11th September, 1893- On this day 127 years ago, a wandering monk from India created a global stir by introducing Hinduism to the world in America. The world watched in awe as Swami Vivekananda addressed the first Parliament of World’s Religions at Chicago and spoke to them about the spirit and spiritualism of India. Swamiji remains to this day, India’s best brand ambassador who made the world aware that the world’s oldest civilization, India was not a superstition laden nation deemed in illiteracy but it was the epicenter of Vedic learning and spiritualism, thus attracting millions of followers across the globe. Since then, India became recognized and respected for her spirit of tolerance, assimilation of all cultures and individuals and for her spiritualism, which helped one to rise above all negativities.
Swami Vivekananda began his journey to Chicago, USA from Bombay (now called Mumbai) on 31st May, 1893. As he came from a humble background and had denounced his family life to embrace the life of an ascetic, he had to rely on funds collected from his Madras disciples, the king of Mysore, Ramnad, Ajit Singh of Khetri, Diwans and other followers. It was king Ajit Singh of Khetri, who had suggested the name, Vivekananda for him just before the journey. En route to America, he travelled to China, Japan and Canada preaching Hinduism and meeting the religious leaders there.
When he reached Chicago, he found that the Parliament of World’s Religions would still take some time to commence. Besides, he also did not possess the credentials and bona fide to attend the Parliament as a delegate. With his humble means, he realized it would be difficult for him to stay in Chicago till the Parliament commenced. Hence he moved to Boston where he met Professor John Henry Wright of Harvard University. After being acquainted with Swamiji’s wisdom, knowledge and excellence, Professor Wright insisted that he should represent Hinduism at the Parliament of World’s Religions. Swamiji himself later wrote– “He urged upon me the necessity of going to the Parliament of Religions, which he thought would give an introduction to the nation”. When Wright learned that Vivekananda was not officially accredited and did not have any credential to join the Parliament, he told Vivekananda– “To ask for your credentials is like asking the sun to state its right to shine in the heavens.”
Swamiji was the first to address the Parliament of World’s Religions on 11th September, 1893. He shook off his initial nervousness by bowing to Maa Saraswati, which gave him new energy and he felt as if someone else had occupied his body and mind. He started with “The Soul of India, the echo of the Rishis, the voice of Ramakrishna, the mouthpiece of the resurgent Time spirit”. Then began his speech with salutation, “Sisters and brothers of America!”. To these words, he got a standing ovation from a crowd of seven thousand, which lasted for two minutes. When silence was restored he began his address. He greeted the youngest of the nations on behalf of “the most ancient order of monks in the world, the Vedic order of sannyasins, a religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance- thus underlying the essence of India, the world’s oldest civilization and of Hinduism.
Swamiji’s welcome note began thus :
Sisters and Brothers of America,
It fills my heart with joy unspeakable to rise in response to the warm and cordial welcome which you have given us. I thank you in the name of the most ancient order of monks in the world; I thank you in the name of the mother of religions; and I thank you in the name of the millions and millions of Hindu people of all classes and sects.
My thanks, also, to some of the speakers on this platform who, referring to the delegates from the Orient, have told you that these men from far-off nations may well claim the honour of bearing to different lands the idea of toleration. I am proud to belong to a religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance. We believe not only in universal toleration, but we accept all religions as true. I am proud to belong to a nation which has sheltered the persecuted and the refugees of all religions and all nations of the earth. I am proud to tell you that we have gathered in our bosom the purest remnant of the Israelites, who came to southern India and took refuge with us in the very year in which their holy temple was shattered to pieces by Roman tyranny. I am proud to belong to the religion which has sheltered and is still fostering the remnant of the grand Zoroastrian nation. I will quote to you, brethren, a few lines from a hymn which I remember to have repeated from my earliest boyhood, which is every day repeated by millions of human beings: ‘As the different streams having their sources in different places all mingle their water in the sea, so, O Lord, the different paths which men take through different tendencies, various though they appear, crooked or straight, all lead to Thee.’
The present convention, which is one of the most august assemblies ever held, is in itself a vindication, a declaration to the world, of the wonderful doctrine preached in the Gita: ‘Whosoever comes to Me, through whatsoever form, I reach him; all men are struggling through paths which in the end lead to Me.’ Sectarianism, bigotry, and its horrible descendant, fanaticism, have long possessed this beautiful earth. They have filled the earth with violence, drenched it often and often with human blood, destroyed civilization, and sent whole nations to despair. Had it not been for these horrible demons, human society would be far more advanced than it is now. But their time is come; and I fervently hope that the bell that tolled this morning in honour of this convention may be the death-knell of all fanaticism, of all persecutions with the sword or with the pen, and of all uncharitable feelings between persons wending their way to the same goal.
