religions held
at the Palmer House Hilton at Chicago.
Hinduism Today (North America Edition,
October and November 1993 issues) published a faithful account
of those programs. Let me therefore begin with a few lines
therefrom to highlight the significance and uniqueness of
the historic occasion:
The Largest U. S. A. gathering of Swamis highlighted the three-day
'Global Vision 2000' conference at Washington D. C. (August
6-8) where 10,000 rallied to honour Swami Vivekananda and
mark the 100th anniversary of his arrival in America. Speakers
boldly proclaimed that the spiritual concepts propounded by
Swami Vivekananda in the last century contain the solutions
to the problems of the next. There were pressing appeals for
spreading the ancient Hindu values, beginning with vasudhaiva
kutumbakam -- 'the world is one family' -- the message that
Swami Vivekananda dilated upon at the Parliament of Religions
in Chicago in 1893.
As an event, 'Global Vision 2000'
was more than a success -- double the number of expected three-day
participants (4000 in all) showed up, overwhelming the staff.
Despite some very difficult logistics, including the feeding
of unexpected large numbers of people, the conference fulfilled
all its planned objectives: to bring together a large gathering
of Hindus for spiritual celebration of Swami Vivekananda's
arrival in the West; to involve the youths in substantial
numbers; and to bring Eastern and Western philosophers together
to examine the ideal of the oneness of all creation.
of the World's Religions
One hundred years ago (in 1893), while hosting the World's
Columbian Exhibition, celebrating the 400th year of Columbus'
discovery of the America, Chicago also became the home of
the first-ever interfaith gathering. Roaring like a lion at
that first assembly of all faiths, Swami Vivekananda overawed
the audience with his knowledge, his love of Hinduism and
its Olympian tolerance. By his eloquent depiction of the Hindu
faith, it saw in this thirty-year-old monk the highest expression
of Hindu intuitive wisdom. One hundred years later, at the
second Parliament of the World's Religions held from August
28th to September 5th in Chicago, 600 world spiritual leaders
and dignitaries, explored the hope of realizing interfaith
That single saffron robe of 1893
had turned to hundreds in 1993. A few eastern souls had turned
to thousands. There, in the crowded hall, mingling with indigenous
American Indians, jostling shoulder-to-shoulder with Christian
and Jewish leaders, were the new-comers. The Jains were there,
along with the Sikhs, the Buddhists and the Hindus. There
were also a few Mohammedans.
The Parliament was a clinching
proof of the emerging multiracial society in America. No one
could ignore the Indian presence. It was a kind of Chicago
There were the seminars, panels,
lectures, inspirational readings and discourses on all spiritual
traditions. Much was said of interfaith harmony and understanding.
There was genuine sharing and a true tolerance that transcended
the reluctant toleration of a century ago. In essence, the
Parliament revolved around 600 world spiritual leaders and
dignitaries gathered to share their faith with over 6,500
participants. Clearly it had a message of profound interest
to the world at large. Besides heavy North American representation,
participants also came from every continent, and carried the
message when they went back home.
At the Art
Institute of Chicago
About a thousand devotees participated in the 100th anniversary
celebration (11th September 1993) to commemorate Swami Vivekananda's
famous 'Chicago Address'. The function, sponsored by the Vivekananda
Vedanta Society of Chicago and the Consul General of India,
was held at the Art Institute of Chicago -- the very place
where the Swamiji had made history 100 years ago. I had a
rare privilege to pay a reverential homage to the great Swamiji
on that day in the Art Institute.
Hindu Representative at the Parliament
It was the first day of the Parliament and the opening session
was about to commence. The Grand ballroom of the Palmer House
Hilton was jam-packed with the delegates from all over the
world. The representatives of the leading faiths were present
on the platform. When the session started, the representatives
of different faiths were called one by one, and they made
their invocation speeches. The Hindu representative fared
excellently well, as did Swami Vivekananda himself 100 years
ago in the opening session of the Parliament. Sant Keshavadas
made an extempore, inspiring speech, paying rich tributes
to the hallowed memory of Swami Vivekananda who made history
in the Parliament of Religions a century ago. The moment Sant
Keshavadas reminded the audience about that great Hindu Monk
of India and his historic 'Chicago Address' in 1893, there
was a loud and prolonged applause from the audience at the
Grand ballroom. It appeared as if the scene of the first day
of the 1893 Parliament at the Art Institute of Chicago was
re-enacted at the Palmer House Hilton in 1993! Indeed Sant
Keshavadas echoed in his own inimitable style the grand message
of the Sanatana Dharma contained in the famous 'Chicago Address'
of Swami Vivekananda.
