Even after a century, the words of the Indian Hindu monk, who inspired the West to understand the deep messages of Hinduism, still continue to be of relevance. Swami Vivekananda, the chief disciple of the 19th century scholar Saint Ramakrishna was born on 12 January and today marks his 150th birth anniversary.
It was in 1893, that for the first time, America got an 'effective' understanding into Hindu mysticism and spirituality. Dispelling the shallow ideas which considered India as the 'land of snake-charmers and naked saints,' Vivekananda opened the eyes of the West to Indian philosophies of Vedanta and Yoga. The 19th century thus saw Hinduism rise to the status of a major world religion.
On 11 September 1893, Vivekananda spoke for the first time in the US at the World Parliament of Religions. Vivekananda started his speech with a simple salutation - "Sisters and Brothers of America". It is reported that this simple opening line put a crowd of about 7,000 people into rapture, and they immediately gave him a three-minute standing ovation.
His message on that day was simple but something that is relevant even in modern times. It was a vision that called to end violence and fanaticism.
In retrospect, if one were to really think what was it that Vivekananda said that was so compelling to the Americans; it was not the choice of words but the simplicity of the message. It is a message that still needs to be heard over and over again, till each one of us, understand, what it means to be human.
Read Transcript of Swami Vivekananda's message on September 11, 1893:
"Sisters and Brothers of America.[He receives standing ovation for his opening remark!] It 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 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.
"My thanks 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 honor 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 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 childhood, 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.'
The 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, though whatsoever form, I reach him; all men are struggling through paths which in the end lead to me.'
Sectarianism, bigotry, and it's 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 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; and I fervently hope that the bell that tolled this morning in honor 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."
Quotes of Swami Vivekananda:
- All the powers in the universe are already ours. It is we who have put our hands before our eyes and cry that it is dark.
- We are what our thoughts have made us; so take care about what you think. Words are secondary. Thoughts live; they travel far.
- As different streams having different sources all mingle their waters in the sea, so different tendencies, various though they appear, crooked or straight, all lead to God.
- You cannot believe in God until you believe in yourself.
- Condemn none: if you can stretch out a helping hand, do so. If you cannot, fold your hands, bless your brothers, and let them go their own way.
- The whole secret of existence is to have no fear. Never fear what will become of you, depend on no one. Only the moment you reject all help are you freed.
- Take up one idea. Make that one idea your life - think of it, dream of it, live on that idea. Let the brain, muscles, nerves, every part of your body, be full of that idea, and just leave every other idea alone. This is the way to success.