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Sri Sri Ravi Shankar inaugurates Vivekananda Spiritual Center
By J.V. Lakshmana Rao
Lemont, IL: The long and eagerly-awaited inauguration of Swami Vivekananda Spiritual Center at the Hindu Temple of Greater Chicago (HTGC) here on July 17, by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, founder of Art of Living Foundation, was a dream come true for scores of devotees. The project, which faced several ups and downs, and initially opposed by a section of temple officials, has now become a reality.
The first phase of the Vivekananda Project of HTGC included a 10-ft. tall bronze statue of Swami Vivekananda, which was installed on July 12, 1998, and its Indianization by constructing a canopy above and around it on July 12, 2003. The second phase, which is known as Swami Vivekananda Spiritual Center, consisted of 3300 sq.-ft. meditation hall complex, including Ritu Meditation Hall, a pre-meditation hall, a library room, an office room and a coat and shoe room.
The near day-long spiritually inspired inaugural ceremony attended by several devotees, donors, trustees, members of the executive committee and dignitaries was marked by a ribbon-cutting by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, a guided meditation session and an inspiring discourse by him and a brief lecture by Swami Varadananada of Vivekananda Vedanta Society in the forenoon. During the afternoon session held in the temple auditorium, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar delivered a short but rousing discourse, while the dignitaries, including Dr. Krishna Reddy, chairman of the Vivekananda Project Commi-ttee; L. Bhima Reddy, president of the HTGC, Amrish Mahajan, chairman of the Public Relations Committee; Consul General of India Ashok Kumar Attri and Dr. Virendra S. Bisla, who was a major donor for the construction of Swami Vivekananda Spiritual Center, addressed the gathering. Vinni Nayak, a young follower of Art of Living, delivered a touching motivational speech. The hall was packed with devotees of HTGC, followers of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and admirers of Swami Vivekananda.
During the morning session, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar was received with full temple honors, including a ceremonial Poorna Kumbha reception by priests, Bhima Reddy, Dr. Krishna Reddy, Amrish Mahajan, Dr. Virendra Bisla, and many others. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar was given a tour of the temple complex, before he inaugurated the Swami Vivekananda Spiritual Center by cutting the ribbon.
Seated on a white mattress with a huge shining brass sign of Om in the background flanked by the pictures of Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and Sarada Devi, and delivering a discourse, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar emphasized the efficacy and effectiveness of meditation, and said that meditation was firmly based on three important components — jnana or knowledge, gana or music, and dhyana — concentration or meditation. “Meditation is the soul of spirituality; meditation is the food for spirituality. A cell phone works with the help of three components — a signal, a sim card and a battery. Similarly for meditating, one should possess jnana, practice gana and indulge in dhyana. Keep all the three components connected and practice meditation. This is the golden rule for meditation,” he said.
As he guided the meditation for a select group of devotees who generously donated to the project, he asked the participants to realize three things — “to do nothing during the next 10 minutes, say ‘I want nothing, I do nothing and feel I am nothing’.” He likened the human body to a beehive and prana or breath to a queen bee and all cells in the body to bees. “When the queen leaves the beehive, all bees disperse. It is meditation that makes a person realize the link between mental and spiritual senses — gross sense and subtle sense. For good health, you should eat well and exercise well. Set an example by good behavior and develop a tendency to give and help others,” he added.
After the meditation session, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar answered the questions posed by devotees and explained the meaning of Om. He said: “Om means Bhagavati, Shiva and Shakti. Om is the sound created by one-hand clapping. Om is the first sound. Omkara is the essence of spirituality. God is one but manifests in many forms. One should share love with others and show compassion to all living beings. Compassion is more powerful than cruelty. All rituals have deep meaning and mantras are powerful.”
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Swami Varadananda, who gifted a picture of Swami Vivekananda to the meditation hall, said that over a century ago Swami Vivekananda, who addressed the Parliament of World Religions, brought the ancient spiritual wisdom of India to the US. The Hindu Temple of Greater Chicago gave shelter to the statue of Swami Vivekananda in 1998. Now it constructed Swami Vivekananda Spiritual Center. “The dedication ceremony of this center with Ritu Meditation Hall commemorates that historic occasion of Swami Vivekananda’s gift to the US and the world,” Swami Varadananda said.
Earlier, Dr. Krishna Reddy and Bhima Reddy welcomed Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, Swami Varadananda and the gathering.
The afternoon session began with rendering of sonorous bhajans by the Bhakti Band and singing of a prayer song by Padmini Rao.
Bhima Reddy, who welcomed the gathering, said that HTGC was rated as one of the best managed temples in the US and in the state of Illinois. He thanked Neeta, Vinesh, Amrish Mahajan and others, who helped in inviting Sri Sri Ravi Shankar to inaugurate the Swami Vivekananda Spiritual Center. Bhima Reddy also thanked trustees, members of the executive committee and more than 100 volunteers, who worked day and night to make the event memorable and successful.
Dr. Krishna Reddy, who is associated with the temple for the past 27 years, and with the Swami Vivekananda Spiritual Center project as chairman of the Vivekananda Committee, right from its inception in January 1999, recalled the history of the temple as also the genesis of the idea of the project which culminated into opening of the meditation hall complex on that eventful day.
He said that his association with the centenary celebrations of the Parliament of World Religions in 1993 as the chairman of its Hindu Host Committee, had inspired him to proceed with the project to commemorate the memory of Swami Vivekananda’s visit and his historic address to the first Parliament of World Religions held in Chicago in 1893.
