On this very day in 1893, Swami Vivekananda in a trumpet voice said “Brothers and Sisters of America….”, and applause didn’t stop for the entire two minutes. Called as the best speech in the Parliament of Religion, Chicago, it restored the dwindling faith of millions of Hindus, who were made to feel ashamed not only of their faith but their religious identity.
I will not hesitate to call the speech a modern-day Gita. In the battlefield of Kurukshetra, Krishna said – In order To deliver The pious and To Annihilate The Miscreants and To Fully establish Righteousness I advent Myself Millennium after Millennium. Swami Vivekananda did no less. With time, Swami Vivekananda’s speech became one to be commemorated once a year. However, with the current scenario where several religions like Islam are trying to establish their religious supremacy globally, Swami Vivekananda’s speech becomes more relevant today than ever.
While in 1893, Swami Vivekananda went to Chicago with a rousing speech of peace, harmony and pride, on 11th September 2001, terrorist attacks by the Islamic terrorist group al-Qaeda against the United States killed more than 3000 people and injured over 6000 people.
The date 9/11 became a paradox for good.
The three major religions of the world today are Christianity, Islam and Hinduism. I put Hinduism third merely in terms of the number of adherents the three religions have. While Hinduism is more connected with the concepts of Dharma and does not follow anyone codified book, Christianity and Islam have always been expansionist in nature. While the peaceful followers of any religion would want to realise the divine through spiritual endeavours, the basic nature of Islam and Christianity is rooted in expansionism. While Christianity says that non-believers will burn in hell-fire, Islam terms non-Muslims as Kafirs and have, since the inception of the religion, functioned by converting non-Muslims into ‘believers’ by the sword. Non-Muslims have been looked down upon and made to pay Jizya, while the crusades to convert by the sword, rape or coercion has been a common occurrence in history.
History has borne witness to the fact that the spread of terrorism in the world has been because of the expansionist nature of monotheistic religions. The book that is followed itself teaches that the religion itself is a tool to establish the word of THEIR God in the world. The expansion of Ummah, so to speak. The endeavour to be one with divinity through spiritual endeavours has been lost, to a large extent, owing to the Islamists who choose to follow the parts of the book that preach the expansion of their religion by the sword.
With the dichotomy of 9/11, one must look towards Swami Vivekananda and especially his Chicago speech to not only understand why the 9/11 terror attack happened but also the root of what is missing in monotheistic religions that enables the spread of terror.
Swami Vivekananda was of the strong opinion that “Man is to become divine by realising the divine. Idols or temples or churches or books are only the supports, the help, of his spiritual childhood: but on and on he must progress.”
Swami Vivekananda’s guru, Ramkrishna Paramhansa once asked Vivekananda to pick up a book, it was a book that contained a forecast of the rainfall during the year. He then asked Vivekananda to read, Vivekananda read out how much rainfall is expected this year, he further asked Vivekandna to squeeze the book and started laughing. “Why not a drop of water came out? Until the water comes out it is all book?” So “Until your religion makes you realise God it’s useless”.
Monotheistic cultures, especially Islam and its adherents have often ridiculed Hindus have often been ridiculed for idol worshipping and for many ceremonial celebrations. In fact, Idol worship is a part of the hate that is harboured for Hindus. While Christians often term it as Pagans worshipping the Satan or false Gods, in Islam, idolatry itself is a crime and hence, the Kafir must be annihilated or converted.
However, when one reads Vivekananda, one realises the ease with which the Swami ji had explained the foundation of idol worship. As Vivekananda said “We can no more think about anything without a mental image than we can live without breathing. By the law of association, the material image calls up the mental idea and vice versa. This is why the Hindu uses an external symbol when he worships”. Even while praying and receiving responses to the prayer it comes from our own nature, it means waking up the infinite power which is coiled up within us.
In his Chicago speech, Swami Vivekananda had eloquently described the epidemic of expansionism of religions.
He said (emphasis mine):
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.”
The words that are to me most revered in today’s day and age are when Swami Vivekananda says that if any religion dreams of the exclusive survival of his own religion and the destruction of the others, he pities them. He dreamt that one day, despite resistance from the extremists, the banner of every religion would read ‘Help and not fight’, ‘assimilation and not destruction’, ‘harmony and peace and not dissension’.
While many religions are fighting to establish their supremacy over the world, through terrorism and conversion, Hindus are not only admitting the faults in their religion but also showing the maturity to get rid of these faults. Hinduism has been an ever-evolving religion. It has shed several practices that have become redundant with time and modern sensibilities. While Hindus have the luxury of evolving seamlessly due to the absence of a codified religion, others have been slow to follow suit.
While the world battles with extremists, it would bode well for everyone, regardless of their religion to read the wise words of Swami Vivekananda.