Chapter 19: Sw„mi Vivek„nanda's
Addresses at the 1893 World Parliament of Religions
Swami Vivek„nanda's addresses at the World Parliament of Religions that opened
in Chicago in September, 1893 are invaluable for the clarity and authority with
which Sw„miji interpreted the religious and spiritual themes of Hindus for the
Western world. Speaking from the depths of his own spiritual experience, which
he had attained at the feet of his beloved guru (teacher) Paramahamsa Sri
R„makrishna, Sw„miji distinctly illustrated the essence of the Hindu religious
and spiritual tradition in his six addresses at the Parliament of Religions.
These addresses are included here from the publication: Chicago Addresses,
Swami Vivek„nanda, with permission from its publisher: Advaita Ashram,
Calcutta, India. It is believed that these addresses will help the reader to
gain a better understanding of the Hindu religious and spiritual insight.
The World Parliament of Religions was a notable event in mankind's long
search for spiritual harmony. Swami Vivek„nanda was not an official delegate to
the parliament. Nor did he appear at the doors of Chicago with any credentials.
He had been sent across the Pacific Ocean by the inspiration of a few of his
brother-disciples in Madras. The impelling force, however, that finally drove Sw„mi
Vivek„nanda to the foreign lands was the spiritual genius of Paramahamsa Sri R„makrishna,
Sw„miji's revered guru.
Thus at the time the World Parliament was to be held in Chicago, Sw„miji
happened to be in America. In Boston he met Harvard Professor J. H. Wright, who
had attended Sw„miji's talks at a church in Boston. After talking with Sw„miji,
Prof. Wright learned that Sw„miji had neither come for the specific purpose of
attending the Parliament of Religions at Chicago, nor had he been invited as an
official delegate to this world event. A letter of introduction from Prof.
Wright-who was himself one of the organizers of the Parliament-that read in part
"Here is a man who is more learned than our learned professors put
together," enabled Vivek„nanda to gain admission and an opportunity to
address the Parliament.
The Parliament of Religions opened in Chicago on September 11, 1893. The
official delegates represented organized religions professed by the then 1200
million people of the world. The meeting was chaired by Cardinal Gibbons of the
Roman Catholic Church. One by one the Chairman called the delegates who read
their prepared speeches to the audience of over seven thousand people, who had
come from all walks of life and from all over the United States to share the
unique experience. When Swami Vivek„nanda was called to give his speech, he
requested the Chairman to postpone his speech until later. Sw„miji neither had
a prepared speech to read from, nor had he any previous experience of addressing
such a unique assembly. He was visibly nervous, which he admitted later in the
words: "Of course my heart was fluttering and my tongue nearly dried up. I
was so nervous that I could not venture to speak in the morning session."
Again Sw„miji was called to give his speech and again he requested a
deferment. This happened several times and finally he came to the rostrum and
Dr. Barrows introduced him to the audience. Sw„miji bowed to Goddess SaraswatÓ,
the Goddess of learning, and addressed the audience with the historic words,
"Sisters and Brothers of America." Upon hearing these five words,
thousands in the audience immediately stood up and gave an applause that lasted
for over two minutes.
The men and women in the audience were deeply moved to see a man who had
discarded the formal words "Ladies and Gentlemen" and had addressed
them with the love and warmth of a brother. Although the audience had already
heard the theme of universal brotherhood from the earlier speakers, Sw„miji's
words reflected spontaneous realization of the spiritual oneness of mankind or
unity of existence-the Hindu vision of the world. By addressing the audience as
sisters and brothers, Sw„miji assured them that each person is a spark of the
divine, thus lifting the heavy burden of sin from many a Christian shoulders.
After the long applause had subsided, Sw„miji delivered a thundering speech
revealing the Hindu spirit of toleration and harmony and the Hindu vision of the
cosmic family (vasudhaiva kutumbakam).