Dr. Krishna Reddy’s untiring enthusiasm found great strength with the installation of the statue of Swami Vivekananda in the premises of the Hindu Temple of Greater Chicago. He especially thanked Amrish Mahajan, who was instrumental in getting the gift of the statue of Swami Vivekananda from the Vivekananda Vedanta Society represented by Swami Bhasyananda and Swami Chidananda. However, the project faced many hurdles as a section of the temple officials wanted it to be taken up as a debt-free venture. “On several occasions the project had been threatened to be shelved or consigned to ‘an intensive care unit and put on oxygen.’ With Dr. Bisla offering a handsome donation of $250,000, the project was revived and it gained strength. With the support of many devotees and Amrish Mahajan, we followed the oft-quoted Vivekananda’s saying — ‘stop not till the goal is reached.’ Today we have realized it. For many of us it is a dream come true,” he said and hoped that it would scale new heights with the dedication and hard work of secretary and trustee of temple Prasanna Reddy and her committed team.
Ashok Kumar Attri said that a rare confluence of many auspicious events made it possible to realize the dream of many devotees. “My heart is filled with a great sense of fulfillment. Swami Vivekananda’s name is linked to Chicago where he delivered that historic ‘sisters and brothers address’ and conveyed his message to the whole world. I see it as Omkar to many good things to follow. The inauguration of meditation hall by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar here is a testimony to it.The HTGC, Bhima Reddy, Dr. Krishna Reddy, Amrish Mahajan, all the devotees and volunteers deserve congratulations,” Attri said.
He also praised the Indian community in the US, and described it as a strong bridge between India and the US.
Dr. Bisla said: “Today is a great day. The inauguration of meditation hall named after my daughter linked with Swami Vivekananada perpetuates her memory. She lived for 23 years but she had left an indelible impressions and memories in our hearts. Like Swami Vivekananda, who lived a short life of 39 years, Ritu also lived a short life, but made a great difference in our lives. “Swami Vivekananda said that each Jiva is Shiva. Mind is an imperfect keeper of memories. But meditation makes one to overcome it. As a cardiologist I can say meditation increases one’s longevity. The practice of breathing exercise by human beings reduces risks of heart attacks, increases autoimmune system and keeps arthritis away,” he said and appealed to all to make best use of the meditation hall for their spiritual and physical benefit.
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Amrish Mahajan said that with the inauguration of the Swami Vivekananda Spiritual Center at the HTGC by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, the event had assumed an international recognition. The dream of many had been realized because of the seed money provided by Dr. Bisla. “His seed money had given a tremendous impetus to the project. And many others had contributed generously. With the support and hard work of several volunteers, Bhima Reddy, Dr. Krishna Reddy and others, the dream has come true,” Amrish Mahajan said.
He praised Sri Sri Ravi Shankar for his gift of AOL courses to the humanity the world over. One such beneficiary, he said, was Vinni Nayak, whose talents, which remained dormant till his high school days, had blossomed into full bloom, after practicing meditation and Sudarshan Kriya. Vinni Nayak, who was recognized as one of the 10 best students in Illinois, would be heading for Yale University soon
Vinni Nayak, who introduced Sri Sri Ravi Shankar to the audience, described him as the manifestation of God in human form. “The lasting effect of Sri Sri’s AOL courses on people is universal. A couple of deep breaths that I had taken before my math exam had been really helpful in my success. Like Swami Vivekananda, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar has touched hearts of several people all over the world. We are humbled by his lasting legacy,” Vinni Nayak said.
Speaking after mimicking and miming over a failed microphone, to the bursting laughter of the audience, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar said: “Let the voice of dharma (righteousness) be loud and clear. You need to raise the voice, which is the message of the Gita. The conch of Lord Krishna, which was loud, was known as Panchajanya. The conch of Bhima, which was also loud, was known as Paundra. While Krishna manifests skill, Bhima manifests strength. If skill and strength join, anything is possible. That is why Bhima Reddy and Dr. Krishna Reddy could achieve the task of making the meditation hall project a reality.”
He said that he learned the temple’s Sunday school was attended by 400 students. “I want that number to grow. I want it to attract 400,000 students. You dream big things and big things will happen effortlessly,” he added.
Calling for unity among people in the world, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar said that Hindu philosophy believed in Vasudhaika Kutumbakam — the whole world was one family. “Have a big heart, be generous and bring people together. We should not feel that the meditation hall is limited to Hindus only. It should be for all. As said in Sanatana Dharma — religions may be different, but Dharma is one. Confluence of religions is real Smaskara. Reach out to people and open the meditation hall to everyone. The young people will do well by attending yoga and meditation classes,” he added.
Speaking about the prominence of Hindu philosophy, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar said that when asked by an accompanying journalist, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki wanted from India its spirituality, its IT professionals and its investment in oilfields.
Emphasizing the importance of Sanskrit, he said that a research in England showed that Indians were good in IT because their education was based on Sanskrit. Since Sanskrit helped neurological functions of brain, three schools in England have made the study of Sanskrit compulsory.
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar said that a visit to a temple must induce peace in mind. “Bring all your worries to a temple, but leave them there; don’t take them back with you. Take back a pleasant feeling as prasad,” he concluded.
The discourse concluded with a soothing bhajan — Hari Sundara Nanda Mukunda.
The program was emceed by Arun Murthy and Lakshman Mittur.
Dr. Krishna Reddy proposed a vote of thanks.
Later speaking to India Tribune, Dr. Krishna Reddy said that two great opportunities await the NRI community in the US. The government of India is planning to celebrate 150th birth anniversary of Swami Vivekananda on January 12, 2013. On that day, the local community members can gather at the Swami Vivekananda Spiritual Center of the HTGC and celebrate the event. Similarly, 83 years hence in 2093, 200th year of first Parliament of World Religions would be commemorated. The occasion could be used for celebration by the future generations at Swami Vivekananda Spiritual Center of the Hindu Temple of Greater Chicago here.