Narendranath Dutta was born in 1863 on this day Jan 12th. As a disciple of Sri Ramakrishna Pramahansa, he became the sanyasi known as Swami Vivekananda.
Here’s a bit from the Wiki entry on Swamiji at the Parliament of World’s Religions held in Chicago in September 1893.
The Parliament of Religions opened on 11 September 1893 at the Art Institute of Chicago. On this day Vivekananda gave his first brief address. He represented India and Hinduism. Though initially nervous, he bowed to Saraswati, the goddess of learning and began his speech with, “Sisters and brothers of America!”. To these words he got a standing ovation from a crowd of seven thousand, which lasted for two minutes. When silence was restored he began his address. He greeted the youngest of the nations in the name of “the most ancient order of monks in the world, the Vedic order of sannyasins, a religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance.” And he quoted two illustrative passages in this relation, from the Bhagavad Gita—”As the different streams having their sources in different places all mingle their water in the sea, so, O Lord, the different paths which men take, through different tendencies, various though they appear, crooked or straight, all lead to Thee!” and “Whosoever comes to Me, through whatsoever form, I reach him; all men are struggling through paths that in the end lead to Me.” Despite being a short speech, it voiced the spirit of the Parliament and its sense of universality.
Dr. Barrows, the president of the Parliament said, “India, the Mother of religions was represented by Swami Vivekananda, the Orange-monk who exercised the most wonderful influence over his auditors.” He attracted widespread attention in the press, which dubbed him as the “Cyclonic monk from India”. The New York Critique wrote, “He is an orator by divine right, and his strong, intelligent face in its picturesque setting of yellow and orange was hardly less interesting than those earnest words, and the rich, rhythmical utterance he gave them.” The New York Herald wrote, “Vivekananda is undoubtedly the greatest figure in the Parliament of Religions. After hearing him we feel how foolish it is to send missionaries to this learned nation.” The American newspapers reported Swami Vivekananda as “the greatest figure in the parliament of religions” and “the most popular and influential man in the parliament”.
He spoke several more times at the Parliament on topics related to Hinduism and Buddhism. The parliament ended on 27 September 1893. All his speeches at the Parliament had one common theme—Universality—and stressed religious tolerance.
I think Swami Vivekananda is one of the greatest sons of Mother India, which is saying something considering that Mother India has had billions of children. (My estimate is that around 15 billion people have been born in the landmass of present day India.)
I am grateful to the universe that Vivekananda lived. I am sad that Indians generally don’t know about him. It is impossibly hard to accept that half of India have never read him — because of basic illiteracy and poverty. They will never be touched by his enlightenment. Another major segment of Indians are forbidden by their religion to even consider Swami Vivekananda as a good person. Self imposed intellectual and moral poverty is doubly lamentable.
The New York Herald wrote, “Vivekananda is undoubtedly the greatest figure in the Parliament of Religions. After hearing him we feel how foolish it is to send missionaries to this learned nation.” I have a nit to pick with the Herald.
Yes, Swami was brilliant, and he was an Indian. From that fact concluding that India is a “learned nation” is called the fallacy of hasty generalization, “an inductive generalization based on insufficient evidence.” Truth is that India is a nation of hundreds of millions of illiterate, ignorant, poor, uneducated, and bigoted people.
It is hard for me to admit that and I am sure that most Indians will disagree with me on that instinctively. But the truth of that assertion can be somewhat validated by the fact that missionaries have been in India for hundreds of years and even today ply their trade successfully with the aid of billions of dollars. If India was truly a learned nation, it would not be so materially and non-materially poor, and neither would it be the target of Islamic and Christian aggression.
In any case, happy birthday Swami Vivekananda. It will be a long time before Indians can even begin to understand your message.
I close with a quote from you:
Do not believe in a thing because you have read about it in a book. Do not believe in a thing because another man has said it was true. Do not believe in words because they are hallowed by tradition. Find out the truth for yourself. Reason it out. That is realization
Vivekananda on Dispassionate Work. June 2006.
Swami Vivekananda and Jamsetji Tata. March 2011.