- Posted January 12, 2013 by
Monk Shook Western world – Its Relevance Today
One hundred and twenty years ago, on September 11, 1893, a young monk called Swami Vivekananda from India delivered a historic speech at the Parliament of World Religions in Chicago. His words were perhaps the first spoken by an Indian to a large and predominantly Western audience explaining India, the Hindu way, and the historical significance of all that the so-called ‘orient’ stood for.
Before Swami Vivekananda spoke those historic words, for the most part, all the world knew about our country had come from the mouths of scholars and historians of the Western powers that had colonised us. Even the well-meaning among them were handicapped by narrow Western ways of looking at things and could not convey the details of ancient Indian philosophy with all the subtlety intact.
Today, on the 150th birthday of Swami Vivekananda and nearly 120 years after the speech he gave at Chicago, it seems apt to recall his inspiring, prophetic words — words full of hope for a new, resurgent India that stands firmly on its ancient foundations.
Swami Vivekananda Speech at Chicago – Welcome Address
Opening address made on September 11, 1893
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 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 honor 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 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 honor 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.”
He went on to say on September 27 : “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.”
Swami Vivekananda’s message remains relevant even today .
Swami Vivekananda’s famous speech in World Parliament of religions at Chicago, was a call for Universal Brotherhood to the world community. It was the day when the potential of the East was recognized by the west. To commemorate this historical day, about which every Indian should be proud, it is celebrated as Universal Brotherhood Day.
Swami had made the world realize the concept of interfaith awareness and universal acceptance. On this day, Swami Vivekananda lauded the inclusiveness of Hinduism and after 108 years on exactly the same day of 11th September 2001, the West saw the attack on World Trade Centre at New York, probably because of the exclusive nature of other religions. It is ironic that such a terrible event should remind the world about the relevance of Swami’s message.
Swami said, “I pity them from the bottom of my heart, and point out to them 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.’ But the irony is that, some in the Facebook generation remembers September 11 as the day of destruction than the day of Universal Brotherhood. We also live in a world in which trivia scores over things that are
meaningful. Thus we have Chocolate Day, Rose Day, Friendship Day, Valentine’s Day etc, which grab the World Wide Web space, but this Universal Brotherhood Day gets relegated to the background.
It will be foolish to say that Gen X is ill-informed in this era of globalization, especially when the youth spends more time on Facebook than their textbooks. It may not be the fault of the younger generation because there are very few media platforms which promote constructive or positive ideas. Sometimes, one feels that some sections of the media deliberately keep the present generation away from our rich cultural heritage.
Rabindranath Tagore had once said, “If you want know India, study Swami Vivekananda- in him everything is positive and nothing is negative.” Hope the year of 2013, which will be celebrated as the 150th birth anniversary of Youth Icon Swami Vivekananda, will spread the message of positivity among youth. This celebration should be a massive campaign where ideals of Swami Vivekananda will not only be spread among the youth but practiced so that India attains greater glory.
Dr. Bikram Lamba, a political & business strategist, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org