Incidentally, what did Swami Vivekananda
proclaim 100 years ago in the World's Parliament of Religions
at Chicago? Note his impassioned plea: "The Christian
is not to become a Hindu or Buddhist, nor is a Buddhist or
a Hindu to become a Christian. But each must assimilate the
spirit of the others and yet preserve his individuality and
grow according to his own law of growth. If the Parliament
has shown anything to the world, it is this: It has proved
to the world that holiness, purity and charity are not the
exclusive possessions of any church in the world, and that
every system has produced men and women of the most exalted
character. In the face of this evidence, if anybody dreams
of the exclusive survival of his own religion and the destruction
of the others, I pity him from the bottom of my heart".
In contrast to this statement of
Swami Vivekananda, note the following report from The New
York Times dated 30th August 1993: "...But even within
the religious world, there is disagreement about the Parliament's
merits. The Southern Baptist Convention, for instance, is
among groups that declined to send a representative. Many
evangelical and fundamentalist Christians believe that such
gatherings are at best a distraction from spreading the Gospel
and at worst a confusing compromise of their belief that Christianity
is the only way to salvation."
of the 1893 Assembly'
Recalling the World's Parliament of Religions held at Chicago
100 years ago and the 'star of the 1893 assembly', Swami Vivekananda,
and the impact of his dynamic spiritual message on contemporary
America, The New York Times dated 30th August, 1993, stated:
"This meeting is the centennial
of the 1893 World's Parliament of Religions, held on the site
of what is now the Art Institute of Chicago, was a landmark
in American religious history.... The star of the 1893 assembly
was Swami Vivekananda, a thirty-year-old spokesman for Hinduism.
" 'Do not care for dogmas,
or sects....' he preached. 'They count for little compared
with the essence of existence in each man, which is spirituality.'
It was a message that struck chords in an America where school
children encountered similar thoughts in the writings of Ralph
Waldo Emerson and Thomas Jefferson.
"Swami Vivekananda denounced
the sectarianism that 'has filled the earth with violence,
drenched it often and often with human blood,' and he called
for 'the death-knell of all fanaticism.' "
Evidently, Peter Steinfels, the reporter of The New York Times
quoted above, realized the relevance and significance of Swami
Vivekananda and his message to the West, nay, to mankind.
All kudos to Peter Steinfels!
A Holy Mother
at the Parliament
On one of the days of the Parliament at Chicago, Mata Amritanandamayi,
the renowned saint from Kerala, kept the audience spellbound
for about an hour, with her spiritual discourse. She spoke
in the Grand ballroom of the Palmer House Hilton, where I
was present among the audience. In consonance with the teachings
of Swami Vivekananda, she emphasized spirituality and spiritual
experience as the essence of religion. Said she, inter alia:
"Religion leads us to know we are the all-powerful God.
God is in us all. He is like the space. Space is everywhere.
Suppose we build a house, space existed before the house came
into being, and after the house is demolished the space is
unchanged. God is like that, everywhere and unchanged. God
is all-pervasive, and is the Light of Consciousness within
us. Heaven and hell are created by the mind. Rising in love
is religion." No sooner did she finish her discourse
than the audience surged towards her. She received and blessed
I had visited her Ashram in Kerala,
about a decade ago (in 1984, vide my book: Beloved Mother
-- Amritanandamayi). So it was a pleasant surprise to her
when I met her at the Grand ballroom of the Palmer House Hilton
at Chicago and presented to her a copy of the International
Edition of my book on Swami Vivekananda.
In less than a decade, her divine
mission has flourished phenomenally, both in India and abroad.