The essence of our Sanatan Dharma, our Indianness lies in the above speech, that we are an extremely tolerant and forth come community, who have been open to welcoming all cultures and communities all over the world as our own. We have always believed in give and take, i.e incorporating the best and acceptable features of other cultures as our own while giving the best and the adaptable features of our culture to them so that we can facilitate the evolution of a superior culture which would in turn lead to peace and brotherhood enabling our nation and in turn, the world to prosper through peaceful coexistence. Swamiji drew the analogy of a frog in a well (Kupa Manduka) who shunned, jeered and threw away the frog from the sea when the latter told it that the sea was more vast and a better place to live in. Swamiji felt that the various religious communities all over the world were also behaving like the ‘Frog in the well’, living within their limited territories, unwilling to accept any practice and norm which is different from theirs. This is leading to narrow mindedness and intolerance towards others. They would do well by adopting and adapting the best part of the other beliefs as all are different paths which lead to the Supreme Power. This has mentioned in Bhagvad Gita too. However, what we observe today is that, the followers of Sanatan Dharma have, all along tried to assimilate and incorporate the best of other doctrines, but the reverse never happened, which have been the root cause of all conflicts. Hence, unfortunately, today the challenge for the Sanatanis is to first protect their Dharma rather than assimilate, as this assimilation has been causing their Dharma to erode due to lack of reciprocation from others and a deliberate attempt to vilify the Dharma using art and literature as primary weapons. However, it was Swamiji who taught us not to meek and fight back in self defence when met with challenges.
The Parliament was in session between the 11th and the 27th of September. On 19th September, Swamiji presented a Paper on Hinduism and spoke on “The meaning of the Hindu Religion”. He spoke about the oldest religions of the World, i. e Hinduism, Zoroastrianism and Judaism and the survival and emergence of Christianity. He then went ahead and shared his knowledge of the Vedanta philosophy, the concept of God, soul and body in Hinduism.
Swamiji’s concluding speech on the final day of the Parliament of World’s Religions on 27th September, 1893 went thus:
The World’s Parliament of Religions has become an accomplished fact, and the merciful Father has helped those who laboured to bring it into existence, and crowned with success their most unselfish labour.
My thanks to those noble souls whose large hearts and love of truth first dreamed this wonderful dream and then realized it. My thanks to the shower of liberal sentiments that has overflowed this platform. My thanks to this enlightened audience for their uniform kindness to me and for their appreciation of every thought that tends to smooth the friction of religions. A few jarring notes were heard from time to time in this harmony. My special thanks to them, for they have, by their striking contrast, made general harmony the sweeter.
Much has been said of the common ground of religious unity. I am not going just now to venture my own theory. But if any one here hopes that this unity will come by the triumph of any one of the religions and the destruction of the others, to him I say, “Brother, yours is an impossible hope.” Do I wish that the Christian would become Hindu? God forbid. Do I wish that the Hindu or Buddhist would become Christian? God forbid.
The seed is put in the ground, and earth and air and water are placed around it. Does the seed become the earth, or the air, or the water? No. It becomes a plant. It develops after the law of its own growth, assimilates the air, the earth, and the water, converts them into plant substance, and grows into a plant.
Similar is the case with religion. The Christian is not to become a Hindu or a Buddhist, nor a Hindu or a Buddhist to become a Christian. But each must assimilate the spirit of the others and yet preserve his individuality and grow according to his own law of growth.
If the Parliament of Religions has shown anything to the world, it is this: It has proved to the world that holiness, purity and charity are not the exclusive possessions of any church in the world, and that every system has produced men and women of the most exalted character. In the face of this evidence, if anybody dreams of the exclusive survival of his own religion and the destruction of the others, I pity him from the bottom of my heart, and point out to him that upon the banner of every religion will soon be written in spite of resistance: “Help and not fight,” “Assimilation and not Destruction,” “Harmony and Peace and not Dissension.
In his concluding speech, he made a case in point for religious tolerance, acceptability and harmony as the only means of human survival and peaceful coexistence. He stated, in no uncertain terms, that imposing one’s religious beliefs on others, hoping to succeed in establishing one’s own religious order by destroying that of others is an impossible dream and he strongly spoke against forced religious conversions. But what we observe in India today is the reverse happening, either by creating terror or by giving vent to one’s greed, which is completely against Swamiji’s ideals, which seem to be the mainstay of only the Sanatanis but not the others.
If we look at the current socio political scenario in our country, we would find the implementation of some if Swamiji’s preachings and thoughts:
- Swamiji had stated that we, as a nation need to be self reliant and stop the mindless impersonation of western cultures, dependence on the other economies for our survival and shun our ‘slave’ mentality to become self reliant. This is the principle which paved the way for Atma Nirbhar Bharat.
