Swami Vivekananda the torchbearer of modern society, the greatest youth icon, who ever lived, through his life and teachings, influenced and ignited the souls of millions of youth across the globe. His short life was an embodiment of his great works, teachings and his ideals which are relevant even today to youths and society not only in India but throughout the world.
He realized that his life was meant not to be an ordinary monk, meditating in the caves for personal salvation. Rather he was destined to work for the divine mission set by his Master Sri Ramakrishna who had told him ‘to be like a banyan tree, giving shelter to the tired, weary travelers’ and ‘teach mankind’. After the passing away of his Master, Swamiji felt an inner urge to wander alone over the length and breadth of his country. Thus his early life was spent as a wandering monk.
He traveled on foot from east to west, i.e. from Bengal to Dwaraka and from north to south i.e. from Himalaya to Kanyakumari. He accepted the invitations of the rich as well as the poor and witnessed the sufferings of the poor who were deprived of the basic requirements of mankind. He was deeply moved by the poverty and bondage of the uneducated people. Through meditation, he could visualize India’s past, present, and future.
Through introspection, he arrived at the conclusion that the downfall of his country was not due to religion. Rather all the responsibilities lay on the deprivation, superstitions and lifeless rituals carried out in the name of religion. Swamiji understood that only through religion itself the past glory of his motherland can be revived. Some enlightened people whom he met in the course of his journey advised him to go to the west and attend the Parliament of Religion which was to be held in Chicago in the year 1893.
He pondered over this and decided to attend it as he thought that this World Parliament would be the right platform to glorify his nation and carry out his divine mission. In the last phase of his journey, he sat on the famous ‘Vivekananda Rock’ and meditated on the course of his future action. He soon decided to go to the west and raise funds for the upliftment of poor and downtrodden people of India. He prayed intensely to Holy Mother Sarada and his Master for guidance. He visualized his Master Sri Ramakrishna walking from the seashore into the ocean pointing towards the east and gesturing him to follow.
Further, Holy Mother too gave her consent and blessings to whom Swamiji had written earlier. All doubts were cleared he was determined to carry out his journey towards the west. Finally, after raising funds through his young disciples, Swami Vivekananda sailed for America on 31
May 1893 to attend the historic World Parliament of religion.
11th September 1993 was a remarkable day for India as Swami Vivekananda delivered the message of universal brotherhood by addressing the American Nation as ‘Sisters and Brothers of America’ at ‘The Art Institute of Chicago’ in the inaugural day of World’s Parliament of Religion. Professor J.H. Wright had rightly written to the Chairman of the committee for selection of the delegates after conversing for four hours with Swamiji “Here is a man who is more learned than all our professors put together.”It was this very platform on which Swamiji stood and spoke to the entire world about the glorious past and rich cultural heritage of his motherland. Swamiji introduced himself as a representative of the mother of all religion i.e the Hindu religion. While accepting the truthfulness of all religion he never stopped to glorify Hindu religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance. He recited few lines from the hymn of Siva Mahimnah Stotram to place before the world the essence of Hinduism –‘ 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.’ Swamiji acquainted the world with the wonderful doctrine of the eternal and sacred scripture-Gita ‘Whosoever comes to me, through whatsoever form, I reach him; all men are struggling through paths which in the end leads to me.’ Through these hymns, he tried to deliver a universal message of brotherhood and endurance to the world. He again proclaimed ‘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.’ He stood against sectarianism, intolerance, fanaticism which leads to violence and destruction. Swami Vivekananda came up with the ell known story of the frog who thought the sea to be as big as his well. Through this story, he gave a call to all the religions to come out of their narrow orthodox wells, break all the barriers and embrace the world as its own. Swamiji’s purpose was to unveil the greatness of the Hindu religion through the eyes of his Master, Sri Ramakrishna. His main objective was to stop the propaganda of orthodox missionaries against India and Indians. While speaking on the greatness of Hinduism and Hindus, Swamiji praised the theory of self-realization of Vedas and Upanishads. He called all people of all religion as ‘children of immortal bliss’ and stated that Hindus never call themselves or others as sinners. It’s a sin to call mankind as sinners. He explained to the world that Hindus do not worship idol as an item of wood or clay, but uses it as an external symbol to keep their mind fixed on the Being to whom they pray. He gave his idea of universal religion-infinite and showering light to people belonging to all religions, castes, and creeds. He called upon the American Nation to offer such a religion to the world and proclaim to the universe that the Lord is in every religion. Swamiji then presented before the Parliament the poverty-stricken image of his motherland saying that religion was not the crying need for India but food.
