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Report: 2021 Parliament of the World's Religions

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Due to the prevalence of COVID-19, for the first time in its esteemed history, the Parliament of the World's Religions, which is held every 3 or 4 years in different countries, was organised online. The theme for this virtual 2021 Parliament was: "Opening our hearts to the World: Compassion in Action". Thousands of participants attended online and over 500 presenters shared their views on religious philosophy & teachings, compassion in action, justice, climate change, women's dignity, human rights and more. This 8th Parliament provided 48 hours of interactive programming from 16-18 October 2021. Registrants will have 30 days, after the Parliament closes, to experience the diverse, wise and inspiring presentations, heart-opening religious observances, performances, music & films, fascinating panels and workshops. Pujya Swami Sahajananda, Spiritual Head of Divine Life Society of South Africa had advised that the Society be represented at the Parliament. The Society was represented by Dr Rusraj Bharath who spoke on the great sage of Rishikesh, India, Sri Swami Sivananda whose life was one of compassion in action. His talk was entitled, "Swami Sivananda – The Practical Vedantin".In all, eight devotees from the Society registered to attend the various sessions.

In his presentation, Dr Bharath, quoted freely from the life and teachings of our Divine Master, Sri Swami Sivananda on the philosophy of Vedanta, "The world is yourself. Therefore, love all, serve all, be kind to all, embrace all. Behold the Lord in the poor, the downtrodden, the oppressed and the lowly. Feed the hungry, nurse the sick, comfort the afflicted. Lighten the sorrow of the sorrowful, clothe the naked, educate the illiterate, raise the downtrodden. The world is burning with misery and suffering. Wake up, O man, serve with love, serve untiringly". He outlined the various service activities that the Master engaged in daily.

Just as the great saint Sri Swami Vivekananda had the blessings of Mother Saraswati when he spoke, Swami Sivananda enjoyed Her Grace when he wrote. He spread the message of his universal teachings mainly through his writings. His mission was to divinise lives.

Swami Sivananda was a practical Vedantin. Service was ingrained in him since childhood. As a little boy, he used to serve beggars, saints and animals. The burning desire of service within him, led him to the medical profession. As a doctor, he served the poor, sick and needy selflessly. When he embraced the Holy Order of Sannyas, service to the community was still his main objective. He broke all barriers of orthodox teachings. He served the sick, down-trodden and poor ─ irrespective of race, class, caste, creed or religion.

Dr Bharath spoke at length about the core teachings of the Master, "Serve, Love, Give, Purify, Meditate and Realise", and related these teachings and service activities to the theme of compassion, pointing out how we, too, can experience the exalted state of God-realisation.

The selfless work done by Sri Swami Sivananda was adopted by Sri Swami Sahajananda, Spiritual Head of Divine Life Society of South Africa. On the instructions of the Master, he undertook various poverty alleviation projects for disadvantaged communities in South Africa, comprising schools, crèches, old age homes, community halls, sewing centres, school feeding programmes, hydroponic gardening, housing and health services. In 1984, when the Society was nearing its 50th project, Swami Sahajananda wrote to the Department of Education & Culture, "Our work is ongoing. I myself do not see the African children as 'others'. They are my own, and part and parcel of my own being. I am greatly concerned about their welfare. We are completely dedicated to their educational needs". These words reinforce the concept of Vedanta and point to a practical Vedantin, driven by his compassion to undertake numerous projects.

Divine Life Society of South Africa, saw the great potential for service during the Coronavirus pandemic that has been devastating the world over the last 20 months, and rose to the occasion, putting into effect the practical application of the Master's teachings in serving humanity. Coping skills were also imparted via online lessons, support to bereaved families, and chanting of the Divine Name.Dr Bharath elaborated on the Covid-19 initiatives undertaken as part of its humanitarian programme to reach out and assist a community in distress.The Society partnered with the Department of Health and the Divine Health Forum on the initiatives to assist with erecting screening centres for patients attending 3 local hospitals in the Durban area. In addition, 10 000 grocery hampers were distributed to indigent families and various institutions via its branches, temples, civic and Hindu organisations. A special hamper containing health supplements went out to needy families of COVID-19 positive persons. It was pleasing to see that throughout his presentation, Dr Bharath included excellent video clips and supporting documents of the Master and Pujya Swamiji Sahajananda, together with appropriate musical accompaniment. Videos of our various service activities also enhanced the quality of the presentation and captured the attention of attendees. All in all, Dr Bharath succeeded in successfully transmitting across the globe, the profound and universal message of our Divine Master, Sri Swami Sivananda and Pujya Swami Sahajananda.