Miss Harriet Monroe, an American poet, recorded her impression of Sw„miji's
performance in these words: "It was the last of these, Swami Vivek„nanda
the magnificent, who stole the show and captured the town.....The handsome man
in the orange robe gave us, in perfect English, a masterpiece. His personality,
dominant, magnetic; his voice rich as a bronze bell; the controlled fervor of
his feeling; the beauty of his message to the Western world he was facing for
the first time; these combined to give a perfect moment of supreme emotion. It
was human eloquence at its highest pitch."
Response to Welcome (9/11/1893)
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. I 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 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 their sources in different places all mingle their water in the
sea, 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 GÓt„: "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.
Why We Disagree (9/15/1893)
I will tell you a little story. You have heard the eloquent speaker who has
just finished say, "Let us cease from abusing each other," and he was
very sorry that there should be always so much variance.
But I think I should tell you a story which would illustrate the cause of
this variance. A frog lived in a well. It had lived there for a long time. It
was born there and brought up there, and yet was a little, small frog. Of
course, the evolutionists were not there then to tell us whether the frog lost
its eyes or not, but, for our story's sake, we must take it for granted that it
had its eyes, and that it every day cleansed the water of all the worms and
bacilli that lived in it with an energy that would do credit to our modern
bacteriologists. In this way it went on and became a little sleek and fat. Well,
one day another frog that lived in the sea came and fell into the well.
" Where are you from?"
"I am from the sea."
"The sea! How big is that? Is it as big as my well?"- and he took a
leap from one side of the well to the other.
"My friend," said the frog of the sea, "how do you compare the
sea with your little well?"
Then the frog took another leap and asked, "Is your sea so big?"
"What nonsense you speak, to compare the sea with your well!"
"Well, then, said the frog of the well, "nothing can be bigger than
my well; there can be nothing bigger than this; this fellow is a liar, so turn
That has been the difficulty all the while. I am a Hindu. I am sitting in my
own little well and thinking that the whole world is my little well. The
Christian sits in his little well and thinks the whole world is his well. The
Mohammedan sits in his little well and thinks that is the whole world. I have to
thank you of America for the great attempt you are making to break down the
barriers of this little world of ours, and hope that, in the future, the Lord
will help you to accomplish your purpose.
Paper on Hinduism (9/19/1893)
Three religions now stand in the world which have come down to us from time
prehistoric - Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, and Judaism. They have all received
tremendous shocks, and all of them prove by their survival their internal
strength. But while Judaism failed to absorb Christianity and was driven out of
its place of birth by its all-conquering daughter, and a handful of Parsees is
all that remains to tell the tale of their grand religion, sect after sect arose
in India and seemed to shake the religion of the Vedas to its very foundations,
but like the waters of the sea-shore in a tremendous earthquake it receded only
for a while, only to return in an all-absorbing flood, a thousand times more
vigorous, and when the tumult of the rush was over, these sects were all sucked
in, absorbed and assimilated into the immense body of the mother faith.
From the high spiritual flights of the Vedanta philosophy, of which the
latest discoveries of science seem like echoes, to the low ideas of idolatry
with its multifarious mythology, the agnosticism of the Buddhists and the
atheism of the Jains, each and all have a place in the Hindu's religion.
Where then, the question arises, where is the common center to which all
these widely diverging radii converge? Where is the common basis upon which all
these seemingly hopeless contradictions rest? And this is the question I shall
attempt to answer.
The Hindus have received their religion through revelation, the Vedas. They
hold that the Vedas are without beginning and without end. It may sound
ludicrous to this audience, how a book can be without beginning or end. But by
the Vedas no books are meant. They mean the accumulated treasury of spiritual
laws discovered by different persons in different times. Just as the law of
gravitation existed before its discovery, and would exist if all humanity forgot
it, so is it with the laws that govern the spiritual world. The moral, ethical
and spiritual relations between soul and soul and between individual spirits and
the Father of all spirits were there before their discovery, and would remain
even if we forgot them.
The discoverers of these laws are called Rishis, and we honor them as
perfected beings. I am glad to tell this audience that some of the very greatest
of them were women.
Here it may be said that these laws as laws may be without end, but they must
have had a beginning. The Vedas teach us that creation is without beginning or
end. Science is said to have proved that the sum total of cosmic energy is
always the same. Then, if there was a time when nothing existed, where was all
this manifested energy? Some say it was in a potential form in God. In that case
God is sometimes potential and sometimes kinetic, which would make Him mutable.
