VSGH Celebrates Swami Vivekananda’s 150th Birth Anniversary


By Thara Narasimhan

HOUSTON: Youth is that wonderful time in life when energy is limitless and the potential to develop in all aspects of creativity and innovation are just unfolding.  Major decisions crucial to ones subsequent life such as career, family and above all values that will guide them throughout their lives are to make an indelible impression in their minds at this crucial time. Swami Vivekananda emphasized the potential nascent in the youth and addressed them directly in many of his speeches. Inspired by that the Vedanta Society of Greater Houston (VSGH) organized a Youth Convention as a befitting manner to celebrate Swami Vivekananda’s 150th Birth Anniversary . The event was held at their temple located at 14809 Lindita Drive on Saturday, January 12.

With a packed hall and about forty enthusiastic youth participants engaging in discussions on relevant topics amongst themselves, observers felt that Swami Vivekananda’s words were at work.  “My faith is in the younger generation, the modern generation, out of them will come, my workers. I have formulated the idea and have given my life to it.”

The participants mostly comprised of students from University of Houston, The University of Texas at Austin and young volunteers of Sewa International and young professionals.  The convention commenced with an enlightening inaugural speech by Joseph Emmett who emphasized the power of the controlled mind and essentially provided a primer on Raja Yoga. In his brief yet profound talk to the youth he presented the essence of what Vedanta, manual for life aimed at looking beyond the body, and awakening the intellect.  He reflected on his own spiritual quest- being born a Texan, after completing the Vedanta Academy’s rigorous, three year residential course in Pune, India  in 2001 Joseph returned to America and completed his studies in South and East Asian Religions and earned a Bachelors degree from Washington University in St. Louis. Currently he heads the Vedanta Cultural Foundation West in Los Angeles. He said that academic institutions do not teach control over the mind and that is what is required to be successful be it in spiritual or mundane life. He broke the stereotype that Vedanta is only to be delved into when someone is old and is passed ones professional career.

The next part of the event focused on various topics of discussion:

Vivekananda’s Message to the West was presented by Utsab Das. His remarks were How Swami Vivekananda touched upon divinity of the soul and had similarities of the ideals of western philosophers. Literate Americans had been made familiar with Indian thought by such writers as Emerson, Thoreau, and Whitman. When Swami came to America he came with the intention to get financial aid for the poor in India. When he found that western society was purely materialistic at that time he realized the need for spiritual awakening and therefore his speech had an impact representing Hinduism at the World Parliament of religions.

•  The Role of Women in Society was presented by Dr. Dolon Das. She presented the fact that no gender preferences were seen in Vedas or Upanishads. Initially Swami Vivekananda saw women as an obstacle to self realization but later saw no distinction and recognized them as of a Divine Mother. The group discussion turned out to be a women’s point of view forum.  Although women’s position in Hinduism from the Vedic age was at an exalted position with equal rights, down the road India faced too many invasions from other religious factions. To protect them they were confined as homemakers and men to the role of breadwinners. Hence no education and professional opportunities were given to them.

Science and Technology in the Light of Vedanta was informative and presented by Aditya Aravind. He pointed out although the connection between Science and Vedanta is not easily decipherable both strive to look for an objective reality.  Science pertains to the study of external nature and looks for its underlying cause by analyzing the observations while Vedanta studies internal nature with the objective to find the ultimate reality. The former deals, by definition, with the material universe, so called; the latter deals with the subtle realm of the mind in which the universe is perceived and known, and delves far deeper into the nature of things. In this sense, religion, as Swami Vivekananda saw it, was an extension of science. Aditya also pointed out that specific ideas in modern science such as evolution in biology, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs in psychology and certain cyclic models in cosmology echo ancient Vedantic  thought.  From a practical standpoint modern technology can be used effectively to make the ancient knowledge of Vedanta accessible far and wide.

Vivekananda’s Idea of Service was presented by Kriti Dogra of  SEWA International. After returning to India, Swami Vivekanananda emphasized service to others in community, society and the country. Unselfish work in an unattached manner is true service. There are so many opportunities out there to seek out to serve. ‘Seva’ or service is the most important purpose of living. To the more discerning, it made way of life as a ‘spiritual pursuit’. As his guru, Ramakrishna taught Swami Vivekananda that a human being struggling to stave off hunger cannot concentrate on spiritual development and hence addressing the mundane needs is imperative and leads to the path of Karma Yoga.

