Today is the 154th birth anniversary of Swami Vivekananda. On this day,
it would be appropriate to recall the famous speech of Swami Vivekananda
at the Parliament of Religions on September 11, 1893.
Parliament of Religions
World's Columbian Exposition of 1893 was held to celebrate the 400th
anniversary of Christopher Columbus' discovery of America in 1492 and to
showcase the fruits of man's material progress and the achievements of
Western civilization. The Exposition would not have been complete
without a representation of the world's thought. Neely's History of the Parliament of Religions
tells us that the idea of a series of congresses for the consideration
of ‘the greatest themes in which mankind is interested, and so
comprehensive as to include representatives from all parts of the earth
originated with Charles Carroll Bonney in the summer of 1889.’
Parliament was a unique phenomenon in the history of religions. Never
before had representatives of the world's great religions been brought
together in one place, where they might without fear tell of their
respective beliefs to thousands of people.
The Parliament opened
on the morning of September 11, 1893 at the Art Institute of Chicago.
It had a massive participation - 4000 people had crowded onto the floor
and into the gallery of the Hall of Columbus waiting for the delegates
The first day, September 11, was devoted to speeches
of welcome from the officials and responses by the delegates. Swami
Vivekananda’s historic happened during the afternoon.
The electric effect on the audience of his first words is well-known. Neely's History
tells us that ‘when Mr Vivekananda addressed the audience as “Sisters
and Brothers of America,” there arose a peal of applause that lasted for
several minutes.’ Mrs SK Blodgett, who much later became Swamiji's
hostess in Los Angeles, recalled ‘I was at the Parliament... When that
young man got up and said, “Sisters and Brothers of America,” seven
thousand people rose to their feet as a tribute to something they knew
not what.’ The applause that had punctuated Swamiji's talk thundered at
its close. The people had recognized their hero and had taken him to
their hearts; thenceforth he was the star of the Parliament.
Some of the Indian delegates at the conference (Vivekananda in the centre) (languageinindia.com)
Here is the text of that speech, given 122 years ago, which can inspire people even today.
Sisters and Brothers of America,
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.
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.”
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 civilisation 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.
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