Amongst the many luminaries at the Parliament, the following personalities drew the attention of attendees: His Holiness, Pope Francis, the Head of the Catholic Church and the sovereign of the Vatican City State since 2013, who presented a special papal message;His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, a Nobel Prize-winning peace activist, known for his unswerving commitment to love, compassion and non-violence; Angaangaq Angakkorsuaq, an internationally respected Elder and Sage from Greenland, committed to environment and indigenous issues; Sirena Huang of Taiwan, who is motivated by a deep wish to inspire peace & harmony with her music; H.H. Acharya Dr Lokesh Muni Ji, a Jain monk, an activist for interreligious and interfaith harmony, a versatile thinker, writer, poet and social reformer, who has been continuously making efforts for national character building, development of human values and establishing non-violence, peace and mutual cooperation in society for the last 33 years; Mother Maya Tiwari of the Veda Vyasa tradition serves humanity by awakening the spirit of Ahimsa in every person whose life she touches; Muni Shri Praman Sagarji Maharaj, a Digambar monk,who set free the religion from traditional abstruseness and made it practicable in life, and Swami Ishatamananda, a senior monk of the Ramakrishna Order who serves as the President of the Vivekanand Vedanta Society of Chicago. These diverse "voices" of the Parliament shared their deep commitment to service to humanity, action-based change, and investing in communities to build a better future for the world. Just a few of the diverse and inspiring luminaries who participated in this unique 2021 Parliament of the World's Religions.

The Film Festival offered a unique opportunity for attendees to enjoy films from heartfelt stories like "Spiritual Audacity" and the Abraham Joshua Heschel story; profound stories of justice like "Glimpses into the Spirit of gender equality"; and outstanding interfaith stories like "Tango Shalom". These may be viewed for the next 30 days after closure.

As part of its programme to disseminate the universal teachings of Swami Sivananda, Divine Life Society of S.A. offered via its Parliament virtual web-shop, the following free downloadable literature: The Art of Bringing up Children, Courage, Divine Name, Glory of the Divine Name, Guidance to Youth, Agnihotra pamphlet, Facing the Challenges of Youth, Secrets to Good Health,the 70th Anniversary Brochure as well as the latest Divine Life magazine.The virtual booth also contained a video detailing all the service activities undertaken by the Society. The following books were promoted at a 10% discount during the Parliament session and for 30 days thereafter:Yoga for Health, Yoga Lessons for Children, the Peace Series,From Man to God-man, Science of Yoga, Sivananda's Gospel of Divine Life, and the Children's package comprising, God is My Friend, God is My Guide, and Divine Life for Children.

At the closing plenary of the Parliament, Mayor of Chicago, Lori Lightfoot said, "In 2023, Chicago is reaffirming its commitment to serving as agents of change. 2023 will also mark the 9th global convening of the Parliament which will acknowledge the 130th anniversary of the historic first Parliament in 1893. It will be my pleasure to welcome the Parliament, the inter-faith movement and all people from the world to our historic city in 2023."

The Parliament is a constant reminder that there are many out in the world who will open their hearts and reach out to those who suffer grief, poverty and the many atrocities inflicted upon mankind. The lessons and teachings espoused at this 2021 Parliament of the World's Religions cannot be forgotten. These precious experiences must be shared with others so that they, too, can enrich and improve the quality of their lives by developing compassion and other divine qualities in preparation for the ultimate goal of life, God-realisation.

serves humanity by awakening the spirit of ahimsa, or harmony, in every person whose life she touches. She is an author and the founder of Wise Earth School of Ayurveda and Mother Om Mission, the last 33 issues has brought him to 5 continents and 70 countries in the world. Angaangaq bridges the boundaries of cultures and faiths in people young and old as he advocates for a spiritual climate change.is an

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