Founded in 1939 by Swami Ashokananda (Ramakrishna Order, India)

Swami Prasannatmananda (current Swami-in-Charge/ President)

COME AND JOIN US IN THE CELEBRATION OF THE LEGACY OF SWAMI VIVEKANANDA IN THE BAY AREA

 

Vedanta is a way of life and a scientific understanding of spirituality. It encompasses all truths to foster harmony in humanity.

With great love and infinite grace, Swami Vivekananda walked the streets, took the ferry, rode the cable car and the train, and sprinkled the seeds of glorious Vedanta in this very Bay Area that we call home, for the upliftment of humanity.  His teachings, also his gracious blessings, have divinized this region and can still be felt today. We invite you to feel connected with this modern saint’s eternal presence, show your pride in his heritage, and feel blessed in a year-long celebration honoring Swami Vivekananda.

 

We invite you all to be a part of a medley of year-long celebrations organized by the Vedanta Society of Berkeley celebrating the legacy of Swami Vivekanada in the Bay Area.

  1. Inaugration at the First Unitarian Church of Oakland on Feb 22, 2025.
  2. Cultural Programs
  3. Academic Programs
  4. Publication of Books
  5. Vivekananda Pilgrimage
  6. Camp Taylor Retreat
  7. Spiritual Retreat with Monks
  8. Closing Program on Feb 21, 2026.

Swami Vivekananda and the First Unitarian Church of Oakland

Swami Vivekananda, a monk of India in 19th century and spiritual teacher, was introduced to the East Bay through the First Unitarian Church of Oakland. Known to Unitarians since his acclaimed speech at the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago, 1893, Swami Vivekananda was invited to participate in a local Congress of Religions by Reverend Benjamin Fay Mills, the Minister of First Unitarian Church of Oakland in 1900. Reverend Mills had attended the 1893 World Parliament of Religions in Chicago and been moved by Swami Vivekananda's stirring words. Having learned that the Swami was lecturing in Southern California, Reverend Mills sent an invitation to him, knowing that the Swami would be extremely popular. Swami Vivekananda delivered his initial talk at the First Unitarian Church of Oakland on the evening of February 25, 1900 from the pulpit of Hamilton Hall. Two thousand people listened in rapt attention as the swami spoke on, “The Claims of Vedanta On the Modern World.” Some days later he gave another public lecture on “Vedanta and Christianity,” from the same pulpit. In March again he gave two series of three lectures in each series at the adjoining Wendte Hall. The first series was on the principles and philosophy of Vedanta and the second on India’s customs and culture. Reverend Mills’ expectations regarding the Swami’s impact on the congregation were completely fulfilled. As many as 500 people had to turn away for lack of space. All his talks drew large crowds, who sat or stood on the edges of the foyer, enthralled, listening to his words of ancient wisdom. Through these lecture series, which were nicely reported by the local newspapers, Swami Vivekananda became known to a wider section of the Oakland population. Through the venue of the liberal and intellectually oriented First Unitarian Church of Oakland, the Swami disseminated the profound principles of Vedanta in the East Bay.