Everything mutable is a compound, and everything compound must undergo that
change which is called destruction. So God would die, which is absurd. Therefore
there never was a time when there was no creation.
If I may be allowed to use simile, creation and creator are two lines,
without beginning and without end, running parallel to each other. God is the
ever-active providence, by whose power systems after systems are being evolved
out of chaos, made to run for a time, and again destroyed. This is what the
Brahmin boy repeats every day: "The sun and the moon, the Lord created
like the suns and moons of previous cycles." And this agrees with
Here I stand and if I shut my eyes, and try to conceive my existence,
"I," "I," "I," what is the idea before me? The
idea of a body. Am I, then, nothing but a combination of material substances?
The Vedas declare, "No." I am a spirit living in a body. I am not the
body. The body will die, but I shall not die. Here am I in this body; it will
fall, but I shall go on living. I had also a past. The soul was not created, for
creation means a combination, which means a certain future dissolution. If then
the soul was created, it must die. Some are born happy, enjoy perfect health
with beautiful body, mental vigor, and all wants supplied. Others are born
miserable; some are without hands or feet; others again are idiots, and only
drag on a wretched existence. Why, if they are all created, why does a just and
merciful God create one happy and another unhappy, why is He so partial? Nor
would it mend matters in the least to hold that those who are miserable in this
life will be happy in a future one. Why should a man be miserable even here in
the reign of a just and merciful God?
In the second place, the idea of a creator God does not explain the anomaly,
but simply expresses the cruel fiat of an all-powerful being. There must have
been causes, then, before his birth, to make a man miserable or happy and those
were his past actions.
Are not all the tendencies of the mind and the body accounted for by
inherited aptitude? Here are two parallel lines of existence-one of the mind,
the other of matter. If matter and its transformations answer for all that we
have, there is no necessity for supposing the existence of a soul. But it cannot
be proved that thought has been evolved out of matter; and if a philosophical
[intellectual] monism is inevitable, spiritual monism is certainly logical and
no less desirable than a materialistic monism; but neither of these is necessary
We cannot deny that bodies acquire certain tendencies from heredity, but
those tendencies only mean the physical configuration through which a peculiar
mind alone can act in a peculiar way. There are other tendencies peculiar to a
soul caused by his past actions. And a soul with a certain tendency would, by
the laws of affinity, take birth in a body which is the fittest instrument for
the display of that tendency. This is in accord with science, for science wants
to explain everything by habit, and habit is got through repetitions. So
repetitions are necessary to explain the natural habits of a newborn soul. And
since they were not obtained in this present life, they must have come down from
There is another suggestion. Taking all these for granted, how is it that I
do not remember anything of my past life? This can be easily explained. I am now
speaking English. It is not my mother tongue; in fact, no words of my mother
tongue are now present in my consciousness; but let me try to bring them up, and
they rush in. That shows that consciousness is only the surface of the mental
ocean, and within its depths are stored up all our experiences. Try and
struggle, they would come up, and you would be conscious even of your past life.
This is direct and demonstrative evidence. Verification is the perfect proof
of a theory, and here is the challenge thrown to the world by the Rishis.
We have discovered the secret by which the very depths of the ocean of memory
can be stirred up. Try it and you would get a complete reminiscence of your past
So then the Hindu believes that he is a spirit. Him the sword cannot pierce,
him the fire cannot burn, him the water cannot melt, him the air cannot dry. The
Hindu believes that every soul is a circle whose circumference is nowhere but
whose center is located in the body, and that death means the change of this
center from body to body. Nor is the soul bound by the conditions of matter. In
its very essence, it is free, unbounded, holy, pure, and perfect. But somehow or
other it finds itself tied down to matter, and thinks of itself as matter.
