Vice president of Vivekananda Kendra Kanyakumari Padmashri Sushri Nivedita Bhide feels that the relevance of 125th anniversary of Swami Vivekananda’s Chicago Speech lies in the fact how we internalise that message and how we follow it in practical life. Organiser Chief News Coordinator Dr Pramod Kumar spoke to her to know how the people should imbibe the message of that historic speech. Excerpts:
What is the significance of the 125th anniversary of Swami Vivekananda’s Chicago Speeches for the people world over today?
The significance of Swami Vivekananda’s Chicago speech even after 125 years is not only for Bharat and the Bharatiyas, but it is for the whole world. What he propagated or emphasised in Chicago speeches had some salient points. He explained the spirituality trans-individual practices or faiths of various countries or communities. Though we may have different faiths or different ways of worshipping God, all these lead to the vision of one nation. Everything reaches the same Ultimate. What is needed is rejection of none, recognising everything and following the spirituality which is beyond limiting God to only one form or one name, because That Itself is infinite. What is infinite cannot be limited to anything. If we limit, then somewhere we remain only religious, not spiritual. So, the real spiritual benefits that we should get from religious practices may not be received if we limit our conception of God to a specific form or name. This was the first thing related to that historic speech.
The second thing, which Swami Vivekananda himself called, is the distinguishing character of Hindu Dharma. It was for the whole humanity. He said man is not a sinner, he is not born without any purpose, but actually he has the purpose of life and that is to realise to manifest that divinity within. So, he gave a sort of meaning to life. Then life does not remain limited only to fulfilling the desires and acquiring the means for artha and kama. It becomes a driving force for realising one’s full potential or one’s divine nature. If we are born a sinner or if we are a
sinner, then whatever we may do, we can never get over our original nature. That was the second thing.
The third thing that Swamiji beautifully explained in scientific terms was that the search of science would come to an end when they find the one thing from which everything is born. For example, suppose in Physics if they find one energy or one force from which all other forces come whether it is magnetism, electricity, gravitational force, nuclear force, whatever it is, then the search of Physics is over. If we find one such material in Chemistry from which all other materials can be produced then the search of Chemistry is over or it is the culmination of Chemistry. Hence, the culmination of spirituality or the spiritual practices is in realising the oneness. Even the science is today realising that oneness. Whether it is in Nuclear Physics, Quantum Physics or Ecology, everywhere man is realising the interconnectedness, interrelatedness and interdependence of the existence. Therefore, the inculcation of the vision of oneness is essential. That will help even in the protection of the environment going hand in hand with the science and protection of the collectives like family, society and the whole creation. So, the basis of the human life is oneness.
The fourth thing which he boldly said in Chicago was that a Christian imagines that one day the whole world will be Christian. I petty him from the bottom of my heart. If any Muslim imagines or a Hindu imagines, he said, that is not possible because variety is the plan of nature. And therefore there cannot be only one God or only one path for the whole humanity. So, our efforts should be that a Christian becomes a better Christian, Hindu becomes a better Hindu and Muslim becomes a better Muslim. And we all should only become better in our traditions.
More than what divides us, we have to see what connects us. And that is what Swamiji said in the common message of Hinduism. We need to internalise it on this 125th anniversary
Swami Vivekananda at Parliament of the World’s Religions on Spetmber 11, 1893, Chicago
What is the significance of that speech for Bharat?
When Swamiji delivered that speech in 1893, Bharat had almost lost confidence in its own culture, dharma or even a purpose. When he propounded Hindu Dharma, the purpose of Bharat’s existence also became clear. Bharat has to help the world in spirituality because it is only in Bharat where we have nurtured the vision of oneness. We have even fashioned our life on that. That has been our approach to the nature. When he came back to India after the speech he said this nation has a mission to accomplish, a purpose to fulfill, a message to deliver. So, inspiration contributes for the progress of humanity. And Bharat’s contribution is spirituality i.e. getting rooted in oneself and leading the life in such a way that we bring harmony wherever we are whether in individual life, family life, social life or organisational life. This message of Swami Vivekananda invigorated Bharat so much that the nation, which was witnessing fast downfall, gradually started rising. It still continues. That was a great turning point for India and Indians. In a way it was also a great turning point for the whole humanity or for the human evolution. If we see the problems of mankind all over the world, the real problem is that our consciousness is not evolved and somewhere we limit ourselves. That is the work that Bharat has to do i.e. the evolution of the consciousness. That is what Bharat can do. It is a big task that Swamiji gave to us. And to do that we should first acquire the strength to be respected all over the world. Then only what we say or what we do will be followed.
