This year is the 125th year of Swami Vivekananda’s speech at Parliament of Religions, which we in Vivekananda Kendra celebrate as Universal Brotherhood Day. The welcome and adoration that was given to the speeches of Swami Vivekananda during the Parliament of Religions at Chicago made it clear that world is in need of the message of Bharat, but Bharat has to awaken to its sense of duty. The Parliament of Religions was organised as the part of the celebration of the 400th anniversary of the European discovery of America by Columbus. The purpose of the Parliament was to proclaim the Christianity as the ‘Only True Religion.’ The exclusive approach considers one’s religion as the only true religion. Once this exclusive approach is adopted then others’ religions are not tolerated. This intolerance impels the followers of exclusive religion to set out on large-scale conversion of others even by fraud and force.
Swami Vivekananda was aware that it is the exclusive approach of these Semitic religions like Christianity and Islam, which was responsible for so much bloodshed and human massacre in the human history.(For example 120 million native Americans were massacred by European Christians after Columbus discovered America. Or as described by Will Durant in the book “History of human Civilization” the bloodiest period in human history was the Muslim invasion period in India.) It is this exclusive approach which is the biggest obstacle in the realization of brotherhood of man. It is well-known that Swami Vivekananda addressed the audience as ‘Sisters and Brothers of America’ . It had an electrifying effect on them. It was not merely a form of address but behind those words was the great spiritual strength of India, which has always practiced the universal brotherhood in her long history of more than 5000 years. Taking pride in this fact Swami Vivekananda said, "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." Hindus could have this universal approach because they never claim that, 'the God I worship is the 'Only True God' But they say that there is ‘only God’. (that everything in this world is God alone) Everything is the expression of that One.
So we do not say that ours is the only true god and others are false gods we say for other's gods that ‘it is 'also' the form of God.’ Thus our approach is an inclusive approach, an 'also' approach. The exclusive approach says 'this only' whereas inclusive approach says 'this also'. It is because of this inclusive approach – 'also' approach that the Hindus never went destroying other religious faiths. To usher in Universal Brotherhood it is essential that all religions accept this inclusive –'also' approach.
The Hindus have this ‘also’ approach because they have the vision of Oneness for the whole existence. As Hindus view everything in the existence as the expression of the One, all the manifestations are revered, are accepted. There is then respect for the diversity. As everything is expression of the One, the human soul too is not seen as the sinner but as pure, immortal, complete, whole. This is the message that India has to give to the world.
For the first time to that audience which was used to the exclusive claims to religious truth, Swami Vivekananda gave the message, “Much has been said of the common ground of religious unity…. But if anyone here hopes that this unity will come by the triumph of any one of the religions and the destruction of others, to him I say, “Brother, yours is an impossible hope” ….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.”
For the first time to western audience, the message of universal Brotherhood and its proper understanding was given by Swami Vivekananda. Therefore, Mananeeya Eknathji - the Founder of Vivekananda Kendra -wanted this day to be celebrated as Universal Brotherhood Day. Homogenizing the humanity or bringing uniformity in the human society will not usher in Universal Brotherhood but it will only bring further dissentions and destruction. Integrating the various faiths and accepting, as ‘others’ faith also is good for them’ will bring in Universal Brotherhood. Homogenizing brings destruction of the identity and the traditional values in the society where as the integration or seeking harmony keeps the identity of the communities, intact and binds them in the bonds of Brotherhood. Therefore, on this day the message is also for those who are very exclusive in their approach and are undertaking the conversions by destroying the faiths and culture of various tribal and other communities.
Hindus by their philosophy and practice of inclusive approach are destined to give this message of Universal Brotherhood to the humanity. But in order to do that first Hindus will have to understand this unifying and integrating nature of their Dharma. In the Parliament of Religions Swami Vivekananda also gave us the unifying principles of Hinduism. As put very beautifully by Sister Nivedita, “Of the Swami’s address before the Parliament of Religions, it may be said that when he began to speak it was of “the religious ideas of the Hindus”, but when he ended Hinduism had been created.…These, then were the two mind-floods, two immense rivers of thought, as it were, Eastern and modern, of which the yellow-clad wanderer on the platform of the Parliament of Religions formed for a moment the point of confluence. The formulation of the common bases of Hinduism was the inevitable result of the shock of their contact, in a personality, so impersonal. For it was no experience of his own that rose to the lips of the swami Vivekananda there. He did not even take advantage of the occasion to tell the story of his master. Instead of either of these, it was the religious consciousness of India that spoke through him, the message of his whole people as determined by their whole past.” Thus on the Universal Brotherhood Day we have to study, absorb and highlight the message that Swami Vivekananda gave in the Parliament of Religions. Not just, the lecture given on the first day of the parliament, which is very well known, but the main lecture that he gave in the Parliament of Religions - “The Paper on Hinduism” needs to be studied. It is the study and application of this lecture, which will make us capable of giving the message of Universal Brotherhood Day to the world.
Nivedita Raghunath Bhide