Why should the free, perfect and pure being be thus under the thralldom of
matter, is the next question. How can the perfect soul be deluded into the
belief that it is imperfect? We have been told that the Hindus shirk the
question and say that no such question can be there. Some thinkers want to
answer it by positing one or more quasi-perfect beings, and use big scientific
names to fill up the gap. But naming is not explaining. How can the perfect
become the quasi-perfect; how can the pure, the absolute change even a
microscopic particle of its nature? But the Hindu is sincere. He does not want
to take shelter under sophistry. He is brave enough to face the question in a
manly fashion; and his answer is: "I do not know. I do not know how the
perfect being, the soul, came to think of itself as imperfect, as joined to and
conditioned by matter." But the fact is a fact for all that. It is a fact
in everybody's consciousness that one thinks of oneself as the body. The Hindu
does not attempt to explain why one thinks one is the body. The answer that it
is the will of God is no explanation. This is nothing more than what the Hindu
says, "I don't know."
Well, then, the human soul is eternal and immortal, perfect and infinite, and
death means only a change of center from one body to another. The present is
determined by our past actions, and the future by the present. The soul will go
on evolving up or reverting back from birth to birth and death to death. But
here is another question: Is man a tiny boat in a tempest, raised one moment on
the foamy crest of a billow and dashed down into a yawning chasm the next,
rolling to and fro at the mercy of good and bad actions-a powerless, helpless
wreck in an ever-raging, ever-rushing, uncompromising current of cause and
effect-a little moth placed under the wheel of causation, which rolls on
crushing everything in its way and waits not for the widow's tears or the
orphan's cry? The heart sinks at the idea, yet this is the law of nature. Is
there no hope? Is there no escape? The cry that went up from the bottom of the
heart of despair, reached the throne of mercy, and words of hope and consolation
came down and inspired a Vedic sage, and he stood up before the world and in
trumpet voice proclaimed the glad tidings: "Hear, ye children of immortal
bliss! I have found the Ancient One who is beyond all darkness, all delusion;
knowing Him alone you shall be saved from death over again." "Children
of immortal bliss"-what a sweet, what a hopeful name! Allow me to call you,
brethren, by that sweet name-heirs of immortal bliss. Yea, the Hindu refuses to
call you sinners. We are the Children of God, the sharers of immortal bliss,
holy and perfect beings. Ye divinities on earth-sinners! It is a sin to call a
man so; it is standing libel on human nature. Come up, O lions, and shake off
the delusion that you are sheep; you are souls immortal, spirits free, blest and
eternal; ye are not matter, ye are not bodies; matter is your servant, not you
the servant of matter.
Thus it is that the Vedas proclaim not a dreadful combination of unforgiving
laws, not an endless prison of cause and effect, but that at the head of all
these laws, in and through every particle of matter and force, stands One,
"by whose command the wind blows, the fire burns, the clouds rain, and
death stalks upon the earth".
And what is His nature?
He is everywhere, the pure and formless One, the Almighty and the
All-merciful. "Thou art our father, Thou art our mother, Thou art our
beloved friend. Thou art the source of all strength; give us strength. Thou
art He that beareth the burdens of the universe; help me bear the little
burden of this life." Thus sang the Rishis of the Veda. And how to worship
Him? Through love. "He is to be worshipped as the one beloved, dearer than
everything in this and the next life."
This is the doctrine of love declared, developed and taught by Krishna whom
the Hindu believe to have been God incarnate on earth.
He taught that a man ought to live in this world like a lotus leaf, which
grows in water but is never moistened by water; so a man ought to live in the
world-his heart to God and his hands to work.
It is good to love God for hope of reward in this or the next world, but it
is better to love God for love's sake; and the prayer goes: "Lord, I do not
want wealth nor children nor learning. If it be Thy will, I shall go from birth
to birth; but grant me this, that I may love Thee without the hope of
reward-love unselfishly for love's sake." One of the disciples of Krishna,
the then Emperor of India, was driven from his kingdom by his enemies and had to
take shelter with his queen, in a forest in the Himalayas and there one day the
queen asked him how it was that he, the most virtuous of men, should suffer so
much misery. Yudhishthira answered, "Behold, my queen, the Himalayas, how
grand and beautiful they are; I love them. They do not give me anything but my
nature is to love the grand, the beautiful, therefore I love them. Similarly, I
love the Lord. He is the source of all beauty, of all sublimity. He is the only
object to be loved; my nature is to love Him, and therefore I love. I do not
pray for anything; I do not ask for anything. Let Him place me wherever He
likes. I must love Him for love's sake. I cannot trade in love."
