(September 11, 2022 marks the 129th anniversary of his Chicago Address)
By: M.R. Lalu
What is September 11 known for? The sudden emotion pumps into the mind of an average person would be grief that the memories of a horrendous terror attack that the American state was traumatized by. Thousands of people being thrown under the debris of the twin towers, America’s hegemony propelled by its material success got shattered for a while in 2001. Destruction to a humongous magnitude takes time to evaporate from the sphere of memory. Tangential is its impact if lessons are not learned. But what about an initiative that appears to be minimal but enormous and consistent in its effect for decades and sure to stay for centuries? The visit paid by a saint to the land of affluence the U.S should be remembered for all positive reasons as India was known as the land of snake charmers and black magic among the western world, an epithet that it was sarcastically adorned with. The superstar saint Swami Vivekananda lived in India when the world was away from conceiving the idea of social media and visual media inventions. Still he became famous in America, the country that he chose to appraise his great thoughts of amity, compassion and intellectual veracity. Could a saint of his stature have planned such a journey with a purpose to emancipate a country that reeled under colonial rule with a spiritual churning as the task in hand? Vivekananda could do it with complete temerity.
Vivekananda’s visit to America and his historic speech in the World Parliament of Religions at Chicago on 11 September 1893 became a turning point in India’s course of spiritual journey. His mission was to revive the ancient glory of India to a western audience in the language that they understood. Philosophy can be presented at its best when words are aligned in tune with the impulse of the listener and spiritual values with metaphorical expositions hold the essence and presence of life in unison. The speeches that Vivekananda delivered on a foreign soil had an electrifying impact on an audience that often had the habit of underrating thoughts that the eastern world held supreme. Vivekananda accentuated the idea of Universal Brotherhood that India propagated from the ages of sages and the confidence and exuberance with which he managed the stage was brilliant. To a rapturous audience who initially sat in contempt with a visible belittling intent stood up cheering the guest from the east in saffron robes as he presented his views in the first speech. The real game began there. He enjoyed the largest audience ever since the first speech he made in the parliament. Curious listeners thronged in large numbers to capture a glimpse of the young yogi and drink from his beaker of wisdom and he left no stone unturned to make his points count.
Addressing the gathering as “Sisters and Brothers of America”, Vivekananda was giving a valuable insight on Universal Brotherhood to the hypocrisy that the colonial mindset of the west was enmeshed in. If the parliament of religions was held to superimpose the hegemony of the western semitic thoughts over other spiritual beliefs, Swami Vivekananda had unequivocally unseated the notion of western dominance in philosophy and spirituality. The speech that he began his intellectual fireworks with had a message to the world about a land and its religion that taught humanity toleration and universal acceptance. Of course, wonderful was his intellectual eloquence and his sparkling eyes reflected the penance that he strengthened his spiritual personality through. The element of surprise that India offered in the field of spirituality was this; an ordinary saint with no academic credentials to showcase his scholastic brilliance could mould an ordinary boy to a spiritual giant. The story of Ramakrishna and Vivekananda (teacher and student) would astonish every genuine seeker of the truth. A patriot to the core, Vivekananda had influenced everybody who jumped into the pyre of freedom movement. For him, spirituality supported by a patriotic fervour was the key to open the path to independence; an elevation of the country into its potential self was its outcome.
India, under colonial rule could not have heard words more powerful than those uttered by Vivekananda in a foreign soil. The brave monk said, “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 on earth.” Neither India nor its ancient religious beliefs could have been represented in words better than this. These statements in his opening speech could very well blow the lid of western hypocrisy. This was a goal half achieved for Vivekananda and the oratory he continued until the culmination of the Parliament of Religions gained tremendous admiration from students, intellectuals, philosophers and the western media. The storm that he created on a world stage got transmuted into a spiritual mission. Foreseeing the precariousness that the world religions are pushing humanity through, Vivekananda impressed upon the multiplicity that nature offered and the underlying unity of oneness that India, the ultimate spiritual destination, discovered and propagated. His critical examination on the semitic exclusive propaganda warned the world of severe consequences and alarm bells were rung against the fight and bloodshed that religions with rigid spiritual ethos were bound to bring.
Juxtaposing religious ideals of varying colours and trends and practices, Vivekananda could successfully prove the meaning of spiritual liberation. His direct attack on the Christian missionaries on their wayward and deceiving ways of proselytizing innocent Indians was the sign of a strong spiritual personality turning tables on a myopic yet belligerent western symbolism. Great was his effort and greater was its effect. The western mindset on India’s spiritual existence had changed tremendously since Vivekananda interacted with it. While invoking Vivekananda’s speech last year, Prime Minister Modi recalled the essence of his speech and its capacity to create a more just, prosperous and inclusive planet. When the world is reeling under religious fanaticism with bloodshed in the name of a single masculine almighty, throwing social coherence into perils, Vivekananda’s views stand out seamlessly focused on compassion and ethics. His comprehensive spiritual representation on the multitude that the world is, and the cohesion that it is capable of, is visible in his metaphorical narration. Vivekananda’s prayerful mind thus envisages, “As the different streams having their sources in different places all mingle their water in the sea. The different paths which men take through different tendencies, various though they appear crooked or straight, all lead to the same reality.” September 11 should evoke feelings of religious solidarity in a world of intolerance and acrimony.
(The author is a Freelance Journalist/Social Worker)
Swami Vivekananda’s speech that changed the global perspective
(September 11, 2022 marks the 129th anniversary of his Chicago Address)