In the history of mankind, there have been rare instances where the introductory words spoken by a person have electrified the whole audience as much as Swami Vivekananda’s ground breaking speech to the 1893 World’s Parliament of Religions. Beginning with the words “Sisters and Brothers of America”, the speech managed to eliminate the difference between Swamiji’s status as a person belonging to a different nation and religion. It also made the people realise that they were in the audience of someone who could show them the path of universal brotherhood. In today’s times, Swamiji’s speech serves as a beacon light and a ‘source of truth’ for the nation and the leaders to help them implement strategies, formulate policies and take corrective steps to bring their citizenry together, in order to help build bridges with other nations. The speech by Swamiji has also been often referred to by leaders from across the globe in present times to remind the people of the values which Swamiji’s speech stood for and are the most critical in today’s times that are compassion, brotherhood, tolerance, acceptance.
While we see the whole world living in the throes of sectarianism, fanaticism and persecution; there has never been a better time to turn towards Swamiji’s speech and really focus on the key values highlighted therein to make this world a better place. Across the globe, we have countries fighting each other (externally) and their population divided over caste, creed and colour. Swamiji, in his speech, emphasised on the two vital requirements for world peace – brotherhood and universal acceptance; and it would not be an exaggeration if we state that these are what the world needs to make it a better place to live. If only people start imbibing the values which Swamiji stood for, if only nations start focusing on compassion and tolerance can this world become a better place for everyone.
Swami Vivekananda, the great yogi of the nineteenth century was much ahead of his times because of his sheer vision. At the point of time, when the world was fighting for religious, ideological superiority and was busy usurping each other’s land, Swamiji gave the message of “To Serve man is to Serve God” – as he could see God in each and every human soul. He not only broadened the concept of brotherhood but also explained its relevance by raising the model of “Universal Brotherhood”, which incorporates each and every human soul irrespective of any form of discrimination.
The World Parliament of Religions which continued for seventeen days from 11th September to 27th September 1893, had six lectures of Swamiji in which during final session of the final day he spoke about the road ahead for humanity and mentioned – “The Christian is not to become a Hindu or a Buddhist, nor a Hindu or a Buddhist to become a Christian. But each must assimilate the spirit of the others and yet preserve his individuality and grow according to his own law of growth.” Swamiji looked upon humanity holistically, and not in compartments with different lenses. He had deep rooted love for his motherland 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 is only because of his love for humanity in totality that the same countrymen who called him ‘Black ‘and ‘Niger’ there Swamij referred to them as “My Dear sisters and brothers of America” and the world was at his feet.
It would be fair to say that Swamiji’s whole life and teachings have been a call to the people to rise and become a better version of themselves. The speech in 1893, was a small summary of
the core values which Swamiji sought to impart. The Chicago speech is a glimpse of what Swamiji truly stood for and the onus is on all of us to ensure that we benefit from the teachings of one of the most revered sons of India. It’s India which has always believed in ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ (The world is one family) and can lead the world towards universal brotherhood and truly become a ‘Vishwa Guru,’ in its true sense.