Swami Vivekananda's Speeches

Swami Vivekananda statue at Shegaon
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Swami Vivekananda was a Hindu monk from India known for introducing many in the U.S. and Europe to Hinduism in the 1890s. His speeches at the World Parliament of Religions of 1893 offer an overview of his faith and a call for unity between the world's major religions.

Swami Vivekananda

Swami Vivekananda (Jan. 12, 1863, to July 4, 1902) was born Narendranath Datta in Calcutta. His family was well to do by Indian colonial standards, and he received a traditional British-style education.

There is little to suggest Datta was especially religious as a child or teen, but after his father died in 1884 Datta sought spiritual counsel from Ramakrishna, a noted Hindu teacher. 

Datta's devotion to Ramakrishna grew, and he became a spiritual mentor to the young man. In 1886, Datta made formal vows as a Hindu monk, taking the new name of Swami Vivekananda. Two years later, he left monastic life for one as a wandering monk and he traveled widely until 1893. During these years, he witnessed how India's underprivileged masses lived in abject poverty. Vivekananda came to believe it was his mission in life to uplift the poor through spiritual and practical education. 

The World Parliament of Religions

The World Parliament of Religions was a gathering of more than 5,000 religious officials, scholars, and historians representing the major world faiths. It was held Sept. 11 to 27, 1893, as part of the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago.

The gathering is considered to be the first global interfaith event in modern history. 

Excerpts From the Welcome Address

Swami Vivekananda delivered opening remarks to the parliament on Sept. 11, officially calling the gathering to order. He got as far as his opening, "Sisters and Brothers of America," before being interrupted by a standing ovation that lasted more than a minute.

In his address, Vivekananda quotes from the Bhagavad Gita and describes Hinduism's messages of faith and tolerance. He calls on the world's faithful to fight against "sectarianism, bigotry, and its horrible descendant, fanaticism."

"They have filled the earth with violence, drenched it often and often with human blood, destroyed civilization 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..." he told the assembly.

Excerpts From the Closing Address

Two weeks later at the close of the World Parliament of Religions, Swami Vivekananda spoke again. In his remarks, he praised participants and called for unity among the faithful. If people of different religions could gather at a conference, he said, then they could co-exist throughout the world.

"Do I wish that the Christian would become Hindu? God forbid. Do I wish that the Hindu or Buddhist would become Christian? God forbid...." he said.

"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."

After the Conference

The World Parliament of Religions was considered a side event at the Chicago World's Fair, one of the dozens that took place during the exposition. On the 100th anniversary of the gathering, another interfaith gathering took place Aug. 28 to Sept. 5, 1993, in Chicago. The Parliament of the World's Religions brought 150 spiritual and religious leaders together for dialogue and cultural exchanges. 

Swami Vivekananda's speeches were a highlight of the original World Parliament of Religions and he spent the next two years on a speaking tour of the U.S. and Great Britain. Returning to India in 1897, he founded Ramakrishna Mission, a Hindu charitable organization that still exists. He returned to the U.S. and U.K. again in 1899 and 1900, then returned to India where he died two years later.

Concluding Address: Chicago, Sept 27, 1893

The World's Parliament of Religions has become an accomplished fact, and the merciful Father has helped those who labored to bring it into existence and crowned with success their most unselfish labor.

My thanks to those noble souls whose large hearts and love of truth first dreamed this wonderful dream and then realized it. My thanks to the shower of liberal sentiments that has overflowed this platform. My thanks to this enlightened audience for their uniform kindness to me and for their appreciation of every thought that tends to smooth the friction of religions. A few jarring notes were heard from time to time in this harmony. My special thanks to them, for they have, by their striking contrast, made general harmony the sweeter.

Much has been said of the common ground of religious unity. I am not going just now to venture my own theory. But if anyone 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."

- Swami Vivekananda

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Das, Subhamoy. "Swami Vivekananda's Speeches." ThoughtCo, Aug. 20, 2017, thoughtco.com/swami-vivekanandas-speeches-1770689. Das, Subhamoy. (2017, August 20). Swami Vivekananda's Speeches. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/swami-vivekanandas-speeches-1770689 Das, Subhamoy. "Swami Vivekananda's Speeches." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/swami-vivekanandas-speeches-1770689 (accessed November 23, 2017).