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Vivekananda: The Torch Still Burns

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By Maria Wirth

150 years on January 12, 2013, Swami Vivekananda was born (as Narendra Nath Datta). He emerged at a time when the British colonial masters had managed to destroy the self-esteem of Indians by skilfully crafting a negative image of Hinduism.

On September 11, 1893, he participated at the World Congress of Religions in Chicago in 1893 to represent Advaita Vedanta, one of the highest flowerings among the different Indian philosophical systems.  Advaita Vedanta postulates that basically, everything is a unity (a-dwaita = not two) – a view to which modern science now subscribes.

Swami Vivekananda  stood on the dais, a young man of 30, and began his talk by saying, “Sisters and brothers of America.” Thunderous applause greeted this address for several minutes. Why? “He was the only one who meant what he said,” a commentator explained at that time. This young man became world-famous. He contributed significantly to the renaissance of Indian wisdom in India and in the West. Vivekananda did not hesitate to tell his American audience frankly what he thought about their society. He considered it hypocritical. “What is the use of your proud talk about your society, if truth has no place in it?” he asked. “What you call progress is according to me nothing more than the multiplication of desires. And if one thing is clear to me it is this: desires bring misery.”

He was also critical of religion. He admitted that it was helpful for weak people, but asked, “Are not all prevalent religious practises weakening and therefore wrong?” He wanted strong human beings who would worship the spirit by the spirit. His ideal was to preach unto mankind their divinity and how to make it manifest in every movement of life. Swami Vivekananda was given a triumphal welcome on his return to India. Yet his health had suffered badly during his early wanderings across India, and he died in 1902, nine years after his spectacular success at the Congress. Nevertheless, Swami Vivekananda achieved great things. He restored pride of Indians in India’s wisdom and put the West, philosophically and socially, in its place. “Spirituality is as much a science as any in the world,” the Swami had declared. “It is about enquiry, analysis and finally intimately knowing and directly experiencing the truth.”

Full Text of Speech introducing Hinduism at the World Parliament of Religions, Chicago in 1893:

Swami Vivekananda in America 1893 from the 1993 movie Sw.Vivekananda

Complete Speech By Swami VivekAnand From Chicago ... - YouTube

Sisters and Brothers of America

It fills my heart with joy unspeakable to rise in response to the warm and cordial welcome which you have given us. l thank you in the 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 the 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 the southern India and took refuge with us in the 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 boyhood, which is every day repeated by millions of human beings:

As the different streams having there 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, through whatsoever form, I reach him; all men are struggling through paths which in the end lead to me.

Sectarianism, bigotry, and its 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.

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