Swami Vivekananda gave his first speech in the Parliament of Religion on 11 September 1893. After that practically every day he spoke in the Parliament in various sessions. On 19th September he spoke on Hindu Dharma. The gist of all his lectures was that there should not be the exclusive claims to truth. The exclusive approach leads to violence. The principles and the life based on these principles like - Oneness of the existence, divinity of man, one manifesting as many – are the basis of universal brotherhood. Universal brotherhood cannot be achieved by forcing everyone to follow the same path. But by realizing the One beyond the many. It was this clarion call of Swami Vivekananda is being celebrated in Vivekananda Kendra as Universal Brotherhood Day on 11 September.
What was the uniqueness of the message of Swami Vivekananda and what is its relevance to India? The Parliament of Religions was organized at Chicago in 1893 to proclaim how Christianity alone was a true religion. In Parliament of Religions everyone was stressing that how his religion is the only true religion. This exclusive approach has led to clashes and violence in the history of mankind. Therefore, the whole history of exclusive religions is written in blood and extermination of communities all over the world. The terror attack on WTC on 11 September 2001 also proved the same thing in the recent years. The world is diverse. No two men or two leaves of the same tree are exactly the same. The mental, attitudinal growth of each person is different so there cannot be only one path to pray to Ishvara.
Swami Vivekananda stressed that only that approach, which says that each religion is valid for its followers can bring peace to the world. This approach is the inclusive approach. It is inclusive because it understands the creation as the manifestation of One and everything in it as its parts. Therefore, each nation or religion, man or woman, family or community should accept others (not just tolerate) and contribute for the wellbeing of all. Religion cannot be dogmatic. It has to be experiential. This approach alone can bring the brotherhood. Anubhuti of that One which has manifested as many, is the central theme of Sanatana Dharma. India whose life center is Sanatana Dharma has to guide the world which is hampered with dogmatisms and materialism. It is to remind ourselves of the mission of India and also to give this message that we celebrate Universal Brotherhood Day on 11 September.
India had forgotten her mission. To awaken us to give this message that Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa took birth in 1836, exactly in the year when Macaulay introduced his ‘Minutes on Education’ to enslave our minds completely and permanently.
The Macaulay education was deliberately designed to ridicule certain aspects of our Dharma.
That Hindus are idol worshippers,
They worship devils,
Their languages are very crude and unless they learn English they cannot develop,
India can be saved only if Hindus give up their Dharma and accept Jesus as the only son of God and Christianity as the only true religion.
India is crude as she lives mostly in villages
Sri Ramakrishna's life was exactly to show the fallacy in each of these points.
Sri Ramakrishna's whole spiritual Sadhana starts with idol worship. He showed through his Sadhana that we Hindus do not worship idols but worship God and realize Him through these idols. Thus, in all his Sadhanas he saw Only God everywhere and yet his worship through idols continued. Thus, worship of God in idols is the necessity of the beginner and is also the understanding of the realized. Because once the Truth is realized, one finds God in all that is around.
His chosen deity for the idol worship was Kali whose terrible form may appear as devil for those who are in the nursery of spirituality. But he, by his Sadhana, realized Her as Mother of the Universe.
He did not know English and yet the educated scholars like Keshav Chandra Sen, Narendranath Dutta sat at his feet to get the knowledge. Thus, he showed that ultimate knowledge to be acquired is beyond senses and languages. What matters is not scholarship but experiencing the Divine.
He practiced various sadhanas including praying to Jesus and yet he remained in the Hindu Dharma nurtured by the Rishi tradition. He realized by his spiritual practices that Jesus was a son of God but not the only son of God. By his Sadhana of the exclusive religions he proved that exclusive claims by Abrahamic religionists is incorrect. After undergoing all types of spiritual practices, he said, "The Hindu religion alone is the Sanatana Dharma. The various creeds you hear nowadays have come into existence through the will of God and will disappear again through His will. They will not last forever. Therefore, I say, "I bow down at the feet of even the modern devotees." The Hindu religion has always existed and will always exist." (The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna 6 Ed, P. 610) Sanatana Dharma is not about many Gods or One God but is based on the vision that there is only God. The whole creation is only an expression of God and God alone. This vision leads to inclusive and universal approach as everything becomes sacred and divine.
He was born and brought up in village and his life underlined that the villages of India do not denote crudeness or backwardness but are rich in spirituality.
Swami Vivekananda was a disciple of such a person. Thus, it was very natural that when Swami Vivekananda went to America to participate in the Parliament of Religions, he stressed that all religions are valid for their followers. The whole Sadhana of Sri Ramakrishna was behind his words. And, therefore, his speech created such an everlasting impact.
