Return to Chicago: The Lasting Legacy Of Swami Vivekananda
By Divya Nair
CHICAGO, IL – The Parliament of World’s Religions first met in Chicago in 1893, as an adjunct of the World’s Columbian Exposition at the Art Palace, now known as the Art Institute of Chicago.
In 2023, it returned to Chicago, to McCormick Place Lakeside Center, where thousands of people gathered for religious talks, exhibitions, meals, and sacred rituals between August 14-18. Like its initial iteration, spiritual leaders of the world’s major religions as well as laity were invited to share the fundamental teachings of their religion.
In 1893, Swami Vivekananda, a Hindu monk from India, gave six addresses on Hinduism. The most quoted speech is his response to the welcome address, which famously incited rousing applause from the audience, lasting several minutes. Swami Vivekananda emphasized, to a primarily Christian audience unfamiliar with Hinduism, that Hindus “believe not only in universal toleration, but we accept all religions as true” and that historically, the Indian subcontinent, where most of the Hindus live, served as a refuge for “the persecuted and the refugees of all religions and all nations of the earth.”
In 2023, four monks of the Ramakrishna Order, founded by Swami Vivekananda in 1897, gave four enlightening discourses on conscience, human rights, and freedom, anchored in the Vedanta philosophy as articulated by Swami Vivekananda and his teacher, Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa.
The special program was hosted by Swami Ishatmananda, head of the Vedanta Society of Chicago, and the Vivekananda Monastery & Retreat. Titled “A Call to Conscience: Defending Freedom and Human Rights,” it began with a full recitation of the fifteenth chapter of the Holy Bhagavad Gita by students of the Chicago Marathi Vidyamandir.
Opening remarks on human rights and freedom from the Indian perspective were given by Somnath Ghosh, Consul General of India, Chicago; Ghosh is an alumnus of the Ramakrishna Mission school system.
Swami Kripamayananda, minister and head of the Vedanta Society of Toronto emphasized Swami Vivekananda’s insistence on every human being’s right to freedom.
Swami Balabhadrananda, Asst. General Secretary of the Ramakrishna Math, and Mission, Belur Math spoke on the legacy of freedom in the social and spiritual services provided by the Ramakrishna Mission. Swami Tyagananda, head of the Ramakrishna Vedanta Society of Boston and Hindu chaplain at Harvard and MIT spoke on freedom and human rights in the light of Sri Ramakrishna, commenting on the inseparability of individual and collective freedom and the relationship between rights and duties.
Each talk highlighted the ongoing relevance of Swami Vivekananda’s teachings to humanity and the centrality of love in the cultivation of genuine acceptance.