- Swamiji reminded the Indians that their ideals of womanhood are Sita, Savitri and Damayanti and their deity is the omniscient Uma Shankar (Shivji) thus underlying the essence of Woman Empowerment and the essence on which it should be done. The advocation of Bhagwan Shiv as the primary deity underlines the role of the man in Indian society, who would give up his all to love and protect his woman like Shivji did for Sati, rather than subjugating his woman, also facilitating harmonious existence between the two sexes. This is in sharp contrast to the brand of liberal feminism exhibited by the leftists this day of selectively speaking up for some of their own and victimizing men, who don’t agree with them.
- Swamiji reminded the Indians that their married life, wealth, their worldly pleasures are not for their personal satisfaction but are meant for the greater cause of their mother nation, Indian – they are all under the aegis and the shelter of Devi Mahamaya, who upholds the spirit of India. This should encourage us to procreate and imbibe good values in our progeny to serve our nation better, to donate for the cause of the nation and not flinch at paying our taxes, which are meant for the service of our nation – our wealth, our worldly pleasures are for the cause of our nation.
- Swamiji defines the essence of socialism and class equality when he states that Indians should not forget that all Indians, irrespective of their caste, class, stature, literacy level are all brothers and sisters as the same blood runs through our veins. He shattered class and status barriers when he stated that the ‘Brahmin Indian, the Chandal (Scheduled Caste) Indian, the uneducated Indian are all my brothers’ and we should be happy with the bare minimum, which is enough to serve our basic needs- metaphorically, only a loin cloth to cover the body parts which need to be hidden. This has to be the biggest socialist statement. Hence we need not look West to learn the tenets of socialism as the leftists in our county do by idolizing Karl Marx.
- Swamiji imbibed Indianness amongst us all by stating that the deities to whom he prays day and night are the deities of India, it is our mother nation who needs to be worshipped by us. He said ‘It is the Indian society which shaped my childhood, built up the garden of youth and is the spiritual refuse (drawing analogy with the Hindu holy city, Varanasi) of my old age’. This statement in itself should inspire generations of Indians towards nationalism and service of the nation by whatever means they choose to do so. Swamiji prayed to Maa Jagadamba to impart humanism and valour to him which in turn would make India a strong nation.
- Swamiji’s spirit of tolerance, assimilation and humanity, the spirit of charity and humanism shaped up our country’s philosophy in providing shelter by granting citizenship to the persecuted minorities from the neighbouring countries – the CAA, which was vociferously and viciously opposed by the Leftists thus undermining the spirit of humanism that India believes in.
Unfortunately, Swamiji and his teachings were not accepted for long by his own people, who didnot leave any stone unturned in humiliating him. When Swamiji was still alive, a felicitation ceremony was organized in his honour after his successful representation of Hinduism at the Parliament of World’s Religions. The response of his fellow Indians from Bengal were like this- Gurudas Mukhopadhyay stated that, Swamiji, a born kayasth, had dared to add ‘Swami’ before his name and had also ‘dared’ to cross the kalapani to travel abroad. Hence he should be caned. The Maharaja of Uttarpara, Peary Mohan Mukherjee said that he was willing to honour Swamiji but he will address him as brother, not Swamiji. After Swamiji’s death, the Bengali daily, ‘Amrita Bazar Patrika’ referred to him as ‘the meat eating Sanyasi’.
However, such admonitions didnot destroy the spirit of Swamiji or his followers, who preached his principles and ideology to the nation and propagated spiritualism through the Ram Krishna Mission and Math, established by Swamiji for the said purpose in honour of his Guru, Ramkrishna Paramhansadev. This inspired the Indian Nationalists, the freedom fighters, including Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose to effectively fight the British colonial rulers- so much so that the British were compelled to state that ‘Swamiji was more dangerous dead than alive’.
Swamiji always propagated extreme devotion, commitment and involvement of the heart, i.e, emotional attachment in all our tasks to deliver effective and value additive results. But what we found was a total side tracking of Swamiji’s ideals in our nation’s policies and decisions for all these years till the concept of New India was formulated. This is the reason that our nation’s education policy successfully delivered Engineers, Doctors, Chartered Accountants, Economists, Business Managers and other professionals, who functioned mechanically, gulping down whatever was fed to them, not analyzing or asking questions. This has led to the creation of the dangerous brand of leftist liberals who oppose anything and everything which is good for our nation, thus, hitting at the very fabric of our existence as a nation. Swamiji had stated that our nation may face imminent danger if we deviate from the path shown by him, which is what we are witnessing now. Hence, for the survival and emergence as a stronger and successful nation, it is imperative for all Indians to follow the path highlighted by Swamiji.
- Responsible Indian
References : i) Rkm.org
ii) Swami Vivekananda: Messiah of Resurgent India- P. R. Bhuyan
DISCLAIMER: The author is solely responsible for the views expressed in this article. The author carries the responsibility for citing and/or licensing of images utilized within the text.