The Vedas teach that the soul is divine, only held in the bondage of matter;
perfection will be reached when this bond will burst, and the word they use for
it is, therefore, Mukti-freedom, freedom from the bonds of imperfection, freedom
from death and misery.
And this bondage can only fall off through the mercy of God, and this mercy
comes on the pure. So purity is the condition of His mercy. How does that mercy
act? He reveals Himself to the pure heart; the pure and the stainless see God,
yea, even in this life; then and then only all the crookedness of the heart is
made straight. Then all doubt ceases. He is no more the freak of a terrible law
of causation. This is the very center, the very vital conception or Hinduism.
The Hindu does not want to live upon words and theories. If there are existences
beyond the ordinary sensuous existence, he wants to come face to face with them.
If there is a soul in him which is not matter, if there is an all-merciful
universal Soul, he will go to Him direct. He must see Him, and that alone can
destroy all doubts. So the best proof a Hindu sage gives about the soul, about
God, is: "I have seen the soul; I have seen God." And that Hindu
religion does not consist in struggles and attempts to believe a certain
doctrine or dogma, but in realizing-not in believing, but in being and becoming.
Thus the whole object of their system is by constant struggle to become
perfect, to become divine, to reach God, and see God; and this reaching God,
seeing God, becoming perfect even as the Father in Heaven is perfect,
constitutes the religion of the Hindus.
And what becomes of a man when he attains perfection? He lives a life of
bliss infinite. He enjoys infinite and perfect bliss, having obtained the only
thing in which man ought to have pleasure, namely God, and enjoys the bliss with
So far all the Hindus are agreed. This is the common religion of all the
sects of India; but then perfection is absolute, and the absolute cannot be two
or three. It cannot have any qualities. It cannot be an individual. And so when
a soul becomes perfect and absolute, it must become one with Brahman, and it
would only realize the Lord as the perfection, the reality, of its own nature
and existence, the existence absolute, knowledge absolute, and bliss absolute.
We have often and often read this called the losing of individuality and
becoming a stock or a stone.
"He jests at scars that never felt a wound."
I tell you it is nothing of the kind. If it is happiness to enjoy the
consciousness of this small body, it must be greater happiness to enjoy the
consciousness of two bodies, the measure of happiness increasing with the
consciousness of an increasing number of bodies, the aim, the ultimate of
happiness, being reached when it would become a universal consciousness.
Therefore, to gain this infinite universal individuality, this miserable
little prison-individuality must go. Then alone can death cease when I am one
with life, then alone can misery cease when I am one with happiness itself, then
alone can all errors cease when I am one with knowledge itself; and this is the
necessary scientific conclusion. Science has proved to me that physical
individuality is a delusion, that really my body is one little continuously
changing body in an unbroken ocean of matter, and Advaita (unity) is the
necessary conclusion with my other counterpart, Soul.
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 others could be made. Physics would stop when it would
be able to fulfill its services in discovering one energy of which all the
others are but manifestations, and the science of religion becomes 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.
Descend we now from the aspirations of philosophy to the religion of the
ignorant. At the very outset, I may tell you that there is no polytheism
in India. In every temple, if one stands by and listens, one will find the
worshippers applying all the attributes of God, including omnipresence, to the
images. It is not polytheism, nor would the name henotheism explain the
"The rose, called by any other name, would smell as sweet." Names
are not explanations.
I remember, as a boy, hearing a Christian missionary preach to a crowd in
India. Among other sweet things he was telling them was, that if he gave a blow
to their idol with his stick, what could it do? One of his hearers sharply
answered, "If I abuse your God, what can He do?" "You would be
punished," said the preacher, "when you die." "So my idol
will punish you when you die," retorted the Hindu.