Thousands and thousands of Indians died during the famine but instead of giving them bread the Christian missionaries are trying to convert them. This is an insult to the whole of mankind. He expressed his main purpose of visiting America so as to raise funds for his poor and downtrodden fellow beings of his country. Swamiji through his speeches also discussed Buddhism and compared it with Hinduism saying that Buddhism is the fulfillment of Hinduism. He pointed out that the separation of Buddhists and Brahmins as the root cause of the downfall of India. In his last day speech, he pointed out that if anyone hopes that only his religion will stay and the rest will be abolished thereby establishing religious unity then it is impossible. He advised that each religion while maintaining its distinctness should accept the goodness of others and grow up in its own rhythm. Purity, love, and service are the essence of each and every religion and every religion had produced great religious leaders. So Swamiji hoped that a day will surely come when upon the banner of every religion will be written ‘Help and not fight’, Assimilation and not destruction’ Harmony and peace and not dissension’.
The relevance of Chicago speech and timeless message to the World:
According to Sister Nivedita ‘Swami Vivekananda’s whole heart and soul was a burning epic of his country. His great mind saw a connection where others saw only isolated facts. His was the most universal mind, with a perfect practical culture.’ Hence Swamiji was rightly suitable to represent India and its spiritual culture. He delivered his speech conscientiously and consciously to the people of the west and had a firm belief that his messages will surely reach every anniversary of his Chicago speeches we feel that the whole universe all along had been sitting at the feet of this great teacher and trying to accept the eternal message of the historic speech. His speech even today is relevant to the different issues faced by the contemporary world. He spoke on religious acceptance and advocated tolerant feelings among people. In today’s world, the debate on intolerance is a burning issue especially in recent years. But turning the pages of history we find that India is a symbol of tolerance as it is a country of unity in diversity, embracing all religions and giving shelters to refugees irrespective of religion, castes, and creeds. As we celebrate anniversary of his historic speech, it becomes all the more relevant to spread his message of peace and acceptance and bring back the past glory of our country.
Through his speech, he proclaimed to love and respect all religions and never impose one religion over another. His message to the world was to accept the good things from each religion and allow our own religion to grow according to the law of growth. We have to come out of our own wells and embrace all the religions with open arms. The World Parliament of Religions seems to be the best platform for such a purpose and is a great attempt to break the barriers of this little world of ours. His call to the world is to shun all superstitions and prejudices which does not allow the nation to move forward. He acquainted the world with Vedas, Upanishads and Gita and placed before the parliament the essence of these religious scriptures. These great religious scriptures consist of the laws of the spiritual world and Hindus have received their religion through revelation as depicted in these books which even today guide us in our material life as well as spiritual life. Swami Vivekananda in his speech tried to present before the world the uniqueness of science and religion. As science is in quest of unity so is a religion whose sole aim is to discover the Soul of which all souls are but delusive materializations. All religions are therefore in search of that life in the universe of death, which is invariable in the variable world. Faith in God will continue to persist as long as there is fear of death and weakness in the mind of mankind. He compared Buddhism and Hinduism and found both the religion to be complimentary of each other. The Buddhists cannot survive without the brain and philosophy of the Brahmins, nor the Brahmins without the heart of Buddhists. He pointed out that the reason for the downfall of India is due to the separation of both. Thus India is poverty-stricken and had been the slave of conquerors for so many decades. His message to the world was to join the intellect of the Brahmins with the noble soul of the Buddhists and create a better country free from poverty and slavery. The Parliament of religion was organized to build a common ground of religious unity. Swamiji said this unity cannot be achieved by conversion from one religion to another. No one religion can exist alone by destroying other religions. All religions can maintain their uniqueness while accepting the goodness of other religions and grow according to the law of growth. In his concluding speech, his call to mankind was to create a universal religion whose main motto would be help, assimilation, peace, and harmony instead of clash, destruction and conflict. In his own words “ We want to lead mankind to the place where there is neither the Vedas, nor the Bible, nor the Koran; yet this has to be done by harmonizing the Vedas, the Bible, and the Koran. Mankind ought to be taught that religions are but the varied expressions of THE RELIGION, which is Oneness…”
Swami Vivekananda’s life was an embodiment of scripture, Master and India-his motherland. Reading the scriptures he could comprehend the eternal truth portrayed by the saints and monks of ancient India. In his Master, Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, Swamiji found that verification of the ancient texts which his heart and his reason had demanded. Through the eyes of his Master, Swamiji realized the amazing overall form of religion. The seed of universal religion was sowed in his heart by his great Master who himself believed in the uniqueness of all religious paths. His master also ignited in his heart the seed of patriotism as well as service to his nation. His urge to know his motherland made him a wandering monk through the length and breadth of the country. Thus Swamiji was being prepared by divine providence to represent India in its entirety before the World Parliament of Religions. For the first time in the history of the World, India was glorified and the essence, the eternal truth in Hinduism was revealed before the world. He was an epitome of humanity and truth, none were foreign or alien to him which was evident from his first address ‘Sisters and Brothers of America’ in the World Parliament. It was the religious consciousness of India that spoke through him, the message of his whole people, as determined by their whole past. A quote from Sri Aurobindo says it all”. The visit of Swami Vivekananda to America and the subsequent work of those who followed him did more for India than a hundred London Congresses could effect.”