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Implications of Swami Vivekananda's Speeches
At The Parliament of Religions: Chicago 1893

(Swami Vivekananda attended the World Parliament of Religions at Chicago from 11th September 1893 to 27th September 1893. He represented Hindu Religion and spoke on six occasions: 11th, 15th, 19th, 26th, and 27th September. His speeches require to be studied in more depth, for they are the forerunners of the Universal Religion to come.)

Till 1893 the philosophy of the Upanishads - Vedanta - remained confined to the land of India only. No messenger or prophet had taken it beyond the shores of Indian Subcontinent. In a way, Vedanta found itself restricted in its fuller manifestation due to India's segregation from the outside world. With the advent of Sri Ramakrishna the Vedanta was revived, and this tremendously reinvigorated Vedanta needed wider vistas for its expression to fullest potentiality. Thus, if I may say so, it was an act of Divine Will that Swami Vivekananda reached Chicago in the year 1893. The immanent divinity, as if, also made necessary arrangements for the unobtrusive fulfillment of his mission. We find true spiritual character and virtues in its messenger. The Teacher, Sri Ramakrishna, and the disciple, Swami Vivekananda, enacted the first scene of the drama at the Kali Temple of Dakshineswar, which found its culmination in the World Parliament of Religions.

Just five words "Sisters and Brothers of America" and the whole audience of seven thousand people rose to their feet and continued clapping for full three minutes; is this not a wonder? The speaker had never spoken on public platform; he had not come prepared with any written or pre-planned speech; he was just thirty years of age; still he captured the attention and adoration of foreign, learned, wealthy, and intelligent audience. Mother Saraswati, Goddess of Learning, put spiritual power in every word he spoke. And no wonder, that power reached the hearts of all, not only to those who were in the hall, but also to the hearts of those who were outside that building. It reached the persons in media and newspaper offices; it reached the learned professors and scholars, and it enlightened the ordinary and the special. The heart of America, as if, was affected by the spiritual fervour of the Swami.

What was so special about Swami Vivekananda's speech and words? The Swami was, first and foremost, a man of the Spirit, who had realized the ultimate Truth at the Holy feet of his Master. This was the most prominent facet of his multisided personality. His addresses were the manifestations of "Divinity within". Every word fist touched the Spirit, and then reached the ears of the listeners. The words were pregnant with truth, Eternal Truth. Those words had no limitations of time and place; those were not his, they represented the Truth of the past, present, and future. It was the perennial message of Vedanta, ever fresh and unchangeable. Those words defined the Truth: the Reality that never changes.

And America was also primed or ready to receive the new message. The usual dualistic teachings of almost every religion, including the Christianity, supplemented by the fact that Science had de facto replaced the religion in the West, had created necessary conditions for finding alternate philosophy or thought that would offer meaning to human life. The material comforts and sense pleasures, the routine based on mechanistic pattern of life, the hollowness and vacuum created in the thinking minds, the visible failure of Freud and Marx, all such and other half-hearted measures were found to be inadequate to quench the eternal thirst of human soul. The impassionate truth propounded by such great thinkers and saints as Whitman and Thoreau, Emerson and others reflected the universal spirit of the Gita and the Upanishad. Americans needed a certificate to substantiate the Truth of their messages and philosophy. Their learning and teaching required a stamp of approval from a knower of those truths. And that is exactly what the Swami did in his speeches and lectures.

On 19th September Swami Vivekananda rose to speak on and about Hinduism, but instead he 'created new Hinduism': Hinduism that for the first time proclaimed its universality outside its land of origin, and demanded its due - its role in establishing harmony of religions, its role as the basis of future universal religion. And why could Hinduism stake its claim? No Indian or Hindu, after coming in contact with the rational and modern thought of science and reason, could have visualized any goodness in his Religion with the prevalence of diabolical caste system and superstitious idol worship. Still, the Swami won the day on the merit contained in the Teachings of Vedanta; it was a victory of Jnana over the restrictive stranglehold of belief, dogma, and narrowness. The Swami freed the religion from the prison house of national and sectarian boundaries; he released it from creedal adherence and fanaticism. He loosened the suffocating stone that was grinding the voice of sanity, reason, and intuition in a persistent narrow grove.

As Swami Vivekananda said on that day in his "Paper on Hinduism": "From the high spiritual flights of the Vedanta philosophy, of which the latest discoveries of science seem like echoes, to the low ideas of idolatry with its multifarious mythology, the agnosticism of the Buddhists, and the atheism of the Jains, each and all have a place in the Hindu religion."

And indeed, the same can be said as regards to other religions of the world as well. This acceptance, adaptation, assimilation, or incorporation of the concepts and ideologies of various sects, religions, beliefs, systems, and creed, indeed, was the newness and freshness in the message of Swami Vivekananda. A true Hindu does not abhor idols or symbols, he does not look down upon immensity of numbers of personal Gods and Goddesses, he accepts them as necessary for a few, and on his part, if so spiritually advanced, accepts higher evolved concept of Impersonal God. He sees the religion and spirituality as a ladder, on the various rungs of which he can ascend or descend. No person is a sinner; everyone makes mistakes, but these get corrected with higher evolution of thought and intellect. So is the case with religion; Religion progresses not from error to truth, but from lower truth to higher truth. In a higher evolved state, it is not prudent to look down upon the previous mistakes or errors with disgust or disdain as "criminal follies".

None other than his Master, Sri Ramakrishna, had instilled in him this wonderful catholicity of heart and mind. At one time we see Sri Ramakrishna examining the almanac for suitable time to start his journey, and at the other we see him throwing off his Brahmin Thread around his chest. At one time we see him engrossed in worship with flowers and rituals, at the other we see him lost in the highest realization of the Formless. At one time we see Sri Ramakrishna unable to take food touched by worldly people, at the other we see him secretly entering the house of a sweeper and cleaning his toilet! These apparent contradictions in the behaviour of the Man of God initially perplexed the disciple, but soon he realized the central theme of assimilation and acceptance of all forms of religious thoughts and practices in his life.

As Romain Rolland says of Sri Ramakrishna: "The man whose image I here invoke was the consummation of two thousand years of the spiritual life of three hundred million people... His inner life embraced the whole multiplicity of men of Gods." The genius of Swami Vivekananda applied this particular theme to the general, and we see, at the Parliament, the evolution of wonderful concepts like a) Harmony of religions, b) Vedanta as the basis of future universal religion, and c) The necessity to end fanaticism and bigotry in all forms.
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