She is today a great solace to the careworn and heavy-laden
humanity. The enlightened saints are verily the salt of the
in Swamiji's Footsteps: Chicago
In the context of the Vivekananda Centenary Celebrations,
in the month of September 1993, the Vivekananda Vedanta Society
of Chicago arranged for the devotees a pilgrimage to various
places connected with Swami Vivekananda at Chicago. I too
joined the band of enthusiastic devotees and had the privilege
of visiting the places intimately connected with Swamiji during
his stay at Chicago, a century ago. This was a cherished wish
of mine even before I left for the U. S. A. and now it was
Other than the Art Institute of
Chicago (the venue of the Parliament of Religions a hundred
years ago, where Swamiji delivered the historic 'Chicago Address'),
the places connected with Swamiji we visited were: The Hale
House, John B. Lyons House, Fine Arts Building, Lincoln Park
near Dearborn Street, and the house at 1210 N. Astor Street.
It is opposite to the Hale House,
across the street, that Swamiji sat down exhausted after his
long walk from the Railway Station (September 10, 1893), where
Mrs. Hale welcomed him.
At John B. Lyons house, the Lyons
family hosted Swamiji throughout the Parliament and often
afterwards at the then 262 Michigan Avenue.
At the Fine Arts Building, Swamiji gave several classes in
the studios of Florence Adams -- a noted devotee and friend.
At the entrance of Lincoln Park
near Dearborn Street, Swamiji often used to sit, while staying
with the Hales. One mother impressed by his imposing appearance
asked if she could leave her six-years-old child in his charge
while she was shopping; since he agreed, she did so several
times. Later, that child -- Agnes Ewing -- became a student
of Swami Akhilananda.
From 1897, the house at 1210 N.
Astor Street was the residence of the Hale family. Here Swamiji
stayed during his last two Chicago visits.
The Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Centre of New York also organized
a three-day Vivekananda Centennial Celebrations at New York
(November 5-7, 1993). One of the programs was held at the
United Nations Auditorium. It was presented in co-operation
with the Permanent Mission of India to the United Nations,
and more than a dozen distinguished participants paid rich
tributes to the hallowed memory of the Swamiji. Unfortunately,
I missed the entire programme.
Facilities for Students
My stay for a fortnight at the International House located
in the Hyde Park by the campus of the University of Chicago
was providential. I was staying at Bolingbrook, which was
far away from downtown Chicago where the Parliament of Religions
was to be held at the Palmer House Hilton.
Dr. Shyam L. Bhatia (a Ramakrishna-Vivekananda
devotee residing in Hyde Park) whom I had met in the College
of DuPage campus, Glen Ellyn, in the second week of August,
was kind enough to introduce me to the International House
to which I shifted, thus being able to attend the week-long
Parliament punctually. The House is about fifteen minutes
away from the downtown by commuter trains, which stop one
An autonomous department of the
University of Chicago and a self-supporting educational residence
for students from around the world, the International House
was founded in 1932 through a munificent gift from John D.
Rockefeller, Jr. -- son of the renowned philanthropist, John
D. Rockefeller (1839-1937) who had met Swami Vivekananda in
Chicago, in 1894 (and about which I have incorporated a write-up
in my book on Swami Vivekananda) the International House is
a great boon to the international students and scholars. They
are provided with all amenities for a comfortable stay, besides
facilities for their social and cultural development. Verily,
the International House symbolizes Rockefeller's love for
students and his patronage to the cause of higher education.
Need of the
Hour: A Coming Together of the East and the West
In conclusion, some observations: At the zenith of material
prosperity and technological mastery, a 'moral vacuum' is
felt in the hectic American life even as one finds a chronic
'material vacuum' (abject poverty and squalor) in India despite
its lofty spiritual inheritance. This imbalance can go if
only India and America join hands. America needs India as
much as India needs America. Swami Vivekananda is the harbinger
of such a commingling of the East and the West. "His
teachings set in motion those forces, which could eventually
bring to the Western civilization the needed qualitative changes.
So he preached Vedanta and Yoga in the West, and at home emphasized
the need for useful and dynamic activity, the education of
the Indian masses and the service of the poor and the downtrodden
without disturbing their faith and tradition".