Romain Rolland puts the effect in the following words. " On Monday, September 11, 1893, the first session of the Parliament was opened...but it was the young man (Vivekananda) who represented nothing – and everything – the man belonging to no sect, but rather to India as a whole, who drew the glance of the assembled thousands...his speech was like a tongue of flame, it fired the souls of the listening throng.... Each of the other orators had spoken of his God, of the God of his sect. He – he alone – spoke of all their Gods, and embraced them all in the Universal Being. It was the breath of Ramakrishna, breaking down the barriers through the mouth of his great disciple... During the ensuing days he spoke again ten or twelve times. Each time he repeated with new arguments but with the same force of conviction his thesis of a universal religion without limit of time or space, uniting the whole Credo of human spirit from the enslaved fetishism of the savage to the most liberal creative affirmations of modern science. He harmonised them into a magnificent synthesis, which...helped all hopes to grow and flourish according to their own proper nature. There was to be no other dogma but the divinity inherent in man and his capacity of indefinite evolution... The effect of these mighty words was immense. Over the heads of the official representatives of the Parliament they were addressed to all and appealed to outside thought. Vivekananda's fame at once spread abroad, and India as a whole benefited..."
“Swami Vivekananda, who completely surrendered himself to his most wonderful Master Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, could have easily given in to the temptation of talking about him. But then, he was there to represent all Hindus, the whole Rishi tradition. So in the true spirit of a Hindu, his speech gave the common principles of Hindus of all sects. In Sister Nivedita's words, "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 was created…. 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...Others stood beside the Swami Vivekananda, on the same platform as he, as apostles of particular creeds and churches. But it was his glory that he came to preach a religion to which each of these was, in his own words, 'only a traveling, a coming up, of different men, and women, through various conditions and circumstances to the same goal".
Swamiji who was proud of his religion and nation, which he unequivocally proclaimed there, could have stressed the greatness of his religion alone. But then he was there to represent the 'inclusive' and therefore, the universal aspects of Hindu Dharma so as to guide all other religions on the path of Universality. Though he never mentioned the name of Sri Ramakrishna or any other Rishi in his speech it was only their teachings that he spoke. In one of his letters he wrote, "But there is one thing to know: Great sages come with special messages for the world, and not for name; but their followers throw their teachings overboard and fight over their names-this is verily the history of the world. I do not take into any consideration whether people accept his name or not, but I am ready to lay down my life to help his teachings, his life, and his message spread all over the world."
Thus, if anyone insists on the name and form of God as the only true name and only true form then it would lead to clashes. The insistence on name and form brings divisions. If we stress on the ‘message’ alone then Brotherhood is possible, because any realized soul is inclusive and therefore Universal in approach. A really spiritual person has to be inclusive. If someone claims spiritual status but is exclusive in approach, criticizes others’ Gods means the claim of spirituality is false.
After his return from the West, Swamiji exhorted India to accomplish her world mission to give this knowledge for the evolution of humanity. For that she should raise herself. He asserted that Santana Dharma is the life center of India. Thus, to practice Dharma one also has to work for the country. His inspiring message moved many to fight for the freedom of India. This year we shall also be celebrating the 75 years of the Independence.
The freedom movement was inspired by this vision that India has to raise not for herself but for the whole of humanity; she needs to be independent to express her national soul in all walks of life. Thus, Swami Vivekananda gave the ‘rousing call to the Hindu nation’ to be ‘Jagadguru’. Sri Aurobindo shared his realization that Sanatana Dharma is the nationalism, is the identity of India. Sri Bankimchandra envisaged her as the ‘Dashpraharandharini Durga’. Mahatma Gandhi aspired Ramrajya to commence with the independence of India. The visions of all these great persons are yet to be fully realized.
Though the advent of Sri Ramakrishna put full stop to the dream of Macaulay- missionaries- colonial rulers combine to convert whole of India, but even after the Independence in 1947, we are not fully de-colonized mentally, intellectually and religiously. The year 2036 would be 200th year of the advent of Sri Ramakrishna and just after 11 years from it, would be the 100th year of Independence of India from the colonial rule. As we celebrate the completion of the 75 years of Independence, we should also make a resolve that by 2047 i.e., when India completes 100 years of Independence, the soul of India would manifest is all walks of national life and India would guide the world in spiritualty. Only when the Sanatana Dharma is understood and practiced world over, (Ishtadevatas and paths for religious practices could be many), the universal brotherhood would be experienced by the humanity. This role India is destined to play. Let us work towards such universal brotherhood.
Nivedita Raghunath Bhide