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Youth Conference 2012: Swami Vivekananda’s Message Of Sustainable Living

Robert Tracy and Dr. Mona Khaitan

Youth Conference 2012:
Swami Vivekananda’s Message of Sustainable Living

“Manifest the divinity within you, and everything will be harmoniously arranged around it.” Swami Vivekananda

On Saturday, March 31, over 150 people of all ages came together at MassBay to hear and discuss the essential message of Sustainable Living by Swami Vivekananda on his 150th birth anniversary.

The essence of the conference was: how to live responsibly with our fellow men on our small but seemingly vast earth. With responsible thinking and action we can preserve our interrelatedness with people and the world we live in.  Robert Tracy says of his experience: “I grasped onto some of the more empowering ideas: condemn none; help others; uphold your own ideals; listen to your soul; be yourself; our power comes forth from within.”

The morning session began with bhajans sung by Bal Vihar children and Deep prajwallan. The essential message of Swamiji’s words on Sustainable Living was addressed by the keynote speaker Sri Nitin Puri ji of ISKCON. Two youth speakers gave their views on Swamiji’s message. Attendees included MassBay students and faculty, members of the local community, leaders in local Hindu community life, even world musician Phil Scarff.  The students of the online humanities course “Karma Yoga: Science of Action” spent their only day together as a class.  

MassBay President Dr. John O'Donnell addressed conferees with a few words from his own experience.  An immigrant himself, he described the keen awareness he and other naturalized citizens often have of America's social, political, and cultural life.  From his perspective, first-generation Americans have a unique opportunity to lead America with a global perspective.

As fresh as when spoken by Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902) himself, it is really a message by his master Sri Ramakrishna Paramhansa (1836-1886) to the modern man. Before man can even begin to violate external Nature, he must violate his own internal nature first. All actions spring forth from waves of thoughts created in the mind. When violent thoughts are allowed to fully form in the mind, they not only shatter the peaceful lake of the mind but shake the entire fabric of the five bodily sheaths of man. The greatest damage is incurred by none other than man himself before any external damage can be inflicted outside. When we observe the sorry, the polluted, and the violated state of our planet today, we begin to realize the even sorrier, polluted, and violent state of man himself. We realize that to effect change in the external environment requires change in the internal environment of man himself. Swami Vivekananda declared his mission to be “man making.”

What is man making? It is showing the way to live prosperously within and in harmony with the environment. Swamiji distilled the essence of all the sacred ancient Hindu literature including the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Ramayana, the Gita, the Puranas, the Bhagavatam, and others too numerous to list, and with great simplicity put forth some self-evident truths for prosperous sustainable living.

 “To help man to realize his essential divinity is the object of all religious culture. This is what Swami Vivekananda meant when he appealed to his people to be men. ‘I am Divine. I am none other. I am not subject to grief and bereavement. I am of the form of the True, the Self-conscious and the Eternally Present. I am by nature eternally free.’ It is the message of freedom… freedom from the domination of our passions and appetites… freedom from the fear of brother-man …freedom from the domination of any external authority. And when he attains it, he realizes finally that he and his God are one.” (My India, The India Eternal, pp. 203-4) Furthermore, Swamiji declared unequivocally that the goal of human existence is to realize the divinity ever present within.

How is this man making to be accomplished? Man is free to follow the path of Karma Yoga, or Raja Yoga, or Bhakti Yoga, or Jnana Yoga or a combination thereof. Swamiji further cautioned that this is the whole of religion. Doctrines or dogmas, or rituals or books, or temples or forms, are but secondary details.

A Souvenir Brochure was published to provide informational abstracts on each of the 18 sessions being held during the day. The sessions catered to all age groups from kindergarten to adults and included the whole family with age appropriate topics.

The adult session topics included Swamiji’s Vision, Relevance of His Teachings in the 21st century, and Education is the Manifestation of Perfection already developed in Man. The adult group naturally had the largest attendance with many professionals participating from the community. The discussions were vibrant and tended to run overtime. To provide an opportunity for experience, almost all sessions were moderated by students and facilitated and supported by a Hindu American professional conversant with Hindu philosophy.

After the morning session, a lunch break provided the needed refreshment for the body as well as an opportunity for participants to talk informally. There was delicious Indian vegetarian food served to all participants in the cafeteria.

The afternoon session was back in the auditorium, where the stage hosted speakers and a number of performances. Four students from the Triveni School of Dance performed traditional Bharatnatyam dance.  It was impressive to see how four young ladies synchronously danced in their gloriously colorful costumes.  Later on, a student of Phil Scarff played Indian music on the Saxophone.  He played with his horn resting on the stage, resounding the music as if in a classical concert hall.

Eight teachers from the community were honored for their devotion to teaching and bringing out the best in their students. Each student was asked to nominate a teacher who had made a significant impact in his or her life as the teacher has a place of great respect in the life of a student. In the timeless Hindu tradition, each teacher was honored with a tilak of roli (red powder) and chawal (rice) acknowledging the divinity present in them and given flowers and a gift of a book. The teachers were happy to be so recognized and appreciated for their hard work.

Dr. Mahesh Mehta spoke about Swami Vivekananda’s visit to the USA a century ago, and how that impressed Westerners as well as re-invigorated Hindu culture at home.  

Young Narendra was born in Calcutta on January 12, 1863, of an aristocratic family.  A unique brilliant student, he studied the classic Hindu sacred texts as a young man. Even in his boyhood and youth Narendra possessed great physical courage and a presence of mind, a vivid imagination, deep power of thought, keen intelligence, an extraordinary memory, a love of truth, a passion for purity, a spirit of independence, and a tender heart. An expert musician, he also acquired proficiency in physics, astronomy, mathematics, philosophy, history, and literature. Even as a child, he practiced meditation and showed great power of concentration. Young Narendra tortured by the thought of finding God asked many spiritual men of his time if they had seen God only getting unsatisfactory replies. Finally, in year 1881, he was directed to meet Sri Ramkrishna Paramhansa which was a momentous meeting for both the guru and the disciple.

Young Narendra: “Sir, have you seen God?”
Sri Ramakrishna Paramhansa: “Yes, I have seen God. I have seen Him more tangibly than I see you. I have talked to Him more intimately than I am talking to you.”

After the passing of his beloved guru, at the behest of Sri Sarada Devi, the Holy Mother, Swami Vivekananda came to the West to attend the 1893 World Colombian Exposition. A brilliant orator, Swamiji’s speeches were unique and made him the most important and sought after delegate of the assembly at the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago. The western authors and elite always had access to the Hindu philosophical jewels that they liberally sprinkled in their own writings. However, the common man had to content himself with the second hand information found in the writings of the western authors. In part from his visit, Americans have studied and put into their own hearts and actions the philosophies of Hinduism’s timeless words. Swamiji has lectured extensively around the globe and written volumes, amazingly in the English language, so all including people in the West could understand and benefit from his message without any need for translation and the possibility of misinterpretation.

Dr. Mehta is a co-founder of the VHPA, an umbrella group encouraging Hindu culture, community, and values in the U.S.

The finale to the afternoon program was the performance of the Chicago address as delivered by Swami Vivekananda in 1893.  This was enthusiastically enacted by a High School student complete in orange robe and headwear. The auditorium reverberated with Swamiji’s words with all leaving the conference mulling their importance in their minds.

The conference adjourned with a short prayer and a blessing.

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