New Delhi: Swami Vivekananda, then an unknown Indian monk, captivated American audiences when he shared his spiritual vision at the World Parliament of Religions held in Chicago in 1893.
Appearing as a spokesperson for Hinduism, he left the assembly spellbound. A newspaper report described him as “a speaker by divine right and arguably the greatest figure in Parliament”, according to Britannica.
It is believed that Swami Vivekananda’s speeches in Chicago ushered in a new era in the understanding of Indian religious thoughts in the West.
He began his first speech with “Sisters and Brothers of America”, making the words immortal as they have remained etched in the memory of listeners and still have a “thrilling effect on readers even after more than 125 years”, Belur Math , the headquarters of the Ramakrishna mission which Swami Vivekananda founded after his return to India, states on its website.
He delivered a total of six speeches at the conference which began on September 11 and ended on September 27.
On his birthday, here’s a look back at some of the most memorable quotes from his 1893 speeches in Chicago.
1. “I am proud to belong to a religion that has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance. We not only believe in universal tolerance, but we accept all religions as true. I am proud to belong to a nation that has sheltered the persecuted and refugees of all religions and all nations of the earth.
2. “Sectarianism, bigotry and its horrible descendant, fanaticism, have long possessed this beautiful land. They filled the earth with violence, flooded it often and often with human blood, destroyed civilization and sent entire nations to despair. Without these horrible demons, human society would be far more advanced than it is now.
3. “The Vedas teach us that creation has no beginning or end. It is said that science has proven that the sum total of cosmic energy is always the same. So if there was a time when nothing existed, where was all this energy manifesting? Some say it was in potential form in God. In this case, God is sometimes potential and sometimes kinetic, which would make him mutable. Everything that is mutable is a compound, and every compound must undergo this change which is called destruction. Then God would die, which is absurd. Therefore, there has never been a time when there was no creation.
4. “…the creation and the creator are two lines, without beginning and without end, parallel to each other. God is the ever-working providence, by whose power system after system arises out of chaos, put running for a while, then destroyed again.
5. “The Vedas teach that the soul is divine, held only in bondage to matter; perfection will be attained when this bond breaks out, and so the word they use for it is Mukti – freedom, liberation from the bonds of imperfection, liberation from death and misery.
6. “The Hindus have their faults, they sometimes have their exceptions; but mark well, they are always for punishing their own body, and never for slaughtering their neighbors.”
seven. “It is an insult to a starving people to offer them religion; it is an insult to a starving man to teach him metaphysics. In India, a priest who preached for money would lose his caste and be spat on by the people.
8. “In religion, there is no caste; caste is simply a social institution.
9. “We cannot deny that bodies acquire certain tendencies from heredity, but these tendencies signify only the physical configuration, through which a particular mind alone can act in a particular way. There are other tendencies unique to a soul caused by its past actions.
ten. “…if anyone 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 on 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”.