Swami Vivekananda and the Vedanta Society Berkeley

The Vedanta Society of Berkeley can trace its origins to a group of devoted students, who formed a spiritual nucleus after Swami Vivekananda introduced Vedanta to the Bay Area in February, 1900. For a period of four months, the Swami lectured and taught in San Francisco, Oakland and Alameda, traveling back and forth across the Bay, sowing the seeds of the exalted universal ideas of Vedanta. He stayed in the Pine Street Home of Truth in San Francisco and later moved across the Bay to The Alameda Home of Truth. These institutions were spiritual centers, devoted to higher thought and learning, and their members warmly welcomed the Swami's teachings. One such person was Sarah Fox of Berkeley, a deeply spiritual woman who became the moving force in the later establishment of a Berkeley center. On February 25th, she and her sister Rebecca attended Swami Vivekananda's stirring lecture at the First Unitarian Church of Oakland. His riveting words were emblazoned in Sarah's heart and through her devoted effort, still resound in the Berkeley temple to this day. In June of 1900, Swami Vivekananda left California for New York. Many of the west coast devotees were eager to put into practice the principles they had recently been taught. By the will of the Divine Mother, an unexpected gift of 160 acres of land in the San Antone Valley was suddenly gifted to Swami Vivekananda. He asked Swami Turiyananda, then at the Vedanta Society of NY, to move to California and establish the first Vedanta Retreat center in America. Swami Turiyananda arrived in San Francisco in late July. After a week in the city, he and eight devotees traveled south to establish Shanti Ashrama in the remote and rugged terrain near Mt. Hamilton. For many months the group toiled, building the Ashrama infrastructure and perfecting their natures, guided by the illumined presence of Swami Turiyananda. After five months, Swami Turiyananda returned to the Bay Area, leaving Shanti Ashrama under the care of a disciple. He conducted classes in San Francisco and the East Bay, including a period of seven weeks at the Oakland home of Vedanta devotee, Frank Rhodehamel. A few years later, after Swami Turiyananda returned to India, Sarah Fox, her sister Rebecca and Mr. Rhodehamel established a regular Vedanta study and discussion group in Oakland. Cornelius Heijblom, later Swami Atulananda (Gurudas), another East Bay pioneer Vedantin, was the unofficial leader of the Oakland gatherings, which kept Swami Vivekananda’s teachings vibrant and alive in the East Bay. In 1922 Sarah and Rebecca were invited to accompany Swami Prakashananda and Gurudas on a trip to India. The sisters stayed for three years, developing deep and lasting friendships with Sri Ramakrishna disciples and most notably, receiving spiritual initiation from revered Swami Saradananda in 1923. Upon their return to America, Sarah engaged herself even more vigorously in spreading and supporting the teachings of Vedanta. Rebecca had died from a stroke and Sarah's older sister, Freddie, now became a devoted student of Swami Ashokananda, presiding head of the Vedanta Society of San Francisco. Throughout the 1930's Swami Ashokananda lectured in Oakland to crowds of one hundred and occasionally conducted classes in Sarah's home. Soon it became evident that a permanent center for East Bay Vedantins was needed. First and foremost in support of this decision were Sarah and Freddie, who contributed the lion's share of financial backing for the project. After considerable negotiations and innumerable obstacles, a suitable Berkeley property was purchased on the southeast corner of Dwight Way. The harmonious temple was designed by Henry Gutterson, a noted Craftsman architect and student of Bernard Maybeck. The building was constructed meticulously, and the gardens laid out with horticultural expertise with careful attention to every detail. The temple was formally dedicated on October 22, 1939 and established as a branch of the Vedanta Society of San Francisco. Sarah Fox became its first president, a position she held until her death in 1949. In 1970 the Vedanta Society of Berkeley became an independent center of the Ramakrishna Order. Thus it was that Swami Vivekananda's lectures at the first Unitarian Church of Oakland reverberated through the hearts of Vedanta devotees and found external expression in the form of Berkeley temple. Today, one can still hear that divine reverberation flowing through its sacred corridors.

The Alameda Home of Truth (1900)
Red Men's Building (1900)
Home of Truth (1939)
Cliff House & Seal Rocks (1900)
Dr. Logan's House (1939)

Special programs

Inaugration - First United Methodist Church

Cultural program

Academic Program

Vivekananda Pilgrimage

Camp Taylor Retreat

swami-balbhadrananda

Spiritual Retreat

To Be Announced

Closing Ceremony

A FEW GLIMPSES FROM THE PAST

We have five annual Puja
Sri Ramakrishna’s birthday
Sri Ma Sarada Devi’s Birthday
Swami Vivekananda’s Birthday
Sri Sri Durga Puja
Mahashivaratri

Sponsorships opportunities are available for the following:
Entire Puja event
Flowers and garland
Food for offering (Naivedya)
Dinner for devotees (Prasad)

Please see Donation Q&A for Disclaimer and other details.