The tree is known by its fruits. When I have seen amongst them that are
called idolaters, men, the like of whom, in morality and spirituality and love,
I have never seen anywhere, I stop and ask myself, "Can sin beget
Superstition is a great enemy of man, but bigotry is worse. Why does a
Christian go to church? Why is the cross holy? Why is the face turned toward the
sky in prayer? Why are there so many images in the Catholic Church? Why are
there so many images in the minds of Protestants when they pray? My brethren, we
can no more think about anything without a mental image than we can live without
breathing. By the law of association the material image calls up the mental idea
and vice versa. This is why the Hindu uses an external symbol when he worships.
He will tell you, it helps to keep his mind fixed on the Being to whom he prays.
He knows as well as you do that the image in not God, is not omnipresent. After
all, how much does omnipresence mean to almost the whole world? It stands merely
as a word, a symbol. Has God superficial area? If not, when we repeat that word
"omnipresent", we think of the extended sky, or of space - that is
As we find that somehow or other, by the laws of our mental constitution, we
have to associate our ideas of infinity with the image of the blue sky, or of
the sea, so we naturally connect our idea of holiness with the image of a
church, a mosque, or a cross. The Hindus have associated the ideas of holiness,
purity, truth, omnipresence, and such other ideas with different images and
forms. But with this difference that while some people devote their whole lives
to their idol of a church and never rise higher, because with them religion
means an intellectual assent to certain doctrines and doing good to their
fellows, the whole religion of the Hindu is centered in realization. Man is to
become divine by realizing the divine. Idols or temples or churches or books are
only the supports, the helps, of his spiritual childhood; but on and on he must
He must not stop anywhere. "External worship, material worship,"
say the scriptures, "is the lowest stage; struggling to rise high,
mental prayer is the next stage, but the highest stage is when the Lord has been
realized." Mark, the same earnest man who is kneeling before the idol
tell you, "Him the sun cannot express, nor the moon, nor the stars, the
lightning cannot express Him, nor what we speak of as fire; through Him they
shine." But he does not abuse any one's idol or call its worship sin.
He recognizes in it a necessary stage of life. "The child is father of
the man." Would it be right for an old man to say that childhood is a
sin or youth a sin?
If a man can realize his divine nature with the help of an image, would it be
right to call that a sin? Nor, even when he has passed that stage, should he
call it an error. To the Hindu, man is not traveling from error to truth, but
from truth to truth, from lower to higher truth. To him all the religions, from
the lowest fetishism to the highest absolutism, mean so many attempts of the
human soul to grasp and realize the Infinite, each determined by the conditions
of its birth and association, and each of these marks a stage of progress; and
every soul is a young eagle soaring higher and higher, gathering more and more
strength till it reaches the glorious sun.
Unity in variety is the plan of nature, and the Hindu has recognized it Every
other religion lays down certain fixed dogmas and tries to force society to
adopt them. It places before society only one coat which must fit Jack and John
and Henry, all alike. If it does not fit John or Henry, he must go without a
coat to cover his body. The Hindus have discovered that the absolute can only be
realized, or thought of, or stated through the relative, and the images, crosses
and crescents are simply so many symbols - so many pegs to hang spiritual ideas
on. It is not that this help is necessary for everyone, but those that do not
need it have no right to say that it is wrong. Nor is it compulsory in Hinduism.
One thing I must tell you. Idolatry in India does not mean anything horrible.
It is not the mother of harlots. On the other hand, it is the attempt of
undeveloped minds to grasp high spiritual truths. The Hindus have their faults,
they sometimes have their exceptions; but mark this, they are always for
punishing their own bodies, and never for cutting the throats of their
neighbors. If the Hindu fanatic burns himself on the pyre, he never lights the
fire of Inquisition. And even this cannot be laid at the door of his religion
any more than the burning of witches can be laid at the door of Christianity.
To the Hindu, then, the whole world of religions is only a traveling, a
coming up, of different men and women, through various conditions and
circumstances, to the same goal. Every religion is only evolving a God out of
the material man, and the same God is the inspirer of all of them. Why, then,
are there so many contradictions? They are only apparent, says the Hindu. The
contradictions come from the same truth adapting itself to the varying
circumstances of different natures.