The real problem before the mankind all over the world is that our consciousness is not evolved and somewhere we limit ourselves. That is the work that Bharat has to do. That is what we can do
The US has witnessed two 9/11—one in the form of Swami Vivekananda’s speech on September 11, 1893 and the second on September 11, 2001 in the form of a terror attack. How do you look at both these incidents?
What Swamiji said in Chicago speeches or what really fascinated any thinking person present there from any country or religion was somehow not internalised by the mankind. He had then said that we in the name of religion may have very violent bloodsheds and wars. If we insist that only my religion is true and all other religions are false, it will lead to further bloodsheds. The warning that Swamiji had given then was only witnessed on September 11, 2001.
Materialising Vivekananda’s Dreams: Vivekananda Rock Memorial, Kanyakumari
How is the Vivekananda Kendra celebrating this 125th anniversary?
We celebrate September 11 as Universal Brotherhood Day every year, because Swamiji gave the real message for universal brotherhood. Universal brotherhood is not the idea that if you become like me then only we will be brothers. Though we are different, let us understand what connects us and that is the reason of oneness. That is the fact that we all come from the same Divine Principle. We celebrate it every year. But this year we are celebrating it on a higher scale. The Kendra karyakartas generally take something for study every year. This year the Chicago speeches will be studied and discussed.
“Science is nothing but the finding of unity. As soon as science would reach perfect unity, it would stop from further progress, because it would reach the goal. Thus Chemistry could not progress farther when it would discover one element out of which all other could be made. Physics would stop when it would be able to fulfill its services in discovering one energy of which all others are but manifestations, and the science of religion become perfect when it would discover Him who is the one life in a universe of death, Him who is the constant basis of an ever-changing world. One who is the only Soul of which all souls are but delusive manifestations. Thus is it, through multiplicity and duality, that the ultimate unity is reached. Religion can go no farther. This is the goal of all science. All science is bound to come to this conclusion in the long run. Manifestation, and not creation, is the word of science today, and the Hindu is only glad that what he has been cherishing in his bosom for ages is going to be taught in more forcible language, and with further light from the latest conclusions of science”
- Swami Vivekananda, Paper on Hinduism read at the Parliament of Religions on September 19, 1893, Chicago
Your message to the countrymen on this 125th anniversary of Chicago speech!
Not as a message, I can urge all the people especially in India that Swamiji’s way of putting forward the essential principles of Hinduism was so perfect. We should study even his style or choice of words explaining the eternal principles in contemporary context. We should all study his Chicago speeches. He presented the paper on Hinduism addressing the Western audience. After returning from the US he delivered a speech at Lahore on the topic of “Common Message of Hinduism”. We should study that speech also. More than what divides us, we have to see what connects us. And that is what Swamiji said in the common message of Hinduism. That was we need to internalise. Just celebration is of no use, we have to internalise his message and work accordingly.
You refer to internalisation of the message. But the reading habit of the young generation is gradually declining and they prefer brief content in digital format. Is there any plan to offer them the content in the format of their choice?
Our experience has been different. It is not that they are not interested. We have to, sometime, go in a different way. For example, they study a particular book for examination. It is too difficult, because they have to appear in the exams on that book. But we tell the youth that after reading this particular book you will get the chance to stay together and learn the leadership techniques. Every year about 40-50,000 students study books that we prescribe them. Sometimes we also conduct quiz. We prescribe a syllabus and organise a quiz on that. Sometimes we ask for a street play on the portion we give them. Many youths respond very well.
“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, Address at the final session of Parliament of Religions on September 27, 1893, Chicago