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Chinmaya Mission Chicago holds fundraising gala to continue their noble cause

By Suresh & Usha Bodiwala

Chicago IL (Nov. 19, 2014): Living up to its theme, “Living in Harmony”, the Annual Fundraising Banquet for Chinmaya Mission Chicago harmoniously blended inspirational thoughts, spirited fundraising, sumptuous food, and artistic performances into a memorable evening. The event took place at Waterford Banquet and Conference Center in Elmhurst, IL on November 9, 2014, with the goal to raise funds to support and enhance the programs offered by the two Chinmaya Mission centers in the Chicago area—Badri Center in Willowbrook, IL, and Yamunotri Center in Grayslake, IL.

With over seven hundred people in attendance and more than two hundred thousand dollars raised, the event was an overwhelming show of support for the spiritual and service-oriented work being done by Chinmaya Mission, both at the local and global levels.

Chinmaya Mission was founded in the 1950s by the devotees of one of the greatest Vedantic Masters of twentieth century, Swami Chinmayananda. It has over 400 centers worldwide. Its purpose as stated in the words of Swami Chinmayananda is, “To provide to individuals from any background the wisdom of Vedanta and the practical means for spiritual growth and happiness, enabling them to become positive contributors to society.” The current worldwide head of Chinmaya Mission is H.H. Swami Tejomayananda, who is continuing the work of his Guru with immense love and devotion.

The evening started by welcoming the revered guests. Swami Prakashananda (resident acharya of Chinmaya Mission Trinidad & Tobago), Swami Sharanananda (resident acharya of Chinmaya Mission Chicago), Acharya Jetindra Nayar & Acharya Swapna Nayar (resident Acharya of Chinmaya Mission Chicago), Acharya Shanker Pillai (President, Board of Trustees for Chinmaya Mission Chicago), and Shri Dhiren Khatri (serving Chinmaya Mission Chicago after completing the two-year Vedanta Course in Mumbai) were received with the traditional purna-kumbha welcome ceremony,. This was followed by lighting of the lamp in front of Swami Chinmayananda’s portrait, invoking His blessings to begin the program. Special invited dignitaries and supporters present were Drs. Bharat & Panna Barai : Nationally recognized social leader, Dr. Sudarshan & Mrs. Nitu Sharma, benefactors for both Badri and Yamunotri establishments, Dr. Gopal Lalmalani & Mrs. Nitu Lalmalani, recognized Cardiologist and President of city of Oak Brook, Drs. Ravi and Veena Bhagavat, devotees and Benefactors of Badri for nearly two decades and Padmini and Dr. Prakash Makkam, founding Family of Mission Center in NW Indiana. 

The highlight of the evening was the inspiration kindled by the Acharyas. Swami Sharanananda gave the inaugural welcome with his usual humor and charm. He is Chicago’s beloved acharya, who works relentlessly serving many centers in Chicago and its surrounding areas. He underscored in his message that the highest form of charity, which is much above providing food or donating money, is the gift of knowledge. He said that parents, in the interest of helping their children succeed and be happy, often tell them what to do. However, Chinmaya Mission does not attempt to tell people what to do. Instead, it helps individuals understand their true nature, because once a person realizes his/her divine nature, the actions follow accordingly.

Swami Prakashananda brought out the importance of harmony in this world by emphasizing that even though evil cannot be removed from the world, humanity can neutralize its effect by teaching people the values that can counter it. An atom has both positive and negative particles in it, and yet is stable. Similarly, harmony can be established in the universe by balancing the negative forces with positive ones. It is the nature of the world that when anything is left in disuse, it becomes worse and not better. If humanity were left to itself, then it is to be expected that it would only get worse. It is organizations like Chinmaya Mission that enable humanity to reverse its decline by imparting the right values. He urged the attendees to support such organizations, either by volunteering or through financial contributions.

Acharya Shanker Pillai outlined the goals, activities, expansion plans, and the need for funds to continue meeting the growing needs of the community. He elaborated on the proposed idea of building well-planned retirement homes adjacent to the Badri Center, to support the physical and spiritual needs of senior citizens. Dr. Ashok Bhatia (executive board member of Chinmaya Mission Chicago) then elaborated on the current financial obligations of Chinmaya Mission and the various means to help with the funding.

The entertainment for the evening was an enchanting mix of dances and music presented by children from the Bala Vihar program, supported by adult volunteers. Bala Vihar is an integral part of Chinmaya Mission and was started by Swami Chinmayananda to instill good values right from childhood and inspire kids to live a nobler life. In his own words, “Children are not vessels to be filled, but lamps to be lit.”

High school youth provided service throughout the evening by babysitting children of banquet attendees and helping with collecting donation envelopes.

Chinmaya Yuva Kendra (College students and young professionals) members—popularly referred to as CHYKs—captured the audience with their energetic presentation on the various avenues available to college students and young professionals to serve and grow spiritually. Past Bala Vihar students themselves, they shared their passion for serving through CORD (Chinmaya Organization for Rural Development), volunteering to teach weekly Bala Vihar classes, and investing in their own spiritual growth through YEP (Youth Empowerment Program), a two-month spiritual program for CHYKs.

The event came to a conclusion with the chanting of Bhagavad Gita chapter XV, followed by a delicious meal served by India House restaurant. A complementary souvenir book with inspiring articles, information about classes offered at Chinmaya Mission Chicago, class pictures, and advertisements from local supporting companies was given to each family as a token of appreciation for attending the banquet.
The message of “Living in Harmony” resonated throughout the event, evident in the harmonious working of the volunteers, both on and off the stage.