It is the same light coming through the glasses of different colors. And
these little variations are necessary for purposes of adaptation. But in the
heart of everything the same truth reigns. The Lord has declared to the Hindu in
His incarnation as Krishna: "I am in every religion as the thread
through a string of pearls. Wherever thou seest extraordinary holiness and
extraordinary power raising and purifying humanity, know thou that I am
there." And what has been the result? I challenge the world to find,
throughout the whole system of Sanskrit philosophy, any such expression as that
the Hindu alone will be saved and not others. Says Vyasa, "We find perfect
men even beyond the pale of our caste and creed." One thing more. How,
then, can the Hindu, whose whole fabric of thought centers in God, believe in
Buddhism which is agnostic, or in Jainism which is atheistic?
The Buddhists or Jains do not depend upon God; but the whole force of their
religion is directed to the great central truth in every religion, to evolve a
God out of man. They have not seen the Father, but they have seen the Son. And
"he that hath seen the Son hath seen the Father also."
This, brethren, is a short sketch of the religious ideas of the Hindus. The
Hindu may have failed to carry out all his plans, but if there is ever to be a
universal religion, it must be one which will have no location in place or time;
which will be infinite like the God it will preach, and whose sun will shine
upon the followers of Krishna and Christ, on saints and sinners alike; which
will not be Brahmanic or Buddhistic, Christian or Mohammedan, but the sum total
of all these, and still have infinite space for development; which in its
catholicity will embrace in infinite arms, and find a place for, every human
being from the lowest groveling savage, not far removed from the brute, to the
highest man towering by the virtues of his head and heart almost above humanity,
making society stand in awe of him and doubt his human nature. It will be a
religion which will have no place for prosecution or intolerance in its polity,
which will recognize divinity in every man and woman, and whose whole scope,
whose whole force, will be centered in aiding humanity to realize its own true,
Offer such religion and all the nations will follow you. Ashoka's council was
a council of the Buddhist faith. Akbar's, though more to the purpose, was only a
parlor meeting. It was reserved for America to proclaim to all quarters of the
globe that the Lord is in every religion.
May He who is the Brahman of the Hindu, the Ahura-Mazda of the Zoroastrians,
the Buddha of the Buddhists, the Jehovah of the Jews, the Father in Heaven of
the Christians, give strength to you to carry out your noble ideal! The star
arose in the East; it traveled steadily towards the West, sometimes dimmed and
sometimes effulgent, till it made a circuit of the world, and now it is again
rising on the very horizon of the East, the borders of the Sanpo (see Note), a
thousand-fold more effulgent than it ever was before.
Hail Columbia, motherland of liberty! It has given to thee, who never dipped
her hand in her neighbor's blood, who never found out that the shortest way of
becoming rich was by robbing one's neighbors, it has been given to thee to march
at the vanguard of civilization with the flag of harmony.
Note: Sanpo is a Tibetan name for the Brahamaputra River, India. According to
the World's Parliament of Religions (Chicago: The Parliament Publishing
Company, 1893), Vol. II, pp. 978, the word is "Tasifu." Marie Louise
Burke in her book Swami Vivek„nanda in the West: New Discoveries: His
Prophetic Mission (Mayavati: Advaita Ashram, 1983), Vol. I, pp. 143-44,
opines that the word should be "Pacific."
Religion is Not the Crying Need for India (9/20/1893)
Christians must always be ready for good criticism and I hardly think that
you will mind if I make a little criticism. You Christians, who are so fond of
sending out missionaries to save the soul of the heathen-why do you not try to
save their bodies from starvation? In India, during the terrible famines,
thousands died from hunger, yet you Christians did nothing. You erect churches
all through India, but the crying evil in the East is not religion-they have
religion enough-but it is the bread that the suffering millions of burning India
cry out for with parched throats. They ask us for bread, but we give them stones
[churches]. It is an insult to starving people to offer them religion; it is an
insult to a starving man to teach him metaphysics. In India a priest that
preached for money would lose cast and be spat upon by the people. I came here
to seek aid for my impoverished people, and I fully realized how difficult it
was to get help for heathens from Christians in a Christian land.