We are privileged to be living
at the time of the centenary of Swami Vivekananda's visit
to America and his historic appearance at thee World's Parliament
of Religions held in Chicago in 1893. This centenary is a
unique opportunity to spread his message, which is powerful
enough to influence the whole mankind in bringing about a
radical spiritual revolution in the world.
Widening the Spiritual
Perspective of Humanity
The main concern of the world today is peace and harmony.
The path that the world has until now traversed in pursuit
of technological mastery, has imperiled peace. If peace and
harmony are to rise and reign in the hearts and minds of human
beings all over the world, they should have an opportunity
to be exposed to the revealing insights of spirituality which
Swami Vivekananda has bequeathed to humanity. Hence an earnest
and vigorous propagation of his spiritual teachings is the
most important means of serving that divine mission. The more
the life and teachings of the great Swamiji are made known,
the more will the spiritual perspective of humanity be widened,
thereby paving the way for enduring world peace everyone is
Glen Ellyn, IL: "In a world that is in constant pursuit
of material happiness, our young men and women are tending to
become hedonistic, thereby losing the true perspective of life,"
says Swami Jyotirmayananda of Madras, India, who has arrived
in Chicago to attend the forthcoming World's Parliament of Religions.
In his recently published book "Vivekananda -- A Comprehensive
Study", Jyotirmayananda clearly brings home the universal
message of oneness Swami Vivekananda delivered to the World's
Parliament of Religions, hundred years ago. This book carries
Vivekananda's message of hope for an inner transformation, resulting
in a spiritually oriented 'character efficiency' to go hand-in-hand
with the present-day technologically oriented 'external productive
efficiency,' to pave the way for universal peace and harmony.
According to Swami Jyotirmayananda, the path that the world
has until now traversed in pursuit of technological mastery
has imperiled peace and environment and failed to provide prosperity
and equality for all people of the world. Hosts of problems
are cropping up, bringing in its train a lot of tension, anxiety,
worries and frustration. Beset with psychological, social, economic,
ethnic, political and environmental problems, which defy solution,
the people of today's world are becoming the beasts of burden.
Can anybody help and rescue those who are constantly being buffeted
by these and the other problems? Can they themselves solve their
problems by dint of their self-effort? Or can their Governments
or social organizations, or the mighty world organization --
the United Nations -- find a permanent solution for today's
human crisis? The answer is emphatically negative. At best they
can find some temporary remedies which can act as just palliatives.
In any case it is certain that none of them can create in all
the people of the world a total awareness for higher and enduring
values, the inculcation of which alone can regenerate human
life and reform the character. No amount of state authority
can bring an essential change in human nature. "Neither
science nor politics can give man perfect peace and happiness.
The ills of life cannot be cured by political, social or other
mechanical remedies which human beings are constantly attempting
and which have always failed."
Nevertheless, there is an abiding solution for all human problems.
Swami Vivekananda, the prophet of spirituality, whose mission
was to make human life sublime and fruitful, emphatically affirms
the fact that the world will change when the human beings, which
constitute it, change from within. The 'inner man' is to be
set right first and the externals will take care of themselves.
So the solution of problems which Vivekananda offers is not
by external means, though these also have to be used, but essentially
by an inner change, a complete transformation of man's consciousness
and nature. "Unless the man's psyche changes, the society
cannot by deeply and permanently changed. The various social,
political, and economic problems of today's world are only the
outward symptoms of an inner psychological malaise. So it is
the spiritual awareness alone that generates the real peace
and happiness, and love and unity in the world".
Swami Vivekananda, therefore, advocates self-culture and self-transformation,
and teaches the technique of change within. He loves to call
this process as "Man-making". This is the panacea
of all the maladies of today's world. Although modern technology
and science has placed enormous power at the disposal of man,
he cannot use this power for the peace and prosperity of the
human race, until his own mind is cultured. Excess of knowledge
and power, without holiness, can easily make human beings devils,
warns Swami Vivekananda. "We must progress materially and
spiritually, side by side. Material prosperity should not be
at the expense of spiritual advancement. They should go together.
Then only we can have integral evolution. Then and then alone
we can expect to have a socially more useful and individually
peaceful and spiritually enlightened life," says Swami