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, Concluding address at the Parliament of Religions on September 27, 1893
Swami Vivekananda made a historic last moment appearance in the Parliament of Religions and made his mark. Though his speech on September 11 with the opening words of ‘Sisters and Brothers of America’ won everybody’s heart, it is the subsequent speeches of Swami Ji that make the coherent argument that represents our civilisation. When the entire world is facing the threat of terrorism, religious extremism and intolerance and domestically we are still grappling with the caste-based discrimination, regional tensions and the tendency of blaming Hindu philosophy of all the problems, there is a need to recotexualise Swami Vivekananda’s message that he delivered through his series of speeches.
Firstly, when Swamiji in his first speech declared, “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”, he was highlighting the Anglo-Saxon concept of ‘tolerance’. Saying that my path can only lead to salvation and I will tolerate you till you accept that path is not sufficient to ensure peace and harmony. Therefore, the idea of ‘universal acceptance’ is to be articulated and reestablished with academic sanctity above ‘tolerance’. The proponents of closed ideologies essentially want to deny this civilisational wisdom, and that is why they have issues with anything that is ‘Hindu’. For Swamiji, as it is clear from his speeches, Hindu is not a mere religion but a ‘worldview’ based on universal acceptance (all ways to be true), that needs to be understood and established.
The obvious corollary to the idea of universal acceptance is ‘universal brotherhood’. While explaining this in his September 15th address, Swamiji narrates a story called ‘frog in the well’, where a frog believes that nothing can be bigger than his well and therefore, he ensures ouster of a frog coming from the sea. The idea of ‘Muslim Brotherhood’, ‘Islamic Caliphate’ or Christendom’ or for that matter even communist block and capitalist block, essentially deny the idea of ‘universal brotherhood. The civilisational wisdom that accepts all ways to be true can only believe in the idea of ‘universal brotherhood’. For that, one has to tune it to this wisdom and philosophy, without changing the way of worship.
That is the reason, Swami Vivekananda while elaborating on the Vedic wisdom in his ‘Paper on Hinduism’ explains Hindu philosophy to be, “the accumulated treasury of spiritual laws discovered by different persons in different times” and not just a holy book, which cannot be improved upon.
Though Swamiji explains all this greatness about what he calls as ‘ the religious ideas of the Hindus’, he is well aware of the needs of his motherland and her children. In his later speeches, he is not ashamed of accepting that ‘the Hindu may have failed to carry out all his plans’ and ‘Buddhism – as the fulfilment of Hinduism’. While explaining that the religion is not the crying need of the East, he bluntly told the ‘West’, “You erect churches all through India, but the crying evil in the East is not religion — they have religion enough — but it is bread that the suffering millions of burning India cry out for with parched throats”.
The disparities and poverty are the root causes because of which we could not achieve the life mission of the Hindu nation, and therefore, after coming back to Bharat, instead of preaching spirituality, he makes ‘Nar-Seva, Narayan-Seva’ his mission. Unfortunately, he did not get much time to build an organisational mechanism to realise the goal of ‘Vishwaguru Bharat’, but with his inspiration, many movements and social projects are being undertaken individually and collectively. While globally rejecting the closed ideas and fighting for reestablishing the Hindu ethos, working for the discrimination-free and prosperous Bharat to realise the larger objective of leading the humanity to the path of “help and not flight”, “assimilation and not Destruction” and “Harmony and Peace and not Dessention”.