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Vedanta Movement in Queensland

Indian philosophy, particularly Vedanta, has been studied and practiced in Australia since the early 1900’s. Mrs Elsie Picket (Hari Priya) and Sister Abhavaniya, taught overseas by Swamis of the Ramakrishna Order, held Vedanta classes in Australia and New Zealand. Then James Wale (Brahmachari Vivekchaitanya) from NSW, returned to Australia from the Ramakrishna Math in Calcutta and gave talks to small groups on Vedanta until his death in 1951. However, after the visit of Swami Ranganathananda of the Ramakrishna Order, first in 1969 and later regularly until 1983, the movement spread throughout Australia.

The Vedanta Movement in the state of Queensland dates back to 1978, when the Late Swami Ranganathananda (who later became the President of the Ramakrishna Math and Mission) used to visit Brisbane annually to inspire devotees and spread the message of Vedanta as manifested in the life and teachings of Sri RamakrishnaHoly Mother Sarada Devi and Swami Vivekananda.

‘Like the gentle dew that falls unseen and unheard, and yet brings into blossom the fairest of roses, has been the contribution of India to the thought of the world’

These words of Swami Vivekananda is very apt to describe the progress of the Ramakrishna-Vivekananda-Vedanta movement in Australia. 

Since the early 1980’s, a small group of followers of Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda met regularly at the Theosophical Society and SWARA, held discussions and invited Swamis and Nuns of the Ramakrishna Order to give talks and hold retreats.

The movement continued to gain strength by visits from the late Swami Damodarananda from Fiji and who used to hold satsangs and valuable religious discourses on the Vedanta to inspire the growing number of followers. Devotees recall Swami Damodarananda carrying a pile of books with him wherever he travelled and distributing them among curious spiritual seekers, encouraging them to study the scriptures and inculcate the message of Sri Ramakrishna in their lives. This period marked the beginning of Ramakrishna Mission in Australia.

Dr.Mahalingam Sinnathamby

The official start of the Vedanta Movement in Queensland began in February 1986 with the initiative of Dr.Mahalingam Sinnathamby  (who is currently the Patron of the Centre) along with his family. With the registration of the society, a formal committee was established, and fortnightly meetings and prayers began to be conducted at SWARA and at the Theosophical Society in Spring Hill. Reading from the Ramakrishna Gospel and discussions pertaining to Vedanta philosophy were part of the main activities.

The next 20 years saw several cultural and religious activities and endeavors to keep the movement alive and strengthen it. By the turn of the century, the number of devotees increased from a handful to a significant mass and the confidence to financially support a permanent and independent Ashram was gained. In the year 2005, a private house was rented in Sinnamon Park to start an independent Ashram. During 2005 and 2006, several spiritual activities were started along with spiritual discourses from the revered Swami Sridharananda who pays occasional visits. Swami Atmeshananda visited Brisbane from Sydney every month until November 2013 when he began to reside permanently in Brisbane.

On August 6th 2006, a house at 181 Burbong Street, Chapel Hill, Queensland was purchased and the Centre began to function on a regular basis. Daily worship, classes and activities continued in this house for several years. Then in 2015 a gift of a parcel of land in Springfield Lakes by Dr.Maha Sinnathamby of Springfield Corporation spurred the resolve of devotees and followers to construct their own building for the Ashram. Thus in July 2015 the Burbong Street house was sold and Swami Atmeshananda moved to temporary rented premises at 12, Greenwood Street, Springfield Lakes to oversee the Vedanta Precinct Masterplan.

The first phase of construction was for a multipurpose building housing a prayer and meditation hall, library, office, function hall, monks’ residence, guest rooms, community kitchen, parking and landscaping.  The ‘turning of the sod’ ceremony on 16th August 2017 saw the start of the construction activity. Within a short time of nine months, the construction was completed.

The inauguration of the new Ashram multipurpose building was held from the 27th to 30th of June 2018. There was traditional pujas (worship) on the 27th evening and the mornings of the 28th and 29th performed by Sri Sullur Siva Shanmugam Gurukkal of the Helensburgh Temple in Sydney. Different groups of devotees offered bhajans (singing) in the evening on these days. On the morning of 30th of June, there was blessing of the land by an indigenous elder followed by a colorful procession of monks and devotees around the building. The dedication of the building then took place with formal worship by Swami Tyagananda, the Hindu chaplain of MIT, Harvard, USA. Sri Ramakrishna practiced and preached the harmony of all religions. The Centre, therefore, has shrines for Buddha and Christ as well as emblems of all religions depicted in its shrine. At 11.15 a.m., Buddhist monks dedicated the Buddha shrine and Rev.Father Stephen Bliss dedicated the shrine to Jesus Christ. This was followed by prayers by representatives of different religions. 

The Vedanta Centre in Springfield Lakes is open to all, irrespective of their faith or belief. Centre runs a number of benevolent activities like food relief to the needy, activities for children & youth, yoga, meditation, classes on Vedanta, educational workshops, community events and volunteer opportunities. The Centre has a cafe, soup kitchen, community gardens, bookshop & library. Special festivals and birthdays of Saints, teachers & Hindu deities are celebrated regularly.

In April 2020 a licensed commercial kitchen was built as an extension to the building on the lower ground floor. Here operates Vedanta Soup Kitchen and the volunteer run Cafe Maa Sarada’s Kitchen. The Vedanta Soup Kitchen has provided free vegetarian meals and grocery hampers to people in need since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

In the second phase of the Vedanta Precinct Masterplan will be a childcare facility, followed by community residences for those who like to lead a life of peace, harmony and spiritual fulfilment.

The Ramakrishna-Vedanta movement that began many years ago silently has, by now, grown significantly. There is much more to be done in the future. The cooperation, help and goodwill of the general public to make the Vedanta Precinct a haven of Peace and Tranquility is much appreciated.