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Vedanta Society Of Providence RI Turns 75

Swami Yogatmananda

On September 9, 1928 Swami Akhilananda, then a newly arrived minister from India, held the first series of lectures on the perennial philosophy of Vedanta at the famed Biltmore Hotel in Providence. With that modest beginning, was born the Vedanta Society of Providence. This month marks the 75th anniversary of the Society's uninterrupted spiritual work. A two-day Platinum Jubilee celebration was organized to commemorate this event.

It started with a Symposium on September 20 (Theme: Vedanta in Practice) and Interfaith Meeting on September 21, 2003, at the Robert Wheeler School Hall, located across the Society's center at 227 Angell Street in Providence. Nearly 200 friends and well - wishers of the Society, representing all the races and the variegated traditions extant on earth, participated in the celebration, in an atmosphere that was filled with a deep feeling of spirituality, fellowship, and genuine goodwill.

The Symposium commenced with an invocation of blessings by Swami Yogatmananda, current President of the Vedanta Society of Providence. This was followed by a brief but mesmerizing address by Swami Sarvagatananda, who has the distinction of working for the Vedanta Society of Providence uninterrupted from 1954 to 2001. Swami Swahananada, Head of the Vedanta Society of Southern California, graced the occasion as Guest of Honor.

Father Paul of the Heart of Jesus, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, gave an enlightening discourse on Grace and Contemplation, exploring in a beautiful, syncretic way both western and eastern philosophies and stressing the essential inner divinity of man and the search of that divinity. He quoted extensively from the lives and teachings of many mystics and saints to illustrate that God is the innermost Reality that defies all descriptions and limitation but He can be experienced through pure love. In his discourse, Vedanta in Everyday Life, Swami Swahananda emphasized the importance of living the Vedantic life in our daily existence. He elucidated how competition was the hallmark of lower animal existence and cooperation the hallmark of humans, and consecration the hallmark yet of those who seek the spiritual and righteous path.

A beautiful Commemoration Volume containing reminiscences of many long-standing devotees was released on this occasion.

These lectures were followed by a break, during which a simple but delicious meal was served to all the guests by the Society. The afternoon session was devoted to Interfaith Music. As many 16 different musical offerings were made, ranging from refined classical Indian ragas, to deeply melodious Bengali songs, to an eclectic mix of lilting songs representing the Christian, Jewish, Sikh, Vaishnava, and Vedantic traditions. This cornucopian feast of uplifting music, played variously on the sitar, tabla, harmonium, flute and the piano, delighted the soul as well as the senses and left the audience enthralled.

The Interfaith Meeting held on September 21, was also attended by nearly 250 friends of the Society. After the initial welcome by Swami Yogatmananda, Senator Rhoda Perry and Representative Edith Ajello, both from the Rhode Island Legislature, came on the stage. They graciously presented letters of commendation to the Society on behalf of the State of Rhode Island Senate and House of Representatives, respectively. They commended the Society for the positive, harmonizing role it has played in society for the past 75 years and wished it many more successful years. Swami Sarvgatananda delivered the benediction and then the various religious leaders spoke about the contribution of their faith to universal brotherhood.

Gen Kelsang Choma with her great grace and serenity, gave a beautiful exposition on Buddhism. Swami Tyagananda, Head of the Ramakrishna Vedanta Society of Boston, chanted inspiring Mantras in Sanskrit and explained how they bring out the spirit of universality, well-being and peace. Dr. Cyrus Mehta and group rendered a reverential Zoroastrian prayer. John Barnett explained the essence of Sufi wisdom, stressing the unity of humanity. In witty remarks, Rabbi Rosenberg emphasized that God has a "special" relationship with all his children. He likened the different religious traditions as base camps at the foot of the mountain, with all humans aspiring to reach the same summit of the mountain from their different vantage points. Father Edward St-Goddard remarked how deeply Vedanta philosophy had influenced his outlook and thinking. Rev. Rebecca Spencer then spoke about the Protestant Church and the Congregational Church and how we should work for religious harmony irrespective of whatever conflicts we might have had in the past. Darrell (Redhawk) Waldron spoke about the Native American traditions and offered thought-provoking words of wisdom.

Peace Prayers from various churches followed: Sufi, Wat Lao Monastery, Quaker, Native American.

Swami Swahananda encapsulated the thoughts of various speakers with the essence of Vedanta, namely, that people of different faiths must strive to find their commonalities as human beings, and not be dogmatic about beliefs that only serve to divide mankind. The Almighty is too great, too powerful, and too profound to be content to be confined to any one tradition. Neither is it possible nor desirable to have one universal religion, given the rich diversity of mankind. 'As many faiths, so many paths.'

In closing, Swami Yogatmananda thanked all the friends, devotees, and well - wishers, who had come together to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Vedanta Society of Providence. On both the days a very impressive Power Point Slide-show giving the essential teachings of all religions was beautifully presented by Nilay Deshmukh. May the Vedanta Society of Providence enjoy many long years of success in spreading its message of peace and harmony and uniting mankind in a spirit of love, tolerance, and understanding!

(Born in 1953 in Karnataka, India, Swami Yogatmananda joined Ramakrishna Order in 1976. He received his monastic vows in 1986. After being at Ramakrishna Math Center at Nagpur, India for 20 years, he was posted as the Head of Ramakrishna Mission, Shillong, Meghalaya, India.

He came to United States in the summer of 2001 as the Minister of the Vedanta Society of Providence )

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