Buddhism, the Fulfillment of Hinduism (9/26/93)
I am not a Buddhist, as you have heard, and yet I am. If China, or Japan, or
Ceylon follow the teachings of the Great Master, India worships him as God
incarnate on earth. You have just now heard that I am going to criticize
Buddhism, but by that I wish you to understand only this. Far be it from me to
criticize him who I worship as God incarnate on earth. But our views about
Buddha are that he was not understood properly by his disciples. The relation
between Hinduism (by Hinduism, I mean the religion of the Vedas) and what is
called Buddhism at the present day, is nearly the same as between Judaism and
Christianity. Jesus Christ was a Jew, and Shakya Muni was a Hindu. The Jews
rejected Jesus Christ, nay, crucified him, and the Hindus have accepted Shakya
Muni as God and worship him. But the real difference that we Hindus want to show
between modern Buddhism and what we should understand as the teachings of Lord
Buddha, lies principally in this: Shakya Muni came to preach nothing new. He
also, like Jesus, came to fulfill and not to destroy. Only, in the case of
Jesus, it was the old people, the Jews, who did not understand him, while in the
case of Buddha, it was his own followers who did not realize the import of his
teachings. As the Jew did not understand the fulfillment of the Old Testament,
so the Buddhist did not understand the fulfillment of the truths of the Hindu
religion. Again, I repeat, Shakya Muni came not to destroy, but he was the
fulfillment, the logical conclusion, the logical development of the religion of
The religion of the Hindus is divided into two parts, the ceremonial and the
spiritual; the spiritual portion is specially studied by the monks. In that
there is no caste. A man from the highest caste and a man from the lowest caste
become a monk in India and the two castes become equal. In religion there is no
caste; caste is simply a social institution. Shakya Muni himself was a monk, and
it was his glory that he had the large-heartedness to bring out the truths from
the hidden Vedas and throw them broadcast all over the world. He was the first
being who brought missionarizing into practice-nay, he was the first to conceive
the idea of proselytizing.
The great glory of the Master lay in his wonderful sympathy for everybody,
especially for the ignorant and the poor. Some of his disciples were Brahmins.
When Buddha was teaching, Sanskrit was no more the spoken language in India. It
was then only in the books of the learned. Some of Buddha's Brahmin disciples
wanted to translate his teachings into Sanskrit, but he distinctly told them,
"I am for the poor, for the people: let me speak in the language of the
people." And so to this day the great bulk of his teachings are in the
vernacular of the day in India.
Whatever may be the position of the philosophy, whatever may be the position
of the metaphysics, so long as there is such a thing as death in the world, so
long as there is such a thing as weakness in the human heart, so long as there
is a cry going out of the heart of man in his very weakness, there shall be a
faith in God.
On the philosophic side, the disciples of the Great Master dashed themselves
against the eternal rocks of the Vedas and could not crush them, and on the
other side they took away from the nation that eternal God to which everyone,
man or woman, clings so fondly. And the result was that Buddhism had to die a
natural death in India. At the present day there is not one who calls himself
Buddhist in India, the land of its birth.
But at the same time, Brahminism lost something-that reforming zeal, that
wonderful sympathy and charity for everybody, that wonderful leaven which
Buddhism had brought to the masses and which had rendered Indian society so
great that a Greek historian who wrote about India of that time was led to say
that no Hindu was known to tell an untruth and no Hindu woman was known to be
Hinduism cannot live without Buddhism, nor Buddhism without Hinduism. Then
realize what the separation has shown to us, that the Buddhist cannot stand
without the brain and philosophy of the Brahmins, nor the Brahmin without the
heart of the Buddhist. This separation between the Buddhist and the Brahmin is
the cause of the downfall of India. That is why India is populated by three
hundred millions of beggars, and that is why India has been the slave of
conquerors for the last thousand years. Let us then join the wonderful intellect
of the Brahmin with the heart, the noble soul, the wonderful humanizing power of
the Great Master.
Address at the Final Session (9/27/1893)
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 the general harmony sweeter.
Much has been said of the common ground of religious unity. I am not just now
going 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
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 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."