Harmony of Religions was the topic handled by Dipti Chaudhuri. This was open to everyone’s interpretation of religion and how individuals defined their identity. One has to know their religion well to build the charisma like Swami Vivekananda. To accept other religion’s values and traditions is very important and in the present days it is easy to relate with this in a global context of education and learning.

Vivekananda’s Teachings as Inspiration to the Youth was presented by Tantrik  Mukerji. He pointed out that Swami Vivekananda himself was the embodiment of youth, dynamism and vibrancy. The life and ideals of Swami ji are the greatest inspiration for the youth. The youth face various challenges and yet it is the most wonderful period of one’s life. It is extremely important not to decide the purpose of life with the narrow objective to be something or the other. Swami ji always held that the real birth of the individual takes place when the purpose of his life germinates. Once the purpose of life is clear, all actions of life become driven by that purpose.

Science and Spirituality with illustrative and quotation of Swami Vivekananda was presented by Kalyan Sasmal. He brought out the salient message of Swami Vivekananda in relation to spirituality saying it is necessary to arm our youth with the relevant knowledge and skill that will convert their mammoth potential to desired results.

The Youth convention moderator Pravrajika Sitaprana, Vedanta Society of Southern California Santa Barbara Convent, praised the youth for their participation and excellent ideas presented by them. She remarked that all four types of yoga, Raja, Jnana, Karma and Bhakti Yoga were all  invoked and played out at the convention . The program was planned and coordinated by Ayati Ghosh, Chaya Timmaraju, Malabika Sengupta with support from Vedanta Society of Greater Houston President, Swapna Chaudhuri.

In the mornign session at VSGH before the conference, eminent Houstonians and Pravrajika Sitapranaji from Vedanta Society of Southern California’s Convent gave lectures on “Many Facets of Swami Vivekananda”.  The program began with a couple of melodious bhajans on Swami Vivekananda. Pravrajika Sitapranaji, who was presiding over the day’s activities, spoke on “Swami Vivekananda as a Jnani”.  She spoke on how Swamiji was inspired by his Guru Sri Ramakrishna’s teaching to serve all beings viewing them as manifestation of Divinity.  Swamiji spread this unique message, which combined Jnana and Karma yogas to the whole world and practiced this by action.

Pandit Suman Ghosh spoke on “Swamiji as a Musician”.  He mentioned how Swamiji had learnt Hindustani classical music and how his devotional songs would put his guru, Sri Ramakrishna, in samadhi. The aim of musicians to reach the right “sur” along with the right ‘laya’ and ‘tala’, is the same as the aim of spiritual seekers. Hence, one should learn to sing in the proper way to make it effective in lifting the mind to the transcendental realm.

Honarable P. Harish, the Consul General of India spoke on “Swamiji as a Patriot”.  He mentioned Swamiji’s message to Indians to take pride in their country, uphold its great traditions and help others out of misery.

Professor Chitra Divakaruni spoke on “ Swamiji as a poet”. She mentioned Swamiji’s love for poetry and music. He conveyed the subtle spiritual truths of Vedanta through beautiful and inspiring poems which challenge, inspire and encourage the readers to know their Divine nature and experience the Divine bliss. As an illustration, she recited few of Swamiji’s numerous poems.

Arun Kankani, Head of Sewa International, spoke on “Swamiji as a Karma Yogi”.  Swamiji was an ideal karma yogi achieving God realization and spreading the truths of Vedanta all over the world in a short span of only a few years. He shared three readings on Swamiji on Karma Yoga-  what is the necessity of doing good to others, how to work efficiently and not let the karma bind one and how to attain the goal of spiritual seekers of absolute freedom by doing selfless work for the benefit of the many.

Dr. Amrit Achari spoke on “Swamiji as a Bhakta”. He said that Swamiji’s devotion and service to Sri Ramakrishna was similar to that of the great devotee Anjaneya, or Hanuman towards Sri Ramachandra. Through his Guru’s grace, Swamiji got the vision of Mother Kali, attained supreme devotion and spread the message of Vedanta and continues to inspire millions all over the world through his powerful message for all to realize their true identity.

Ajit Giani from Bahai International spoke on “Swamiji and Harmony of Religions”. He mentioned that Swamiji was the Father of Interfaith Dialog.  It is very important for all to practice religious harmony to live in peace, otherwise humanity will destroy itself in a short period.  Time has come to start recognizing Divinity in all religions and all people, which will help to solve the present challenges of the world.

Pravrajika Sitapranaji summarized the sessions and said we should help spread the message of Swamiji to all, which is what the youth conferenceconference successfully did.

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