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January 4, 2000
Vivekananda's Legacy At Chicago New Year Event
Shanthi Shankarkumar in Chicago
Even as many guests dazzled in their glamorous evening wear and smart tuxedos, one man stood out in his simple, ochre robes at the new year event hosted by the city of Chicago.
Swami Jitatamanda, 58, head of the Ramakrishna Mission in Rajkot, seemed completely comfortable in the festive atmosphere.
He was in Chicago to attend the International Millennium dinner, along with another representative from India, Thila Whista, 21, the best Indian National Cadet Corps cadet of 1999.
The monk and the cadet were part of a very special way to celebrate the birth of the new year. Probably the only city in the world to usher in 2000 with such an international flavor, Chicago played host to more than 185 invitees from across the world at the International Millennium dinner on New Year's Eve.
Mayor Richard M Daley was particular that only "ordinary" people and not celebrities should be part of the celebrations, so the invitees included an auto mechanic from Guatemala, a farmer form Slovenia, a garment worker from Sri Lanka, a waitress from St Lucia.
"You can do fireworks and something for 20 minutes but this is about people -- the millennium is about people," he said.
The dinner event, which was part of an all-expenses-paid trip, was an extraordinary experience for many of the "ordinary" people who might not had the chance to visit Chicago.
"The evening was magnificent, so well-organized," Jitatmamanda said. "Chicago should take credit for doing this in the face of all the terrorist threats. The hospitality and large-heartedness of the people of Chicago really impressed me."
The swami chose not to stay at the luxurious Hyatt Regency Hotel where rooms were reserved for the guests. Instead he opted to stay with a family. "I am so happy that a monk was invited because the millennium is all about the unification of man," he said.
When approached by local Internet and television networks at the dinner, for his "message" for the millennium, the swami quoted from the Rig Veda: Yatura Vishwa Bhavathi Ekoveram.
The whole world should flock to one nest, especially with today's globalization, he said.
The choice of Indian guests was made by the Indian consul-general J C Sharma. Recollecting Swami Vivekananda's connections with Chicago, Sharma had suggested a monk from the Ramakrishna Mission be invited. It was in Chicago in 1893 that Swami Vivekananda gave his historic address to the World Parliament of Religions.
Swami Jitatmananda has represented India at various international conferences. He is the author of two books on the correlation of science and Vedanta. Physicist John H Wheeler wrote him a letter of appreciation after reading one of his books. The swami looks forward to meeting with him in Princeton. Swami Jitatmananda will visit the east coast starting January 4 and then will tour the west coast.
Asked to briefly explain the correlation of science and Vedanta, the swami was amused.
"Arre bhai! Iske liye I studied for 20 years and you are asking me to summarize my work in a few minutes," he said.
But getting serious he explains the similarities.
"Vedanta philosophy says that the finite contains the potentiality of the Infinite, the microcosm contains the macrocosm," he said. "The ultimate reality is smaller than the smallest and bigger than the biggest. This is also quantum physics and cosmology."
Just as Vedanta talks about the interconnectedness of the universe, so also does the experimental verification of Bell's theorem that asserts that the whole world is interconnected at a fundamental level, he said.
"All of us are floating on an ocean of matter which John Wheeler describes as 'quantum foam'. There is a basic interconnectedness though everything looks separate," he said.
He also said Vedanta believes that the mind creates the external reality. Modern physics has also concluded that there is an observer-created reality, he said.
How is he able to reconcile his spiritual beliefs with science?
"You are trespassing on a very subtle area and I cannot speak about that in a short time," he said ruefully.
Whista from Manipur represented the youth of India. He had led the NCC contingent in the Republic Day parade last year.
The NCC established in 1948 is the largest youth organization in India and has nearly 1.2 million members.
Whista, who is majoring in economics, is interested in graduate studies in the United States.
She too was overwhelmed by the hospitality of her American and Indian hosts, though she found it difficult to get vegetarian food of her liking.
While Whista left for India on January 4, the swami has a two-week hectic schedule of speaking engagements. The party is over, the year 2000 has been brought in and now it is time for some serious stuff -- like Vedanta.
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