The Universal Religion of Swami Vivekananda
In today's world of crisis and destruction, Swami Vivekananda's thesis of Universal Religion gains greater precedence in overcoming the wrath of mindless modernity and embracing the warmth of balanced progress.
2018 is the 125th anniversary of the acclaimed World Parliament of Religions which was held in Chicago in 1893. The Bengal government and Ramakrishna Mission have chalked out programmes to celebrate the occasion with utmost reverence. At RKM's invitation, Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee will visit Chicago to participate in the event. From September 12 to 19, the Bengal government will observe Sanghati Week, organising meetings, seminars and workshops across the country to propagate Swamiji's messages.
Now, the time has come to read, understand and assess the speeches that could combat the growing animosity visible among the followers of different religions across the world.
Swami Vivekananda was undoubtedly the greatest figure in the Parliament of Religions. The Parliament was a part of the Columbian Exposition, which was held to celebrate 400 years of the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus. An international fair was also held where artisans from different countries participated and exhibited their creations.
Swamiji's greatest contribution to world peace is the concept of Universal Religion. Now, if we read carefully, in the three speeches delivered by Vivekananda on September 11, 19 and 27 – we find that Swamiji had carefully unfurled his theory to present his thesis of Universal Religion.
On September 11, Swamiji delivered his speech at the inaugural session of the Parliament. It was a head-turner and he became the real hero of the Parliament overnight. His magnetic personality, oratory magnificence and sharp logic had captivated the audience.
At the inaugural speech, Vivekananda had presented the first step, which was identifying the evils that had come in the way of attaining world peace. The evil was fanaticism and, because of this, people could not look beyond their own skin and had failed to appreciate the greatness in others. Swamiji said, "Sectarianism, bigotry and its horrible descendant fanaticism have long possessed this beautiful earth. They have filled the earth with violence, drenched it often with human blood, destroyed civilisation and sent whole nations to despair. Had it not been for these horrible demons, human society would be far more advanced than it is now." The words are so relevant in today's world. Despite technological advancement and the spread of education, we have failed to eradicate fanaticism and fanatics pose the greatest threat to human civilisation.
On September 19, Swami presented the operative aspect of his theory. He read out a paper titled Paper on Hinduism. In the speech, he talked about Universal Religion at length and showed how it can save the world from destruction. It is absolute tragedy that we have confined Swamiji within the four walls of our temples and never tried to implement his vision in our practical lives. If we could, our social tension would have been vastly reduced.
Swami went on presenting his thesis and said, "The Hindu may have failed to carry out all his plans, but if there is ever to be a Universal Religion, it must be one which will have no location in place or time; which will be infinite like God, it will preach and whose sun will shine upon the followers of Krishna and of Christ, on saints and sinners alike; which will not be Brahminic or Buddhistic, Christian or Mohammedan, but the sum total of all these and still have infinite space for development," he said adding, "It will be a religion which will have no place for persecution or intolerance in its polity, which will recognise divinity in every man and women, and whose whole scope, whose whole force, will be centred in aiding humanity to realise its own true, divine nature." Swami was so confident about the success of the Universal Religion that he went on to say, "Offer such a religion and all the nations will follow you."
On September 27, Vivekananda addressed the valedictory session of the World Parliament of Religions. Because of his oratory brilliance and immense popularity, he became the most important figure in the Parliament and, the organisers thought that it was only befitting for him to address the valedictory session.
At the session, Swamiji presented the conclusion of his thesis. "If the Parliament of Religions has shown anything to the world it is this: It has proved to the world that holiness, purity and charity are not the exclusive possessions of any church in the world and that every system has produced men and women of most exalted characters. In the face of this evidence, if anybody 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 upon 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," he asserted. The speech ended with a thundering applause.
In the last 125 years since the Chicago convention, we have witnessed two World Wars where hydrogen bombs have demolished thousands of innocent people. Human beings were slaughtered mercilessly in the Korean War and the Vietnam War. Hatred and intolerance are on the rise. Every day the media brings stories of violence which shame the sensible and sensitive citizens. Now, the time has come to implement Swamiji's concept of Universal Religion in practical life. This is possible through service and unselfish work for others. It is good that people, though small in number, have come forward and are trying to implement the concept by establishing groups, schools, interactive bodies etc. As they have set the ball in motion, it can only be prayed with deep meditation that this step takes the form of a massive movement that will save the world from destruction and unhappiness.
(Tarun Goswami is Resident Editor, Millennium Post, Kolkata)