On the occasion of Americas bicentennial celebration in 1976, the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., mounted a large portrait of Swami Vivekananda as part of its exhibition, Abroad in America – Visitors to the New Nation.
The exhibition paid tribute to the great personalities who visited America from abroad and made a deep impression on the American mind.
The commemorative volume says: The Swami charmed the audiences with his magical oratory and left an indelible mark on Americas spiritual development.
This year marks the 150th anniversary of the birth of Swami Vivekananda. In Chicago and in many cities in the U.S. and elsewhere, there have been celebrations and major functions, sponsored by various organizations.
It was 1893 when Vivekananda came to attend the World Conference of Religions in Chicago at the age of 30. He soon found out the registration day had passed, that he had no official credentials and was running out of money. Destiny helped him find generous friends.
The swami opened his speech at the conference with the address, Sisters and brothers of America Placing sisters before brothers was significant, according to an article in Hinduism Today, since this was 27 years before women in America were granted the right to vote.
In America, he was in the vanguard of progressive social thought. This was based on the Vedantic teaching that God dwells in all beings. The significance of his opening words were not lost on the audience who gave him a standing ovation.
He spoke about not just being tolerant of all religions but acceptance of all religions.
He quoted the Gita verse, Whoever comes to me, through whatsoever form, I reach him; all men are struggling through paths which in the end reach me.
At the final session, Vivekananda asked, Do I wish that the Christian would become Hindu? God forbid. Do I wish that a Hindu or Buddhist would become Christian? God forbid. He went on to say, Each must assimilate the spirit of others and yet preserve his individuality and grow according to his own law of growth.
In closing he said, I fervently hope that the bell that tolled this morning in honor of this convention may be (the) death knell of all fanatics, of all persecutionists with the sword or with the pen and of all uncharitable feeling between persons wending their way to the same goal.
In his last conference talk, he said, Holiness, purity and charity are not the exclusive possessions of any church in the world.
On the banner of each religion will soon be written, help and not fight; assimilation and not destruction; harmony and peace, not dissension.
Romain Rolland, the Nobel laureate, wrote, The thought of this warrior prophet left a deep mark on the United States.
He met many prominent people of the time, including Nikola Tesla (the famous contemporary of Edison), John D. Rockefeller and others. The swami asked Tesla if matter is potentially energy? The Vedic vision postulated there was no duality in the universe and there existed but one fundamental ultimate reality. Tesla surmised matter could be converted to energy but was unable to prove it mathematically. Later in 1905 what was engaging the minds of Tesla and Vivekananda, came to fruition by Albert Einstein in his famous energy equation.
Vivekananda promoted harmony within Hinduism and among world religions. He held that all religions are expressions of one eternal universal religion.
He stated boldly that he who sees the Lord in the poor and diseased is really worshipping the Lord – more so than the one who sees him only in temples. It helps the person who is served and it helps spiritually the person who serves.
He felt so strongly about the need to serve, that he made this a part of the motto of the unique organization he established – For ones salvation and for the welfare of the world.
Among the landmarks in Chicago related to Swamis visit is the plaque at the Art Institute where he gave his famous lectures. A portion of Michigan Avenue has been renamed Vivekananda Way. A bronze, 10-foot high statue of the swami is on the grounds of the Hindu Temple at Lemont.
Vivekananda was here in the U.S. from 1893 to 1896 and returned for his second visit in 1899. He returned to India in 1900 and died July 4, 1902, at the young age of 39. He wrote four books that are considered classics (Karma-Yoga and Bhakti-Yoga, Raja-Yoga, Jnana Yoga) and gave innumerable lectures in the United States, United Kingdom and other countries.