In the history of mankind, there have been rare instances where the introductory words spoken by one person electrified the entire audience as much as Swami Vivekananda’s groundbreaking speech to the World Parliament of Religions in 1893. Beginning with With the words “Sisters and Brothers of America”, the speech succeeded in eliminating the difference between Swamiji’s status as a person belonging to a different nation and religion.
It also made people realize that they were in the audience of someone who could show them the path to universal brotherhood. Nowadays, Swamiji’s speech serves as a beacon and “source of truth” for the nation and the leaders to help them implement strategies, formulate policies and take corrective measures to bring their citizens together, so to help build bridges with other nations.
Swamiji’s speech has also been mentioned often by leaders around the world today to remind people of the values that Swamiji’s speech stood for and are most critical at the present time of compassion, brotherhood, tolerance, acceptance.
As we see the whole world living in the throes of bigotry, fanaticism and persecution; there has never been a better time to turn to Swamiji’s talk and truly focus on the key values outlined therein to make this world a better place.
All over the world we have countries fighting each other (from outside) and their populations are divided according to caste, creed and color.
Swamiji, in his speech, emphasized the two vital requirements for world peace – brotherhood and universal acceptance; and it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that this is what the world needs to make it a better place to live.
If only people started to imbibe the values championed by Swamiji, if only nations started to focus on compassion and tolerance, could this world become a better place for everyone. Swami Vivekananda, the great 19th century yogi was far ahead of his time because of his pure vision.
At a time when the world was fighting for religious and ideological superiority and was busy usurping each other’s land, Swamiji gave the message of “To serve man is to serve God” – for he could see God in every human soul. . He not only broadened the concept of brotherhood but also explained its relevance by elevating the model of “Universal Brotherhood”, which integrates every human soul regardless of any form of discrimination.
The World Parliament of Religions which continued for seventeen days from September 11-27, 1893, had six Swamiji conferences in which in the last session of the last day, he spoke of the road ahead for humanity. and mentioned – “A Christian does not have to become a Hindu or a Buddhist, nor a Hindu or a Buddhist to become a Christian.
But each one must assimilate the spirit of the others while preserving its individuality and while developing according to its own law of growth. Swamiji viewed humanity holistically, not in compartments with different purposes.
He had a deeply rooted love for his homeland, India. He loved his countrymen, but also believed that humans had no identity. He not only preached this message, but practiced it throughout his life. It was only because of his love for humanity as a whole that the same compatriots who called him “Black” and “Niger” there, Swamij called them “My dear brothers and sisters of America” and the world was at his feet.
It would be fair to say that all of Swamiji’s life and teachings have been a call for people to rise up and become a better version of themselves. The 1893 speech was a small summary of the core values that Swamiji sought to convey.
The Chicago speech is a glimpse of what Swamiji really stood for and it behooves all of us to make sure that we benefit from the teachings of one of India’s most revered sons. It is India that has always believed in “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” (The world is one family) and can lead the world to universal brotherhood and truly become a “Vishwa Guru” in its true sense.
Dr Neha Sinha is Assistant Professor-II Amity Institute of International Studies, Noida & Nikhil Yadav is JNU Research Fellow & Youth Head, Vivekananda Kendra, North Zone.